Irvine Wants Communist $$$ for the Great Park?

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The controversy surrounding Irvine's new "Sister City" relationship with Communist officials in Shanghai and the bizarre snub of democratic Taiwan began with numerous "irregularies," including breaches of protocol, "odd" outside influences and possible "deliberate deception," according to a June 21 memo obtained by the Weekly.

Written by Sister Cities Foundation president James E. Dunning, the three-page document outlines how Henry King, the Shanghai-native husband of Councilman Larry Agran's executive aide, allegedly usurped power from the foundation's leadership and laid the seeds for embarrassment if not international confrontation.

Among Dunning's complaints: King--a foundation member--secretly communicated with the Communists before and during the trip, refusing repeated requests to keep others in the delegation informed or in the decision-making loop; unilaterally crafted a roster for the trip, inviting a person with no ties to the Sister Cities program; and shifted the agenda in Shanghai to include business unrelated to Sister Cities matters.

Nixon, Kissinger, and now Krom

Perhaps most egregious, King allegedly helped dictate scheduling, at one point putting himself and Irvine city staffer Valerie Larenne in a room alone with a Communist official. As King stood by without complaint, Tina Tian--a Chinese government representative of Shanghai's Xuhui district--demanded that Larenne, Irvine's Community Partnerships Administrator, sign a bizarre, unprecedented agreement. The contract, which requires nothing from the Chinese, calls on Irvine's elected officials to pretend that Taiwan does not exist.

It was a cocky move by the Communists. Such boldness isn't fathomable unless Irvine officials weren't really focused on the Sister Cities program, a cultural, sports, economic and humanitarian exchange which places each side's representatives on par with one another. No, there was something else--something clandestine--at work here, and it can be traced back to Agran. He's the cagey, veteran politician whose machine runs Irvine and thus the Orange County Great Park board. More on this in a moment.

The contract--which, incredibly, Larenne signed and then allegedly didn't share with her bosses for more than a week after their return to the U.S.--is no big deal, according to first-term Mayor Beth Krom, an Agran protege. She explained to Steven Greenhut of The Orange County Register that she's "mystified" that anyone could be alarmed. The agreement "isn't as controversial as it's made out to be," Krom told Greenhut.

Never mind that Irvine has a successful, six-year-old Sister Cities relationship with the Taiwanese city of Taoyuan. Never mind too that the United States is formally committed to defend Taiwan if attacked by the totalitarian regime. The contract pledges that "from now on" Irvine's elected officials won't visit Taiwan, display Taiwan's flag, play its national anthem or attend any Taiwanese government functions.

Multiple sources at the Sister Cities Foundation say their program may have been "hijacked" behind the scenes by Agran, the Irvine Co. and King, who "railroaded Shanghai through as a sister city despite unanswered questions, strenuous objections and normal procedures." Some foundation members were "wined and dined" by Irvine Co. executives and "pressured by Agran" to expedite the process for the Communists, sources say. They were also puzzled when King insisted that Great Park board member Michael Pinto, another Agran buddy, make the trip. Pinto has no known connection to the Sister Cities program. Yet, when the delegation arrived in Shanghai, they discovered a private meeting had been scheduled between Pinto and the Chinese.

According to Councilman Steven Choi, who made the trip, "Pinto wished to have a separate meeting with the staff of the Xuhui Planning Department while our itinerary indicated for the rest of us to go another meeting." Choi says others in the delegation were suspicious and demanded that they too attend Pinto's meeting. "Whether he had a real 'private' session with anyone at night is not known," Choi told the Weekly.

What do Agran, Pinto and the county's biggest real estate developer want from Shanghai? Foundation members and others at city hall say the Communists have been asked to funnel money to private foundations tied to Agran. The money would help build a spectacular Chinese garden at the Great Park in Irvine.

If true, should Orange County's future premier park be built on Orwellian concessions? The Shanghai contract--dated May 30, ironically the day Americans originally honored their fallen soldiers--had one other caveat. It prohibits even the mention of the island democracy or its formal name, The Republic of China. In Communist Chinese eyes, Taiwan doesn't exist, except among its military leaders who are, according to a recent Pentagon report, plotting to invade the country.

Mayor Krom filters reality too. She has argued that the contract is meaningless because it was signed by a city staffer. (If it was meangingless, why did the Communists want it?) Interestingly, she's been silent on King's role. You'll recall that King is tied to Agran, who--along with Councilman Suhkee Kang--met privately with the same Shanghai officials during an earlier trip. (Neither agreed to discuss their mission.) Foundation members wonder if Agran had already okayed the contract Larenne signed. This much is sure, though: Krom continues to excuse the Chinese tactics.

"There was no effort on [the part of the Communists] to exert pressure on us," Krom told Jean Pasco for her June 20 story in the Times. "We haven't bent to anyone."

Members of Orange County's fiercely anti-communist Asian community didn't buy Krom's spin. They've called for a protest at the June 27 city council hearing. Stan Yang of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs committee, called the agreement "anti-Taiwan and anti-Taoyuan."

"The majority of Taiwanese Americans living in Irvine would rather distance themselves from the totalitarian communist regime, given its corrupt and notorious human rights record, and its aggression to overtly take over a democratic Taiwan," Yang wrote in a June 22 letter to Krom. "We urge you to rescind the agreement and to side with those who support and practice democracy, instead of those who work against it."

But Krom pretends she doesn't understand the fuss. Despite prohibitive language that would have delighted Mao, the contract with the Communists only "might be [my emphasis] interpreted to constrain" Irvine's elected officials, according to Krom, who is asking for re-election this November. If you know anything about this mayor, you won't be surprised to learn that she has found a villain for "the confusion that has been created." It's not herself, Agran, Pinto, King, Larenne or the Chinese officials. It's the media.

rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com

PREVIOUS KROMWAN-GATE COVERAGE:

Irvine Tells Taiwan Where To Krom It
Irvine Offends Thousands of Its Citizens


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