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Great Park to start charging for rides

It will cost $10 to ride the balloon. Council splits on decision.

March 15, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • A balloon lifts visitors above the Orange County Great Park.
A balloon lifts visitors above the Orange County Great… (Allen J. Schaben/Los…)

The Orange County Great Park once again raised the Irvine's City Council's hackles.

The carousel and balloon rides starred prominently at Tuesday's meeting, as did the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

These items, pulled from the meeting's consent calendar, led to a heated debate, pockmarked with insults, from both factions of the divided council.

The lengthy discussion, in which the audience was given yet another walk through the park's history, ended in a 3-2 vote; Larry Agran and Beth Krom dissented.

Starting April 1, the Great Park will charge $2 for carousel rides, and $10 general admission for a flight on the balloon, while children ages 6 to 16 years old will be asked to pay $5. The money will go toward the Solar Decathlon and related energy-XPO events, which is anticipated to cost $3.3 million.

Amid Krom's accusations of the Solar Decathlon being a "subterfuge," and the Great Park being reduced to a commercialized amusement park, the council decided to keep more resources in its coffers by doing away with the park's annual New Year's Eve and anniversary parties, 5K Runway dash and other events. The total savings exceed $2 million.

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"Irvine charging for merry-go-rounds will make us a laughingstock and rightfully so," Irvine resident Jane Olinger said during the meeting. "For the first time in my 42 years living here, I'm embarrassed by the majority of our council."

According to Agran, who used PowerPoint slides at the meeting, the Great Park is in good fiscal health.

"This idea that we are running out of money, that's nonsense," he said. "We are not $2 million behind the eight-ball on the Solar Decathlon — we are $20 million or even $35 million to the good."

In January 2012, the United States Department of Energy selected the Great Park as the site for the 2013 Solar Decathlon — the first outside Washington, D.C. Irvine was granted $1 million to host 20 international collegiate teams that will design and build solar-powered houses, putting on public display the benefits of renewable energy, from Oct. 3 to 13.

"This Solar Decathlon and XPO matter is really being used as a pretext to totally upend the policies, the direction in which the Great Park has been going," Agran said. "This is a fantastic opportunity for our city, yet it is being treated now as something akin to a burden and a license to attack our staff and the Great Park management for mismanagement, running out of money [and] wastefulness."

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