Oliphant: Building in Irvine, Too Fast and I’m Furious

I was never really interested in local politics. While I voted in council elections for several years, I would only read articles from news sources like The Economist, New York Times and Wall Street Journal as I only followed national or international issues.

But I have recently felt compelled to get involved in the politics of my city of Irvine. Why? Because I believe the pace of building in Irvine has become far too fast. I am not arguing building should stop. But the infrastructure clearly cannot keep up with the pace. This reality is seen by Irvine’s daily traffic and the overcrowding of schools – even the redrawing of school district boundaries so students cannot go to their closest school.

That is why there is the group Irvine for Responsible Growth (IRG) who have put forward a petition. It states that if projects over the master plan are sufficiently large (e.g., 40 units or more) and cause additional traffic and congestion, approval must come not only from the city council but from the Irvine voters as well.

Why is this petition necessary? Because of the OC politicians and particularly the Irvine city council who are more accountable to developers and their money. When was the last time they denied a building project sponsored by developers like Five Point or Star Point Ventures?

There have been several arguments against this petition. Some are serious, and some simply untrue.

More serious arguments include the Irvine Chamber of Commerce believing the petition will reduce economic growth. More building does not necessarily mean more growth because of workers’ lost time and resources from traffic and because of citizens simply avoiding areas or businesses plagued by traffic. But even if growth is reduced, we should realize economic growth is not the end in itself – its purpose is a better quality of life. Pursuing economic growth can undermine higher life quality, and I think Irvine is quickly becoming an example. What good is a high growth rate if the city becomes so overcrowded that residents are miserable?

Another serious argument is that the movement is NIMBY – “not in my backyard”. The main point is the petition will make it harder to build and thereby prevent greater supply and thereby block a solution to California’s high housing prices. However, allowing developers free rein in Irvine to build will not help as the VAST majority of housing built here is not the affordable housing needed.

An example of a less serious argument comes from a questionable method used in the past few months – a series of mailers sent to homeowners. They purport to be from the OC District Attorney or some concerned neighbor stating the movement is fraudulent. This argument is not only false but very disappointing. The telling sign for these accusations – there is no one to stand by them. There is no accountability or responsibility. Why? They come from a Political Action Committee – faceless, nameless and irresponsible.

So, I have become interested in local politics and a volunteer for IRG. I think this movement’s petition can make a major contribution to Irvine’s quality of life. I hope you think so as well. If you are interested in this issue (one way or the other), please take a look at the movement’s website.  

But please do so soon as the deadline to sign the petition is only about a week away.

Wesley Oliphant PhD is an Assistant Professor of Economics at a community college and a resident of Portola Springs in Irvine. 

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org