Daniel Chao and his family were drawn to move into the Great Park neighborhood of Cadence Park in September 2020 for its “community oriented” feel.

“That was the first thing we just loved,” Chao said. “And it’s true. I play volleyball with my neighbors like every week.”

He was told by the home’s seller his family could expect a mix of retail along Irvine Boulevard and more and greater things were still to come for the Great Park.

“This is great,” Chao said he thought. “We’re moving into an up-and-coming neighborhood with those neighborhood-centric amenities.”

But Chao and some of his neighbors now say they are becoming increasingly frustrated over promises unfulfilled, especially for neighborhood retail, such as supermarket and restaurant options, close to home.

Also, they’ve been strapped, indefinitely, with a special tax that helps pay for public improvements to the Great Park, making them especially invested in what is built there, Chao said, but they feel like they’ve had little input.

That’s “taxation without representation” they told City Council members at a recent meeting, demanding a bigger role in the planning of future projects at the Great Park.

“We are the longest term,” Chao said, “and arguably most important stakeholders in this project.”

Need for retail

Councilwoman Tammy Kim said disappointment among the park’s residents predates her 2020 election.

Once she took office, she said she began speaking with its developers, Five Point Holdings, and was “hearing lots of pie in the sky ideas,” but as far as she is concerned it was “delivering on, like, absolutely nothing, I felt that there was a lot of vanity projects, but nothing… as it relates to benefiting the residents.”

“The residents were promised access to shopping and, you know, just general convenience,” Kim said, but “nothing has ever been built.”

She’s pitching, with Councilman Mike Carroll, a task force be formed of 15 Great Park neighborhood residents to better understand their needs and, according to their memo, “potentially formulate new approaches to help the neighborhood reach the level of community service that matches the other villages of lrvine.”

The council is set to consider the proposal at its meeting Tuesday, May 24.

Kim said the idea “is really about communication and about having transparency and to open communication, in terms of what projects are coming in.”

The retail element is a major concern for a lot of residents, Chao said. While he and his neighbors were sold on a “walkable” community, the nearest shopping center to Chao’s home is about two miles away, at Woodbury Town Center, “and that is starting to get overcrowded,” he said.

Chao said he’s talked with his neighbors and “they’re all waiting” on updates from Five Point, frustrated its representatives haven’t provided a public update at a Great Park board meeting in months.

Five Point CEO Dan Hedigan, who took the helm of the company in February after former CEO Emile Haddad stepped away from a day-to-day leadership role in 2021, said in a statement he has “made it a top priority” since he started in the role “to plan and ultimately activate new retail spaces that will serve our residents at Great Park Neighborhoods.”

Some details of the company’s current retail strategy were laid out in a presentation Thursday, May 19, during a meeting with city planning leaders. Patrick Strader with Starpointe Ventures, a planning consultant for Great Park Neighborhoods, said Five Point will soon select an operator for a pop-up village off Ridge Valley Road and Bosque, which will serve as a food and beverage stop near the sports fields.

And either District 4, near Cadence Park, or District 1 South, near Parasol Park, will be the location of the Great Park Neighborhoods’ first commercial retail hub, likely anchored by a grocery store with some smaller surrounding shops, Strader said. Once a grocery operator is selected, Five Point will allow them to choose the location, between those two options, where they think a shopping center would be most useful.

Hedigan said through a spokesperson that Five Point was getting help from “commercial property specialists” and using “real-time market data to identify and actively prospect neighborhood-serving tenants for our retail offering within Great Park Neighborhoods.”

He didn’t provide a timeline for when a shopping site might be built, but vowed to keep residents apprised during the process, saying, “we appreciate the feedback from the city and our residents, and will engage them and share updates as we complete meaningful steps towards delivering this first-phase retail space.”

Balancing visions

As more of the Great Park is being built out, and the sports complex is almost finished, Mayor Farrah Khan said city leaders are keeping park neighborhood resident in mind as they plan more of the northern sector and an area dubbed the “cultural terrace,” “making sure that we have the botanical gardens at a walkable distance from the neighborhoods, making sure that we have the museums and other passive opportunities,” she said.

Part of balancing what neighborhood residents want with the overall vision for the park has been developing some of the revenue-generating portions first, such as the sports complex and stadium, Khan said. There remains hundreds of acres that haven’t been developed yet, she noted, including 125 acres on a site that was once proposed to be a state veterans memorial.

“Now that we have some revenue being generated, we can focus on these areas and make sure that they’re done,” Khan said.

At the same time, officials are looking for ways to eventually sunset the special tax that residents who live near the Great Park are expected to pay for its ongoing maintenance.

A portion of the tax goes to pay off bonds acquired in 2013 to fund infrastructure improvements in and around the park, which were expected to be paid off in 40 years. When that debt is paid, the assessment is expected to lowered for residents by “between approximately 65% and 82%,” according to the city’s website. The remaining tax would continue in perpetuity to provide maintenance funding, unless a replacement source is created.

That could be another benefit of having the sports area nearly completed and able to bring in money, Khan said.

“If we can work that in a way where it’s beneficial, then it gives us more funds to deliver back into the community,” she said.

The goal of the proposed task force is to get a diverse sampling of Great Park resident opinions, Kim said. If it’s approved on Tuesday, each council member would choose three residents to form the 15-member group, and they’d meet once a month with the city manager, who would present recommendations and findings to the City Council in four months.

The feedback would “really help solidify what it is the residents are looking for” at the Great Park, Kim said.

“And plus,” she added, “it’ll help us push the developers into fulfilling their commitments to our residents, which is to provide some amount of amenities.” Like the ability to purchase groceries nearby.

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