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Joan Irvine Smith shares history

-- Barbara Diamond

Once upon a time there was a little princess. Her name was Joan.

Princess Joan’s father died when she was two, but she still had

her mother, Athalie, and her grandfather, the powerful King James II

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of Irvine. Joan lived with her mother in the adjoining kingdoms of

Los Angeles and Pasadena.

But among her favorite childhood memories are the visits with

James II. She rode with the cowboys who herded the king’s cattle. She

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watched his crops grow -- he liked to call himself a farmer. She

fished with him -- bringing home the catch and tossing it into his

swimming pool to stay fresh. And when she wanted to visit the

seashore, she went to the little green house on one of the King’s

coves, to this day called Irvine.

But sadly, the day came when James II was no longer there.

Joan Irvine Smith has spent her life trying to fulfill her

grandfather’s vision and to protect the environment he treasured.

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“If my grandfather wanted to widen a road and a tree was in the

way, he moved the road,” she said. “That is probably how I learned

the respect I have for the environment.”

Irvine Smith was the guest speaker Oct. 8 at the Laguna Canyon

Conservancy dinner. She had expected to speak on Proposition 50,

Californians for Clean Water and Coastal Protection, which she

wholeheartedly supports, and briefly on Proposition 51, which would

secure the wildlife corridor for the Great Park.

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“To my surprise, I read a notice that I would be speaking on my

experiences as a child at the ranch and at Crystal Cove,” Irvine

Smith said.

She never visited Crystal Cove as a child, although she reveres it

now as an island in time.”

“It is reminiscent of the early days in Irvine Cove and hopefully

we will be able to retain that feeling,” she said.

Irvine Smith shared other memories Tuesday of her childhood and

the battles she fought as an adult with those she calls the Irvine

Co. management, not a term of endearment. It was an informal talk,

more like a chat among friends.

“She did exactly what I hoped she would do,” said conservancy

President Carolyn Wood.

A capacity crowd was on hand to hear Irvine Smith.

“My goal has been to keep the master plan for the Irvine Ranch in

place, which included the park at Crystal Cove and large amounts of

open space,” she told them.

At its largest, the ranch was 120,000 acres.

“As a child it was like living in your own country,” Irvine Smith

said.

It was still 93,000 acres when Irvine Smith became a member of the

Irvine Co. board in 1957, at age 24. She spent 32 of the next 34

years in litigation with the management.

She blocked the sale of the company to Mobile Oil and later, when

Donald Bren sought to buy out the shareholders, she tried to fight

that. When she lost the legal battle, she took her dissenter’s

rights. The valuation of her shares was so low that she went again to

court. That lawsuit lasted from 1983 to 1990.

One of the conditions of the settlement was that Irvine Smith

would do nothing to impede Bren’s developments. But she and her late

mother always called Newport Coast Drive, Donald’s Road.

“I came out of the environmental closet in 1990 when Donald told

me he had no plans to develop Crystal Cove,” Irvine Smith said.

Irvine Smith subsequently joined forces with Laura Davick,

president of the Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove, putting the full

weight of the Irvine influence and resources behind the fight against

the development of the cove into a glitzy resort.

Irvine Smith is also a member of 18 conservation groups and groups

that support the restoration of El Moro Canyon at Crystal Cove State

Park. The group includes Laguna Greenbelt Inc., the Laguna Beach

Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Village Laguna and the Laguna

Canyon Conservancy,

“We held a fund-raiser in Huntington Beach and raised $80,000 to

get Prop. 50 on the ballot,” Irvine Smith said. “Prop. 50 is

important because it is unique to have the state allocate money to

this area. Most of it goes to L.A. north. We need to get the money

down here.”

The conservation groups announced Oct. 9 that a letter had been

sent to Gov. Gray Davis urging him to restore public access to El

Moro Canyon, which is now occupied by trailers at El Morro Village.

“The public spent $32 million to buy the land. It is time they got

to use it,” said Greenbelt President Elisabeth Brown.


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