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State of the City: Mayor Wagner addresses homelessness, traffic and the Great Park

From the newly remodeled Council Chambers at the Irvine Civic Center on Feb. 26, Mayor Donald Wagner delivered his first State of the City address since being re-elected last November. His speech hit a similar tone to his prior annual city updates. We’ve broken down most notable elements of his speech below:

Community Response:

The mayor opened his speech by reminding the audience of some darker moments the city faced within the past year: The hate crimes committed at Irvine Valley College and the Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine. With this reminder, the mayor praised the response of the community to these incidents, calling the response of city residents  “a strong showing of community resolve and mutual support,” and stating the attack “was not an attack on one small group, but was an attack on every one of us,” ending with a promise that these types of attacks “cannot and will not be tolerated in Irvine.”

A Question of Representation:

Mayor Wagner touched on the critique that he or any of the council members are unable to represent or understand the extremely diverse community found in Irvine. Calling this critique nonsensical, the mayor cited the number one thing he feels connects every member of Irvine: the desire to live in a city with the high quality of life and many amenities that Irvine provides. The mayor stated he and the council were very capable of representing the diverse community “with great joy, and with many, many common interests.”

Public Safety:

Mayor Wagner stated that according to the latest FBI statistics on violent crime, Irvine remains the safest city of its size in America, and the 10th safest city in the entire world.

Education:

Mayor Wagner noted that with the opening of Loma Ridge Elementary School this August, Irvine will be home to 45 public schools. He also took the time to praise many of the advanced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs found in Irvine schools at all levels, including the launch of the Irvine CubeSat satellite by high school students from schools across Irvine this past November.

Parks:

The mayor provided updates on the advancements of the Orange County Great Park, with 194 acres of sports complexes opening in the park this past September, consisting of 12 baseball and softball fields. With the city’s partnership with FivePoint Communities, the mayor stated they are currently in the process of developing an additional 688 acres within the Great Park. Pretend City Children’s Museum will also be getting a larger, permanent home on the Great Park grounds.

The mayor shared some of the future uses of the 248 acre Cultural Terrace, which will include a number of artistic, cultural and entertainment components, including a library, botanical gardens, community meeting centers and a concert venue. He also announced that the City Council has met with the American Museum of Natural History to explore a potential presence for them on the Cultural Terrace.

Business Environment:

The mayor stated the city is expanding its job market through collaboration with the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce and continued efforts to attract businesses. As an example, he mentioned that City Manager John Russo and a select group of council members recently returned from a third trip to the United Kingdom, in another effort to attract life science companies from the U.K. and bring them to Irvine. Ten companies currently plan to come to the city to explore potential opportunities.

Mayor Wagner also took a moment to praise some of the corporations that already exist in Irvine, including Taco Bell (who catered the reception before the State of the City address, and just renewed the lease on their Irvine headquarters through at least 2030), Edwards Lifesciences (who this past year began construction on 7.6 acres of additional facilities in Irvine), and the Irvine Company (who recently completed their $200 million renovation of the old Macy’s space at the Irvine Spectrum).

Homelessness:

The mayor recognized that while significant progress has been made on the issue of homelessness, more still needs to be done, noting that homelessness has many causes and therefore cannot have just one overall solution. According to Wagner, the homeless point-in-time count before he entered office was 199 individuals. Now, pending the announcement of official numbers of the count done a few weeks ago, that point-in-time count is supposedly set to be under 50, meaning there has been a 75 percent decrease in the homeless population over the last few years.

The mayor credits this decrease to the use of mental health professionals within the Irvine Police Department who are able to communicate more effectively with homeless individuals, and the city’s efforts to provide permanent affordable housing, with 237 affordable housing units opening in Irvine this past year. The Irvine Community Land Trust (chaired by Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox) opened the 80-unit Parc Derian community in 2018, and this summer will begin construction on their new community, another 80-unit community to be completed by June 2020. With efforts like these, the total number of affordable housing units in Irvine will hit 5,500 by the end of 2021.

Traffic:

According to the mayor, the City Council has not approved a single new residential housing project that would add to traffic congestion in Irvine. According to numbers given to him by members of the Irvine Transportation Committee, the mayor noted that average traffic speeds within 10 of the city’s key corridors have shown improvement over the past year. He stated the city has committed more than $79 million toward traffic mitigation, with “21 specific improvements underway or already completed.”

Recent improvements include installing flashing yellow left turn lights at five important intersections (with more planned to be installed in the near future), additional travel and turn lanes on key major roadways currently under construction, a new agreement with CalTrans that synchronizes lights at freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, and the current exploration of a new signal system that will automatically adjust signal times by monitoring traffic in real time.

Two-Year Budget Process:

The city is implementing a new two-year budget process, instead of its current year-to-year approach. A series of public meetings have been planned to further inform citizens about the new budget cycle, and to gain input from the community. Information on these meetings can be found on the city’s website: www.cityofirvine.org.

Ice Hockey:

With a surprise visit from the Anaheim Ducks’ own mascot Wild Wing, the mayor ended his speech by applauding the opening of Great Park Ice last month. Great Park Ice will formally be dedicated in a ceremony next week.