What to Watch for in 2019
“This is a very exciting time in the city of Irvine,” Fox said after congratulating her new and returning colleagues on the council. “We’re looking at Wild Rivers, water polo, Pretend City and the ice facility, and so many other projects,” she said. “Any one of these would be a major project in another city.”
Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes we take all that the city and its partners, nonprofits, businesses and inspired individuals have accomplished for granted.
Here’s a look at some of what we’ll be watching for in Irvine in 2019, from cool projects to local politics.
We’ve all complained about traffic for some time now. This is the year we’ll see significant progress. The improved interchange at the 405 and Culver looks to be almost complete. That project is a Caltrans/OCTA endeavor that should ease the bottleneck on the 405, or at least move it a mile or two south. The city has 16 capital improvement program projects now underway with construction scheduled over the next 12 months. That’s more than $71 million for traffic management and congestion improvements. Some of the most significant involve the widening of University Drive. The road is being widened from four to six lanes between MacArthur and Campus, and the proposal to add two or three lanes between Ridgeline and the 405 and to improve the intersection at University and Ridgeline is being fast-tracked. Other improvements drivers should see this year include adding turn and through lanes to the Culver Drive/University Drive intersection and newly synchronized streetlights, including some of the most annoying ones on city streets intersecting with Caltrans-controlled freeway off ramps and onramps.
Sports Park Summer Season
With the debut of the second phase of the Orange County Great Park Sports Park in September 2018, the potential and promise of the Orange County Great Park has been kept. There is still much to accomplish, of course, but residents should look forward to how the city will program the world-class athletic, fitness and recreational facilities we now all share.
Speaking of what’s still to accomplish at the Great Park, this is the year we’ll see movement on the key remaining portion of the park known as the Cultural Terrace. While the Sports Park is the most important improvement to date at the evolving park (just edging out the big Orange balloon), the 233-acre Cultural Terrace will be the piece of the puzzle that convinces even naysayers that our park is really and truly “great.”
New Season at FivePoint Amphitheatre
We’re looking forward to planning part of the summer around enjoying live music outdoors in Irvine. The second full season at FivePoint Amphitheatre will likely include the same eclectic mix of concerts, with last year’s unexpected and randomly located noise complaints addressed by LiveNation. Concerts already announced include Zach Williams on June 1, Train and the Goo Goo Dolls on June 15-16, Hootie & the Blowfish on June 23, Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour on July 6, and the KIDZ BOP World Tour on Sept. 7.
Ice is Nice
One day next August or September when it’s a hot, hot day in Irvine, we’re going to walk over to Great Park Ice and just… chill out. The $100 million-plus state-of-the-sport Anaheim Ducks ice complex and practice facility will include four sheets of ice, one of which will seat 2,500 spectators called FivePoint Arena. Much of it is already open, but we imagine it will take a few months for the community to really appreciate what a magnificent addition the facility is to the community. So we’ll see you on the ice soon, but also on that 98-degree day in September. Hopefully, by then we’ll have the choice to chill out on the ice or cool off in the water at the new Wild Rivers water park. The childhood favorite of many an Irvine resident, Wild Rivers new and upgraded 26-acre water park at Orange County Great Park (the old one was only 14 acres), is slated to open this summer. Plans include water slides, an uphill water coaster, water play structures for children, a wave pool, a lazy river and the return of Congo River Rapids.
Helping the Homeless
Addressing the issue of homelessness in the greater Orange County community is something Irvine should be a part of in 2019. Both because it’s the right thing to do, and because we need to be at the table and contributing ideas and resources toward regional solutions, while also safeguarding the safety and quality of life of Irvine residents. A bright spot in the often-contentious debate is the Orange County United Way’s community-wide initiative “United to End Homelessness.” The nonprofit has succeeded in bringing top leaders from Orange County’s corporate, philanthropic, faith-based, government and non-profit sectors together to support what they call a solution to homelessness. The bottom-line is that housing Orange County’s chronic homeless in supportive housing (not tents and shelters) would save $42 million per year and reduce homelessness by 50 percent in just a few years. It’s worked in other regions. The goal is to reduce homelessness to “functional zero” by the year 2024. As Orange County’s most successful city, Irvine needs to help make that happen.
Agran’s Next Move
For the past several years, the Agranistas have been on the march, creating controversy while cynically (though often deftly) dividing the city with wedge issues, real and imagined. They had some success in 2018 (the No on B vote), but ultimately Larry Agran’s attempt to take back power in the city by running a slate of three candidates was roundly rebuffed by voters. So what’s next? We don’t expect our former mayor to go gently into the good night of retirement. Though we wish he would, and thus start earning his due as an important figure in the history of Irvine.
Plans for Strawberry Fields
We have not heard anything imminent about plans for development at what became known as the Strawberry Fields during the debate over an Irvine location for a veterans cemetery. Recall that the referendum was on a zoning issue, and with the vote the property owner of the site at the 5 and 405 retains entitlements to develop the land with 800,000 square feet of research and development space. We are curious, with such a visible piece of property along two major freeways, to see what will rise.
New Housing at UCI
The East Campus Apartments at the corner of California and Campus are set to open in Fall 2019, bringing 1,441 new beds to UCI for undergraduate housing. The parking structure that is included will offer 530 spaces, with 263 spaces existing offsite, as well as 1,081 bike parking spaces and a stop for the Anteater Shuttle. That’s a .55 parking-to-bed ratio and a .75 bicycles-to-bed ratio. We’d love to know if anything in the city of Irvine comes close to that, or would be allowed to under current requirements. If none do, then perhaps the city should study what UCI is doing right. Plus, its location offers great walkability both to campus and to restaurants and retail across the street at Campus Plaza and down the street at University Center. The project is also targeting LEED Gold Certification and has a goal of net-zero greenhouse gases. The expansion of the iconic Middle Earth housing will add an additional 494 beds for UCI freshman. That project is also slated to be open in time for new students arriving next fall, and will target LEED Platinum Certification.
General Plan Update
The update of Irvine General Plan is an ongoing process that will hopefully see significant progress in 2019. The General Plan is meant to guide city council and other decision makers as to whether land use proposals are consistent with “applicable goals, objectives, and policies such as maximum development intensities and balanced land uses to bolster economic prosperity. Two recent updates included the introduction of housing in the Spectrum in 2003 and the IBC Vision Plan in 2010. Both add needed housing while also protecting traditional neighborhoods. As the city states: “The purpose of this Comprehensive General Plan Update is to refine longstanding goals, objectives, and policies to ensure quality of life is preserved and enhanced as the City builds out and matures.” As of November, the process was still in the “additional public outreach” stage. We will be following progress closely.
Improving the IBC
Speaking of the IBC, we’re hoping to see additional services and amenities for residents of the apartments and condos there now and opening soon, for their sake and for those who live and drive through nearby traditional neighborhoods. We are fans of City Manager John Russo and the city council’s moves toward more transparency. We’ve always paid attention to the city’s “notable development” list and its updates, but it wasn’t exactly prominent on the city website. Now, with the Notable Development Map it’s easy to see what’s under construction and planned in the city. Most of it is in the IBC. Beyond Diamond Jamboree, there are only a few small retail options and restaurants in the area North of the 405. No parks, no bike sharing, no new trails on the old rail line, nothing much. So residents must drive to do almost anything. Not exactly what planners suggest when creating high-density living options.
Diamond Jamboree Expansion
One of Irvine’s must-visit dining destinations will get 11 new retail spaces (most likely restaurants) as part of an expansion onto an adjacent 1.74-acre site. It will also add 500 parking spots to the existing 745. While the expansion isn’t slated to open until 2020, fans of the eateries in the center (count us in that group) will keep a close watch on how the onsite construction affects access and parking in the meantime.
Public Art at Main and Jamboree
The corner across from Hotel Irvine has 288 apartments under construction developed by Sanderson J. Ray Development. The family business long had its headquarters in a nondescript building on the 4.9-acre site. From what we’ve seen, the apartments and amenities will be spectacular, but what should really set it apart is the large sculpture that will be prominently placed at the corner of Main and Jamboree. Five stories high and fabricated out of stainless steel with a mirrored finish, the sculpture by Jorg Dubin is titled “Mercury Falling.” Let’s let Michael Ray, one of the project owners and an art patron who commissioned the piece, describe it: “It will be a mirrored stainless steel liquid puddle that is boiling over. It begins at the top of the building’s corner some 60 feet in the air. The puddle’s overflow slowly oozes down the corner in a sinuous semi-spiral until it splashes on the sidewalk below. From ground level, you will see the splash and you will look up toward the top. Along the way, you will find the mirrored steel reflecting the skies above, the colors, clouds, and the infinite.” That’s from Ray’s column in the Laguna Beach Independent. We can’t wait to see it!