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A Park to Surpass Other Great Parks--Speedily

ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

August 04, 2002|LARRY AGRAN | Larry Agran is mayor of Irvine.

An ancient Chinese proverb reminds us that "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Orange County voters took this first step on March 5 by approving Measure W. The announcement on July 23 of the Irvine's partnership with the U.S. Navy represents a giant second step toward fulfilling the promise of creating a Great Park at El Toro.

On the morning after the Measure W election, the Navy announced it would honor the will of Orange County voters by selling the property subject to the uses permitted by Measure W. The Navy's announcement that El Toro would be sold at public auction caught many by surprise. This represented a change in the established policy of transferring military bases to public ownership through public-benefit and economic-development conveyances.

Initially, many Orange County residents were apprehensive. We now realize that the Navy's new policy--transforming El Toro from federal to local control through a public auction--presented a unique opportunity to achieve our separate and shared goals.

Immediately following the Navy's announcement, Irvine went to work developing a land-use plan that would meet the Navy's goal of maximizing the value of the property for all taxpayers, and, at the same time, fulfill our promise to create a Great Park at no cost to Orange County taxpayers.

The Orange County Great Park Plan is based on the same sound principles that have made Irvine the largest, most successful master-planned city in America.

In order to implement the Orange County Great Park Plan, Irvine will annex El Toro. This will give us planning and zoning control over the property. The Navy, as the landowner, will sell the property at auction early in 2003 and transfer it to private owners after Irvine has annexed the base land.

There will be 3,400 housing units and a limited amount of retail and commercial property developed, principally on the perimeter.

The city will require landowners to dedicate land to public uses and pay fees to a public trust that will develop and maintain the Great Park.

Under the Great Park Plan, 4,000 acres, or about 84% of the El Toro property, will be designated for parkland, open space, recreation, and institutional uses. The land is expected to be used for a central park with vast meadowlands and riparian corridors; a large nature preserve with associated wildlife corridors; the county's largest sports park; exposition areas large enough to hold art, history, and science museums, botanical gardens and even a major metropolitan library; a veterans' memorial and cemetery; golf courses; a university; and more than 300 acres of permanent agriculture.

Other great metropolitan parks have required 50 years or more to develop. By contrast, our Great Park development strategy, harnessing the power of private capital and the benefit of enlightened public planning, will enable the key elements of the Great Park to be in place within 10 years. Indeed, we expect the sports park, with at least 50 soccer fields, baseball diamonds and other facilities for field sports, to be built and available for public use within three years.

Pause for a moment and think about what this plan means for the people of Orange County. We will have a Great Park larger than New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and San Diego's Balboa Park combined. Moreover, through the creation of a conservancy or trust, the Great Park we are planning will be developed and maintained in perpetuity with private dollars.

The doubters, defeatists, and professional pessimists continue to insist that the Great Park Plan will never work. These are the same people who told you six months ago that Measure W would raise taxes by more than $4 billion dollars and cause "a 10% countywide property tax increase." They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. It is time for them to join with us or get out of the way.

The Great Park Plan meets all of the goals Irvine set forth when we first envisioned the Great Park and drafted Measure W: There will be no airport at El Toro. And yes, just as we promised, we will create one of America's greatest metropolitan parks right here.

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