Orange County Great Park
|Orange County Great Park|
The El Toro airfield in 1993
|Area||27.5 acres (11.1 ha) (eventually 1,347 acres (545 ha))|
|Created||July 14, 2007|
|Operated by||Orange County Great Park Corporation, city of Irvine|
|Status||opened and under development|
|Public transit access||Irvine Transportation Center|
The Orange County Great Park is the official name of a plan for the public, non-aviation reuse of the decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Irvine, California. The county park will comprise just 28.8% (1,347 acres (5.45 km2)) of the 4,682 acres (18.95 km2) total that made up the old MCAS El Toro base. It is a $1.1 billion project approved by the voters of Orange County in 2002. The park opened its first attraction, a balloon (designed by Aerophile SA) ride that takes visitors to 500 feet (150 m) for a panoramic view of the construction of the park as well as views of the county, on July 14, 2007. A second attraction, the Kids Rock playground, opened on July 10, 2010.
Initial proposals after the retirement of the Marine Corps Air Station included an international airport, possible housing and the great park. In 2001, Orange County voters passed "Measure W" authorizing the former air station's use as a Central Park/Nature Preserve and multi-use development. The measure was passed, which led to the designation of the land as the OC Great Park.
The closing of MCAS El Toro ignited a political firestorm over the eventual fate of the facility. With its existing infrastructure, some favored converting the base into an international airport. Those favoring the new airport tended to come from northern Orange County, (desiring the convenience of a closer airport), and from areas in Newport Beach that are within the arrival and departure noise zones surrounding John Wayne Airport, (hoping to close that airport in favor of the new one at El Toro). Those against the airport proposal were largely residents of the cities in the immediate vicinity of El Toro, such as Irvine, Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Dana Point, and Mission Viejo, where residents were alarmed at the idea of the aircraft noise. The cities opposed to the airport created a joint powers authority, the El Toro Reuse Planning Authority (ETRPA) to oppose the project. They were joined in the effort by grass-roots organizations that collected record numbers of signatures on petitions to place anti-airport initiatives on the ballot and raised funds for the election campaigns. The volunteer-run El Toro Info Site  was the Internet voice of the movement and one of the first political blogs.
In 2002, after lengthy debate that lasted for over a dozen years, Orange County voters rejected the commercial airport plan and designated the land for park compatible uses. The re-use of the air station was voted on by the residents of Orange County four times. In March 2000, opponents of the airport were able to qualify for the ballot "Measure F," which required that any new construction of jails, landfills or airports would require a 2/3 majority vote. A resounding 67.3% of voters passed Measure F, effectively killing the potential airport project. In 2001, Orange County voters passed "Measure W" authorizing the former air station's use as a Central Park/Nature Preserve and multi-use development. The measure passed with 58% of the vote due to the lack of any other viable alternatives for the former site since the airport concept was effectively killed a year earlier. The history of the controversy is chronicled online by the El Toro Info Site.
In November 2003, the city of Irvine annexed the air station property and was thus able to determine the Great Park's future by zoning.
Following the annexation of the property, the Department of the Navy held an online auction for the El Toro property. Miami- based Lennar Corporation purchased the entire property for $649,500,000 and entered into a development agreement with the City of Irvine. Under the terms of the development agreement, Lennar was granted limited development rights to build the Great Park Neighborhoods in return for land and capital that will allow the construction of the Great Park.
The agreement required Lennar to deed 1,347 acres (5.45 km2) to public ownership and contribute $200 million towards the development of the Great Park. Future property owners will contribute an additional $200 million toward the park's development.
The Great Park Plan focuses on the 1,347 acres (5.45 km2) public of the property and includes a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) canyon, a 26-acre (110,000 m2) lake, botanical gardens, a cultural terrace, lawns, performing arts venues, a sports park, and a wildlife corridor connecting the Cleveland National Forest to the Laguna Coast Wilderness. At 1,347 acres (5.45 km2), the Great Park will be larger than New York's Central Park, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and San Diego's Balboa Park.
When completed, the park will be the largest municipal park in Orange County. The original plan for the infrastructure of the Great Park was virtually identical to Newport Center, with five roads connecting into a central loop road separating the park into "blocks". The design was later modified to include a large section of runway and conform more to the layout of the original base, as a reminder of its history. Most prominent in the park plans is the restoration of Agua Chinon Creek, which had been channeled underground ever since the base was built in the 1940s.
Recently however, in the midst of a U.S. housing crisis, Lennar has struggled to fulfill its part of the bargain, including delayed construction of planned housing and of a 'community facilities district'.
In addition to trees that will be moved and replanted on the base, Southern California Edison has committed to contributing 50,000 trees to the Great Park.
The Park has also become a political football in Irvine city politics, with historical proponents of the airport and opponents of the park criticizing the implementation. The current City Council commissioned a forensic audit to find mismanagement of public dollars at the park. Among the findings was a $12,000 payment to a consultant for changing one word in a groundwater report and the city paying consultants twice for the same work. As of January 2014, the city council was considering whether to issue subpoenas to compel people to testify about the project's handling.
The Canyon was voted by Irvine City Council on July 17th, 2014 for removal from the Great Park plan. FivePoint Communities was also given approval for 4,606 more homes near the park in exchange for $200 million to develop 688 acres of the park which will include golf courses, a sports park and nature trails. 
Features of the park
- 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long
- A 60-foot (18 m) depth and a cooler climate deeper in the canyon
- A lake for boating
- Streams and pools will run the length of the canyon, which carries Agua Chinon Creek south-southeast into San Diego Creek
- Bridges will cross the canyon at different points including the "Bridge of 2 Towers" which will provide a zig-zag path across the widest portion of the canyon
- 122 acres (0.49 km2)
- Proposed 60 to 70 acres (280,000 m2)
- A garden bridge designed by architect Enrique Norten will connect the botanical garden to the cultural terrace.
- 165 acres (0.67 km2)
- Proposed amenities include soccer fields, bat and ball fields, a skateboard complex, rock climbing wall, field house
- A great lawn
- A 3-mile (4.8 km) long corridor for wildlife migration
- The corridor will link the Cleveland National Forest in the north with Crystal Cove State Park in the south.
- Great Park Air Museum
- Vintage aircraft on the remnants of the runway
- Will be Orange County's largest golf course, at 27 holes, possibly 45
- Former El Toro Golf Course being renovated
- Irvine (Amtrak station) at the southwest corner of the parkland
- Los Angeles Times: O.C.'s Great Park takes off
- April 12, 2008 Los Angeles Times: U.S. housing crisis stifles Great Park
- "Great Park Auditor Details Massive Waste and Abuse". Voice of OC. January 15, 2014.
- "Audit of Great Park Spending Highlights Consultants' Windfall". Voice of OC. January 13, 2014.
- July, 18, 2014 Great Park Plan gets Irvine Approval
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