The City of Irvine’s Budget Will Not Include Cuts to Irvine Schools

Recently, City of Irvine staff proposed that, due to a projected budget shortfall, the City should consider cutting its support for Irvine’s public schools and reduce its spending on public safety.

I strongly opposed these cuts.

While I am concerned about the City’s fiscal health and our budget — a topic I will address soon in a future blog post — I do not believe that it is in the best interests of Irvine’s residents to curtail our support for education and public safety.

Due to my opposition and that of other City Council Members, as well as conversations between myself and Irvine Unified School District Board Members, and IUSD and City staff, reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming City budget.

Here is the official announcement:

“A special message about the City of Irvine’s $80 million in cash grants and program support for Irvine schools since 2008.

The City of Irvine has proudly provided cash grants to benefit Irvine schools and students for 13 years. The City uses vehicles such as the Educational Partnership Fund (EPF) program, established in 2006, and the Challenge Match Grant Program, created in 2008, to facilitate support.

From 2006 through June 2019, the City has provided $32 million in direct cash grants benefiting Irvine schools. The City is continuing to commit another $4 million annually for the next two fiscal years, for a total cash contribution of $40 million to benefit Irvine schools.

Beyond cash support, the City provides over $10 million annually in direct and indirect services to Irvine schools and students. The City of Irvine has provided over $80 million in direct and indirect support benefiting Irvine schools since 2008.

Indirect programs include school resource officers at middle and high schools; D.A.R.E. instruction so that elementary school students refrain from drug use and bullying and practice responsible internet use; crossing guards; middle school and high school youth action teams; and joint field and pool use. The two Partnership for Educational Excellence Programs grew from $1.5 million per year to $4 million per year in direct cash grants. The City Council established this funding because schools are a priority; voters affirmed it, and the Irvine City Council continued this unique funding tradition after the voter measures expired in 2016.

The City remains committed to supporting Irvine schools. The City is also committed to its long-term financial planning, transitioning to a two-year budget and a five-year financial plan. The City’s financial condition shows a structural deficit. The executive management team values transparent discussions early in the budget planning cycle. This includes open dialogue at community meetings, in order to facilitate a proposed balanced budget that meets many needs. City executive management proposed a host of changes and reductions to address the shortfall, including a possible reduction to some of the $10 million in annual support to Irvine schools in order to ensure adequate City and Police services.

While reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming budget, we need to work together to find constructive approaches. The City faces leaner times. We want to ensure our support for Public Safety, which is a top priority for the Council and the community, is not jeopardized. Mutual cooperation and productive communication is critical for effective long-term financial planning that balances community priorities and the City’s budget.”

Thank you to the many Irvine residents and IUSD Board Members who reached out to me and other members of the City Council opposing these cuts.

Our voices have been heard.

Irvine History Happy Hour: The Portola Expedition

You are invited to join the Irvine Historical Society on Sunday, March 24, from 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. for an engaging and fun “Let’s Talk History” Happy Hour.

The topic this month is Gaspar de Portola and the Year 1769.

Did you know that the Portola expedition was motivated in part by expelling the Jesuits from Alta California and replacing them with Franciscans?

Did you know that of the original 219 men of the Portola expedition who left Baja California for the north on three ships, only about 100 survived to begin their journey from San Diego to Monterey?

Did you know that the Santa Ana River was originally called Río de los Temblores because Portola and his expedition experienced an earthquake while they were camped there?

Did you know that the Portola expedition arrived in what is now Irvine on July 26, 1769?

Did you know that we have fairly detailed information about the expedition because Portola and Father Juan Crespi kept diaries of the journey, and the expedition’s engineer, Miguel Constanso, later wrote up an official narrative of the trek?

You can learn more fascinating details about Gaspar de Portola, Father Junípero Serra, and their expedition, at the Irvine History Happy Hour on March 24.

Light refreshments will be served. A $5 donation is requested.

The Irvine Historical Society is located in the San Joaquin Ranch House, commissioned by James Irvine in 1868 and considered the oldest standing structure within the original boundaries of Irvine Ranch.

Standard hours of operation are Tuesday and Sunday from 1 to 4; closed holidays. Members are free; a $1.00 donation per non-member is appreciated.

One-hour walking tours of Old Town Irvine are available on the first Sunday of each month at 11:30 a.m. Free for members; $5 for non-members.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Mark Your Calendars for the Irish Festival in June at the Great Park!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Last year, I was named an Irish Honoree by the City of Los Angeles.  The award came as a result of my help in bringing the annual Irish Fair and Music Festival to the Great Park in Irvine.

I am tremendously honored to have been named an Irish Honoree.  Irish Americans have contributed enormously to our nation, and I am proud to help share and celebrate Irish culture.

This year, the Irish Fair and Music Festival will return to the Great Park in Irvine!

Festival dates are Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16, 2019. 

The Irish Fair and Music Festival is dedicated to preserving and promoting Irish and Irish-American culture in the Southern California area by presenting Irish music, dance, theater, language, sports and all other aspects of the Irish heritage.

Now in its 45th year, the Irish Fair has become a landmark for Irish and Irish American culture and family entertainment. Over 30,000 people attend the event annually. It has been described as the happiest and most fun filled event in all of Southern California!

Among the many artists appearing at the Festival at the Great Park this year are The Fenians,  The Humble HooligansCraic in the Stone,  Sligo Rags,  Young DublinersMarys Lane, and The Ploughboys.

The Irish Fair also features Irish Step Dancing, historical reenactments, Irish and Scottish import shops and arts & craft vendors.

You can find more information, and tickets, online at the Irish Fair and Music Festival.

See you there!

In the meantime, you can get your Irish on and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by enjoying this phenomenal musical performance of “Rocky Road to Dublin” from last year’s Irish Festival at the Great Park:

 

Join Me for a Community Choice Energy Workshop!

Join me on Sunday, March 17, 2019, 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., for Community Choice Energy Workshop!

SoCal Edison rates are going up in March 2019 under the new time of use rate plan, so there’s never been a better time to look into a local not-for-profit alternative – Community Choice Energy.

What is Community Choice Energy?

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

It has been operating in California since 2002 following passage of Assembly Bill 117.

On September 25, 2018, the Irvine City Council approved conducting a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program, including potential economic benefits for the community.

Community Choice programs enable local government control over energy procurement to purchase power, set competitive rates, and collect revenue. The local utility still maintains the electricity grid, deliver energy, and bill customers.

Community Choice Energy programs offer automatic enrollment to businesses and residences in its jurisdiction, with the ability for the customer to opt out and continue to purchase electricity from the utility. Customers have the option of choosing increased percentages of renewable energy.

CCE programs in California generally procure and resell a power mix between 50 percent and 100 percent renewable energy to their customers.

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from fossil to cleaner renewable energy.

Community Choice introduces competition and consumer choice into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.

By the mid 2020s, as much as 85% of Californians will be served by a Community Choice Energy program.  When will it be available in Orange County?

Join us Sunday, March 17th to learn:

  • What is Community Choice Energy?
  • How 160 cities across California are already benefiting from community choice energy.
  • What is the status of Irvine’s community choice study & what comes next?
  • What you can do to advocate for community choice in Irvine or your city.

Featuring:

The Workshop location is Irvine United Congregational Church, 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92604

This event is free and open to the public.

Donations appreciated to offset the cost of food/drink and/or to support Climate Action Campaign’s expansion to Orange County.

Irvine Happiest City in California! Second Happiest City in the Nation!

Congratulations to us!

Irvine has recently been named the 2019 Happiest City in California and the second Happiest City in the USA by the personal finance website WalletHub!

According to their report, WalletHub “drew upon the various findings of positive-psychology research in order to determine which among more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities is home to the happiest people in America. We examined each city based on 31 key indicators of happiness, ranging from depression rate to income-growth rate to average leisure time spent per day.”

The factors examined included depression rates, sleep rates, income growth, sports participation, and separation and divorce rates.

Married couples in Irvine will be happy to know that Irvine has the second lowest separation and divorce rate in the nation!

Read the WalletHub report online here.

Does Irvine have problems?

Of course, we do!

But just for today, let’s remind ourselves that, for the most part, we really love living here!

 

Help Make Irvine a More Environmentally Conscious and Responsible City: Apply to Join the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee!

As Chair of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, I am happy to announce that the City of Irvine is accepting applications to fill two member-at-large vacancies on the Committee.

Irvine’s Green Ribbon Committee is an official advisory committee and meets four times a year to discuss potential policies and make recommendations to the City Council.

The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee seeks to increase public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, helping the City serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

The Committee is supported by the Public Works Department. Comprised of 10 members, the committee is an advisory body to the City Council and provides advice on sustainability policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

Selection will be based on:

· Professional or civic expertise in an environmental field, including, but not limited to, planning, environmental sciences, health, law, or related field.

· Educational experience in an environmental field, including, but not limited to, planning, ecology, geology, hydrology, or related field.

· Demonstrate concern for, and the desire to improve, the status of natural resources, and environment of the City of Irvine.

The Committee meets quarterly on the third Tuesday of the appropriate month, or as needed, at 4:30 p.m. at Irvine City Hall.

Applications are available at Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza, 2nd Floor, Community Services Department, or online here.

Completed applications must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 20, to:

City Clerk
City of Irvine
1 Civic Center Plaza
Irvine, CA, 92623

Please direct any questions to Tricia Sosa at 949-724-7320 or tsosa@cityofirvine.org.

Help us as we help make Irvine a more environmentally conscious and responsible city.

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!