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Following uproar from residents, Irvine approves Great Park Task Force

A person skates by the giant balloon at the Great Park in Irvine.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the Great Park in Irvine have for years paid a special tax meant to be used to improve the area.

But residents are fed up with the special fee, claiming they have seen little benefit from it. In particular, they contend there isn’t a dedicated retail space for the neighborhoods. In response to the uproar, the Irvine City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a Great Park Task Force that will evaluate the needs of the neighborhoods around the park and report back to council members with suggestions.

In their proposal for the task force, council members Mike Carroll and Tammy Kim said there is an “urgent need to deliver the quality of life promise that was promised by the real estate developer.” FivePoint Holdings is the developer of the Great Park neighborhoods.

“Unfortunately, there is one place in our great city where the promise of the master-planned community and its village system has yet to be fulfilled: Great Park Neighborhoods,” they continued. “Not only is this area of our city saddled with perpetual Mello Roos taxes set up many years ago for reasons known only to the creators, but this neighborhood somehow still has no neighborhood-serving retail. Residents are understandably unhappy. They deserve much better than this.”

Each council member will appoint three members to the task force, so there will be 15 total members. Each of the members will come from the neighborhoods that pay the special tax. For a four-month period, the task force will meet monthly with City Manager Oliver Chi and will return to the council with recommendations.

“We can start building on the vision of putting the park back into the Great Park, but as we do this, I think it’s very important and it’s very critical to have the voices of those who will be impacted day to day,” Kim said at the council meeting.

The Great Park was initially envisioned as the second-coming of New York’s iconic Central Park. Bogged down for years with accusations of cronyism and improper management, the park hasn’t lived up to its original billing. In the past, Kim has said that the park is more of a sports facility than an actual park. Located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the park today has a large sports complex, a soccer stadium, an amphitheater, a skating rink and a large orange balloon.

Since late last year, the city of Irvine has been seeking to update the master plan of the park. Seeking the public’s input has been an important factor in the process.

During the meeting, Carroll said the lack of retail space for the Great Park neighborhoods has also negatively impacted residents of the Woodbury community. The closest shopping center to the Great Park neighborhoods is the Woodbury Town Center, which has become overcrowded over the last few years.

“Somehow we have lots and lots of homeowners and we have no retail,” Carroll said.

He continued: “I am open to anything as long as we get some kind of a task force that whips this city into shape, because unfortunately, it has to begin here politically, because our predecessors agreed contractually with a very large master developer to allow these homes to get put in without any real actual hardcore commitment on retail.”

The 35 townhomes would be built on land that has been zoned as commercial.

Several residents who said they were from the Great Park neighborhoods showed up to speak in favor of the task force at the meeting. Daniel Chao, speaking on behalf of the Great Park Residents Council, thanked the City Council for acting quickly and advocating for representation for the residents.

“My hope is two or three years from now, we’ll be shopping across the aisle at our new retail center,” he said.

FivePoint spokesman Eric Morgan wrote in an emailed response to TimesOC on Wednesday that the company wants to “activate” retail as quickly as possible.

“It’s important to note the CFD taxes that are collected from [Great Park neighborhood] residents are not used to construct any private improvements, like future retail centers that the Five Point joint venture is currently planning,” he wrote. “The CFD taxes are only used to construct public improvements and to pay for maintenance and services for the Great Park.”

Morgan said the company is currently considering two areas for food and retail businesses located off Irvine Boulevard, near the Cadence Park neighborhood, and at Ridge Valley and Great Park Boulevard, near the Parasol Park neighborhood, where there is currently a “pop-up village of reconfigured shipping containers equipped for food and beverage and retail.” Morgan wrote that the company is searching for an operator for the village to serve Great Park residents and visitors once it opens. Morgan also wrote that the company has retained contractors to find ideal tenants for a retail center based on data and buying patterns in the area.

Morgan wrote that the company is listening to the input of Great Park residents.

“For example, we have heard Great Park Neighborhoods’ residents share a longstanding desire to have a grocery store,” he wrote. “Data and buyer trends reiterate that demand. In response, discussions are underway to secure an anchor retail tenant — and those discussions include grocery stores.

“The market for commercial, office and retail space has shifted significantly in recent years, even before the pandemic, so it was important to take a step back and rethink our initial plans and be thoughtful in our approach. As consumers continue to change their expectations on goods and services that are consumed and delivered, we are now better equipped and poised to deliver on expectations. To that end, we’ll continue to engage and share meaningful updates on our first phase of retail in the near future.”

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