The Fiscal Times recently ranked it No. 1 out of 116 municipalities in its annual City Fiscal Strength Index. Within the past year it also made the top 10s of other “best-of”lists, including the Best Place to Raise a Family, the Best Park System in the U.S., Best City for Working Parents and Best City to be a Homeowner.
The personal finance website WalletHub ranked Irvine No. 8 – the highest of any Southern California locale – on its 2018 list of the Happiest Cities in America, which was based on factors such as emotional and physical well-being, income and employment and community and environment.
Last year, Sunset magazine selected Irvine as the SoCal runner-up – behind Ventura – on its list of the 19 Best Value Towns in the West.
“This O.C. town was engineered for livability back in the 1960s,” the magazine wrote. “What it lacks in an actual downtown, it makes up for with 350 miles of bike lanes and trails, an infinitesimal crime rate, a robust economy, a multicultural population, and the Orange County Great Park.”
None of this is news to Best of Orange County voters. Irvine has been voted Best City Live In for 8 of the past 10 years and always places in the top three. Beyond its highly regarded schools and abundant parks, Irvine is frequently cited as a model of master planning – even as the city’s population has grown to 268,000, its design as a cluster of villages helps it retain a small-town vibe.”
As a member of the Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee, as a representative of the City of Irvine, and as a life-long environmentalist, it was my pleasure to speak today at the ceremony marking the start of an extensive project to remove high levels of sediment from the Newport Bay Watershed.
The project, which will remove 172 thousand cubic yards of sediment, will protect many aquatic, wildlife, and rare and endangered species that habitat in Newport Bay, as well as protect the integrity of our flood channels.
Here is what I said:
“Prior to development, this section of the Irvine Ranch was mainly agricultural.
Geographically, Irvine is the largest city in Orange County and it has now grown to become the third largest by population after Anaheim and Santa Ana.
Our planning prioritizes smart, sustainable growth, particularly now, and we are a leader in low-impact development.
Our growth in population and modern development must be balanced with our need to protect our City’s natural open spaces and waterways. In fact, we have dedicated over a third of the land in our City to permanent open space. As our population continues to grow, must our efforts to maintain and enhance environmental health.
We have worked with our partners on major environmental engineering projects, such as this one, to protect our watershed and capture sediment and other environmental hazards before they enter Upper Newport Bay.
Another example is the Natural Treatment System, a partnership with the Irvine Company and Irvine Ranch Water District. The Natural Treatment System is modeled after a natural treatment system and provides a cost-effective, environmentally sound method for treating dry weather runoff to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.
Ongoing collaboration between agencies is critical. We all have a vested interest in preserving the long-term health and safety of our regional watershed and our common interests go beyond municipal boundaries.
Our proactive approach to water treatment mitigates urban runoff and excess water flow and significantly reduces the amount of trash, debris, and many other pollutants entering into our storm drain systems and Newport Bay.
This is how we protect our home, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
However, since I have joined the Irvine City Council — and been appointed Vice Chair of the Orange County Great Park by my colleagues — we have succeeded in making a tremendous, positive turn-around in the Great Park’s development. Real, substantial, and exciting progress has been made.
As the Orange County Register recently wrote, ” If you haven’t visited the Orange County Great Park – where you see that big orange balloon from Interstate 5 – in the past few years, you may be surprised by the amount of construction going on and how quickly things are getting built there.”
We are now fulfilling the promise of a truly Great Park that all of us can feel proud of and enjoy!
Here are some of things we’ve already accomplished:
Groundbreaking for new Anaheim Ducks’ 270,000 square-foot community ice skating and practice facility in the Great Park (largest public ice skating facility in the West).
Opened new 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium and numerous other sports fields and facilities in the first phase of 194-acre Great Park Sports Park, the largest of its kind in Orange County — larger than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure combined.
Great Park Sports Complex presented with the Orange County Business Council’s Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Award for Public-Private Partnership.
Great Park Championship Stadium became home of Orange County Soccer Club, Orange County’s only professional soccer team and official affiliate partner of the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) of Major League Soccer (MLS). Orange County SC is a part of the United Soccer League (USL), the fastest growing Division II professional soccer league in the world comprised of 34 teams across the United States.
Begun construction of a 2.5 mile nature corridor at the eastern end of the park. It is intended to be a pathway for bobcats, coyotes, California gnatcatchers and other wildlife species to move safely between the Santa Ana Mountains and the coast. The corridor, accessible only to wildlife, is expected to open mid-2019.
101 acres of Great Park Sports complex completed, including six new soccer/lacrosse fields; a natural turf flex field that can accommodate four additional soccer fields, four basketball courts available for drop-in use, and more.
At our last Irvine City Council meeting, the Great Park’s Interim Director, Pete Carmichael, presented us with the latest Great Park Progress Report, which I want to share with you.
You can positively impact the next phase of development by the Great Park Cultural Terrace by becoming involved in the grass-roots organizations that are working toward a Great Park botanical garden and a natural history museum:
As you can see, we’ve accomplished a lot. I am very proud of our residents, our city staff, and our community partners for all we’ve done so far, and I look forward to continuing to fulfill the promise of a truly Great Great Park!
Irvine residents are invited to attend a free viewing of the World Cup Final of France versus Croatia streaming live from Moscow on the Great Park Championship Soccer Stadium’s giant scoreboard beginning at 7 a.m. on Sunday, July 15, courtesy of our Orange County Soccer Club!
No tickets or RSVP are needed.
Here’s what you need to know:
Free World Cup Final broadcast live on the Championship Soccer Stadium video board.
Watch the broadcast from the pitch, and bring blankets for seating (no chairs, tents or umbrellas will be allowed on the pitch).
Watch the broadcast from stadium seating sections 1-3 and 11-13.
Pre-kickoff entertainment with Orange County SC player and technical staff interviews as well as game analysis.
Half-time raffles for Orange County SC prizes.
Interactive Fan Zone: Lawn games, face painting, inflatables , sponsor booths and exhibits and more!
Orange County SC player autograph and photo opportunities.
Orange County SC merchandise will be available for purchase.
Breakfast foods and beverages options will be available for purchase.
Free parking at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.
7:00 a.m. Gates open 7:30 a.m. Pre-kickoff entertainment 8:00 a.m. Kickoff
See you there!
About the Orange County Soccer Club:
Orange County Soccer Club is Orange County’s only professional soccer team and an official affiliate partner of the Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) of Major League Soccer (MLS).
Orange County SC is a part of the United Soccer League (USL), the fastest growing Division II professional soccer league in the world, composed of 34 teams across the United States.
The team plays their home games at the Orange County Great Park’s Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine.
Nestled right in the heart of the Great Park, the Championship Soccer Stadium has a capacity of over 5,000 for Orange County SC matches.
The Irvine City Council has chosen John A. Russo as its finalist for City Manager, and will formally consider hiring him at its July 10 meeting.
Russo has 23 years of results-oriented public service gained through leadership positions in Oakland, Alameda, and Riverside. Having served as a City Councilmember, City Attorney, and City Manager, Russo’s combination of experience at three California cities gives him a unique perspective as he prepares to lead Irvine in implementing the vision at the direction of its City Council.
“It is an extraordinary honor to be selected to serve in this position in a city known across America for its foresight, commitment to public safety, and adherence to financial stability,” said Russo. “Consistent with Irvine’s values, I am committed to open and transparent decision-making – listening to all stakeholders (citizens, business, university, public sector, and faith communities) with an open mind, and equally committed to decisive action and a long-term approach to policy. Process matters. Results matter more.”
Russo most recently served as City Manager for the City of Riverside for nearly three years. His experience in municipal government fits well with Irvine’s priorities.
Among the City Council goals in 2018:
Traffic improvement initiatives that include 16 capital improvement program projects now underway. The City Council has approved more than $71 million for traffic management and congestion improvements, with construction scheduled over the next 12 months.
City Council support of public safety. For a 12th consecutive year, Irvine is the safest city with a population of 250,000 or more for Part 1 violent crime, according to FBI data.
The City Council’s ongoing support of its public schools. The City Council provides $10.2 million annually in direct and indirect support.
The opening of large sections of the Orange County Great Park, including soccer fields, baseball and softball stadiums with multiple playing fields, basketball courts, and the $100 million public ice facility.
Continued high service to the community.
Highlights from Russo’s background align with Irvine’s focus areas:
Maintaining Irvine’s renowned employment base – one of the highest jobs-to-population ratios in the country – driven, in part, by major business headquarters such as Edwards Lifesciences and Blizzard Entertainment. Russo last year helped bring the California Air Resources Board’s headquarters and testing facilities to Riverside.
Developing of the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park, a former Marine base. While in Alameda, Russo expeditiously implemented all land use entitlements for redevelopment of the closed Alameda Naval Air Station, a 1,000-acre waterfront property across the bay from San Francisco.
Continuing Irvine’s fiscal health, including its recognition as the No. 1 fiscally responsible large city for two straight years. During Russo’s tenures in both Alameda and Riverside, he eliminated structural deficits, significantly increased financial reserves, and presided over improvements in those cities’ bond ratings.
Russo began his career in public service as an elected official with the City of Oakland, first as a Councilmember from 1994-2000, and then City Attorney from 2000-2011. While in Oakland, he authored the open government law and the “Sunshine Ordinance” to ensure public transparency and full residential access to public information. He then moved to the City of Alameda, where he served as City Manager from 2011-2015.
The Brooklyn native, 59, graduated with honors in economics and political science from Yale University, and earned his law degree from New York University School of Law. He was a Legal Aid attorney in St. Louis before moving to Oakland in 1987, where he was president of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, treasurer of the East Bay League of Conservation Voters, and pro bono attorney for neighborhood associations and nonprofits. In 2002, Russo served as League of California Cities president; he also was a Board member for the National League of Cities.
Russo would become Irvine’s fifth City Manager. Sean Joyce retired in February 2018 after a nearly 13-year career in Irvine. The first City Manager, William Woollett Jr., served from 1972-1989, followed by Paul Brady (1990-1999) and Allison Hart (1999-2005).
Russo has agreed to a base salary in Irvine of $303,014.
Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has become a nationally recognized city, with a population of 267,086 that spans 66 square miles and is recognized as one of America’s safest and most successful master-planned urban communities. Top-rated educational institutions, an enterprising business atmosphere, sound environmental stewardship, and respect for diversity all contribute to Irvine’s enviable quality of life. This family-friendly city features more than 16,000 acres of parks, sports fields and dedicated open space and is the home of the Orange County Great Park. For more information, please visit cityofirvine.org.
[Take the surveys below at the end of this blog post.]
The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B.
The issue now is what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide.
Sign used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would mean thousands more cars on every road in Irvine.
Some argue that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters said that the proposed veterans cemetery should be located at the ARDA site that was originally selected by the City Council in July 2014.
But the actual language of Measure B said nothing about the original ARDA site, except that the development previously zoned for the strawberry fields site would be moved there.
Looking at the specific language of Measure B, what the voters said No to was “allowing the previously planned development for the Bake Parkway Site to be relocated to the intersection of Pusan and Irvine Blvd and allowing the development of a veterans cemetery near the intersection of I-5 and Bake Parkway.”
Thus, by its express language, the no vote on Measure B rejects that zoning decision, but does not authorize the city to place a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site.
Map used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would lead to massive development and 10,000 more car and truck trips every day.
In addition, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site in 2014 was based on the belief that the City would provide the land for the veterans cemetery, but the costs of construction and subsequent maintenance of the cemetery would be wholly paid by state and federal government.
Crucially, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site also came several years before we learned that construction of the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site would cost nearly $80 million, mostly due to the need for decontamination of the soil and the decontamination and removal of numerous existing structures, and that in addition to providing the land, the City would have to bear a significant portion of these construction costs.
In particular, Measure B said nothing at all about approving the spending of tens of millions of dollars that are now earmarked for creating the features of the Great Park that residents have said they want – such as museums, botanical gardens, a new Wild Rivers Water Park, and a permanent amphitheatre for live music – and, instead, using that money for a veterans cemetery.
My belief is that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters did not want a zoning change that, as the No on B campaign said, would have allowed “massive development projects” at the ARDA site, add “812,000 square feet of development,” and “bring 10,000 more cars and trucks to Irvine streets and neighborhoods every day.”
For me, the lesson of Measure B is that the voters did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange would lead to more development and more traffic congestion, as well as the voters believing that it was too favorable a deal for the developer.
In other words, I see the rejection of Measure B as a vote against more development and traffic congestion, and not a vote in favor of spending tens of millions of dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park
I would like to know what you believe the rejection of Measure B means, especially if you were among the majority in Irvine who voted against it.
Please take the surveys below:
The City Council must now decide whether, and how, to proceed with a veterans cemetery. What do you want the City Council to do:
Please share these surveys with your Irvine friends and neighbors. I would like as much resident input as possible.
The surveys are now closed.
While the surveys are not scientific, I believe their results are straight-forward and present an accurate view of why Measure B failed.
The survey results show that the main reason people voted No on Measure B was opposition to development and traffic, rather than a desire to return the veterans cemetery to its original site.
These results should not be unexpected since the No on Measure B campaign focused almost exclusively on the claim that Measure B would lead to more development and traffic (“B = Thousands MORE Cars on THIS Road!”).
Further underscoring the conclusion that Measure B failed because of perceptions about development and traffic rather than preference for the original site, the survey results show thatfew residents are in favor of spending the $40 – $80 million required to build the veterans cemetery on the original site.
The clear message sent by voters with the defeat of Measures B and D is that developers must not be allowed to continue runaway development without regard to our traffic, schools, and quality of life, and that Irvine residents must have a say in all future development decisions.
I supported Measure B because I believed it would provide veterans with the best chance for a dignified military cemetery; that it would save Irvine taxpayers millions of dollars; and that it would reduce traffic congestion by restricting future development at the strawberry fields.
The voters, however, did not want to risk even the possibility that it would lead to more development and more traffic congestion.
In fact, Irvine residents are rightly concerned that runaway development and traffic congestion will forever change the character of our beautiful city – without their input or consent. They are rightly distrustful of developers whose bottom line is their profit, not our quality of life. I am distrustful as well, and I share the voters’ skepticism about giant developers and their motives. Developers spent millions of dollars trying to defeat me in the last election, and no doubt will do so again.
As an Irvine City Councilmember, I have not voted for a single new entitlement or approved any new construction. The development that residents are now seeing all over town – from the Great Park neighborhoods to Quail Hill to Tomato Springs – was approved by prior City Councilmembers, and not by me. I have not approved any of it, and I was one of only two Irvine Councilmembers who voted against the Irvine Company’s proposed 1,960-unit apartment complex at the old Traveland USA site at the 5 Freeway and Sand Canyon. I opposed that plan because of its negative impact on traffic and schools, and I will not approve any future development without prior careful determination and consideration of its impact on our schools, traffic, and open space.
As an Irvine City Councilmember, I also voted against Measure D. I opposed Measure D because I believe that Irvine residents must have a strong voice in determining how our city grows.
Moving forward, I reaffirm my pledge to end runaway development. Irvine must return to its commitment to the wisdom of the Master Plan. The current piecemeal approach to development favored by developers and some members of the City Council must end. Irvine needs to return to the principles of careful planning and measured, smart growth that not very long ago made Irvine the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family. There must be no more developer giveaways.
Irvine needs an effective traffic reduction plan, and not just a congestion management plan. Irvine had long been recognized as a national leader in city planning and innovation. Unfortunately, Irvine has failed to properly plan for the tremendous increase in traffic caused by the city’s explosive recent growth. As a result, Irvine residents have been forced to contend with unprecedented traffic congestion and less safe streets and roads. Our City Council now needs to do more than try to manage the traffic congestion that is already out of control. We need to say clearly that the current level of traffic congestion is completely unacceptable and must be reduced.
Irvine needs more police officers. As Irvine has grown, the need for more police officers has become critical, not just for preventing crime, but also for enforcing our traffic laws, which are essential to keeping our children safe as they play and go to school in our neighborhoods. I will work to add more police officers to ensure that our residents are as safe in Irvine now and in the future as they were before Irvine began to grow.
Irvine needs more childcare. We know that our great schools, beautiful parks, and safe environment attract many families with young children. We also know that a critical part of any thriving community is safe, professional, reliable, and affordable preschool and childcare. Developers must be held accountable for including childcare as part of an overall city development plan, just as they are required to build schools. Irvine must become truly family friendly. No more waiting lists!
Let’s build the veterans cemetery. I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery at the former El Toro Marine Base since 2014 and will continue to do so. Our veterans deserve a veterans cemetery close to their families and loved ones. Now that Measure B has been defeated, we need to find a site that honors our veterans and is approved by Irvine residents. I am firmly committed to that task.
Let’s finish building the Great Park. For far too long, the residents of Irvine were given nothing but empty promises about building our Great Park on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine Base. As Vice Chair of the Great Park, I am proud that we have finally succeeded in creating a Great Park that residents can enjoy, with terrific sports fields, a magnificent new championship soccer stadium, and the best community ice-skating facility in the West already under construction — but there is still much more to do. Our residents have told us that they want a new Wild Rivers water park, and we need to ensure that happens. We also need to fulfill our promise to build a city-owned amphitheatre on the Great Park’s cultural terrace, so that a developer’s decision can not deprive us of live music again. I will also insist that we follow the recommendations of residents and build world-class botanical gardens, museums, and a lake to make Irvine the home of a truly Great Park. Getting that job done is one of my main priorities.
I love Irvine and will continue to work to ensure that Irvine remains among the safest and most beautiful cities in the nation. As your Irvine City Councilmember, I will fight to ensure that the public interest – in preventing over-development, over-crowed schools, and traffic congestion, and in preserving the character of our communities – comes before the private interests of developers, no matter how big and powerful those developers may be.