Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Irvine Screws Tustin with Traffic!

Leave it to Evil Irvine to drop another stinky turd on Orange County residents. It is one thing that they could care less about their own residents, but they also have no qualms about screwing their own neighbors. No wonder they are most hated city in Orange County!

Tustin fears traffic from Irvine project

Council approves letter requesting more information


The City Council is sending a letter to the city of Irvine expressing concern that Tustin streets will feel the impact of traffic caused by the proposed construction of an office and retail project along Jamboree Road just south of the 405 Freeway.

The proposed project consisting of 785,000 square feet of office space and 15,500 of retail activity would generate about 7,200 vehicle trips a day in the area, said Tustin Senior Planner Scott Reekstin. The increased traffic could have a rippling effect on commuter routes to that area at Jamboree and Michelson Drive Reekstin said, causing more congestion in Tustin on Edinger Avenue, the I-5 freeway and Jamboree.

The city requested that any environmental document prepared for the project include an evaluation of the transportation impact generated by the increase in daily trips.

"Hopefully they will mitigate the impact," Mayor Lou Bone said at Tuesday's council meeting.

In other council news:

•The state presented the city with a $94,596 check in response to the city's efforts in creating affordable housing in Tustin, Mayor Lou Bone said. Tustin is listed as number two in the county for "what they have done to address this issue," he said.

•Tustin Chili Cook-off chair persons Don Ropele and Marilyn Esposito reimbursed the city $6,000, or 25 percent of the approximately $24,000 the city spent on labor costs for this year's Chili Cook-off and Street Fair.

Since 1993, the cook-off committee has donated a portion of the event's proceeds to a non-profit organization. This year, the committee selected the Tustin Public Schools Foundation to receive $5,000.

Contact the writer: 949-553-2918 or etorres@ocregister.com

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Agran and Co. are shuffling money around illegally!

Great Park board approves deal

A redevelopment official dismisses criticism that the transaction violates the City of Irvine's fund transfer rules.


IRVINE - A complex deal to give the Great Park $134 million and to develop 35 acres of city land was approved Thursday by the Great Park Board.

"(This agreement) adds one more brick to the solid financial foundation of the Orange County Great Park," said Larry Agran, chairman of the Great Park Board.

The deal transfers money and land among the city of Irvine, the Great Park Corp. and the Irvine Redevelopment Agency. The proposal will go to the City Council on Tuesday for final review.

Supporters of the deal say it will benefit all three agencies. The $134 million boost in funding, several of the board members said, will move the $1.2 billion park closer to becoming a reality.

Lead Great Park designer Ken Smith called the $134 million "big money."

"It's already going to be a stretch to provide all the things the public wants" in the park, Smith said.

The Great Park Board approved the deal with no dissenting votes; board members Christina Shea, Walkie Ray and Steven Choi were absent.

Tina Christiansen, who directs Irvine's redevelopment department, said the land and money transaction will also give the Great Park Corp. 9 percent interest on the $134 million loan.

As for Shea's concerns that the transaction could violate a city ban on inter-fund transfers, Christiansen said the ban doesn't apply.

"The Redevelopment Agency is not a city fund; it's a separate entity," she said. "This is not like transferring money from public works to the police department."

The Irvine Redevelopment Agency was established in 1999 to help convert the former El Toro base to civilian uses.

Christiansen said that the transaction also will almost ensure that the Redevelopment Agency can collect more money for the park in the future. The agency can receive up to 1 percent of the property taxes based on what will be developed on the old base property.

Of that money, 20 percent of its income must be used to create affordable housing, but the other money can go toward the Great Park.

The Great Park's secured funding includes: $200 million paid by the Lennar Corp. as developer fees, $201 million to be paid by Lennar for shared roads, sewers and utilities, and money collected by the Redevelopment Agency. The Great Park Corp.'s staff also is looking to make money from interest accrued, temporary leases of base property, grants, private donations, advertising, corporate sponsorships or partnerships and admission fees.

In the same meeting, the Great Park Board unanimously gave final approval to a $27.3 million contract with Ken Smith's design team.

Under the contract, the designers will refine the park plans in the next year to the point of "schematic design" – or 30 percent of the detail needed to build the park. The designers also will work on construction-ready drawings for mass grading of the park site, along with everything needed to build a wildlife corridor and a stream.

During deliberation of the contract, board member Steven Choi abruptly left the meeting. Agran gave each board member three minutes to ask staff members questions. After staffers responded, the members again had three minutes to make comments before a vote was taken.

During Choi's first allowed time, he asked questions while making comments – and after Choi had gone over his three allotted minutes, Agran asked him to wrap up his questions and to stop his comments. After Agran and Choi tried to talk over each other, Agran pounded his gavel three times, but Choi continued talking. Vice Chairman Michael Pinto then called a point of order. Choi stopped talking for a moment, and when Agran again discussed what he would allow at the meeting, Choi gathered his things and said, "I will leave the meeting immediately," and walked out of the city chambers.

Smith's team was hired in January 2006 to design the park and so far has prepared the draft master plan. Smith's team has been paid about $10 million from the Great Park budget. Among the budget items in the contract, $12.06 million is set aside for design, $10.285 million for engineering, $2.415 million for design management and $1.14 million for public relations.

Contact the writer: 949-553-2911 or sosmith@ocregister.com

Friday, July 27, 2007

The projects are the coming to Irvine!


IRVINE – A mandate to add 35,660 housing units in the next seven years has left city officials reeling, even as they start work on plans to accommodate those numbers.

Irvine housing planners are crying foul about the sheer number of units and object to the fact that 21,282 of them must be deemed "affordable" for moderate, low-income and very low-income households.

"It is unreasonable, inequitable and unfeasible," said Mark Asturias, housing manager for the city. "We don't have the land to do something like that."

The requirements are part of the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment, a periodic process meant to ensure that areas throughout the state provide their fair share of housing needs as the population grows.

After a nearly yearlong process, the Southern California Association of Governments earlier this month decreed that Irvine must zone for and build 35,660 units – almost 44 percent of the total number of homes mandated across Orange County.

The city has 64,500 total housing units, built since its inception 35 years ago.

Irvine has exhausted the appeals process and must incorporate these numbers into its next housing plan, due in July 2008, "whether or not we agree with them," Asturias said.

In the meantime, the city will ask for guidance from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which must certify each city's housing plan before construction can begin.

A legal challenge to SCAG's recommendations is another option that city officials will likely consider, Asturias said.

State law says housing numbers must be distributed in an equitable manner, Asturias said, and Irvine officials believe the city has been burdened more than any other in the county.

Under the recommendations in the assessment, Santa Ana needs to add 3,393 units by 2014, Anaheim 9,498 units and Huntington Beach 2,092 new homes.

While those three cities are larger, Irvine is the only major Orange County city that has and will continue to see significant growth, said Victoria Basolo, a professor of planning, policy and design at UC Irvine.

"When they go to assign those housing units, they do it formulaically," Basolo said. "Irvine has grown, and so it has been hit with the large numbers based on those projections."

Jeff Lustgarten, a spokesman for SCAG, said that Irvine's job growth and available space were also factors in the agency's decision to allocate 35,660 units to the city. He said SCAG officials had no comment on Irvine's objections, and stood by their recommendations.

Housing manager Asturias said that while Irvine does have remaining open space, most vacant land is already locked into development agreements.

He said that 1,180 acres – or almost 2 square miles – would be necessary to accommodate the recommended residential development.

Mayor Beth Krom said she found the recommendations frustrating.

"I feel we already do far more than any other city in the county to ensure we have a better balance of housing opportunities for all income levels," Krom said.

Basolo of UC Irvine agreed, saying the city has a good reputation when it comes to providing affordable housing.

"Irvine ranked No. 1 in the Orange County Business Council's recent Workforce Housing Scorecard," which graded how cities have balanced job and housing growth, Basolo said. "Now these numbers from the RHNA are essentially telling the city, 'Do more.' It's an interesting problem."

Irvine's housing ordinance requires 15 percent of new housing units be deemed affordable; under SCAG's projections, about 60 percent of new housing units will have to be affordable.

SCAG spokesman Lustgarten said cities have sued the agency in the past if they disagree with recommendations; the state and affordable housing advocates, in turn, can sue cities if they don't comply.

Contact the writer: 949-553-2914 or echavez@ocregister.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Public Commentary on Baloondoggle

The City of Irvine must really think the people of Orange County are unsophisticated rubes. Simply put up a pretty orange balloon to distract the ignorant masses from all the sprawl and traffic that is being created. Judging by the letters and blog comments, very few people are impressed by Irvine's big orange dog and pony show!

Irvine World News
July 19, 2007


TO “name change - July 16” if you were to become a little more involved in the Great Park project, you would know that there is a lot in plan for the former marine base in relation to the veterans. maybe the community should start getting more involved with the project that WAS VOTED IT and stop complaining. get over the airport, it isn’t going to happen people.
– gpballooner

i hope a few council people go for a ride in the big orange balloon and it floats into outerspace. that property should have been an airport, we the people of orange county voted for it.
– flowerperson

Well done Irvine. We lose Wild Rivers and soon Verizon Amphitheater. In return we gain a retarted balloon tourist trap that looks over gridlock to the south and the Frank R. Bowerman Landfill to the north. The balloons max is 500 feet because anything over 501 feet Agran can see it from his house.
– Haywood Jablowme (This name somehow got past the censors!)

I hope once the park is done, city council changes the name. The Great Park is such a mundane name. Did the city have a vote among the kindergarten classes on the name. El Toro airbase has a lot of histo
ry behind it and this park should commemorate that history. I know this city council has no regard to our countries history, if it doesn’t generate money, but they need to pay their respects to the men and women who have served and for the many that have sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy compared to other countries. The small memorial to the military that is planned, does not do justice. For instance, Commemorative Park with a plaque to indicate how the park obtained its name for future generations. Honor, not greed and money should be behind any public place that is paid by the citizens.
– Name Change

We get look at a pretty orange thing in the sky while stuck in traffic to catch a flight out of LAX or Ontario.
– Whoopee

I had a chance to get a ride on the Balloon this past weekend. It was one of most amazing experiences I ever had. I looked out over concrete and imagined what it will look like in five years to ten years with green grass and trees and children playing. I hope all of Southern California will take a breath of fresh air for what it is and look as forward to the Great Park as I am.
– Supporter

The lack of any controls on housing is going to be the wrath of god falling upon South County in the form of traffic. Wall to wall homes with Sepulveda pass like traffic.
– No limits on growth?

How about an airport to ease all that air traffic you So. County residents create Oh wait you self entitlement NIMBYs voted it out. Well enjoy all that added traffic soon to come! Congrats!
– Orange Mexican

It’s amazing the residents of south OC can be bribed by something as silly as a free balloon. I’m not a quote Newport resident, I live in Orange. but this thing and the ridiculous park should not be there. instead of having one lone area of open space in one OC city, Irvine, building everything else up around it, how about more open space and less greed all around.
– brijai

Who would I call to ask about sponsorship opportunities on the side of the balloon?
– Major Corporation

Do you enjoy driving from LA to Pomona? Do you enjoy driving through the San Fernado Valley? That is what South County is going to be very soon. Nightmare. At least in the heavily built Bay area they try and protect ridge lines so from a distance you can’t see the density of population. Here that is the first thing to go. It is going to take the money to live in gated places like Shady Canyon to get what was free even fifteen years ago for South Orange County. Last I checked there was a 250000 mandatory fee to live there whether you wanted to use the golf course or not. Even they have to use the freeways to get around. I guess if you did everything by helicopter? I find the Balloon thing to be sarcastic. I’m sure the developers were laughing when it was suggested. It suggests a freedom to a county that is no longer wild open and free. Sarcastic I think.
– Balloon is hostile really

It was never a good location for an airport and it was silly for Newporters to keep pushing for that. Now, they should get real and push for a real airport on the northern part of Camp Pendleton. That base is huge. An airport twice the size of LAX would hardly be noticed there and the planes could take off and land over the ocean.
– Frank

Letter published July 12, 2007 in Irvine World News:


Regarding the orange helium balloon ride, I can’t believe this isn’t going to be a visual intrusion onto the public. So now the entire public is forced to view a big ugly orange helium balloon while trying to enjoy our hikes in Laguna Coast Wilderness, Aliso Woods Wilderness Park (West Ridge Trail) or the upper roads of Cleveland National Forest (Harding, Silverado, Main Divide, etc.). No escape from the Big Orange Eyesore.
What an imposition! Wherever we are, while trying to enjoy what little natural landscape and vistas remaining, we will not be forced to have a big ugly ball on our horizon!
Do you really think this ride will be profitable? I can understand this attraction to be temporary, to entice peo
ple to come to the park, and to raise some money, but do you really think people are going to pay to go up in this? Isn’t there a better use for this money that (they) are spending on this ride/attraction?
I will encourage a boycott to the public, against patronizing this ride. Is there really anyone who will pay to go up in this big orange ball?
Susan Eisenhut
Laguna Niguel

Orange County Register
July 17, 2007

Irvine's 'balloondoggle'

The city of Irvine has now blighted the Orange County skyline with its own balloondoggle: the balloon ride to nowhere ["Hundreds go up in Great Park's Orange Balloon," Local, July 15]. It should be repainted yellow so it more closely resembles the variety of citrus that it really is.

– Sam La Sala of San Clemente

Threat to Wild Rivers Causes Citizen Revolt!

This could be the straw that breaks the camel's back! For too long, people have stood by silently while The Irvine Co. and their five paid off city council lackeys have ruined the quality of life of Orange County with endless sprawl.

This time they have got more than they bargained for and face a revolt. Every council member who changed the zoning on that parcel to allow housing on the land that features Wild Rivers should be voted out in 2008!

The Irvine Co. and Donald Bren are already worth billions. Why do they need to build another 3700 beige homes? Why doesn't Mr. Bren do something worthwhile like say pay child support to his many illegitimate children! It's not like like he can't afford it!

Irvine World News Letters
July 19, 2007


It looks like people are unhappy that (Wild Rivers) will not have its lease renewed by The Irvine Company and in its place will be 3,700 homes. I bet most of these same people did not even bother to think about the consequences when they voted to eliminate El Toro Airport.
You see boys and girls, once
the buffer zone had the restriction against homes removed, then all bets were off. Now were El Toro still an airport today, then the buffer zone would still have non-residential zoning for venues such as water parks and amphitheaters.
Now for those who think (Wild Rivers) would be unbearable with an airport nearby, think again. Look at John Wayne Airport for example. It has definitely not scared people away from overwhelming the beaches of Newport Beach on a hot summer day.
J.C. Carter

I am writing to express my concern regarding the closure of Wild Rivers. I am the grandmother of three from Mission Viejo and have season passes. I believe it will have a negative impact on the community.
The Irvine Co. vision statement speaks of quality of life for families in the community. Wild Rivers is a great place for families to spend the summer months and provides thousands of job opportunities for high school and college students.
Would The Irvine Co. consider extending Wild Rivers lease a few more years, at least
until another water park can be completed? Do we really need more housing in the area and more traffic on our freeways?
Judy Simonian

I have lived in Orange County for most of my life. It’s so sad that the Irvine Co. sees no value having places like Wild Rivers and the amphitheater for families in South Orange County.
I understand that extending the lease for Wild Rivers is only a temporary fix, but what are they going to do with the land neighboring the amphitheater until 2017? Why wouldn’t they extend it until then? It would certainly make sense to do so. I can’t imagine developing the land for homes when it’s so close to the amphitheater.
I wish I had the 25 acres to give to Wild Rivers today. Perhaps someday. How rare would it be to actually have an organization/family like Irvine Co. to actually preserve what makes Southern Orange County so unique. You certainly can’t put a price on giving back to your community in such a way by preserving such places.
Christy Ortiz

Community reacts to Wild Rivers’ coming closure

Camp James’ lease will also end. The Irvine Co., City Council answer questions.


The news that Wild Rivers is closing for good Sept. 30 sparked a “Save Wild Rivers” Web site, a Facebook.com group dedicated to keeping the water park open, and more than 100 comments on the Irvine World News online story.
There is also a pen-and-paper petition at Camp James, a summer camp that serves about 2,000 children, including about 75 with special needs, each year. The campground has been next to Wild Rivers since 1998. The camp’s lease, like Wild Rivers’, expires this year.
Camper Nathan Ong, 11, started his petition on Monday.
“It’s going very well,” Ong said. “So far I have 100 (signatures). The reason that I stopped is because I ran out of paper.”
Ong said he will send the petition to The Irvine Co. and hopes to meet with them, and “would do whatever I could do to get camp to stay. It’d be a shame if I can’t make more memories next year.”
Director Theresa Collins said possible relocations to a county park or college in south Orange County are being negotiated.
Others express similar sentiments for Wild Rivers. A Facebook.com petition started by former employee Adam Bramwell had 716 members and www.freewebs.com/savewildrivers had 174 people listed on its petition as of Tuesday.
Readers wondered if The Irvine Co. would consider extending Wild Rivers’ lease, questioning whether people could live in the new homes because the nearby Verizon Amphitheater’s lease runs until 2017.
“We don’t see why it’d make any sense to change course at this point in time,” said Michael LeBlanc, a senior vice president with The Irvine Co. “I think it needs to be understood that ultimately the land use is changing.” He added that it has always been understood by the leasing parties involved that the water park and the camp’s use of the land would be temporary.
Housing construction on the Wild Rivers site will start in about a year and is expected to take nine to 12 months, Le-Blanc said. He said that the construction will meet noise buffering standards required by the city to permit homes near the amphitheater.
The city changed the zoning on the land last year to allow for residential development.
“Since there’s a large number of commercial development being planned in the Spectrum area, we’re working to provide housing opportunities close to jobs and development,” said Louie Gonzalez, a spokesman for the city.
Traffic analyses of the effect the residential development would have show no significant impact on the I-5 and I-405 freeways, Gonzalez said. The Irvine Co. plans to build 3,700 homes on land that includes Wild Rivers, Camp James and the amphitheater.
Mike Riedel, the president of Wild Rivers, said he had no updates on obtaining a site for a new water park. The Great Park committee will review his proposal this fall.
“It’s nice that people care that much about Wild Rivers and that we’ve had that kind of influence on their lives,” Riedel said about the petitions and calls. “It’s a tremendous compliment. That’s one of the reasons I’m working so hard on trying to get us an extension and get another water park built.”
Collins is looking for five to 20 acres for the camp and Riedel is searching for 25 to 30 acres for a water park. Both have their eyes on the south Orange County area.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Freddie Kruger Train back from the Dead!

Just when one though their pocketbook was safe from Irvine's greedy hands for its fantasy train. The Irvine city council in its usual infinite wisdom revives this fantasy train from the dead! Never mind that the voters of Irvine said no to the Centerline before in a previous vote,

The main motive may be so that they don't lose their $120 million dollar "state grant" for rail. But then Irvine would need to secure another matching $120 million in funds, plus $38 million in construction costs, and annual operating costs of $7 million. So The Irvine city council would spend a bare minimum of $200 million over a 10 year period to not lose their $120 million dollar state "grant". This comes out to a ratio of spending $5 to get back $3. But then again, it is only the taxpayers money they are squandering on such a frivolous project. The city council and The Irvine Co. should take an one way trip on a train out of town for good. Better yet, get them all in The Great Orange Gasbag, cut the cable loose and let them float away!

This editorial and letter appeared in the OC Register

Orange County Register
July 15, 2007


The Lure of other People's Money


Watching how my kids spend money, I'm constantly reminded of something rather obvious, but still instructive: They are far less profligate with their own cash than they are with mine. What's 40 bucks for a concert if it comes right out of Dad's wallet? But that same concert is far less of a must-see event if they've got to spring for it out of their own piggy banks. My kids would explain this economic principle with one word: "Duh."

People are much more careful with their own resources than with others' resources or with those resources that are publicly owned. Nevertheless, the general public, and politicians in particular, forget how this lesson applies to everyday life. Is it surprising that health care costs keep going up the more that people rely on third parties to pay for the bills? When someone else pays, we become far less concerned about what such a service might cost.

The Other People's Money syndrome is even more pronounced when it comes to government officials spending cash out of the vast pool of taxpayer-funded resources. Politicians have no disincentive to spending OPM. They buy votes from various well-organized constituencies (e.g., public-sector unions, farmers, benefit-seeking corporations, transit riders). H.L. Mencken said that every election is "an advance auction of stolen goods." And so government gets bigger and more free-wheeling in its spending. We've reached the point where even wastes of hundreds of millions of dollars induce more shrugs than outrage.

Here are examples, from just a few days' of newspaper reading.

• The Orange County Transportation Authority put the kibosh on its billion-dollar-plus CenterLine light-rail proposal after a political backlash took place. Rail isn't a horrible idea per se, but the enormous cost in no way could justify the handful of riders who would have used it, especially in a spread-out suburban county where there isn't much suburb-to-inner-city commuting. But the Irvine City Council still holds hopes that transit will one day push people out of their cars and off the freeways. Tuesday it approved its own system that is meant to jump-start the countywide rail proposal. Irvine Councilman Larry Agran gloated Tuesday that the five-mile-long rail line connecting the Great Pork– itself a massive boondoggle and waste of prime public assets – with the Irvine Spectrum and Irvine train station is "the backbone of a system we need to build upon." This tiny system, by the way, will cost $280 million in tax funds, plus another $7 million a year to operate. And these things always have cost overruns.

"They'd be better off not spending any of this money," Charles Lave, a UCI professor emeritus of economics, told a Register reporter before the vote. He accused the council of behaving "like teenagers" who are looking for ways to spend all their money. But, then again, the current political system is set up in a way that encourages every politician to behave, financially, like a teenager. (Irvine council members also are still giddy over a costly orange balloon that people can float in above the not-quite-park, which makes them more like schoolchildren than teenagers, but I digress.)


Irvine's grandiose plans for taxpayers' dollars

The Irvine City Council approved a $280 million rapid-transit system ["Irvine votes on creating transit links," July 10]of only five miles, 3.4 miles of which will be streetcar track and the rest a road for buses. The cost is $56 million per mile today. Construction costs rise. And on top of the initial cost of building this boondoggle is the estimated $7 million per year to operate the system. If they get the estimated 5,000 riders per day the fare would have to be $3.83 per customer, just to break even.

The city of Irvine still has to re-acquire $121 million in taxpayers' money it had in 1990, locate a matching $121 million in taxpayers' money and find an additional $38 million in taxpayers' money before it can build the project.

Government officials should think long and hard about spending our tax dollars. All I see here is another grandiose waste of money. What would you, the taxpayer, spend $280 million on? Maybe helping the homeless, widening our roads or education? Heaven forbid that our local politicians would give us our money back or lower our taxes.

– Vern McGarry of Mission Viejo

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Business us Usual: No bid contracts for Great Pork

Los Angeles Times
July 13, 2007

O.C.'s Great Park Takes Off

The first attraction of the planned suburban oasis is a balloon ride that takes visitors to 500 feet for a panoramic view of the county.
By Roy Rivenburg and Tony Barboza, Times Staff Writers
July 13, 2007

As they float skyward this summer aboard a $5-million tethered helium balloon ride at Irvine's Great Park, passengers on the free attraction might notice some unusual amenities on the ground:

• a $300,000 tent — designed to resemble an airplane hangar — that costs $75,000 a year to clean;

• a four-person visitor center crew hired under a $370,000 annual contract;

• a series of orange dots painted along the park's entrance road at a cost of $14,000.

When the 15-minute voyage ends, a French-trained pilot earning a six-figure salary will use a remote control to lower the craft to earth.

The helium-filled airship attraction is expected to lose about $850,000 its first year, partly because the Irvine City Council — which is developing the 1,350-acre Great Park — plans to allow passengers to ride free of charge until January. From then on the city will charge $20 for adults and $13 for children.

The red ink doesn't worry Great Park spokeswoman Marsha Burgess. "I wouldn't characterize it as a deficit," she said.

Burgess calls the cash outlay "the cost of operation," saying the balloon is an integral piece of the suburban oasis' design.

Irvine officials plan to spend more than $1 billion transforming the former El Toro Marine base's cracked airstrips and dusty terrain into a dramatic landscape of lakes, orchards, athletic fields, museums and a rugged, man-made canyon. When completed, the expanse will be among the nation's largest urban parks — larger than Manhattan's 843-acre Central Park and San Francisco's 1,017-acre Golden Gate Park, but smaller than Los Angeles' 4,200-acre Griffith Park.

The ride's expected deficit has disconcerted some Irvine officials who worry that if the park's first endeavor is a money loser, the city might have to cut corners on other planned features such as the 60-foot-deep canyon, a botanical garden and a sports complex.

"This is a microcosm of how this park is run," said Councilwoman Christina Shea. "We are going to be hitting a wall sometime and we are going to be upside-down financially, and we are not going to have the park we all envisioned."

On Saturday, the Great Park's balloon is scheduled to begin flying from a 5-acre plot inside the former Marine base, which is being converted to housing tracts, businesses and the Great Park.

Planners are banking on 50,000 passengers a year, roughly equal to ridership on the Philadelphia Zoo's tethered helium balloon, which operates in a venue visited by 1 million people annually.

The anticipated shortfall has led the City Council to consider placing ads on the balloon, including a banner ad on the balloon surface, smaller ads on its gondola, and plants trimmed into the shape of corporate logos. Irvine estimated it could make as much $880,000 a year.

That has led the council to debate balancing the desire to recoup some expenses with the prospect of the craft looking overly commercial.

"We live in a very commercial society. The park should be a respite from the onslaught of advertising," said Ken Smith, the park's designer. "To put ads on it would be a mistake."

The cost to operate the balloon and visitor center doesn't include start-up charges, such as $1.6 million for site design and landscaping, and $1.9 million — donated by the Lennar Corp. — to buy the helium-filled ship, install a landing pad and get FAA clearance to fly the craft. Lennar is developing housing tracts around the park.

Irvine officials also have tacked on $838,000 to build a road to the balloon, plant citrus trees and buy a special 50-by-50-foot tent that will serve as the visitor center.

Smith's team specified that the tent "emulate an aircraft hangar" by having an angled roof, taller at the entrance and sloping to the back. "No deviations or substitutions are acceptable," the design team said.

Several of Irvine's balloon project contracts were awarded without competitive bids.

For instance, Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc., which runs a car test track at El Toro and hosts corporate shindigs at the site, will receive $75,000 to wash the outside of the visitor center tent six times a year and clean the interior weekly.

Tim Watson of Clean Awn, an industrial-fabric maintenance company in Lakewood, said he would have been happy to do the job for $54,000.

Burgess had no comment on Watson's pricing.

Automotive Marketing Consultants will also be paid $370,000 to staff the visitor center with four full-time employees — more than $90,000 per position. The company will receive an additional $64,000 to manage the balloon's website and telephone call center.

Another big payout — $380,000 — goes to Aerophile, a French balloon manufacturer, to pilot the helium ship and operate the diesel-powered winch that hoists and lowers it.

Aerophile's contract calls for two full-time pilots and a hostess. After subtracting maintenance costs, that works out to more than $100,000 per pilot.

In contrast, Aerophile's main competitor, the Great American Balloon Co., which flies a tethered craft at Niagara Falls, pays pilots $21,000 to $52,000 a year.

"It's not like they need a college degree," said Shaun Asbury, the general manager of Great American Balloon.

Irvine officials said they didn't seek competitive bids because Aerophile made their balloon and might void the one-year warranty if the craft isn't maintained and operated to company standards.

Tethered balloons trace their roots to the 1800s, when gas-filled airships on leashes were used for military observation and as tourist attractions in such cities as Paris, Budapest, Rome and Chicago.

In modern times, outfitted with gondolas that can carry 30 passengers, the balloons have enjoyed a global renaissance. But only a few hover over the U.S. — at Niagara Falls, the Philadelphia Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Most make a profit. Philadelphia's helium-filled behemoth charges half as much per ticket as the Great Park plans to but makes money by letting a corporate sponsor put a logo on the craft. In San Diego, a private balloon company pays all costs and gives a cut of ticket revenue to the Wild Animal Park.

But some tethered balloons have gone bust. The Niagara Falls airship originally flew over Las Vegas, but left town because of poor attendance.

And a Baltimore balloon closed in 2005 after a mechanical snafu stranded 16 passengers in the air for two hours, according to the Baltimore Sun. The Baltimore ship now soars over an Asian resort.

Liability insurance for tethered balloons can be steep. The Great Park is paying $110,000 a year for its policy.

The Philadelphia Zoo paid even more — $150,000 — but then found a broker specializing in high-risk policies who eliminated the fee by rolling balloon coverage into the zoo's overall insurance package.

Burgess acknowledged that the balloon might stay in the red beyond its inaugural year. However, that doesn't mean it's a balloondoggle, she said.

Great Park officials hope their airship — which is set to fly 24 hours a week, Thursdays through Sundays — will eventually make money.

But they say it's more important to follow the vision of park designer Smith, who floated the balloon concept as one of the site's signature elements.

Not included in any budget is how much publicity balloons can generate, said Philadelphia Zoo spokeswoman Gretchen Toner. "Ours has become a city icon," she said. "People have even proposed on it."

Officials have similar aspirations for the Great Park balloon, which will be visible for miles as a symbol of the military base's future makeover.

But turning a profit? That's a different matter.

"If you could make money on parks," Burgess said, "the private sector would be building them."




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Up in the air


Starting Saturday, visitors to Irvine's Great Park will be able to rise 500 feet aboard a tethered helium balloon. The ride will operate four days a week and offer free rides until January.

Some costs associated with the balloon's operation:

• $380,000 a year for two balloon pilots, a hostess and maintenance.

• $370,000 a year to staff the visitor center with three full-time employees and a supervisor.

• $300,000 to buy a 50-by-50- foot tent intended to simulate the appearance of an aircraft hangar. An additional $75,000 a year will be spent to clean the tent.

• $100,000 a year for a balloon replacement fund. The lifespan of a balloon is five years, so money will be set aside every year for a new one.

• $94,000 a year for portable restrooms.

• $52,000 annually for security between 1 and 5 a.m.

• $30,000 a year for trash removal.


Source: Orange County Great Park, Irvine, Aerophile