Making A Difference: Influencing Irvine Development

By Susan Sayre – Irvine Super WatchDog

For a number of years, I attended city council meetings and gave public comments on agenda items. I was usually complaining and informing the Irvine City Council members how they were failing to represent the interests of Irvine residents – the people who elected them and who they were to represent. But the City Council members rarely paid attention to public comments. When they did, they would often make derogatory comments. Believing my efforts had been a giant waste of time, I gave up and stopped attending the Council meetings.

Then, I came in contact with Irvine for Responsible Growth (IRG), now Irvine Watchdog (IWD). Because of them, I am learning how to influence political decision making in Irvine. I will be forever thankful for their guidance!

First, they encouraged me to attend Transportation and Planning Commission meetings, to talk to Senior Planners to learn the ins and outs of the planning process and to discuss commission and City Council meeting agenda items.

Second, they encouraged me to write and present public comment presentations on agenda items for the commission and City Council meetings.

Nowadays, I have been giving at least one public comment at each commission and city council meeting. I have been taking notes in each of the meetings and have taken note of the public comments that the commissioners and city council members take notice of. I have learned a lot, and I am still learning.

What have I learned?

I have learned that influencing the development process must begin with meeting the planning department staff to learn about the planning process which includes the applicable laws, ordinances, and regulations that must be complied with. (Our planning staff is remarkably cooperative and anxious to help you in any way they can.) It is also helpful to discuss staff reports with Senior Planners assigned to the specific projects that appear on the agendas. I now know that learning to read and interpret staff reports is much like learning a foreign language. (Don’t let this scare you though. This part of the process is actually intellectually stimulating.)

I have also learned that it is through the commissions that one can exert the most influence regarding Irvine Development. Projects appear on the commissions’ agenda before they are placed on the City Council Agenda. In fact, they only appear on the City Council Agenda if they involve a density change, a zoning change or an appeal of the Planning Commission decision regarding the project. The Planning Commission decisions can be the final decision. If the item goes to the City Council, the decisions of the transportation and planning commissioners influence the City Council’s decision.

From watching the commissioners during public comment and listening to their comments after completion of the public comments, I have noted what most peaks their interest.

The most successful public speakers introduce themselves, politely give a brief statement of their concern regarding an agenda item, ask a question of the commissioners regarding the agenda item, suggest an idea for resolution of the issue, and then follow up with a requested decision regarding the agenda item.   Asking the commissioners a question to consider causes the commissioners to stop and think about it. Often, the commissioners respond directly to the question presented. They turn to staff presenters and ask them the question.  If the staff cannot answer, they will ask the staff to research the issue and present a report to the commission at a future meeting. 

I have found that commission members pay more attention when I include information I obtained from planning department staff in my public comments.

They have also met with me after meetings to discuss concerns I have presented.

I have just started using this technique at City Council meetings and my comments appear to have more successful results than in the past.

Come join me!  Look up and review commission and city council agendas and staff reports on the Irvine website, attend a meeting and make a public comment if you wish. Like me, you just may become hooked.