Auto Industry's Demise is Orange County Great Park's Gain

newcarlot.jpgNo one is buying cars in this country. That means new cars aren't leaving dealer lots. That means U.S. ports are getting backed up with cars that, at least temporarily, have no place to go. And that means ships bringing these cars into those ports are getting backed up as well.

Gee, if only there was a huge expanse of land around here where nearly nothing will be going on for the next several months so these autos could be held in the short term?

Well, wouldn't you know it, but there is this former Marine air base that's within Irvine city limits that apparently will someday become a really big, dare I say great, park. Perhaps you've heard something about this.

The Orange County Great Park Board of Directors just voted to allow their Chief Executive Officer Michael Ellzey to negotiate and enter into land leases agreements for short-term automobile storage. Actually, the board recommended the Irvine City Council grant that authorization, but since all council members serve on the board, you know how that's going to go.

Great Park board chairman-by-day/Councilman-by-night Larry Agran called this business opportunity "a small, small sliver of silver lining in the gloomy national economic cloud." Initially, up to 3,000 cars would be parked on 20 acres of paved and unpaved land on the southwest corner of the former base where, in the near term, no development is planned. Each car will generate $1 per day. Clockwork flunked math, but 3,000 cars at a buck a day would seem to equal $90,000 a month.

By contrast, each acre would generate $1 day were this an agricultural use, noted Agran, who called the auto plan "a highly renumerative temporary use."

"That's better than strawberries," joked Rod Cooper, the park's operations manager.

Cooper said a representative of one of the three companies talking to him about erecting temporary lots was actually seeking 100 acres of land. "I'm not sure that makes good sense, we'll see," said Cooper, who advised starting off with 20 acres before determining whether to expand. "We want to see what they can do first."

Responding to questions from the board, Cooper said the city would not be liable for the cars, the leasees would pay to erect fences around their vehicles, they would provide their own security and the city would impose restrictions like curfews to make sure operations do not conflict with other park uses.

It was such a slam dunk that board members who often clash with one another over fiscal matters found quick agreement -- and a unanimous vote of support -- on becoming the Orange County Great Parking Lot.

"I have just one comment: Go for it!" said director/Mayor Sukhee Kang.

"I think this is just a bad situation in the automobile industry right now," shrugged director/Councilman Steven Choi.

"We don't want this to last a long time," replied Cooper, "but at the same time we want this to last a long time."

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