Congratulations to Irvine on Earning Top Parks Rating in California and 7th in the Nation!

The City of Irvine park system has been ranked 7th in the nation by the Trust for Public Land annual ParkScore Index, effectively making Irvine the top-ranked city in California.

This is the third consecutive year the City’s parks have ranked in the top 10 nationally.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rankings assess the nation’s 100 largest cities on factors such as park access, acreage, investment, and amenities.

Irvine earned a perfect sore in park spending per resident, and is second in the nation for basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

Among the factors considered in the evaluation is the fact that 82 percent of Irvine’s residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park (compared to a national average of 54 percent) and that 27 percent of Irvine’s city land is used for parks and recreation (compared to a national average of 15 percent).

Of special note, the ParkScore Index did not find any significant difference regarding closeness to parks in Irvine based on the race, nationality, age, or income level of Irvine residents.

The Trust for Public Land works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks — particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. It’s goal is to “ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature. We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand.”

Congratulations to my City Council colleagues, our City Manager and City staff, and our Community Services Commissioners, especially my appointee to the Irvine Community Services Commission, Lauren Johnson-Norris, who has worked so hard to improve the experiences of our residents in our parks and open spaces.

Honor Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.  From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.  Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Council Member, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

For many, many years, my family and I have attended Irvine’s two beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies — a community-led candle-lighting ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial and the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps. Memorial Park next to the Civic Center.

Sadly, this year both ceremonies have been cancelled due to the need to limit non-essential gatherings to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

This year, the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony will be presented online beginning May 25, 2020, for the community to view at their convenience.  The presentation will include words from our mayor, remarks from officers from the City’s adopted 2/11 Marine Battalion, and musical performances from past ceremonies.  For more information, call 949-724-6606.

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, located at 4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to ensure that generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today. Regarding the Northwood Honor and Gratitude Memorial Ceremony, the following notice has been posted on their Facebook page:  

“To all our SoCal friends, it is with great sadness that we announce the City of Irvine, in keeping with the stay at home order, has CANCELED the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.

The City will be generously donating a beautiful wreath of remembrance.  American flags will be placed around the perimeter of the memorial and candles for lighting for those who would like to visit during the Memorial Day weekend.

There will be staff at the community center if anyone needs help finding the name of a loved one or needs name rubbing materials.

We encourage everyone to please take a few minutes of your time to stop by and pay your respects during the holiday weekend.

To our beloved Gold Star families . . . please know that even though there is no ceremony we will never forget the sacrifices your heroes made for our freedom. Thankfully this beautiful memorial is a daily reminder that our community has not forgotten those who bravely put on our Nation’s cloth and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

As in past years, I will thinking especially of my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed at the Battle of Chosen Reservoir during the Korean War, and of the son of family friends, Lance Corporal Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

 

I will also be remembering Irvine’s own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Although we are not able to gather together physically this Memorial Day, we will be gathered together in our hearts

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

The People Have Spoken: The Irvine City Council Should Designate the ARDA as the Site for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery. UPDATED!

UPDATE[May 13, 2020] At last night’s Irvine City Council meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to agree with me and to adopt the citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park on the ground of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS El Toro).  The ARDA is located in the 68th Assembly District.  As the Assemblymember for the 68th Assembly District, I will work to ensure that the state fulfills its promise to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

The time has come to settle the issue of where to locate a state veterans cemetery in Irvine. The people have spoken – twice – on this issue. Accordingly, at the next Irvine City Council meeting, I will propose that the City Council adopt, as an ordinance, the recent citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park.

Adopting the initiative as an ordinance will finally settle this long-divisive issue in the way that the people of this City have now twice demanded — first, by their overwhelming rejection in 2018 of Measure B and the land exchange, and most recently, by gathering nearly 20,000 signatures expressing the residents’ desire to locate the veterans cemetery on the ARDA.

Adopting the citizen’s initiative as an ordinance would also allow construction of the much-needed Orange County State Veterans Cemetery to begin as early as possible without any further political delays.

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013, long before I was elected to the City Council.  As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

Melissa Fox in May 2014 urging the Irvine City Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery without delay.

“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 Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage. As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

Control Tower of MCAS El Toro, still visible on the ARDA site.

On March 11, 2014, I cheered with others in the audience when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a veterans cemetery. But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years. The reason for this lack of progress, I was informed, was the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the ARDA site.

Marine Corps A4 Skyhawks in flight over El Toro, 1961

Because construction of a veterans cemetery at the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable for the City of Irvine, I supported the Strawberry Fields site (and the land exchange with FivePoint) as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative to the ARDA site. This land exchange proposal became Measure B, which was placed on the ballot for the voters in June 2018. The land exchange was supported by the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, as well as both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Orange County. 

The voters, however, decisively rejected Measure B and the land exchange, with 63 percent opposed. I understood from the defeat of Measure B that Irvine residents did not trust the City Council to put the people’s interests ahead of the interests of Irvine’s powerful developers, and, specifically, did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange with FivePoint that would lead to massive development and more traffic congestion.

MCAS El Toro patch, designed by Walt Disney.

Following the voters’ rejection of Measure B, it again seemed that the construction of a veterans cemetery at the Great Park had stalled. However, several members of the California State Legislature continued to look for a way to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who taken the lead in earlier legislation regarding an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, introduced Assembly Bill 368, which requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs toJoining Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) in support of this bill was a bipartisan group of Orange County legislators, including Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55), as well as Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymember Tom Daily (AD 69).  These legislators wrote to the Irvine City Council stating, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

Most important to me, this legislation committed the State of California, rather than the residents of Irvine, to provide the funding for the veterans cemetery. Initially, the legislation specified state financial support only for the ARDA site. After pressure from FivePoint and Mayor Christina Shea, the bill was amended to apply to either the ARDA site or a new site now proposed by Mayor Christina Shea and developer FivePoint. This newly proposed site was called the “Golf Course” site because it was comprised, in part, of land in the Great Park that had originally been designated to become a city-run golf course. However, the new site also included land that had previously been designated as part of the Orange County Great Park’s long-awaited “Cultural Terrace,” meant to include museums, botanical gardens, and other very popular cultural amenities that the people of Orange County had been waiting for a very long time. 

WW2 Era Marine aviators at MCAS El Toro.

Crucially, this new and hastily unveiled “Golf Course” site has never been studied or evaluated – by either the City or the State — for use as a veterans cemetery. As a result, the claims of FivePoint and Mayor Shea that the Golf Course site is a significantly less costly alternative to the ARDA are wholly conjectural. The truth is, since we have not actually studied the question, we have no idea whether locating the veterans cemetery on the Golf Course site rather than the ARDA would save a penny for the taxpayers.

We do know, however, that FivePoint very much wants to develop the ARDA site. Of course, this development of the ARDA site by FivePoint can not happen if the ARDA becomes a veterans cemetery.

We also know that Mayor Shea very much wants FivePoint to be able to develop the ARDA. In fact, when discussing this new alternative site with a group of Great Park residents, Mayor Shea stated that her plan was to give FivePoint a 99-year lease for development on the ARDA. Mayor Shea further said that Golf Course site was really a “diversion” or “short-time solution” to buy time and ensure that the ARDA did not become a veterans cemetery. She made it clear that to her, whether a veterans cemetery was actually built on the Golf Course site – or anywhere in Irvine — was secondary to making sure that the ARDA site remained available for development by FivePoint. In other words, Mayor Shea and FivePoint still intended to do precisely what the voters in defeating Measure B had specifically rejected.

Marine Corps Air Station El Toro Air Show Poster, 1991

For these reasons, when it again came before the City Council in April 2019, I supported designation of the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery, for the State of California to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base. Nevertheless, the Irvine City Council rejected the ARDA and designated the Golf Course site for a veterans cemetery by a vote of 4 to 1, with only myself opposed.

The citizens’ initiative drive followed. Advocates for the ARDA site were able to collect nearly 20,000 signatures of Irvine residents to force the City Council to locate the veterans cemetery at the ARDA or place the issue on the ballot in November 2020.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an Orange County Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

My criteria for deciding where to locate the veterans cemetery has also remained consistent: I support the site that I believe is most viable, most likely to be completed, and at the least cost to Irvine taxpayers. That site is the ARDA.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. Veterans like my father have waited long enough for Irvine to do the right thing.

Let’s build an Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the ARDA without further unnecessary delay.

Let’s listen to the people.

Irvine City Council Okays Lease for New Wild Rivers Water Park at the Great Park!

At last night’s Irvine City Council meeting, I was delighted to join my colleagues in voting to approve the lease agreement enabling the return of Wild Rivers Water Park to Irvine, with a new location in the Orange County Great Park.

Hundreds spend Labor Day cooling off in the waters of Monson Lagoon at Wild Rivers on Labor Day.
///ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: wildrivers – 9/6/10 – LEONARD ORTIZ, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER – Thousands of people enjoyed the waters at Wild Rivers water park in Irvine as the park enters it’s last week before closing for the season. According the the year-to-year lease the park has with the Irvine Company the park will remain open for the 2011 season.

I have been working to bring Wild Rivers back to Orange County since 2017, when I successfully asked the Irvine City Council, acting as the Great Park Board of Directors, to approve construction of a new Wild Rivers Water Park at the Orange County Great Park.

Under the lease agreement, the City of Irvine will receive 4.5% of the park’s annual gross revenue as a lease payment, and if the park remains closed for the summer or underperforms, the City is still set to receive a lease payment of $550,000 for that year. The annual lease is expected to bring in anywhere from $550,000 to $1 million to the City, according to a report prepared by City staff.

Wild Rivers will pay for the construction of the water park, while the City will pay for and maintain a parking lot with over 1,200 spaces for Wild Rivers use during the summer, but managed by the City the remainder of the year.

The old Wild Rivers Water Park opened in July 1986 on the site of the former Lion Country Safari, now the site of Los Olivos Apartments. Following the expiration of its lease with The Irvine Company, it closed permanently on September 25, 2011.

The new Wild Rivers Water Park will be located on 20 acres in the heart of the Great Park, at the intersection of Skyhawk and Great Park Blvd.

Wild Rivers will build a new water park with waterslides, an uphill water coaster, water play structures for children, a wave pool, a lazy river and Wild Rivers’ popular Congo River Rapids.  I have also been working with Wild Rivers management to create an “all access” area, so that children and adults with disabilities can also enjoy a day at the water park.

We have missed having a water park in Irvine.  I was a kid sliding down the water slides at the old Wild Rivers and I was a young mom taking my son there on hot summer days.  We know that Wild Rivers provides fun and safe water parks, and they’ve always had a great relationship with the residents of Orange County.  We look forward to having them back very soon.  In fact,  we can anticipate a Grand Opening sometime in 2021!

 

Celebrate “The Week of the Young Child” at Home with Pretend City Children’s Museum!

The Week of the Young Child (April 11-17) is an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families.

Unfortunately, this year, young children are stuck at home, away from their schools, teachers, and friends.

The good news is that although Irvine’s Pretend City Children’s Museum is temporarily closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it has made it easier to celebrate the Week of the Young Child from your home — and keep your young children moving, thinking, and expressing throughout this quarantine period.

The staff at Pretend City has said, “We want to share our sincere hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy. As we continue to monitor COVID-19, our top priority remains the well-being of our Pretend City citizens -– all of you! While we’re adapting to new ways of serving you while the museum is temporarily closed, our team is committed to working together to support you.”

Pretend City has put together some fun at-home activities for young children for every day of the week.

To view these activities, click HERE.

Pretend City has also put together a terrific “Way to Play Guide” for Pretend City @ Home, providing age and development appropriate play activities for children from birth to 6 months old, 7 to 12 months old, 13 to 18 months old, 19 to 24 months old, 2 to 3 years old, 3 to 4 years old, 4 to 5 years old, and 5+ years old.

To view the “Way to Play Guide” for Pretend City @ Home, click HERE.

As Pretend City says, “You are your child’s best teacher. By trying these simple and fun play activities, you are helping your child reach his or her developmental milestones. This process of change involves learning skills like walking, talking and playing with others, often at predictable times during the first five years of life. You can use this sheet as a tool to help you better understand your child’s milestones, gauge each new stage of growth and encourage emerging abilities in your child’s life.”

To learn more about helping Pretend City Children’s Museum continue its great work during this difficult time, please click HERE.

Visit Pretend City Children’s Museum on Facebook HERE.

COVID-19 Notes

I’ve added a new “COVID-19 Community Resources and Information Page to my blog, with links to up-to-date and reliable resources and information from federal, state, and county sources, as well as the cities and public schools in the 68th Assembly District.

I have also decided to use my Assembly campaign phone-banking and community outreach resources to call seniors and people in need of critical services in the cities of Assembly District 68 — Lake Forest, Tustin, Orange, Irvine, Anaheim Hills and Villa Park — to ask how they’re doing during this stressful time and to see whether they need any help, including food assistance and mental health assistance and other community resources.  Our volunteer callers will be able to provide information and connect seniors with any community assistance or resources they might need. Read the story in the O.C. Register.

If you would like to join our “Supporting Seniors” virtual phone-bank and be a volunteer caller, please contact Carson at carson@votemelissafox.comSee our event page on Facebook HERE.

If you need help yourself or have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com or call me at 949-683-8855.

 

California Governor Orders Halt in All Evictions Due to COVID19

Today California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a new Executive Order halting all evictions statewide for those affected by COVID19.

The measure prevents the evictions of renters over the nonpayment of rent through May 31.

It covers those who have lost work because of the pandemic, have become sick or have had to take care of family members with COVID19. Law enforcement and the court system also would be prohibited from executing evictions while the order is in effect.  Renters are required to eventually pay all the rent they owe, and must notify their landlords in writing within seven days of their nonpayment.

In an earlier Executive Order, Governor Newcom had given authority to local governments to ban evictions due to COVID19 for 60 days.  Many cities had exercised this power to halt evictions, including Anaheim and Costa Mesa in Orange County, as well as San Diego, Long Beach, San JoseLos AngelesLong BeachEl MonteFresnoSan Francisco,  CamarilloOjaiOxnardThousand OaksMoorpark, and Santa Monica.

The Governor’s new order is especially welcome in cities like Irvine, where this week, by a 4-1 vote, the Irvine City Council refused even to vote on my motion to order a legal moratorium on evictions due to the COVID19 crisis, opting instead to “strongly encourage” landlords not to seek evictions by passing a non-binding resolution with no legal force. I voted No because Irvine renters need real protection but the resolution passed by the Council has absolutely no legal force or effect. 

Now, renters in all California cities — including Irvine — are protected from eviction due to COVID19.

Thank you, Governor Newsom!

 

“Irvine Neighbors Helping Irvine Neighbors” — City of Irvine and Families Forward Host Food Collection Event on Sat., March 28

City of Irvine staff has coordinated with Families Forward, an Irvine-based non-profit dedicated to helping low income & homeless families, for an “Irvine Neighbors Helping Irvine Neighbors” Food Collection event this Saturday, March 28 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The event will be held at two locations — the Irvine Civic Center (north parking lot next to the Child Care Center) and at the Orange County Great Park (Lot 2, Festival Lot).

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, food assistance requests to Families Forward have increased 500%.

They are in most need of the following items:

  • Cereal
  • Peanut Butter
  • Canned Chicken
  • Canned Tuna
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Dried Pasta
  • Baby Wipes

Familes Forward.donate-page-with-familyThe event will be staffed by Families Forward volunteers as a “drop-and-go” with items being removed from the trunk of vehicles to adhere to social distancing requirements. Participants are required to remain in their vehicles.

A traffic safety plan has been developed for both sites with the assistance of Irvine Public Works & Transportation, Public Safety, and Community Services staff to facilitate anticipated traffic.

Families Forward is an Orange County, California, non-profit that exists to help families that are homeless or at-risk of homelessness achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through housing, food, counseling, education, and other support services. It assists families in financial crisis to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency. As Families Forward explains, “We do not just provide support; we supply the tools for families to once again become independent, productive residents of the community.”

To make a financial donation to Families Forward, click here.

At one time or another, any family may find itself in need of some form of support. If you are in need of support, please contact Families Forward at (949) 552-2727 or info@families-forward.org.