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Business Leaders Discuss Visions for an Evolving Orange County

Saturday, August 24, 2019

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While addressing everything from homeless to climate change in exploring what Orange County may look like in the future, a panel of high-profile business leaders recently also discussed how elected officials can be obstacles to addressing long-range needs.

“How do you get reelected by making change that is not popular?” said Emile Haddad, CEO of developer FivePoint, a gold-level Leaders Circle sponsor of the Greater Irvine Chamber and which co-sponsored the Hilton Irvine luncheon with OC Forum.

“Who’s going to get reelected in Irvine by saying, ‘Let’s build 10,000 units of affordable housing?’”

Andy Cohen, co-CEO of the Gensler global design group, an architectural agency with an office in Newport Beach, shared Haddad’s concern.

“The cycle of politics is two or four years,” Cohen said. “The (development) cycles we’re talking about are 20, 30, 40 years.”

The three-person panel, moderated by Steve PonTell of the affordable housing nonprofit National CORE, outlined ingredients for cities of the future, emphasizing mixed-use communities where people can work, live and play — and by doing so, attract quality employers and workers. Haddad, whose company is involved in a massive development of Irvine’s Great Park, pointed to the FivePoint Amphitheatre and sports venues near neighborhoods as examples of such development.

Another component for the Great Park is Greater Irvine Chamber platinum-level Leaders Circle sponsor City of Hope’s planned $1 billion cancer treatment center. Panelist Robert Stone, City of Hope’s president, said that 20 percent of county residents leave Orange County for cancer treatment — a number that’s likely to change as the center brings a new asset to the area. But he added that a healthy community continues past the walls of a medical facility to how surrounding areas are developed.

Making it easier for different enterprises to collaborate across disciplines — as well as with workers, residents and academic experts — was an ongoing theme.

The panel also discussed the need to anticipate climate change and sea-level rise, forces that figure to make development of the future less centered around cars and more inclusive of trains and other public transport, and to result in more mid- and high-rise residential construction.

“Orange County is in a very unique place — (will it) be a city of the future or just continue to grow as a suburb,” Haddad said.

The need for vision

The type of collaboration that got the most attention was business working with policymakers.

“What it comes back to is good planning and zoning,” said Cohen.

Haddad warned that developers’ lack of attention to homeless and affordable housing could lead to a rise in candidates “running on a platform of socialism.” Later, he pointed to California lawmakers’ growing concern with the homeless, and noted a state lawsuit against Huntington Beach for failing to approve higher density zoning.

“We now have a government in Sacramento that realizes we have a problem,” Haddad said. “Huntington Beach saw that you’re either going to get it crammed down your throat, or you’re going to do the best thing because it’s right for the future.”

Part of the answer is having city council members work with a “kitchen cabinet” of experts and make more research-based decisions, he said.

“Politicians don’t have the backup they need,” he said. He also encouraged policymakers to provide incentives for developers like himself to provide affordable housing. Of 3,400 homes built so far in the Great Park, 544 are set aside for seniors and other low-income tenants, he said.

Cohen, who’s been involved with mixed-use developments around the world, applauded efforts in the Great Park as the kind of forward thinking that’s needed.

“I think Orange County has a bright future,” Cohen said. “Where is the soul, the beating heart of Orange County? That’s what they’re trying to create in the Great Park.”

Source: Orange County Register

Photo courtesy of OC Forum:
FivePoint Chairman and CEO Emile Haddad, Gensler Co-CEO Andy Cohen and City of Hope President & CEO Robert Stone participated in a panel discussion hosted by Orange County Forum in Irvine on Aug. 22 called “Future Cities: Essential Elements for Building and Maintaining a World-Class Quality of Life.” Panelists shared their thoughts on essential elements that will ensure our communities are sustainable and relevant to future generations. The conversation was moderated by Steve PonTell, President & CEO, National CORE. Watch it Here   

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