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Group Wants Irvine Project Put to a Vote


An environmental group is circulating petitions to force a citywide vote on a massive development in north Irvine.

City Council members this month voted to annex the Northern Sphere, 7,700 acres where the Irvine Co. plans to build 12,350 homes and 7 million square feet of commercial and office space. More than half the land would remain as open space.

On Wednesday, representatives of Newport Beach-based Defend the Bay began gathering the approximately 8,000 signatures needed to place on a ballot a referendum asking voters to overturn the annexation.

"It's a regional concern, and [the pollution from the development] will flow downstream to Newport Bay," said Bob Caustin, the group's director. "When you have an extra quarter-million car trips each day, it affects everyone. There's more fumes, more cars idling on the roads, more oil droppings, more of everything."

Caustin also objects to a council-approved zoning change that would allow the Irvine Co. to plow under 3,100 acres of farmland to make way for its development.

"People moved there with the promise that land would be open space and agricultural land," he said. "Now to learn it's being taken away, people are mad."

Irvine Mayor Larry Agran called the effort the work of outsiders who could open the door for proponents of a commercial airport at the former El Toro Marine base and scuttle the city's plan to build a "Great Park" there instead. "This is all about whether we here in Irvine will be able to control our own destiny," Agran said.

In a prepared statement, Agran and Councilman Mike Ward questioned whether there was a link between Defend the Bay and backers of an airport at El Toro, which Irvine strongly opposes. "Before any residents sign a petition, we believe they should demand to know more about who is behind this drive, who is financing it and their real motives," they said.

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