Irvine residents are about to get the first look at the future of their Great Park on Tuesday, with city staff unveiling the new plan for Orange County’s largest municipal project after many residents have said it needs more than sports fields.
Titled the Framework Plan, the first phase maps out around 300 acres worth of development, including a variety of new projects including a library, 12 acres worth of lakes and a community gym.
In a phone call Tuesday afternoon, city manager Oliver Chi said the city would be revealing a proposed map of all the amenities at their Tuesday afternoon meeting, with plans to have construction underway by mid 2023.
“We’re very deliberately calling it a framework plan and not a masterplan, we need a framework but it will evolve and change over time,” Chi said, referencing the past master plans for the park that had been thrown out.
Questions over the city’s planning for the park intensified significantly after a 2020 Voice of OC series pointed out that much of the development was being paid for by special Mello-Roos taxes on Great Park homeowners, who had little to no say on where their money was being spent.
Since that series, residents have organized community groups and have increasingly questioned city leaders about the future of the Great Park, leading to a pledge by city councilmembers last year to engage with the community and bring forward plans for new projects at the park.
The staff report also identified plans for the park’s next big projects: a botanical garden and a veterans memorial garden just next door to each other.
To read the city staff report outlining the plan, click here.
Both projects sit on a piece of land that still holds pieces of the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which was shut down by the Navy in 1999, leaving behind an air traffic control tower, pieces of runway and a hangar.
While the site is still up for grabs as a potential home of a state veterans cemetery, the focus by county and state leaders has shifted to building the cemetery on a piece of land in Anaheim’s Gypsum Canyon – a move the city council gave their blessing to last year.
The botanical garden is set to take up 31 acres on the site, while the veterans memorial park will receive 24 acres and memorialize the history of the base.
Those two projects have seen a lot of debate in the last few months, with Councilwoman Tammy Kim calling for the botanical garden to move ahead at full speed, while Councilman Larry Agran has called for the entire site to go to a veterans memorial park.
Agran has pointed to a voter initiative adopted by the city council that he helped write before his election that called for the site to go toward a “veterans memorial park and cemetery,” and said the city can’t build other projects there.
However, city attorney Joel Melching has disagreed with Agran at that point, saying that while the land is zoned for a veterans memorial park, the city isn’t bound by its own zoning laws and can build whatever it wants there.
Despite having the 24-acre veterans park on the agenda, Agran has also placed his own item on Tuesday’s agenda calling for the park to receive at least 100 acres of land at that spot, meaning the council will have to discuss which project the land goes to at its Tuesday night meeting.
In addition to those projects, the plan also directs staff to continue working on projects including a permanent amphitheater, library, gym, lakes and food venues, along with redeveloping the old military hangars in the park for new projects.
One of the other new projects announced was the Great Meadow, a park area with picnic space as part of the city’s goal to “put the park back in the Great Park,” after residents pointed out most of the park’s developed space has gone toward sports facilities.
The financing for all those projects is still unclear, including how the special Mello-Roos taxes that Great Park residents pay will be factored in, but Chi said the city has around $600 million on hand from multiple sources that can go toward the park’s construction.
The plan also reaffirmed that the city was still planning on bringing USA Water Polo to the park with a new aquatics center to serve as the team’s training headquarters.
While the project was brought forward in 2019, with plans to present building plans to the public in 2020, those plans were never brought forward, and there’s been almost no news on the project since.
There wasn’t any update on how the project would be paid for in the staff report, but when the idea was last presented to the city council, the aquatics center’s $250 million price tag was set to be paid by homeowner’s special taxes.
The council’s meeting on the Great Park starts at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and can be viewed here.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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