After years of little to no progress at Irvine’s Great Park, city council members are trying to jumpstart development and are slated to examine major shifts in the park’s planning and the community’s involvement. 

On Tuesday night, the council is set to start drawing up a new master plan, approve millions in contracts for examining the park’s Cultural Terrace and change how the public is informed about the project. 

The discussion comes after years of questioning from Great Park residents and a Voice of OC series last year that outlined how many residents didn’t know where their tax dollars were going. 

[Read: The Great Park Tax: How Irvine Homeowners are Paying for the City’s Big Dreams]

Homeowners surrounding the park pay an additional Mello-Roos tax on their property that pays for the demolition of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro the park sits on and builds infrastructure for new park construction. 

Those tax dollars are sent to the city, who then gives the money to FivePoint Holdings, the developer partnered with the city to create the park and the houses surrounding it.

FivePoint then uses the tax money to build infrastructure in the Great Park and the neighborhoods surrounding it. 

But homeowners say they weren’t told that money was going toward park projects, and that they thought it was going toward local schools, roads and other projects impacting their immediate neighborhood.

Over the past two years, development at the Park has largely stalled out, as Orange County’s largest civic construction project was put on hold. 

FivePoint also refused to show up to give progress reports to the council in May 2020, triggering a unanimous call by the council last year that they show up and explain their work. 

[Read: City of Irvine and Great Park Developer Once Close, Now At Odds]

FivePoint never did show up.

Three months later, the developer donated masks to the city, which then gave the company a commendation expressing their, “deepest appreciation to our community partner.” 

But over the past few months, the city council has started ramping up park efforts again, and are considering a major overhaul of how the Great Park will be managed going forward.

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The largest item on the council’s next agenda is getting the ball rolling on designing a new Great Park master plan, the project’s third design since its inception. 

The promised amenities at the park have fluctuated wildly over the years. 

In the initial plan, there were plans for a man made canyon, lake, outlet for the National Archives and more —  all promised under a park budget that was sitting at just over $400 million according to a 2014 Orange County grand jury report.  

Nearly 20 years later, the park’s largest attractions are a hot air balloon, 24 soccer fields, 24 tennis courts, 10 baseball diamonds, an ice skating facility and an outdoor art complex. 

The canyon and lake have been taken off the table, and there are no current plans for the National Archives. 

The city is currently able to put out over $1 billion in bonded debt paid for by the Great Park neighborhoods tax, with no upper cap or price estimate fixed on the park’s development. 

According to the city staff report, the city is launching several public outreach programs including town halls and online engagement forms for input on the new master plan.

But there were few concrete details mapped out in the staff report, which can be viewed here

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Council members are also slated to consider a new design contract for $7.2 million to review a section of the park known as the Cultural Terrace.

While the terrace was one of the earliest ideas for the park, construction has never been able to move forward there. Most of the area’s 236 acres is still held by the Navy, who maintain a well system running under that portion of the Park. 

Instead of waiting for the Navy to close down the site, the city council is now considering repurposing the existing buildings, hiring contractor IBI Group for Architecture and Engineering Services to look at the issue. 

According to city staff, as long as the Navy can access the well system and the city completes the necessary environmental remediation on the old hangars, they’re good to go for new tenants. 

To read the full city staff report on the issue, including the contracts, click here.  

The council is also expected to discuss new tax disclosures for those who buy homes near the park, making it clear their additional Mello-Roos taxes go directly to funding capital projects at the park and not the areas immediately surrounding their homes.

The issue was originally set to be addressed at a council meeting last month, but got delayed when earlier discussions ran into the late hours of the night.

The council begins their discussions on the Great Park at 2:00, with their regular council meeting at 4:00. Both meetings can be viewed here

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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