At the special February 21st Irvine City Council Meeting, I witnessed democracy at full throttle. I testified to the city council, along with dozens and dozens of Irvine residents, realtors, Irvine teachers, union workers, hospitality workers, rock stars, and business owners. We all voiced for the restoration of live music in Irvine for the next generation. We all voiced support for the return of our beloved Irvine Meadows with a 14,000-seat amphitheater at the Great Park.
Born in La Paz, Bolivia, I immigrated to the United States at the age of two and my family made South Orange County our home. I remain an Orange County resident today. My first show was at Irvine Meadows with my mother at age 12 — Def Leppard with Ugly Kid Joe opening. Inspired by the live concert experience, I pursued a career in music as a publicist for rock and metal bands all over Southern California. Millions of fans, including myself, were devastated when the venue closed. We intend to see the permanent replacement get built as promised in the Great Park.
Last September the city council voted 4-1 to proceed with an agreement with Live Nation, the world’s leader in live music production. Live Nation has been the city’s partner in Irvine Meadows and FivePoint Amphitheatre for 42 years.
I was amazed at the bias exhibited by city staff against the amphitheater. Despite the city council’s clear direction to hammer out a deal with Live Nation, they retained consultants without city council approval which generated dubious reports to kill the deal.
For example, in an interview in Voice of OC City Manager Oliver Chi also acknowledged that any benefits for the surrounding community’s sales tax and other revenue would be “not a notable generator,” for the city.
“From concertgoers, there’s sales tax and jobs produced, so it does produce activity,” Chi said in a Thursday interview. “But it’s not something that demonstrably impacts the city on a day to day.”
Councilmember Treseder initially argued the scaled-down number of 8,000 seats was the study’s magic number that could reduce “noise pollution” and “traffic”. However, that arbitrary number went out the window when she said she’d be cool with “a 10,000-seat amphitheater” — but only if Live Nation was cut out of the deal. I am optimistic to see Treseder’s flexibility on the size because it shows that noise and traffic are not the core issues, as we already know (people who buy property at the Great Park are given disclosures that a big amphitheater is coming). It does, however, warrant closer scrutiny of the intentions of the city’s study.
The deep state seems to be alive and well in Irvine. Thankfully, Mayor Farah Khan, Vice Mayor Tammy Kim, and Councilman Mike Carroll kept the 14,000-seat amphitheater on track by instructing the rogue staff to continue to drill down the best deal possible for the city with Live Nation. Live Nation already agreed to chip in millions to build the amphitheater and rent it for millions. Live Nation also absorbs all risks if an artist cancels, which can cost millions. I am confident a deal that works for everyone can be made because Live Nation has already been a good partner with Irvine for over 40 years, producing some of the best shows the SoCal region has seen.
From an Economic Impact Analysis conducted by Beacon Economics, the new permanent amp is estimated to create $31.1 million annually across the County of Orange, including 461 jobs. The Great Park is vast at 1300 acres and the proposed venue will only consume 25 acres; a very small portion of land for a very big return for its residents.
The City of Irvine Fiscal year 2022-2023 budget is between $205-265 million. For the City Manager to say to the media that 10% of the City’s yearly budget is “not a notable generator” is disingenuous at best and shows the bias that Mayor Farrah Khan pointed out in the Staff Report on the item.
In 2022 alone, the rickety temporary FivePoint Amphitheatre generated $26 million in economic output and $1.9 million of state and local tax revenue. Just imagine what a sound-engineered, 21st-century landmark amphitheater attracting world-class talent can do.
The simple fact is that Irvine has had a live music venue in the City since 1981. Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and FivePoint Amphitheatre have created good jobs for the working people of Irvine, have allowed families and friends to make memories together while enjoying concerts outside, and have created millions of dollars of economic revenue for the city from people spending money at restaurants and hotels.
The big amp gives our community freedom and options. We can have small community events or book the big acts that will put Irvine back on the map. A real outdoor amphitheater gives Irvine the chance to be the city it claims: vibrant, diverse, global, and technologically advanced. When you go to a live show, the person next to you might not speak the same language but you can sing the same words of your favorite song together. Music transcends all differences and unifies. Irvine, don’t miss the beat to build something great.
Raquel Figlo is an Orange County-based music publicist who works with rock and metal bands across the SoCal Region. She grew up going to Irvine Meadows and is now part of a grassroots effort of diverse music lovers who want to bring back live music to Irvine for the next generation.
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