The Lesson of Measures B and D: No More Developer Giveaways!

The clear message sent by voters with the defeat of Measures B and D is that developers must not be allowed to continue runaway development without regard to our traffic, schools, and quality of life, and that Irvine residents must have a say in all future development decisions.

I agree.

I supported Measure B because I believed it would provide veterans with the best chance for a dignified military cemetery; that it would save Irvine taxpayers millions of dollars; and that it would reduce traffic congestion by restricting future development at the strawberry fields.

The voters, however, did not want to risk even the possibility that it would lead to more development and more traffic congestion.

In fact, Irvine residents are rightly concerned that runaway development and traffic congestion will forever change the character of our beautiful city – without their input or consent.  They are rightly distrustful of developers whose bottom line is their profit, not our quality of life.  I am distrustful as well, and I share the voters’ skepticism about giant developers and their motives. Developers spent millions of dollars trying to defeat me in the last election, and no doubt will do so again.

Here’s why:

As an Irvine City Councilmember, I have not voted for a single new entitlement or approved any new construction. The development that residents are now seeing all over town – from the Great Park neighborhoods to Quail Hill to Tomato Springs – was approved by prior City Councilmembers, and not by me. I have not approved any of it, and I was one of only two Irvine Councilmembers who voted against the Irvine Company’s proposed 1,960-unit apartment complex at the old Traveland USA site at the 5 Freeway and Sand Canyon. I opposed that plan because of its negative impact on traffic and schools, and I will not approve any future development without prior careful determination and consideration of its impact on our schools, traffic, and open space.

As an Irvine City Councilmember, I also voted against Measure D. I opposed Measure D because I believe that Irvine residents must have a strong voice in determining how our city grows.

Moving forward, I reaffirm my pledge to end runaway development. Irvine must return to its commitment to the wisdom of the Master Plan.  The current piecemeal approach to development favored by developers and some members of the City Council must end. Irvine needs to return to the principles of careful planning and measured, smart growth that not very long ago made Irvine the best place in America to live, work, and raise a family. There must be no more developer giveaways.  

Irvine needs an effective traffic reduction plan, and not just a congestion management plan. Irvine had long been recognized as a national leader in city planning and innovation. Unfortunately, Irvine has failed to properly plan for the tremendous increase in traffic caused by the city’s explosive recent growth. As a result, Irvine residents have been forced to contend with unprecedented traffic congestion and less safe streets and roads.  Our City Council now needs to do more than try to manage the traffic congestion that is already out of control. We need to say clearly that the current level of traffic congestion is completely unacceptable and must be reduced.

Irvine needs more police officers.  As Irvine has grown, the need for more police officers has become critical, not just for preventing crime, but also for enforcing our traffic laws, which are essential to keeping our children safe as they play and go to school in our neighborhoods. I will work to add more police officers to ensure that our residents are as safe in Irvine now and in the future as they were before Irvine began to grow.

Irvine needs more childcare. We know that our great schools, beautiful parks, and safe environment attract many families with young children.  We also know that a critical part of any thriving community is safe, professional, reliable, and affordable preschool and childcare. Developers must be held accountable for including childcare as part of an overall city development plan, just as they are required to build schools. Irvine must become truly family friendly. No more waiting lists!

Let’s build the veterans cemetery.  I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery at the former El Toro Marine Base since 2014 and will continue to do so. Our veterans deserve a veterans cemetery close to their families and loved ones. Now that Measure B has been defeated, we need to find a site that honors our veterans and is approved by Irvine residents.  I am firmly committed to that task.

Let’s finish building the Great Park. For far too long, the residents of Irvine were given nothing but empty promises about building our Great Park on the grounds of the old El Toro Marine Base.  As Vice Chair of the Great Park, I am proud that we have finally succeeded in creating a Great Park that residents can enjoy, with terrific sports fields, a magnificent new championship soccer stadium, and the best community ice-skating facility in the West already under construction — but there is still much more to do.  Our residents have told us that they want a new Wild Rivers water park, and we need to ensure that happens.  We also need to fulfill our promise to build a city-owned amphitheatre on the Great Park’s cultural terrace, so that a developer’s decision can not deprive us of live music again. I will also insist that we follow the recommendations of residents and build world-class botanical gardens, museums, and a lake to make Irvine the home of a truly Great Park. Getting that job done is one of my main priorities.

I love Irvine and will continue to work to ensure that Irvine remains among the safest and most beautiful cities in the nation.  As your Irvine City Councilmember, I will fight to ensure that the public interest – in preventing over-development, over-crowed schools, and traffic congestion, and in preserving the character of our communities – comes before the private interests of developers, no matter how big and powerful those developers may be.

Melissa

Residents Work Together to Save Woodbridge Village Center — and Win!

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It feels good when we work together and win!

This week, the Irvine Company announced plans to spend $30 million to revitalize the Woodbridge Village Center, which has not been updated since it was built in 1979.  The Center is in the middle of Irvine’s Village of Woodbridge, which encompasses about 9,600 homes and 30,000 residents.  According to the Irvine Company, the $30 million reinvestment will “upgrade the retail, dining and entertainment mix to complement longtime favorites, freshen the architecture for a coastal California feel, and create an expansive outdoor setting for dining, relaxing and community gatherings that overlooks North Lake.”

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox and her son, Max, bicycling in Woodbridge.

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox and her son, Max, bicycling in Woodbridge.

Last year, Woodbridge residents were gravely concerned that the Village Center would be demolished, and that in its place new development would add unwanted housing and traffic congestion to Woodbridge and forever change the character of their beautiful community – without their input or consent.

In response, a group of residents calling themselves Friends of Woodbridge Village Center formed to fight for their neighborhood.

In an email, they warned that “Big changes are in the works for the Woodbridge Village Center. The Irvine Company is presently evaluating options to replace the Village Center with either a residential development (most likely condominiums), or with a standard shopping center. Regardless of the option selected, the current Village Center will most likely be destroyed.”

The group mobilized residents to oppose any move to demolish the Village Center or change the character of the neighborhood.  Students from Lakeside Middle School marched with protest signs to tell the Irvine Company that they loved the Village Center.

As I wrote at the time in support of the Woodbridge Village Center, “When Woodbridge opened on Father’s Day in 1975, it was Irvine’s premier master planned community, showcasing Irvine’s commitment to creating villages of single family homes and townhouses, with parks, greenbelts, bicycle trails, interconnecting pathways, open space, and neighborhood shopping.  After 40 years of success, the people of Woodbridge love their community, and they love their Woodbridge Village Center. That’s why people are so upset by the prospect that their Village Center will be destroyed and replaced with high density apartments and condos or office buildings. . . The public interest – in preventing over-crowding, increased crime and congestion, and in preserving the character of our communities – comes before the private interests of developers, no matter how big and powerful those developers may be.”

Now it appears that the residents’ concerns have been heard.

Congratulations to the Friends of Woodbridge Village Center – and to all of us who worked to ensure that Woodbridge remains one of Irvine’s most beautiful communities.

Congratulations to the Irvine Company for listening to Woodbridge’s residents and for re-investing in the Woodbridge Village Center.

Now we must continue to work together to ensure that the beauty, safety and character of our communities are preserved in all of Irvine.

Listen to Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

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Here is the interview I did on October 14 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program Ask a Leader on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, traffic congestion, infrastructure, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, the Irvine Barclay Theatre, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle,  environmental issues, losing one of farmers’ markets, my Irvine Food Tours, the OCTA’s irresponsible toll road decision, and more.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

Traffic Congestion Causes Irvine to Drop to 14th Place in America’s Best Places to Live

Irvine’s national standing as one of America’s best places to live has declined sharply in the last few years, from 4th place in 2008, to 6th place in 2012, and now a precipitous drop out of the Top Ten to 14th place in Money Magazine’s recent “Best Places to Live 2014.”

The problem: while Irvine still receives raves for its “more than 54 miles of bike paths and 20,000 acres of parks and preserves” as well as for our master plan, “median home prices top $650,000, and traffic can be a brute during rush hour.”

What this means is that Irvine’s terrible – and increasing – traffic congestion problem is no longer our own little secret.

The rest of the country has noticed, and is re-evaluating the desirability of living in Irvine accordingly.

In the short run, Irvine’s drop to 14th best place to live – slotted between Centennial, Colorado, and Newton, Massachusetts – will primarily impact our civic pride.

But in the middle and longer run, the decline in Irvine’s reputation because of traffic congestion – and the serious underlying problem of over-development without adequate planning – could have far more dire, and costly, consequences.

Our real estate market could be adversely affected, as well as our ability to attract companies and business that are looking for the best quality of life for their executives and employees.

Most important, Irvine’s fall to 14th place in Money Magazine’s “Best Places to Live” is the canary in the coal mine, warning us of worse to come, as the rest of the world notices our rapid over-development without proper planning or infrastructure and our increasingly over-crowded schools.

We should take heed now, while we still can, and return to the principles of planning and measured , smart growth that not very long ago made Irvine Number One.

We want Irvine to be America’s “Best Place to Live” now and in the future, not just in the past.

Save Woodbridge

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Woodbridge residents are gravely concerned that new development will soon add unwanted housing and traffic congestion to Woodbridge and forever change the character of their beautiful community – without their input or consent.

Here is what the group Friends of WVC (Woodbridge Village Center) recently said in an email: “Big changes are in the works for the Woodbridge Village Center. The Irvine Company is presently evaluating options to replace the Village Center with either a residential development (most likely condominiums), or with a standard shopping center. Regardless of the option selected, the current Village Center will most likely be destroyed.”

Melissa and her son, Max, bicycling in Woodbridge.

Bicycling with my son, Max, in Woodbridge.

When Woodbridge opened on Father’s Day in 1975, it was Irvine’s premier master planned community, showcasing Irvine’s commitment to creating villages of single family homes and townhouses, with parks, greenbelts, bicycle trails, interconnecting pathways, open space, and neighborhood shopping.

By any measure, Woodbridge has been a fantastic success.

Community spirit has been,and continues to be tremendously high. Sure, there are a few problems and some things that people would like to see changed or improved.  For example, many people would like to see a new anchor store in the Village Center and new coffee houses and restaurants.

And, like most of Irvine, the WVC could use more ample and more secure bicycle parking, especially since Woodbridge has some of the most used and beautiful bikeways in the City.

But these few problems and suggested minor changes are very small in comparison to the great sense of community belonging and community pride shared by the residents of Woodbridge. Woodbridge remains one of Irvine’s most walkable, bikeable, and beautiful communities.

And, as someone wrote in OC Housing News, “the Woodbridge Center is an integral part of Irvine, connected to both lakes, Woodbridge high school and walking trails, literally in the center of Irvine.”

With Woodbridge Village Center business owner Bob Bibee at Pedego Electric Bikes Irvine.

After 40 years of success, the people of Woodbridge love their community, and they love their Woodbridge Village Center.

That’s why people are so upset by the prospect that their Village Center will be destroyed and replaced with high density apartments and condos or office buildings

What people may not realize is that the City Council has the full legal power to tell the developer that it can’t do whatever it wants to the Woodbridge Village Center, and specifically that it can’t unilaterally change the fundamental character of the community.

In fact, I believe it is the obligation of the City Council to ensure that the public interest – in preventing over-crowding, increased crime and congestion, and in preserving the character of our communities – comes before the private interests of developers, no matter how big and powerful those developers may be.

As another Woodbridge resident put it in OC Housing News, “The great recession is behind us. Time to dial back to measured growth and masterful planning such as the community was built on.”

I could not agree more.