At the November 12 Irvine City Council meeting, a marathon discussion occurred concerning whether or not the City Council should sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Great Park developer Five Point. The MOU would put legal requirements on the City that could lead to lawsuits if these requirements were not fulfilled. The discussion on this issue at this council meeting lasted about five hours. And, yes, I watched the whole thing.
Councilmember Christina Shea was the driving force for a yes vote, at least on most of the items presented. Major Steven Choi was close behind her in the yes category. Councilmember Lalloway wanted to be able to vote yes, but felt that too many legal issues had not been adequately vetted in the documents. And it does seem that vetting the agreement presented by Five Points and negotiating terms that would be agreeable for the City in the time allowed necessitated a rush job for City staff. In fact, it had the City staff working long hours and through the recent holiday. When City Manager Sean Joyce was asked by Mayor Choi how much of the vetting his staff was able to complete in the time allotted, Joyce stated about 90%. Mayor Choi was fine with this percentage. Both he and Five Points seemed to think that is was a reasonable enough percentage to allow for a yes vote. But Lalloway stated that does not meet Irvine’s high standards; he expected 100%.
Councilmember Larry Agran also expected 100%. And he had an even stronger reaction. He held up part of the document that they were all expected to vote on that evening and that had just been delivered that day to the council members. Lalloway said that he hadn’t even seen that document. To which the City Manager replied that the document was emailed to him that day and, therefore, it was understandable that Lalloway would not have seen it yet. In spite of the late notice of changes to the document, Agran managed to read the recently delivered document. He held it up with his many sticky notes that marked areas about which he had questions or concerns. Agran stated that, if the documents were signed as is, it would mean lawsuits for the City waiting to happen. Councilmember Beth Krom also expressed her concerns and opposition to signing the agreement that night (or by that time, it was early morning).
A brief description of the changes that Five Point was asking for that night is as follows: replace the current zoning that allows for commercial development to zoning that would allow for 4,600 additional new homes, do away with some of the area set aside for outdoor use, move the Farm and Agriculture area from its current location to another location, and change the plans which provide for an extensive sports development area to an even more uber sports development area. Five Points is looking for this sports park to draw international sports competitions. This change to the sports park along with the zone change for part of the Great Park from commercial to residential seem to be the heart of Five Point’s desired plan. In exchange for much of this, Five Point would take over many expenses related to development of the Great Park land that currently are the City’s responsibility.
Of the over fifty citizens that gave their opinion in the two minutes allowed to each commenter, they mostly fall, of course, into two groups—pro and con.
The pro group seems to be mostly sports enthusiast and many belonged to sports groups or clubs associated with “Build the Great Park Now.” Some from the business community also spoke for the proposal. Their comments mostly fall into one of these categories:
- It’s about time. Build it already.
- Currently, not enough available sport facilities exit in Irvine and Orange County. This would provide additional sports facilities in a location that would be about twice the size of Disneyland. (However, this is also a criticism.)
- This would bring many jobs to our area, both during construction and on an ongoing basis after the construction was long gone. (Mayor Choi also mentioned Broadcom’s willingness, with its 4,000 jobs, to move to Irvine’s Great Park instead of Tustin, if they could be guaranteed a location in the Great Park. But Broadcom was not willing to wait long to decide whether they should move to Tustin or Irvine. According to Choi, this meant that an agreement needed to be signed soon, or Irvine would lose this employer and tax base to Tustin.)
- Money is needed to develop the public portion of the Great Park. Where else will they get the money?
The con group seemed to be mostly residents without the above mentioned sports connections (and by my impression, there were more of these con commenters than pro commenters). Some of their comments were:
- What’s the rush? These changes were sprung on the public, as well as the City staff and City Council Members, with little notice. Give the citizens time to see what is being asked and how it will affect their quality of life. Also, give the citizens a chance to have input into the development changes that are being asked.
- This is a paradigm shift in the way Irvine has done business. It is abandoning the City’s long followed planning process that has lead to City’s reputation of superior development and infrastructure standards. Much of the control of the Great Park would be turned over to Five Point. The City would lose control of development standards.
- An additional 4,600 homes will bring more cars which would mean more traffic jams and pollution. (Five Point’s Haddad pointed out that this was currently zoned as commercial which would have also added cars and pollution.)
- There is the open question of how many residents would be able to afford the cost of using this new high-end sports park. Haddad has stated that some affordable prices would remain, but who knows how long this guarantee would last.
- The additional homes would also put more of a burden on resources, such as water.
- In the current plan, the proposed high school would be next to a jail and a toxic dump. Some thought that the plan should not go forward without ensuring that the school is moved to a different location. However, Mayor Choi said that this is a school board decision and not in the City’s control.
- In the new Five Point plan, the Wildlife Corridor is moved next to the jail. It was pointed out that this could be a safety issue since some of the releasees have no place to go and could end up in the secluded corridor.
- No funds are set aside for moving the Farm and Agriculture area from its current location to the proposed new location. This could mean that the relocation would never take place. Therefore, no more Farm and Ag component Therefore, no more enjoyment of this area by residents. And, therefore, no more fresh produce from the Great Park donated to the Second Harvest food bank.
- The City will be selling public land. Therefore, a community asset that currently belongs to all city residents will be privately owned and controlled for private interests.
- Up until now, sustainability has always been a key part of the building plans for the Great Park. However, in this new proposal Five Point makes no mention of including sustainability as a part of the development. This is a departure of the way Five Points has handled their Great Park development plans in the past.
So there are some of the basics. There is always more that could be said, but this will have to do for now. The crux of the matter seems to be, as City Manager Joyce stressed repeatedly, this would be a “paradigm shift” in the way Irvine does business and oversees development.
The City Council will take this matter up again on November 26. Pro or con, if this is a matter that is of importance to you, I suggest you get involved—and soon. Call the City Manager’s office and get the latest documents and details (they seem to be updated daily) on where this matter stands. Call and write your council members and let them know what you think. Tell your friends and neighborhoods about these changes to the Great Park master plan and the possible “paradigm shift” in how Irvine will do business and oversee development. Currently, many in Irvine don’t seem to be aware of these possible changes. And then show up to the November 26 meeting, and let your opinion be known.
Pro or con, take a stand.