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.

 

Play Ball! Join Me As We Officially Open Our New Great Park Baseball Stadium!

As Vice Chair of the Orange County Great Park, it is my pleasure to invite you to join me on Sunday, September 16, 2018, for free, family-friendly fun as we officially open our new 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium, and our new additional baseball and softball fields at the Orange County Great Park Sports Complex.

This event begins at 10:00 a.m., with an official opening ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

Enjoy exhibition games from local baseball and softball teams, and visit the new baseball stadium, softball stadium, and 10 surrounding ball fields.

Food trucks will be there for visitors to buy lunch, and city leaders will gather to throw out the first pitch in the Baseball Stadium.

At the Championship Stadium, four, two-inning baseball games will be played by the eight local high school teams. Portola and University will play the first game at 10:00 a.m. followed by Beckman vs. Irvine, Tustin vs. Northwood and Woodbridge vs. Foothill.

The members of these teams will join city officials on the field for the ribbon cutting ceremony at 1:00 p.m.

Parking is free!

The new Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium includes four batting cages, a meeting room and press box. On the field level, there are dressing rooms on both sides where the dugouts are, coaches offices, umpire rooms and training facilities. There is also an outfield berm area, which can hold 1,000 more fans sitting on the grass.

The Orange County Great Park is the largest public park project now underway. Several hundred acres of parkland are under development, and beginning summer 2018 and through year’s end, several more facilities and fields will be turned over to the City for community public use. These are the 1-mile long Great Park bike and pedestrian trails; seven baseball fields that include our new 1,000-seat baseball stadium; five softball fields that include a 500-seat stadium; six artificial turf soccer/lacrosse fields; four basketball courts; a Children’s Playground; and an 18-acre Flex Field in which up to four playing fields can be added for tournament use. In total, the above equals 130 acres.

Already open for one year within the 194-acre Sports Complex are a Soccer Stadium with seating for 5,000, six other soccer/lacrosse fields, 25 tennis courts, five sand volleyball courts, and a Children’s Play Area.

These all complement the long-opened features of the 1,300-acre Great Park, which include five soccer/lacrosse fields, two art galleries, the Great Park Balloon, and the Children’s Carousel.

In addition, the Anaheim Ducks Great Park Ice Complex – the largest in the state with four sheets of ice and one of the largest in the country at 270,000 square feet – will open by the end of 2018 at the Great Park. Ice time will include public skating, youth hockey games and tournaments, and figure skating.

Next on our Great Park agenda should be creating the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace, with botanical gardens and museums!

I have also joined with Irvine City Councilmember Cristina Shea in calling for the construction of a veteran’s cemetery within the Great Park.  This proposal is now going through an expedited evaluation process by our City staff.

For far too many years, the Great Park was a symbol of gross mismanagement and government gone very wrong, with allegations of corruption and massive waste, and with little to nothing to show for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of public dollars except a balloon, a carousel, and great expanses of dirt, dust, and debris.

HEADLINE HEREHowever, since I have joined the Irvine City Council — and been appointed Vice Chair of the Orange County Great Park by my colleagues — we have succeeded in making a tremendous, positive turn-around in the Great Park’s development.  Exciting progress has been made!

As the Orange County Register recently wrote, “If you haven’t visited the Orange County Great Park – where you see that big orange balloon from Interstate 5 – in the past few years, you may be surprised by the amount of construction going on and how quickly things are getting built there.”

We are now fulfilling the promise of a truly Great Park — Join us on Sunday, September 16 to celebrate!

Play Ball!

 

As We Celebrate Labor Day, Let’s Commit to Increasing Irvine’s Child Care Choices

As we celebrate Labor Day, I want to take the opportunity to recommit to improving the working conditions of Irvine residents by increasing the availability of child care.

Too often, parents in Irvine are forced to choose between going to work and caring for their children.

Nearly 2,500 Irvine families do not have adequate child care, with the most acute shortage for children under 2 years-old and children 6 to 12 years-old.

I have been working with City staff, my Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris, developers, childcare providers, and the business community to increase child care through an overall city child care development plan.

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris has eloquently addressed this issue:

Parents are being advised to apply for child care and get on waiting lists while they are expecting a child and still report waiting several months to a year to secure a spot for their child. Infant care has been identified as the most challenging child care to secure, especially considering the important low provider-to-child ratio mandated by state law.

Some Irvine parents report putting their families on lists and simply never hearing of an opening.

The consequence of the Irvine childcare gap is that families are forced to make unanticipated career and financial decisions. Parents report having to make the sometimes difficult decision to have one parent stay home, even where the families was previously a dual-income family.

Statistically, it is increasingly difficult to return to the workforce the longer a worker is away.

In addition, the result is not only lost income while the child is infancy, but potentially for years to come. For a single parent, the situation is even worse — and may be untenable if family care or care outside the city is unavailable.

A critical part of any thriving community is safe, professional, reliable, and affordable preschool and child care. Preschool has been shown to positively affect children’s social skills and prepare them for the rigors of K-12. Children who miss the opportunity for preschool because of inadequate child care in a community start kindergarten at a disadvantage.

Ultimately, the negative effects of unavailable or inadequate preschool or childcare extend beyond individual children and families to the community as a whole.

It is time to address the shortage of child care for families in Irvine. Increased child care through designated private sites as part of an overall city development plan, access to childcare in houses of worship, and the option of city early childhood education must be part of this plan.

Families in Irvine are looking to the City Council for solutions.

What kind of waiting periods are you facing right now for child care and preschool in Irvine?

What kinds of improvements do you want to see in the availability of child care and preschool in Irvine?

Send your information to Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox at mefox@cityofirvine.org or to Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris at laurenjohnson78@gmail.com.

My Response to the Grand Jury Report on Housing Orange County’s Homeless: Irvine Offers Leadership in Providing Real Solutions for the Homelessness Crisis

Finding solutions to the 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.

At our recent Irvine City Council meeting on August 26, 2018, the City Council was presented with our city staff’s response to the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox preparing to lead a meeting of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Following the staff presentation, I made the following remarks, which I’d like to share with you here:

“Thank you very much for a terrific response.

I did feel that there needs to be some additional information in the response, however, and Mayor Wagner touched on much of it, in particular the $29.2 million that we’re putting aside, as well as land, and the additional permanent supportive housing, potentially as many as 80 units, which we are set to break ground on in the very near future with the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition, there’s another project stacked right behind the first project for the Land Trust, which will be unique in that it will provide an ownership for affordable housing, and all of this backed by services, so we will be creating permanent, supportive housing.

Irvine has been a model in this area, and what I think the Grand Jury, and even our own response misses, is that the Land Trust concept is something that Irvine has pioneered.

No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours. Our executive director is a national leader, and we have a great deal of experience in the Land Trust area, so I think what we have best to contribute to the ACC-OC (Association of California Cities – Orange County) and a potential Joint Powers Agreement is leadership.

In Irvine, we don’t need an additional Land Trust.  We already have one, and we paved the way, and we already have a vehicle to receive the funds that are ready to come forward from the State. The reason that the Joint Powers Agreement for a Land Trust for the County needed to be created is that the County didn’t have one.  In Irvine, we already did.

And so I would notify, and let the Grand Jury know, that we could be of assistance and leadership in this area.  Our executive director for the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, is an executive director of the national Land Trust Alliance, and so he’s leading the way.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox speaking with homeless people at the former Riverbed encampment with Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva, Huntington Beach Councilmember Billy O’Connell, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

I also want to comment on the allegation of NIMBYism in Irvine, which I thought was very pejorative and unfair.

Irvine has never said we don’t want to help homeless people in our community. Rather, we’ve said we’ll be the first to form this Land Trust and move forward with it.

So just last year, Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris and I traveled with ACC-OC to San Antonio to look at what was really an exceptional program (Haven for Hope) helping the homeless community in San Antonio that has been held up as a model.  We went with many other stakeholders. One thing we learned on that trip was that neighbors are important.  And it was very important for the success of this homeless shelter in San Antonio to be located in a community that their services also served, to prevent the community members from becoming homeless.  So the shelter has to be located in an area where the neighborhood is receptive, and sees it as a benefit because they’re providing social services to the neighborhood, they’re providing schooling, they’re providing medical clinics, they’re providing dental services, and so on.

Location is very important, and what we heard our residents in Irvine saying is that there was a problem with placing homeless people in tents adjacent to the Great Park as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.  And, in addition, what Irvine residents and the Irvine City Council said is that human beings should not be housed in tents with no water, no electricity, and no transportation.

So, I think to denigrate Irvine and the residents who came together as not compassionate and full of NIMBY sentiment is absolutely incorrect, and we need to put forward that our residents came together, not only to say that they were opposed to the County’s tent city plan for a homeless shelter, but they literally hired their own attorneys to put together solution packages, and they came to the same conclusions that the experts did, that you must have permanent supportive services that go along with the housing.

They weren’t just saying we don’t want it here, they said we want to help fix this program, and I think we can reach out to that same group to work with us on this issue.

I have also traveled to Sacramento and worked with many of our legislators to increase the number of units that we can move forward with under the Land Trust by creating legislation (Senate Bill 1056) that would give us favorable tax treatment.

And so I think we have a lot to teach the cities that haven’t done this kind of work.  We blazed that path, and I’d like this report to make that clear, especially the work that the Irvine Community Land Trust has done, that prior city councils have invested in this, and that the Mayor himself has expended countless hours in looking forward to a solution, and I think that at the very least, the Mayor’s comments should be incorporated as a preface to our response.”

You can read the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless,” and the original proposed response of the City of Irvine here.

 

Preserving Irvine’s Neighborhoods and Open Space: Why I’ll Vote to Protect Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course

At tonight’s Irvine City Council meeting, I intend to vote to protect the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course from development.

Councilmember Melissa Fox celebrates Irvine’s open space with Board of Equalization Member and candidate for California Treasurer Fiona Ma

Here’s why:

One of the best, and most distinctive, things about 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.

Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has been committed to balancing the built and the natural environment.  As our incredible master-planned community has grown, we have remained attentive to the need to preserve and enhance our natural open spaces, creating a network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors enjoy today and will continue to enjoy for generations to come.

Neighborhoods are also a crucial aspect of life in Irvine.

When I ran for City Council, I promised that I would protect the beauty and character of our neighborhoods in all of Irvine.

I also promised to fight runaway development; in  fact, as an Irvine City Councilmember, I have not voted for a single new entitlement nor have I approved any new construction.

Moving forward, I intend to see that Irvine reaffirms its commitment to protecting open space, preserving neighborhoods, and following the wisdom of the General Plan.

I like what my appointee to the Irvine Planning Commission, Dustin Nirschl, has said: “Villages are not just measurements, it’s a feeling.”

Neighborhoods matter.

Open space matters.

And neighbors working together to preserve their neighborhood and their open space matters most of all.

For these reasons, I intend to vote to prevent any development on the Rancho San Joaquin Golf Course by keeping it as a permanent, open space, recreational amenity to serve all Irvine residents — now and in the future.  

Update:  The Irvine City Council voted 5-0 on August 28, 2016, to affirm the Master Plan and maintain the zoning that protects the Rancho San Joaquin Golf course open space and preserves the character of the Rancho San Joaquin neighborhood. Thank you to the residents who joined together in this community-based and community-led effort!

Update: The folks at Protect Rancho Joaquin Golf Course have posted my comments and a video of my remarks at the August 28, 2018, Irvine City Council meeting.

My comments were: “I do want to thank everyone who’s come out today [to the City Council meeting]…I am so grateful that you’re here today to take the time out of your lives to protect your neighborhood, and our community.  It is a core principal of Irvine that we protect our open space, and we’re here today to do that.  And I wanted to thank my colleagues for bringing forth this issue — and particularly the right time with the General Plan update — that there could be no question now that the devotion of our City is to the protection of open space.  And so, I thank you for that.”

 

 

Say Hello to Irvine’s Newest Fire Prevention Method — Goats!

It’s been a long time since cattle and other livestock roamed the Irvine Ranch.

Now, some of them are back.

Goats.

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is employing goats across its steep ridges and rocky hills to suppress non-native grasses and reduce the vegetation that provides fuel for wildfires.

In addition, the nearby Cleveland National Forest – which recently suffered the Holy Fire – is now also employing 1,200 goats to eat away hundreds of pounds of dried vegetation, helping to keep Irvine and other local communities safe.

Goats are green: they remove non-native and invasive species without using chemicals or causing damage to native plants or the ecosystem.

They predominately browse on woody species, leaving ground vegetation alone. In our area, woody species are usually non-native and invasive, while ground vegetation is made up of many desirable native plant species, such as California’s native purple needlegrass.

Goats even eat hemlock, which is poisonous to humans and many other animals, but not to goats.

Their agility enables goats to safely reach vegetation in steep areas.

It’s a win-win situation, because the goats love eating the non-native vegetation on the ranch, while grazing costs are 25% lower than other vegetation management methods.

You can learn more about goats for fire fuel reduction, non-native and invasive plant management at Sage Environmental Group.

So if you see goats on the hills or mountains around Irvine, make sure you say hello.

They’re helping to keep us safe.

UPDATE:

I’ve recently learned that the City of Irvine will be hosting a “goat demonstration” to which the public will be invited!

Watch this space for more info as it becomes available!

Join the Full Moon Hike in Bommer Canyon with Councilmember Melissa Fox!

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in Irvine’s wilderness open spaces when the sun goes down, then join me — Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox — on a full moon hike on Monday, September 24.

We will meet at the Bommer Canyon Cattle Ranch at 7:00 pm.  Please be on time.  The hike will likely take 2 or 2.5 hours.

Experience the beauty and serenity of a moonlit night in Irvine’s Bommer Canyon.  I hope you’ll join me!

This hike is just over 3 miles and includes 700 feet of total climbing elevation with several very steep inclines.  The steepest section ascends 300 feet in a quarter-mile. Participants must be in good physical condition.

You can also see information about the hike on the Facebook Event page HERE.

Find the Irvine Ranch National Landmarks page HERE.

About Bommer Canyon:

Rich in both Irvine Ranch lore and nature’s wonders, Bommer Canyon beckons walkers, hikers and all other outdoor enthusiasts to stroll past ancient oak and sycamore groves and rough rock outcrops.

In 1837, José Antonio Andrés Sepúlveda established Rancho San Joaquin, including the entire area now known as Bommer Canyon.

In 1864, Flint, Bixby & Co. purchased a large portion of Rancho San Joaquin including Bommer Canyon and its surroundings.

James Irvine, who had been a silent partner in Flint-Bixby, became the sole owner of Irvine Ranch, including Bommer Canyon, in 1867.

Between the late 1800s to the 1970s, the Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp served as the center of the Irvine Company’s cattle operations.

When the Irvine Company’s cattle operations finished, the Irvine Company sold the Bommer Canyon area to the City of Irvine between 1981 and 1982.

In 1996, roughly 50,000 acres of preserved land on Irvine Ranch, including Bommer Canyon, were designated as a National Natural Landmark — the first such landmark for California since 1987.

Collectively the preserved lands are known as the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Irvine Ranch Conservancy began managing Bommer Canyon for the City of Irvine in 2005, restoring the natural habitat and initiating community programs.

In 2011, the City of Irvine officially opened the Bommer Canyon trailhead at the corner of Bommer Canyon and Shady Canyon roads.

Today, many trails in Bommer Canyon are open daily for self-guided hikes or bike-riding from approximately dawn to dusk. However, some trails and areas within the canyon can only be accessed through guided programs and require pre-registration with the city or the Irvine Ranch Conservancy.