Irvine City Council members are moving ahead with a publicly financed amphitheater in the heart of the Great Park, despite resident concerns the plans are rushed and a potential increase in noise pollution.

Discussions on bringing a permanent amphitheater to the Great Park have been ongoing since 2016, when Irvine Meadows closed its doors after 35 years. FivePoint Amphitheatre opened later that same year to fill the gap, but was intended to be a temporary location. 

City manager Oliver Chi praised the deal, pointing to projections from a city consultant that it would generate over $30 million in local business revenue and create over 400 jobs along with paying the city over $4 million each year. 

“We didn’t find any municipally operated facilities with a return rate as high as what we’re contemplating,” Chi said. 

Many residents said while they weren’t against a new amphitheater, they expressed concerns over the lack of details in the city’s proposal to give it the green light, asking why it didn’t go through any of the city’s commissions for a review. 

“I haven’t seen any detailed planning, I haven’t seen anything other than pictures,” said Irvine resident Jane Olinger. “We should have looked at that before it’s put in, not after.”  

Councilman Larry Agran, who was the sole vote against the proposal, agreed, and called for the approval to be delayed until more studies were completed. 

“I would really like to see this go back to staff and get some serious additional work done before rushing it through this body,” Agran said. 

Other council members disagreed. 

“Nothing, at all, has been rushed. I want to make that perfectly clear, and I’ll say it again. Nothing has been rushed,” said Councilwoman Tammy Kim responding to Agran’s comments. 

The new 14,000-seat amphitheater would be set at the center of the Great Park, and would be paid for by the city but operated by Live Nation. 

Precise details of the stadium’s construction like the final cost were not available at Tuesday’s meeting, with city staff pledging those details would come as they studied the issue more and that the city could still change its mind and pull out. 

Right now, the project’s budget cap is set at $130 million, but it’s unclear how close the stadium’s construction will come to that cap. The facility will be designed by Live Nation with input from the city.

Other local residents and theater unions turned out to support the new amphitheater.

“We’re at an exciting moment today,” said Bret Gallagher, president of Live Nation Southern California. “I’ve seen a lot of venues – this one is special.” 

The majority of public commenters who spoke at the meeting were against approving the amphitheater that night, asking for more time to be put into the process. 

Another big concern brought up by residents was the potential noise from the new amphitheater, with many pointing to the noise that could be heard across the city from the FivePoint Amphitheatre. 

“We love the Hollywood Bowl … but we just don’t want to live next to it,” said Camiar Ohadi, one of the leaders of the Great Park Residents’ Council, a resident group in the park. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Please consider studying it more.”

Chi said the city did a sound study that showed nothing above 50 decibels would leak into the surrounding neighborhoods, a noise level that’s around the level of a conversation in an office, with plans to set the stage at 20 feet below the standard grading and the construction of a 20 foot berm around the stadium to reduce the sound impact on neighborhoods. 

The city also produced a traffic study, which claimed that the new amphitheater replacing the current one would lead to “no new or substantially worse impacts,” on local traffic, with Chi adding the city’s road plans would block cars from going into the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The traffic impacts are negligible. There won’t be a traffic impact on the neighborhood,” Chi said.  

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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