FivePoint Communities President Emile Haddad said he will not quit on his vision for the Orange County Great Park.
The developer said he is determined to build 10,700 homes in Irvine, and he has promised to fund construction of the Great Park as well. But he’s facing strong headwinds from city officials over the deal.
If the negotiations collapse entirely, Haddad said, he won’t be afraid to exercise his last option, placing a ballot initiative for the entire project and park deal before city voters.
“I don’t give up,” Haddad said. “If this ends up too difficult to go through as a process, I’m willing to go to a public vote on this.”
FivePoint and city officials are at loggerheads over a proposed deal to build the homes, known as the Great Park Neighborhoods, in exchange for Great Park funding. It’s the only solid idea thus far to build the 1,300-acre metropolitan park since the state axed redevelopment earlier this year and eliminated the park’s $1.4-billion funding stream.
Haddad says he will provide $211 million upfront to build a sports park, a 258-acre cultural terrace that would include a man-made lake, a wildlife corridor and 227 acres of landscaping and trails. The sports park, part of a larger Olympic-style “ski-village,” would include 24 multi-use fields, 18 tennis courts, eight sand volleyball courts and 12 sports courts for activities like paddle tennis, badminton and basketball.
Park maintenance — $430 million over 30 years — would come from a special Mello-Roos property tax bond on the homes.
There is still time for Haddad and the city to come to an agreement, but city officials said FivePoint is attempting to fast track the approvals, and critics said the project is being jammed through.
Among the proposal's most vocal critics is Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway, member of a negotiations committee. Among other objections, Lalloway said the city would be shortchanged on a land sale to FivePoint — $30 million for 40 acres just north of the park.
Lalloway has estimated that the land is worth between $2 million and $4 million per acre. Haddad countered that a 2009 staff report actually pegs the land at $200,000 per acre. When FivePoints wants the city’s approval to build on the land, the city can exact more concessions, Haddad said.
Other issues of contention include the location of a 178-acre wildlife corridor and the burden of maintaining the park in the future. Lalloway has also challenged FivePoint’s up front $211-million figure, saying it is closer to $170 million.
Haddad says Lalloway has opposed a suggested promise not to sell park land to other developers. Lalloway, meanwhile, says that while he’s not in favor of selling land “in any way,” there is no such promise on the table. He points to a provision of the development agreement that gives the city the right, so long as FivePoint gets the first offer.
“FivePoint has indicated their willingness to allow the city of Irvine to sell land based upon that [development] agreement,” Lalloway said.
Allowing the city that right is one of two potential deal breakers, Haddad said. FivePoint’s predecessor, Lennar, granted the land to the city when it was first purchased from the U.S. Navy. “I didn’t give Irvine 1,300 acres to sell parkland to competitors of mine,” Haddad said. The public would also object to the sale, he said.
The other line Haddad said he won’t cross would be the reversal of previously granted “entitlements,” essentially a series of city approvals that allow FivePoint to build. The developer has permission to build 4,894 homes but needs approvals to build 5,800 more.
Former Councilwoman Christina Shea, a council candidate, has sharply criticized the housing project’s traffic impacts, which she said could be worse than an airport proposal that failed more than a decade ago.
FivePoint officials said that their project will actually generate fewer than half the car trips the airport would have created.
“This is nothing new,” Haddad said. He pointed out that the deal has been in the works since 2006 and that those involved in the deal knew the additional 5,800 homes would be on the table. “This whole perception that I am jamming this through because I want to start building is false.”
Haddad has set an Oct. 31 deadline for his proposal. He said he doesn’t want the issue to become overly politicized as the November election nears. But it isn’t a “line in the sand” deadline, and he is willing to negotiate after the election, he said.
Lalloway argued that a ballot initiative would be a bad idea.
“I’m against ballot box zoning,” Lalloway said. “Democracy is electing people to make those decisions. If we’re going to go to the public for every decision, then why do they have us there to make those decisions?”
Haddad said FivePoint has done enough outreach to know the ballot initiative would pass. He has done development ballot initiatives before, and he said he has the machinery in place to collect the required petition signatures.
“Our outreach makes me very confident that there’s support for building the park,” Haddad said.