The Irvine City Council on Tuesday night approved an agreement that will set aside more than 9,500 acres as marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas.
Mayor Larry Agran called the agreement between the city and the Irvine Co. historic and said that once all the land is dedicated as permanent open space, fully one-third of the city would be protected from development.
"This is something that has not been duplicated by any suburban city in the United States," he said. "Twenty years from now, Irvine will be one of the last areas to have protected open space in the county and beyond."
In exchange for ceding land to the city, the Irvine Co. will be allowed to engage in more profitable types of development elsewhere in the city, such as higher-density residential and commercial projects.
The open space plan, an amendment to the city's general plan, will prohibit future city officials from tampering with the dedicated open spaces. The land will be owned by the city for use by the residents, who approved the plan in last June's general election.
The Irvine Co. will give the land to the city over the next 20 years, eventually boosting the total amount of open space in the city to more than 16,000 acres.
The vote in favor was unanimous by the city's five-member council.
"For the city it means the potential for implementation of the most ambitious open-space plan in the state," said Keith Greer, Irvine Co. vice president and general manager at the meeting. "For the Irvine Co. it is a balanced plan for the creation of new jobs and housing."
Under the plan, development would be curtailed or eliminated in several canyon and hillside areas, including:
* A 4,900-acre tract known as Lomas Ridge in the Santiago Hills. This lies north of the city's Northwood village, just north of Irvine Boulevard. It is part of a greater open-space network associated with Cleveland National Forest.
* Over 360 acres of Quail Hill, just west of the San Diego Freeway and north of its junction with the Santa Ana Freeway. Considered as a natural habitat, more than 500 Canada geese feed and rest there three months a year on their annual migration.
* About 4,000 acres of Bommer and Shady canyons on the west side of the San Diego Freeway and stretching back to Turtle Rock. Quail Hill is part of this area.
* More than 200 acres of orange groves near Jeffrey Road.
* Two narrow spines of open space, running north to west, linking the city with the Pacific Ocean and Cleveland National Forest.
* Certain ridgelines will be preserved surrounding the Coyote landfill to the west of the city.
* The San Joaquin freshwater marsh, near UC Irvine, will also be preserved and maintained by the city. This site is a destination for migratory waterfowl and other birds.
Though the plan marks the most comprehensive land-use agreement between the city and the Irvine Co., Councilman Cameron Cosgrove said it has not been without some controversy. It was a 1986 proposal by two council members to build a new Irvine City Hall on Quail Hill that ignited the campaign, he said.
"I am not trying to get political here, but when (Councilwoman) Sally Anne Sheridan and (former councilman) Dave Baker proposed using Quail Hill for city hall development, it really marked the birth of the whole thing," said Cosgrove, then a member of the city Planning Commission. "I was one of the many citizens that came out against such a move. From there, the ballot measure came into being."
Irvine's Measure C, known as the open space initiative, gave residents an opportunity to approve the areas designated for preservation. Led by Agran and other civic leaders running for reelection on an open-space platform, the measure received widespread support. Just four months after the election, the city and the Irvine Co. entered into a memorandum of understanding outlining the land dedications.
According to former Councilman Ray Catalano, who was the lead negotiator before an accord was reached, the plan will benefit both sides. Catalano gave up his council post two years ago to become a county planner on the proposed San Joaquin Hills transportation corridor.
"It was a long-drawn-out and often bitter process in the negotiations," he said. "The cost to the city is that the politicians of the future can't go back on this without suffering the wrath of the citizens. Not many cities have citizens that believe in planning."
"For the Irvine Co., in the short term they did not gain much. But the land that they have been given permission to develop as part of the deal will equal if not exceed what they gave up to the city."
The Irvine Co. will be allowed to develop in areas that are not environmentally sensitive. Because development will be diverted to higher density areas, concerns over noise levels and traffic problems were cleared after an environmental impact report was received earlier this month.
Among the areas scheduled for development is the Irvine Spectrum, between the Santa Ana and San Diego freeways.