What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2018 State of the City Address

On Tuesday, February 27, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will present his second “State of the City” address at the City Council chambers.

Mayor Wagner and I are members of different political parties and have very different views on many state and national issues. Yet in the year that we have served together on the Irvine City Council, we have been able to work in cooperation and with mutual respect to improve the lives of the residents of our City.

We have accomplished a lot in this past year. Since last year’s State of the City, Irvine has been rated:

• 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.
• One of 20 Western Dream Towns.

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved. We have moved past the partisan bickering and gridlock that prevented progress for so many years, but we need to continue to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

Here’s what I will be listening for in this year’s State of the City Address:

More plans to solve Irvine’s traffic and transportation problems.

Every person who ran for Mayor or City Council in 2016 – including myself and Mayor Wagner – promised to take bold and meaningful action to reduce traffic congestion.

In fact, in our first year, we have already accomplished a great deal:

• The 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.
• Moved forward the construction of a 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.

But more needs to be done.

Irvine still needs to increase the safe, effective, and efficient transportation choices available in the City (including public transportation, bicycle routes, and active transportation) and will need to continue to hold developers accountable for resolving traffic issues before any entitlements and building permits are issued.

I look forward to hearing more detailed and concrete plans for resolving our traffic and transportation issues, and for increasing the transportation alternatives that are needed to reduce automobile congestion in our streets. In addition, I would like to hear about working with our school board to offer transportation to students to and from school to reduce congestion in the mornings and afternoon rush.

Building the Cultural Terrace at the Great Park.

For far too long, the residents of Irvine and Orange County were given nothing but empty promises about building our Great Park on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine Base.

This year we have finally succeeded in creating a Great Park that residents can enjoy.

• We opened the temporary 12,000-seat live music FivePoint Amphitheatre while planning the permanent Great Park Amphitheatre.
• We broke ground on and will soon open a new ice skating facility in the Great Park (largest public ice skating facility in the West).
• We opened our 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.
• Our Great Park Sports Complex was presented with the Orange County Business Council’s Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Award for Public-Private Partnership.
• The Great Park Championship Stadium opens its second season as the home of the Orange County Soccer Club, Orange County’s only professional soccer team.
• We reached an agreement with Wild Rivers for a new 30-acre water park in the Great Park.

This year, I will be listening for details of even more progress on the Great Park.

I will be listening for details of the opening this year of the “bosque” (tree-lined walking and biking trail area), as well as further development of the Great Park Sports Complex, including additional soccer and softball fields and a baseball stadium.

I want to hear about more specific plans and dates for the reopening of Wild Rivers. I will also be paying careful attention to the Mayor’s plans for the Cultural Terrace. I have advocated for the City Council to make commitments regarding placing museums, a library, and world-class botanical gardens so that we will have a truly Great Park.

Education and childcare.

It is time to squarely address the shortage of childcare for families in Irvine.

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. Churches and other houses of worship traditionally provide a third of childcare. Our Irvine City Council and the Planning Commission must zone sufficient areas for churches and houses of worship, as well as take other steps, to meet our growing child care needs. I have been working with City staff, my Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson Norris, developers, childcare providers, and the business community to increase childcare through an overall city childcare development plan. I will be listening for the Mayor’s plans to help us in this important area.

Commitment to building the Veterans Cemetery and Memorial.

One of my proudest moments as an Irvine resident was when the City Council in 2014 voted unanimously to set aside 125 acres for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery. Since that time, we learned that the cost of building a veterans’ cemetery on the originally designated site would be more than $77 million – in other words, prohibitively expensive. For this reason, I support the land exchange according to which the Great Park developer will build the cemetery in another, close-by, location known as the “strawberry fields.”

This strawberry fields site, overwhelmingly preferred by veterans and all veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state, and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City. The land exchange to build the veterans cemetery is also officially supported by the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Despite this near unanimous and bipartisan recognition that the strawberry field site is the better location and that land exchange is the only way to build the veterans’ cemetery, a deceptive and cynical campaign with paid signature gatherers placed the land exchange on the ballot on June 5.  If these nay-sayers prevail, there will never be a final resting place for veterans in Orange County, and certainly not in Irvine.  A “YES” vote on the cemetery referendum means there will be a veterans cemetery.  A “NO” means our promise to Orange County veterans will be broken.

I look forward to hearing the Mayor make a clear call to all who are grateful for our veterans’ service to vote YES on the referendum on June 5.

Affordable housing and county-wide help for the homeless.

Our state has a severe housing crisis that is getting worse. Our supply of housing has not kept pace with the growth of jobs and population.  As a result, housing prices continue to rise, and rents are skyrocketing. As housing costs rise, more people are being pushed into poverty and even homelessness.

Many students in Irvine’s public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Too many of the jobs created in recent years do not pay a middle-class or even a living wage. We don’t have enough places to live, and too many people can’t afford the places that do exist.  Millennials and working families have a tough time finding places they can afford to live in our City.

Our lack of affordable and workforce housing has also been a significant cause of our traffic problems. As an economically  successful city and an expanding regional job center, Irvine is inundated by commuter traffic because so many people who work in Irvine cannot afford to live here.

I have advocated for more affordable housing and for additional municipal affordable housing requirements.  I would like to hear the Mayor say he agrees and will be offer proposals to increase affordable housing.

In addition, our local region has a severe homelessness crisis that our city, along with other cities and Orange County, must pitch in together to solve. I want to hear the Mayor commit to meaningful steps that Irvine can take now to help the homeless find both the shelter and the full range of services that they need to transition into permanent housing.

Innovative and Responsible Leadership.

I want to hear an inspiring vision for Irvine’s future as a world leader in education, smart planning, environmental awareness and responsibility and technological innovation.

This past year, Irvine has made tremendous progress in environmental awareness and responsibility. We have reinstated the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which I am honored to Chair.  We have received the 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. We were named Sustainable Government of the Year for recycling and waste reduction from Sustain OC and received the 2017 Eco-Award from U.S. Green Building Council.

I want to hear the Mayor commit to continuing 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.

In addition, Irvine needs to move forward with state-of-the-art communications and smart transportation systems, as well as environmental protections for its residents and incentives for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Our great City of Irvine is blessed with the tools and resources needed to continue to be among the best cities in the world. I look forward to hearing Mayor Wagner’s vision for Irvine that continues our quest for being the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 pm, followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 pm.

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. Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!

Irvine Wins Tennis Magazine’s Parks & Rec Agency of the Year!

“Tennis is mostly mental. Of course, you must have a lot of physical skill, but you can’t play tennis well and not be a good thinker. You win or lose the match before you even go out there.” — Venus Williams

“Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquillity.” — Billie Jean King

“Life is like a tennis game. You can’t win without serving.” — Arthur Ashe

I’m proud to announce that Tennis Industry Magazine has named Irvine’s Community Services Department as Park & Rec Agency of the Year for 2017.

In making the award, Tennis Industry Magazine explained:

“For the last 14 years, Steve Riggs has been the tennis director for the city of Irvine, Calif., overseeing one of the top city-run tennis programs in the country. Riggs is in charge of 91 public tennis courts (all with lights) at 19 facilities, including the brand-new, 25-court Orange County Great Park Sports Complex. On weekends, he also oversees 31 courts at four high schools.

‘At first, I wasn’t happy about having all these neighborhood parks,’ Riggs says. ‘But for customer service, it’s actually better. It’s easy for kids, for instance, to get to nearby courts.’

The courts are free to play on, but Riggs says programming brings in about $1.8 million from lessons, clinics, leagues and tournaments. ‘As a city-run program,’ he says, ‘we’re lucky to be in a strong tennis community.’

That’s why the city of Irvine’s Community Services Department is Tennis Industry’s 2017 Park & Rec Agency of the Year.

Riggs is quick to credit the 24 full-time teaching pros for the success. ‘Our program is built on our pros,’ he says. ‘If they don’t do a good job, then you don’t have a good program. I have a great staff—many have been here for many years — and they make it all go’.”

Thank you to Steve Riggs for your dedication to Irvine and to tennis.  As Southern California Tennis News wrote in 2016:

Steve Riggs

“When it comes to giving back to the Southern California junior tennis community, few can match Steve Riggs’ dedication and drive to make life better tennis players. Riggs, the Director of Programming and Tennis for the City of Irvine, has a passion to share his love of the sport with all. This year, the highlights include organizing two coaching education seminars (January and June) and a new four-tournament Grand Slam Round Robin series for novice level juniors.

Riggs is a certified teaching pro, tournament organizer, and community advocate. He has been a leader in the Southern California tennis world for the past 25 years, and based in Orange County since 2004. During that time he has run So Cal junior tournaments at every level from novice to national. Other past accomplishments include being a JTT Area League Coordinator, and a member of the SCTA Advocacy and Red-Orange-Green (ROG) Committees.

When the USTA introduced the 10-and-Under Tennis program, Riggs was one of the first to step up and offer Red-Orange-Green (ROG) Events for kids. He currently offers an innovative 4- tournament ROG Grand Slam Round Robin Circuit in 2016, which highlights the Australian, French, British and U.S. Opens respectively at each event.

Tennis education is also very important to Riggs. For the past eight years, he has offered a variety of seminars on various topics for adults and juniors.  ‘I’m happy to be in a position to give players, parents and coaches at all levels a taste of fun and competitive tennis as well as great information,’ Riggs said. ‘All it takes is a few good ideas and the time to plan them. I have an outstanding staff and together we make things happen’.”

The City of Irvine has 91 public tennis courts and offers beginning, advanced beginning, intermediate or advanced level tennis lessons, leagues and tournaments for youth, adults and seniors.

The new tennis courts at the Orange County Great Park Sports Park.

The newly opened Sports Complex at the Great Park has a new Tennis Center that includes a championship tennis court with seating for 132 spectators and an additional 24 lighted tennis courts.

It also includes a conference room, concession area, restrooms, and City athletics offices.

These new Great Park tennis courts offer space for kids camps and lessons, adult team workouts, recreational programs, and the Brymer Lewis Tennis Academy, as well as leagues, match play and championship tournaments.

Drop-in courts are also available daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information about tennis at the Great Park, call the Tennis Center at 949-724-6400 or email tennis@cityofirvine.org.

I am proud to serve on the City Council that is finally fulfilling the promise of a truly Great Park for the residents of Irvine and Orange County!

Join Me Saturday at the Grand Opening of the Orange County Great Park Sports Park!

Join me for a free Grand Opening and fun-filled day from 2-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, as the first phase of the Orange County Great Park’s Sports Park is unveiled.
No RSVP is needed. Click  here for the map for directions into the Great Park.
All fields will be activated at 2 p.m., then join the Mayor and City Council for an official ribbon-cutting at 3:30 p.m. inside the Soccer Stadium at the Great Park, followed by the first soccer match in the new stadium.
There will be exhibitions, and opportunities, on the six soccer fields, 25 tennis courts, and five sand volleyball courts that will be open on that day.
Bring the family to enjoy the new Children’s Play Area. Food trucks will available for guests to purchase food from 2-8 p.m.
A  special free family concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi will begin inside the Soccer Stadium at 7:15 p.m.
Wear comfortable shoes to experience the first 53 acres of what will become the 194-acre Sports Park!
Here’s the schedule of events for the Sports Park Grand Opening on Aug. 5:

2:00-5:30 pm: Exhibitions, clinics, competition at tennis courts, soccer fields, & volleyball courts.

2:00-8:00 pm: Food/dessert trucks available on-site.

3:30 pm: Opening ceremonies – FivePoint/City of Irvine – at the Soccer Stadium.

4:00-5:30 pm: O.C. all-star soccer shoot out at the Soccer Stadium.

7:00-9:00 pm: Free community concert featuring The Blues Brothers with Dan Aykroyd & Jim Belushi at the Soccer Stadium.

See you there!

Welcoming the Orange County Blues Football Club to Irvine!

OC Blues, Melissa Fox, melissafoxblog.com, Melissa Fox for Irvine

I had the honor yesterday of representing the City of Irvine in ceremonies welcoming the Orange County Blues Football Club to its new home at UC Irvine’s Anteater Stadium.

Founded in 2010 as the Los Angeles Blues, the team plays in the USL Professional Division, the third tier of the American Soccer Pyramid. Its owner is Ali Mansouri and its manager is soccer great Daryuosh Yazdani.

Irvine — a thriving young city that loves soccer and is attracting a growing population from all over the world — is the perfect location for this dynamic young soccer club, full of talented players from around the globe.

Here is what I said:

OC Blues, Melissa Fox, melissafoxblog.com, Melissa Fox for Irvine

Melissa Fox presenting City of Irvine Certificate of Recognition to OC Blues owner Ali Mansouri

“On behalf of the City of Irvine and the Irvine City Council, I would like to enthusiastically welcome the Orange County Blues Football Club to Irvine. We are thrilled to have you!

Many professional players have come from Orange County and Irvine is excited to host this new era in Southern California soccer.

Like many others here, I grew up playing AYSO soccer and we are so pleased to have a new professional team of our own to root for!

We appreciate the business and revenue you bring to our community, the sportsmanship and skill you display on the field, and the opportunity your organization provides to host a professional sports franchise.

OC Blues LogoWe look forward to cheering your effort on the pitch, tonight and every night you play.

Congratulations!

Thank you!

And good luck!

Go OC Blues!”

The Orange County Blues went on to crush the Harrisburg City Islanders in a 4-1 victory in front of more than 600 happy fans.

For tickets future games, call (714) 738-8011, email seats@bluessoccerclub.com or visit www.ocbluesfc.com. If you can’t make it to the game, you can watch the live stream online, via the OC Blues FC’s official YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/OCBluesFC.

The next home game is on Sunday, April 27, 2014, at 4:00 PM versus LA Galaxy II at UCI’s Anteater Stadium, 4000 Mesa Road, Irvine CA 92617.

Tickets are only $15.

Go OC Blues!