1. Commit to traffic improvement
The outgoing city council took traffic issues seriously enough to move forward with enacting recommendations of the Citywide Comprehensive Traffic Study by spending $116 million on improving traffic flow over the coming months and years. The projects include improving 23 intersections, including adding additional lanes; widening sections of University Dr. and Jamboree Rd.; building the much-needed pedestrian overpass at Jamboree and Michelson; and synchronizing signals at major intersections and freeway overpasses, which requires coordination with CalTrans.
These are all very practical infrastructure improvements that should improve traffic incrementally in the city. But we’d like to see a bit more vision woven into the process.
The first step the new council should take is to hire a “traffic czar” as Mayor-elect Don Wagner described it during his campaign, or a City Traffic Engineer, as the traffic study recommends. We urge the council to seek out someone exceptional for this position with the skills to not only handle the daily nuts and bolts of managing infrastructure improvement, but who also can imagine and implement a traffic and transit master plan for the city.
Working with OCTA, Metrolink, UCI, the major developers and city staff, Irvine should develop a plan that looks to the future, incorporating the newest and emerging technology and transit thought leadership. Let’s have road, rail and transit plans that are worthy of the visionary master planning of Irvine’s past.
2. Approve a plan for Cultural Terrace, and pave the way for building to begin on the next vital section of the Orange County Great Park
As reported in this and other issues of Irvine City News, several key elements that will make Irvine truly proud of the Orange County Great Park are well underway, or at least planned, funded and approved. These include the Sports Park; the Anaheim Duck ice complex, the Great Park Neighborhoods residential areas and schools; and the roadways and infrastructure. But one of the most important parts of the park remains somewhat in limbo.
There was a certain amount of pre-election prevarication about plans for the Cultural Terrace at the Orange County Great Park. No one wanted to take a definitive stand, it seemed, on what should be there, and what should not. Some suggested even more studies and additional community input.
As an April 2016 story in the Orange County Register noted, “Last year, the council affirmed its priorities for the future Cultural Terrace: a library, a lake, an amphitheater, museums and an outdoor festival space.” Since, the council has also confirmed its goal to have a Wild Rivers replacement at the Orange County Great Park.
Irvine City News urges the city council to move forward decisively and get the Cultural Terrace planned, approved, funded and underway. While there are leases for facilities on the Cultural Terrace part of the park that will expire in 2018, that’s no reason not to move forward on the 260-acre parcel. The time for studies that delay the progress Irvine residents deserve is over.
3. Approve the plans for an interim amphitheater
One of the quickest ways the city leadership can demonstrate that its leaving the petty political divisions of the past behind is to quickly move and approve the plans for a proposed interim amphitheater as a temporary replacement for the loss of Irvine Meadows. FivePoint has already applied for a conditional use permit with the city to allow Live Nation to design and build a 12,000-seat outdoor music amphitheater on approximately 45 acres the company owns next to the Orange County Great Park. Under this plan, Live Nation will design, construct and operate the outdoor facility and adjacent parking for fans, as well as concession and hospitality offerings, with the goal of opening in time for the 2017 summer season. The proposed site is within walking distance of the train station, is as far from residential communities as one can get in Irvine, and has the support of thousands of people who signed petitions in support of continuing live music in Irvine. Certainly, we expect city staff to exercise due diligence on the proposal. But how the city council considers the proposal and expedites its approval will be a telling sign of how the new council will lead the city forward.
4. Create a campaign to restore pride in Irvine
There is a great deal of creative talent in Irvine. We’d love to see a competition for a campaign extolling the positive aspects of living in the city. After an election campaign that focused on what’s wrong with Irvine, let’s see an emphasis on what makes the city amazing. Certainly, the council needs to address traffic and the other issues raised during the campaign and in this story. But let’s do so in an atmosphere focused on pride in the place we live.
5. Continue to support the city’s public schools
There’s a direct and clear causal connection between the quality of life in Irvine and the excellence of its public school system. We urge the new city council to take every opportunity to continue to support Irvine Unified School District and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation. This fiscal year alone the city is contributing more than $9 million to Irvine’s public schools, with some $20 million over support over the past decade. We are confident the incoming council will continue to support Irvine’s schools.
6. Create a mandate that the city council display “aspirational leadership”
It’s the nature of a city council to get bogged down in minutia. Attention to detail is important in municipal government, of course. But too often we’ve seen political agendas of obstruction, blame and competitiveness get in the way of progress in the city. Which is why Irvine City News suggests the council think beyond the day-to-day issues of governance, and aspire to greatness by adopting the strategies of aspirational leadership.
The council should speak to people’s hopes and values, so more citizens will want to get involved—and stay engaged longer. It takes an aspirational vision to build support for change. An article in the Stanford Social Innovation points out that, “The first step toward achieving transformational change is for our leaders to set an ambitious, but achievable goal. Few are inspired to give their precious time, energy, and resources to maintain the status quo.”
Aspirational leaders value and model integrity, focus on relationships and earn, build and maintain trust. We hope the mayor and city council adopt those principals in the way they work with each other, and in how they inspire us all to reach new levels of greatness in our community.
7. Stop the county’s plans to develop high-density apartments and commercial buildings on the 100-acre Great Park parcel
As part of annexation agreements between the city of Irvine, the county of Orange and other entities, the county has control of 100 acres of land on the side of the Orange County Great Park that runs along the railway line. Potential uses for the acreage listed in that original agreements are reported to include an animal shelter, vehicle storage or a law enforcement training facility.
The county’s recent proposal to build nearly 1.9 million square feet of office space, 2,103 housing units, 220,000 feet of commercial space and a 242-room hotel on that land is outrageous, and would add 47,000 daily car trips a day to our crowded streets.
Every council member came out strongly against the proposal, as did O.C. Supervisor Todd Spitzer. In news reports, a county official said he believes Irvine’s strong reaction to the proposed project was political, not practical, calling it “public theater.”
We suggest the new council immediately disabuse the county of the possibility that objections are not real by aggressively pursing all legal and political options to block the over development of the site.
8. Establish and strengthen ties with higher education institutions (UCI, IVC, Concordia) to better benefit from their successes
The opportunities for higher education and research at the universities and colleges in the city are key elements of the success of the community. While the city’s relations with those institutions have been positive, we believe this city council can do better. We’d like to see the city take a leading role in facilitating and improving already existing innovation incubators, technology transfer programs and thought leadership opportunities in cooperation with the schools, while also reaching out to the students and faculties to make certain they feel valued members of the Irvine community.
9. Finally give our veterans an answer on the veterans cemetery so we can all begin the work of building their final resting place
In April, the Irvine City Council chose to ignore a proposal to discuss a potential alternate site for the Southern California Veterans Cemetery promised on the former MCAS El Toro base. The proposal to relocate the cemetery was brought to the city council for consideration by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, a group that has been championing a state-run cemetery for veterans in Orange County.
“I’m not mad at them, just a bit perplexed,” the foundation’s chairman Bill Cook said in the days following the City Council session. “The real surprise to all of us is that they didn’t even consider it. They didn’t vote. They didn’t second. They didn’t even consider a very generous offer that’s going to save someone millions of dollars.”
At the time, the cost of a cemetery on the original site wasn’t known. But in June the estimate to prepare the site was set at $77 million for site preparation, demolition of 70 structures, environmental study and remediation, and construction.
Then a July 26 memo from the city manager informed the city council that $10 million is the maximum grant expected from the federal government for the project.
The original relocation proposal was made possible through a land swap offered by FivePoint, developer of the Great Park Neighborhoods. The 125 acres of land offered on the south side of the park was primarily used for agriculture and would not have require extensive demolition or upgrading before construction of the cemetery could begin.
We urge the new city council to revisit the issue. As we wrote last August: “The debate over the proposed cemetery swap was contentious, with some in the city claiming the new site offer was an attempt to kill the cemetery in its entirety.
What seems clear now is that a $67 million shortfall is much more likely to delay or kill the much-needed cemetery honoring veterans than would a city’s elected officials taking time to consider alternatives.
That is if the land swap is even still an option. If this city council doesn’t have the gumption to admit it was wrong and give FivePoint CEO Emile Haddad a call to see if the offer is still in the offing, then hopefully the next one will.”
10. Develop a plan, both practical and visionary, for growth in Irvine Business Complex
Growth in the IBC was the focus of several of the campaigns, including the successful ones, in the 2016 mayoral and city council races. The future of this vital Irvine community isn’t as easy as limiting new development there. With what’s already been built, is under construction, or has been approved, a new community is emerging. How should this new neighborhood be brought up to Irvine standards for the many residents living there already, or who will soon be there? That’s a key question for the mayor, city council and staff. We’ll address it in our next issue.