Mary Ann Gaido, former Councilmember from 1976-84 and current Chair of the City’s Planning Commission and President of the nonprofit Irvine Community Land Trust, was a resident of Irvine before incorporation. The St. Louis, Mo. native and her family, including her daughter and, later, her newborn son, settled into Turtle Rock. Chair Gaido has had three stints on the Planning Commission, beginning in 1973, as well as work on the Transportation Commission. One of her major contributions to the City’s open space was her suggestion while on the City Council to purchase the Irvine Co.’s Bommer Canyon Cattle Camp, which had been the site of the Irvine Ranch’s cattle operations from the late 1800s until the 1970s.
Q: What brought you to Irvine in 1968?
A: The University. We were living in Corona del Mar, and they were building homes out there. So, in 1967, we put our names in for Turtle Rock; the big draw was to live adjacent to the university. That was a very exciting opportunity for us. I got involved with the City immediately after incorporation, in 1972. The first City Council wanted participatory democracy. So I responded and went to that meeting in early 1972 and the City Council divided us into committees, and I signed up for the (ad hoc) Housing Committee. Housing has been an interest of mine for 40 years.
Q: What drew you to the City Council?
A: By 1976, I felt that I wanted to run for City Council and there were three open seats.
Q: As a longtime policy maker, what have been your biggest challenges in a changing City?
A: To develop the land with respect for the earth. The City was founded in 1971, and the first Earth Day was 1970, so the first City Council had a majority of environmentalists. In fact, when I ran in 1976, I ran with two other councilmen and we called ourselves environmentalists. (Among City ordinances that reflect this viewpoint are the required preservation of eucalyptus windrows throughout the City and an ordinance that banned cutting the tops of hillsides.)
Q: What is most unique about the City in this 40th Anniversary year?
A: The citizens of the City have made it what it is. Looking back over 40 years, there were no old guard, no politicians. We were all brand-new. Citizens rolled up their sleeves and donated their time and their expertise, and really made the City was it is today. While the Irvine Co.’s plans were lifted up as an example, it truly is the citizens of the City who planned this City and worked with the developer to make sure that each time there was a zone change, that the citizens got a public benefit.
Q: You are particularly interested in the arts; how do the arts define Irvine?
A: The City’s park bond, which was passed in the early 1970s, where the citizens taxed themselves to build facilities, included a new arts center and the Irvine Barclay Theatre. These two facilities, both visual and performing arts, have had a large influence on the city and the artistic community, for many, many years.
Q: What are your hopes for Irvine in the next 40 years?
A: I would like to see the City welcome families from all backgrounds and continue the diversity not only racial and cultural, but also economic. I think we’re working on that, and I think we have been very successful in providing housing for all income levels in our City, in a beautifully designed manner, giving several generations of children an opportunity to grow up in a city with a wonderful school system and a lovely environment.
Q: How did UCI influence the City?
A: It really has enriched our lives, and continues to do so.
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