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.

Honor Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.  From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.  Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Council Member, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

For many, many years, my family and I have attended Irvine’s two beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies — a community-led candle-lighting ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial and the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps. Memorial Park next to the Civic Center.

Sadly, this year both ceremonies have been cancelled due to the need to limit non-essential gatherings to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

This year, the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony will be presented online beginning May 25, 2020, for the community to view at their convenience.  The presentation will include words from our mayor, remarks from officers from the City’s adopted 2/11 Marine Battalion, and musical performances from past ceremonies.  For more information, call 949-724-6606.

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, located at 4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to ensure that generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today. Regarding the Northwood Honor and Gratitude Memorial Ceremony, the following notice has been posted on their Facebook page:  

“To all our SoCal friends, it is with great sadness that we announce the City of Irvine, in keeping with the stay at home order, has CANCELED the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.

The City will be generously donating a beautiful wreath of remembrance.  American flags will be placed around the perimeter of the memorial and candles for lighting for those who would like to visit during the Memorial Day weekend.

There will be staff at the community center if anyone needs help finding the name of a loved one or needs name rubbing materials.

We encourage everyone to please take a few minutes of your time to stop by and pay your respects during the holiday weekend.

To our beloved Gold Star families . . . please know that even though there is no ceremony we will never forget the sacrifices your heroes made for our freedom. Thankfully this beautiful memorial is a daily reminder that our community has not forgotten those who bravely put on our Nation’s cloth and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

As in past years, I will thinking especially of my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed at the Battle of Chosen Reservoir during the Korean War, and of the son of family friends, Lance Corporal Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

 

I will also be remembering Irvine’s own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Although we are not able to gather together physically this Memorial Day, we will be gathered together in our hearts

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

Watch Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell!

I’ve always been an outdoors person, and I love going hiking and exploring in Southern California’s beautiful wild lands, mountains, and deserts.  Long before I entered politics, I served as a volunteer Ranger with the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.  This past week, I had the pleasure of talking with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Michael O’Connell last week during a ZOOM meeting Town Hall.  

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship. Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

After we talk about the history and the special character of this incredible land, Mike leads us on a tour of this incredible natural resource in our backyard.

 Watch our Town Hall on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy here:

Join Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell. Thurs., May 14 at 4:00 PM!

Join Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox in a ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Mike O’Connell

Thurs., May 14, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.

ZOOM Meeting ID 951-321-0807

Note: We will also be streaming live from Melissa Fox’s YouTube Channel HERE.

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship.

Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Melissa Fox has been a member of the Irvine City Council since 2016. She is life-long hiker, outdoors person, and fierce environmental advocate. She also served as a Ranger in the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.

For more information, contact Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org

To see the Facebook event for this Town Hall, click here.

UPDATED: Watch the ZOOM Town Hall with Mike O’Connell here.

We look forward to you joining us!

The People Have Spoken: The Irvine City Council Should Designate the ARDA as the Site for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery. UPDATED!

UPDATE[May 13, 2020] At last night’s Irvine City Council meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to agree with me and to adopt the citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park on the ground of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS El Toro).  The ARDA is located in the 68th Assembly District.  As the Assemblymember for the 68th Assembly District, I will work to ensure that the state fulfills its promise to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

The time has come to settle the issue of where to locate a state veterans cemetery in Irvine. The people have spoken – twice – on this issue. Accordingly, at the next Irvine City Council meeting, I will propose that the City Council adopt, as an ordinance, the recent citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park.

Adopting the initiative as an ordinance will finally settle this long-divisive issue in the way that the people of this City have now twice demanded — first, by their overwhelming rejection in 2018 of Measure B and the land exchange, and most recently, by gathering nearly 20,000 signatures expressing the residents’ desire to locate the veterans cemetery on the ARDA.

Adopting the citizen’s initiative as an ordinance would also allow construction of the much-needed Orange County State Veterans Cemetery to begin as early as possible without any further political delays.

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013, long before I was elected to the City Council.  As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

Melissa Fox in May 2014 urging the Irvine City Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery without delay.

“Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state. This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County. Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage. As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

Control Tower of MCAS El Toro, still visible on the ARDA site.

On March 11, 2014, I cheered with others in the audience when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a veterans cemetery. But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years. The reason for this lack of progress, I was informed, was the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the ARDA site.

Marine Corps A4 Skyhawks in flight over El Toro, 1961

Because construction of a veterans cemetery at the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable for the City of Irvine, I supported the Strawberry Fields site (and the land exchange with FivePoint) as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative to the ARDA site. This land exchange proposal became Measure B, which was placed on the ballot for the voters in June 2018. The land exchange was supported by the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, as well as both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Orange County. 

The voters, however, decisively rejected Measure B and the land exchange, with 63 percent opposed. I understood from the defeat of Measure B that Irvine residents did not trust the City Council to put the people’s interests ahead of the interests of Irvine’s powerful developers, and, specifically, did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange with FivePoint that would lead to massive development and more traffic congestion.

MCAS El Toro patch, designed by Walt Disney.

Following the voters’ rejection of Measure B, it again seemed that the construction of a veterans cemetery at the Great Park had stalled. However, several members of the California State Legislature continued to look for a way to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who taken the lead in earlier legislation regarding an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, introduced Assembly Bill 368, which requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs toJoining Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) in support of this bill was a bipartisan group of Orange County legislators, including Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55), as well as Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymember Tom Daily (AD 69).  These legislators wrote to the Irvine City Council stating, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

Most important to me, this legislation committed the State of California, rather than the residents of Irvine, to provide the funding for the veterans cemetery. Initially, the legislation specified state financial support only for the ARDA site. After pressure from FivePoint and Mayor Christina Shea, the bill was amended to apply to either the ARDA site or a new site now proposed by Mayor Christina Shea and developer FivePoint. This newly proposed site was called the “Golf Course” site because it was comprised, in part, of land in the Great Park that had originally been designated to become a city-run golf course. However, the new site also included land that had previously been designated as part of the Orange County Great Park’s long-awaited “Cultural Terrace,” meant to include museums, botanical gardens, and other very popular cultural amenities that the people of Orange County had been waiting for a very long time. 

WW2 Era Marine aviators at MCAS El Toro.

Crucially, this new and hastily unveiled “Golf Course” site has never been studied or evaluated – by either the City or the State — for use as a veterans cemetery. As a result, the claims of FivePoint and Mayor Shea that the Golf Course site is a significantly less costly alternative to the ARDA are wholly conjectural. The truth is, since we have not actually studied the question, we have no idea whether locating the veterans cemetery on the Golf Course site rather than the ARDA would save a penny for the taxpayers.

We do know, however, that FivePoint very much wants to develop the ARDA site. Of course, this development of the ARDA site by FivePoint can not happen if the ARDA becomes a veterans cemetery.

We also know that Mayor Shea very much wants FivePoint to be able to develop the ARDA. In fact, when discussing this new alternative site with a group of Great Park residents, Mayor Shea stated that her plan was to give FivePoint a 99-year lease for development on the ARDA. Mayor Shea further said that Golf Course site was really a “diversion” or “short-time solution” to buy time and ensure that the ARDA did not become a veterans cemetery. She made it clear that to her, whether a veterans cemetery was actually built on the Golf Course site – or anywhere in Irvine — was secondary to making sure that the ARDA site remained available for development by FivePoint. In other words, Mayor Shea and FivePoint still intended to do precisely what the voters in defeating Measure B had specifically rejected.

Marine Corps Air Station El Toro Air Show Poster, 1991

For these reasons, when it again came before the City Council in April 2019, I supported designation of the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery, for the State of California to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base. Nevertheless, the Irvine City Council rejected the ARDA and designated the Golf Course site for a veterans cemetery by a vote of 4 to 1, with only myself opposed.

The citizens’ initiative drive followed. Advocates for the ARDA site were able to collect nearly 20,000 signatures of Irvine residents to force the City Council to locate the veterans cemetery at the ARDA or place the issue on the ballot in November 2020.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an Orange County Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

My criteria for deciding where to locate the veterans cemetery has also remained consistent: I support the site that I believe is most viable, most likely to be completed, and at the least cost to Irvine taxpayers. That site is the ARDA.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. Veterans like my father have waited long enough for Irvine to do the right thing.

Let’s build an Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the ARDA without further unnecessary delay.

Let’s listen to the people.

Irvine Animal Care Center Reopens for Pet Adoptions By Appointment Only!

One member of my family doesn’t mind the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.  Chief, my 2-and-a-half-year-old Siberian Husky is delighted to have everyone at home, all day, every day, available for walks, treats, belly rubs, and just hanging out.

If you’ve been wishing you had a wonderful fuzzy quarantine companion, you’re in luck! 

In-person pet adoptions are now available by appointment at the Irvine Animal Care Center, which had closed to the public at the end of March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

I joined my colleagues on the Irvine City Council to authorize the center to open, making it the only City facility to reopen during the pandemic.  The facility has been open to staff caring for animals during the pandemic.

Potential adopters can make an appointment and have a pet-matching interview by phone.

Adoption applications can be completed online, and then once all steps are complete, adopters will be allowed to go to the center to meet the animals.

Adopters are asked to wear face masks in the center and comply with other precautionary measures against the coronavirus.

Those interested in adopting an animal can make an appointment starting at noon Thursday.

Pets available for adoption include dogs, cats, rabbits and rodents.

 

Happy Earth Day 2020!

Today, Wednesday, 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.

Under Irvine Mayors Larry Agran, Beth Krom and Sukhee Kang, Irvine was indeed a world leader in environmental programs and innovation. One of the highlights of Irvine’s environmental engagement was presence of the U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The Solar Decathlon is an international competition held every two years 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. The Solar Decathlon was held at the Great Park in 2013 and 2015.

Another highlight of Irvine’s environmental leadership was the creation of the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee in 2012.  The Green Ribbon Committee was charged with the crucial task of developing and recommending environmental policy initiatives and programs, including sustainability policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi became mayor of Irvine in November 2014, both the Great Park Solar Decathlon and the Green Ribbon Committee became victims of Choi’s climate change denial and hostility to environmental action.

As I’ve detailed in How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon, Steven Choi was hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon — the need for replacing burning fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.  In sharp contrast to the previous three Irvine mayors who championed environmental and climate concerns, Choi “completely question[ed] the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention.”  Rather than recognizing the importance of environmental action,  both as an opportunity for technological innovation and as an existential imperative, Choi saw all environmental concerns as anti-business and climate change as wholly unconnected to human activity. You can read the full story of the Solar Decathlon here.

Similarly, Choi sabotaged the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee. In fact, when I was elected to the Irvine City Council in November 2016, the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee had been inoperative for several years because Mayor Steven Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council did not appoint sufficient members to constitute a quorum. In fact, the Committee did not meet during all of 2014 and 2016, cancelling every scheduled meeting. The words “climate change” and “global warming” were not permitted to be used in official City of Irvine publications or staff reports. Choi didn’t even allow the City of Irvine to participate in the Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by the Irvine-based Wyland Foundation.

As a longtime environmental activist, I wasn’t going to allow the City of Irvine to continue to ignore environmental issues and global warming. I convinced newly elected Mayor Donald P. Wagner, who replaced Steven Choi, to re-invigorate the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and appoint me to the Committee as the City Council’s representative.  I then appointed Krishna Hammond, a young progressive scientist, as my representative to the Committee and encouraged the other Councilmembers to make appointments.  At our first meeting, I was elected Chair of the Committee and Krishna was elected Vice Chair. The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee was out of Choi-imposed exile and was off and running.

 

 

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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.

We’ve made progress since the days when Steven Choi drove the U.S. Solar Decathlon out of town, shut down the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, refused to participate in the Wyland Foundation’s Water Challenge, and banned the words “climate change” and “global warning.”

But there is still much to be done. In particular, the current Irvine City Council leadership needs to show that its professed concern for action on climate change and protecting the environment isn’t just lip service and a public relations smokescreen.

Instead, the City Council needs to adopt a stand-alone Climate Action Plan that we’ve been promised and implement the Community Choice Energy program that we’ve shown to be a tremendous benefit to both the City and the planet.