We’re Number One: OC Register Rates Irvine “Best City” for 2018

The readers of the Orange County Register have rated Irvine the “Best City” in Orange County for 2018.

Here is what the Register had to say:

“By now, Irvine is used to accolades.

The Fiscal Times recently ranked it No. 1 out of 116 municipalities in its annual City Fiscal Strength Index. Within the past year it also made the top 10s of other “best-of”lists, including the Best Place to Raise a Family, the Best Park System in the U.S., Best City for Working Parents and Best City to be a Homeowner.

The personal finance website WalletHub ranked Irvine No. 8 – the highest of any Southern California locale – on its 2018 list of the Happiest Cities in America, which was based on factors such as emotional and physical well-being, income and employment and community and environment.

Last year, Sunset magazine selected Irvine as the SoCal runner-up – behind Ventura – on its list of the 19 Best Value Towns in the West.

“This O.C. town was engineered for livability back in the 1960s,” the magazine wrote. “What it lacks in an actual downtown, it makes up for with 350 miles of bike lanes and trails, an infinitesimal crime rate, a robust economy, a multicultural population, and the Orange County Great Park.”

None of this is news to Best of Orange County voters. Irvine has been voted Best City Live In for 8 of the past 10 years and always places in the top three. Beyond its highly regarded schools and abundant parks, Irvine is frequently cited as a model of master planning – even as the city’s population has grown to 268,000, its design as a cluster of villages helps it retain a small-town vibe.”

Congratulations to us!

See the Register’s full “Best of” issue here.

 

Irvine History Happy Hour: Meet Irvine’s New City Manager John Russo!

So what exactly does a City Manager do anyway?

Come this Sunday, September 23 to the Irvine Historical Society’s Let’s Talk History Happy Hour and find out!

Irvine’s new City Manager John A. Russo will be on hand to introduce himself and to share his goals for the future of Irvine.

John A. Russo was hired by the Irvine City Council to be City Manager on July 10, 2018.

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 is Irvine’s fifth City Manager.

Join us on Sunday, September 23 for this month’s “Let’s Talk History” Happy Hour.
We will meet at the Irvine Historical Museum from 3:00 -5:00 pm and learn how trains once played a pivotal role on the Irvine Ranch.

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 1:00 to 4:00 pm; 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.

 

Play Ball! Join Me As We Officially Open Our New Great Park Baseball Stadium!

As Vice Chair of the Orange County Great Park, it is my pleasure to invite you to join me on Sunday, September 16, 2018, for free, family-friendly fun as we officially open our new 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium, and our new additional baseball and softball fields at the Orange County Great Park Sports Complex.

This event begins at 10:00 a.m., with an official opening ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

Enjoy exhibition games from local baseball and softball teams, and visit the new baseball stadium, softball stadium, and 10 surrounding ball fields.

Food trucks will be there for visitors to buy lunch, and city leaders will gather to throw out the first pitch in the Baseball Stadium.

At the Championship Stadium, four, two-inning baseball games will be played by the eight local high school teams. Portola and University will play the first game at 10:00 a.m. followed by Beckman vs. Irvine, Tustin vs. Northwood and Woodbridge vs. Foothill.

The members of these teams will join city officials on the field for the ribbon cutting ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

Parking is free!

The new Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium includes four batting cages, a meeting room and press box. On the field level, there are dressing rooms on both sides where the dugouts are, coaches offices, umpire rooms and training facilities. There is also an outfield berm area, which can hold 1,000 more fans sitting on the grass.

The Orange County Great Park is the largest public park project now underway. Several hundred acres of parkland are under development, and beginning summer 2018 and through year’s end, several more facilities and fields will be turned over to the City for community public use. These are the 1-mile long Great Park bike and pedestrian trails; seven baseball fields that include our new 1,000-seat baseball stadium; five softball fields that include a 500-seat stadium; six artificial turf soccer/lacrosse fields; four basketball courts; a Children’s Playground; and an 18-acre Flex Field in which up to four playing fields can be added for tournament use. In total, the above equals 130 acres.

Already open for one year within the 194-acre Sports Complex are a Soccer Stadium with seating for 5,000, six other soccer/lacrosse fields, 25 tennis courts, five sand volleyball courts, and a Children’s Play Area.

These all complement the long-opened features of the 1,300-acre Great Park, which include five soccer/lacrosse fields, two art galleries, the Great Park Balloon, and the Children’s Carousel.

In addition, the Anaheim Ducks Great Park Ice Complex – the largest in the state with four sheets of ice and one of the largest in the country at 270,000 square feet – will open by the end of 2018 at the Great Park. Ice time will include public skating, youth hockey games and tournaments, and figure skating.

Next on our Great Park agenda should be creating the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace, with botanical gardens and museums!

I have also joined with Irvine City Councilmember Cristina Shea in calling for the construction of a veteran’s cemetery within the Great Park.  This proposal is now going through an expedited evaluation process by our City staff.

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.

HEADLINE HEREHowever, 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.  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 — Join us on Sunday, September 16 to celebrate!

Play Ball!

 

As We Celebrate Labor Day, Let’s Commit to Increasing Irvine’s Child Care Choices

As we celebrate Labor Day, I want to take the opportunity to recommit to improving the working conditions of Irvine residents by increasing the availability of child care.

Too often, parents in Irvine are forced to choose between going to work and caring for their children.

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.

I have been working with City staff, my Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris, developers, childcare providers, and the business community to increase child care through an overall city child care development plan.

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris has eloquently addressed this issue:

Parents are being advised to apply for child care and get on waiting lists while they are expecting a child and still report waiting several months to a year to secure a spot for their child. Infant care has been identified as the most challenging child care to secure, especially considering the important low provider-to-child ratio mandated by state law.

Some Irvine parents report putting their families on lists and simply never hearing of an opening.

The consequence of the Irvine childcare gap is that families are forced to make unanticipated career and financial decisions. Parents report having to make the sometimes difficult decision to have one parent stay home, even where the families was previously a dual-income family.

Statistically, it is increasingly difficult to return to the workforce the longer a worker is away.

In addition, the result is not only lost income while the child is infancy, but potentially for years to come. For a single parent, the situation is even worse — and may be untenable if family care or care outside the city is unavailable.

A critical part of any thriving community is safe, professional, reliable, and affordable preschool and child care. Preschool has been shown to positively affect children’s social skills and prepare them for the rigors of K-12. Children who miss the opportunity for preschool because of inadequate child care in a community start kindergarten at a disadvantage.

Ultimately, the negative effects of unavailable or inadequate preschool or childcare extend beyond individual children and families to the community as a whole.

It is time to address the shortage of child care for families in Irvine. Increased child care through designated private sites as part of an overall city development plan, access to childcare in houses of worship, and the option of city early childhood education must be part of this plan.

Families in Irvine are looking to the City Council for solutions.

What kind of waiting periods are you facing right now for child care and preschool in Irvine?

What kinds of improvements do you want to see in the availability of child care and preschool in Irvine?

Send your information to Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox at mefox@cityofirvine.org or to Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris at laurenjohnson78@gmail.com.

Preserving Irvine’s Neighborhoods and Open Space: Why I’ll Vote to Protect Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course

At tonight’s Irvine City Council meeting, I intend to vote to protect the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course from development.

Councilmember Melissa Fox celebrates Irvine’s open space with Board of Equalization Member and candidate for California Treasurer Fiona Ma

Here’s why:

One of the best, and most distinctive, things about Irvine is our commitment to preserving open space.

The City of Irvine has more than 16,000 acres of permanently preserved parkland and open space – remarkable for a city of our size.

Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has been committed to balancing the built and the natural environment.  As our incredible master-planned community has grown, we have remained attentive to the need to preserve and enhance our natural open spaces, creating a network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors enjoy today and will continue to enjoy for generations to come.

Neighborhoods are also a crucial aspect of life in Irvine.

When I ran for City Council, I promised that I would protect the beauty and character of our neighborhoods in all of Irvine.

I also promised to fight runaway development; in  fact, as an Irvine City Councilmember, I have not voted for a single new entitlement nor have I approved any new construction.

Moving forward, I intend to see that Irvine reaffirms its commitment to protecting open space, preserving neighborhoods, and following the wisdom of the General Plan.

I like what my appointee to the Irvine Planning Commission, Dustin Nirschl, has said: “Villages are not just measurements, it’s a feeling.”

Neighborhoods matter.

Open space matters.

And neighbors working together to preserve their neighborhood and their open space matters most of all.

For these reasons, I intend to vote to prevent any development on the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course by keeping it as a permanent, open space, recreational amenity to serve all Irvine residents — now and in the future.  

Update:  The Irvine City Council voted 5-0 on August 28, 2016, to affirm the Master Plan and maintain the zoning that protects the Rancho San Joaquin Golf course open space and preserves the character of the Rancho San Joaquin neighborhood. Thank you to the residents who joined together in this community-based and community-led effort!

Update: The folks at Protect Rancho Joaquin Golf Course have posted my comments and a video of my remarks at the August 28, 2018, Irvine City Council meeting.

My comments were: “I do want to thank everyone who’s come out today [to the City Council meeting]…I am so grateful that you’re here today to take the time out of your lives to protect your neighborhood, and our community.  It is a core principal of Irvine that we protect our open space, and we’re here today to do that.  And I wanted to thank my colleagues for bringing forth this issue — and particularly the right time with the General Plan update — that there could be no question now that the devotion of our City is to the protection of open space.  And so, I thank you for that.”

 

 

The Real Deal on Traffic Light Synchronization in Irvine!

I often get questions from Irvine residents about traffic light synchronization. To help answer these questions, I enlisted the help of my appointee to the Irvine Transportation Commission, Ken Montgomery.

Irvine Transportation Commissioner Ken Montgomergy

Ken knows more about these matters than just about anyone.  He is a retired civil engineer with more than 40 years of experience in managing public works and traffic and transportation issues. He served as Director of Public Works for three Southern California cities: Norwalk, Redondo Beach, and Laguna Niguel.

Ken retired from the City of Laguna Niguel in 2009 after 18 years as that City’s first Director of Public Works/City Engineer.

Ken has been closely following transportation and traffic issues in Irvine for decades and has served as a member of the Irvine Transportation Commission since it was re-established in May 2017, initially as its Chair.

Here is what Ken has to say about traffic light synchronization in Irvine:

Traffic Light Synchronization in Irvine

Ken Montgomergy

City of Irvine Transportation Commissioner

Overview

The City of Irvine owns and operates over 370 traffic signals.

All of the city’s traffic signals on the major corridors in Irvine are already synchronized.

There are another 40 Traffic signals at freeway on and off ramps that are owned and operated by Caltrans.  Those 40 signals are in the process of being upgraded so they can be coordinated with Irvine’s signals on those specific corridors.

What is Traffic Signal Coordination?

Traffic Signal Synchronization is a traffic engineering technique of matching the green light times for a series of intersections to enable the maximum number of vehicles to pass through, thereby reducing stops and delays experienced by motorists.

Synchronizing traffic signals ensures a better flow of traffic and minimizes gas consumption and pollutant emissions.

Driving on a corridor that is synchronized does not means that a driver will get all green lights. Rather, the system attempts to maximize the efficiency of the system favoring the heaviest traffic directions depending on the time of day.

For instance, Jamboree Road traffic is twice as heavy in the southbound direction in the morning compared to morning northbound traffic. The synchronization system sets the timing to favor the southbound direction in the morning. The opposite occurs in the evening peak period when north bound Jamboree traffic is much heavier than the southbound traffic.

Irvine’s Traffic System

The City operates 19 synchronized traffic signal systems that are currently not coordinated with the Caltrans signals. Within the next 12-18 months, the Caltrans signals will be coordinated with the City’s synchronization program, which will considerably help traffic flow on those corridors.

These 19 synchronized traffic signal systems crisscross each other, which means that two heavy traffic corridors are competing for the same green light time.  Also, heavy left turn demand at intersections limits the amount of green light time available for through traffic.  In addition, timing plans for these corridors can get out of date as traffic patterns change all the time. The city is constantly taking new traffic counts and making adjustments to the synchronization plans.

Traffic signal equipment also gets old and obsolete, so the city typically upgrades all the equipment and recalculates the timing plans on three or four corridors per year. These updates also involve adjacent cities so the synchronization program can operate across city lines.  For example, we currently have two synchronization projects underway with the City of Tustin.

The City of Irvine has a traffic signal control center at City Hall, called the Irvine Traffic Research and Control Center (ITRAC) that monitors those 19 synchronized corridors with video detection.  ITRAC is staffed by traffic engineers from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  When there is a construction project or a utility repair or a traffic accident that takes out a lane, staff modifies the signal timing to prevent a major back up in the direction where the constriction is taking place. Only Irvine and Anaheim have this type of traffic signal management center in Orange County.

There are three periods during the day when these 19 corridors are synchronized, the AM peak period, the mid-day peak period and the PM peak period. The hours of operation of those three periods varies from corridor to corridor. Corridors are typically not synchronized on weekend days except when there is a special event.  When a corridor is not is the synchronized mode, traffic signals operate independently within certain pre-programmed parameters. Traffic signals detect the presence of vehicles and bicycles all around the intersection and allocate the green light time as necessary.

Reporting a Problem

If you ever observe a traffic signal that you think is not functioning properly, call ITRAC and report it.

Their direct line is 949 724-7324.  Just tell them what you observed at a specific traffic signal and they will check it on the monitors and fix the problem if necessary. Traffic signals are complicated systems and require constant observation.

I know we would all love to have green lights all the time, but that is just not reality.  If it were, we would implement the “All Green Light Plan” — as would every city.

 

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox Speaks at Ceremony Marking Project to Protect Newport Bay Watershed

As a member of the Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee, as a representative of the City of Irvine, and as a life-long environmentalist, it was my pleasure to speak today at the ceremony marking the start of an extensive project to remove high levels of sediment from the Newport Bay Watershed.

The project, which will remove 172 thousand cubic yards of sediment, will protect many aquatic, wildlife, and rare and endangered species that habitat in Newport Bay, as well as protect the integrity of our flood channels.

Here is what I said:

“Prior to development, this section of the Irvine Ranch was mainly agricultural.

Geographically, Irvine is the largest city in Orange County and it has now grown to become the third largest by population after Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Our planning prioritizes smart, sustainable growth, particularly now, and we are a leader in low-impact development.

Our growth in population and modern development must be balanced with our need to protect our City’s natural open spaces and waterways. In fact, we have dedicated over a third of the land in our City to permanent open space. As our population continues to grow, must our efforts to maintain and enhance environmental health.

We have worked with our partners on major environmental engineering projects, such as this one, to protect our watershed and capture sediment and other environmental hazards before they enter Upper Newport Bay.

Another example is the Natural Treatment System, a partnership with the Irvine Company and Irvine Ranch Water District. The Natural Treatment System is modeled after a natural treatment system and provides a cost-effective, environmentally sound method for treating dry weather runoff to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.

Ongoing collaboration between agencies is critical. We all have a vested interest in preserving the long-term health and safety of our regional watershed and our common interests go beyond municipal boundaries.

Our proactive approach to water treatment mitigates urban runoff and excess water flow and significantly reduces the amount of trash, debris, and many other pollutants entering into our storm drain systems and Newport Bay.

This is how we protect our home, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

Thank you.”