Irvine residents living in the Great Park are demanding a seat at the decision-making table, and want a say on what’s being built at the park largely financed on their property tax bills.
The Great Park was originally pitched as the shining jewel of Orange County, a West Coast equivalent of Central Park that would give homeowners surrounding it a vision of the future.
But nearly two decades after the Park was first pitched to the public, that hasn’t really panned out.
Instead, homeowners got a park filled with soccer fields and baseball diamonds, along with a mishmash of projects including an ice rink, a hot air balloon and water park.
Over a dozen other projects were pitched but never actually ended up getting built.
Residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the park pay a special property tax that covers most of the development under a deal set up between the city and FivePoint Holdings, the developer responsible for building the homes around the park and the infrastructure inside the park itself.
For the past two years, development at the park has been stuck in limbo.
FivePoint refused to publicly discuss projects with the city council, and the company went through a turnover of its top executives, including founding CEO Emile Haddad who was replaced by Dan Hedigan, a former Irvine Company executive.
While FivePoint’s development within the park ground to a halt, the developer has continued expanding housing around the park, and is asking the council for permission to move forward on over 1,000 condominium units at the planning commission meeting today.
FivePoint declined multiple requests for comment on this article.
The lack of progress at the park has pushed some residents to start organizing, with multiple neighborhood groups forming up around the Park pushing for more influence on what’s getting developed in their backyard.
One of those groups is the Great Park Residents Council, who said while the individual groups may have different ideas and end goals, they all want one thing in common-a seat at the table.
“We think this is the time to reset,” said Naveed Siddiqui, one of the Council’s members, who said the turnover in FivePoint’s leadership opens up an opportunity for residents to connect with the new leadership. “We need to take advantage of this.”
One of the top priorities for the Council and from residents who’ve spoken at the city’s Great Park Board meetings is to install the long promised retail center in the park, but also to ensure residents get a voice in what their tax dollars are going toward.
“We’re here for the long haul,” said Kendra Chao, another member of the Council. “We want to stay and make it a community.”
Now, residents might actually get that chance.
This Tuesday, the Irvine City Council will discuss the creation of a Great Park Task Force, which would feature 15 residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the park chosen by the council to “evaluate the needs of the Great Park Neighborhoods.”
Irvine City Councilmembers Mike Carroll and Tammy Kim, who proposed the creation of the task force, both came out swinging at FivePoint.
“The promise of the Great Park Neighborhoods has not been delivered on,” Carroll said in a Wednesday phone call with Voice of OC. “The developer is going to be front and center as a subject of this task force because it is they who haven’t done anything for years, other than sell lots to homebuilders.”
Kim said she wanted to bring forward the item because the developer had focused too much on “vanity projects over what residents actually want.”
“We thought this would be a good way for residents to have a voice,” Kim said in a phone interview, pointing out how it would let the different groups forming at the park all have a chance to speak.
Carroll said he hoped the task force would focus on the special property taxes residents pay and how to potentially unravel them, citing Voice of OC’s earlier reporting for why it had become such a critical issue.
Kim said she hopes it’s a place for a variety of ideas on the Park’s future development, where residents can share what they think the project should go.
But while the task force is set to give residents a voice, it’s unclear how long that voice will last.
While they’ll have four months to create and submit a report to the council, both Kim and Carroll said it would likely be a temporary situation.
“This is kind of beta testing to see if it’s effective, and if this will meet residents’ needs,” Kim said. “I don’t know if this will go on forever, especially as the Great Park builds out…but right now I want to hear what the residents have to say.”
The city council meets at 3 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss the creation of the task force.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.