Irvine: An Interview With Assemblyman Don Wagner, Candidate For Mayor

Assemblyman Don Wagner is running for mayor of Irvine after serving three terms in the state legislature, and prior to that serving three terms on the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees. OC Daily interviewed Assemblyman Wagner about his campaign, what he wants to accomplish as Mayor of Irvine, and about raising his family in “America’s Safest City.”

OC DAILY: How long have you lived in Irvine? Tell us about raising your family here.

DON WAGNER: My wife and I moved to Irvine in 1991 from LA County and never looked back. It is a great place to raise kids, with great schools in particular. All of the kids went through the Irvine public schools. In fact, the current IUSD superintendent, Terry Walker, was my youngest daughter’s fourth grade teacher, so I’ve known him for years and have a great working relationship with him.

We also had the kids busy with sports, mostly swimming in the Irvine Swim League for all the kids, soccer for the girls, and baseball for my son, so, like lots of Irvine parents, I have a ton of experience on the sidelines of the Irvine sports facilities.

OCD: Why did you decide to run for Mayor?

WAGNER: I’ve very much enjoyed my time in public service. With the open Mayor’s seat, it provided me an opportunity to continue my public service and continue putting to use the experience I’ve been privileged to obtain over the last several years. The city has great potential but in recent years it has failed to realize that potential. I’ll bring experienced leadership and an outsiders perspective to the mayor’s office.

OCD: How do you think your experience as a college district trustee and state Assemblyman have prepared you to be mayor, and how would you apply it? Why should voters choose you over one of your opponents?

WAGNER: In my prior positions, I’ve either had to deal with contentious, split boards like at the college district, or with a substantial majority from the other party. Yet in both situations I have been successful. On the college board, despite our differences, I was elected by the board as board president an unprecedented six times because I was able to work with everyone and move the district forward.

Similarly, in Sacramento, I was able to work across the aisle to get legislation passed that helped my district and helped all of California. In fact, I was the Republican with the most bills signed during my time in the Legislature. One does that by working hard and working cooperatively.

Sadly, we’ve not seen enough of that in Irvine lately. None of my opponents can boast anything close to my record of accomplishment, much less an ability to bring people together to realize those accomplishment. I will bridge those differences to put Irvine residents first.

OCD: The Great Park is obviously a big issue in Irvine. What will you do during your first year in office to end mismanagement and put it on the path to completion?

WAGNER: I’m as frustrated as anyone in Irvine by the lack of progress on the Great Park. For too long, it was the piggy bank of the prior council and their friends. All of that cronyism and waste of taxpayer money stops with me as Mayor. And it was cronyism on both sides of the political aisle.

I will give no sweetheart, no bid contracts to friends, and will not rubber stamp a proposed boondoggle library. Every project needs to be justified on its own merits, and all traffic any project causes needs to be fully mitigated.

For too long, it seems, the Great Park has been a political project, but not anymore under me as Mayor. It will become a public project, with the public involved in the planning and realization of its great potential. As Mayor, we’ll end the cronyism and finish the Great Park.

OCD: You’ve identified relieving traffic congestion as a top priority. If elected Mayor, what steps would you take on that front?

WAGNER: Nothing is more important to me than dealing with traffic issues in Irvine – which is why I have a five point plan to do exactly that.

First, no development gets approved that doesn’t fully mitigate its traffic impacts.

Second, I’ll bring back the transportation commission to get citizens and professionals involved in solving the problem and appoint a single traffic official to oversee the entire Irvine traffic situation, propose solutions, and report to me as Mayor to implement those solutions.

Third, I’ll coordinate traffic solutions with CalTrans, using my experience at the state level to do so, since a lot of our traffic is impacted by freeways and traffic lights under the control of CalTrans.

Fourth, I’ll implement — and even go beyond — the recommendations in the recently concluded traffic study, for example, on simple things like better light synchronization, and on more complicated things, like traffic flow limits.

And fifth, I’ll work with local businesses, as a long time pro-business advocate, to come up with proposals that lessen the impact of such businesses on our traffic. Again, for more details, check out WagnerForMayor.com.

It’s vital any new development must mitigate all its traffic impacts. We’ll appoint a single traffic official to comprehensively implement solutions like more signal synchronization to get traffic flowing.

OCD: Irvine public schools are a point of pride for Irvine and a key reason people choose to live and raise families here. What is the appropriate role for City Hall in ensuring high quality public schools for Irvine?

WAGNER: Education has been one of the primary focuses of my public career. None of the other candidates can come close to matching it.

I served on the Assembly’s K-12 committee, and am Assembly Chairman of the UC Caucus interacting with the UC administration to further the growth and vibrancy of the UC system. Before that, I served for twelve years on the Board of Trustees governing Irvine Valley College, among other institutions. I crafted sound education policy while balancing every budget and never once seeking additional tax or bond financing. In short, the other candidates lack such experience and can only talk about education.

But I know our education system at all levels, have worked extensively on behalf of public education, and have the trust of education leaders.

As Mayor, I will be full partner with all of those leaders. The city council I lead will do everything it can to empower our schools. We will never play politics with education and will do absolutely nothing to interfere with the local schools and colleges. Rather, a city council under my leadership will fully support local education institutions in their efforts to continue providing quality education in Irvine at all levels.  As mayor, I’ll ensure the city does its part to keep Irvine public schools world-class.

OCD: Irvine is consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in America. Do you think there’s anything more that should be done to ensure Irvine maintains that status?

WAGNER: A city council that I am privileged to lead will commit to the Irvine Police Department the resources needed to continue doing its job. I am a firm believer that government at all levels is too big and tries to do too much. But delivering public safety is a legitimate core function of government.

In addition, Irvine is diverse a diverse city. Because of that diversity, and in respect to all of our citizens, a city council I lead will encourage the IPD to consider some of the emerging principles of community policing. We must embrace the best practices to continue our outstanding record of public safety.

Finally, with schools and colleges increasingly targeted for violent assaults around the nation, I will encourage close cooperation between IPD, the OC Sheriff’s Department, and the local college and university police departments. I already have good relationships with those organizations through my past public service, relationships none of the other candidates can match, and will use them to enhance the safety of Irvine’s citizens.

The first duty of government is ensuring the safety of its citizens in their homes, neighborhoods and businesses. As mayor, I’ll make sure the city keeps that promise and keeps Irvine safe.

OCD: In your candidate statement, you talk about “restoring and protecting Irvine’s master plan.” What would that mean in practice if you are elected mayor? How would you balance development and protecting property rights with maintain Irvine’s quality of life?

WAGNER: Under prior leadership, the city council and planning commission have allowed deviations from the Master Plan in order to give deals to their developer friends. In the face of that mismanagement, Irvine needs a mayor and city council dedicated to restoring their commitment to the Master Plan and then to protecting going forward the vision that the Plan expresses.

A halt to development called for by other candidates is a simplistic, knee-jerk reaction that misunderstands the problem.  A development “time out” reeks of a cynical campaign ploy.

Instead, by restoring and protecting the Master Plan, as I will do, the city council I lead will stand for responsible growth, consistent with the Master Plan, that allows children who grew up in Irvine to return here to raise their own families, allows people to live closer to their jobs here in town, allows our tax base to grow to everyone’s benefit, and keeps Irvine young and vibrant.

The Master Plan that attracted people to Irvine in the first place and that has, until recently, guided its development, envisions a balance of residential, business, and education. We must restore and protect that balance, not abandon one part of the Plan in order to benefit developers and upset the balance.

The Irvine we love and live in is the result of the Master Plan. As Mayor, I’ll work to ensure future development is faithful to the Master Plan.

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