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.

 

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!

 

What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2019 State of the City Address

Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will give his “State of the City” address at the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.

The Mayor will have many positive things to talk about, including the tremendous progress that we’ve made on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park — a new 80,000 square-foot ice arena, a 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium and new additional baseball and softball fields, a 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium, a 2.5 mile nature corridor, plus an agreement with Wild Rivers to build a new water park and an exclusive negotiating agreement with Pretend City Children’s Museum to relocate in the Great Park

He will remind us that Irvine remains America’s safest city and was recently declared one of the safest cities in the world.

He will also note that Irvine was rated the number one city in the nation in fiscal strength.

He can also speak positively about the advances that our City Council has made in providing for greater openness and transparency in our budget process, pointing to our new two-year budget cycle, our new five-year planning program and our new Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands public notice of agenda items to four times longer than California law requires.

These are indeed wonderful accomplishments that the Mayor, the entire City Council, and all residents of Irvine should be proud of.

But much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved.

Here is what I would like to hear the Mayor address:

Climate and the Environment

Irvine must become ever more environmentally responsible and should be a national leader in meeting the existential ecological demands of the future.

As Chair of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, I have helped guide Irvine toward greener policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

But more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor commit to establishing a Climate Action Plan for Irvine, with the goal of eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city and aiming for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035.

Climate Action Plans make it easy for the public to see what cities plan to do to meet state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sprinkling such actions throughout the General Plan is not as transparent and is not in the best interest of the public.

Other cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, Baltimore, Phoenix and Houston already have Climate Action Plans.  As the self-proclaimed City of Innovation, Irvine should be a leader in this national effort.

An Irvine Climate Action Plan would benefit both the environment and the regional economy, creating new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production, improve the quality of life, and save taxpayer money.

Most importantly, a Climate Action Plan would fulfill our obligation to ensure that Irvine remains a beautiful green city for future generations.

Traffic Congestion and Traffic Safety

We have made significant progress in alleviating Irvine’s traffic congestion.  We expanded the iShuttle to provide more transportation.  We’ve enabled left-hand turns in some intersections to allow traffic to move faster and more efficiently.  We’ve widened roads and made other improvements.

But we need to do more.

I would like to hear the Mayor announce a plan to create a greener, smarter, and more efficient transportation future by further expanding our iShuttle.  For example, a route that would take people from UCI to the Spectrum would be good for both Irvine traffic reduction, Irvine’s air quality, as well as for UCI students and Spectrum businesses.

Our roads are not only too often congested, they are also becoming too dangerous, as people fail to obey stop signs and follow the rules of the road.

I have been working with residents and the Irvine Police Department on improving the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists, especially our children, and I held a Town Hall Meeting on Traffic Safety with the Chief of Police, but more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor propose a major comprehensive traffic safety project, focusing on ensuring motorists come to a full stop at stop signs.  This project would involve education, increased enforcement and deploying more advanced stop sign technology.

Many cities have lighted stop signs.  Irvine should have them as well.  Our Irvine Police should also receive a clear mandate from the Mayor and the City Council to take whatever enforcement actions are necessary to make our streets safer for our residents.

The Great Park

Irvine has made tremendous progress on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park and all of us should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.

I am looking forward to the Grand Opening of the new 270,000-square-foot Great Park Ice Area — the largest ice-skating facility in California and one of the largest in the United States.

I am also looking forward to the announcement of further progress on the return of Wild Rivers Water Park.

I also continue to support a veterans cemetery within the hallowed grounds of the former Marine Air Station El Toro, where so many brave men and women flew to Vietnam and other war zones, some never to come back.  My proposal (along with Christina Shea) to locate the veterans cemetery on land that had been intended as a golf course has been through the Commission process and will soon come before the City Council.

What I would like to hear the Mayor speak about tonight is a vision and a plan for completing the next crucial phase of the park – the Cultural Terrace.

The City Council entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement to bring Pretend City Children’s Museum to the Cultural Terrace.  When the relocation of Pretend City to the Great Park Cultural Terrace initially came before the City Council in 2017, I strongly supported it and was disappointed when we did not have the votes to act at that time.  I am extremely pleased that we have moved forward this year.

But much more needs to be done to truly create the Cultural Terrace as the jewel of the Great Park.

I believe the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace would be the ideal location for a natural history museum, showcasing the natural history of our area.

Importantly, the history of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Gabrielino/Tongva — our County’s indigenous people — needs to be told!

In fact, while Orange County is the only county in Southern California that does not have a natural history museum, Orange County is already home to a fabulous collection of fossils and artifacts in the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, now located in several warehouses in Santa Ana.  This rich history of fossils and artifacts, perhaps one of the most important fossil-bearing areas in North America, if not the world, needs to be curated and displayed.

Our county’s rich store of fossils and artifacts ought to be open to all in a magnificent museum – a new Orange County Natural History Museum in the Great Park!

I have also made clear my support for the California Fire Museum and Safety Learning Center, and for preserving the heritage of our California firefighters in a permanent facility in the Great Park.

I have also long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.  In fact, every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park.

I agree with the Great Park Garden Coalition that “We need places where children can experience nature and explore, where all can find refuge from the ever-increasing urban density and traffic, where people of all ages and abilities can experience beautiful outdoor spaces. All great urban parks have great garden spaces: Golden Gate Park, Central Park, Balboa Park.”

The Great Park in Irvine should, too.

Homelessness and Attainable Housing

As we all know, Irvine is among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation; for this reason, there is a tremendous need for, and tremendous obstacles to, affordable housing.

Finding solutions to the housing crisis and alleviating homelessness has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

I’m proud of what the Irvine Land Trust has accomplished in the past year.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.  We also began work on Salerno, a new 80-unit rental community. Like Parc Derian, Salerno will provide permanent affordable housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.

Significantly, we have begun to develop our first homes for ownership with help from a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. This new Irvine community, called Chelsea on Native Spring, located north of Irvine Boulevard, will include 68 affordable home for sale to income-eligible veterans, working families, and young professionals.

In all, that’s 466 households, and more than a thousand people, who can comfortably live, work and raise families in Irvine directly because of the work of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition to my work on the Irvine Land Trust, I have traveled to Pittsburgh and San Antonio to see what other cities have done to successfully combat homelessness, and I have traveled to Sacramento to encourage the legislature to revise regulations and the tax code to make it easier to build affordable housing.

I would like to hear the Mayor reaffirm Irvine’s commitment to support the Irvine Community Land Trust as successful model for other cities to emulate in providing housing for diverse income levels.

I would also like to hear the Mayor present his vision for alleviating the homelessness crisis, and especially what role he envisions Irvine should play in providing shelter and services, especially in light of the case in federal court.

How will he work with the federal court and Board of Supervisors to tackle this crisis on a truly regional basis, and how will he get the Board of Supervisors to spend the money and resources that they have been given specifically to deal with homelessness on an actual solution?

Working Together in an Inclusive Democracy  

Our City Council is no longer gridlocked in the partisan bickering that prevented progress for so many years; we have seen that we need to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

I would like to see our city leaders display the truly democratic spirit that united all decent people in our community in condemning religious and racial bigotry, and not the divisiveness that is created when wedge issues, outside our jurisdiction and purview, are brought before the City Council.  Focusing on these wedge issues does not produce positive policies that bring our city together, but instead a theatrical politics of division that can only drive us apart.

I would like to hear the Mayor reach out to those of us on the other side of the aisle, as he has often done, recognizing that it is best for our city and our residents when we work for the common good by looking for common ground.

A Vision for our Great City of Irvine

Our great City of Irvine is truly blessed with wonderful people, a beautiful natural environment, thriving businesses, and remarkable schools.

What Irvine needs is a vision for the future that focuses and energizes our continued quest for being the very best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 p.m., followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 p.m.

Both the “State of the City” address and the reception are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary to attend.

The Civic Center is located at 1 Civic Center Drive, Irvine CA 92606-5207.  Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!

Press Conference on Recent Anti-Semitic Vandalism in Irvine (Updated with Video)

The City of Irvine, in partnership with the Irvine Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), will hold a press conference on Friday, November 2, 2018, beginning at 10:00 a.m. on the recent anti-Semitic vandalism at Beth Jacob Synagogue in Irvine.

The press conference will be held at the Irvine Civic Center Plaza, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606.

Among those who will speak: Mayor Wagner, Police Chief Hamel, Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Beth Jacob Congregation, and Peter Levi, Regional Director, ADL.

City staff has also reached out to other community and faith leaders.

Irvine will always stand strong against intolerance and stand up for our neighbors. We are committed to preserving the peace in our wonderfully diverse community and keeping every resident of Irvine safe and secure.

For more information, contact Craig Reem, Director of Public Affairs and Communications, City of Irvine at 949-724-6077.

RELATED:

Irvine Police Respond Quickly to Anti-Semitic Graffiti and Other Hate Vandalism at Irvine Valley College

Irvine Will Stand Strong Against Intolerance and Stand Up for Our Neighbors

UPDATE: 

The Anti-Defamation League announced a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the hate crime criminal or criminals.

Video of the Press Conference: 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Join Me at the City Council Meeting on August 28 to Hear City of Irvine Staff Present Results of the Second Public Outreach Survey on the General Plan Update

Please join me to hear City of Irvine staff present results of the Second Public Outreach Survey on the General Plan Update.

The City of Irvine staff presents the results of the second public outreach survey to the City Council and the public at the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.

Please note, this meeting was rescheduled from a previous date.

The City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the Conference and Training Center at Irvine City Hall located at 1 Civic Center Plaza (at Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway).

What is the General Plan Update?

The City of Irvine is updating its General Plan, a state-required document representing the long-range vision of the City.

The purpose of the update is to build upon longstanding objectives that define Irvine and for the City Council to consider changes as needed. The update will serve as the City’s policy blueprint for the future. It will update community goals and public policy direction to ensure Irvine’s high quality of life is preserved and enhanced as the City builds out and matures.

The City conducted extensive public outreach to establish the preliminary General Plan Planning Framework and to identify major goals and topics for consideration in the update. City staff presented the results of the second  outreach survey and Planning Framework developed for the General Plan Comprehensive Update project to City Commissions throughout Spring 2018.

No changes to existing land uses or allowable development intensities are proposed.

This update will also incorporate changes required by state law.

Visit irvine2035.org for more information regarding the General Plan Update project.

You can find more information about Irvine City Council meetings HERE.

 

Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox Seek Relocation of the Veterans Cemetery to Area Currently Planned for a Golf Course in the Great Park

The following is a press release that was sent out on July 13, 2018.

July 13, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Daniel Robertson 949-874-3442

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBERS CHRISTINA SHEA AND MELISSA FOX SEEK POTENTIAL RELOCATION OF VETERANS CEMETERY TO AREA CURRENTLY PLANNED FOR A GOLF COURSE IN THE GREAT PARK.

IRVINE, CA – Based on the voters rejection of Measure B, Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox have sent a memo to Acting City Manager Grace Leung directing the City’s planning staff to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park.

The memo is as follows:

As we continue to seek a site for the Veterans Cemetery, it has occurred to us and others, as mentioned July 10th at our council meeting, that the area within the Great Park planned for a golf course offers several benefits as a potential location. The golf course site has ample space, at about 195 acres; it is within the Great Park and in the heart of the former MCAS El Toro, honoring those who served there; it is not located adjacent to neighborhoods or schools, and it could provide multiple points of access for future visitation and processions. If up to 125 acres were to be dedicated to the Veterans Cemetery, 70 plus acres would still be available for a smaller golf-related use, other recreational uses and a potential for the expansion of the Organic Circle Farm, helping with annual revenues for the Great Park.

The golf course site wouldn’t require the 40 million dollars demolition and remediation costs that the ARDA site requires. The golf course site has also gone thru the CEQA process. Additionally, by creating a veteran’s cemetery in the heart of the Great Park, not outside the Great Park where the ARDA site is located, our Veterans would realize a true resting place inside the Great Park, where so many citizens have requested the cemetery to be developed. In lieu of a full length golf course, there may be financial savings that can be used for cemetery construction.

For the reasons outlined above, we believe this is worthy of our planning staff to add this second site to their present review and due diligence study for the City’s review process of the ARDA site. This will allow staff to review this concept along with any other alternatives we may deem of value for our Veterans Cemetery.”

Councilmember Christina Shea stated that “We are listening to our voters and we want to find what works best to create a veterans cemetery and to bring peace and civility back to our city.  We are determined to find a positive solution to provide a veterans cemetery in our city and ensure that our residents’ voices are heard.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox stated that “The voters have spoken. We are listening. We need to find a location for the veterans cemetery that responds to the voters’ concerns. I have been a strong and consistent supporter of a veterans cemetery within the hallowed grounds of the former Marine Air Station El Toro, where so many brave men and women flew to Vietnam and other war zones, some never to come back. The Great Park is an altogether fitting and proper location for this veterans cemetery, where it would also be a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

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Note:

Anyone who wishes to express support for this proposal — to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park — can contact the Irvine City Council here.

Press Release: Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox Refers Email Threat to Orange County District Attorney

July 9, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Mills (714) 576-4303

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBER MELISSA FOX REFERS EMAIL THREAT TO ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

IRVINE, CA – Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox referred an email communication from Harvey Liss to the Orange County District Attorney’s office today.

In his email to Councilmember Fox, Liss directed her to vote for a motion regarding the veterans’ cemetery to be presented by Councilmember Jeff Lalloway at the July 10, 2018, City Council meeting or face an end to her participation on the Irvine City Council.

Liss’s email to Councilmember Fox may constitute a violation of several California criminal code sections designed to protect public officials from being extorted for their votes.

Liss is a close ally of Larry Agran and Ed Pope of the “Save the Veterans Cemetery” campaign committee, and an editor of the Irvine Community News & Views, which was one of the major donors to the campaign urging a “No” vote on Measure B, lending over $300,000 to the campaign, without transparency as to where its money came from.

Liss’s communication to Councilmember Fox via her private email account may also violate the City of Irvine’s Ethics and Lobbying Ordinance, since Liss is demanding that Councilmember Fox take a position on a municipal question on which Irvine Community News & Views has spent money far over the threshold reporting amount without reporting or registering as a city lobbyist and without reporting the lobbying activities that he and other agents of Irvine Community News & Views have undertaken.

In response to the email, Councilmember Fox said, “Liss’s threat is a misuse of the political system.  It is to the people of Irvine that I owe my best efforts, my best judgment, my faithfulness, and my sole allegiance.  I will not be bullied, threatened, or extorted into voting against what I believe to be the best interests of the City of Irvine.”

 

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The Veterans Cemetery: What Should Irvine Do Now?

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B. The issues now are what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide, and what should the Irvine City Council do in response to the voters’ decision.

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, and that the City Council should begin immediately to build a veterans cemetery at that location.

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.

Sign used by Measure B opponents warning of thousands more cars on Irvine roads if Measure B passed.

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 $40 – $80 million dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park.

In a survey of Irvine voters I conducted from my blog and through email, the great majority said that they voted against Measure B because they did not want more development and traffic.

Even more significantly, 64% said that Irvine should not spend $40 to $80 million dollars for a veterans cemetery, compared to only 13.5% in favor.

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

In a new and promising twist to the veterans cemetery saga, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has now agreed to have its staff study and advise whether county-owned open space outside Irvine might be a feasible location for an Orange County veterans cemetery. The approximately 234-acre site is in the city of Anaheim, near the 91 and 241, adjacent to Gypsum Canyon.

This site would provide a larger veterans cemetery for Orange County veterans, at no cost to Irvine, and be free from the divisive politics that has characterized the veterans cemetery debate in Irvine.

In fact, many of the veterans who initiated the fight for a veterans cemetery now favor this site, because, as Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran Nick Berardino has said, it appears that “veterans are removed from the political equation, and are now heading in a practical, reasonable direction to give all the brave men and women a final resting place.”

If the Irvine City Council approves Jeff Lalloway’s motion to spend $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery, it will deplete the Great Park budget for at least a decade.

As the Irvine City News noted, “It sounds noble when [Jeff] Lalloway, [Larry] Agran and their followers hold up the service of our veterans. But when you understand that the veterans still can’t get what they were promised without taking away the gardens, the museums, the music, the culture and the future of the Great Park, it puts Lalloway’s political power move in perspective.”

I have been a strong and consistent supporter of a veterans cemetery in Irvine.  But I have also been a strong supporter of fulfilling the promises that the City made to residents when it created the Great Park, and I am not in favor of giving up on those promises.

I believe the Great Park should have great gardens and a great museum, as well as other features for the enjoyment of all residents, and I do not believe that the City can afford to spend $40 to $80 million on a cemetery and continue with these other projects.

What do you think?  

Do you favor spending $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery or should that money go to create other features for the Great Park?

The City Council will decide on Tues, July whether to approve Lalloway’s motion or whether some other course is more sensible and also responsive to the will of the voters and the needs of the community.

As always, the public is invited to attend and speak on these issues at the City Council meeting.

I also urge interested residents to contact the Mayor and the City Council by email and tell us in writing what you think we ought to do.

Here is how to contact the Mayor and the City Council:

Irvine City Council
949-724-6233 or irvinecitycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Mayor Wagner: donaldwagner@cityofirvine.org
Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea: christinashea@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Jeff Lalloway: jeffreylalloway@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Lynn Schott: lynnschott@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Melissa Fox: melissafox@cityofirvine.org

Thank you.

Irvine Slated to Name John Russo as New City Manager!

The following is a press release from the City of Irvine:

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.

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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.  

 

 

Why Did Measure B Lose? What Should Irvine Do Now? Take the Surveys!

[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.

Thanks!

Melissa

UPDATE:

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 that few residents are in favor of spending the $40 – $80 million required to build the veterans cemetery on the original site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lesson of Measures B and D: No More Developer Giveaways!

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 agree.

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.

Here’s why:

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.

Melissa

What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2018 State of the City Address

On Tuesday, February 27, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will present his second “State of the City” address at the City Council chambers.

Mayor Wagner and I are members of different political parties and have very different views on many state and national issues. Yet in the year that we have served together on the Irvine City Council, we have been able to work in cooperation and with mutual respect to improve the lives of the residents of our City.

We have accomplished a lot in this past year. Since last year’s State of the City, Irvine has been rated:

• No. 1 Major American City in Fiscal Strength.
• No. 1 FBI’s Safest American City. Lowest rate of violent crime among cities with a population of 250,000 or more (12th consecutive year that City of Irvine has earned the Safest City accolade).
• No. 2 Safest Big City, based on categories that go beyond violent crime rates, including motor vehicle safety.
• No. 3 Most Prosperous City.
• No. 3 Happiest Residents.
• No. 6 Least Stressed American City
• No. 8 Best Public Parks.
• No. 8 Best City to Raise a Family, based on crime rate, vehicle safety, air quality, and educational attainment.
• No. 9 Healthiest Lifestyles.
• No. 15 Best Places to Buy a Forever Home.
• One of 20 Western Dream Towns.

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved. We have moved past the partisan bickering and gridlock that prevented progress for so many years, but we need to continue to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

Here’s what I will be listening for in this year’s State of the City Address:

More plans to solve Irvine’s traffic and transportation problems.

Every person who ran for Mayor or City Council in 2016 – including myself and Mayor Wagner – promised to take bold and meaningful action to reduce traffic congestion.

In fact, in our first year, we have already accomplished a great deal:

• The City Council did not approve a single new entitlement for housing or offices in 2017.
• Reinstated Irvine Transportation/Traffic Commission (with my appointee, Ken Montgomery, as Chair).
• Created and filled new City of Irvine staff position of Director of Transportation.
• Curtailed traffic in and out of Concordia University.
• Approved $19 million plan to reduce traffic congestion throughout Irvine.
• Approved plan to widen University between MacArthur and Campus, adding a lane in each direction and upgrading traffic signals.
• Working with CalTrans to upgrade and improve timing on 40 traffic signals near freeway ramps.
• Moved forward the construction of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Jamboree at Michelson.
• Defeated proposed 1,960-unit “Travel Land” apartment complex at the 5 and Sand Canyon, based on negative impact on traffic congestion.

But more needs to be done.

Irvine still needs to increase the safe, effective, and efficient transportation choices available in the City (including public transportation, bicycle routes, and active transportation) and will need to continue to hold developers accountable for resolving traffic issues before any entitlements and building permits are issued.

I look forward to hearing more detailed and concrete plans for resolving our traffic and transportation issues, and for increasing the transportation alternatives that are needed to reduce automobile congestion in our streets. In addition, I would like to hear about working with our school board to offer transportation to students to and from school to reduce congestion in the mornings and afternoon rush.

Building the Cultural Terrace at the Great Park.

For far too long, the residents of Irvine and Orange County were given nothing but empty promises about building our Great Park on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine Base.

This year we have finally succeeded in creating a Great Park that residents can enjoy.

• We opened the temporary 12,000-seat live music FivePoint Amphitheatre while planning the permanent Great Park Amphitheatre.
• We broke ground on and will soon open a new ice skating facility in the Great Park (largest public ice skating facility in the West).
• We opened our 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.
• Our Great Park Sports Complex was presented with the Orange County Business Council’s Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Award for Public-Private Partnership.
• The Great Park Championship Stadium opens its second season as the home of the Orange County Soccer Club, Orange County’s only professional soccer team.
• We reached an agreement with Wild Rivers for a new 30-acre water park in the Great Park.

This year, I will be listening for details of even more progress on the Great Park.

I will be listening for details of the opening this year of the “bosque” (tree-lined walking and biking trail area), as well as further development of the Great Park Sports Complex, including additional soccer and softball fields and a baseball stadium.

I want to hear about more specific plans and dates for the reopening of Wild Rivers. I will also be paying careful attention to the Mayor’s plans for the Cultural Terrace. I have advocated for the City Council to make commitments regarding placing museums, a library, and world-class botanical gardens so that we will have a truly Great Park.

Education and childcare.

It is time to squarely address the shortage of childcare for families in Irvine.

Nearly 2,500 Irvine families do not have adequate child care, with the most acute shortage for children under 2 years-old and children 6 to 12 years-old. Churches and other houses of worship traditionally provide a third of childcare. Our Irvine City Council and the Planning Commission must zone sufficient areas for churches and houses of worship, as well as take other steps, to meet our growing child care needs. I have been working with City staff, my Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson Norris, developers, childcare providers, and the business community to increase childcare through an overall city childcare development plan. I will be listening for the Mayor’s plans to help us in this important area.

Commitment to building the Veterans Cemetery and Memorial.

One of my proudest moments as an Irvine resident was when the City Council in 2014 voted unanimously to set aside 125 acres for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery. Since that time, we learned that the cost of building a veterans’ cemetery on the originally designated site would be more than $77 million – in other words, prohibitively expensive. For this reason, I support the land exchange according to which the Great Park developer will build the cemetery in another, close-by, location known as the “strawberry fields.”

This strawberry fields site, overwhelmingly preferred by veterans and all veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state, and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City. The land exchange to build the veterans cemetery is also officially supported by the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Despite this near unanimous and bipartisan recognition that the strawberry field site is the better location and that land exchange is the only way to build the veterans’ cemetery, a deceptive and cynical campaign with paid signature gatherers placed the land exchange on the ballot on June 5.  If these nay-sayers prevail, there will never be a final resting place for veterans in Orange County, and certainly not in Irvine.  A “YES” vote on the cemetery referendum means there will be a veterans cemetery.  A “NO” means our promise to Orange County veterans will be broken.

I look forward to hearing the Mayor make a clear call to all who are grateful for our veterans’ service to vote YES on the referendum on June 5.

Affordable housing and county-wide help for the homeless.

Our state has a severe housing crisis that is getting worse. Our supply of housing has not kept pace with the growth of jobs and population.  As a result, housing prices continue to rise, and rents are skyrocketing. As housing costs rise, more people are being pushed into poverty and even homelessness.

Many students in Irvine’s public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Too many of the jobs created in recent years do not pay a middle-class or even a living wage. We don’t have enough places to live, and too many people can’t afford the places that do exist.  Millennials and working families have a tough time finding places they can afford to live in our City.

Our lack of affordable and workforce housing has also been a significant cause of our traffic problems. As an economically  successful city and an expanding regional job center, Irvine is inundated by commuter traffic because so many people who work in Irvine cannot afford to live here.

I have advocated for more affordable housing and for additional municipal affordable housing requirements.  I would like to hear the Mayor say he agrees and will be offer proposals to increase affordable housing.

In addition, our local region has a severe homelessness crisis that our city, along with other cities and Orange County, must pitch in together to solve. I want to hear the Mayor commit to meaningful steps that Irvine can take now to help the homeless find both the shelter and the full range of services that they need to transition into permanent housing.

Innovative and Responsible Leadership.

I want to hear an inspiring vision for Irvine’s future as a world leader in education, smart planning, environmental awareness and responsibility and technological innovation.

This past year, Irvine has made tremendous progress in environmental awareness and responsibility. We have reinstated the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which I am honored to Chair.  We have received the Organic Landscape Leadership Award from Pepperdine Center for Sustainability for Irvine’s exclusive use of organic non-toxic materials in its gardens, parks, and grounds-keeping. We were named Sustainable Government of the Year for recycling and waste reduction from Sustain OC and received the 2017 Eco-Award from U.S. Green Building Council.

I want to hear the Mayor commit to continuing to ensure that all City of Irvine pest pressure is maintained organically, and that our public gardens and fields are not only beautiful, they are safe.

In addition, Irvine needs to move forward with state-of-the-art communications and smart transportation systems, as well as environmental protections for its residents and incentives for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Our great City of Irvine is blessed with the tools and resources needed to continue to be among the best cities in the world. I look forward to hearing Mayor Wagner’s vision for Irvine that continues our quest for being the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 pm, followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 pm.

Both the “State of the City” address and the reception are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary to attend.

The Civic Center is located at 1 Civic Center Drive. Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!

Open Letter to Larry Agran: “You are Doing a Disservice to the Nation, the State, and the Community. Stop Your Petition Efforts.”

The following letter was written to Larry Agran and his followers about their petition regarding the veterans cemetery by former Irvine Company Executive Mike Padian. Padian worked for the Irvine Company between 1985 and 1996 and has first-hand knowledge of the politics and personalities involved in the current dispute. 

His views are well worth reading for anyone interested in the facts about the veterans cemetery.

Here is the letter in full:

Harvey, Ed, Frank, Larry,

Oh dear, where to begin.

I have read your numerous diatribes; I hope you will give me some courtesy by reading the below.

I am primarily responding to Harvey’s email of 11-2, and an accompanying ‘fact sheet’.  I will attempt to not repeat myself.

1) Yes, the entire ARDA site would be cleaned up with the land-clearing process. However, the ARDA site is significantly more polluted than the Freeway site, and the use of the ARDA site for commercial/industrial purposes would be less costly to develop and have less impact than a residential or a cemetery use.

To determine the potential risk of exposure from a hazardous site requires an analysis of the location, type, and concentration of the hazardous materials, the potential sensitive receptors (people), and the potential pathways between them. The ARDA site contains a ‘witches’ brew’ of above ground, surface, and below ground known and probably unknown chemicals, in known and probably unknown concentrations, quantities and locations. At the time of the Base’s closure, it was one of the larger federal Superfund sites.  As noted in CalVets June 2016 report, FOST 7,  a source of regional groundwater contamination, is located on the ARDA site.  FOST 8 (IRP 3), a former landfill dump site, is also located on the ARDA property. The June 2016 report also states that many of the 77 buildings on the site contain hazardous material such as asbestos and lead-based paint, numerous documented impacts on the site have been discovered, and very probably other impacts will be discovered during development.  Regardless of the ultimate land use, the buildings will have to be appropriately abated and abolished, but the extent of surface and subsurface mitigation is dependent on the ultimate use.

The 2016 report estimated $3.5 million for hazardous wastes, $2.5 million for the site demolition of the first 12.5 acres ($200,000 per acre), $6.2 million for the remaining 112.5 acres ($55,000 per acre, no reason is given for why the 112.5 acres costs less per acre than the initial 12.5 acres), and $18 million for building demolition, for a total of $30 million.  Note that the 2016 report repeatedly recommends additional soils surveys to identify any impacted soil, and to define its appropriate mitigation.  Also note the 2016 estimates do not include any costs for the remediation of contaminated soils, and assumes the State of California will pay for those costs.

Residents are one of the higher potential risk receptors on the site due to their potential rate of exposure, 14-24 hours every day, with an expectation that they could enjoy their outside yards, patios, and parks; their pathways could be reduced with the removal of substantial amounts of soil, and the capping of large areas with hard surfaces.  Cemetery workers would also be a higher risk group, as they would be directly exposed to the contaminated soils during excavation for interments; thus, the reason for the 2016 report’s recommendation to overex the entire site 8′ to 10′.  Commercial/Industrial development will require the least amount of soil remediation, and their employees and clients are the least potentially impacted receptors, because most will be inside an enclosed building for 8 hours a workday, on a site with significant hardscape and parking.

I am currently paying about $40/cy to export non-hazardous material to a local landfill or another construction site a maximum of 30 miles away utilizing a large 7cy bucket excavator and associated dozers, blades, and water trucks, and I am paying about $20/cy to import clean material, both via 14cy double-belly dumps.  If the materials are heavily contaminated the export rates would be significantly higher because they would have to be taken to a licensed hazardous material landfill in north LA County or Banning, using smaller capacity end-dumps.

Worst case, 10′ over 125 acres equals 2,000,000 cy of material. To accomplish the complete export of all 2,000,000cy  would require 575 one-way truck trips per day for a year (250 work days). Total export truck trips would result in 1,150 truck trips per day.  To match the export rate, the import rate would have to be equal to the 1,150 truck trips per day, for a total of 2,300 truck trips per day, or 280 truck trips per hour, or almost 5 trucks per minute for 250 days. The cost to export and import 2,000,000 cy would cost $120 million, and again definitely higher if it had to be exported to a licensed hi-hazard landfill. This is somewhat of a linear equation, that is, if only 1,000,000 cy of material had to be exported and imported, the total cost and total truck trips would be cut in half.  However, it is not a question of if the ARDA site has soil contamination, it is a question of how much. Regardless, I am sure the existing residents would not be agreeable to any large quantity of hazardous material hauling trucks rumbling along Sand Canyon and Portola.

(As an aside, I worked for The Irvine Company between 1985 and 1996.  One of my primary responsibilities was the development of the Irvine Spectrum.  I was the Company’s representative on the El Toro Base’s Cleanup and Reuse Committees.  I also managed the design and construction of infrastructure improvements, including local and regional flood control facilities, around, upstream, downstream and on the Base while it was still in operation.)

The Freeway site, on the other hand, has no buildings, is not the site of any groundwater or landfill contamination sources, and does not contain the ARDA site’s  ‘witches’ brew’.  Instead, the Freeway site has been exposed to only known, controlled amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which do not require extensive mitigation.

2) The proposed Freeway site was part of the Federally-owned El Toro Base, as an extension of the approach and take-off runways.  The Base, as you know, was used for training aircraft carrier pilots, among others.  One of their procedures was the Field Mirror Landing Practice, where they performed ‘touch and go’ landing/takeoff maneuvers.  Before the area was developed, the jets flew almost wherever they wanted.  Once the Irvine Company started developing the areas around the Base, the Company and the Marines agreed to land and air restrictions and easements.  The Freeway site was part of the runway extension.  It was not fenced off because it was not considered a security risk.  It was however, considered a ‘crash’ zone.

The reason the tall buildings in Irvine Spectrum, the Irvine Hospital, the low-profile buildings in Irvine Spectrums 3 & 5, and the old diagonal limit to the residential Northwood area to the west of Jeffrey are where they are, are due to these easements.  In essence, the Company agreed to not allow any residential in the FLMP flight path outside of the runway extension ‘crash’ zones owned by the government, and to limit commercial/industrial within the FLMP flight path outside of the ‘crash’ zones, in an effort to limit the Marines potential risk based on an assumption that a fueled aircraft crash would wipe out basically an acre.

3) Many people use the term “Great Park” to refer to the entire Base area, while others use it more restrictively to just the formal public recreational park.  In any event, the Great Park, both as a larger area, and as a public facility, has morphed significantly over the decades.  When it was originally acquired by Lennar, the master-plan included a potential location for a cemetery, but not specifically a Veterans Cemetery, and it was never part of the public recreational “Great Park.”

The ARDA is adjacent to, but was never part of a formal public “Great Park”.  No one has ever claimed that the Freeway site is part of the public recreational “Great Park”. The Freeway site is as much of  the overall Great Park development as the adjoining Broadcom property (which was part of the aforementioned FLMP zone).

4) The $30 million was never officially approved.  It was part of a proposed budget, but was withdrawn once the potential total costs, especially the extra costs for the pollution mitigation, of the ARDA were determined.  In addition, the federal government, in their review of the pre-grant application, would contribute only $10 million out of $30 million requested, leaving a significant funding shortfall.

On the other hand, the State has approved $500,000 for design, and $5 million for construction of the Freeway site.  Five Point has pledged an additional $10 million.  CalVet is proceeding with the Freeway site design, and is currently reviewing the qualifications of three design firms.

5) Admittedly, I do not know the President of the Chinese Cultural Association.  However, I know that he does not represent all of the residents in the City, nor all in the Great Park neighborhoods in particular.  One only has to look at the contentious public hearings (some theoretically only for Asian residents) and the statements of various City Council and Mayoral candidates to ascertain the depth of the residents’ concerns.

6) Yes, the ARDA site will have to be decontaminated.  However, because it is such a polluted site, the impact to the taxpaying public – national, state, and local –  would be significantly less if that substantial cost was incurred by a developer.  The general public will be better served by developing the less-polluted, less costly, Freeway site instead.

7) All of the major veteran cemeteries in Southern California – Los Angeles, Riverside, and Miramar – are adjacent to a freeway.  The Freeway site clearly presents visible exposure to more people than a cemetery hidden in the middle of a residential area.

8) Location, location, location.  Adjacency to a freeway significantly increases the value of a piece of property. as compared to parcels that are remote from a freeway.  Another major developer has purposely retained ownership of large swaths of freeway adjacent property because of its long-term value.

9) The City’s own traffic report, as approved by the Transportation Commission, concluded that the land swap has no impact to the City’s traffic.  I could go into why this is, but will summarize by saying the ‘cat was out of the bag’ decades ago when the entitlement for the entire City was approved.

For instance, the primary reason that the Airport area is seeing such an increase in traffic is due to a previous Mayor’s vision (Larry Agran) of converting the area from industrial to a more urban, high density commercial/residential community.  The buildout of the Airport area is not complete.  Unfortunately his dream of creating places for people to live walkably closer to their work for the most part has not materialized. The area is not highly urbanized like Chicago or New York City, there will not be a mass-transit system that will work for a long time, and the only solution, unfortunately, is wider roads to accommodate the continued demand for personal vehicular transportation, and more congested traffic.

10) Construction of a veterans cemetery has not been delayed.  The previous submittals and approvals are being revised for the Freeway site.  And as noted above, CalVet is proceeding with the design.  The Freeway site can be developed much quicker because it does not have to endure the lengthy hazardous material mitigation period.

11) Admittedly, the Freeway site would be a great commercial/industrial site.  However, after weighing all of the factors, the Freeway site would also be a great location for a Veteran’s Cemetery.

12) 21-gun salutes at the Freeway site may have some impact to the existing wildlife, who are used to living in a deteriorating agricultural ditch surrounded by roads and industrial development, but less than 21-gun salutes in a neighborhood full of residents and schools.  Also, the term ‘wildlife corridor” is not limited to birds and mammals; the intent is to provide habitat and connectivity for all types of living organisms, including plants, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.

In addition to the above, you have never mentioned the following facts.

1) The ARDA site has the support of only two local elected officials.  The Freeway site on the other hand has wide bi-partisan support of elected national, state, county, and local officials, including members of Congress, the Governor, members of the State legislature, County officials, the Mayor, and other Council members.

2) The SOVC [Larry Agran’s phoney “Save the Veterans Cemetery” group] is not a grass-roots organization.  There is no great out-pouring of concern from the residents.  Rather it is a trumped up, blatant attempt to thwart the efforts of the developer, by playing up a minority nimby ‘development is out-of-control’ sentiment. One of the primary SOVC proponents is the Irvine World News and Views, a political mailer, run by an owner who is not local. The issues being raised by the SOVC have nothing to do with a veterans cemetery, and they are using the veterans for political reasons.The primary reason there is substantial public Great Park elements at all – including the soccer stadium, concert venue, and streets – is due in large part to the developer’s funding and construction involvement. The SOVC has resorted to using paid predatory out-of-state non-veterans, who you admit have no stake in or knowledge of the issues, to collect signatures based on misleading and false representations.  Calling your signature gatherers ‘mercenaries’ is at least truthful.

3) The SOVC continues to violate state and federal laws by utilizing the logos of and implying it has the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  As far as I know, the SOVC has not responded to the American Legion’s ‘cease and desist’ request.

4) You also insinuate that Council member Fox and veteran Bill Cook will receive some massive return for their participation.  Such an insinuation is shameful and unfounded.

5) Last, labeling the groundbreaking as a sham is also shameful, and disrespectful of the hundreds of veterans, concerned citizens, and elected officials who attended the event.  No one has ever claimed the Freeway site is part of the public recreational Great Park, as opposed to the SOVC who claims the ARDA site is within the recreational public ‘Great Park’.

Bottom line, which is a more fitting site to honor those who sacrificed their time and lives to maintain your privilege to live in a free country – an unfunded, polluted, more expensive, hidden, and unapproved property, or one that is funded, not-polluted, less expensive, visible, and approved.  You are doing such a disservice to the nation, the state, and the local community.  Please stop wasting taxpayer time and money by stopping your petition efforts.

I would be glad to review the real facts, not your alternate ones, at any time.

Respectively,
Mike Padian

 

Watch My Town Hall Meeting!

I held a public Town Hall Meeting at the Irvine Championship Stadium in the Great Park on Saturday, October 21, where we discussed traffic, childcare, the Southern California Veterans Cemetery, affordable housing, and other issues of interest to Irvine residents.

I was joined by several of my city commissioners, as well as by members of the Irvine Police Department, who were also there to answer questions.

Several dozen Irvine residents spoke and asked questions, and I thank everyone who attended.

Here are some photos from the event:

I really enjoyed the open, public dialogue with Irvine residents, and I intend to make these Town Hall Meetings a regular part of my work as an Irvine City Councilmember.

You can watch the complete October 21 Town Hall Meeting on my YouTube channel (Melissa Fox, Irvine City Council) here:

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Orange County Register published a powerful editorial this week entitled “Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now.”

It condemns the deceptive “Save the Veterans Cemetery” petition.  It points out that the cemetery does not need saving (since it is already moving forward) and it condemns the aggressive and sometimes violent tactics of its paid out-of-town signature gatherers.

It urges Irvine voters not to be “fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.”

Here is the editorial in full:

“Politicians will exploit anything to gain political power. That’s exactly what is happening over the veterans cemetery in Irvine. It’s despicable to use veterans as pawns and our entire community should be outraged and informed.

A misleading petition drive has been launched in the city to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.” But the cemetery doesn’t need saving; it’s just a veiled effort to derail the current cemetery plans. There is already a great space approved, the veteran community supports it and the city had a dedication for the land last Friday.

But this is all about politics and trying to win next year’s city election. Sadly, this is par for the course in Irvine where creating a political wedge issue and riding it to the election seems torn right out of the pages of former Irvine Mayor and Councilman Larry Agran’s playbook. It should come as no surprise that the pro-Agran Irvine Community News and Views publication supports the referendum. Agran even wrote a column in its pages supporting it.

Don’t be fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.

To make matters worse, one of the petition gathers seeking to block the approved veterans cemetery allegedly assaulted Councilwoman Melissa Fox over the weekend. Fox has been an incredible advocate for veterans and the cemetery in Irvine. While demonstrating against the misleading signature gathers, one of them, a paid political consultant from Colorado, allegedly took her sign and hit her with it, according to the Register.

It’s disgusting to see how some of the political forces in the community behave. Even more despicable perhaps was the response from Councilman Jeff Lalloway who insinuated that Fox shouldn’t have tried to inform people signing petitions against the cemetery.

Lalloway has been a disappointment on the council, opposing the current plan for the veterans cemetery and bringing utter nastiness to city politics. Don’t be fooled by the bogus antics of some in Irvine trying to undo the veterans cemetery location. The creation of a veterans cemetery shouldn’t be a political football. It should be a proud moment for the city and the county.”

For more information about the Veterans Cemetery, see my blog posts:

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

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

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!

If you signed the petition because you mistakenly believed that it would support the veterans cemetery, please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com and I will see that you get a form to revoke your signature.

Thanks!

 

 

 

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

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Do not be deceived by a petition that pretends to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.”

The truth is that our veterans cemetery does not need saving — except from these out-of-town mercenaries who want you to sign their fraudulent petition!

They pretend that they support our veterans when the truth is that if their petition succeeds, the veterans cemetery will be (at best) delayed and likely destroyed.

They pretend to have grassroots support, but the truth is that they are paid out-of-town mercenaries, while the current “Strawberry Fields” location of the veterans cemetery is supported by every veterans’ organization and a formidable bipartisan array of local officials from across the political spectrum.

They will lie and tell you that they want the veterans cemetery to be in the Great Park, when the truth is that the original (and highly contaminated) was never in the Great Park.

They will not tell you that the current “Strawberry Fields” location was once part of the former El Toro Marine Base, which was the last American soil that many Marines stood on before they left for World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam, never to return.

They will not tell you that creating the veterans cemetery in their preferred location would cost the taxpayers $80 million in decontamination and demolition before the cemetery could even start to be built.

The truth is that the land exchange that the petition seeks to stop will ensure that the Veterans Cemetery is build faster and with approximately $80 million in savings for state and local taxpayers.

They use stolen valor when they claim to be supported by veterans organizations.  The truth is that the American Legion has ordered them to stop using their organization’s symbol, but they’ve refused:

Now they’ve brought in hundreds of out-of-town paid signature gatherers from Los Angles, San Bernardino and Oakland and put them up in hotels.

And they are violent.

This weekend, other anti-petition volunteers and I were threatened and menaced multiple times by these out-of-town paid signature gatherers.

One of these paid mercenaries threatened me and then grabbed my sign, hit me with it and tore it up.  He ran away when I called the police, but was caught when pointed out by several witnesses.  He later told the police he was a “political consultant” who lived in Colorado.

Another volunteer reports that she was “spat at, called some of most horrible names you could call a woman, physically intimidated and shouted at by paid signature gatherers who came from out-of-town to get $3 per signature to lie about ‘saving the cemetery’. They are angry that we are so effective and let the public know they are lying. Please don’t sign their petitions!”

Here is a rogues gallery of these paid out-of-town signature gatherers:

 

After I was assaulted, I went back home, shaken.   A Vietnam War Marine veteran who was also volunteering said to me “at least they were not shooting at you.”

I got a cup of coffee, took a shower, and went back out.

I will not be silenced.  I will continue to fight for those who fight and have fought for America.

It is an honor to do so.

I hope you will join me.

If you can help us defeat these mercenaries who have invaded Irvine and their malicious petition, please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com.

If you’ve signed one of these petitions because you mistakenly believed it would “save the veterans cemetery,” you can easily revoke your signature by filling out a simple form.  Please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com and I will get this form to you.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, and the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, I strongly support this land exchange that will greatly facilitate making an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality. I am tremendously 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 contact me to help.

Let’s do this together.

Melissa

Don’t Be Deceived by the Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Do not be deceived by a petition that pretends to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.”

The truth is that the Veterans Cemetery in Irvine is now moving forward at full steam and we will soon have a groundbreaking ceremony.

For me, coming to support the land exchange was a process that involved carefully studying all the facts. I needed to be convinced that it would be the quickest way to create the veterans cemetery.

As I investigated the land exchange proposal, I came to see that it was not only the quickest and least expensive path to a veterans cemetery, it was really the only path because of the great cost of decontamination and demolition that would be required on the original site.

The new site is also located on land that was part of the former Marine Base.

The land exchange facilitating the creation of the veterans cemetery is supported by every local veterans’ organization, as well as a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silver (Democrat) – the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation, who attended the City Council meeting and urged the Council to approve the land exchange as the best way to establish a veterans cemetery in Orange County.

In sharp contrast, opposition to the land exchange is based entirely on hostility to the developer and not at all on what is best for veterans or the residents of Irvine. Their petition intentionally misstates the facts and would prevent the veterans cemetery from being built.

My blog posts – linked below – reflect my careful study of the issues and are supported by links to underlying facts and documents.

Please read and share them so that others won’t be deceived:

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!

If you have already signed the petition based on its false claims of saving the veterans cemetery, you can revoke your signature.  Contact me and I will help you.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, and the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, I strongly support this land exchange that will greatly facilitate making an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality. I am tremendously 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.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you.

Melissa

Irvine Takes Historic Step Forward for Southern California Veterans Cemetery at Former El Toro Marine Base

Wearing yellow Veterans Cemetery groundbreaking caps, dozens of veterans and supporters of the land exchange with FivePoint Communities — in which the City of Irvine will exchange 125 acres north of the Great Park, currently occupied by more than 70 contaminated buildings remaining from the Marine base, with FivePoint’s property just north of the Bake Parkway interchange, currently used as strawberry fields — attended the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26.

For me, coming to support the land exchange was a process that involved carefully studying all the facts.  I needed to be convinced that it would be the quickest way to create the veterans cemetery.  As I investigated the land exchange proposal, I came to see that it was not only the quickest and least expensive path to a veterans cemetery, it was really the only path because of the great cost of decontamination and demolition that would be required on the original ARDA site. I also came to see that opposition to the land exchange was based entirely on hostility to the developer FivePoint, and not at all on what would be best for veterans.

The need for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery is great. Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California — more than in any other state. This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County.  Yet there is no Orange County military cemetery for the estimated 133,000 Orange County veterans and their families. Those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. The national cemetery in Los Angeles is at capacity and the one in Riverside requires a lengthy wait.

The land exchange came about as a means to overcome the enormous cost of building the cemetery at the originally designed site north of the Great Park.

Although the City of Irvine had offered land, no money was provided to demolish and decontaminate the existing buildings and built the cemetery.

This problem became more acute when the City learned that the Federal Veterans Administration had ranked the Southern California Veterans Cemetery at a mere 74 out of 101 proposed state veteran cemetery projects; that the project was eligible for only $10 million from the federal government; and that the projected the cost of building phase 1 of veterans cemetery was a startling $77,372,000.

Most of this enormous cost involved the decontamination and demolition of 77 buildings remaining on the site, since many of these remaining buildings and facilities “contain hazardous building materials such as asbestos-containing building materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP).”

It appeared that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that so many of us had fought for so long was not going to get built.

FivePoint Communities,  the developer of the Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods, then made the City an offer to exchange 125 acres of land that it owns just south of the Great Park, which it was now using as a field to grow strawberries, for the originally designated cemetery land.  No costly decontamination or demolition would be necessary to begin construction.

In addition, FivePoint offered to pay for the cost of building phase 1 of the veterans cemetery, thus saving the public nearly $80 million as compared to attempting to build the cemetery on the original site.

Like the original site, the strawberry fields site once formed part of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

A recent impartial outside appraisal of the two properties valued the strawberry fields site at $68,000,000, while valuing the original site at only $4,000,000.

The land exchange proposed by FivePoint was supported in letters to the City Council by a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congresswoman Mimi Walters (Republican), Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation, who also attended the City Council meeting and urged the Council to approve the land exchange as the best way to establish a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

After several hours of public comments, followed by debate by the Irvine City Council, the vote was 3-2 in favor of the land exchange.  Mayor Donald Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea, and I voted in favor. Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against.

The vote was met with cheers from most of the crowd, and especially from members of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, which has been advocating for a veterans cemetery in Orange County for many years.

“This is an historic day,” said Bill Cook, a Vietnam War veteran and a leader of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation. ” We see now that we are going to move forward. It is going to be a very monumental site.”

Irvine will immediately donate the land to California so the state can start building the cemetery, which will be the only permitted use. Groundbreaking for the veterans cemetery is expected soon.

As the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran, and the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, I strongly support this land exchange that will greatly facilitate making an Orange County veterans cemetery a reality.

I am tremendously 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.

Tell the Irvine City Council No Back Room Deals! Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans!

Once again, we must fight to ensure that a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Irvine becomes a reality.

All of us must tell the Irvine City Council, “No back room deals! Keep your promises to our veterans!”

Here are the facts:

Ever since the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro (MCAS El Toro) in Irvine was decommissioned in 1999, a growing number of veterans dreamed of locating a veteran’s cemetery and memorial on a portion of the closed base, where an estimated 2 million men and women served this nation in peace and war, and from which too many of them departed to foreign lands never to return.

These veterans formed the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation to advocate for an Orange County veterans cemetery.

Proud to stand with my dad, Korean War combat veteran Stan Kay, and Vietnam veteran and Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation leader Bill Cook.

The need is great. Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state.  This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County.

Yet there is no Orange County military cemetery for the estimated 133,000 Orange County veterans and their families.  Those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.  The national cemetery in Los Angeles is at capacity and the one in Riverside requires a lengthy wait.

In 2014, Assembly Bill 1453 (AB 1453) was introduced by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva in the California legislature to establish a Southern California Veterans Cemetery in Orange County.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Assemblymember Donald Wagner representing the City of Irvine, was approved by the state legislature as of August 25, and signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2014.

On July 22, 2014, after several months of debate and hearings, and appeals from numerous veterans and veterans’ organizations, the Irvine City Council adopted a resolution expressing its intent to convey the Amended and Restated Development Agreement (ARDA) site, just north of the Great Park and on land that was formally part of former MCAS El Toro, consisting of 125 acres, to the state for the purposes of creating the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.

Speaking to the Irvine City Council in 2014 in support of an Orange County Veterans Cemetery located on the grounds of the old Marine base in Irvine.

I had spoken at City Council meetings numerous times in favor of this resolution, as had my father, a Korean War combat veteran.

We were thrilled that the City Council had approved providing 125 acres of City-owned land for the veterans cemetery.  While we knew that the City Council had not approved spending any money for the cemetery, our expectation, as well as that of the Irvine City Council, was that once the land was provided, sufficient funds to build and maintain the cemetery would come from the federal government and the State of California.

Over the next year and a half or so, very little was done to move the project forward, as both the state and federal government considered the matter.

Then in June 2016, the City received a disheartening report from California Department of General Services that projected the cost of Phase 1 of building the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site to be a startling $77,372,000.

Most of this enormous cost involved the decontamination and demolition of 77 buildings remaining on the site.  The report noted that many of these remaining buildings and facilities “contain hazardous building materials such as asbestos-containing building materials (ACM) and lead-based paint (LBP).”

More bad news followed.

On July 25, 2016, the City learned that the Federal Veterans Administration had ranked the Southern California Veterans Cemetery at a mere 74 out of 101 proposed state veteran cemetery projects, and that the project was eligible for only $10 million from the federal government.

In other words, we learned that there was a $67,372,000 shortfall between what the cemetery would cost and what the federal government was willing to contribute. Moreover, no state funding was promised.

It appeared that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery that so many of us had long fought for was not going to get built.

During this time, FivePoint, the developer of the Great Park and the Great Park Neighborhoods, made the City an offer to exchange 125 acres of land that it owns just south of the Great Park, which it was now using as a field to grow strawberries, for the ARDA land.

The City could then provide this Strawberry Fields land to the State of California for a veterans cemetery, rather than the ARDA site.

No costly decontamination or demolition would be necessary to begin construction.

Speaking with California Governor Jerry Brown after his tour of the two proposed sites for an Orange County veterans cemetery in Irvine.

Like the ARDA site, the Strawberry Fields site had once been part of the El Toro Marine base.

In addition, FivePoint offered to pay for the cost of building Phase 1 of the veterans cemetery, thus saving the public nearly $80 million as compared to attempting to build the cemetery on the original ARDA site.

Still, there remained some uncertainty about the details of FivePoint’s offer.

Based on these financial facts and FivePoint’s offer, the City Council voted on April 4, 2017, to adopt my motion to pursue a dual track option of telling the Governor’s office, CalVet, and the State Legislature, that the City would guarantee local funding of up to $40 million, and, simultaneously, to direct staff to clarify and nail down the details of FivePoint’s land exchange, which could expedite the creation of the cemetery and save the City millions of taxpayer dollars that could then be used for other purposes, including construction of the Cultural Terrace and other amenities at the Great Park.

On May 12, 2017, Governor Brown toured both of the sites proposed for a veterans cemetery on the former El Toro Marine base. After his tour, Brown said either site was acceptable to the state. He also indicated that he preferred the Strawberry Fields site offered by FivePoint:  “It’s absolutely certain that Orange County will get the veterans cemetery that it deserves and the veterans deserve,” Brown said.  He later added, “Obviously, I like [the] strawberry patch — ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ Remember that song?”

Following the Governor’s visit, the land exchange proposed by FivePoint was supported in letters to the City Council by a formidable and bipartisan array of Orange County elected officials, including Congresswoman Mimi Walters (Republican), Congressman Lou Correa (Democrat), State Senator Josh Newman (Democrat), Assemblymember Steven Choi (Republican), and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silver (Democrat) — the author of the original Southern California Veterans Cemetery legislation.

In addition, the land exchange was strongly supported by the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, the non-partisan veterans’ group that had tirelessly and heroically pressed for an Orange County veterans cemetery for many years.

On June 6, 2017, the Irvine City Council voted 3-2 to change the site originally designated for a veterans’ cemetery and to proceed with the land exchange (125 acres of the ARDA for 125 acres of the Strawberry Fields) with FivePoint.

Mayor Don Wagner, Councilmember Christina Shea, and I voted in favor of this land exchange.  Councilmembers Jeff Lalloway and Lynn Schott voted against.

The State legislature then adopted two budget trailer bills related to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery. These bills authorized CalVet to acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery at the new Strawberry Fields sites; provided $500,000 for a new CalVet study; authorized CalVet to submit a request for Federal Cemetery Grant funds; and provided $5 million to the Southern California Veterans Cemetery Master Development Fund.

Over the next few months, further approvals of the land exchange were then made by the Irvine Transportation Commission, which found that the land exchange would not have any significant impact on Irvine’s traffic, and by the Irvine Planning Commission, which urged approval necessary zoning changes.

Proud to wear a Southern California Veterans Cemetery cap with Vietnam War veteran Bill Sandlin, after receiving a commemorative cup on the 241st anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps.

It now seemed that the Southern California Veterans Cemetery was finally on track and was smoothly moving forward at last.  All that remained was final approval of the land exchange agreement by the City Council at the City Council meeting on September 26, 2017.

But just when it seemed that the veterans cemetery was soon to be launched with a jubilant official groundbreaking ceremony, suddenly everything was thrown up in the air once again.

I heard from Bill Cook, a leader of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation and a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, that the City Manager was now insisting on providing only 25 acres for a veterans cemetery.  According to the scheme concocted by the City Manager, the remaining 100 acres would then be available for more houses, apartments, and hotels.

Next, I read in Voice of OC that the Irvine City Council is rumored to have “scheduled a closed session discussion of the veterans cemetery during its Sept. 26 meeting. The discussion reportedly will include using 100 acres of the veterans cemetery land for hotels, homes or other commercial purposes until the land is needed to bury veterans.”

Apparently, the City Manager had taken it upon himself to push this new 25 acre scheme for several weeks in staff negotiations with FivePoint, without direction from — or even informing — the City Council.

This action by the City Manager is outrageous.

Let me be clear:

Failing to provide the full 125 acres as promised will kill the veterans cemetery.  CalVet has made it clear to the City that “The USDVA requires that the entire 125 acres be transferred to the state in whole in order for the state to receive a grant to begin Phase I construction. Additionally, the CA Public Works Board requires the same. Anything short of a 125 acre transfer to the state puts the entire project in jeopardy. Once the state takes possession of the land and construction begins, the land can only be used according to the SCVC Master Plan. No additional use leases, etc. will be authorized.”

The City Council never authorized or even discussed this outrageous betrayal of our commitment to provide 125 acres for a veterans cemetery. This was undertaken by the City Manager without my knowledge or, as far as I know, the knowledge of any other member of the City Council.

I will not participate in any secret session or back room deals. There are no terms in the land exchange agreement that cannot be shared with the public in open session. 

I will fight to ensure that Irvine provides the full 125 acres as approved and committed by the City Council.  Anything less would be a betrayal of our promise to our veterans, and I will vehemently fight against it.

What you can do:

Send emails to the Mayor and City Council. Tell them to stick to their promise to provide the full 125 acres.  Tell your friends and neighbors, especially veterans, to do so as well.

Attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 26, 2017.  Publicly tell the Council to keep its promise to our veterans.  The meeting will start at 4:00 pm and be held at the Irvine City Hall City Council Chamber, One Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606.

We’ve fought long and hard so that Orange County veterans have a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

The fight isn’t over yet.

Let’s make sure Irvine keeps its promise to our veterans.

See you there!

Update:

I have seen the official appraisal of the two properties (the ARDA site and the Strawberry Fields site). The Strawberry Fields site, being given up by FivePoint, is by far the more valuable of the two properties.  It is the City of Irvine (not Fivepoint) that is getting the best of the land exchange for pennies on the dollar. ARDA Appraisal Report (1)