Why I Voted “No” on a Zoning Change to Permit 1,000 More Million Dollar Single Family Houses in Irvine. Tell the Irvine City Council What You Think!

Recently, I voted “No” on continuing the second reading of a re-zoning proposal that would allow the addition of 1,000 single family million dollar houses to be built by the Irvine Company in the area of Portola Springs/Orchard Hills in Irvine.

This vote could have been the end of the issue, since on the first reading both Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmember Mike Carroll voted against the re-zoning.

However, Councilmember Mike Carroll now voted with the supporters of adding 1,000 new homes (Councilmembers Anthony Kuo and Farrah N. Khan) to continue the item to January 2020.

Carroll, Kuo and Khan won the vote to continue, 3-2. This means that these additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses will again come before the Council.

As a longtime advocate for local communities to permit more housing to alleviate our statewide affordable housing crisis, I was initially disposed to vote in favor of this re-zoning proposal.

But on further reflection, it became apparent to me that this proposed housing development would be built without the necessary infrastructure, including new schools and a local retail center, which are needed and have long been promised to residents.

I am a strong advocate for action on the local and state level addressing the housing crisis, but not at the cost of overcrowded schools and the abandonment of Irvine’s renowned village model and our Master Plan balancing housing with schools, retail centers, and open space.

In particular, I am a strong supporter of Irvine’s village concept, which is intended to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion, and create walkable neighborhoods and a sense of community, by locating housing, at several different levels of purchase price or rental cost, around both local schools and a local retail center.  This village model — an essential part of Irvine’s Master Plan long promoted by the Irvine Company — has been enormously successful.  As the Irvine Chamber of Commerce has boasted, Irvine is a “City of Villages.”

You can see a video promoting the Irvine Master Plan, with specific reference to the Irvine village model as an integral part of the Master Plan, here:

For this reason, I was very concerned — shocked, actually — when a representative of the Irvine Company responded to my questioning by stating that the Irvine Company had no plans to build a retail center near these new homes and were no longer committed to the village model.

In other words, I came to see that voting in favor of this zoning change is tantamount to voting for Irvine to no longer be a “City of Villages.”

On the issue of whether these proposed 1,000 million dollar homes would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis, here are the facts:

This week’s OC Register reports on an analysis by the Southern California News Group that graded every jurisdiction in California on its progress on state-mandated housing goals (the Regional Housing Needs Assessment or RHNA).

According to the article, Irvine is supposed to permit 12,149 homes between 2013 and 2021. Housing units are mandated in each of four categories: (1) very low income, (2) low income, (3) moderate income, and (4) above moderate income.

The number show that Irvine has done exceptionally well in providing housing in the moderate and (especially) above moderate income categories, but is not doing nearly as well in the low income and very low income categories, where it is seriously off track in meetings its RHNA goals.

Very Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 907 very low income units, needs 1,761 to be on track, 2,817 for final goal.  In sum, very low income units are not on track, and are far from the final goal.

Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 3 units, needs 271 to be on track, 2,034 for final goal. In sum, low income units are not on track, and are far from final goal.

Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,973 units, needs 1,399 to be on track, 2,239 for final goal. In sum, moderate income units are more than on track, and are already in excess of the final goal.

Above Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,137 units, needs 3,162 to be on track, 5,059 for final goal. In sum, above moderate income units are far more than on track, and are already far in excess of the final goal.

These numbers demonstrate what everyone knows: Irvine’s housing is overwhelmingly skewed toward the “Above Moderate Income” market.

The 1,000 housing units that would be added to Portola Springs/Orchid Hills under the re-zoning proposed by the Irvine Company are single family homes costing above $1,000,000.  These 1,000 “Above Moderate Income” units would not help Irvine meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals.

On the contrary, they would exacerbate Irvine’s school over-crowding and traffic congestion problems while doing little or nothing to ease our affordable housing crisis.

That’s why I voted No.

It is my belief that only saying No to these projects that provide housing only for the well-to-do, will we encourage developers to build more environmentally responsible and affordable housing projects.

I hope Irvine residents will make their views on this proposal for an additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses clear to all members of the Council between now and then.

Contact information for all members of the Irvine City Council can be found here.

Use the Safest Route to School . . . and other Safety Tips for the New School Year!

Irvine is proud of its outstanding public schools and its long-standing reputation as America’s safest city — so we’re very pleased to help students get to school in the safest possible way along the safest route.

Take a look at the Suggested Routes to School put together by our Irvine Department of Transportation.

You’ll be able to find the best and safest route to your child’s school.

These routes are intended for children who walk or ride bicycles to school. We strongly encourage you to review the plan with your child and, if possible, walk the route to make sure he/she understands the route.

In addition, our Irvine Police Department has several tips to help you and your children get to and from school safely each day.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Leave early. The first couple of weeks of school bring heavier traffic. You won’t have to rush if you plan for a little extra time.
  • Obey all traffic laws and signs in school zones.
  • Drop children off in the designated locations. Do not allow children to get out of the car in the middle of the street.
  • Remember that everyone has the same goal of getting their children to school safely, so be patient with other drivers and pedestrians.
  • Always obey crossing guards.
  • Always use crosswalks.
  • Do not engage in distracted driving. This is especially dangerous in school zones.
  • Our Traffic officers patrol the streets near school to ensure safety. Remember to slow down and make complete stops at stop signs.

Should you need assistance regarding traffic issues, please call the Irvine Police Department’s non-emergency line at 949-724-7000.

Have a wonderful school year!

How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon

In a recent article in the Voice of OC, Chapman University Professor Fred Smoller and former U.S. Department of Energy official Richard King make a convincing case for a California version of the U.S. Solar Decathlon. The problem is, there already was a California-based Solar Decathlon – located at the Great Park in Irvine – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

The U.S. Solar Decathlon, which has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy approximately every two years since 2002, is an award-winning international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The houses are assembled at a central location for display, evaluation, and awards. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

As Smoller and King point out, since the Solar Decathlon’s inception in 2002, more than a dozen California colleges and universities have participated, but no California colleges or universities are slated to participate in the next competition in 2020.

This lack of California participation is troubling, Smoller and King note, because the Solar Decathlon introduces new solar energy technologies to the market and accelerates their implementation; increases and educates the ‘clean tech’ workforce; educates consumers about clean energy; and demonstrates that energy-efficient and solar-powered housing is attainable, practical, and beautiful.

Smoller and King further point out that “as the U.S. surrenders its leadership position on fighting climate change, other nations have stepped in: Solar Decathlons are now being held in Europe, China, the Middle East and Africa. In addition to combating climate change, countries in these regions — especially China — are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the rapidly expanding green economy.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Smoller and King in endorsing a California Solar Decathlon.

California is the ideal location for a Solar Decathlon. California leads the nation, and the world, in developing new and cleaner energy technologies. We are leaders in requiring more effective clean energy standards and in fighting climate change. “To maintain California’s leadership position in the field of clean energy, we must harness the creative energy of our youth, the academic community, industry and labor. By working together, this competition could set a new milestone in clean energy and help make California the sustainability capital of the world.”

Significantly, in both 2013 and 2015, the Solar Decathlon was held right here at the Great Park – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

It was an incredible achievement in January 2012 when the Great Park team was awarded a $1 million grant to bring the 2013 Solar Decathlon and the XPO in Irvine – the very first time such an award had been made and first time the Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.

As then-Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom stated at the time, the Solar Decathlon was expected to “bring worldwide attention and economic development to the Great Park and the region and raise public awareness about the benefits of clean energy and energy conservation.”

As I wrote at the time, I was “excited about the potential economic and technological impact that the Solar Decathlon will have for Irvine and Orange County in the future.”

But once the Solar Decathlon contract was awarded, the Irvine City Council, now led by Mayor Steven Choi, completely bungled the opportunity.

First, Mayor Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council and the Great Park Board (which were then, as now, one and the same) dismissed the public relations firm that had been instrumental in getting the Energy Department to award the Solar Decathlon contract to the Great Park, without hiring any replacement firm – or even adopt a plan – to handle the publicity for the event. The result was far less attendance than been had anticipated when it was assumed that the Solar Decathlon would be properly publicized.

Melissa Fox attending the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park as an Irvine Community Services Commissioner.

Next, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council failed to provide proper signage and directions for the event, so that many people who planned to attend could not locate the venue within the uncompleted Great Park.

The City also failed to partner with science, engineering or community based groups to promote and engage with the Solar Decathlon.

In fact, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council were hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon. It had been the idea of former Mayor Larry Agran to bring the Solar Decathlon to the Great Park, and the contract was awarded during Agran’s tenure as mayor. Choi never embraced the event as truly belonging to Irvine or the Great Park, instead viewing it with suspicion as belonging to Agran and to Obama’s environmentally pro-active and climate change conscious Department of Energy.

Crucially, Choi did not share the Solar Decathlon’s basic rationale: concerns about the impact of human-caused climate change and the need for new, clean, energy technologies. Rather, Choi told his fellow Republicans that while “it is good to keep the environment clean but [he] completely questions the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention. He opposes cap and trade and other government imposed environmental regulations, calling them an extreme effort to tax businesses and economic growth.”

In line with this anti-scientific thinking regarding the relationship between climate change and human use of fossil fuels, Choi not only cared nothing about ensuring the success of the Solar Decathlon, but ended Irvine’s participation in the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation and failed to appoint a quorum for the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, causing that important committee – which I revived, along with Mayor Don Wagner, and which I now chair – to cease meeting for the years that Choi was mayor.

As I said in 2016 when the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the Solar Decathlon would be held in Denver, not the Orange County Great Park, “It is extremely disappointing that the Solar Decathlon will no longer he held in Irvine because the Irvine City Council refused to support the continuation of the Solar Decathlon in the Great Park. The Solar Decathlon served as an international showcase for our city — our businesses and educational institutions — as among the world’s leaders in scientific and environmental innovation, but our shortsighted City Council has allowed this tremendous opportunity to go elsewhere.”

In sum, I agree with Fred Smoller and Richard King that a Solar Decathlon in California– a “leading-edge design competition which promotes innovation, education, and market expansion” of clean energy technologies – would be great for our students, teachers, schools and businesses.  That’s why it’s such a pity that the Solar Decathlon was once here in the Great Park, until the event was mismanaged, and the opportunity was squandered, by the Irvine City Council led by Steven Choi.

 

Join Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, Irvine Councilmember Farrah Khan, and Me on Saturday Morning, June 29, for a Free Child Car Seat Safety Clinic!

This Saturday, June 29, at 10:00 a.m. at Irvine City Hall, California State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (AD 74), Councilmember Farrah Khan and I will be hosting a free Child Car Seat Safety Clinic with the California Highway Patrol and the Irvine Police Department.

To help parents ensure the safety of their children, specially trained technicians will be available to inspect car seats and make sure that they are properly installed and equipped.

Did you know that 43% percent of children die in car crashes were improperly restrained?

Did you know that 73% of children’s car seats are not used or installed correctly?

Do you know whether your child’s car seat is properly installed and equipped?

Join Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, Councilmember Farrah N. Khan, CHP, IDP and me to make sure that your car seats are properly installed and ensure your kids are protected!

The event is FREE, but you must RSVP HERE.

For more information please call (949) 251-0074 or visit asmdc.org/Petrie-Norris.

Irvine City Hall is located at 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606

Light refreshments will be served.

See you there!

 

Invitation to Attend the Irvine Transportation Commission Meeting on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, to Hear the Stop Sign Compliance Report!

You are invited to attend the Irvine Transportation Commission on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 5:30 p.m., when the City’s Stop Sign Compliance Report  — requested by me in response to residents’ complaints about motorists not obeying stop signs in Irvine —  will be presented to the Commission and to the public.

The Stop Sign Compliance Report was prepared at my request because I am very concerned that although Irvine is world-famous as a safe place to live and raise our families, it won’t stay that way unless all Irvine’s motorists obey the stop signs and respect pedestrians’ right-of-way.

It’s not just our reputation as America’s safest city that is on the line. Our lives, and the lives of our children, are at stake.

The Report is the only item on the agenda.

The public is invited to attend the presentation and ask questions.

This is the first step in the process.  It remains to be seen if the Commission will recommend more enforcement or larger stop signs to improve compliance.  That’s why it is important for the concerned public to see this presentation!

 

 

Irvine Shares the Way: Improving the Safety of Everyone in Irvine, Whether Walking, Bicycling, or Driving.

Irvine Shares the Way!

Irvine is world-famous as a safe place to live and raise our families. But it won’t stay that way unless all Irvine’s motorists obey the stop signs and respect pedestrians’ right-of-way.

Residents of Irvine are very concerned — and rightfully so — about their safety and the safety of their children because of the consistent failure of drivers to come to a full and complete stop at our stop signs and obey all the rules of the road.

It’s not just our reputation as America’s safest city that is on the line.  Our lives, and the lives of our children, are at stake.

As member of the Irvine City Council, I’ve taken an active and leading role in making Irvine safer for pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists.  I’ve participated in the Ride of Silence, I’ve put stop sign safety on the top of the Transportation Commission agenda, I’ve met with our police chief to discuss traffic safety improvements and ensure traffic law compliance, and I’ve held a Town Hall on Traffic Safety.  

Now Irvine has introduced a new initiative called Irvine Shares the Way.

Irvine Shares the Way is a project to improve the safety of everyone in Irvine, whether they are walking, bicycling, or driving. Irvine Shares the Way is a broad-based campaign, including educational materials, safety workshops, and other activities across the City of Irvine.

The campaign will help raise awareness of traffic laws and remind residents how they can reduce the chances of a collision when they are walking, bicycling, and driving.

In the coming months, the City of Irvine will roll out new materials and features on our website and host workshops, family-friendly events, and more!  Stay informed of news and events; sign up for our email list at sharestheway@cityofirvine.org.

Learn how you can Share the Way and Move with Care. 

Strategic Active Transportation Plan

As part of the Irvine Shares the Way campaign, the Strategic Active Transportation Plan, with your input, will help guide the development of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and implement upgrades to existing facilities. The Plan will create one master document, which will review and recommend best practices, such as:

  1. Technology needed to implement a citywide bicycle and pedestrian count program; 
  2. Design standards for bicycle and pedestrian facilities;
  3. Ranking criteria for prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian projects and;
  4. Methodology and software applications for forecasting bicycle and pedestrian travel.

The completed Plan will also aid the preparation of grant applications to fund active transportation projects that are a result of this initiative.

Want to learn more and hear about our future activities?  Sign up for our announcement list at sharestheway@cityofirvine.org.

Take Our Survey!

Bikeways

The City of Irvine provides a network of on-street and off-street bikeways to encourage the use of bicycles as a safe and convenient means of transportation for both commuting and recreational purposes. This is evident by 301 lane miles of on-street and 61.8 miles of off-street bikeways provided in the City today.

Bikeway Directions Through Google

  • In Google Maps, click “Get Directions”. Input the starting and ending addresses and then click on the Bike Symbol.
  • The directions via bikeways will be highlighted in blue.

The City of Irvine Bicycle Transportation Plan illustrates the network of bikeways throughout the City. While every effort is made to provide accurate and timely information, please keep in mind the bikeway routes are intended for informational purposes only.

No guarantee is made regarding the bikeway safety because conditions change. In addition, we cannot guarantee anyone’s safety by conforming to the safety tips. Please use good judgment and be responsible for your own safety at all times.

Please note, OCTA is responsible for maintaining their bikeways information, which is posted as a courtesy to Irvine residents on the City’s website. 

For questions regarding OCTA’s Orange County bikeways information, contact 714-560-5319 or ShareTheRide@octa.net(link sends e-mail).

More Information

Check out these links:

City of Irvine Bicycle Transportation Plan

City of Irvine Active Transportation Plan

Bicycle Safety Tips and Information

Bicycle-Friendly Community

Irvine Station Bicycle Lockers

City Bicycle Safety Video 

Happy Earth Day 2019!

Today, Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly.  In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and more than 1 billion people in 193 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

The City of Irvine has been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology, and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy-saving.

Irvine’s San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Geoff Fox.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi was Irvine’s mayor, our city took several steps backwards. The term “climate change” was banned from all city documents and not enough Councilmembers made appointments to the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee to enable a quorum.

Mayor Steven Choi even refused to participate in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by Irvine’s own Wyland Foundation.

When I joined the Irvine City Council, I successfully pushed for revitalization of the Committee, which has now resumed its work of serving as the official environmental advisory committee, increasing public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, and helping the city serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I am delighted that the Committee now has the full support of the entire City Council, and both Mayor Don Wagner and Mayor Christina Shea have joined with other mayors across the country in asking residents to make a commitment to conserve water and protect this vital resource by taking part in annual Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, through the month of April.

One of the best — and most distinctive — qualities of 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.

“The Sinks” — Irvine’s own Grand Canyon.

In 1974, early in our city’s history, voters approved multi-million dollar measures to fund public parks and recreational facilities, and for the acquisition and development of bicycle trail and hiking trail improvements.

In 1989, the City negotiated an historic agreement with the Irvine Company that set aside more than 9,500 acres as permanent open space marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas, protecting fully one-third of the city from development.

In addition, in 2006, nearly 37,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch were selected as a National Natural Landmark, a designation which reflects the outstanding condition, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education of the natural resources on the land.

As our Irvine Open Space Preserve website explains, “Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has had a strong desire to balance the built and natural environment. As this incredible master-planned community has grown, each phase of development has been accompanied by the preservation and enhancement of natural open spaces, creating the network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors may enjoy today and for generations to come.”

Bommer Canyon. Photo by Sanjay B. Dalal.

A crucial environmental issue facing Irvine in the near future is whether to switch from purchasing energy from SoCal Edison to utilizing a Community Choice Energy provider.

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.

Councilmember Melissa Fox with the artist Wyland at his studio in Irvine.

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 our feasibility study is completed, I hope Community Choice Energy will soon be available in Irvine and throughout Orange County.

At our best, the City of Irvine has striven to be simultaneously people-friendly, business-friendly, and earth-friendly.

We must continue to insist that each phase of our City’s development be informed by science, accompanied by careful planning, and prioritize the preservation and enhancement of our environment.