What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2018 State of the City Address

On Tuesday, February 27, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will present his second “State of the City” address at the City Council chambers.

Mayor Wagner and I are members of different political parties and have very different views on many state and national issues. Yet in the year that we have served together on the Irvine City Council, we have been able to work in cooperation and with mutual respect to improve the lives of the residents of our City.

We have accomplished a lot in this past year. Since last year’s State of the City, Irvine has been rated:

• No. 1 Major American City in Fiscal Strength.
• No. 1 FBI’s Safest American City. Lowest rate of violent crime among cities with a population of 250,000 or more (12th consecutive year that City of Irvine has earned the Safest City accolade).
• No. 2 Safest Big City, based on categories that go beyond violent crime rates, including motor vehicle safety.
• No. 3 Most Prosperous City.
• No. 3 Happiest Residents.
• No. 6 Least Stressed American City
• No. 8 Best Public Parks.
• No. 8 Best City to Raise a Family, based on crime rate, vehicle safety, air quality, and educational attainment.
• No. 9 Healthiest Lifestyles.
• No. 15 Best Places to Buy a Forever Home.
• One of 20 Western Dream Towns.

While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved. We have moved past the partisan bickering and gridlock that prevented progress for so many years, but we need to continue to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

Here’s what I will be listening for in this year’s State of the City Address:

More plans to solve Irvine’s traffic and transportation problems.

Every person who ran for Mayor or City Council in 2016 – including myself and Mayor Wagner – promised to take bold and meaningful action to reduce traffic congestion.

In fact, in our first year, we have already accomplished a great deal:

• The City Council did not approve a single new entitlement for housing or offices in 2017.
• Reinstated Irvine Transportation/Traffic Commission (with my appointee, Ken Montgomery, as Chair).
• Created and filled new City of Irvine staff position of Director of Transportation.
• Curtailed traffic in and out of Concordia University.
• Approved $19 million plan to reduce traffic congestion throughout Irvine.
• Approved plan to widen University between MacArthur and Campus, adding a lane in each direction and upgrading traffic signals.
• Working with CalTrans to upgrade and improve timing on 40 traffic signals near freeway ramps.
• Moved forward the construction of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Jamboree at Michelson.
• Defeated proposed 1,960-unit “Travel Land” apartment complex at the 5 and Sand Canyon, based on negative impact on traffic congestion.

But more needs to be done.

Irvine still needs to increase the safe, effective, and efficient transportation choices available in the City (including public transportation, bicycle routes, and active transportation) and will need to continue to hold developers accountable for resolving traffic issues before any entitlements and building permits are issued.

I look forward to hearing more detailed and concrete plans for resolving our traffic and transportation issues, and for increasing the transportation alternatives that are needed to reduce automobile congestion in our streets. In addition, I would like to hear about working with our school board to offer transportation to students to and from school to reduce congestion in the mornings and afternoon rush.

Building the Cultural Terrace at the Great Park.

For far too long, the residents of Irvine and Orange County were given nothing but empty promises about building our Great Park on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine Base.

This year we have finally succeeded in creating a Great Park that residents can enjoy.

• We opened the temporary 12,000-seat live music FivePoint Amphitheatre while planning the permanent Great Park Amphitheatre.
• We broke ground on and will soon open a new ice skating facility in the Great Park (largest public ice skating facility in the West).
• We opened our 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium and numerous other sports fields and facilities in the first phase of 194-acre Great Park Sports Park, the largest of its kind in Orange County – larger than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure combined.
• Our Great Park Sports Complex was presented with the Orange County Business Council’s Turning Red Tape into Red Carpet Award for Public-Private Partnership.
• The Great Park Championship Stadium opens its second season as the home of the Orange County Soccer Club, Orange County’s only professional soccer team.
• We reached an agreement with Wild Rivers for a new 30-acre water park in the Great Park.

This year, I will be listening for details of even more progress on the Great Park.

I will be listening for details of the opening this year of the “bosque” (tree-lined walking and biking trail area), as well as further development of the Great Park Sports Complex, including additional soccer and softball fields and a baseball stadium.

I want to hear about more specific plans and dates for the reopening of Wild Rivers. I will also be paying careful attention to the Mayor’s plans for the Cultural Terrace. I have advocated for the City Council to make commitments regarding placing museums, a library, and world-class botanical gardens so that we will have a truly Great Park.

Education and childcare.

It is time to squarely address the shortage of childcare for families in Irvine.

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. Churches and other houses of worship traditionally provide a third of childcare. Our Irvine City Council and the Planning Commission must zone sufficient areas for churches and houses of worship, as well as take other steps, to meet our growing child care needs. I have been working with City staff, my Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson Norris, developers, childcare providers, and the business community to increase childcare through an overall city childcare development plan. I will be listening for the Mayor’s plans to help us in this important area.

Commitment to building the Veterans Cemetery and Memorial.

One of my proudest moments as an Irvine resident was when the City Council in 2014 voted unanimously to set aside 125 acres for an Orange County Veterans Cemetery. Since that time, we learned that the cost of building a veterans’ cemetery on the originally designated site would be more than $77 million – in other words, prohibitively expensive. For this reason, I support the land exchange according to which the Great Park developer will build the cemetery in another, close-by, location known as the “strawberry fields.”

This strawberry fields site, overwhelmingly preferred by veterans and all veterans’ groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, saves at a minimum $77.5 million in city, state, and national tax dollars, does not require the substantial remediation and decontamination of the original site, and reduces traffic through the City. The land exchange to build the veterans cemetery is also officially supported by the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Despite this near unanimous and bipartisan recognition that the strawberry field site is the better location and that land exchange is the only way to build the veterans’ cemetery, a deceptive and cynical campaign with paid signature gatherers placed the land exchange on the ballot on June 5.  If these nay-sayers prevail, there will never be a final resting place for veterans in Orange County, and certainly not in Irvine.  A “YES” vote on the cemetery referendum means there will be a veterans cemetery.  A “NO” means our promise to Orange County veterans will be broken.

I look forward to hearing the Mayor make a clear call to all who are grateful for our veterans’ service to vote YES on the referendum on June 5.

Affordable housing and county-wide help for the homeless.

Our state has a severe housing crisis that is getting worse. Our supply of housing has not kept pace with the growth of jobs and population.  As a result, housing prices continue to rise, and rents are skyrocketing. As housing costs rise, more people are being pushed into poverty and even homelessness.

Many students in Irvine’s public schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Too many of the jobs created in recent years do not pay a middle-class or even a living wage. We don’t have enough places to live, and too many people can’t afford the places that do exist.  Millennials and working families have a tough time finding places they can afford to live in our City.

Our lack of affordable and workforce housing has also been a significant cause of our traffic problems. As an economically  successful city and an expanding regional job center, Irvine is inundated by commuter traffic because so many people who work in Irvine cannot afford to live here.

I have advocated for more affordable housing and for additional municipal affordable housing requirements.  I would like to hear the Mayor say he agrees and will be offer proposals to increase affordable housing.

In addition, our local region has a severe homelessness crisis that our city, along with other cities and Orange County, must pitch in together to solve. I want to hear the Mayor commit to meaningful steps that Irvine can take now to help the homeless find both the shelter and the full range of services that they need to transition into permanent housing.

Innovative and Responsible Leadership.

I want to hear an inspiring vision for Irvine’s future as a world leader in education, smart planning, environmental awareness and responsibility and technological innovation.

This past year, Irvine has made tremendous progress in environmental awareness and responsibility. We have reinstated the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which I am honored to Chair.  We have received the Organic Landscape Leadership Award from Pepperdine Center for Sustainability for Irvine’s exclusive use of organic non-toxic materials in its gardens, parks, and grounds-keeping. We were named Sustainable Government of the Year for recycling and waste reduction from Sustain OC and received the 2017 Eco-Award from U.S. Green Building Council.

I want to hear the Mayor commit to continuing to ensure that all City of Irvine pest pressure is maintained organically, and that our public gardens and fields are not only beautiful, they are safe.

In addition, Irvine needs to move forward with state-of-the-art communications and smart transportation systems, as well as environmental protections for its residents and incentives for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Our great City of Irvine is blessed with the tools and resources needed to continue to be among the best cities in the world. I look forward to hearing Mayor Wagner’s vision for Irvine that continues our quest for being the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 pm, followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 pm.

Both the “State of the City” address and the reception are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary to attend.

The Civic Center is located at 1 Civic Center Drive. Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!