Nowuz Mubarak! نوروز مبارک When was a New Beginning — Nowruz or a “New Day”– More Needed Than Now?

In Irvine, we love to celebrate our many heritages.  Irvine is home to more than 80 different churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, serving Irvine’s wonderful cultural and religious diversity.

One of our biggest cultural celebrations in Irvine is the annual Persian New Year (Nowruz) Festival at Irvine’s Bill Barber Community Park, sponsored by the Iranian-American Community Group Orange County.

Sadly, this year’s Nowruz Festival in Irvine had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak and the need for all of us to maintain social distancing.

In an announcement, my friend Neda Mottaghi-Movahed, a long-time organizer of the Irvine Nowruz Festival, wrote: “Dear friends and supporters, we regret to inform you that IAC 7th annual Nowruz festival which was scheduled for March 22nd in Irvine has been canceled. This was a very difficult decision due to outbreak of Coronavirus and Orange County Public Health recommendations which is to avoid large gatherings. Celebrate Nowruz with your friends and family. Eid Mobarak.”

Persian New Year, or “Nowruz,” translated from Persian to literally mean “New Day,” takes place at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, centering around the Spring Equinox. It is an ancient tradition, having been observed in Persian culture for approximately 5,500 years (older than the great pyramids of Egypt), celebrating the rebirth of the Earth after the cold of winter and welcoming the warmth of spring.

When was a new beginning — a “New Day” or Nowruz — more needed than now?

So even though we won’t have the Festival and we must keep apart from each other, let us celebrate Nowruz together with all our hearts.

May first day of Spring brings us all health, peace, happiness and joy!

Nowuz Mubarak! نوروز مبارک

 

Creating Affordable Housing in Irvine: Read the Irvine Community Land Trust 2019 Annual Report!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Located in Irvine, California, the heart of Southern California’s most expensive real estate market, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing. Because this is our home, too, ICLT is committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place everyone can call “home.”

Recently, ICLT has released its 2019 Annual Report, which I want to share with you.

The Annual Report includes information about the latest achievements in our mission to provide permanent affordable housing to income-eligible Orange County residents.

Read the full report HERE.

We are proud of our progress in this critical area for our community and recognize that there is much more work to be done in 2020 and beyond.

We at the Irvine Community Land Trust are extremely proud to put a successful 2019 to bed. It was a landmark year for our nonprofit organization, marked by critical milestones, a host of awards and a major legislative accomplishment that will benefit the affordable housing landscape across California for decades to come.

Progress on Salerno as of Feb. 2020. Groundbreaking on Sept. 19, 2019. Completion expected Fall 2020.

Most importantly, though, 2019 saw the birth of new, high-quality affordable rental housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Due to our robust economy and desirable standard of living, Irvine remains one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation.

Unfortunately, affordable housing is extremely limited and our working-class citizens, who are the backbone of the city, are among some of Irvine’s most vulnerable residents. With them in mind and in our hearts, we were thrilled to break ground on Salerno, the ICLT’s newest community which will bring 80 affordable homes to the city, including 15 for veterans, 10 for individuals with disabilities and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

The homes at Salerno are growing by leaps and bounds, and have now climbed up to include a third floor. Keep checking back for more progress pictures from the site, and look forward to the community opening its doors later this year.When completed in the fall, Salerno will join Parc Derian, Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes as places where income eligible residents will proudly call Irvine “home.”

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Looking ahead, 2020 is shaping up to be equally exciting as we begin work on our first home ownership community, Native Spring. That will prove to be a real game-changer for us, the city and, of course, the new homeowners! For the first time, the Irvine Community Land Trust will build for-sale homes that hard-working Irvine residents making less than $100,000 can actually afford to buy.

The Native Spring homeownership project will serve moderate-income families with a 68-house development in Portola Springs that will have all the features of any market rate for-sale project in the city. A young couple earning $76,000 to $94,000 annually will be able to purchase a home for about $370,000.

Additionally, these homebuyers will “pay it forward” by agreeing to resale provisions that keep these homes permanently affordable. This development, which will break ground in 2020, is tremendously exciting for the ICLT as it stands to make the American dream a reality for many first time home buyers.

The ICLT continues to look for corporate donors who can provide grant opportunities, donate materials and items to help build, furnish and landscape new communities. Contact us to learn how to contribute!

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Irvine Again Ranked No. 1 City in Fiscal Strength!

I am proud to report that the City of Irvine has again — for the 3rd straight year — been ranked as the No. 1 City in the United States in Fiscal Strength by Truth in Accounting (TIA), a nonprofit organization that “cuts through politicization and accounting tricks, presenting transparent and nonpartisan figures of government finances.”

The Truth in Accounting ranking of America’s largest 75 cities calculated how a city would fare financially after all the bills are paid. Irvine was given a surplus score of $4,100 per taxpayer, earning the distinction as the most fiscally healthy large city in the United States.

The key findings of the report regarding Irvine were:

  • Irvine’s Taxpayer Surplus is $4,100, and it received a “B” from TIA. A particular city’s Taxpayer Surplus/Burden is the money available (or needed, if a burden) to pay bills divided by the number of taxpayers.
  • Irvine is a Sunshine City with enough assets to cover its debt. A Sunshine City is a city in state with a taxpayer surplus, which means that the state has enough funds and resources to pay its bills.
  • Decisions by elected officials have created a Taxpayer Surplus, which is each taxpayer’s share of money available after city bills have been paid.
  • Irvine has $626 million of assets available to pay bills.
  • Irvine has $380.4 million available after bills have been paid, which breaks down to $4,100 per taxpayer.

You can read the report on Irvine here and read the full report here.

We were also ranked No. 1 by Truth in Accounting in 2018 and 2017.

I am extremely proud of these awards, which reflect the strong commitment I’ve made to assuring Irvine’s fiscal health and stability, as well as the commitment of my City Council colleagues and City Staff.

Most important to me is the fact that our City is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and financial 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.

I have made it my mission to make our City’s budget truly transparent and free from any obfuscations or accounting tricks — and I am tremendously proud that Irvine has received this prestigious non-partisan award as America’s most fiscally healthy city in every year that I have served on the City Council.

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.

The Challenges of Affordable Housing – and How the Irvine Community Land Trust is Making Progress by Opening the Door to a Wave of New Home Owners

As many of you know I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Late last year, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.  As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Recently, ICLT has released a video made during the groundbreaking for Salerno, which I want to share with you:

 

In the video, I talk about the crucial role that ICLT and I played in the passage of new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much easier and more practical to build more permanently affordable housing for more people in need.

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Irvine City Council Holding Moment of Silence for Those Lost in Iranian Downing of Passenger Airliner

Tonight, after the pledge of allegiance, the Irvine City Council will hold a moment of silence for the 176 innocent passengers and crew who tragically lost their lives last week when Iran shot down a commercial airliner.

Many of the airliner’s passengers were Iranian Canadians who were affiliated with Canadian universities as students or researchers and had traveled to Iran during Christmas break.

Some victims had ties to our own Iranian American community, which includes more than 11,000 Iranian Americans in Irvine and 36,000 Iranian Americans in Orange County.  Irvine is also the home of UCI’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture, one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary institutions for the study of Iranian culture and history.

As my friend, Irvine resident, and community leader Neda Mottaghi-Movahed has said, this has been “a very sad few weeks for all of us” in the Iranian American community, which has held memorials in Irvine for those whose lives were lost.

We are proud of saying that our city is not only among the most diverse cities in the nation, it is also the most fully integrated.  There are no ethnic, linguistic, religious, or cultural enclaves in Irvine: every neighborhood reflects Irvine’s harmonious ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity.

In most cases, this means that we share in each other’s holidays and celebrations.

In this case, it means we share in each other’s sorrow.

My deepest condolences to the families and friends of all who were lost, as well as to the entire Iranian American community.

My heart reaches out to my many Iranian American friends and neighbors.

I join with the Iranian American community in mourning the senseless loss of so many lives and in praying for peace.

 

Help Develop a Strategic Energy Plan for Irvine by Attending a Community Workshop on January 13, 2020

The City of Irvine is developing a Strategic Energy Plan to create a sustainable, economically feasible, and actionable road map for City operations and to identify effective measures the Irvine community can implement to become energy efficient. The objectives of the Plan are to analyze the City’s baseline energy use to project future energy needs, evaluate priorities to meet those needs, and identify funding opportunities to implement the Plan.

The project began in November 2018 and is anticipated to be completed in April 2020. When the Plan is completed, it will be presented to the City Council for consideration and adoption.

Community engagement will help form the vision for the Plan.  As part of the Plan’s development, the City seeks community stakeholder feedback via public workshops, which will be scheduled in the coming months.

The next community workshop on the Strategic Energy Plan will be held on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at City of Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, California 92606.

At this workshop, City of Irvine staff will present strategies to reduce energy consumption in our energy supply, buildings, and transportation sectors, and guide participants through facilitated discussions on each area.  All residents are invited to ensure that your ideas and feedback are captured as we create the Strategic Energy Plan.

To register for the workshop and to learn more, click HERE.

You can also help by taking our City of Irvine Strategic Energy Plan Stakeholder Input Survey HERE.

For more information about the project, contact Sona Coffee in Public Works at 949-724-7562.

 

 

 

Why I Voted “No” on a Zoning Change to Permit 1,000 More Million Dollar Single Family Houses in Irvine. Tell the Irvine City Council What You Think!

Recently, I voted “No” on continuing the second reading of a re-zoning proposal that would allow the addition of 1,000 single family million dollar houses to be built by the Irvine Company in the area of Portola Springs/Orchard Hills in Irvine.

This vote could have been the end of the issue, since on the first reading both Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmember Mike Carroll voted against the re-zoning.

However, Councilmember Mike Carroll now voted with the supporters of adding 1,000 new homes (Councilmembers Anthony Kuo and Farrah N. Khan) to continue the item to January 2020.

Carroll, Kuo and Khan won the vote to continue, 3-2. This means that these additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses will again come before the Council.

As a longtime advocate for local communities to permit more housing to alleviate our statewide affordable housing crisis, I was initially disposed to vote in favor of this re-zoning proposal.

But on further reflection, it became apparent to me that this proposed housing development would be built without the necessary infrastructure, including new schools and a local retail center, which are needed and have long been promised to residents.

I am a strong advocate for action on the local and state level addressing the housing crisis, but not at the cost of overcrowded schools and the abandonment of Irvine’s renowned village model and our Master Plan balancing housing with schools, retail centers, and open space.

In particular, I am a strong supporter of Irvine’s village concept, which is intended to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion, and create walkable neighborhoods and a sense of community, by locating housing, at several different levels of purchase price or rental cost, around both local schools and a local retail center.  This village model — an essential part of Irvine’s Master Plan long promoted by the Irvine Company — has been enormously successful.  As the Irvine Chamber of Commerce has boasted, Irvine is a “City of Villages.”

You can see a video promoting the Irvine Master Plan, with specific reference to the Irvine village model as an integral part of the Master Plan, here:

For this reason, I was very concerned — shocked, actually — when a representative of the Irvine Company responded to my questioning by stating that the Irvine Company had no plans to build a retail center near these new homes and were no longer committed to the village model.

In other words, I came to see that voting in favor of this zoning change is tantamount to voting for Irvine to no longer be a “City of Villages.”

On the issue of whether these proposed 1,000 million dollar homes would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis, here are the facts:

This week’s OC Register reports on an analysis by the Southern California News Group that graded every jurisdiction in California on its progress on state-mandated housing goals (the Regional Housing Needs Assessment or RHNA).

According to the article, Irvine is supposed to permit 12,149 homes between 2013 and 2021. Housing units are mandated in each of four categories: (1) very low income, (2) low income, (3) moderate income, and (4) above moderate income.

The number show that Irvine has done exceptionally well in providing housing in the moderate and (especially) above moderate income categories, but is not doing nearly as well in the low income and very low income categories, where it is seriously off track in meetings its RHNA goals.

Very Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 907 very low income units, needs 1,761 to be on track, 2,817 for final goal.  In sum, very low income units are not on track, and are far from the final goal.

Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 3 units, needs 271 to be on track, 2,034 for final goal. In sum, low income units are not on track, and are far from final goal.

Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,973 units, needs 1,399 to be on track, 2,239 for final goal. In sum, moderate income units are more than on track, and are already in excess of the final goal.

Above Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,137 units, needs 3,162 to be on track, 5,059 for final goal. In sum, above moderate income units are far more than on track, and are already far in excess of the final goal.

These numbers demonstrate what everyone knows: Irvine’s housing is overwhelmingly skewed toward the “Above Moderate Income” market.

The 1,000 housing units that would be added to Portola Springs/Orchid Hills under the re-zoning proposed by the Irvine Company are single family homes costing above $1,000,000.  These 1,000 “Above Moderate Income” units would not help Irvine meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals.

On the contrary, they would exacerbate Irvine’s school over-crowding and traffic congestion problems while doing little or nothing to ease our affordable housing crisis.

That’s why I voted No.

It is my belief that only saying No to these projects that provide housing only for the well-to-do, will we encourage developers to build more environmentally responsible and affordable housing projects.

I hope Irvine residents will make their views on this proposal for an additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses clear to all members of the Council between now and then.

Contact information for all members of the Irvine City Council can be found here.