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Irvine Debates Growth Plan

Land use: Residents speak out about effects of 3,600-acre development north of El Toro base. Concerns include traffic and the city's character.


An eleventh hour grass-roots campaign threatened briefly Tuesday to derail Irvine's plan to expand the city by a third.

After an occasionally tense, hours-long session, the council at 11 p.m. still had not voted on the plan.

Of dozens of residents who turned out, 17 spoke against the proposal, which would put houses, businesses and schools on 3,600 acres that are now mostly undeveloped or agricultural. Some cited concerns about traffic congestion, others about loss of the city's village character.

Among those urging the City Council to delay action on the proposal was former Mayor Christina Shea.

"We're talking about developing an area the size of a small city," she said.

Officials have held public hearings for 18 months and completed environmental studies for the project, which would add 12,350 homes, at least four schools, businesses, medical and research facilities. The new community would be about twice the size of Irvine's Woodbridge village. Criticism had been muted until Tuesday.

Bob Caustin, founding director of local environmental group Defend the Bay, particularly objected to loss of agricultural land, accusing the council of "wiping out the history of Irvine." The city grew from what was formerly the Irvine family ranch.

Councilman Chris Mears chastised Caustin for not attending earlier community meetings on the project.

After a heated exchange, Caustin threw his hands in the air and asked, "Why are you picking on me?"

Others asked why the public hearing started at 4 p.m., before many people get off from work, rather than the council's usual 6 or 6:30 p.m. meeting time.

Resident Chuck Devore asked officials, "What is the rush? Irvine has been very deliberately planned over 30 years."

A final vote on the development plan will be in 30 days. Construction of 400 homes along Jeffrey Road could begin in 18 months.

The massive development north of the former El Toro Marine base will increase the city's population, now 143,000 by about 30,000 residents.

Besides the land to be developed, 4,100 acres in the city's so-called Northern Sphere will be preserved as open space, including Irvine's portion of Limestone Canyon Regional Park.

The project, to be built over the next 20 years, would generate thousands of car trips daily, according to environmental projections. No freeway improvements are proposed, but the city and the developer--the Irvine Co.--have agreed to set aside funding just in case.

Planning Commission Chairman Anthony Dragun has said that traffic will be analyzed as plans for each tract are presented for approval.

Officials say that Sand Canyon Road, Portola Parkway and the Foothill Transportation Corridor, which cut through the area, are underused and could handle overflow from the San Diego Freeway, which critics of the new development have said would become gridlocked.

Dave Melvold, who lives in north Irvine, said those assurances are of little comfort.

"When you figure the roadway infrastructure was constructed without the intention of this land being developed, it's just unfathomable to imagine putting all that development in there without any major new roadways or improvements," Melvold said.

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