Congratulations to Irvine on Earning Top Parks Rating in California and 7th in the Nation!

The City of Irvine park system has been ranked 7th in the nation by the Trust for Public Land annual ParkScore Index, effectively making Irvine the top-ranked city in California.

This is the third consecutive year the City’s parks have ranked in the top 10 nationally.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rankings assess the nation’s 100 largest cities on factors such as park access, acreage, investment, and amenities.

Irvine earned a perfect sore in park spending per resident, and is second in the nation for basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

Among the factors considered in the evaluation is the fact that 82 percent of Irvine’s residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park (compared to a national average of 54 percent) and that 27 percent of Irvine’s city land is used for parks and recreation (compared to a national average of 15 percent).

Of special note, the ParkScore Index did not find any significant difference regarding closeness to parks in Irvine based on the race, nationality, age, or income level of Irvine residents.

The Trust for Public Land works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks — particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. It’s goal is to “ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature. We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand.”

Congratulations to my City Council colleagues, our City Manager and City staff, and our Community Services Commissioners, especially my appointee to the Irvine Community Services Commission, Lauren Johnson-Norris, who has worked so hard to improve the experiences of our residents in our parks and open spaces.

Join Us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for Public Outreach on the Universal Playground Project at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park!

Please join us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for the City’s public outreach opportunity regarding the Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. 

This event is the public’s first opportunity to provide input that will help guide the planning and design for this important Universal Playground project.

In July 2019, the City’s Disability Services program relocated its offices from City Hall to Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. As a renovated facility, the Sweet Shade Ability Center provides a larger, more accessible, and inviting hub for the delivery of Disability Services activities to Irvine residents. To complement this use, the City proposes to develop the City’s first Universal Playground.

Universal playgrounds are designed to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design, including theme-oriented playground equipment, site furnishings, and shade canopies that are well integrated with the existing park, leaving no child on the sidelines.

This public outreach event will include a staff-led tour of the existing playground and potential locations for integrating universal play elements or developing an adjacent universal playground. Planning staff will be present to answer questions about the project, and participants will be able to sign up and receive project updates.

Universal Playgrounds are designed to provide inclusive and meaningful play experiences for children of all ages and abilities. Your input will help the City of Irvine create a unique and meaningful play environment that meets universal developmental needs by providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development for all children to the greatest extent possible.

I’m excited to join Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris and other City officials who have been working for all of Irvine’s children at this important event.

Date: Thursday, September 19, 2019
Time: 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Location:Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park, 15 Sweet Shade, Irvine CA 92606

See you there!

OC Register Editorial: Democracy Cannot be Stage-Managed by the Majority for their Own Convenience and Political Advantage

The Orange County Register’s editorial of July 17, 2019, correctly calls out and condemns the recent move by the Irvine City Council to prevent a Council Member from putting an item on the agenda unless two other members agree to do so.

As the Register states, “The transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority. Irvine officials said they want to stop ‘grandstanding,’ but one person’s grandstanding is another’s chance to raise vital concerns.”

The Register also recognizes that while the new rule was adopted specifically to silence me, the effect of the rule will be to silence all disagreement and dissent:

“Fox has previously discussed supposedly ‘divisive’ issues ranging from flying the LGBTQ flag at City Hall to creating a veterans’ cemetery near the Great Park. But this fracas isn’t about the particular issues any member might want to discuss, but about whether a duly elected official has the right to publicly discuss them. Councils are not private clubs . . . These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.”

Thank you to the OC Register for recognizing that public meetings in a real democracy cannot be stage-managed by the majority for their own convenience and political advantage.

As I’ve said before, Irvine’s current pro-Trump Council majority, again aided by its ostensibly Democratic ally, has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day, and throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

No, We Won’t Back Down

At its last meeting, the Irvine City Council took the unprecedented step of voting to prohibit a council member from placing an item on the agenda without two other council members’ approval.

Now, only the mayor will be allow to put an item on the agenda — a power that until last week had for decades belonged to every individual member of the City Council.

There have been many shifting majorities on the City Council over the years, but no other Council has gone so far to silence dissenting voices and points of view.

You can read about what took place in this excellent article in Voice of OC, including how this new rule is directed squarely at me in retaliation for proposing that Irvine fly the Pride Flag at City Hall, and how they made sure to propose the new rule — and then quickly enact it —  while I was on a long-planned trip to Alaska.

The truth is that Irvine’s Republican, pro-Trump Council majority — created by appointment in a back-room deal with its ostensibly Democratic ally and the developer FivePoint — has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day.

And throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

Congratulations to Irvine on Earning Top Parks Rating in California and 6th in the Nation!

The City of Irvine park system has been ranked 6th in the nation by the Trust for Public Land annual ParkScore Index, effectively making Irvine the top-ranked city in California.

Significantly, with new parks, open space, and amenities added over the past year, the City rose from last year’s ranking of 10th in the nation, climbing up four places.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rankings assess the nation’s 100 largest cities on factors such as park access, acreage, investment, and amenities. Irvine earned a perfect sore in park spending per resident, and is second in the national for basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

Among the factors considered in the evaluation is the fact that 80 percent of Irvine’s residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park (compared to a national average of 54 percent) and that 27 percent of Irvine’s city land is used for parks and recreation (compared to a national average of 15 percent).

Of special note, the ParkScore Index did not find any significant difference regarding closeness to parks in Irvine based on the race, nationality, age, or income level of Irvine residents.

The ParkScore Index includes parks, facilities, and amenities managed by the City, either through ownership or joint-use agreements.

The full ParkScore Index is available at tpl.org/parkscore, including score details and demographic information for each city.

Learn more about Irvine parks at cityofirvine.org/parks.

The Trust for Public Land works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks — particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. It’s goal is to “ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature. We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand.”

Congratulations to my City Council colleagues, our City Manager and City staff, and our Community Services Commissioners, especially our Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris!

 

Democracy Requires an Election to Fill the Vacancy on the Irvine City Council

When Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner took office as an Orange County Supervisor, Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea automatically took his place as Mayor.

As a result, there is now a vacancy on the Irvine City Council.

Democracy requires an election rather than an appointment to fill this vacancy.

According to law, a vacancy on the Irvine City Council can be filled by appointment by the remaining four members of the Council or by election by the vote of all the residents of Irvine.

Even if the City Council appoints a new member, the people can still override that appointment and demand an election by filling a petition signed by seven percent of the voters of the City.

Some argue that precedent and financial concerns support appointing the third-place runner-up in the previous election to the open seat on the Irvine City Council, rather than holding an election in which the people will choose the person to serve as their representative.

In fact, neither precedent nor principle support an appointment over the people’s choice as determined by an election.

Since the incorporation of Irvine as a City in 1971, there have been three times that a vacancy needed to be filled for a councilmember.

In the first instance, on October 15, 1985, Ralph A. “Ray” Catalano, a professor at UCI and a former planning commissioner, was appointed to serve the remaining three years of Councilmember David Sills term when Sills resigned from the Council to become a superior court judge.

Significantly, Catalano was not the next highest vote-getter in the previous election.  Catalano was not even a candidate in that election and had never run for office. The person who was the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, Mary Ann Gaido, was not appointed to the open seat. Catalano later explained that he was a political compromise choice and was picked by Sills as his successor.

That is the only time that the Irvine City Council has used an appointment by Councilmembers rather than an election by the people to fill a vacancy on the Council.  In every other case of a vacancy on the City Council, the seat has been filled by a vote of the people in a special election.

Our very first Irvine City Council election was a special election, held on December 21, 1971, when Irvine residents approved the City charter.

On November 6. 1990, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Sally Anne Sheridan was elected Mayor the previous June. The next highest vote-getter from the previous election – again it was Mary Ann Gaido – was not appointed.  Bill Vardoulis, who had not run in the prior election, entered that race and won that special election.

On November 3, 1992, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Art Bloomer resigned with two years remaining in his term.  The next highest vote getter from the year of Bloomer’s election – and it was again Mary Ann Gaido — was not appointed. Greg Smith won that special election.

Additional special elections have also been called numerous other times for various reasons, such as voting on charter amendments, measures and ordinances.

In fact, in the history of municipal elections in Irvine, special elections seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

Third-place candidates have been elected to the City Council under Measure A, which was adopted by the voters in 1991.

Measure A provides in that in City Council elections where one of the sitting Councilmembers is running for Mayor, the voters can cast three ballots for candidates for the office of City Council, so that “if a council member whose term of office has not yet expired is elected to the office of Mayor, the vacancy in the office of that Councilmember shall be filled by the candidate for Councilmember receiving the third highest number of votes.”

So far, this situation has happened four times.

On June 7, 1988, third-place City Council candidate Cameron Cosgrove was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 7, 2000, third-place City Council candidate Beth Krom was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 2, 2004, third-place City Council candidate Sukhee Kang was elected when Beth Krom was elected Mayor.

On November 4, 2008, third-place City Council candidate Larry Agran was elected when Sukhee Kang was elected Mayor.

Our current situation is very different from those cases.

In those cases, the voters were given the explicit opportunity to vote for three candidates for City Council.

As a result, the third-place candidate gained his or her seat on the City Council directly and democratically through the knowing vote of the people, not by appointment based on coming in third when the voters only had the choice of two.

Indeed, as I have shown, our City has NEVER appointed a Councilmember based on a third-place or next-highest finish in a previous election.

Some have argued that we should use this method of appointment – which we’ve never used before – simply in order to save the money that would need to be spent on an election.

First, it should be noted that other local cities are conducting special elections for councilmembers that could easily be coordinated by the Orange County Registrar with our own, thereby reducing the cost of the election.

Most importantly, however, I believe that democracy is worth the cost.

Democracy is far from perfect.

Many of us are convinced that we could pick better officials than those the people elect.

But that is not what our nation is about.

We elect our officials as our representatives; they are not appointed over us.

Democracy is messy, inefficient, and, yes, sometimes expensive.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I agree.

We should fill the vacant seat on the City Council with the choice of the people as determined by an election.

UPDATE:

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Irvine City Council officially declared a vacancy on the Council.

I have been informed by the city’s attorney and the city manager this declaration “starts the clock” regarding the process of filling the vacant council seat. We now have 60 days from April 3, 2019, to come to an agreement on the appointment of a new Councilmember or there will be an election.

Residents have 30 days from April 3, 2019, to file a petition signed by seven percent of Irvine’s registered voters to require an election regardless of what the council does.

UPDATE:

There is now a Republican proposal to circumvent this voting process by using an arbitrary ‘point proposal,’ under which “each Councilmember shall list three (3) applicants [candidates] in order of preference.” The candidates will be assigned the following point values: Top candidate 3 points, second candidate 2 points, and third candidate, 1 point.

Under this proposed procedure, the applicant receiving the most points will be appointed.

This proposed “point ” procedure:

(1) has never been used by the Irvine City Council to decide how to fill a council vacancy or to make any other appointment;
(2) violates the most crucial principle of a representative democracy — that the people’s representatives are selected by majority rule.

Arbitrarily assigning points to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice applicants, and then saying the applicant with the “most points” wins, is simply a way to avoid majority rule. It undermines the basic legitimacy of Irvine’s government.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at approximately 3:00 p.m. to make sure your voices are heard.

UPDATE:

While the so-called “point” procedure was defeated at the last meeting, the question of whether to appoint or have an election is still not settled.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 23, where the Council will likely decide either on a process for appointment of the 5th council member to the vacant seat or deadlock to cause an election.

Closed session starts at 4:00 p.m. and the open meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. The agenda is packed so this may run late.

Let the voters have their say!

 

Irvine Posts New Web Page Detailing the City’s Efforts to Combat Homelessness

The City of Irvine has posted a new web page detailing the City’s efforts to combat homelessness.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I’m proud of what we’ve done.

I’m especially proud of our inclusionary housing requirement that 15 percent of all new residential development be affordable to lower-income households.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox receiving affordable housing award on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust

I’m also proud of the City of Irvine’s establishment and funding of the Irvine Community Land Trust, which I am honored to serve as Chair, dedicated to creating affordable housing.

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.

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.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox and other officials listen to a homeless man at the Santa Ana riverbed.

In fact, over the past 30 years, Irvine has developed more affordable housing for families and individuals at risk of homelessness than any other city in Orange County.

Irvine has also provided over $6.7 million in grant funding to nonprofit organizations for homelessness prevention programs.

I am proud too of our Irvine Police Department’s approach to homelessness, which employs a dedicated team of Mental Health and Homeless Liaison Officers and is characterized by compassion and concern for those suffering from economic hardship, mental illness, and addiction.

The City has established a dedicated email address, outreach@cityofirvine.org, to address homelessness in Irvine. If you know someone in need of services, or if you have a question related to homelessness in Irvine, please contact us.

Irvine has also partnered with several non-profit community organizations — including Families Forward, Second Harvest Food Bank, FOR FAMILIES, Human Options, Second Chance OC, South County Outreach and StandUp for Kids — to help people experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness.

Please read the web page to see all we’re doing.

Of course, more needs to be done to resolve the homelessness crisis and alleviate the human suffering we see around us throughout Orange County.

While I’m proud of all we’ve done in Irvine, I’m also dedicated to doing more.

I’ve traveled to Sacramento to convince our legislators to reform the tax code to make it easier to build affordable housing.

I’ve traveled to San Antonio, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to see possible solutions in action.

We need more affordable housing and more attainable housing.

We need more mental health services.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox and Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris attending conference at Haven of Hope in San Antonio on helping people suffering homelessness.

We need real regulation and supervision of so-called sober living homes that heartlessly dump untreated addicts into our communities when their money runs out.

No area of the nation has been more adversely impacted by these unregulated and profiteering sober living homes than Orange County.

We need to work with responsible non-profit community and faith organizations to find real solutions to the growing crisis of drug and alcohol abuse.

Homelessness is a both humanitarian crisis and a public health crisis that we can not ignore or simply pretend to legislate out-of-existence. Helping our homeless population will require a concerned, regional, and state-funded approach that both provides safe temporary shelter and effective, humane solutions of the root causes of homelessness.

Let’s working together to achieve these goals and truly resolve the homelessness crisis.