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Irvine will hold exclusive talks with Wild Rivers to open at Great Park

By Lou Ponsi

IRVINE — A 30-acre water park, complete with an uphill water coaster, water slides and lazy river, is a step closer to making a monumental splash at the Orange County Great Park.

The Irvine City Council, acting as the Orange County Great Park board, on Tuesday, June 27, approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with Wild Rivers, LLC, to build and operate the water park at the Great Park. Wild Rivers would be in the 250-acre Cultural Terrace, in the southeast portion of the park.

Once a popular summer attraction in Irvine, Wild Rivers closed in 2011 after 25 years in the city, when the lease with the Irvine Co. ran out, giving way to the Los Olivos apartment complex.

Exclusive negotiating agreements are common in partnerships involving significant projects, a staff report noted, and a first step in moving negotiations forward for major projects. Mayor Donald Wagner and council members Melissa Fox and Christina Shea voted in favor of the agreement. Lynn Schott and Jeffrey Lalloway were absent.

The next step, due to be completed in the fall, involves preliminary site planning and first draft of a lease. That phase, which could be completed by summer 2018, involves an environmental review of the site and final lease agreement.

Construction could also begin by summer 2018 and the water park could be open by summer 2019, the staff report said.
Wild Rivers CEO Mike Riedel first approached city officials about moving to the Great Park the year Wild Rivers closed. Last year, rather than granting Wild Rivers a no-bid contract, the council decided to seek more proposals.

Two proposals were submitted, including one that consisted of three separate water parks.The parks would have been: Wild Rivers; a 20- to 25-acre rafting and kayaking whitewater park by Western Whitewater Works and S20 Design and Engineering; and a 15-acre surfing lake by Surfloch.

After the second proposal didn’t meet the city’s requirements, the council approved a motion to go forward with the Wild Rivers proposal.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…
PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Krauss

BREAKING: Irvine approves temporary amphitheater near Great Park

By Tomoya Shimura

IRVINE – Orange County music fans will get to continue enjoying their local summer outdoor concert tradition in their own backyard at least for the next three years.

In an effort to replace the now-closed Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, the Irvine City Council on Tuesday, March 14, unanimously approved the building of a temporary 12,000-seat amphitheater adjacent the Orange County Great Park.

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“An amphitheater has been a part of this family fabric for years and years so it was a heartbreak when (Irvine Meadows) amphitheater was torn down for all those apartments,” Councilwoman Christina Shea said. “I drive by there and I see that devastation and it just breaks your heart. This is just so nice to see we’re resurrecting the amphitheater and we can bring all of Orange County to Irvine to celebrate live music and just become a family again.”

The temporary amphitheater could open in late summer, in time for the latter half of the concert season, said Steve Churm, spokesman for developer FivePoint, which proposed the project and is overseeing the development of thousands of homes around the Great Park.

“We’re going to have a couple surprises towards the end of the summer,” said Bret Gallagher, president of concert promoter Live Nation Southern California.

Supporters of the project, donning red “#SaveLiveMusicIrvine” T-shirts, packed the council chamber and the City Hall lobby. They included music fans, concert venue workers and local business and political leaders.

All 21 people who addressed the council spoke in favor of the project. They said the new amphitheater will fill the cultural gap left by the Irvine Meadows closure, create jobs in the area and help put Irvine on the map.

“We are excited for Irvine and Orange County that we will continue to see live music,” Churm said after the public hearing. “I think Irvine Meadows has been a destination for musicians for bands for fans. This will continue it. … (In Orange County) we’ll become a major destination for artists, both starting and very established artists. It’s exciting.”

Continue reading the Orange County Register…

O.C. REGISTER: Déjà vu all over again in Irvine with Great Park

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.

Originally published in the Orange County Register…

Great Park travails show the travesty of politics

By Steven Greenhut

One of the great fallacies of our modern world is the idea that development decisions should largely be made through politics and public input. That way all the “stakeholders” get their say and the end result – following city council motions, public votes and bureaucratic oversight – expresses the will of the people.

I’m always looking for ways to illustrate why this is not so – i.e., why letting developers just develop stuff (provided they follow basic rules) is the most harmonious approach. For example, all the voter-approved no-growth restrictions in San Francisco have ensured that only trust-funders can afford to live in that particular dog-eat-dog housing market.

But why go to San Francisco, when Orange County’s 22-year battle over the redevelopment of the decommissioned El Toro Marine Corps Air Station offers an example? In 1994, voters approved an international airport plan. The ensuing eight years were filled with strife, culminating in a 2002 vote that rezoned the location for an Orange County Central Park and Nature Preserve.

The Great Park was born, but 14 years later, it still hasn’t grown out of its infancy. This political process hasn’t created the world-class park we were promised. For years, barely anything happened there, although park officials ran a well-oiled public-relations machine. In recent years, the park has gained modest attractions.

But this was a project that was supposed to rival Balboa Park or Central Park. At the going rate, it might be a decent regional park, of the type you visit for a kids’ soccer game. An 8-year-old Register article reminded me of the grand visions pitched to the voting public of “a majestic, 1,300-acre central park, where military runways, hangars and chain-link fences are transformed into expanses of sports fields, eye-catching natural landmarks and cultural gathering points.”

Orange County is the nation’s premier spot for master-planned communities. A developer could have built something magnificent in the ensuing nine years. By now, the acreage would be a privately financed showplace. Instead, the main thing Californians have to show is an endless local political battle that has even dragged in state officials.

Last year, the Orange County Grand Jury released “Irvine Great Park: A Legacy of Hubris.” It blasted a “lack of progress” over a decade and raised questions about the project’s transparency. “Unfortunately, what the public got bears little semblance to the pipedreams they were sold,” the grand jury explained.

Irvine annexed the park back when Democrat Larry Agran controlled the City Council. Republicans had long accused him and his allies of mismanaging the park. When they finally took control of the City Council in 2013, they conducted an audit of the project. The 157-page report painted a damning picture.

“It has been said many times in defense of the decisions made from 2006 to 2009, that it was the recession or the state’s dissolving redevelopment that killed the Great Park. This is false,” according to the city’s audit. “The Master Plan was killed not by the recession or the loss of the redevelopment funding, it was killed by its own hubris.”

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

O.C. REGISTER: Dueling Audits

Orange County Register Editorial

The state auditor released its own audit of the Irvine Great Park audit this month that was highly critical of the methods and practices the city and its auditor employed, arguing they “compromised the review’s credibility.” Yet, what the audit doesn’t seem to take much issue with is the Irvine audit’s actual findings.

To be sure, when politicians get involved, politics ensues. But what remains to be seen for us is why the state Legislature chose to sic the state auditor on the city of Irvine now, while turning a blind eye for more than a decade to the largesse at the Great Park.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature was nowhere in sight while $200 million in development funds was spent to complete less than one-sixth of the project to convert the closed El Toro Marine Corps air base into a huge regional park. Neither was the Legislature’s interest piqued by Great Park audits conducted during the years of Democratic control, which found nothing amiss.

It seems that the Legislature only jumps into action when Gafcon Inc., a one-time donor to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who proposed the state audit to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee three times, is threatened, not when millions in taxpayer dollars were seemingly wasted at the 688-acre park site.

Irvine gets a new master plan: See how FivePoint is connecting villages, returning to Americana style

By Paul Hodgins

Master-planned communities have been part of the social and architectural fabric of Orange County since Mission Viejo and Irvine broke ground about half a century ago. For better or worse, their perfectly manicured public spaces, ubiquitous red-tile roofs and beige homogeneity have come to define Southern California’s suburban landscape.

But our society has transformed profoundly in the last five decades. Here and elsewhere in the U.S., urban planners and home designers have carefully measured peoples’ changing needs, priorities, preferences and attitudes, recalibrating master-planned communities (MPCs, as they’re called in the industry) to serve and satisfy those demands.

With Irvine’s Great Park Neighborhoods, developer FivePoint is bringing to life an ambitious residential project adjacent to the 1,300-acre Great Park being built on the site of a former Marine Corps air station. It incorporates many of the concepts common to modern master-planned communities.

The development opened in 2013 with Pavilion Park, a 726-home neighborhood. When it’s completed, the 2,100-acre plan will include more than 9,500 residences by 10 homebuilders, 138 acres of open space and trails and 61 acres of parkland linked by a system of greenbelts.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

State audit upholds Irvine’s scrutiny of Great Park funds

By Christina Shea

The recent report from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee reminds me of the wonderful Groucho Marx line, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

For eight months, the state auditor poked, prodded, plowed through Irvine’s books looking for misdeeds. They proved Groucho was right.

As hard as the state’s finest accountants looked, the missing $250 million spent by the prior city council on Great Park planning still remains somewhere between Irvine and Seattle in D.B. Cooper’s backpack.

The city’s 2015 audit found some of it, but taxpayers were woefully harmed fiscally and misled.

After nearly a decade of fumbling the Great Park opportunity, Irvine’s voters decided it was time for a change in 2012.

In large part, the old guard that squandered the money was tossed out of office and replaced with fiscally responsible council members committed to building the Great Park. Taxpayers demanded the council find out how the $250 million was spent, since there was so little to show for it.

The City Council initiated an audit review of the prior decade of Great Park spending in January 2013. We retained outside legal counsel from Aleshire and Wynder, the legal team who exposed the fraud in the city of Bell, and retained the HSNO accounting firm, and began peeling back the layers of consulting redundancy and suggested Great Park mismanagement.

The council established a subcommittee of Councilman Jeff Lalloway and me to monitor the process and report to the public in public meetings. Depositions were posted online, for full transparency to the public.

As you can imagine, the beneficiaries of the $250 million were not happy. Consulting firms refused to produce documents, lawyered up and obfuscated at every opportunity. We ultimately were forced to use the city’s subpoena power to secure documents. What we thought would be a straightforward review of expenditures became a battle of lawyers driving up the cost and slowing down the process.

Continue reading at the O.C. Register…

O.C. REGISTER: State Agency says Portola High School Site Safe

By Sarah de Crescenzo

IRVINE – A state agency that in March ordered additional soil and soil gas testing at the site of Irvine Unified School District’s future Portola High School has determined the site poses no risk to those who will study or work there.

A report issued this week by the Department of Toxic Substances Control said the tests – prompted by community concerns over stained soil discovered at the site, once part of the former El Toro Marine base – revealed traces of chemicals at levels “well below” those that could cause harm.

The campus, which stretches about 40 acres at the northeast side of the Orange County Great Park, will eventually enroll as many as 2,600 students in grades 9 through 12. The Portola High freshman class – about 400 students are expected to enroll – is slated to kick off its first year Aug. 24.

“We’re happy there’s a conclusion to the report and hopefully that will put to rest any kind of concern that a few of our community members might have had,” John Pehrson, principal of Portola High, said on Friday.

Pehrson, who was previously principal at University High School, said the testing hasn’t affected preparations for the opening of the school, the district’s fifth comprehensive high school.

“To be quite honest, what’s been going on in the site along these lines hasn’t caused us to lose any focus,” he said. “We haven’t received a whole lot of concern from our parent constituents here.”

The report, finalized Tuesday and shared online by Irvine Unified late Thursday, summarizes the latest round of testing done of the soil and soil gas – the air in the spaces between soil – at the site. In total, 109 new samples were taken, at depths of up to 15 feet, the report states.

No petroleum hydrocarbons were detected in the soil samples. Low levels of volatile organic compounds were detected in the soil gas samples. The concentrations in which the compounds were found were similar to the levels found in previous testing done at the site, according to the report.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

DAILY PILOT: Curtain to close on Irvine Meadows Amphitheater

By Matt Morrison

The sunset over Irvine Thursday night will mark the proverbial fade to memory for Orange County’s premier outdoor concert venue.

That’s when Irvine Meadows Amphitheater begins its 35th and final season of musical performances before closing this fall.

The first of the final season of eclectic shows opens with an ethnic punk themed lineup featuring L.A. based Celtic rockers Flogging Molly. Filling out the marquee are Southern California ska/reggae band Hepcat and gypsy punk group Gogol Bordello.

Already announced shows include Fallout Boy, Journey with the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Brad Paisley, Duran Duran and Def Leppard.

Over the years, the stage has hosted some of the biggest names in pop, rock and country, including Michael Jackson, Oingo Boingo, Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan and Orange County’s own No Doubt. Irvine Meadows also supported numerous groundbreaking musical festivals like Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair and the Christian Fishfest.

“One of the biggest events I can remember was when the Eagles reunited for their comeback ‘Hell Freezes Over tour'” in 1994, said Irvine Meadows General Manager Mark Curto. “They played three sold-out shows here, and it was just really special.”

The same can be said for scores of superstar acts that performed under the stars. Jackson, at the pinnacle of his popularity, played three nights in November 1988 during his “Bad” tour. Jimmy Buffett has been bringing the parrot-heads out for years in a regular stop on his tour schedule, and the Grateful Dead played in Irvine 15 times — there was what police called a “near riot” at a 1989 show — before bandleader Jerry Garcia died in 1995.

“The parking lot was always fun, especially when the Grateful Dead showed up,” said Stanton J. Beal, 56, remembering his treks to Irvine on several occasions in the ’80’s as a UCLA undergrad. “It was always like a carnival outside a carnival.”

The amphitheater opened in 1981 on 50 acres of land owned by the Irvine Co. and leased to Live Nation concert promoters on a 35-year land-lease deal. The venue was known as the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, after its main sponsor, from 2000 to 2014.

Continue reading at the Daily Pilot…

Photo credit: Live Nation

Ducks close in on approval for four Great Park ice rinks, team training facility

By Sarah de Crescenzo, Orange County Register

IRVINE – Grand, unrealized plans are the hallmark of the beleaguered Orange County Great Park.

But one of those long-debated proposals – the construction of a 270,000-square foot public ice facility and Anaheim Ducks training center, in a region where interest in ice-based sports is growing – might soon become reality.

On Tuesday, the Irvine City Council will consider a proposal by the Ducks to, via a new nonprofit organization, erect a community ice complex with four rinks at the Great Park. Councilman Jeff Lalloway said it will cost $30 million to $40 million to build and, according to city staffers, would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

After the lease expires, up to 50 years after the building is constructed, the facility would become city property for $10.

City staff have recommended the council approve the lease under the condition that H&S Ventures, the company that manages the club owned by Henry and Susan Samueli, hire a consultant to study the environmental impacts of the facility because of its bigger-than-expected footprint.

Ten years after the city was given the land for the Great Park, roads and infrastructure necessary for the rink are finally being built, ending years of waiting on behalf of the Ducks, who have a growing high school hockey league.

“For years, no one had confidence that there was going to be a Great Park,” Lalloway said. “I think it’s important that a regional icon like the Ducks has determined we’re moving forward with the park. That’s really exciting.”

With four sheets of ice on about 13.5 acres in the western portion of the park, the complex would ease competition for rink space in Orange County for amateur players.

“We’re absolutely jam-packed in all of our rinks in Orange County and in the L.A. area,” said Michael Schulman, the Ducks’ chief executive officer. “The sport is growing, but it’s limited by how many ice rinks there are.”

The Ducks would train there when the club’s primary practice space, Honda Center, is otherwise occupied.

The club’s interest in building rinks at the Great Park dates to 2005, when developer Lennar bought the bulk of the El Toro land from the federal government. Lennar then gave it to the city for a major metropolitan park in exchange for the right to build commercial and residential developments around the park.

The council first authorized negotiations between H&S Ventures and the city in January 2011.

But when no infrastructure or roads materialized in the area under consideration, the plan was put on hold. Now, construction at the park has picked up, and portions of the 175-acre Sports Park – a section of the 688 acres of the Great Park being brought online for the city by developer FivePoint Communities – is set to open by the end of 2016.

Continue reading at the Orange County Register…

PHOTO CREDIT: JEFF SIMUTIS, WOODLEY ARCHITECTURAL GROUP, INC.