By Sukhee Kang
Former Mayor of Irvine
One of the most important decisions in Orange County history comes before the Irvine City Council on Tuesday: Whether to make the long-promised Great Park a reality.
The council is scheduled to vote on a $191-milllion proposal from FivePoint Communities. In exchange for a zoning change that would allow the company to convert industrial land to home sites, FivePoint would build and maintain 688 acres of the Great Park, with a guarantee to complete the work in five years.
When I was mayor of Irvine, I worked closely with FivePoint on the comprehensive proposal now before my former City Council colleagues. My biggest regret in leaving office a year ago is that I would be unable to cast my vote for what I believe would be an enormously beneficial project for Southern California, one that future generations would thank us for.
Combined with the portion of the Great Park already completed, FivePoint’s plan would result in 65% of this unrealized treasure being open to the public, with playing fields, hiking trails, dog parks, a wooded canyon and a municipal golf course. Equally important, it would create a long-term funding source to finish the remainder of the park.
The residents of Orange County fought passionately to make sure the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was put to good use, and the FivePoint proposal, years in the making, was negotiated in a way that ensures they will finally get the world-class park they deserve.
And what would FivePoint get? It’s asking the City Council for a zoning change to convert land it owns adjacent to the park from industrial uses to 4,606 homes, bringing the total number of homes constructed in the area by FivePoint to 9,500. The company already has approval to build 4 million square feet of industrial — a use that goes dark at night and on weekends — on some of the 2,000 acres it owns around the park.
Here’s the reality: There is no current or anticipated funding source to continue to build the Great Park other than FivePoint. When Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated redevelopment agencies, the only way the Irvine City Council could keep its promise to the voters who supported the Great Park was to create a public-private partnership. We must make this work by setting aside politics and finding compromises. I would like to see completion of this park development in 20 years.
To be sure, FivePoint has a vested interest in seeing the park built. The first homes in its Great Park development were completed this fall, and most people would rather live next to a beautiful public park than hundreds of acres of a fenced-off former military base. But there’s a lot more to its involvement than selling homes.
Add it up, and FivePoint already has nearly $500 million invested in the Great Park. FivePoint’s additional investment will ensure that a park consistent with much of the Great Park master plan actually comes to fruition.
I worked personally with FivePoint as it hashed out details for more than two years with staff from the Great Park and the city of Irvine. At three hearings, the FivePoint proposal was deemed consistent with the Great Park master plan.
Critics today focus on what’s missing. One element they’ve focused on is a man-made canyon, which was actually removed from the plan two years ago after if was discovered that the land on which it was to be built is actually outside the park’s boundaries. FivePoint has made clear that it won’t be building the entire park, but the parts it is proposing are already in the master plan, with some minor adjustments.
For example, FivePoint’s proposal adds less than 7% to the size of a sports park that has always been a central part of the plan. It increases the size of features such as Bee Canyon, the bosque and agricultural areas. It would also preserve a crucial wildlife corridor, keeping it exactly the size called for in the master plan. The golf course, which was part of the original proposal approved by Orange County voters, is designed to be a multi-use park with trails, and it could be made into a passive park rather than a golf course at some point.
Other parts of the master plan can be implemented later by the city at its discretion. For example, FivePoint’s proposal includes funding to begin the planning for a cultural terrace as envisioned in the master plan.
The choice before the City Council members is clear: They should take a crucial step toward a truly great park with a committed private partner.