Irresponsible in Irvine
As proposed, the ballot initiative would require new Irvine businesses, buildings and civic improvements of almost any size and importance to be voted on and approved by a majority of Irvine voters in the next scheduled election, or in a special election funded by the business owner.
Under the proposed anti-growth scheme, any project in the city that would include a change, modification or amendment to the zoning code, or to the city’s general plan, or a specific or overlay plan, could not be approved by the city’s elected representatives, but would have to be voted on by residents.
If, that is, the project adds a mere 40 dwelling units, 10,000 square feet of non-residential space, or 200 additional daily car trips to the city’s housing and business centers. (Editor’s note: nearly every project of any size or significance in Irvine would be included in the voting requirement, as defined by the proposal.)
The result could be skyrocketing rents, loss of jobs and development-based business, loss of proposed affordable housing projects, lawsuits with the city as defendant, and the potential loss of previously agreed future donations of open space that are linked to development entitlements.
And for those who think the election season is complicated enough as it is, with mail boxes filled with candidate slates and initiatives, imagine if Irvine residents had to study and vote on a dozen or more proposed new businesses and other developments?
The proposed initiative has other troubling elements hidden in the details. For purposes of counting trips towards the 200 additional trips threshold triggering a public vote, those who drive SUVs and other large vehicles are counted twice: “Any vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating greater than 6,000 pounds shall be counted as generating two trips for every trip attributed to this sized vehicle.”
While encouraging more economical and sustainable methods of travel may be admirable, it’s hard to see how a planner or business owner looking to build and expand in Irvine could know how many customers or tenants might have big families or otherwise need larger vehicles.
The proposed ordinance kindly excludes new hospitals and schools from its draconian limits, but what about churches, museums, nonprofits, community centers and the like?
The ordinance also excludes “affordable housing requirements required by state or federal law,” but doesn’t take into account the reality that almost all affordable housing being built or proposed in the city is linked to and incentivized by the approval of market-rate housing.
The proposal also notes that “this ordinance shall not be applied in a manner that would result in an unconstitutional taking of private property.” Without adopting the arguments of those who think any zoning or land-use restrictions are a form of taking, if landowners are prohibiting from a reasonable use of their property, resulting in an inevitable diminution in value, isn’t that a taking?
And speaking of unconstitutional, there is an ex post facto element in the proposed element that is troubling, and that lawyers will no doubt make a decent hourly fee debating: “This ordinance shall preclude completion of a site-specific development that depends on a Major Change in Allowable Land Use approved before the effective date of this ordinance and require a vote if… those developments required a modification to the Irvine Master Plan.”
We’re not sure how many developments are underway or approved that included a Master Plan modification, but having an anti-growth proposal applied retroactively seems, well, patently unfair, if not illegal and unconstitutional.
The anti-growth proposal was filed and signed by Karen Jaffe, Arthur Strauss and Joe Martinez on behalf of the no-growth group Irvine for Responsible Growth.
As is the case with the leaders of many NIMBY movements, Jaffe, Strauss and Martinez appear to have achieved the Irvine dream, having reached a status many young, new and diverse residents (especially renters) can only imagine.
The anti-growth advocates have achieved success in their chosen fields. Joe F. Martinez is an investment banker and the founding partner and managing director of Core Venture Partners (corevp.com), an Irvine-based company. “His experience as the CEO of public companies (and) his contacts and relationships established with Wall Street financial institutions and law firms have provided him with the experience necessary to assist companies with all levels of financial and organizational advice,” says the firm’s website. (Editor’s note: Martinez has reportedly withdrawn his support for the initiative after learning specifics. That should tell voters and potential signers all they need to know.)
Strauss is a retired pediatrician, and Jaffe is a medical device industry executive. They each own (or co-own with spouses) a home within blocks of each other in Irvine’s upscale and gated Turtle Rock Summit neighborhood. Their homes are valued at $2.1-$2.6 million, and have appreciated from $600,000 to more than $1 million since each was purchased in 2003, according to Zillow.
The three were activists in the opposition to the expansion of Concordia University, the Christian university adjacent to the trio’s Turtle Rock Summit neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes. The five-year planning process for the Concordia expansion, while at times contentious, resulted in a successful compromise that ultimately led to city council approval, with Concordia conceding significant elements of its initial expansion plan.
Many observers feel the system “worked” in the case of the Concordia example: a final compromise was reached, allowing the university to grow while addressing the local resident’s real concerns regarding traffic, noise and other impacts from the project.
Examples of projects that would likely be subject to delays and significant extra costs under the initiative, or that the city would risk losing all together, include the Concordia University expansion, the interim outdoor amphitheatre set to open in October, the proposed return of a Wild Rivers water park to Irvine and the $100 million ice complex at the Orange County Great Park.
Scheduled to open in summer 2018, the 280,000-square-foot Great Park Ice & Sports Complex will feature four ice sheets, including the main arena. The project, which is well over the 10,000-square-foot threshold to trigger a public vote, also required what the planning commission deemed a “minor modification to the Great Park Master Plan,” so most likely the Ice Complex would have fallen victim to the anti-growth ballot initiative.
Would the Ducks and the Irvine Ice Foundation have pursued the costs of a public vote on a project that includes a $25 million investment by Anaheim Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli? If the project were forced to be on the ballot, one would hope voters would approve it. But would the several-year delay resulting have been worth it?
Initiatives like the one proposed punishes younger people and people that are new to the city, housing advocates say. Renters, people dependent on a vibrant and growing economy for their livelihoods, young families who struggle to pay rent here so that their children might benefit from an excellent Irvine public education—these are the people at risk from an anti-capitalist social experiment.
Experts, including those who successfully defeated a similar anti-growth ballot measure in Los Angeles earlier this year, note that anti-growth initiatives are often targeted at older homeowners who have nothing to lose from a less affordable, less inclusive Irvine.
L.A.’s Measure S, an initiative supported by residents frustrated with large-scale development—took a beating at the polls, winning just 31.15 percent of votes, when it needed a majority to pass. Voters there realized that freezing construction, even temporarily, would only worsen the SoCal city’s affordability crisis. And, critics said, Measure S would have hampered efforts to build more affordable units.
In Irvine, there are thousands of people employed in or servicing the development and construction industry, with a substantial amount of that work related to projects within the city of Irvine. How many of those individuals will lose their jobs, and/or be forced to either take poorer-paying jobs outside their field, or leave the city altogether, if the Jaffe/Strauss anti-growth measure succeeds?