Mann: A Great Park without Great Gardens?

Since the 2007 approval of the Great Park Master Plan, my neighbors and I have been following with great interest the progress (or lack of progress in this case) of the Orange County Great Park Botanical Gardens.

Certainly, since The City of Irvine announced and promoted the mapping and content of the Great Park in 2007 on its own website, we have been waiting and watching for signs of moving forward on the much anticipated 59 acres of the botanical gardens area in the Great Park.

Subsequently the City of Irvine has been pushing out promotional materials in an effort to drum up community support for the unprecedented taxpayer expenses associated with our new park. There has been a corresponding and simultaneous natural expectation for the installation of the botanical gardens.

Inexplicably, there has been no movement on the gardens since 2007.  Community members are experiencing an overwhelming sense of betrayal that these 59 acres of previously designated botanical gardens have quite simply disappeared.

How can we have a Great Park without Great Gardens?

$250M spent so far. Not a sign of the gardens.

Consultants. Studies. More consultants. More studies. Designers. No bid contractor fees. Massive amounts of PR materials. Travel junkets. Expensive meals. More consultants. And still no botanical gardens.

Soccer fields and stadiums. Sports fields. Huge ice rink practice facility for the Ducks hockey team. Tennis courts. Volleyball, baseball and softball areas; in essence a sports complex. And still no botanical gardens.

While we acknowledge the efforts of council members to audit and provide clarity to us – the taxpaying public – on the history of this project’s wasteful spending and gross mismanagement of public funds – our money – still . . . no botanical gardens.

Gardens are an inclusive, a-political opportunity to bring community together for generations. They are a public benefit that becomes a lasting legacy. Besides being beautiful to look at, education is fundamental to the mission of botanical gardens. Through them, we have an opportunity to teach students of all ages about developing environmental awareness and to learn about plant science, gardening and the ecology of our local forests, rivers and wetlands. Botanical gardens become a living plant museum that will inform visitors about the importance and often-irreplaceable value of plants to the wellbeing of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. Isn’t that the very definition of a legacy?

The City of Irvine was conceived on December 28, 1971 as a world-class master planned community. Our current city council has an opportunity to create a long-lasting legacy that will impact generations to come.   There’s no doubt citizens will continue to track and monitor the long delayed implementation of our promised gardens.  But the jury is still out on whether the council will take the needed leadership steps to finally establish Orange County’s Great Park Botanical Gardens.

Jayne Mann is a resident of Irvine.

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