|Posted on Monday, July 29, 2002 - 6:15 pm: |
by David Brock
As an attorney myself ... I've concluded one of the most important things we can do as attorneys or citizens generally is to take control of local government. Most smaller cities or medium-sized cities can be easily controlled politically with about five lawyers and some of their supporters. It's probably easier if you have only three lawyers and their supporters, and you just decide what kind of a community you want to live in.
Irvine Mayor Larry Agran speaking to the National Lawyers' Guild June 18, 1989
Irvine, 55 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, once just a vast expanse of orange groves, was founded in 1960 as the first of Orange County's master-planned "new towns."
As opposed to the suburban bedroom communities of the 1950s, the idea was to create several "villages" within the city -- each with its own look and feel-combining homes, workplaces, shopping, schools, and open space. The width of grass strips along the streets. the color of roof tiles on the regimented houses, the length of time garage doors could stay open -- everything was ordered in the place, geographically larger than Boston and San Francisco combined. Residents voted for cityhood in 1971.
By the 1980s, Irvine was one of the fastest growing cities in California, a major center of aerospace, computer, and high-tech manufacturing, and the locale US News and World Report deemed the "best place to live in America." The city itself had long ago chosen "another day in paradise" as its motto, but that was before a serpent slipped into the garden. Today, many of Irvine's 110,000 residents are beginning to wonder whether paradise has been lost.
Aside from the hyper-planning, Irvine is an archetypical suburb, affluent but by no means chichi, where straightlaced engineers toil in low-rise glass office buildings, shop in ghastly strip malls, and drive home on wide, clogged roads.
But an element of the exotic was introduced one day in 1975, when Larry Agran came to town. Raised in California's San Fernando Valley, graduated from Harvard Law School with honors, groomed as a lawyer for the ACLU and a state senate committee, Agran moved to Irvine when his wife, Phyllis, was accepted at the University of California's medical school there. He did some private legal work, then became a house-husband, and finally decided to run for elected office "largely because you look around and see what bumbling representation does exist," he once told the Los Angeles Times .
The decision came rather suddenly for the tame local political establishment. "He registered to vote the same day he filed to run for City Council," recalls Bill Vardoulis, who was Irvine's mayor at the time. "A guy comes on the scene nobody has ever heard of, and spends $9,000 in a race where all you need is 12,000 votes. He had computerized mailings the likes of which we'd never seen."
Two weeks before the election, an article in an obscure newspaper published by Tom Hayden's pro-rent-control Campaign for Economic Democracy and circulated on the UC Irvine campus provided a glimpse of what was to come: the piece listed politicians who were helping spread CED'S tentacles into unsuspecting communities, including, in Irvine, Larry Agran. Vardoulis saw the article, scratched his head, and decided not to make anything of it.
In his early years on the council, Agran, now 44, was minority of one. Painting himself as a sober, grassroots advocate of slow growth and an environmentalist, he built up his core constituencies by beating up on the Irvine Company, which founded the community originally and still owns about a third of its land. "It was Larry against the big bad developer," says Barbara Wiener, who served with Agran on the council for four years.
Outside of Irvine, Agran began pushing another agenda, through the 1,000-member Local Elected Officials group, which he founded in 1983. The goal was to "promote local responses to non-local matters: world peace, apartheid, nuclear weapons, Central America," Agran explains. In the course of an interview, Agran uses non-threatening, bipartisan terms to describe the movement to get cities to enact foreign-policy measures, expounding on such initiatives as cultural exchanges and trade and investment links with foreign cities. This is quite reminiscent of the fraudulent manner in which he has sold himself to Irvien's electorate, but more about that later.
One need look no further than Agran's Bulletin of Municipal Foreign Policy , which carries articles like "Some tips for Building Nicaraguan Sister Cities" and "Think Globally, Sue Locally," as well as endorsements from the Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Noam Chomsky, to figure out what the effort is all about.
"Just the right sort of organizing effort and a very encouraging development," declaimed the esteemed Professor Chomsky. In light of the movement's credits, his enthusiasm becomes plainly understood: 900 resolutions passed around the country in favor of a nuclear weapons freeze; 118 laws banning nuclear weapons production in local jurisdictions, an effort that coincided with the failure of the freeze movement; refusals by 120 cities to cooperate in a civil defense program proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which forced the scuttling of the plan; more than 100 policies prohibiting cities from links with firms doing business in South Africa; 1,300 sister-city arrangements between American cities and foreign cities, "especially so-called adversary cities," as Agran has phrased it; and 22 local declarations of "sanctuary" for Salvadoran refugees, a political movement designed to foster opposition to US policy in Central America.
In a more candid moment, Agran has been quoted as saying that the ultimate aim of the movement is to "take back foreign policy from the federal government." In appearances everywhere from National League of Cities conferences to meetings at New York's radical Riverside Church, Agran speaks of the "illegal US wars in Vietnam and Grenada," advocates an immediate, unilateral ban on nuclear weapons testing, and describes the US policy of support for the Nicaraguan resistance as "a policy that ultimately had as its objective the killing of Nicaraguan citizens and the violent overthrow of their popular revolution."
Agran's most cherished idea is a unilateral transfer of $30 billion a year, in each of five years, from military outlays (a cut three times the size of the one proposed by liberal Democrats in Congress) to "programs of proven effectiveness in our cities and towns," such as a "comprehensive Social Security system to provide income, health, nutrition and housing security for everyone, not just seniors."
He's called for the entire budget for the Strategic Defense Initiative to be used to "help cities cope with growing traffic problems." According to a study of four US cities by the US Conference of Mayors, Agran's proposed change in federal budget policies would eliminate 6,920 Orange County jobs and mean a loss of $6.3 million annually from Irvine's economy. Flailing "twisted federal priorities" and "our entrenched warfare state," the mayor invokes the statistics as a sign of his political courage -- usually when he's speaking outside of Irvine, that is.
As the Cold War winds down, a development, by the way, achieved with the very policies Agran has spent years vilifying, he is pushing his plan to gut military spending even harder, on the dubious claim that "economic security" has displaced traditional military preparedness as the linchpin of our national security. Calling him a "liberal Democrat [who! thrives as a maverick in Republican territory," an editorial in the March 22 New York Times praised Agran for his work in the peace dividend field.
As Agran expanded his national reach, the locals back in irvine, like Babara Wiener, began to think something was fishy. "People would come to City Council meetings to testify on Larry's side of an issue, and half of them wouldn't live in Irvine," she says. "Then we looked at some of his contributor lists, and they were full of things like big labor unions in Los Angeles." Still, their skepticism wasn't enough to stop his council colleagues from giving him his turn at the revolving mayorship in 1986, and they went along again in 1988, when Agran drafted and got passed a provision for the popular election of mayors. Agran ran and won a two-year term.
Since then, Democrat Agran has been portrayed by a fawning press, both national and local, as Super-Liberal, managing to get elected in probably the most conservative area in the country, Orange County, which gave Ronald Reagan 67 percent of the vote 1980, 73 percent in 1984, and George Bush 69 percent in 1988 -- a larger margin of Republican victory than in any other county in country.
In Irvine, the GOP has a 65-35 percent advantage in voter registraiton, the local congressman is right-wing Republican Chris Cox, and the airport is named after John Wayne. The miracle-maker has been listed in the Los Angeles Times as one of the "people to watch" in the county; hailed by Irvine political scientis Mark Baldassare as the "perfect example of a new fiscal populist leader"; and featured as the crown jewel in a recent article in Orange County magazine titled "Bucking the System: Democrats Challenge the GOP`s Grip."
Agran gets mileage out of this seeming anomaly in appearances outside the community, too, as when he told the Macalester College Mayor's Forum in St. Paul, Minn., last year that "historically and philosophically, Orange County has been home to Richard Nixon and the John Birch Society. ... No wonder it's a pleasure for me to accept out-of-town speaking engagements." This was his on-the-road Mr. Hyde mode, in which he exposes not only his true ideological colors, but also his disdain for the political culture in which he has built his career.
When I spoke with him recently in the coffee shop of the Irvine Hilton hotel, Agran assumed his usual local Dr. Jekyll persona, outfitted in a Chamber of Commerce gray suit and rep tie, and exuding the winning personality of none other than the greatly competent governor of Massachusetts. "Irvine," Agran tells me, leaning over his fresh-fruit shake, "has the best run local government in the country." His tone is earnest, yet it also evokes the unmistakable hubris of Harvard Yard.
Explaining his political beliefs, the mayor dismisses my suggestion that he is a socialist and even carefully avoids the L-word. Nonetheless, a smoking gun on this question turned up in the January/February issue of the Democratic Left , the magazine of the Democratic Socialists of America. In a short list of "DSAers who hold elective office" is the name Larry Agran.
Confronted on the matter, Agran explains:"Well, I get their magazine, and if you subscribe to the magazine, you are automatically a member. That's the way they work it. So that's how I'm a member." But Sherri Levine of the New York-based DSA says that is not the way it works. By becoming a dues-paying member of DSA, which Agran did, one can get the magazine free of charge; one can also subscribe to the magazine for $8 a year without joining DSA. Thus, contrary to the impression he tried to create, Agran willingly joined the goup. What is more, after I raised the question, Agran accused me of "red-baiting," an example of the technique he has used to great effect in silencing his critics in Irvine.
Agran's mystique is built on such sleight-of-hand: he portrays himself as more moderate, and his contituents as more liberal, than the facts bear out. "On issues like the environment, transportation, child-care, controlling and directing land development, people demand an activist government. Their expectations are by no means conservative," he says. Vintage Agran myth-making, that, abetted by a media establisment which so desperately wants to believe it. But the true story of Agran's rise to power isn't quite so neat. While it shows how the adversarial culture of the far left thrived in places beyond Berkeley and Santa Monica even during the Reagan years, it also shows that once politicians on the left begin to be exposed, they can shrivel up as fast as an East Bloc puppet regime. How much longer Agran thrives is an open question that will be settled in a heated re-election race this June.
Agran introduced hardball politics to Irvine iwth the Cosgrove Caper. Before the 1988 election, the Irvine City Council had been split between Agran and his ally Ed Dornan, a junior college English professor, and realtor Sally Anne Sheridan and lawyer David Baker; UC Irvine professor Ray Catalano held the swing vote. In 1988, an amendment to the city charter provided for the direct election of the mayor and the elimination of one council seat. Agran spent $50,000 against opponent Barry Hammond's $5,000 to win 57 percent of the vote for mayor. For the two open council seats, Agran ally Paula Werner, a teacher, placed first, and Sheridan second. But Agran's victory opened a third seat to complete his term. Insurance executive Cameron Cosgrove, the other Agran council candidate on the ballot, had come in third in the voting, entitling him, as first runner-up, to the seat.
The hitch was that also in June balloting voters had approved Measure D, providing a way for voters to petition for a special election for a seat vacated by the election of a mayor. In compliance with the measure, 10 percent of the electorate so petitioned the city. But Agran disregarded the move and refused to scheduled another election, arguing -- contrary to what the ballot measure specifically stated and to the city attorney's opinion -- that Measure D
did not apply to the 1988 election. The council, now Agran-controlled, backed him up, and Cosgrove was sworn in.
Two Irvine residents, Howard Klein and Cristina Bustos-Thomas, promptly challenged the move, petitioning the state attorney general for permission to sue. The attorney general, John van de Kamp, who was featured at an April 1988 Agran fund-raiser and has contributed to Agran's 1990 mayoral campaign, sat on the complaint for five months before deciding it had merit and could go to court. Klein filed suit. Agran proceeded to spend more than $140,000 in city funds to defend his anti-democratic maneuver. And Cosgrove's attorney spent weeks deposing the citizens who had circulated the petition for a new election under Measure D, sending an intimidating signal to anyone who might try to fight Agran's city hall. (While the names of those circulating and signing a petition are not disclosed ordinarily, the city attorney buckled under Agran's pressure.)
In February 1990, with Cosgrove still in the council seat, a judge ruled in his favor on the premise that since Agran had resigned his seat July 13, 1988, and the secretary of state had not officially made Measure D a part of the city charter until July 15, the council had grounds to seat Cosgrove. Klein's motion for reconsideration was dismissed and the City Council is threatening to seek recovery of court costs from him. (Ironically, Measure D had been dreamed up by Agran as a way of protecting himself from the voters, since its primary intent was to set up a system under which incumbents could run for mayor without giving up their council seats.)
Acquiring the council majority, by hook or by crook, has allowed Agran to become in effect a majority on one, throwing wide open his Pandora's box of Fabian-style socialistic proposals. The homeless and homosexuals have figured most prominently.
|Posted on Monday, July 29, 2002 - 6:18 pm: |
#2 -Evidencing his penchant for a centralized government approach to perceived public problems, not to mention the insensitivity of a demagogue, Agran got a $500,000 grant from the US Department of housing and Urban Development to remodel half of an Irvine dog kennel into a 60-bed shelter for the homeless. At the time, there were only five homeless families in Irvine, all housed by Irvine Temporary Housing (ITH), a non-profit group, in rent-subsidized apartments throughout the city, ensuring both privacy and decent accommodations.
ITH opposed the plan, as did many citizens, who feared the shelter would lure street people and derelicts from surrounding towns, and further humiliate them by putting them in with stray dogs. A local uproar spurred HUD to take back the money after Agran refused to consider another site. A member of the ITH board, Agran later retaliated by getting its director, Jim Palmer, fired.
Under Agran, "people who have an ax to grind have been given the umbrella of Irvine political authority to grind them in public," in the form of proliferating city commissions, says former Councilwoman Wiener.
In 1988, Agran's human rights commission drew up an ordinance banning discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, sexual preference, or physical handicap. Over the objections of citizens who argued that would encourage frivolous lawsuits, Big Brother record-keeping, and even affirmative action programs for homosexuals, the council passed the law. Members of a group called the Irvine Values Coalition thought the law legitimized an immoral lifestyle, and they collected signatures to put Measure N on the November 1989 ballot, to repeal the explicit protection of homosexuals.
"I'm a mom with three kids and I don't want gay pride festivals or public sex in bathrooms in my city," said Christina Shea, leader of the coalition. "I'm not on a crusade to wipe out homosexuals, but I'll fight if they want to bring homosexuality into the public arena." Of course this had been accomplished already by the mayor. Members of the Orange County Visiblity League, a gorup of self-described "militant gay activists," sponsored marches, acts of civil disobedience, and even kiss-ins on the streets of Irvine in the midst of the Measure N battle. Agran & Co. raised $53,000 to defend the ordinance as opposed to the $13,000 Measure N's backers spent, but it passed with 53 percent of the vote. Agran lost his characteristic public composure following the defeat, and residents caught a glimpse of Mr. Hyde: at a community dinner, he strode to the dais and said he didn't know if the appropriate attire for the night was "black-tie or a hood."
Another Agran commission, the Irvine Science Advisory Task Force, worked with the council in the approval of a july 1989 law restricting the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) within the city's jurisdiction. It bans the sale and use of plastic-foam food packaging if the chemicals are used in their manufacture, the use of CFCs in industrial processes like cleaning ocmputer circuit boards, and the use of building insulation containing the compounds. The ordinance does in automobile air conditioners or refrigerators, since there are no current substitutes, but it will require serive staitons and repair shops to capture and recycle the compounds.
From summer 1990 on, 400 to 500 businesses in Irvine that use the CFC compounds must adapt their equipment to prevent the gases from entering the atmosphere. Some wonder whether the law makes illegal the use of brake cleaner, suede shoe cleaner, and even fingernail polish remover.
Agran's Irvine has been at the forefront of a much wider national debate on the use of CFCs. Urged on by environmental activists and encouraged by the Irvine action, several dozen cities have initiated some type of CFC ban, though none has been as draconian as Irvine's. The crux of the issue is that scientists have said CFCs and other chlorinated solvents are destroying the earth's ozone layer, which protects the planet from ultraviolet radiation. The compounds are also associated with the so-called global-warming phenomenon.
Reflecting the divisions in the scientific community on how to deal with CFC use, the Irvine council's move was opposed by Bela Lengyel, a retired university physicist and Irvine resident, who told the council that the effect of the ordinance on the globe's ozone layer "would be too small to be detected by any known scientific method." Others noted that the alternatives currently available are flammable and could endanger employee safety, be carcinogenic, or pollute the water.
Councilwoman Sheridan had more practical concerns. Residents will be unable to find air conditioner repairmen willing to invest in the costly recycling equipment required under the law, and Irvine's small businesss will not be able to compete with others in the area that are not so restricted, she said. An air conditioning serviceman said it would increase the price of air conditioning repairs in Irvine by $140 to $200. Many of the city's high-tech businesses also objected. A spokesman for Western Digital said his computer products firm, which is building a $100 million facility in Irvine, would lose its manufacturing capability if the law passed. Nonetheless, Agran was able to convince his colleagues that to turn down the law would be to "kiss off the future of the globe."
Todd Nicholson, president of the Industrial League of Orange County, who had testified against the ban, now notes that it has proved so unworkable that the city's new $70,000 "environmental coordinator" is having to issue all manner of exemptions. The outcome demonstrates Agran's environmentalism-without-pain approach: you feel good about "doing something," yet you don't really do anything. "The whole thing was a political act," says Nicholson. "There was a big push to adopt it on first reading before the weekend meeting of Local Elected Officials in Irvine. There wasn't the usual consultation with groups that would have been affected by the law," which could have made for a more workable one.
Irvine became the first city in the country to enact such a sweeping CFC ban on July 18, three days before a conference of two dozen local officals convened in Irvine to launch a national effort to restrict CFCs. The conference was organized by the Irvine-based Center for Innovative Diplomacy (CID), which in 1986 had subsumed Agran's Local Elected Officials group and become the umbrella organization for his municipal foreign policy push.
Agran became executive director of CID, at an annual salary of $25,000 (Agran's wife, Phyllis, now a successful pediatrician and a tenured UC Irvine professor, and pro-abortion activist, essentially subsidized Agran's career), and Michael Shuman, a graduate of Stanford Law School who used to run an international computer link called "Peace Net" in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was named president.
The CID meeting produced a call for an international gathering of mayors and local officials under United Nations sponsorship to discuss ozone depletion and to sign a "stratospheric protection accord." The UN has since agreed. CID's "World Conference of Local Authorities" will meet at the UN this summer.
This silliness aside, the CFC ban demonstrates what Sheridan, a straight-shooting, personable real estate agent who is running against Agran in June's mayoral election, says is Agran's intense concern for his global agenda at the expense of what's best for Irvine. This is how it works: CID director Agran is paid to promote CFC bans and get them passed. Mayor Agran, who makes $10,000 a year to tend part-time to Irvine's business, sees to it that the CID mission is accomplished in his city, and then touts the Irvine law as a model for CID's members.
In a December 1989 CID fund-raising letter, Agran opened by recounting Irvine's establishment of "concrete programs addressing the threats of ozone depletion and global warming." A committed ideologue, Agran cleearly isn't in this to make money. But city money is helpng underwrite CID. Agran schedules CID meetings to coincide with his official business in other parts of the country.
Says former Mayor Vardoulis:"The city pays to send him to do his (CID) job." In March 1986, for example, Agran attended the National League of Cities convention in Washington, D.C., and, according to city records, filed expenses of $727.55 for air-fare and hotel. At the same time, Agran held a meeting of the steering committee of his Local Elected Officials group to discuss its merger with the Center for Innovative Diplomacy, according to several LEO board members. Sheridan charges that aides who staff Agran's city office, mostly UC Irvine students, also do CID work, though Agran denies this.
But the bigger question for Irvine residents is whether they want their city to continue to be Dr. Jekyll's laboratory for the global agenda of CID, a $300,000-a-year operation with close ties to Tom Hayden's renamed Campaign for Economic Democracy, Campaign California. As recently as two years ago, says Gil Ferguson, a local Republican assemblyman, "you could call Agran's office and they'd answer the phone `Campaign California.' " Yet the very fact of Irvine's conservative demeanor adds a cover of reasonableness to the left-wing municipal foreign policy drive.
In December, for example, the Irvine council established an Office of International Affairs, with a two year-budget of $110,000, that will work on a range of projects, from international trade assistance to reunification of refugees from Vietnam with their families. The city is also funding -- to the tune of $36,000 -- a non-profit Sister City Foundation. Irvine has a sister city in Tsubuka, Japan, and is about to adopt another one, Hermosillo, Mexico. Any effort to name a sister city like Managua would likely meet significant opposition.
Still, at CID 's instigation, Agran has played host to a Nicaraguan baseball team and to the Veterans Peace Convoy, a Sandinista-support group which collected food and money for distribution in Managua. On Memorial Day 1988, the convoy was welcomed by Agran at a city hall reception that attracted many of Southern California's pro-Communist activists, including representatives of the Committee in Solidarity with the People for El Salvador. According to his Bulletin of Municipal Foreign Policy , Agran has also "met with the Palistinian mayor of Nazareth, and turned up at trials of arrested anti-contra demonstrators."
Whether one agrees with their ends or not, there is no disputing that "Larry's social programs cost money," says Brien Manning, publisher of the Irvine World News , an award-winning weekly newspaper published by the Irvine Company. Money spent on "general government expenditures" -- the cost of running the city's bureaucracy -- has increased from $5.5 million in 1986 to $10
million in 1989, according to the city's annual financial report for 1989. That same report shows that total revenue from taxes increased from $27.7 million in 1986 to $41.9 million in 1989.
"The residential tax bill is certainly going up," says former Councilwoman Wiener. "On newer homes, they're paying all kinds of special assessments, for roads, for water districts, for schools, for landscape maintenance." Residents even pay to divide their trash into three separate bins as part of a city-wide recycling program, free in most cities. "We pay to recycle, rather than save money recycling," says Wiener. Nikolaj Grinenko, an elderly Irvine resident, was recently arrested by the Irvine police for "unauthorized" recycling efforts; Grinenko liked to pass his days picking up bottles and cans in his neighborhood and donating the money he received for them to charity.
When Agran drew up a new bond issue proposal and called a special election for March of this year, Wiener decided to fight it. The bond issue would have raised $300 million to build and maintain city parks, assessing an annual tax of $120 per household. Agran claimed it would fund a "park system for the 21st century," including $600,00 for a working model farm, where the homeless would raise crops for the "needy." The move was an unprecedented use of a bond issue, which usually goes to fund a long-term capital expenditure: Two-thirds of the revenue generated under the plan would have gone to the operation and maintenance of city facilities.
Though the mayor spent $60,000 in city money to promote the bond and hold the election, the bond was defeated decisively, 75 to 25 percent. "People were saying, `you have enough money; if you can afford sister cities, you can afford parks,' " says Wiener.
|Posted on Monday, July 29, 2002 - 6:20 pm: |
#3 It was the second time in six months that an Agran-backed initiative had been rejected by the voters, and the mayor's machine is sputtering as the June race nears. The outcome will likely hinge on the complex politics of development, the issue on which Agran has staked his local career. Although Agran has run under the broadly popular banner of slow-growth, a detailed look at his positions shows that this label is misleading, to say the least. It would be more apt to say that Agran supports controlled-growth, provided that he's manning the control booth.
Agran's view is informed by a kind of Luddite environmentalism, a less-is-more, small-is-beautiful approach that mandates more, not less, density. Agran's Irvine -- where everybody would live in space-saving condominium developments and ride to work on energy-saving rapid transit -- would be a flattened Manhattan.
This view is reflected in his proposal to build an "urban village" of 28,000 residential units within a sprawling business park, the 2,500-acre Irvine Business Complex, which would increase residential density in the city by more than 30 percent.
Agran called it a "global village" and "Irvine's Champs Elysees," but he set his sights a bit lower in a memo to city staff, saying their time "would probably be well spent walking up and down Main Street in Disneyland" for design ideas. The local reaction to the plan has been tepid. Many see it as grim social engineering more appropriate to North Korea than Southern California. It is also in complete contrast to the city's master plan, which embodies quite consciously the traditional American dream: a single-family house in the suburbs, a front and back yard, a couple of cars in the driveway.
The master plan is aimed precisely at preventing too much density and associated traffic problems. Building out to the limits of the plan -- which envisions a population of 225,000 by the year 2000 -- means more and wider roads. But Agran is against roads, not to mention the automobile. "Roads themselves are not a solution to our mobility problems," he says. That is the root of a conflict that has taken many forms.
What is happening in Irvine is a throw back to the old slow-growth Hayden theory: You purposely clog the roads by delaying expansion projects, enticing the electorate to draw the false conclusion that development means traffic congestion. Then you push the "environmentalist" solution to the problem -- more residential density, live-where-you-work schemes, and mass transportation --
rather than simply building more and better roads.
Put into practice, the Agran plan has meant that "traffic is worse now, because some roads have actually gone from four to two lanes," says Howard Klein, an Irvine attorney. "The design is to make people fed up with driving. Meanwhile, the infrastructure is deteriorating." Hank Adler, a former city commissioner, explains, "When Larry came into office, he said, `We don't want any more backyard freeways.' The master plan concept was that we'd have major highways that would go around the city. He was against that. So now we have six major roads going through the city full of commuter traffic rather than one going around."
According to Craig Neustadter, a former transportation engineer for the city, Agran's end game is the fixed monorail system that he wants to build through the city. "Up to now, we haven't had the land-use density to sustain such a system. Larry's view of Irvine is in marked contrast to the Southern California lifestyle, the reason people come to Irvine in the first place."
Thus, there isn't much public enthusiasm for the monorail, but the mayor has found a way around that hurdle. A California State Rail Bond initiative, slated for the June 1990 ballot, would provide $2 billion in funds for rail and transit projects throughout the state. Agran got the state to include in the proposed projects the construction of a monorail that would be linked to a downtown Irvine rail, extended throughout Irvine's John Wayne airport area, and connect to commuter train service to Los Angeles and Riverside. Last spring, the state told supporters of the initiative in each community to raise one dollar for each $400 included in the bond measure to fund a signature-gathering campaign to get the bond on the ballot. For Irvine's $125 million, $312,000 had to be generated locally.
Though the city was legally barred from participating financially in the campaign, Irvine's director of community development, Robert C. Johnson, wrote to several Irvine developers in early April 1989 encouraging "private individuals and private corporations to participate in this remarkable opportunity to build a twenty-first century transportation system -- with all its benefits -- right here in Irvine. It is suggested that a contribution of $10
per employee in your organization, or any amount you can justify, will assist in providing the funds necessary."
One executive of a local firm, who provided copies of virtually identical letters received by several local businesses, says his company got squeezed at both ends, once by the city for a direct contribution, and again by big developers, who passed the city assessment on to their subcontractors. What is more, according to several local executives, the letters were followed up with phone calls from city officials -- in at least one case by Agran's shadow on the
City Council, Ed Dornan.
Meanwhile, Agran has found a way to link his monorail scheme to his peace dividend proposals, saying that the federal government shouldn't be spending "billions to put guided nuclear missiles on rail cars; what we need is to put thousands of commuters on rail cars."
If the mayor's development schemes have such little support, how does he get his program enacted? Principally through the exercise of raw political power at City Hall. Purges and defections from the city staff have been nothing short of massive in the past few years. Soon after taking power, the Agran majority on the council fired Irvine's first and only city manager, Bill Woolett, part of a plan to move Irvine from a city-manager form of government to an Imperial Mayoralty.
Dennis Wilberg, the former transportation director, left the city because the mayor and his supporters were holding up the approval of new roads in the hopes of creating a public clamor for mass transportation. "The highways were stalled by a small group and no one can butt heads with the mayor," says Wilberg, who is now hiring former Irvine officials as consultants to do work for him in nearby Mission Viejo, where he holds the same job he had in Irvine. "There was a very good staff. But most of them have left." Neustadter quit in March, when he could no longer work under the scrutiny, as he says, of "certain allies of the mayor, a fifth column, watching out for his interests, not the city's, in the day-to-day operation of the development process.
"It was quite demoralizing," Neustadter went on. "There are some civil servants who are allied with the mayor, and they order professional reports to be revised in relation to his positions. Editorial revisions on the city's Environmental Impact Report on the Yale Overpass were slanted in the direction of the mayor's opinions. We found that by not building the bridges [Agran's position!, you put more pollutants into the environment. We were told to cover that up. It's insidious."
The Yale Overpass controversy demonstrates well the way Agran -- in a now-classic Democratic style -- is able to get elected in the first place. Essentially, he pursues a divide-and-conquer strategy with respect to various Irvine residential enclaves by appealing to their special interests. This works in tandem with voter apathy to produce enough votes -- about 15,000 -- to win.
The Agran council has blocked an extension and widening of Yale Road, a major north-south thoroughfare that is blocked in two spots, once by a freeway and once by a railway. The master plan provides for the building of an overpass to connect the road, but many in the immediate neighborhood oppose it. "A very small minority is against it, because they say it will siphon off traffic from the major arterials into their neighborhoods," says newspaper publisher Manning.
The same paradigm is at work in Agran's war against the proposed San Joaquin Hills Freeway, a regional transportation corridor that would relieve traffic throughout Orange County. Agran sent fliers addressed only to "residents of Turtle Rock, University Town Center, and Rancho San Joaquin," three of Irvine's more exclusive neighborhoods, informing them that "the San Joaquin Hills Freeway will slash through the beautiful coastal hillsides behind Turtle Rock Village and UCI." He set up a straw man, claiming the road would be 18 lanes when, in fact, no one had proposed any such thing. The freeway is now under construction, following an advisory vote taken last August in Irvine, at Agran's insistence (and at a cost of about $50,000 to the city), that showed 80 percent of the electorate backing the freeway.
Agran also has involved Irvine as a party to a number of lawsuits that have challenged Orange County-authorized developer agreements. In one such case in 1986, after a judge ruled that residents of one city could not block a regional transportation plan, Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy filed a legal brief in support of California Supreme Court review (it was denied). Residents have chargd that the Agran tactic is a publicity stunt that wastes taxpayer money because as a member of the Orange County boards that decide such matters, the city, in effect, is suing itself.
The mayor's constituency-building has extended also to the UC Irvine campus, where, not surprisingly, he finds a sympathetic audience among both faculty and students. Several Irvine professors have sat on Agran-appointed boards and commissions and defended him vociferously at City Council meetings. The Agran political machine depends on a heavy turnout in the UCI neighborhoods, padded by a couple of thousand student absentee ballots, and in the mobile home parks, where Agran is popular for sponsoring a rent-control law (though his sympathies for a more expansive rent-control law have been kept in check). Senior citizens in retirement developments are enticed with a combination of carrots and sticks; in one case, residents in a complex were told that if they did not vote for the mayor, they would lose the traffic light that enables them to cross the street safely to a nearby shopping center.
The essential analytical point here is that Agran, contrary to his reputation, does not attract many conservative votes. Though they are outnumbered by Republicans, Democrats vote at a 10 percent higher rate than do Republicans. Agran's narrow constituencies add up, provided most everybody else stays home (voter turnout is typically 50 percent) and the opposition is divided.
A look at some past races proves instructive in this respect. In 1988, the two Agran-backed candidates for city council together won 22,366 votes; the non-Agran candidates tallied 26,351. The problem was that there were three non-Agran candidates.
Mayor candidate Sheridan and her supporters are determined not to make the same mistake this go-around, in which control of the council is also at stake. Agran, though, will have the advantage of incumbency, and a bigger war chest, much of it from outside Irvine. For the reporting period that ended December 1989, Agran had raised $35,000, of which $13,000 came from outside Irvine; Sheridan had raised $16,000, with less than $800 coming from non-Irvine sources. Agran's backers included fat-cat Los Angeles liberal Stanley K. Sheinbaum, and the Beverly Hills PAC "Women For," headed by a husky feminist from the Carter days, Marge Tabankin.
Almost all of Agran's Irvine supporters were Irvine city employees, UC faculty, and -- yes -- developers, hedging their bets. (Agran's views on development, of course, are not necessarily incompatible with the developers'.) When Agran was in the minority and thus had difficulty attracting big business bucks, he succeeded in getting passed a $160 cap on political contributions from groups, or individuals.
But he now routinely violates the limit by getting large "in kind" contributions from Irvine groups with which he has close ties. For example, the Irvine Conservancy, on whose board Agran sits, and Irvine Citizens United, which orignally formed to fight Measure N, both contributed cash in addition to sending out mailers soliciting funds for the 1990 Agran Campaign. Complaints on these matters have been filed with California's Fair Political Practices Commission.
As in other locales, the conservatives find themselves out-gunned, as too few in their ranks care to become "activists" of whatever stripe. So the left moves in essentially unchallenged, and fights with every means available when the public discovers the sheep are wolves. Sheridan reports that a campaign of intimidation by the Agran forces has begun, causing her to lose some real estate clients and receive threatening telephone calls from anonymous antagonists. The Agran camp even has someone in her office monitoring her incoming calls, she says.
But this is par for the course in a community where, increasingly, "everyone is afraid of Larry," as Sheridan puts it. As if to parody the neo-Stalinist aura he's created, Agran recently ordered that an armed police officer stand guard at each public meeting of the City Council after a woman offered some critical comments about the mayor's reign.
Perhaps in billing itself as a "new way to live in an urban environment," Irvine invited in the likes of Larry Agran. And he thrived for a time, like a parasite on a healthy plant. A city so economically vibrant and socially placid as Irvine is tough to wreck. But now, as more of his policies come home to roost, Agran is a desperate man fighting for his political life. His carefully crafted game plan of appealing to a voting minority appears to have backfired, angering the majority.
Many moderates and conservatives simply can't abide his connection to "globalism" or, more generally, to the radical left. At the same time, his intellectual intolerance and sheer political brutality have alienated many liberals. Finally, there is the atmosphere of divisiveness and dishonesty that Agran and his cabal have created, leading to the undeniable conclusion that Agran's consuming concern is power, in the service of an agenda he will not even own up to.
If Agran wins the race and serves out his term, he says he hopes to go on to an appointed post in government, should either the White House or the governor's mansion fall into the hands of the Democrats. (He could never run successfully in the country, and an amendment to the city charter limits a mayor to two consecutive terms. But because the charter does not explicitly prohibit an outgoing mayor from running for council, Agran is likely to run one of his cronies for mayor and rule Irvine from the council for two years, then run again for mayor.) If he loses, he'll still have his municipal foreign policy crusade, though without the imprimature of Irvine, it's hard to see how Agran could maintain the kind of profile he's enjoyed, or keep his municipal foreign policy movements at its current pitch.
In the end, Irvine voters may make Agran the political dinosaur extinct not only locally, but globally.
Mr. Brock is a senior editor of Insight magazine. This article was written for the May edition of The American Spectator , with whose permission it is published.
|Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2002 - 5:41 pm: |
Did the Register really say this?
|Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2002 - 5:51 pm: |
Did the American Spectator really say this?
|Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2002 - 5:53 pm: |
Did Insight Magazine really say this?