By Donald P. Wagner
The same County of Orange that tried to jam a 34 million annual passenger airport into Irvine is now trying to kill the Great Park with a development the size of Century City. The imminent release of an EIR on this massive development is a wake-up call for all of Irvine.
November 2003 was a watershed in Orange County with the annexation of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro to the city of Irvine. It was the culmination of 10 years of the battling over the future of the historic air base. The Board of Supervisors’ “vision” of an airport at El Toro would have destroyed South County with an airport the size of San Francisco International Airport. But overwhelming public sentiment in Irvine and the rest of South County prevailed.
But the county did not come away from the El Toro base empty handed. As part of a tax transfer agreement on March 4, 2003 the county received 231 acres of the former air base, and promised to use it to the advantage of Irvine. Specifically, then-county Supervisor Bill Campbell reported in his March 11, 2003 weekly newsletter that, “The property tax received by the county will be protected, and the passage of the agreement will be beneficial for all of Orange County’s taxpayers and residents of Irvine.”
The agreement did not say the county would try to cram onto 100 acres enough development to rival Century City’s density and traffic generation. Rather, the county made the case that they needed the land for institutional uses, similar to the OCTA bus barn on Marine Way. But now, the county does not want to honor former Supervisor Campbell’s words and the county’s promise. Instead, it has brazenly approved an EIR for a project of staggering proportions right in the heart of Irvine.
Imagine office space equivalent to the size of South Coast Plaza, 220,000 square feet of retail, a 242 room hotel, and 2,000 apartment units shoe-horned into 100 acres. This project flies in the face of the pre-annexation agreement. It also jeopardizes the Great Park’s success and the community amenities we have fought so hard to create. The county’s plan would consume 50 percent of the vehicle trips allowed for the entire 3,200 acre Great Park and Great Park Neighborhoods’ private development.
Admittedly, the prior City Council majority spent a decade squandering $250 million on useless plans and has given us precious little to show for the waste of tax money. But the new City Council majority has turned a corner with the development of Heritage Fields and the Great Park. Now is not the time to return to the days of fighting with the county. Nor is it time to blow up the Great Park with a large ill-considered and unwanted county project like the failed airport. Déjà vu all over again is not acceptable.
We have a talented developer that is making significant progress in delivering the Great Park. Leadership in Irvine must sit down with responsible county officials and have a reasonable discussion that protects the Great Park and satisfies the terms of the 2003 agreement.
In the next week I will launch a formal campaign to oppose the county’s 100 acre development. I urge you to join me and other residents in this effort. The county’s plan is wrong for Irvine and wrong for Orange County.
Donald P. Wagner is an assemblyman representing the 68th district and a candidate for mayor of Irvine.