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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

Selection will be based on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Me Today at the Meeting of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee!

Join me today, Monday, February 25, 2019, for the Irvine Green Ribbon Committee Meeting as we plan for making Irvine a more environmentally conscious and responsible city.

The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. at Irvine City Hall.

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

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

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

Committee meetings are open to the public and there will be a period for public comment.

Your input is essential as Irvine strives to become ever more environmentally responsible and a national leader in meeting the existential ecological demands of the future.

See you there!

Your Feedback is Needed at Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission Meeting on Awarding Federal Block Grants

By Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris

Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission meeting will hear from non-profit applicants seeking federal block grant money

This grant money is awarded by the City and is intended to address community needs including services for youth, seniors, disabled residents, and fighting homelessness.

Your feedback on the award of these federal block grant funds is important and welcome!

The City of Irvine receives annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) entitlement grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

CDBG is the principal federal program providing local governments with grants to improve the physical, economic, and social conditions in their communities.

While spending priorities are determined at the local level, the program is primarily intended to provide affordable housing, establish and maintain a suitable living environment, and expand economic opportunities for low and moderate-income residents.

HOME funds are intended to facilitate long-term public-private partnerships in an effort to expand the availability of affordable housing. HOME funds may be used exclusively to create affordable housing for low and moderate-income residents.

These programs allow the City of Irvine to issue grants and loans to local organizations for a wide variety of community development activities that benefit eligible low and moderate-income Irvine residents.

You can see the agenda for tonight’s meeting here.

Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission will start at 5:30 p.m and be held at the City Council Chambers, Irvine City Hall, I Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA 92623-9575

All meetings of the Irvine Community Services Commission are open to the public and the public is entitled to comment.

We hope to see you there tonight and hear your comments.

 

Help Shape the Future of Irvine’s Community Programs! Take Our Resident Activity Survey Today!

The City of Irvine, through the Community Services Department, is conducting a Resident Activity Survey about recreational activities offered to the community.

Results from the survey will be used to assess how City activities and programs meet the needs of the community, and how the City can continue to accommodate future needs.

We value input from the community and welcome you to take this important survey.

Questions cover City activities that you and members of your household may have participated in, and those you might want to see offered in the future.

The survey may be taken in English, Chinese, Korean, Persian, Spanish or Vietnamese.

Share your feedback and take the online survey here!

For questions, contact 949-724-6156.

Help shape the future of Irvine programs and take our survey today!

Vote for Lauren Johnson-Norris for Irvine City Council!

Please join me in voting for Lauren Johnson-Norris for Irvine City Council

I’m voting for Lauren because she will fight along side me for more child careless traffic, and for bringing great improvements like Wild Rivers, museums, and botanical gardens to the Great Park.

Lauren is also strongly committed to keeping Irvine America’s Safest City — that’s why Lauren is the only Irvine City Council candidate endorsed by both the Irvine Police Association and Orange County Firefighters!

She is a respected lawyer, the mother of twin five-year-old girls, the wife of a veteran, and has served our community with dedication for nearly two years as a Community Services Commissioner, fighting for better parks making sure that our children and families experience the highest quality recreation.

Lauren has earned bipartisan support from the most trusted voices in our community. 

Now she needs your vote!

Irvine needs Lauren Johnson Norris — a smart, strong and independent council member fighting for our values and our future!

Find your polling place and see a sample ballot here.

You can learn more about Lauren here.

Vote for Lauren Johnson-Norris for Irvine City Council!