In the heart of Orange County, a few miles southeast of the UC Irvine campus, the deserted El Toro Marine Corps Air Station is undergoing a five-year transformation into the Orange County Great Park, a 4,700-acre property much larger than New York City’s Central Park (843 acres) and costing the county approximately $350 million ($353,813,563 to be exact).
UC Irvine graduate students in urban planning and engineering Natalia Komar, Jim Maclay and Shane Stephens met with the OCGP Board of Directors at the Irvine Civic Center on Sept. 28 to present an original collection of designs from the Great Park Advanced Power and Sustainability Class, a graduate level class at UCI offered last spring quarter.
‘We thought it would be cool to bring something together that looked at the class and projects more collectively,’ Stephens said. ‘We got together after class. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it, but we took [our ideas] to the committee of the Orange County Great Park.’
The class proposed five possible technologies to the board, based on viability, applicability and sustainability at the Great Park: a solar sterling dish that captures heat from the sun to make energy, a policy concept to monitor the use of energy in the buildings, a sustainability pod or kiosk that has information and interactive activities to educate park-goers about leading sustainable lives, a green waste anaerobic digester power plant that uses a continuous stream of a methane-rich gas to generate power and a fixed rail guide-way powered by an underground electric third rail.
‘They’re all interesting concepts, some of which I think haven’t been considered by the board previously,’ Stephens said. ‘We’re not trying to suggest to the board that they adopt these. We just thought they were good ideas. They might not use these ideas but we wanted them to be aware of them.’
Accessible from three freeways (5, 405 and 133), the 241 toll road and the Amtrak and Metrolink, the park, designed by Ken Smith, will include bike, pedestrian and bus routes, botanical gardens, open space, recreational activities (fishing, soccer, baseball and hot air ballooning), a marsh, a lake, learning centers, a veterans memorial and more.
MCAS El Toro, which trained combat pilots during World War II, officially closed in 1999. All military personnel and equipment were moved to Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The property was originally supposed to be used to build the fifth-busiest airport in the country, about the size of San Francisco International.
However, after a tough battle involving three ballot measures, the airport proposal was rejected by Orange County citizens. Measure F passed in 2000, and in 2005, Lennar Corporations bought out the El Toro property for $649.5 million. This allowed the City of Irvine, along with the County of Orange, the Department of the Navy and the Orange County Great Park Corporation to take charge of designing, building and maintaining the park.
‘[The Great Park has] come pretty far,’ said Lance MacLean, member of the Great Park Board of Directors, mayor of Mission Viejo and adviser for the Associated Students of UCI. ‘The City Council went to New York City’s Central Park and Perris, California and made a wish list, and different designers came back with different designs. The county is currently in the first year of the five-year development of the park.
‘It’s a special opportunity to have such a forward-thinking project happening near us, and we should think of it as a resource and learning tool, as well as something to which we can each contribute in our own way,’ Stephens said.