Irvine City Council members are set to approve one of the largest demolition projects in the city’s history tomorrow night, clearing the way for the biggest developments yet at the city’s Great Park. 

While the city first broke ground on the park over 20 years ago, hundreds of acres are still covered by the leftover pieces of the old Marine Corps Air Station El Toro that used to sit there, with old hangars, runways, barracks and air traffic control towers looming over the million dollar homes next door. 

The high costs for cleaning up the buildings, chemicals and asbestos left behind by the military, along with a complicated contract with the Navy that guarantees them certain rights to the land, have made development in much of the area impossible over the last two decades. 

At their Tuesday meeting, city council members are looking to jumpstart park development after nearly two years of stalled progress. 

In a report prepared by city staff, there are two main areas being cleaned up in the park.

One sits on the northern edge of the park and holds old hangars and an air traffic control tower from the base, along with portions of broken runway. 

The other is a stretch of land along the southern edges of the park, originally dubbed the cultural terrace in park plans because it was set to hold a museum and other arts amenities. 

The hangar site along the north edge of the park sat idle for nearly a decade because it was a potential site for Orange County’s first state veterans cemetery. 

But that idea died last year when a coalition of veterans groups and every city council in the county, including Irvine, voted to shift focus to a site in Anaheim on a piece of county owned land in Gypsum Canyon. 

[Read: Orange County Veterans Plant A Flag on Their Own Cemetery After Decade-Long Fight]

Since then, the site has picked up traction as the potential new home for a botanical garden, one of the earliest promised amenities at the park that never materialized. 

While the city is still studying the issue and how the park would be designed, the one thing everyone agrees on is that the hangar site has to be cleared out first.

The hangar site still has a few more steps before crews can break ground: the city has to put the project out to bid and return to the council for approval, with no public estimates yet on what the costs could be to remove over 70 buildings and other structures still on the site. 

But some parts of the old base are here to stay, with the staff report stating the air traffic control tower and three old helicopter hangars will remain for the time being. 

However, demolition at the cultural terrace plot could be cleared to move forward, with staff estimating the costs at $3.1 million. 

The council’s Great Park meeting starts at 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, with the votes being officially adopted at their regular meeting at 4 p.m. 

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


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