Although it has been a number of years since I was on the City Council, as a former Irvine Mayor and City Councilmember I’m frequently pulled aside by friends and neighbors who complain to me about our City — the density, the overcrowding, the horrendous traffic. One way or another, they wind up asking me: “What’s happening to our City?”
Well, what’s happening to our City is this: For the past 5 years, Irvine’s Mayor and City Council have abandoned good land-use planning and strong environmental standards in favor of developer-driven, uncontrolled growth that is seriously eroding Irvine’s once-vaunted quality of life. A number of recent aggressive development proposals can best be described as land-use schemes that are all about scoring big profits, fast, in brazen disregard of the City’s General Plan — doing major harm to Irvine residents and our quality of life.
The Veterans Cemetery
An immediate case-in-point is the Veterans Cemetery “land-swap” proposal — some call it a “land-swindle” — that developer FivePoint Communities now has pending before the City Council. Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox — all three are FivePoint-friendly — are expected to soon follow through on their joint “Resolution of Intent,” adopted in June, to halt construction of the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park and transfer ownership of the 125-acre Great Park site from the City of Irvine to developer FivePoint. Along with ownership of the land, the City Council is expected to also transfer zoning rights so FivePoint can quickly develop huge commercial and residential projects on the property.
FivePoint officials have said they’re prepared to “swap” 125 acres of their land at the junction of the I-5 and I-405 freeways, where a Veterans Cemetery could be built later. To hear FivePoint officials tell it, this is a simple, smooth, exchange of property. No problems. No muss, no fuss. No environmental studies. No traffic studies. FivePoint calls it a “win-win.”
The On-the-Ground Reality
But wait a minute! That’s just nonsense! The on-the-ground environmental reality is that the proposed land-swap will replace the low-impact Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park with massive new FivePoint development. Here’s what this means: nearly 1 million square feet of office and commercial development (that’s the equivalent of about 10 to 15 big-box stores!) generating about 10,000 average daily automobile trips and a whole lot of localized air pollution. Add to that the expectation that Irvine’s pliant, pro-FivePoint City Council will stand ready to grant additional “upzoning” — say, 1,000 or 2,000 housing units — and there will be yet another 5,000 daily auto trips.
If you live in north Irvine — in Woodbury, Stonegate, Portola Springs, or the new communities of Pavilion Park, Beacon Park, and Parasol Park — the FivePoint land-swap means you are going to feel the impacts in a big way, especially along Irvine Boulevard, and on Sand Canyon and Jeffrey, where traffic is already a mess. Property values may be affected, as well, by adverse environmental effects.
Compare those massive, unwanted impacts with the modest land-use impacts of a Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery. A 125-acre State Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park is essentially a serene, open-space resource, attracting perhaps a few hundred people to the Great Park each day for memorial services, for visitations, and to simply experience the beauty of a remarkable public place.
Also, consider this: While FivePoint’s ownership and intense development of the 125-acre site would burden the City with heavy costs for all kinds of municipal services, the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park would be operated and maintained in perpetuity by the State of California, without any cost to the City of Irvine.
A Giveaway to Developer FivePoint
At a public hearing last June, Mayor Wagner implicitly acknowledged that the land-swap is a good deal for FivePoint (and a very bad deal for the rest of us), when he blurted out, “FivePoint is going to make some money off of this. I wouldn’t expect them to be doing it otherwise. So what!”
Here’s what! Experts estimate that FivePoint could net about $500 million — yes, that’s $500,000,000.00! — in quick profits from the land-swap. But that’s totally at the expense of the public. We’re losing the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park; we’re losing ownership of 125 acres of our Great Park property; and we’re experiencing the further degradation of our quality of life from mindless overdevelopment.
At a public hearing in June, Councilmember Lynn Schott voiced her opposition to the FivePoint land-swap proposal, correctly labeling the scheme a “giveaway of our Great Park.” Also opposed is Councilmember Jeff Lalloway, who has repeatedly pointed out that the land-swap is about land-use entitlement and enrichment for FivePoint — at the expense of veterans and their families, and the entire Irvine community.
Lalloway and Schott continue to assert that the land-swap should be rejected once and for all, and that the City should immediately begin construction of the Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park, as promised. I agree. And I thank them for their steadfast leadership on this issue.
If you agree that the Veterans Cemetery should be built on the already-approved site in the Great Park, and that the FivePoint land-swap should be rejected, please sign our online Veterans Cemetery Petition. Make your voice heard!
If you have already signed, feel free to go online again to make additional comments. And, tell others to sign the Petition, too.