As a voter for nearly twenty years, I would only read about the candidates for President or Governor or Representative or the arguments for state propositions. What I always skipped: local elections – particularly, local measures – as I considered them trivial. But now I feel differently because no measure is more important to Irvine residents’ civil liberties than Measure D.
Consider the measure. If a building project is found to have a “fiscal benefit”, our right to petition can no longer be used to block its construction.
Its proponents argue the measure ensures fiscally responsible growth. How? It states each building project must show a 15% “fiscal benefit” before Council approval. But what is a 15% fiscal benefit? There are three definitions in the measure. The closest to an actual benefit is the first: “a project that when added to the City’s existing fiscal impact model does not interfere with or negatively impact the City’s goal that overall development in the City generates revenue in excess of costs by a margin of 15% or more…”
Why does this measure not ensure such growth? As long as the city’s revenue exceeds costs by 15%, a project need not generate any net revenue for the city to avoid a petition. When you consider that developers can also make the estimates, hardly any projects can be blocked by a petition.
Also, this method of calculating fiscal benefit excludes crucial concerns to Irvine residents – namely, the effect on traffic and the effect on the overcrowding of our schools. In other words, petitions cannot block projects no matter their effect on our traffic or the quality of our children’s education.
Measure D’s supporters state the measure will not restrict Irvine’s petition rights. They quote from the Irvine City Attorney’s Impartial Analysis: “The proposed Charter amendment would not restrict the power of referendum over individual project approvals, as otherwise allowed by state law and/or the Irvine City Charter.” However, I would quote the sentence before: “the proposed Charter amendment measure would add Section 1009 to the Irvine City Charter to prohibit the imposition of voter approval requirements on projects that obtain City approvals, so long as the project provides specified fiscal benefits.” The Impartial Analysis’ title clearly shows this measure’s intention: “Prohibiting Voter Approval Requirements on Fiscally Beneficial Projects.”
The measure’s proponents argue a yes vote makes developers accountable to Irvine residents. They argue developers will be accountable to show their project’s fiscal effects to the City Council. In turn, the City Council is accountable to Irvine’s residents through elections.
However, I would respectfully disagree. To block a petition and as stated, developers can make their own estimate of the city’s fiscal benefit and do not need to show any net revenue from their individual project.
In addition, the City Council is more accountable to Irvine’s large developers than its voters. Unlike Presidential elections or even state elections, most voters know little about local politics. Consequently, they are more likely persuaded by advertising like mailers, fliers, yard signs, etc. that only large developers like the Irvine Company can afford. In 2016, nearly 50% of the $1.1 million in PAC money for Mayoral and Council races was used to attack the Mayoral Candidate opposed by developers – she lost. Today, our Council Members receive most of their donations from developers and if they receive such donations DO NOT need to recuse themselves from voting on those development projects. As a result, every development project no matter its size or effect on traffic or school overcrowding has been approved by the City Council.
Contrary to Measure D, petitions to slow development are needed in Irvine because our City Council and Planning Commission (appointed by the City Council) prioritize developers over our quality of life. For example, consider the Parkview Center remodel that is to be done by the Irvine Company and was recently approved by the Planning Commission. University and Michelson are already at an extremely poor level of service and yet Irvine residents must accept even more traffic. At the same time, the Planning Commission did not even consider the University and Ridgeline intersection that has been slated for upgrade for ages because of several fatalities there.
So, despite my previous indifference to local politics and measures I hope you will join me in voting No on Measure D. Despite our opponents’ claims, it will take away a basic and essential right of Irvine voters. With so many developments going up so quickly and so little concern given to our quality of life by the City Council and Planning Commission, we need petitions to ensure our voices are heard and our pace of development is far more responsible.
For more information, please go to www.irvinewatchdog.org.
Wesley Oliphant PhD is an Assistant Professor of Economics at a community college and a resident of Portola Springs in Irvine.
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