The city of Irvine is considering spending 80 percent of its federal COVID-19 relief funds on improvements to a local park.
It received $53 million from the American Rescue Plan, a pandemic stimulus package, and will discuss during an April 27 meeting whether to put $42 million of that money toward Heritage Community Park upgrades.
According to a staff report, improvements to the park would include rebuilding the community center, expanding the fine arts center, adding parking and shade structures, expanding sports courts, and reconfiguring the pond with water features.
Councilman Anthony Kuo said he was surprised and disappointed that Heritage Park was on the staff report, adding that he directed staff that the money should be spent on one-time expenses, since it’s a one-time grant.
Kuo said he would like to see the city use the money to waive certain fees for residents.
“Newport Beach as an example, they actually waived business license fees for a year for their city,” Kuo said. “If we chose to do that in Irvine, that would be at a cost of about $1 million a year to us.”
About a month ago, the city waived fees for youth sports programs, and Kuo said he could see some of the money going to fund that.
“That was something that we thought was hitting the pocketbooks of families throughout town,” he said. “And so really, these dollars, while one of the components that the federal government has said is it can be used as revenue replacement to offset revenue decreases, we really want to have these revenues impact the local residents and the local families as much as possible.”
Councilman Larry Agran put out his own memo of what he thought the city should spend the money on. His suggestions included establishing a city hall office of public health, an office of small business assistance, an office of emergency housing assistance, and more.
Kuo said he disagreed with most of the ideas on Agran’s memo and that Agran put out the document for purely political purposes.
“He’s grandstanding, because we all had our meetings with staff, and there was never a conversation about putting out a document saying, ‘This is how I want to spend the money,’” Kuo said.
“I did look at his document, I’m opposed to most of what he’s proposing, because again, starting an office of public health is not a one-time expense. We could use that money and start this department, and then what’s going to be funding this department in three years, in five years, in 10 years?”
Agran told The Epoch Times that he would have prepared his own memo regardless of the city staff’s ideas. He said his office surveyed 186 Irvine residents, who named health and affordability as their top priorities.
“The intent of the Congress and making all of this money available to all communities, in my judgment, was to help us recover from the impacts of COVID,” Agran said. “And I felt that was best done by taking a real hard look at our institutional capacity to deal with matters of public health, economic reversal, required assistance to renters, and of course, assistance to business.
“I think staff may have missed the mark in recommending a major park rehabilitation as a proper use for those funds. I just had other ideas that I offered.”
While the majority of the funding proposed by staff is for the Heritage Community Park, the city is also looking at creating a supplemental rental assistance program for $3.5 million, giving full-time city employees a $1,000 bonus and part-time employees a $500 bonus for providing services during the pandemic. It will spend $2 million exploring municipal broadband solutions.