Op-Ed: RCI Cost of Victory

An important victory was achieved at the August 13, 2019 Irvine City Council meeting when the City Council unanimously agreed to maintain the current zoning of the Racquet Club of Irvine. The Racquet Club of Irvine is a family run business on 9.2 acres, located at 5 Ethel Coplen Way.

The subject property is zoned for Commercial and Recreation use. The owners have publicly expressed their struggle to generate profit under the current zoning. Therefore, they requested the city to change the zoning to allow for residential development. This would have allowed them to sell the property to a housing developer. During public comments I covered 3 issues in 3 minutes:

  1. Unintended consequences of over development
  2. Opportunities within the current zoning
  3. Profit is good but not the only value

Though the City Council’s decision was a victory for those of us who want to maintain the Village Concept of Irvine’s General Plan, it does come at a cost. The cost is the possibility of losing a local, family run business that contributes to our community. I would like to elaborate on this victory and its cost by elaborating on the 3 issues I covered at the city council meeting.

Unintended Consequences of Overdevelopment

“The truth is that a large part of the costs of private enterprise has been borne by the public authorities – because they pay for the infrastructure – and that the profits [and losses] of private enterprise therefore greatly overstate its achievement [and failure].”

E.F. Schumacher “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”, p. 274

I attended the August 7th meeting at the Racquet Club of Irvine. According to the owners, their goal for profit trumps zoning and it is time to hire a consulting firm to rezone the property and achieve that goal. Solely focusing on private profit led to the anger and frustration residents exuded at that meeting. Residents are the ones who must carry the burden of unintended consequences. In particular, they carry the burden of overdevelopment.

The property owner and city leaders may have good intentions, but it’s time to stop development, not slow down development. This isn’t just about increased traffic. The substation fire on August 2nd that shut down an international airport and left 28,000 of us without power for up to 36 hours may be a small glimpse into our future.

SDG&E reported at the August 13th City Council meeting that they don’t know what caused the fire and that all their redundancies failed. This substation is surrounded by ongoing mixed use development. One can only imagine what will happen when that development is built out, fully occupied and everyone decides to turn on their AC units. Whether it is 123 residential units or 49 units, or 1 unit, it is time to stop development and catch our collective breath. At least until we know what caused the substation fire.

Opportunities Within the Current Zoning

For the sake of being constructive, I would like to propose some potential ideas for profit that may be realized within the current zoning. Beyond being constructive, I want the owners to succeed. Here we have a small business where the owners live and work within Irvine. Is this not what the village concept was meant to be? This is a paradigm case for what the founders of Irvine intended when they designed a general plan with villages: families living and working within the community. If the owners fail, in a very real sense, the village concept fails. So, in that spirit, I offer some constructive proposals.

First, convert a certain number of courts to accommodate pickleball. This is a growing sport and is something the Bobby Riggs Tennis Club in San Diego has done successfully. Or, become a more diverse private club and offer club beach volleyball. Another San Diego club, Wave Volleyball, has been very successful at this. High quality courts can be built at a fraction of the cost of remodeling a bar. As the father of a University High volleyball player, I would personally be very interested in local, high-quality, club beach volleyball. My point is, for the sake of the owners success, creative ways of generating profit seems feasible within the current zoning of the 9.2 acres.

Profit is Good but not the Only Value

My last proposal may seem extreme, but I share it as a way of thinking beyond simply profit making and integrating other equally important values that come with ownership. Convert the 9.2 acres, or a portion thereof, into the Cecil Spearman Veteran’s Park.  This is a permitted use (#9) under the current zoning.

Like Cecil Spearman, I served as a Marine Corps officer, and to have such a park would be a great contribution to our community– a place I would be honored to take my family. The Marine Corps stresses the importance of character — not just one character trait, but a range of character traits. Three of the most important are honor, courage and commitment. Just like profit should not be the only consideration to have as an owner, honor is not the only quality a marine should have. Courage and commitment are also required of marines. The Cecil Spearman Veterans Park would be honorable to all veterans, would require courage to step beyond simply profit making, and would be a sign of the owners’ commitment to the community they invested in back in 2002.