Great Park Update: We’re Creating a Truly Great Park!

As anyone who has followed the history of the Orange County Great Park knows, its development has not always been smooth or something to be proud of.

In fact, for far too many years, the Great Park was a symbol of gross mismanagement and government gone very wrong, with allegations of corruption and massive waste, and with little to nothing to show for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of public dollars except a balloon, a carousel, and great expanses of dirt, dust, and debris.

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.

Construction Updates:

  • Sports Park Phases 3 and 4: expected turnover September, 2018.
  • Bee and Bosque Trail Areas: awaiting turnover by partner FivePoint.
  • Ice Complex: opening expected by end of 2018.
  • Western Sector Street Improvements: construction in progress; phase 1 completion expected Fall 2018.

Forward Planning Updates:

  • Cultural Terrace: FivePoint contracting for Phase 2 consultants.
  • Cultural Terrace: Preliminary tenant outreach.
  • Cultural Terrace: parking plan developed to include parking stalls, entrance plaza and landscaping.
  • Water Park: CEQA studies in progress.
  • Water Park: land appraisal underway.
  • Water Park: new lease terms coming to City Council next month (August).

Further Updates and News:

  • Championship Soccer Stadium has held 17 tournaments; played 112 games; hosted 75 teams; and has had attendance of 95,625.
  • Soccer Fields have held 18 tournaments; 11,750 practices; 4,818 games; hosted 6,330 teams, and has had attendance of 411,330.
  • Upcoming Soccer Events: GSAC Conference Championships; NAIA National Championships.
  • Tennis Center has held 884 tournaments; 722 league matches, and given 1,745 lessons.
  • Movies on the Lawn Series: more than 9,000 visitors.
  • OC Steam Fest: 5,000 visitors.
  • UCI Anti-Cancer Walk: 3,500 visitors.

Up Next:

  • Opening of Baseball and Softball facilities.

Of course, there is still more to do.  As I have said, while I am proud of all that we’ve recently accomplished at the Great Park, the time has come to focus on creating what should be the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace.  I have long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens and museums in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.

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:

Great Park Garden Coalition
Website: http://redryder200.com/GreatGardensCoalition/
Facebook: Click here.

California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance (CCRPA)
Website: http://www.ccrpa.com/
Facebook: Click here.

You can also help by signing this petition to urge the creation of a natural history museum in the Great Park.

In addition, I remain strongly committed to the creation of veterans cemetery in Irvine.  Councilmember Christina Shea and I have proposed to build a veterans cemetery in the Great Park on land now designated for a golf course

This proposal would be both cost-saving and time-saving, and locates the veterans cemetery squarely within the Great Park and the former Marine Air Base, yet not next to neighborhoods and schools.

The proposal does not involve a land exchange, and the location of the cemetery would not open other areas to potential commercial development, add additional homes, or cause any increase in traffic.

Click HERE to read the proposal.

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!

Be sure to check out the Great Park Calendar of Events so you can keep up-to-date on what’s coming up next!

 

 

Distinguished Environmental Group Laguna Greenbelt Endorses YES on Measure B for Veterans Cemetery!

The leaders of the distinguished environmental group Laguna Greenbelt recently issued a strong statement urging voters to support Yes on Irvine’s Measure B in order to facilitate the creation of a veterans cemetery on the site known as the strawberry fields.

Laguna Greenbelt is a grassroots organization that has worked ceaselessly to protect wildlife habitat in Orange County since 1968. Over the last fifty years, it has led efforts to preserve a coastal wilderness area that is now 22,000 beautiful acres. Today Laguna Greenbelt continues to defend this iconic landscape for the sake of its wild inhabitants and the people who love it.

The Measure B Strawberry Fields Veterans Cemetery site is bisected by the lower part of the “Central Reach” of the Nature Greenbelt, which is crucial to preserving our environmental heritage.

One of Laguna Greenbelt’s major projects has been the creation of an essential nature corridor across Irvine to connect the coastal wildlife habitat west of the I-5, to the much larger open space of the Santa Ana Mountains, including the Cleveland National Forest.

Last March, I had the opportunity to join Laguna Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown, Ph.D, along with Irvine Mayor Donald P. Wagner and Councilwoman Christina Shea at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Orange County Great Park Wildlife Corridor.

As envisioned by Laguna Greenbelt, this nature corridor will link our coastal wilderness with the Santa Ana Mountains/Cleveland National Forest and will ensure the health and future of wildlife and their habitat in our region’s 22,000 acres of coastal parks.

As the leaders of Laguna Greenbelt noted, “A cemetery built on the strawberry-growing site [i.e., the Yes on Measure B site] would be bisected by the wildlife corridor, greatly increasing the amount of green space available to the animals. The lush greenery of the cemetery would help support wildlife to feed and mingle before moving on.  In contrast, the original cemetery site on Irvine Blvd is not near the wildlife corridor, and would have no benefits for wildlife movement or encouraging genetic mixing. Animals moving downslope from the mountains that found their way to the cemetery across busy Irvine Blvd would be blocked from moving safely inland or seaward. Surrounded by urban development and Irvine Blvd on all sides, the cemetery would be just another isolated fragment of open space”

For this reason, they “urge Irvine voters to approve the land swap in June, and vote yes on Measure B.”

Here is their statement:

“Last September, the City of Irvine agreed to a land swap with developer Five Point Communities. This moved the cemetery site to land near the Spectrum V development and the I-5/I-405 interchange. The gently sloping new site is currently being used as agricultural land to grow strawberries. In exchange, the city deeded over the parcel along Irvine Blvd, where the cemetery was originally planned. After the land swap was completed, the City deeded the new site to the State of California, which is responsible for building the cemetery.

There is now controversy over whether the land swap is in the best interest of the City of Irvine. Political squabbles aside, Laguna Greenbelt, Inc., would like the public to consider the land swap’s merits through the lens of land use principles, open space preservation, and wildlife movement.

Representatives of Laguna Greenbelt, FivePoint, and the City of Irvine at the groudbreaking for the Great Park Nature Corridor in March 2018.

Our grassroots organization has been working with the City of Irvine since before 2000, and since 2012 also with the developer Five Point Communities, to design and complete an essential wildlife corridor across Irvine to connect coastal wildlife habitat west of the I-5, to the much larger open space of the Santa Ana Mountains (including Cleveland National Forest). This wildlife corridor, that we have come to call the Coast to Cleveland Wildlife Corridor, is currently taking shape on the only possible route that will ensure that the coastal wild lands, including Shady and Bommer Canyons, and several other parks and preserves, will not wither and die over time (ecologically speaking), throwing away hundreds of millions of dollars that the community has invested over the many decades it took to set aside and manage our parks and preserves.

In mid-March, as a community, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the last stretch of the wildlife corridor between the Santa Ana Mountains and the coastal open space. In short, it’s a dating corridor for wildlife, at a time when they are increasingly isolated from one another by multi-lane roadways and urban development.

The event was important; the corridor is about 6 miles long, and the stretch under construction will be almost half of that, as it crosses Irvine between Irvine Blvd and the I-5. The so-called Great Park stretch will be entirely on the former Base, but not near the park. Instead, it will be adjacent to future urban development around the park on the East side, and, depending on the June fifth vote, it might meet the Veterans Cemetery.

When considering land uses that will be neighbors of habitat and wildlife corridors, it’s clear that some are better than others. Animals exploring for food, cover, and water are spooked and avoid moving towards noisy areas with human activity, lights, cars, unfamiliar smells, and domestic pets. Land uses that are quiet at night and minimize human activity near a wildlife corridor are favorable for animals moving through the area, allowing them to continue on their journeys.

In general, a cemetery is one of the best complementary land uses for natural areas and wildlife; a dark and quiet place at night, when many animals are active. However, in real estate, it’s all about the location, and one of the sites proposed for the Veterans Cemetery is much better than the other for animals traveling along the corridor.

A cemetery built on the strawberry-growing site would be bisected by the wildlife corridor, greatly increasing the amount of green space available to the animals. The lush greenery of the cemetery would help support wildlife to feed and mingle before moving on.

In contrast, the original cemetery site on Irvine Blvd is not near the wildlife corridor, and would have no benefits for wildlife movement or encouraging genetic mixing. Animals moving downslope from the mountains that found their way to the cemetery across busy Irvine Blvd would be blocked from moving safely inland or seaward. Surrounded by urban development and Irvine Blvd on all sides, the cemetery would be just another isolated fragment of open space.

The health and future of wildlife and their habitat in 22,000 acres of coastal parks rides on the success of the wildlife corridor. The land swap supports the bottom line, too: In sheer dollars, so much has been invested in our public lands, don’t we want to protect our investment? We urge Irvine voters to approve the land swap in June, and vote yes on Measure B.”

Learn more about the Coast to Cleveland Corridor here.

You can watch a video on the Great Park Nature Corridor here.

Elisabeth M. Brown, PhD is a biologist and the president of Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. She has resided in Orange County for 51 years. Elisabeth’s involvement in managing local wildlands has included founding roles in the Nature Reserve of OC and the Coastal Greenbelt Authority.

Gabriela Worrel is the outreach coordinator at Laguna Greenbelt, Inc and a freelance writer. She is a Southern California native currently living in Los Angeles, and holds degrees in biology (Westmont College) and urban planning (UC Irvine).

To learn more about why it is so important to Vote YES on Measure B, please see:

Vote YES on Measure B on June 5 for an OC Veterans Cemetery!

Putting Politics Aside to Honor Veterans with a Final Resting Place

Stop Playing Political Games with Veterans Cemetery

Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now

Irvine Takes Historic Step Forward for a Veterans Cemetery at the Former El Toro Marine Base

Tell the Irvine City Council to Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

Don’t Be Deceived By The “Save The Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, I am proud to have participated in making sure that Orange County’s veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – will at last have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

Please help by voting YES on Measure B!