Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We visit a boondoggle

The El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was closed in 1999 and a great deal of controversy followed regarding what to do with the land. Many people favoured opening an airport (and closing the nearby John Wayne airport). Everyone else wanted anything but an airport. The latter group prevailed, and that's precisely what they got, according to the monthly Orange County Journalists Roundtable on KPCC's Air Talk.

The plan was to parcel out the land into large parcels and sold at auction. The winning developer was expected to build houses and to use part of the profits to build the Orange County Great Park. Well, the housing market has collapsed, so the park will be a long time in coming. Irvine and Orange County politicians have received a great deal of criticism for this project.

In the meantime, we have the preview park. The most noteworthy feature is the Orange County Great Park Balloon, which is a tethered helium balloon, that one can ride free of charge-- after signing a waiver that indemnified the organization and gave them permission to use photos of one having a nice time.

I thought Mini-Mausburger would enjoy the big orange balloon, so we went.

For the bargain basement price of $14 million, we have displays, chairs, umbrellas, trees in boxes, and some patches of grass. It was funny explaining to our munchkin that this was indeed a park, but it didn't have a slide or a play structure. Considering how little is there, we have received an amazing number of flyers and newsletters in the mail.

As Mr. Mausburger pointed out, the site reminded him of the party where nobody showed up. There are party favours, games, and music, but nobody showed up. We went on a Friday morning and there were about five families with children there. The plans for the park are pretty cool-- fountains, cafes, pavilions, play structures, a tricycle track, lots of baseball diamonds, and lots of tennis courts. Currently, there's an RV storage facility on the grounds and there is (sanctioned) drag racing on one of the runways on the weekend.

The balloon ride was cool-- my motion sickness, notwithstanding. But for $14 million, I would have expected a little more bang for my tax buck. A slide would have been nice.

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