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!

Irvine Ranked No. 1 City in Fiscal Strength!

I am proud to report that the City of Irvine has been ranked as the No. 1 City in the United States in Fiscal Strength by Truth in Accounting (TIA), a nonprofit organization that “cuts through politicization and accounting tricks, presenting transparent and nonpartisan figures of government finances.”

According to TIA, “it is imperative to provide an honest accounting of each city’s financial condition. Therefore, we developed a sophisticated model to analyze all the assets and liabilities of the nation’s 75 most populous cities, including unreported liabilities.”

Based on their thorough ans nonpartisan analysis, Truth in Accounting ranked Irvine as the most fiscally healthy large city in the United States.

You can read the Truth in Accounting report, “The Fiscal States of the Cities,” here

The Truth in Accounting report comes at a crucial time as the City of Irvine begins to apply several increases in fiscal responsibility and government transparency that I strongly urged and supported — a two-year budget in the context of a comprehensive five-year financial plan and an Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands review time of all regular agenda items to 12 days.

Recently, in addition to the No. 1 ranking from Truth in Accounting, the City of Irvine has been awarded national and state awards this year for its budget team: The Distinguished Budget Presentation Award by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada represents the highest form of recognition in government budgeting for a municipal entity, and the Excellence Award for Fiscal Year 2018-19 Operating Budget was presented to Irvine by the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers.

Irvine is used to winning awards for fiscal responsibility and transparency. We were also ranked No. 1 by Truth in Accounting in 2018.

Also last year, the City of Irvine received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report from the Government Finance Officers Association , as well as two other prestigious awards: The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award representing the City’s commitment in meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting, and the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers Award for Excellence in Operational Budget.

In addition, I received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Woollery in 2017, along with Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea.

I am extremely proud of these awards. But much more important to me is the fact that our City is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

I have made it my mission to make our City’s budget truly transparent and free from any obfuscations or accounting tricks.

These awards reflect the commitment that I’ve made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

 

City of Irvine Wins National Awards for Budgeting and Fiscal Transparency!

I am proud to announce that the City of Irvine has been awarded the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA).

The award is the highest form of recognition in government budgeting for a city.

It is a significant achievement by the City of the Irvine. The award reflects the commitment of the Irvine City Council, our City Manager, and City staff to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting.

In order to receive the budget award, the City had to satisfy nationally recognized guidelines for effective budget presentation. These guidelines are designed to assess how well an entity’s budget serves as: a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide, and a communications device. Budget documents must be rated “proficient” in all four categories, and the 14 mandatory criteria within those categories, to receive the award.

In addition, the City received the Excellence Award for Fiscal Year 2018-19 Operating Budget from the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers.

There are more than 1,600 participants in the Budget Awards Program. The most recent Budget Award recipients, along with their corresponding budget documents, are posted quarterly on GFOA’s website. Award recipients have pioneered efforts to improve the quality of budgeting and provide an excellent example for other governments throughout North America.

These awards come at a crucial time as the City of Irvine begins to apply several increases in fiscal responsibility and government transparency that I strongly urged and supported — a two-year budget in the context of a comprehensive five-year financial plan and an Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands review time of all regular agenda items to 12 days.

Last year, the City of Irvine received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report from the Government Finance Officers Association , as well as two other prestigious awards: The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award representing the City’s commitment in meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting, and the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers Award for Excellence in Operational Budget.

I also received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Woollery, along with Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I am extremely proud of these awards. But much more important to me is the fact that our City is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

These awards reflect the commitment that I and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council, as well as our Finance Commissioners and our professional City staff, have made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

 

 

Making Affordable Housing a Reality: My Remarkable Year with the Irvine Community Land Trust!

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.

I am very proud of what we accomplished at the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) this year!

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 and homelessness crisis 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.

Here is a short video that explains the work the Irvine Community Land Trust does to create more affordable housing in Irvine:

2018 was truly a remarkable year for the Land Trust.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine. Located in the Irvine Business Complex, Parc Derian is a beautiful multifamily community with a pool, tot lot, private parking, exercise center, computer lab, and onsite resident services.

Designed to bring employees closer to work, it is a short walk to many jobs as well as Irvine Unified Schools, public transportation, dining and shopping options. Apartments range from one- to three bedrooms and include walk-in closets, energy-efficient appliances, assigned parking and balconies.  Parc Derian is the result of a public/private partnership between the Irvine Community Land Trust, C&C Development, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Lennar Corporation, and the City of Irvine.

Also in 2018, we 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, in 2018 we began 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.

Homes will be sold to first-time homebuyers who earn up to 120 percent of the area’s medium income. In an area where the median home price is $727,000 and average annual income is around $80,000 for a family of four, many people are priced out of the market and face housing and financial uncertainties while trying to build a life in Irvine. The Chelsea on Native Spring project aims to keep those people in Irvine, especially military veterans, teachers, nurses, and young professionals.  It is expected to begin construction in 2019.

In addition to these new projects, we continued in 2018 to provide quality housing and services to 238 households living at Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes.

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 2018, I traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to represent the Irvine Community Land Trust at a national conference on affordable housing and traveled to Sacramento, where we moved forward to convince the California Legislature to remove tax barriers to creating permanent affordable housing, meaning that more affordable housing could be built in California. We expect that this year we will have the support we need to pass the legislation and I am again making the trip to Sacramento to secure more affordable housing in our state.

It should also be noted that in 2018, the Irvine Community Land Trust became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. This development was envisioned as eventual in the City’s initial 2006 plan for the Land Trust, which states that the trust shall become self-sustaining and independent after it attains 200 affordable housing units. That threshold was crossed in 2017, and the Irvine Community Land Trust now owns more than 200 homes in three Irvine communities.

The move to become independent from the City of Irvine is designed to make it easier for donors and strategic partners to contribute materials, services, and funds on a tax-free basis, therefore increasing the resources that the Irvine Community Land Trust has to create more affordable housing.

The City of Irvine and its residents also benefit from the separation due to the financial savings in regard to staff salary and office space, which will no longer be provided by the City.

As ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias explained, becoming legally independent from the City “is a tremendous win-win for both the Land Trust and the citizens of Irvine.  We can operate more efficiently and with less reliance on taxpayers, and we can apply a greater focus on our core mission – to provide high-quality affordable housing to the community.”

Moreover, in the interest of maintaining transparency and community engagement, the Irvine Community Land Trust, on my motion, has voluntarily opened all meetings to the public.  The open session format will allow members of the community to come, hear and be heard on programs and projects being implemented by the Land Trust Board.

Through this meeting format the Land Trust Board hopes to generate community interest and support for its programs, and foster collaboration on its mission to build quality affordable housing for Irvine residents.

I have also called for a City Council vote to apply the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit agencies that receive significant funding from the City of lrvine.

Accordingly, for the January 8, 2019 City Council meeting, I have requested a presentation from City staff followed by discussion and direction from the City Council, regarding the application of the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit entities in the community that receive significant funding from the City. Please come to the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to discuss this important matter.

Stay tuned to this blog, as well as the Land Trust’s newly launched Facebook and Linkedin pages, for more information on our progress in creating affordable housing.

2019 promises to be even more positive and exciting!

 

Let the Sunshine In! Apply Irvine’s Sunshine Ordinance to All Non-Profits Receiving Significant City Funding!

Let the sunshine in!

As an Irvine City Councilmember, I am proud of my record regarding increasing government accountability, openness, and transparency.

In 2017, I received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

In February 2018, I was the only member of the Irvine City Council to oppose Measure D, because I believe that Irvine residents must continue to have a strong voice in determining how our city grows.

This year, I enthusiastically supported the City’s adoption of the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which expands public notice to four times longer than California law requires and will prevent government action without full and informed participation and input from the community.

In addition, I have supported approval of a two-year budget cycle, up from the present one-year budget, along with a five-year financial planning program, to bring more accountability to government spending.

We need to do more.

This week, on my motion, the Irvine Community Land Trust, which I chair, has voluntarily opened all future meetings to the public. 

The Irvine Community Land Trust intends the open meeting format to allow members of the community to come, hear, and be heard on programs and projects being implemented by the board.  Through this meeting format, the Land Trust hopes to generate input, interest, and support for its projects and funding programs from the community. All Irvine Community Land Trust board meetings will be open to the public beginning the next regularly scheduled meeting.

I have also called for a City Council vote to apply the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit agencies that receive significant funding from the City of lrvine.

Accordingly, for the January 8, 2019 City Council meeting, I have requested a presentation from City staff followed by discussion and direction from the City Council, regarding the application of the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit entities in the community that receive significant funding from the City.

Please come to the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to discuss this important matter.

You can find more information about speaking at our Irvine City Council meetings here.

See you there!

Join Me to Call for More Transparency at the Irvine City Council!

Join me at City Hall to show your support for approval of an Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that would expand review time of all regular agenda items to 12 days.

California’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, requires an agenda be posted 72 hours in advance of a regular meeting.

The Irvine Sunshine Ordinance would expand public notice to four times longer than California law requires.

The proposed new Irvine Sunshine Ordinance will be heard and discussed during the City Council meeting beginning at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23. 

As always, the public is invited to comment.

I am a strong supporter of the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which will prevent government action without full and informed participation and input from the community.

In describing the proposed Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, City Manager John Russo explains that “The 12-day window allows every community member the time they need to review agenda items thoroughly.”

“People and business owners who pay their taxes to run a good government ought to have the opportunity to share information, ask questions, and make their opinions known before City Hall acts on their behalf,” said Russo.

In addition, the City Council is expected to consider approval of a two-year budget cycle, up from the present one-year budget, along with a five-year financial planning program at the November 27 City Council meeting.

An ordinance requires a second reading, which would be November 13.

As your representative on the Irvine City Council, I strongly support these measures to increase government transparency and openness. If you agree, please come to the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 23, to show your support!

You can review the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance (Item 3.1 of the October 23, 2018 agenda) here.

You can find more information about speaking at our Irvine City Council meetings here.

See you there!

UPDATE:

At the November 27, 2018, Irvine City Council meeting,  I was pleased to have seconded the motion to approve a two-year budget cycle, up from the present one-year budget, along with a five-year financial planning program.

These changes will make planning more transparent, give residents more opportunity for input into budget and planning, and make city government more accountable.

As the publication The Hill recently observed, “Biennial budgeting should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both. The efficiency that could come from increased examination could both limit spending and increase its efficacy — each necessary to address increasing demands with limited resources.”