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Remembering Mary Ann Gaido: A Life of Service

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On September 6th, Irvine’s longest-serving Planning Commissioner and former City Councilmember, Mary Ann Gaido, passed away after a battle with cancer.

Mary Ann and her young family moved to the brand new Turtle Rock community in 1968, three years before Irvine officially became a City.  She lived in the same Turtle Rock home for 55 years … until her death.

Soon after settling in Turtle Rock, Mary Ann joined a group of actively engaged citizens helping to shape the new City of Irvine.

Just three months after the City’s incorporation in 1971, Gaido began work on the Irvine Housing Committee. In 1973, she became an appointed City Commissioner, ultimately serving a total of 20 years — spanning five decades — as an Irvine Planning Commissioner. Most recently, since December 2020 Gaido served as Councilmember Larry Agran’s Planning Commissioner.

She joined other visionary citizens who, in 1974, voted to tax themselves with bonds to fund parks, cultural offerings, and bike trails in Irvine. That choice was instrumental in filling Irvine with amenities that continue to serve the community to this day: sports fields; community centers; a fine arts center; an aquatics complex; and the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Mary Ann was also an elected member of the Irvine City Council from 1976 until 1984. Her campaign slogan was Planning As If People Mattered, which was Mary Ann’s focus throughout her public and private life. She spearheaded the effort for the City to purchase the Cattle Camp land at Bommer Canyon. It took years of negotiations to convince the Irvine Company to sell the property. However, Mary Ann’s persistence paid off when, in 1981, the City finalized the purchase — preserving the historic land for the public to enjoy in perpetuity.

Working alongside Agran — whom she mentored — Gaido became part of a team dedicated to master-planning that produced a number of remarkable achievements that have made Irvine the wonderful City it is today.

Some of those achievements include:

  • Creating the City’s nationally-recognized Park System
     
  • Securing more than 10,000 acres of “Open Space” wilderness to be preserved forever
     
  • Establishing thousands of attractive affordable housing units
     
  • Building the Irvine Barclay Theatre

In 2000, Gaido returned to the spotlight when she joined forces with Agran to defeat the County’s plan to build an international airport in north Irvine. And, for the past nine years, she worked alongside Agran and scores of Irvine veterans and their families on plans for the Veterans Memorial Park at the Great Park.

Earlier this year, Mary Ann received the Ralph Kennedy Award for her decades of work in Irvine and throughout Orange County to increase affordable housing. She worked as a housing specialist for the Orange County Human Relations Commission. She also served on the Irvine Community Land Trust. And, she was a founding member of Jamboree Housing; the Kennedy Commission of Orange County; the Orange County Community Housing Corporation; and the Orange County Affordable Housing Clearinghouse.

Mary Ann was an active member of the Orange Coast League of Women Voters and participated in social justice work with the Interfaith Community in Orange County.

In paying tribute to Gaido, Councilmember Agran said: “I will forever be grateful for Mary Ann’s mentorship and her friendship. She was instrumental in building America’s largest, most successful master-planned community. Her commitment to making Irvine a better place was evident in every decision she made, every action she took, and every smile she shared. She had a hand in just about everything that makes Irvine such a wonderful City.”

Former Irvine Mayor and Councilmember Beth Krom released a message on Facebook that included: “My friend, mentor and colleague Mary Ann Gaido, passed away after a valiant fight against cancer. Never have I known a public servant so fully aligned with the values of justice, integrity and compassion or so wholly devoted to the preservation and enhancement of our community and our world.”

Irvine Planning Commission Chair, Branda Lin, also posted a statement on her Facebook page: “Irvine has lost one of its greatest leaders. She was my hero, mentor and inspiration ever since I got involved in local government years ago. Her love for the City of Irvine led to decades of advocacy and activism and a list of accomplishments too long to share here. One thing Mary Ann would always tell me, which stands in stark contrast to many we see in power today, ‘If you don’t care who gets the credit, you can get a lot done.’ Mary Ann always saw what really mattered and lived it. A woman of character and grace, kindness and compassion, tenacity and grit. I miss you, Mary Ann. Irvine does not feel the same without you.”

Mayor Farrah Khan announced that the City is planning a public memorial service that will take place later this fall.

ICNV Staff

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