We were your lifeline during the pandemic, economic fallout, forest fires, protests and elections. Support us with one tax deductible donation.
An outlier. For many in Irvine, this concept may come to mind when they think of the city. Regarding crime. In terms of finances. In terms of quality of life. But there’s another area where Irvine could be called an outlier, but not in a good way, and that has to do with his council size.
The outlier comes from a question. Should the Irvine City Council be increased in size?
To answer that question, we can compare Irvine to the other cities in Orange County in terms of the number of people per councilor. This measurement is useful because a councilor needs to be someone accessible to the people they represent, and a councilor should be able to get to know the people they represent.
To make that comparison, I used the July 2019 census data to examine the resident population estimates for each city. For the number of councilors I looked at the city council website for each city. Due to the availability of data, only places with 5,000 or more inhabitants were taken into account. Unless the city has a strong mayor system like Los Angeles, the mayors are considered part of the city council and counted as such.
When it comes to Orange County, there are over 30 different cities. How does Irvine compare?
It is an outlier indeed. Because of its rapid population growth over the years, Irvine now has the highest number of people per councilor in the county. And it’s not even near. On average there are about 15,000 people per council member. Irvine has over 57,000 people per council member, Anaheim is way behind in second place with around 50,000 people per council member.
We can then expand the comparison to Southern California as a whole. This region includes nine counties: Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Diego, Kern, San Bernardino County, Imperial, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Riverside. The region consists of over 200 cities. How does Irvine compare?
Irvine is only third behind Los Angeles and San Diego. If we look at cities of medium size (defined by the OECD as a population between 200,000 and 500,000) or smaller, it has the highest number.
Even among Orange County’s 7-member councilors, the average number of residents per council member is a little less than 28,500 – or about half that of Irvines. If we expand the sample of 7-member councilors to include all of Southern California, we see that the average number of people per council member is 25,000 – or less than half that of Irvines.
But there are other reasons to increase the size of the city council. A second reason is that the number of councilors in Irvine has not changed, at least since the city’s charter was passed in 1975. That year the population was only 31,750. It has increased by over 750% since then. Using data from 2010 to 2018, Irvine was found to be number 11 on the list of Fastest Growing American Cities. From 2010 to 2019, Orange County’s population grew about 5.5% while Irvine’s population grew about 35%.
Third, look at the cities in Orange County, which increased their size to 7. What was their population when they did this? The city of Orange expanded in 2019 when it only had 140,000 residents. Garden Grove made the change in 2016 when their population was below 180,000.
The only Orange County town that increased its parish size to 7 with a population much larger than Irvine’s was Anaheim, which didn’t do so until it reached 340,000 residents. But Irvine will likely get to that point soon. According to an OK Register article from a few years ago, the city is projected to hit 328,000, and at previous growth rates, the city is likely to get there in less than a decade. Irvine’s population is already nearly the size of Anchorage and Lincoln, Nebraska.
Fourth, it could help the council further reflect the diversity of the city. According to the city’s website, the city’s ethnic proportions are 49% white, 41% Asian, and 10% Spanish. However, the diversity of Irvine’s demographics is much deeper. For example, the Asian population is made up of a significant number of people whose heritage goes back to various countries such as India, South Korea, and China. According to an article highlighting Irvine’s Asian diversity on the OK Register, people of Chinese descent made up 17% of Irvine’s population in 2015.
Of course, diversity is a major reason for choosing district elections, which can take place at some point in Irvine. But even if it does, increasing the size of the city council is not a substitute, but an addition to the voting in the district. In fact, the City of Garden Grove did both in early 2016. In the subsequent elections in 2016, the city elected its first councilor of Latin American descent.
Fifth, Irvine has the financial resources to do this. In fact, it is the most financially strong city in the country. As noted on the city’s website, for the fourth year in a row, the city was number 1 among the 75 largest cities in the country. If all the bills were paid, Irvine’s budget would be over $ 4,000 per taxpayer.
How much does it cost to expand the city council from 5 to 7? A study should be done. Take Fort Worth Texas as an example, where a recent study found that such an extension would cost about $ 300,000. Given the benefits, an extension would be worth the cost.
Of course, a person could argue that such a change is not necessary. After all, not only is Irvine doing well, it’s an outlier in many ways, as mentioned above. As another example, consider how satisfied people are with Irvine. 341 of 496 reviewers (nearly 70%) on Niche.com rate Irvine as very good or excellent.
But a city doesn’t stay an outlier in many ways by being complacent. There are many problems Irvine faces such as The Great Park, All American Tarmac, and of course, traffic. Irvine would be better off facing a major city council of at least 7 and sooner rather than later.
Wesley Oliphant teaches at a community college in Southern California and lived in Irvine for 15 years before moving out in 2019. He remains a member of the Irvine Watchdog Citizens’ Group (irvinewatchdog.org).
Opinions expressed in community opinions belong to the authors and not to Voice of OC.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you would like to study this or any other topic, please send an email to [email protected]