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.

Watch Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell!

I’ve always been an outdoors person, and I love going hiking and exploring in Southern California’s beautiful wild lands, mountains, and deserts.  Long before I entered politics, I served as a volunteer Ranger with the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.  This past week, I had the pleasure of talking with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Michael O’Connell last week during a ZOOM meeting Town Hall.  

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship. Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

After we talk about the history and the special character of this incredible land, Mike leads us on a tour of this incredible natural resource in our backyard.

 Watch our Town Hall on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy here:

Join Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell. Thurs., May 14 at 4:00 PM!

Join Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox in a ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Mike O’Connell

Thurs., May 14, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.

ZOOM Meeting ID 951-321-0807

Note: We will also be streaming live from Melissa Fox’s YouTube Channel HERE.

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship.

Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Melissa Fox has been a member of the Irvine City Council since 2016. She is life-long hiker, outdoors person, and fierce environmental advocate. She also served as a Ranger in the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.

For more information, contact Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org

To see the Facebook event for this Town Hall, click here.

UPDATED: Watch the ZOOM Town Hall with Mike O’Connell here.

We look forward to you joining us!

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.

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.

 

Show Your Support for a Great Park Botanical Gardens at our Board Meeting on Tues., October 22, 2019!

If you’re a supporter of botanical gardens in the Orange County Great Park, please attend the important Great Park Board Meeting on Tues., October 22, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. in the Irvine City Council Chambers.

This meeting is scheduled to include a development status update and accounting of projects currently proposed in the Orange County Great Park.

Of special concern to supporters of Great Park Botanical Gardens is the fact that there is no funding or acreage currently allotted or proposed for a botanical gardens.

You can read the Great Park Board Meeting agenda HERE.

You can read the staff report on Great Park development HERE.

It is crucial that supporters of a Great Park Botanical Gardens show up to the meeting and make your voices heard!

I have long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens and museums in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.  Every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park. The Orange County Register reported that “Gardens were among the most popular features in the surveys, according to the city staff report. Eighty-two percent of Orange County residents said they are at least somewhat interested in having botanical gardens at the Great Park, when they were asked specifically about the feature.”

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.”

I also continue to agree with what Joyce Mann wrote in the Voice of OC in 2017: “Gardens are an inclusive, a-political opportunity to bring community together for generations. They are a public benefit that becomes a lasting legacy. Besides being beautiful to look at, education is fundamental to the mission of botanical gardens. Through them, we have an opportunity to teach students of all ages about developing environmental awareness and to learn about plant science, gardening and the ecology of our local forests, rivers and wetlands. Botanical gardens become a living plant museum that will inform visitors about the importance and often-irreplaceable value of plants to the well-being of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. Isn’t that the very definition of a legacy?”

My top priorities for the Great Park Cultural Terrace are a world-class Botanical Gardens and a California Natural History Museum. I want them moving forward without any more unnecessary delays or unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. I will continue to fight for them until they are a reality.

I appreciate that gardens and museums are not necessarily revenue-producing amenities. But as reported in OC Weekly, “Great Park Director/City Councilwoman Melissa Fox said that, ‘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.’ But most heartening, on May 22, Fox pushed back on the notion that everything in the Cultural Terrace must generate a lot of revenue. ‘The Cultural Terrace is the Cultural Terrace,’ she told Irvine planners and consultants at the Great Park board meeting. ‘Not the Commercial Terrace.'”

Please show up at our meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Tues., October 22, 2019, and give voice to the strong community support for a Great Park Botanical Gardens!

 

 

Defend Democracy. Tell the Irvine City Council: These are the Public’s Meetings!

City Councils are not private clubs. Public meetings in a real democracy should not be stage-managed by the political majority to prevent public discussion of issues that they want to avoid for their own political advantage.

Last July, while I was on a long-planned vacation to visit my son in Alaska, the Irvine City Council adopted a new anti-democratic policy that prohibits an item from being placed on the agenda unless the mayor or two city council members agree to do so.

As the Orange County Register correctly stated in a powerful editorial opposing the Council’s action, “the transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority.”

The new policy was in direct response to my proposal in June to fly the Gay Pride Flag from City Hall during Gay Pride Month. Although dozens of residents spoke at the meeting in support of flying the Pride Flag, the Council defeated the proposal and I was the only Councilmember to speak in favor of it.

In opposing this restrictive and anti-democratic agenda policy, the Register observed that “Public-meetings laws have a vital purpose in a free society. The public is supposed to be privy to the inner workings of government so they can witness the sausage-making legislative process in action, ugly and unappetizing as it can be. Unfortunately, many local officials act as if hearings are a show – a way to put their best foot forward before the citizenry.”

The Register also recognized 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.”

At this Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting, the political majority will propose to extend this anti-democratic policy to the Great Park Board (composed of the members of the Irvine City Council) as well as to all City Commissions.

The public should not tolerate this extension of the current majority’s attack on representative democracy.

Please attend the Tuesday, September 10, 2019, Irvine City Council meeting and let them know that your City Council is not a private club. The meetings of the City Council, the Orange County Great Park, and Irvine City Commissions belong to the public and cannot be staged managed for political advantage. 

As the O.C. Register eloquently stated, “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.”

As I stated in July, I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.