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Irvine Considers How It Can Grow Old Gracefully

Repairs: As the city moves into middle age, its focus is shifting from expansion to maintenance. A $50-million endowment will help pay the bill.

November 26, 2001|TINA BORGATTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than three decades, Irvine has been a model of planned growth, its rapidly increasing population drawn to the new homes, self-contained villages and attention to detail, right down to the landscaping in the street medians.

And just as Irvine set the course for other new cities, it is now positioning itself to take on a new role: growing old gracefully.

"The city is at a crossroads," Councilman Greg Smith said. "Some areas of the town are 30, 35 years old and may need more attention than the newer areas. We have a dichotomy of needs in that we have to provide services to both the old and the new sides of town."

City officials say it's time to shift the focus from growth to maintenance. As the city moves into middle age, they will begin debating in January the question of what steps to take.

"We don't want the people from the newer part of the community to come to an area and say, 'Oh, this is one of the older parts of the city,' " said John McAllister, deputy director of community services.

By Irvine standards, some city buildings are showing their age. All three pools at Heritage Park Aquatics Complex, for example, are deteriorating and need to be renovated--a project that is expected to cost about $9 million.

Landscaping in a few neighborhoods is as drab as some of the homes' original earth-tone paint. Some retail districts look tired and worn. City leaders have been planning the repairs for more than a decade. Since then, the city has saved about $50 million in an endowment fund. In the next 10 years, Irvine officials expect to double that amount.

Mayor Larry Agran said the $100 million will generate $6 million annually to fund repairs.

Irvine has been tapping interest from the fund since 1994 to resurface streets in its original villages, replace plants and trees along the thoroughfares, and to ensure community centers were kept in good repair.

"It's one thing to build a modern, master-planned city," Agran said. "It's another thing to maintain it and sustain the highest standards possible."

In a town that once employed urban foresters, there now may be a need for more code enforcers.

"A big issue is the maintenance of homes," said Sheri VanderDussen, Irvine's community development director. "Are people maintaining their yards? Are their garage doors working? Are their fences falling down?"

Initially, VanderDussen said, the city figured that as development slowed, its building inspectors would shift into the role of code enforcement officers. But the city now has a need for both. Development has continued to boom, and it could be years before it slows.

The Irvine Co. has two more developments planned in the city. One is a small housing and commercial village underway off the San Diego Freeway at the city's southern boundary. The other, still in the planning stages, will be a larger village from the freeway to the foothills between Jeffrey Road and Sand Canyon Avenue.

The city's growth may not end there. There is still a large undeveloped chunk of unincorporated land--about a third the size of the city--at Irvine's northern boundary, and the council is eyeing it for annexation.

"We all know we've got a good thing going," Agran said. "And we want to keep it going."

'The city is at a crossroads.'

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