The former Mayor of Irvine, Beth Krom, isn’t one to sit still for very long.
After four years as mayor, and four years on the City Council, Krom, recently re-elected to the City Council, is now working toward snagging a Congressional seat.
“I’ve just completed my term as Mayor, and now, I am running for Congress [48th District]. After focusing on local issues for eight years, the curtain has been opened a little wider. I think it will be a fascinating education.”
These have been exciting years for Krom, who has enjoyed being in local politics.
“For me, one of the greatest things about being a public official is that it is the most comprehensive education you are ever going to get on just about everything that is going on – and not just in your community, but statewide, nationally, and on a global level.”
She says when she was Mayor of Irvine; some of the biggest challenges included the El Toro Airport Plan and The Great Park.
“The City of Irvine is one of the most unique cities in the OC because we’re a city that is anchored by a university and therefore, education, which matters a great deal to people here. The effort to stop the El Toro Airport Plan was in its most aggressive phase when I came on the City Council.”
Krom actually ran for City Council on a platform of stopping the airport and building a metro park for all of the OC.
“This is an issue that has been very integral to my public service,” she shares. “There are a lot of things that the average person doesn’t know or appreciate, like the fact that we went from the threat of an international airport being dropped in the middle of a highway, and in a dense residential community, and not just in Irvine, but all of Orange County.”
Had the airport been built, it would have been the first time that a major airport had been literally dropped into an existing community.
“There are communities around other airports, but in this case, it would have not only been adverse to the quality of life, but completely unnecessary, in which over the last eight years, has proven to be a resource that wasn’t needed,” she says.
The City of Irvine worked with the federal government to create an overlay plan, which allowed it to have value built back into the land because it was rezoned for a park and open space through Measure W.
“It will preserve the opportunity to create a great metro park and at the heart of the property is 1,347 acres, twice the size of NYC’s Central Park,” she says. “Back then, no federal property had been sold on an online auction like El Toro was and a lot of people were betting against the fact that anyone would ultimately purchase it.”
But in the end, Lennar purchased the El Toro Base for $649.5 million; as a result, Irvine is the only city in American history that has ever helped the goverment take in $649.5 million, Krom says.
“They could not have achieved that without the city’s help. It turned out to be a very unique project,” she says.
While the airport is a dead deal, The Great Park is moving ahead. Krom says there is currently about two-thirds of a preview park completed on 27 acres that includes the balloon, which while most point to as an attraction, is really an observation deck that allows people to have a panoramic view of the county.
Great Park Moving Along
“The City of Irvine just completed the master planning process and met to discuss phasing, and we have activated the park early so people could be part of the evolving park experience. For example, this past winter, an ice skating rink on site attracted 20,000 people.”
However, the park will not be complete for several more years to come.
“Central Park was started at the end of the Civil War and the last features were put into place in the 1930s,” Krom says. “So, we’re talking about a park twice the size of Central Park; I’m not suggesting it’s going to take 60 years to develop, but great metro parks by their nature, are evolving environments.”
The first major phases of the park should be completed within the next 10 to 15 years; but it does have a three-year plan to bring in sports and recreation fields. Eventually, The Great Park plan will include a canyon, a lake, an amphitheater, a cultural terrace and a military museum.
“While the newspapers have been inaccurate in reporting that the project has been inactive for six to seven years, the fact is that it was only sold in 2005 and it was only transferred to the City as public land in mid-2005 … what we have accomplished has been in a three-year time frame.”
And while plans for The Great Park continue, the City of Irvine seems to be economically sound, unlike many of its other So. Cal cities, Krom says.
“Irvine has enjoyed a healthy economic base and is in a good position to weather this economic downtown. We have been pro-active in the City of Irvine and not just in creating an economic buffer to weather tough times, but on issues of affordable housing where we have adopted a long range housing strategy that calls for a goal of 10 percent of our housing being affordable in perpetuity in the time when the city is being built out.”
Krom estimates that the build-out should take place within the next 25 years or so. In addition, the city has also created the Irvine Community Land Trust to allow it to hold land assets and housing in trust so that it can create perpetually affordable housing which is a huge issue.
“Irvine has high-end homes, and we have older stock in the mid-range, but we also believe that when you are a city that has 250,000 million jobs in it, you need to provide housing that allows people who work here to live here,” she says. “I am proud of what we have accomplished in that regard. We have made a commitment to preserving jobs in the city that are committed to maintaining the high community standards to support the people who live and work in the city.”
In other words, Krom says the City of Irvine doesn’t see a value in contributing to the unemployment rate at a time when things are so difficult.
“We know we are going to get through this and we want to make sure we are getting through it together,” she says. “We have about $30 million in discretionary reserves, and another $70 million in our asset management plan. Those resources provide a significant buffer during these tough economic times.”
Bottom-line: Irvine appreciates that it is a community that has resources that many other cities do not.
“I think local government is so rarely discussed in the conversation and yet we are the frontlines,” she says. “When the federal government pushes to the states and the states push to local governments, most cities are going to be challenged not only to retain their staffs, and maintain their bleak resources, but to proceed on important projects in their communities.”
California and Arnold
Krom does believe that California has made some changes, but it fails to be as creative as it possibly can.
“Now, we’re suffering in ways that I think could have been mitigated by better leadership in Sacramento,” she says. “My thoughts on Gov. Schwarzenegger are that he and I are most closely aligned over issues in environmental stewardship. I do give him credit for that. From a political standpoint, it does appear to me that all of the things that he thought could have been so much better when he was not a public official, he has now discovered aren’t that easy to change.”
She also sees other issues with Arnold: “In an interesting way, he has successfully upset just about every constituency at some point in his term of office, but he has come through it sort of immunized by the universality of the experience. The Governor alone doesn’t have the power to make or break this state. We have a legislature that is entrenched in bi-partisan politics. Orange County has a delegation in Sacramento that is by and large not inclined to help the communities back here and that is unfortunate.”
She uses the analogy that she often feels “that the table is set in Sacramento, and the OC is not at the table.
“What happens is that L.A. sees that O.C. is not eating its steak, so it says, ‘can we have their steak?’ Then, San Francisco says, ‘can I have their potato?’ Then everyone sits around in Orange County asking why we are a donor county? And the only legitimate answer is that we have a delegation in Sacramento who refuses to bring resources back to our community in order to help us because they are engaged in such bitter partisanship.”
This frustrates Krom to no end.
“I am not running for statewide office because I think that one would have to have a critical mass in terms of a shift in thinking on the part of not just the OC’s delegation but many of the people in Sacramento. That’s why I am running for Congress, because I do believe that as a member of Congress, I can have a positive impact on the cities in the 48th Congressional District.”
The OC Changing?
Krom says these days; it is a getting little safer to admit that you are either a Progressive or a Democrat in the OC.
“When the 48th Congressional District had more votes for Obama than McCain, things are shifting. This district was considered untouchable for a long time, which also inspires me in my run for Congress. People in this district have transcended the old partisan platforms and understand that we need people in leadership who actually will take the time to learn the issues, take the time to understand the issues and be a real advocate on these issues – those that matter to us on a day-to-day basis.”
One of the biggest problems facing the OC she says is the simple fact that it tends to be just “this island” without “a good newspaper, or its own TV station.”
“Historically, there has always been this attitude that the less people know, the better. That’s unfortunate because we do live in a county with great community colleges, and universities, where education is an important factor for most people living here. Yet, the ability to inform and educate people about the issues that are impacting their lives is just not there.”