At a December 13th swearing-in ceremony marked by smiles and gracious words, several Councilmembers took the opportunity to weigh-in with pledges to address the lack of City leadership on growth-related issues, most notably traffic.
In recent years, Irvine’s vaunted ranking as one of America’s “best planned” and “most livable” cities has given way to a growing reputation for overdevelopment, monstrous traffic jams, and a deteriorating quality of life. These issues were central voter concerns in the recent City election.
New Mayor and Councilmember
The November 8th election produced a 40 percent turnover in Irvine’s 5-member Council. Former State Assemblyman Donald Wagner was elected Mayor, and Melissa Fox became the newest City Councilmember, taking the seat of retiring Councilmember Beth Krom. Also elected to Council — but hardly a new face — was long-time incumbent Christina Shea. Wagner and Shea, both pro-developer, conservative Republicans, were backed by a mammoth $1.5 million campaign spear- headed by developer FivePoint Communities and other Irvine developers.
Fox, a former Irvine Community Services Commissioner, is the lone Democrat on the new Council. She managed to withstand a barrage of vicious developer-funded attack ads to win her Council seat.
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
After the swearing-in ceremonies, Councilmembers were invited to offer brief comments. Councilmember Melissa Fox included in her list of priorities a pledge to pursue “active transportation” solutions to the traffic mess that has now reached into every corner of the City. Presumably, Fox intends to pursue policies to encourage walking and bicycle riding — useful suggestions but hardly enough to make a dent in Irvine’s rush-hour traffic that has doubled and even tripled commute times for many Irvine residents.
Councilmember Lynn Schott, who endorsed Fox, lauded her door-to-door grassroots campaign and seemed to acknowledge the widespread voter disgust with Irvine traffic.
Although he didn’t discuss any matters of substance at his swearing-in, during the mayoral campaign Wagner had pushed the idea of re-establishing a separate City Transportation Commission. (Transportation issues are now under the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission.) Wagner has also suggested appointing a professional “Traffic Czar” to sort out the City’s traffic mess and spend millions of dollars in roadway improvements.
But, as one City transportation expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, put it: “There is no way you are going to build your way out of this mess. Or magically synchronize all the lights to make them green, green, green. And no Traffic Czar or citizens’ Transportation Commission is going to make a whit of difference. Traffic, traffic, traffic comes from growth, growth, growth. And to control traffic, you have to first control growth.”
No one at the Council dais spoke about the elephant in the Council Chamber — the need to control traffic by controlling growth, and the need to muster the courage to stand up to powerful developers. Mayor Wagner said the City Council will go to work in January. An anxious public is waiting…probably stuck in traffic.