The Master Plan is Unveiled
On March 19, 1970, The Irvine Company made national news when it announced plans for the largest planned city on the North American continent. The City of Irvine would cover 53,000 acres and have an expected population of 430,000 citizens by the year 2000. The new town would be twice as large as the city of San Francisco with a population greater than all of the surrounding Orange County cities combined.
At the time, there were already people living on the Irvine Ranch. Nearly 20,000 people lived in the newly established villages such as University Park, Turtle Rock and Culverdale. The area provided 30,000 jobs and 5,000 students attended the University of California at Irvine. Each new village had its own community association of residents, launched and supported by the Irvine Company. The villages were within the jurisdiction of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The company intended for Irvine to be a self-governing, incorporated city in the future, when the population and development had matured. However, several factors caused the Irvine Company to change its position and speed up plans for incorporation.
The Push For Incorporation
The successful Irvine Industrial Complex and its valuable tax income had become a target for neighboring communities that wished to annex the area for themselves. Santa Ana, Tustin, and Costa Mesa had all made plans to absorb portions of of the area near the Orange County Airport. The Irvine Industrial Complex provided the essential tax base needed for the proposed city and incorporation would protect this important resource.
In addition, Collins Radio, a lessee on the Irvine Ranch, had announced plans to annex their site to the City of Newport Beach. Locally there were concerns that these annexation raids by surrounding cities signaled the beginning of the end to Irvine’s future as a separate city.
Another reason for the push for incorporation was the changing composition of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. This governing body had always been supportive of the Irvine Master Plan in the past, but newly elected supervisors were more skeptical. The environmental movement had gained momentum and the Irvine Company was gaining the reputation as a greedy developer anxious to eliminate precious open space. Incorporation would place civic decisions in the hands of elected residents of the city of Irvine, not with a Board of Supervisors from other parts of the county.
The Great Debate
In response to these threats to the future of independent cityhood, thirty Irvine community associations joined together in June of 1970 to form the Council of the Communities of Irvine (CCI). This organization of residents, along with the Irvine Company itself, began to raise awareness and community resolve for incorporation. It was not an easy task.
Incorporation of the City of Irvine met resistance from many who felt that the move would be disastrous to the future of the area.
There was concern that the city was simply too small and inexperienced to govern itself effectively. Questions were also raised about the role that the Irvine Company would play in the new city government. Many felt that incorporation was a strategy to bypass the Orange County Board of Supervisors and give the Irvine Company an easier path for their development plans. Environmentalists warned that the newly incorporated city would develop some of the last remaining open space in the county, covering valuable agricultural land with tracts of houses.
Irvine Becomes a City
In the end, the residents were given the chance to vote.
On December 21, 1971, people came to the polls to cast their ballots. They also selected a five person City Council from a field of 32 candidates, most of whom were members of community association boards. When the final vote was tallied, incorporation had won by more than a 2-1 margin. The newly elected Irvine City Council consisted of William M. Fischbach, John Burton, Henry Quigley, Gabrielle Pryor, and E. Ray Quigley. Orange County’s twenty-sixth city was born.
If the Irvine Company had the strategy to gain more control in the newly created City of Irvine, it did not come to pass. The City Council asserted their independence by immediately enacting a 90 day freeze on development so that its members could fully analyze all planning project
Local reporter George Leidal wrote about the first Irvine City Council meeting.
“It isn’t every day a reporter gets a chance to observe the birth of a new city. People I’ve met in Irvine, thus far, exude an infectious spirit of hope for their new city. It may indeed set the standard. The difference between Irvine and any other new town is that while others are truly company towns, dominated by the master planning of the developers, Irvine is the lone experiment in residential land use now controlled by a citizen selected city government.