Why I Voted “No” on a Zoning Change to Permit 1,000 More Million Dollar Single Family Houses in Irvine. Tell the Irvine City Council What You Think!

Recently, I voted “No” on continuing the second reading of a re-zoning proposal that would allow the addition of 1,000 single family million dollar houses to be built by the Irvine Company in the area of Portola Springs/Orchard Hills in Irvine.

This vote could have been the end of the issue, since on the first reading both Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmember Mike Carroll voted against the re-zoning.

However, Councilmember Mike Carroll now voted with the supporters of adding 1,000 new homes (Councilmembers Anthony Kuo and Farrah N. Khan) to continue the item to January 2020.

Carroll, Kuo and Khan won the vote to continue, 3-2. This means that these additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses will again come before the Council.

As a longtime advocate for local communities to permit more housing to alleviate our statewide affordable housing crisis, I was initially disposed to vote in favor of this re-zoning proposal.

But on further reflection, it became apparent to me that this proposed housing development would be built without the necessary infrastructure, including new schools and a local retail center, which are needed and have long been promised to residents.

I am a strong advocate for action on the local and state level addressing the housing crisis, but not at the cost of overcrowded schools and the abandonment of Irvine’s renowned village model and our Master Plan balancing housing with schools, retail centers, and open space.

In particular, I am a strong supporter of Irvine’s village concept, which is intended to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion, and create walkable neighborhoods and a sense of community, by locating housing, at several different levels of purchase price or rental cost, around both local schools and a local retail center.  This village model — an essential part of Irvine’s Master Plan long promoted by the Irvine Company — has been enormously successful.  As the Irvine Chamber of Commerce has boasted, Irvine is a “City of Villages.”

You can see a video promoting the Irvine Master Plan, with specific reference to the Irvine village model as an integral part of the Master Plan, here:

For this reason, I was very concerned — shocked, actually — when a representative of the Irvine Company responded to my questioning by stating that the Irvine Company had no plans to build a retail center near these new homes and were no longer committed to the village model.

In other words, I came to see that voting in favor of this zoning change is tantamount to voting for Irvine to no longer be a “City of Villages.”

On the issue of whether these proposed 1,000 million dollar homes would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis, here are the facts:

This week’s OC Register reports on an analysis by the Southern California News Group that graded every jurisdiction in California on its progress on state-mandated housing goals (the Regional Housing Needs Assessment or RHNA).

According to the article, Irvine is supposed to permit 12,149 homes between 2013 and 2021. Housing units are mandated in each of four categories: (1) very low income, (2) low income, (3) moderate income, and (4) above moderate income.

The number show that Irvine has done exceptionally well in providing housing in the moderate and (especially) above moderate income categories, but is not doing nearly as well in the low income and very low income categories, where it is seriously off track in meetings its RHNA goals.

Very Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 907 very low income units, needs 1,761 to be on track, 2,817 for final goal.  In sum, very low income units are not on track, and are far from the final goal.

Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 3 units, needs 271 to be on track, 2,034 for final goal. In sum, low income units are not on track, and are far from final goal.

Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,973 units, needs 1,399 to be on track, 2,239 for final goal. In sum, moderate income units are more than on track, and are already in excess of the final goal.

Above Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,137 units, needs 3,162 to be on track, 5,059 for final goal. In sum, above moderate income units are far more than on track, and are already far in excess of the final goal.

These numbers demonstrate what everyone knows: Irvine’s housing is overwhelmingly skewed toward the “Above Moderate Income” market.

The 1,000 housing units that would be added to Portola Springs/Orchid Hills under the re-zoning proposed by the Irvine Company are single family homes costing above $1,000,000.  These 1,000 “Above Moderate Income” units would not help Irvine meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals.

On the contrary, they would exacerbate Irvine’s school over-crowding and traffic congestion problems while doing little or nothing to ease our affordable housing crisis.

That’s why I voted No.

It is my belief that only saying No to these projects that provide housing only for the well-to-do, will we encourage developers to build more environmentally responsible and affordable housing projects.

I hope Irvine residents will make their views on this proposal for an additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses clear to all members of the Council between now and then.

Contact information for all members of the Irvine City Council can be found here.

OC Register Editorial: Democracy Cannot be Stage-Managed by the Majority for their Own Convenience and Political Advantage

The Orange County Register’s editorial of July 17, 2019, correctly calls out and condemns the recent move by the Irvine City Council to prevent a Council Member from putting an item on the agenda unless two other members agree to do so.

As the Register states, “The transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority. Irvine officials said they want to stop ‘grandstanding,’ but one person’s grandstanding is another’s chance to raise vital concerns.”

The Register also recognizes that while the new rule was adopted specifically to silence me, the effect of the rule will be to silence all disagreement and dissent:

“Fox has previously discussed supposedly ‘divisive’ issues ranging from flying the LGBTQ flag at City Hall to creating a veterans’ cemetery near the Great Park. But this fracas isn’t about the particular issues any member might want to discuss, but about whether a duly elected official has the right to publicly discuss them. Councils are not private clubs . . . These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.”

Thank you to the OC Register for recognizing that public meetings in a real democracy cannot be stage-managed by the majority for their own convenience and political advantage.

As I’ve said before, Irvine’s current pro-Trump Council majority, again aided by its ostensibly Democratic ally, has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day, and throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

No, We Won’t Back Down

At its last meeting, the Irvine City Council took the unprecedented step of voting to prohibit a council member from placing an item on the agenda without two other council members’ approval.

Now, only the mayor will be allow to put an item on the agenda — a power that until last week had for decades belonged to every individual member of the City Council.

There have been many shifting majorities on the City Council over the years, but no other Council has gone so far to silence dissenting voices and points of view.

You can read about what took place in this excellent article in Voice of OC, including how this new rule is directed squarely at me in retaliation for proposing that Irvine fly the Pride Flag at City Hall, and how they made sure to propose the new rule — and then quickly enact it —  while I was on a long-planned trip to Alaska.

The truth is that Irvine’s Republican, pro-Trump Council majority — created by appointment in a back-room deal with its ostensibly Democratic ally and the developer FivePoint — has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day.

And throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Earns Highest Award for Transparency!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as a longtime advocate for more affordable housing, I am very pleased to announce that the Irvine Community Land Trust has been awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

This award is the highest honor that GuideStar can bestow — an objective and authoritative affirmation of the Irvine Community Land Trust’s dedication to transparency and openness.

In fact, the Irvine Community Land Trust trust goes well beyond what is expected of a typical nonprofit by voluntarily keeping our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns available online for all to see.

Nonprofit organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust that work to create more affordable housing are often under attack from NIMBY groups.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m so delighted to see that GuideStar, a universally well-respected and objective organization, has officially recognized the commitment to openness of the Irvine Community Land Trust with their highest award for transparency!

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, herehere and here.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Featured in Case Study in UC Berkeley’s Affordable Housing Series

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as an Irvine City Councilmember who has made helping to create affordable housing a priority, I am excited that the Land Trust was recently featured in a case study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, exploring the impact that local efforts can have in improving the state’s housing crisis.

The Terner Center explains that “Cities have an important role to play in addressing California’s affordable housing shortage, and local policies such as community land trusts, reforming impact fees, and reducing barriers to multi-family housing production can all make a significant difference. Made possible by the support of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the Terner Center has conducted a series of case studies to explore how action at the local level can help to address the state’s housing shortfall.”

Irvine Community Land Trust Chair Melissa Fox with Affordable Housing Award for ICLT’s Parc Derian

The case study explains that “Homes for sale or rent within a CLT [Community Land Trust} are permanently held below the market cost while also offering the potential for residents to build equity and share in the economic advancement of their neighborhood.

Faced with rising housing costs and a steady decline in affordable homes, Irvine, California created the Irvine Community Land Trust (Irvine CLT) in 2006 to ensure that all new units created using a public subsidy or as a result of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance would remain affordable in perpetuity.”

It notes that the Land Trust has recently run into greater opposition from some residents who oppose additional housing, noting that “While
initially the Irvine CLT only developed on vacant land without much neighborhood opposition, the CLT reported that they had
begun to experience neighborhood resistance to an infill project.”

In fact, one of the most difficult to overcome obstacles to creating affordable housing throughout California is resistance from the affluent neighbors, which was the subject of a special — and packed — session at the 2019 Housing California Conference I attended this month in Sacramento.

At the Irvine Community Land Trust, we have sought to overcome resistance and generate community support by voluntarily continuing to keep our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns also available online.

You can read the Terner Center Case Study, which is part of its series “Statewide Goals, Local Tools: Case Studies in Affordable Housing Development in California,” here.

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, here and here.

 

I’m Attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, Working with Experts, Legislators, and Community Advocates to find Practical Solutions to California’s Housing and Homelessness Crisis.

I’m in Sacramento for the next three days lobbying for housing and attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Housing California is the “voice in the state Capitol for children, seniors, families, people experiencing homelessness,and everyone who needs a safe, stable, affordable place to call home.”

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox with Kelsey Brewer of Jamboree Housing Corporation at the 2019 Housing California Conference.

The vision of the Housing California is creating “a California in which no one is homeless and everyone can afford a safe, stable place to call home in a healthy and vibrant community.”

The Housing California Annual Conference started in 1979 with a small gathering across the street from the State Capitol, and has since grown into the largest and most diverse affordable housing and homelessness conference in the country.

The 2019 Housing California Conference focuses on the most crucial issues for housing in our state, including legislative, electoral, administrative, and budgetary policy strategy and solutions pertaining to affordable housing and homelessness; supportive housing, rapid re-housing, emergency responses, and bridge housing; affordable housing development including construction, design and entitlement, sustainable practices, and development innovations; affordable housing finance and asset management; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Housing is truly the issue of our time in California, and helping to create more affordable and attainable housing, especially for seniors, young families, veterans, and people with disabilities, has been an important focus of my career as a public official.

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

I am excited to learn and share ideas, and to work with experts, legislators, and community advocates to find practical solutions to California’s housing and homelessness crisis.

I will keep you posted!

 

Democracy Requires an Election to Fill the Vacancy on the Irvine City Council

When Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner took office as an Orange County Supervisor, Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea automatically took his place as Mayor.

As a result, there is now a vacancy on the Irvine City Council.

Democracy requires an election rather than an appointment to fill this vacancy.

According to law, a vacancy on the Irvine City Council can be filled by appointment by the remaining four members of the Council or by election by the vote of all the residents of Irvine.

Even if the City Council appoints a new member, the people can still override that appointment and demand an election by filling a petition signed by seven percent of the voters of the City.

Some argue that precedent and financial concerns support appointing the third-place runner-up in the previous election to the open seat on the Irvine City Council, rather than holding an election in which the people will choose the person to serve as their representative.

In fact, neither precedent nor principle support an appointment over the people’s choice as determined by an election.

Since the incorporation of Irvine as a City in 1971, there have been three times that a vacancy needed to be filled for a councilmember.

In the first instance, on October 15, 1985, Ralph A. “Ray” Catalano, a professor at UCI and a former planning commissioner, was appointed to serve the remaining three years of Councilmember David Sills term when Sills resigned from the Council to become a superior court judge.

Significantly, Catalano was not the next highest vote-getter in the previous election.  Catalano was not even a candidate in that election and had never run for office. The person who was the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, Mary Ann Gaido, was not appointed to the open seat. Catalano later explained that he was a political compromise choice and was picked by Sills as his successor.

That is the only time that the Irvine City Council has used an appointment by Councilmembers rather than an election by the people to fill a vacancy on the Council.  In every other case of a vacancy on the City Council, the seat has been filled by a vote of the people in a special election.

Our very first Irvine City Council election was a special election, held on December 21, 1971, when Irvine residents approved the City charter.

On November 6. 1990, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Sally Anne Sheridan was elected Mayor the previous June. The next highest vote-getter from the previous election – again it was Mary Ann Gaido – was not appointed.  Bill Vardoulis, who had not run in the prior election, entered that race and won that special election.

On November 3, 1992, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Art Bloomer resigned with two years remaining in his term.  The next highest vote getter from the year of Bloomer’s election – and it was again Mary Ann Gaido — was not appointed. Greg Smith won that special election.

Additional special elections have also been called numerous other times for various reasons, such as voting on charter amendments, measures and ordinances.

In fact, in the history of municipal elections in Irvine, special elections seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

Third-place candidates have been elected to the City Council under Measure A, which was adopted by the voters in 1991.

Measure A provides in that in City Council elections where one of the sitting Councilmembers is running for Mayor, the voters can cast three ballots for candidates for the office of City Council, so that “if a council member whose term of office has not yet expired is elected to the office of Mayor, the vacancy in the office of that Councilmember shall be filled by the candidate for Councilmember receiving the third highest number of votes.”

So far, this situation has happened four times.

On June 7, 1988, third-place City Council candidate Cameron Cosgrove was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 7, 2000, third-place City Council candidate Beth Krom was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 2, 2004, third-place City Council candidate Sukhee Kang was elected when Beth Krom was elected Mayor.

On November 4, 2008, third-place City Council candidate Larry Agran was elected when Sukhee Kang was elected Mayor.

Our current situation is very different from those cases.

In those cases, the voters were given the explicit opportunity to vote for three candidates for City Council.

As a result, the third-place candidate gained his or her seat on the City Council directly and democratically through the knowing vote of the people, not by appointment based on coming in third when the voters only had the choice of two.

Indeed, as I have shown, our City has NEVER appointed a Councilmember based on a third-place or next-highest finish in a previous election.

Some have argued that we should use this method of appointment – which we’ve never used before – simply in order to save the money that would need to be spent on an election.

First, it should be noted that other local cities are conducting special elections for councilmembers that could easily be coordinated by the Orange County Registrar with our own, thereby reducing the cost of the election.

Most importantly, however, I believe that democracy is worth the cost.

Democracy is far from perfect.

Many of us are convinced that we could pick better officials than those the people elect.

But that is not what our nation is about.

We elect our officials as our representatives; they are not appointed over us.

Democracy is messy, inefficient, and, yes, sometimes expensive.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I agree.

We should fill the vacant seat on the City Council with the choice of the people as determined by an election.

UPDATE:

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Irvine City Council officially declared a vacancy on the Council.

I have been informed by the city’s attorney and the city manager this declaration “starts the clock” regarding the process of filling the vacant council seat. We now have 60 days from April 3, 2019, to come to an agreement on the appointment of a new Councilmember or there will be an election.

Residents have 30 days from April 3, 2019, to file a petition signed by seven percent of Irvine’s registered voters to require an election regardless of what the council does.

UPDATE:

There is now a Republican proposal to circumvent this voting process by using an arbitrary ‘point proposal,’ under which “each Councilmember shall list three (3) applicants [candidates] in order of preference.” The candidates will be assigned the following point values: Top candidate 3 points, second candidate 2 points, and third candidate, 1 point.

Under this proposed procedure, the applicant receiving the most points will be appointed.

This proposed “point ” procedure:

(1) has never been used by the Irvine City Council to decide how to fill a council vacancy or to make any other appointment;
(2) violates the most crucial principle of a representative democracy — that the people’s representatives are selected by majority rule.

Arbitrarily assigning points to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice applicants, and then saying the applicant with the “most points” wins, is simply a way to avoid majority rule. It undermines the basic legitimacy of Irvine’s government.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at approximately 3:00 p.m. to make sure your voices are heard.

UPDATE:

While the so-called “point” procedure was defeated at the last meeting, the question of whether to appoint or have an election is still not settled.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 23, where the Council will likely decide either on a process for appointment of the 5th council member to the vacant seat or deadlock to cause an election.

Closed session starts at 4:00 p.m. and the open meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. The agenda is packed so this may run late.

Let the voters have their say!