Celebrating Irvine’s Environmental Achievements


Ever wonder why Irvine is so green and lush? Did you know Irvine was recognized internationally and received a United Nations award for leading the world in banning chlorofluorocarbons?

Irvine has had a long history of environmental achievements since before the city was incorporated in 1971. Here are some milestones to celebrate as part of our shared history.

  • 1960s – Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) Engineers played a key role in getting purple pipe, used for recycled water, recognized by national and international plumbing groups as “Irvine Purple”.
  • 1970s – In the early 1970s, the city passed a park bond where the citizens taxed themselves to build facilities, included a new arts center at Heritage Park and the Irvine Barclay Theatre. These two facilities, both visual and performing arts, have had a large influence on the city and the artistic community for many years. The Irvine Barclay Theatre has firmly established itself as a premier venue with a wide array of programming with world-renowned artists. The Barclay Theatre became a reality by a “unique collaborative venture between the City of Irvine, the University of California, Irvine, residents, and private donors.” See Irvine Barclay Theatre History.
  • 1972 – One of the very first ordinances passed in the City of Irvine made it illegal to cut down a tree of more than 5 inches in diameter, contributing to carbon sequestration.
  • 1974 –  Irvine voters approved an $18-million park bond in 1974 to build parks and a web of bike trails across the city. Currently Irvine has more miles of bike trails than Portland, Oregon. Read LA Times coverage here. 
  • 1976 – Urban Forest Ordinance passed which required the preservation of eucalyptus windrows throughout the City and banned cutting the tops of hillsides. See Urban Forest Ordinance, Section 5-7-401.
  • 1987 – Irvine was the first city in the county to establish a curbside recycling program where “Each solid waste bin enclosure or designated waste collection area shall contain at least one recycling collection bin located adjacent or in close proximity to refuse collection bins.” See Section 2-32-4. Read LA Times coverage here.
  • 1988 – Irvine voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative Resolution 88-1, titled “An Initiative Resolution of the City of Irvine Directing the Amendment of the Conservation and Open Space Element and the Land Use Element of the Irvine General Plan.” This Initiative helped protect over 10,000 acres of native habitat including the protection of Bommer Canyon. See Preservation Strategies.
  • 1989 – The City of Irvine was the first municipality in the United States to adopt an ordinance governing the manufacture, distribution, sale and recycling of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, which, when discharged into the environment, deplete the Earth’s protective ozone layer. See Section 3-23-2 According to a Bloomberg article, the move made national headlines. The New York Times called the ordinance “the most far-reaching measure” to protect the ozone, and the Los Angeles Times declared it “the most comprehensive law in the nation” against CFCs. Critics called it bad for business.
  • 1990 – Irvine received a United Nations award for passing the first ordinance in the WORLD banning chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Irvine led the way internationally and was recognized internationally. Read LA Times coverage here.
  • 1995 – Irvine approved an increase in the park bond tax paid by homeowners that originated in 1974.
  • 1996 – The Irvine Company contributed 21,000 acres to a new 37,000-acre land preserve via the Natural Community Conservation Planning Act, designed to protect species by safeguarding large parts of their habitats. The preserve would not only protect 39 rare plant and animal species but would guarantee Irvine and Orange County residents easy access to enjoy the wilderness.
  • 2001 – Between 1983 and 2001 Irvine designated 50,000 acres of open space as permanent preserves. That’s about half of the original acreage of the city of Irvine. This land protects hundreds of native species, including mountain lions, eagles, and bobcats. It’s designated as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.
  • 2006 – The Irvine Ranch was designated a United States National Natural Landmark, and two years later the ranchland was recognized as a California State Natural Landmark.
  • 2017 – The Organic Leadership Award was presented to the City of Irvine by Beyond Pesticides and Pepperdine University for the adoption of Irvine’s Integrated Pest Management “Non-Toxic” Policy. For more info click here.
  • 2018 – The City of Irvine along with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy employed over one thousand goats to groom hillsides for fire abatement.
  • 2021 – Irvine becomes the first city in Orange County to commit to carbon neutrality by 2030. Read LA Times article.
  • Currently:
    • Among U.S. cities, Irvine has one of the highest percentages of solar-powered homes.
    • Irvine has attracted some of the nation’s leading engineers developing electric-vehicle batteries and engines.
    • The Irvine Company itself continues to be an environmental innovator: In 2018, it completed the world’s first fleet of hybrid-electric buildings, featuring state-of-the-art Tesla Powerpack battery systems at 21 high-rise office buildings.

Lastly, here is perspective shared by leaders in our city’s history for our city’s 40th anniversary, of how things were and how things got done for the community as a whole.

Bill Woollett
Irvine’s First City Manager

Q: Were there a lot of volunteers who helped shape the early years?

A: Yes. Without them, we never would have gotten this started quickly. We had no city hall, no city staff, and one telephone. We didn’t even have a post office or a library. We had people who volunteered as City Treasurer and City Clerk. We encouraged volunteers to meet on their own and develop a position for the City.

Mary Ann Gaido
Former Irvine City Councilmember
Former President of Irvine Community Land Trust

Q: What is most unique about the City in this 40th Anniversary year?

A: The citizens of the City have made it what it is. Looking back over 40 years, there were no old guard, no politicians. We were all brand-new. Citizens rolled up their sleeves and donated their time and their expertise, and really made the City was it is today. While the Irvine Co.’s plans were lifted up as an example, it truly is the citizens of the City who planned this City and worked with the developer to make sure that each time there was a zone change, that the citizens got a public benefit.

Sean Joyce
Former Irvine City Manager

This story sounds familiar to many residents and employees who arrived before, at or near the December 28, 1971 incorporation of Irvine. Like my father, many could have chosen anywhere to live. But those pioneers came for reasons then that make sense today: For the promise of a master-planned community; for the safety and the schools; for the burgeoning job base and growing university; for the open space that would allow the City to grow but not feel crowded; to find a home that, through affordable housing initiatives, allow their children choices as well. This City Council, and earlier ones, has made critical policy decisions on these quality of life issues. In doing so, the entire framework of Irvine’s plan has come into play.