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:

Welcome 2018!

Irvine 2017 by the Numbers:

  • 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.
  • Listed as one of 20 Western Dream Towns.
Great Park Progress:
  • Opened new 12,000-seat live music FivePoint Amphitheatre in in the Great Park. The inaugural concert in October 2017 was headlined by Irvine’s own “Young the Giant.”
  • Groundbreaking for new ice skating 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 becomes 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.
  • Reached agreement with Wild Rivers for a new 30-acre water park in the Great Park.
Traffic Progress:
  • 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.
  • Working on 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.
Environmental Progress:
  • Reinstated the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission (with me as Chair and my appointee, Krishna Hammond, as Vice-Chair).
  • 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.
  • 2017 Sustainable Government of the Year for recycling and waste reduction from Sustain OC.
  • 2017 Eco-Award from U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Continued working with Non-Toxic Irvine 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.
  • Worked with Irvine-based Wyland Foundation to provide education in water and ocean conservation.
 Civic, Educational, and Cultural Progress:
  • Expanded Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.
  • Submitted bid for Amazon HQ2.
  • Opening of the new Charlie and Ling Zhang Musical Arts and Education Center, including Orange County Music and Dance, a non-profit school in Irvine, and headquarters for Arts OC and the Pacific Symphony.
  • All of Irvine’s high schools rated in the top 10% of the nation’s high schools.
  • Cadence Park School (K-8) opens in Great Park Neighborhoods.
  • Dedicated 125 acres of land from the former El Toro Marine Base for Orange County’s first veterans’ cemetery and held dedication ceremony attended by hundreds of veterans.
  • Opening of the Quail Hill Community Center.
  • UC Irvine breaks record with 116,192 undergraduate applications.
  • 16th Annual Global Village Festival.
  • 8th Annual Korean Festival.
  • 4th Annual Diwali Festival.
  • 4th Annual Persian New Year Nowruz Festival.
  • 3rd Annual Winter Wonderland Festival.
  • 12th Annual Orange County Fire Open House.
  • 3rd Annual Irvine Police Open House.
  • 1st Annual “Days of Remembrance” Proclamation, remembering the Holocaust and calling on all of us to be “vigilant against hatred, persecution, and tyranny.”
  • Deployed firefighters to Houston, saving thousands from flooding.
  • Deployed firefighters throughout California to fight worst fire season in California history.
  • Instituted first-ever Irvine Police Mounted Unit.
  • 12th Annual Super Pet Adoption at Irvine Animal Care Center.
  • 12th Annual Home for the Holidays Pet Adoption at Irvine Animal Center.
  • 4th Annual Spooktacular Fun Days at Great Park.
And some personal accomplishments:
  • “Best Politician” by the Orange County Weekly.
  •  “Taxpayer Watchdog Award” by Orange County Auditor-Controller.
  • “100 Most Influential” by Orange County Register.
  •  “Hero of Children Award”  by Child Abuse Prevention Network.
  • “Active Transportation Change Maker Award” by Alliance for a Healthy OC

Serving the residents of Irvine this year as a member of the Irvine City Council has been a great joy and privilege.

Together we can do even more in 2018!

Michael, Max, our entire team, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!
The best is yet to come!
 
Melissa