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.”

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

So what exactly does a City Manager do anyway?

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

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

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

Russo began his career in public service as an elected official with the City of Oakland, first as a Councilmember from 1994-2000, and then City Attorney from 2000-2011. While in Oakland, he authored the open government law and the “Sunshine Ordinance” to ensure public transparency and full residential access to public information. He then moved to the City of Alameda, where he served as City Manager from 2011-2015.

The Brooklyn native, 59, graduated with honors in economics and political science from Yale University, and earned his law degree from New York University School of Law. He was a Legal Aid attorney in St. Louis before moving to Oakland in 1987, where he was president of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, treasurer of the East Bay League of Conservation Voters, and pro bono attorney for neighborhood associations and nonprofits. In 2002, Russo served as League of California Cities president; he also was a Board member for the National League of Cities.

Russo is Irvine’s fifth City Manager.

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

Light refreshments will be served.  A $5 donation is requested.

The Irvine Historical Society is located in the San Joaquin Ranch House, commissioned by James Irvine in 1868 and considered the oldest standing structure within the original boundaries of Irvine Ranch.

Standard hours of operation are Tuesday and Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm; closed holidays. Members are free; a $1.00 donation per non-member is appreciated.

One-hour walking tours of Old Town Irvine are available on the first Sunday of each month at 11:30 a.m. Free for members; $5 for non-members.

 

Irvine Slated to Name John Russo as New City Manager!

The following is a press release from the City of Irvine:

The Irvine City Council has chosen John A. Russo as its finalist for City Manager, and will formally consider hiring him at its July 10 meeting.

Russo has 23 years of results-oriented public service gained through leadership positions in Oakland, Alameda, and Riverside. Having served as a City Councilmember, City Attorney, and City Manager, Russo’s combination of experience at three California cities gives him a unique perspective as he prepares to lead Irvine in implementing the vision at the direction of its City Council.

“It is an extraordinary honor to be selected to serve in this position in a city known across America for its foresight, commitment to public safety, and adherence to financial stability,” said Russo. “Consistent with Irvine’s values, I am committed to open and transparent decision-making – listening to all stakeholders (citizens, business, university, public sector, and faith communities) with an open mind, and equally committed to decisive action and a long-term approach to policy. Process matters. Results matter more.”

Russo most recently served as City Manager for the City of Riverside for nearly three years. His experience in municipal government fits well with Irvine’s priorities.

Among the City Council goals in 2018:

  • Traffic improvement initiatives that include 16 capital improvement program projects now underway. The City Council has approved more than $71 million for traffic management and congestion improvements, with construction scheduled over the next 12 months.
  • City Council support of public safety. For a 12th consecutive year, Irvine is the safest city with a population of 250,000 or more for Part 1 violent crime, according to FBI data.
  • The City Council’s ongoing support of its public schools. The City Council provides $10.2 million annually in direct and indirect support.
  • The opening of large sections of the Orange County Great Park, including soccer fields, baseball and softball stadiums with multiple playing fields, basketball courts, and the $100 million public ice facility.
  • Continued high service to the community.

Highlights from Russo’s background align with Irvine’s focus areas:

  • Maintaining Irvine’s renowned employment base – one of the highest jobs-to-population ratios in the country – driven, in part, by major business headquarters such as Edwards Lifesciences and Blizzard Entertainment. Russo last year helped bring the California Air Resources Board’s headquarters and testing facilities to Riverside.
  • Developing of the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park, a former Marine base. While in Alameda, Russo expeditiously implemented all land use entitlements for redevelopment of the closed Alameda Naval Air Station, a 1,000-acre waterfront property across the bay from San Francisco.
  • Continuing Irvine’s fiscal health, including its recognition as the No. 1 fiscally responsible large city for two straight years. During Russo’s tenures in both Alameda and Riverside, he eliminated structural deficits, significantly increased financial reserves, and presided over improvements in those cities’ bond ratings.

Russo began his career in public service as an elected official with the City of Oakland, first as a Councilmember from 1994-2000, and then City Attorney from 2000-2011. While in Oakland, he authored the open government law and the “Sunshine Ordinance” to ensure public transparency and full residential access to public information. He then moved to the City of Alameda, where he served as City Manager from 2011-2015.

The Brooklyn native, 59, graduated with honors in economics and political science from Yale University, and earned his law degree from New York University School of Law. He was a Legal Aid attorney in St. Louis before moving to Oakland in 1987, where he was president of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, treasurer of the East Bay League of Conservation Voters, and pro bono attorney for neighborhood associations and nonprofits. In 2002, Russo served as League of California Cities president; he also was a Board member for the National League of Cities.

Russo would become Irvine’s fifth City Manager. Sean Joyce retired in February 2018 after a nearly 13-year career in Irvine. The first City Manager, William Woollett Jr., served from 1972-1989, followed by Paul Brady (1990-1999) and Allison Hart (1999-2005).

Russo has agreed to a base salary in Irvine of $303,014.

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Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has become a nationally recognized city, with a population of 267,086 that spans 66 square miles and is recognized as one of America’s safest and most successful master-planned urban communities. Top-rated educational institutions, an enterprising business atmosphere, sound environmental stewardship, and respect for diversity all contribute to Irvine’s enviable quality of life. This family-friendly city features more than 16,000 acres of parks, sports fields and dedicated open space and is the home of the Orange County Great Park. For more information, please visit cityofirvine.org.