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Urbane Renewal

33 ways to improve Orange County...

Plaza Tower

It’s traditional at the dawn of the New Year to think about resolutions and plans for self-improvement. Well, what about improving this place we call home? We’re not claiming all these ideas as our own. Some are already well in the works or included in general plans. Others are mere flights of fancy and works of whimsy — and we even included a couple “just for fun” ringers that never could (nor likely should) come true.

1. Let’s get on with building the new Orange County Museum of Art at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. And here’s hoping the Thom Mayne-designed building will serve as a 21st century signifier for OC. Had you heard of (let alone been to) Bilbao before the Guggenheim?

2. Appoint an Orange County aesthetic advisor with advise and consent authority on architecture and design. We have far too little innovative architecture and design in a county as new and modern as we are. Vancouver had visionary directors of planning Larry Beasley and Anne McAfee, who helped transform the city. Manchester in the UK hired graphic designer Peter Saville as its creative consultant to help develop and convey the city’s “brand.” As our various city centers grow more dense, we need someone who can say, “But wait, that’s ugly!” to an architect, developer or a city planning department, and be heard.

3. New skyscraper and office tower designs should aspire to the beauty of Cesar Pelli’s Plaza Tower commissioned by Henry Segerstrom and family.

4. Build a joint OC/San Diego international airport at Camp Pendleton.

5. We don’t really have any cool bridges. Let’s hire Santiago Calatrava to design one for us as part of coming transit construction, or maybe at 19th Street? Let's at least build more cool foot bridges like Bridge of Gardens at South Coast Plaza, especially at forbidding intersections. The Civic Center Bridge over San Miguel near Fashion Island is nearly complete and could save lives at the car-centric entrance to Fashion Island.

6. Bring an NBA team to Anaheim’s Honda Center, but let’s not let that city dictate terms or own the name. Call them the OC Surf, the SoCal Cougars or the Pacific Rim Waves. Almost anything is better than the Anaheim Monarchs (one suggested moniker for the Sacramento Kings franchise, a possible OC-based team), but it’s time we think bigger than our biggest city. And someone should take KCAL off of the bankrupt Tribune Company’s hands and establish it as an Orange County-centric station. Perhaps the Samuelis and Arte Moreno could go in on it, and use the station as a flagship to broadcast their OC teams.

7. Build a Mandarin Oriental (or other globally branded luxury hotel) between South Coast Plaza and Segerstrom Center for the Arts. A 200-key high-rise hotel building hotel is part of the approved Segerstrom Town Center at Sunflower Avenue and Bristol, which could also include an earlier entitled high-rise office building on the site. Why a Mandarin Oriental, you ask? It’s a favorite of company executives, and the sophisticated Asian image of the brand plays well to the divinely diverse luxury goods clientele who would stay there.

8. Bring back Lion Country Safari, in a modern wildlife conservation park package, probably at the Great Park.

9. Cities should own Coast Highway, not Caltrans. Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and other coastal towns are often hamstrung by Caltrans recalcitrance when it comes to ideas that don’t involve optimizing the movement of cars.

10. Bring big city soccer to Santa Ana. Build a soccer-only stadium within a short walk of the train station or light rail stop and lure Chivas USA to move to OC.

11. OC Register should be purchased by visionary new owners who believe in the power of print and recognize that a revitalized daily paper could improve the region in oh so many ways. Oh wait. That one’s already done.

12. Our private and public destination marketing entities need to come together to brand and promote Orange County in a clear and consistent way. While each city and bureau should maintain their local sovereignty, there needs to be less infighting and more unity and consistency in the overall message. If we don’t define ourselves, others will. We risk being known for our angry and entitled Housewives by too much of the world, rather than as the global destination and diverse economic power that we are.

13. Connect the dots for a single-track trail up Buck Gulley from Little Corona beach, under PCH and up to the top of Newport Coast, connecting to Crystal Cove and Laguna Wilderness trails. There’s a nice little trail now, but it only goes part of each way.

14. Make riding buses fun, even cool, and not just a social service for the transit dependent. Think it can’t be done? Just look at Laguna’s free trolley service that’s packed with locals and tourists all through the summer. Create a PCH Beach Cities Shuttle that runs every 20 minutes along the coast, especially in summer.

15. Greenlight a third Disney Resort theme park. The expansion and re-imagineered California Adventure is such a home run, we hope Disney and the city of Anaheim fast track whatever’s next. Approvals were obtained several years ago for a new theme park on a 53-acre plot that’s now used mainly as a parking lot. The third park could be a variation on existing themes, or perhaps be based on the Marvel or Star Wars properties Disney now owns. Though with the success of Cars Land, we’d love to see John Lassiter given free rein to create a Pixar-based park.

16. Build a Vatican-themed amusement park at Crystal Cathedral, recently purchased by the Catholic Diocese. No? Well how about a school of architecture in partnership with Chapman University, the losing bidder on the property?

17. Buy a house, get a visa. We want to continue to lure the best, brightest and wealthiest from around the world to enhance OC’s increasingly diverse communities. So let’s expand on the EB-5 program that offers visas to foreign investors who create 10 new jobs. But no visa if they’re buying as an absentee investor or just to ditch their dollars, rupees, reais, rubles or yuan. The mobile global elite must live and innovate here, at least part of the time. You say you don’t need another house? Spend more than $1 million per annum at South Coast Plaza or Fashion Island, and you can stick around, too.

18. Hotel Laguna hasn’t changed much over the decades, which is a good thing historically, but not so much for visitors expecting an experience worthy of the setting. The hotel should be converted to a chic boutique beach hotel. Use the art-filled La Maison du Frene on the French Riviera as an example. And downtown Santa Ana is dying for a designer boutique hotel, to be discussed for one of the vintage buildings downtown.

19. Anaheim’s cool and contemporary ARTIC station construction is underway, and Santa Ana has plans to expand its transit station, too. Let's  juxtapose something marvelously modern (like San Francisco's new transit center, above) with the historic train station that’s there now.

20. The Laguna Wilderness is full of trails and fire roads that go up and over the hills, but there’s a need for a Laguna Canyon trail that runs from around the Festival Grounds all the way to Quail Hill. There are stretches of trail along the highway that connect a few trail heads but a complete scenic trail would be a boon for walkers and hikers who now are forced onto the highway around Big Bend and other stretches of the canyon. OC should also get tough on completing mountain-to-sea trails in South County that have been long-authorized, but often impeded upon by homeowners and developers.

21. Give OC its own High Line. We don’t have elevated railroad tracks like the ones that were converted into New York’s High Line Park, but we do have freeways. Cap the 55 Freeway where it’s below grade in Costa Mesa and put a park on top, along with enough new residential and commercial buildings to help fund the project. And consider extending the freeway farther past 17th Street, below grade as well, ending about where we head down the hill toward Hoag. Where now there’s traffic jams and Triangle Square there could be a new park and a cool community. Maybe more streetcars, too, connecting the beach back along Bristol to South Coast Plaza.

22. Pensions and police services and such have gotten so expensive; having 34 different cities just doesn’t make much sense. Newport Beach should adopt Costa Mesa, though Costa Mesa should keep a separate identity as CdM does. And pretty much all of the South County cities created since the ‘80s should join forces. Combine the staffs and services of Lake Forest, the wannabe Lagunas (Niguel, Hills and Woods), the Viejos (Mission and Aliso) and add in unincorporated communities like Ladera Ranch and Coto de Caza. Call it Lake Laguna Viejo or something.

23. Start an OC-to-Vegas train. No, this isn’t the MagLev or other bullet trains that have been discussed for a decade. It’s something more humble, but doable: a party train from Fullerton to Vegas called the X Train. There’s already a deal with Union Pacific to use freight tracks for what’s formally billed as the Las Vegas Railway Express. All aboard!

24. Annex coastal Long Beach, including the harbor. Or perhaps those communities will need to secede, but Long Beach doesn’t get its due from LA, and geographically diminutive OC would be a world power with its own warm-water industrial port. Plus the added diversity would be nice, too. A little too Democratically diverse for the powers that be? Let’s take the very OC-like conservative city of Corona from the IE to balance things out a bit.

25. Provide more pedestrian access to the Newport Harbor by extending the walkway along the Mariners’ Mile waterfront from the Newport Boulevard Bridge to the Balboa Bay Club, build a pedestrian bridge across the bay to Lido Village and provide/extend waterfront walkways along Lido Village and the Rhine Channel, connecting Cannery Village and McFadden Square waterfront areas to the future Marina Park.

26. Develop a silent and wake-free water taxi system on Newport Harbor that can go somewhat faster than Duffys and other boats do currently.

27. It’s finally time for transit. Light rail is coming, and if the CenterLine project of last decade ultimately didn’t make sense (and given lack of density along much of the route which would have linked Santa Ana to UCI by way of South Coast Plaza and JWA, in retrospect it probably didn’t), the proposed projects in Santa Ana and Anaheim surely do. Both cities have modern street car lines in the works, but the most exciting aspect of it all is a light rail line from Santa Ana to downtown Los Angeles that would run along old the Pacific Electric Red Car right-of-way already owned by transit agencies, which somehow avoided development over the years. The challenge is to make certain the systems coexist and work best to serve the needs of this highly dense corridor in Orange County. Will light rail suddenly make the 5 free of traffic? Of course not. No one should argue that mass transit reduces congestion; it gives people an option out of automobile congestion. And transit-oriented development along the line can help create a sustainable, dense,  urban corridor friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists that serves citizens well.

28. Build an NFL stadium with surrounding nightlife zone (a la LA Live) at the Great Park, or perhaps near the Tustin blimp hangars, but only if it can be done without a major infusion of public funds.

29. Piano bars. There used to be a lot of them (our favorite was at the top of the Surf and Sand Hotel), and we’d like to see the gathering places make a comeback.

30. Orange County should work harder to develop its own chefs and restaurateurs. OCC has a nice culinary program, but the county needs an incubator system where investors and landlords would provide a black box-like space for chefs to prove themselves worthy of future investment. Too many of our new restaurants are imported from LA and San Diego, and there’s not enough pre-gentrified real estate where young chefs can afford to get their start.

31. The undeveloped triangle of land by the entrance to Laguna Canyon (between the 133, 405 and Quail Hill) should be considered for a transportation plaza with aesthetically pleasing parking, non-polluting shuttle buses for day-trippers and other visitors to Laguna Beach, with connections to the Irvine Transportation Center. With more housing at the Great Park in Irvine and Lake Forest, and Lake Forest Road being extended to Laguna Canyon, traffic into Laguna will only get worse. That city, along with Irvine and the Irvine Co., should work on alternatives now.

32. Irvine could use a high-end spa, maybe based in a luxury hotel in or near the Spectrum.

33. No one really wants to think about it or face facts, but we need a long-term climate change strategy that takes into account estimated increased sea levels over the next century, as well as potential damage from super storms and “atmospheric rivers.” The latter are month-long mega floods like the one in 1861 (it rained for 43 days) that created an inland sea across much of OC and throughout Central California. Let’s discuss the hard issues of where and what to buttress and rebuild (and where to limit new construction now) before our version of Sandy and its 13-foot storm surge hits shore or it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. Or we can just pretend it’s all a conspiracy and hope nothing bad happens.

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