Fixing Area 36:
Ideas to improve the Irvine Business Complex
But the truth is much more nuanced. Since The IBC Vision Plan was approved by the city council in July 2010, city staffers, planning commissioners and city councilmembers have studied and approved the individual projects completed or currently underway in it.
That’s because the plan for high-density residential growth in the IBC remains part of a strong and visionary plan to improve the future of Irvine. But that’s only if decision makers agree to see the plan through. A return to the original masterplan restricting the IBC to business uses was suggested during the campaign.
The truth is that residential growth in the IBC is a train that’s left the station. And that’s fine, because the planning for the developments in the area has been vetted by some of Irvine’s finest architects, real estate experts, consultants, city staffers, commissioners and council.
According to city statistics, the number of new jobs projected in the IBC is 12,880, for a total of more than 101,800. Projected number of new residents by buildout is 15,650, for a total of about 22,150. Protecting the IBC economic engine while also serving residents already living in or coming to it is a challenge that the city staff, planning commission and city council have been and will face. The Irvine City News editorial team offers the following solutions to help Irvine deliver on the IBC Vision Plan.
Help reduce congestion in Irvine by encouraging the continued evolution of the IBC. It may sound counterintuitive after the IBC bashing in the election, but we simply can’t stop now. No jumping off the horse in the middle of the proverbial stream. The IBC is at a critical point in its growth. The theory behind the IBC Vision Plan is that high-density residential developments would be part of pedestrian friendly urban villages, drawing in residents who aren’t attracted to typical Irvine housing options. Those are the type of residents we need to attract to work and innovate in our creative industries. But the pedestrian-friendly aspect doesn’t work if there’s no place to walk to.
Accept that a mixed-use IBC is a fait accompli. The change from the IBC’s original plan as a place reserved for business and commercial uses into a vibrant community including residential is set in place. There’s no going back. Thousands of residence units are now home to Irvine citizens, and more are under construction and approved.
Celebrate that an evolving IBC is a great thing for the city, and all of OC, and communicate that to residents. A rapidly growing residential population and reimagined streetscapes, combined with top-tier stores, restaurants and nightlife, and the possibility of new public green spaces, all in close proximity to one of Irvine’s two major job centers, will make urban villages within the IBC a magnet for an energetic demographic seeking an urban experience. That’s good for Orange County, which is suffering from a severe housing shortage, and for Irvine, which needs to attract and retain workers who can get a great tech job anywhere, including our own IUSD and university graduates, who often leave for cooler cities. The IBC can be our cool, creative core to retain the best and brightest from Irvine.
Aspire to offer IBC residents the same basic services and amenities that Irvine provides everyone else. Community and neighborhood parks; nicely landscaped streets; pedestrian-friendly paseos, sidewalks and bikeways; community centers with classes and recreational opportunities; retail centers within walking and biking distance; gas stations; a wide variety of dining options: all these are things Irvine residents enjoy. But the thousands now living and coming to the IBC soon don’t have equal access to these amenities within their urban villages. So they’re forced to drive to them in adjacent ones.
Grade the IBC Vision Plan Goals. The city and stakeholders should study if the following Vision Plan goals are being met:
A. Protect the existing job base;
B. Develop mixed-use cores;
C. Provide transportation, pedestrian, and visual connectivity;
D. Create usable outdoor areas;
E. Develop, safe well-designed neighborhoods.
These goals are implemented through the following objectives:
A. Create a walkable urban environment that encourages on-street pedestrian activity and reduces dependence on the automobile for everyday needs.
B. Develop an urban framework to ensure the appearance, location, and scale of buildings complement the character of the area in which they are located.
C. Ensure compatibility between existing and proposed businesses within the IBC.
D. Provide a mix of building types allowing variety and choice in urban living.
E. Provide a variety of outdoor areas for both passive and active recreation as an amenity for residents and employees.
F. Establish sustainable new urban development within the IBC.
Create an IBC advisory board.
While each new project has an HOA, who represents the entire IBC? Invite the participation of stakeholders in the community, including land and building owners, architects, urban planners and engineers, current and prospective tenants, developers, academics and city planning officials. Engage in thought leadership and blue sky imagining about how the IBC can be part of Irvine’s legacy of smart growth and innovative planning.
Stop thinking of the IBC as one place.
The IBC is a large area covering some 2,700 acres. It is home to unique urban villages and evolving commercial zones, as well as well-established business blocks that with gleaming office towers home to OC’s most well-known companies.
Fast track the development of retail centers.
One of the core policies of IBC planning is to “provide neighborhood retail and service centers within walking or biking distance of residential communities and employment centers.” If you wonder how that’s going, try to buy gas, bandages or beer in the IBC. The major retail centers in or adjacent to the area (Park Place, Diamond Jamboree and The District) are extremely popular, if not at capacity. The IBC needs more.
Gas up! No really, try and get gas within the IBC.
You can’t. There are stations at the edges, including at Jamboree and Main, Costco at The District across the Barranca border in Tustin, and the Chevron at Jamboree and Barranca. The lack of basic services within the IBC forces workers and residents to come into the adjacent village centers to gas up. It’s a little thing, perhaps, but it reflects the lack of services and amenities in the area that must be addressed. It’s the right thing to do for the residents there, and it also serves to reduce the traffic impact on the city’s IBC-adjacent neighborhoods.
Admit that iShuttle is not (and perhaps will never be) an attractive option for IBC residents.
The city and OCTA should study and improve the iShuttle in IBC, or replace it with something that better serves residents. The transit vans are designed to serve commuters who work in Irvine and live elsewhere, whose jobs allow them to clock in and out on a defined schedule every day. But that does not describe the urban villagers who live in the IBC, or the entrepreneurs and knowledge workers at the new creative offices of The Boardwalk and other commercial buildings coming to the IBC.
Consider all options for improving public transit.
Today’s millennial generation is less car-dependent and demands more retail amenities and socializing venues close to (or easily accessible by mass transit from) where they live and work. There are two places in Irvine where innovative transit options are needed and seem viable: the Spectrum and IBC. Both have direct linkages to Southern California’s expanding regional transit systems via the train and transportation stations at Tustin and Irvine. Both have the central density of offices and residences that makes the most sense for light rail, streetcar, monorail or other transit options. Imagine a monorail connecting the Tustin Metrolink station to JWA, running along Von Karman or Jamboree through the heart of the IBC? Irvine is a city of innovation, so we should also look at the next generation of transit to address the issues of mobility in the city.
Team up with Uber, Google, Apple, Tesla or any other NextGen mobility companies.
The IBC would be a wonderful incubator to test any one of the many transportation innovations under development, from driverless vans circulating on set routes or on-demand services that already exist. The city should make collaboration easy, perhaps in partnership with UCI or other local stakeholders.
Build a pedestrian bridge at Jamboree and Michelson.
A pedestrian crossing from Central Park West to Park Place has long been planned. Fast track it. We’ve seen a thousand pedestrians stream across that intersection at lunch, migrating from the office towers to have lunch at the numerous restaurants at Park Place. It’s pedestrian-oriented, high-density usage at its finest. But to keep traffic flowing and for the safety and convenience of all, the intersection needs to be bridged.
Put a pedestrian bridge on every intersection that can sustain one.
We’d love to see some creativity in the design of pedestrian bridges in the IBC and throughout the city, but for now we’d simply settle for more of them.
Approve the crucial St. John Knits retail and restaurant project on Jamboree and Michelson.
Speaking of that intersection and how pedestrian-friendly services are in demand in the neighborhood, it so happens that a cool and highly compatible project has been planned for where the St. John headquarters long sat. It’s not residential, and will bring shops, restaurants, a 150-room hotel, a movie theater and office buildings to the Jamboree corridor, which is in need of more walkable restaurants and retail services. That stretch of Jamboree has existing condo and apartment towers, with more units coming at Central Park West, the Elements apartment development (1,600 apartments) under construction on Campus, a block from Jamboree, and Uptown Newport Village (1,244 residences) across the border in Newport Beach. The creative workers who will love The Boardwalk commercial development on Jamboree will also join those walking to find a place to eat lunch and dinner. The Jamboree corridor needs to be self-contained with ample retail opportunities. Approving the St. John project will add immensely to the retail mix in the area. The St. John property developer LBA Realty also owns Park Place, so perhaps they can be persuaded to contribute to a four corner pedestrian overpass at the intersection.
Consider an Adaptive Reuse Ordinance (ARO) for older commercial buildings in the less vibrant areas of the IBC.
After identifying appropriate candidates for reuse, an adaptive reuse ordinance would remove or reduce regulatory barriers, provide incentives, and help make it possible to repurpose under-utilized commercial buildings to provide much needed housing, live/work space, creative offices, retail outlets, educational facilities and cultural and entertainment venues. This would incentivize owners and developers to modernize older buildings and to serve the new, creative economy. Recycling existing buildings also helps meet goals to reduce carbon emissions.
Bring some green to the IBC scene.
Irvine’s open space initiative resulted in 16,000 acres being preserved parks, trails and natural lands. None of it (as far as we can tell) is in the IBC. It’s much easier to include parks and open space while developing unbuilt land owned by a single entity. Going back into developed commercial and industrial areas like the IBC to add parks and open space after the fact is a challenge. Many of the new residential projects in the IBC include parks, both private and public, but so far it’s less than Irvine residents expect and deserve.
Expand Bill Barber Park.
Including both banks of San Diego Creek and adjacent IBC land in a larger park would help activate use of the creek (a key element of the Vision Plan) while sending a message that IBC residents have a right to parks and green spaces.
Activate the rail lines, creeks and storm channels in the IBC.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the original IBC Vision Plan points out the existence of rail lines that wind through the IBC north of Main Street, between Jamboree and the 55 Freeway. The railways are remnants of a time when Steelcase Office Furniture, Califoam Corp., Hobie Cats and a Coors beer distributor were part of the industrial mix in the area, requiring rail cars to move merchandise and manufacturing materials in and out of the area. The existing rail lines and adjacent rights-of-way offer an intriguing possibility of a rails-to-trails-like network offering urban connectivity in the IBC. Some owners and occupants still may use the rail lines, but due to commuter use of regional rail lines that use may occur infrequently, and generally at night. The IBC inventory should help determine the demand for rail service, and the possibility of conversion of the tracks to trails. And increased access and improvements to both sides of San Diego Creek, as well as other channels in the IBC, should be studied and activated where safe and possible.
A little landscaping, please.
Irvine’s parkways, walkways and public spaces are well-landscaped oases in the city. It’s a close to a crime that little or no effort is made to extend the benefits of greenery to much of the less upscale areas of the IBC. The stunningly ugly culvert that runs in front of McCabe Way, along the 405 between Jamboree and Von Karman, is a prime candidate for beautification at least.
Negotiate with Allergan to convert the playing field on Dupont and Teller to a public park.
The hidden beauty seems underutilized and would make a great addition to the IBC.
Study whether an artists village adaptive reuse could work in the area, encourage/incentivize a landowner or developer to add a “California Scenario”-level sculpture garden (the Isamu Noguchi masterpiece commissioned by Henry Segerstrom as part of an office tower project near South Coast Plaza) or other public space to a project, and allow Tilly’s-like murals on the walls of IBC tilt-up buildings.
Consider revising the 15,000-unit cap for residences in the IBC…eventually.
There needs to be a critical mass of residents in the IBC to make the development of retail, services and infrastructure viable. In order to equitably provide amenities and services to IBC residents that the rest of Irvine enjoys, that critical mass must be reached. Let’s take a breather while the city absorbs the units now approved and under construction in the IBC, and while we address the lack of amenities in the community. But as the IBC Vision Plan emerges as a success, more property owners may want to exercise the right to benefit from their investment. We as a city should have an open mind about what’s best for the IBC and Irvine as that occurs.