Mary Ann Gaido, Irvine Planning Commission
by Jim Washburn
Mary Ann Gaido
Back in the early 1970s, when the master-planned City of Irvine was an unplanned patchwork of grazing lands and bean fields, Mary Ann Gaido signed up to be on the city’s first planning commission. Then a young stay-at-home mother of two with no previous civic experience, she’d been moved by the fledgling city council’s call for citizens to join in a “participatory democracy.”
Gaido and her fellow commissioners had a rare opportunity: creating a city from the ground up. Aside from the nascent UCI campus—where many classes were still held in trailers—and a small community built around it, Irvine was a blank slate upon which they could lay their master plan.
The major mitigating factor, which she discusses here, was that virtually all the land in the city belonged to the Irvine Company, an empire built from an 1800s Spanish land grant. The company already had its own master plan, which on several points—including affordable housing—was at variance with the planning commission’s notion of the public good.
To some, the city that resulted from the meshed master plan may seem too planned. Perhaps so, but there is also much to envy. No other city in Southern California can boast of the infrastructure, fiscal health (Business Week just named Irvine as one of the most recession-proof cities in the U.S.), business climate, cultural opportunities, public services and activities that Irvine does. The city also has far more affordable housing units than any of its neighbors.
In the 36 years between 1972 and today, Gaido has often been inside city government—she’s been both a city council member and mayor—nd when she hasn’t been, she’s still influenced it as an activist. At present, she has come full circle, and is back on the planning commission as its chair. FourStory sat down with her in October, 2008, to discuss the city’s growth and its future.