Open Space ‘Enriches Fabric of a Great Community,’ Bren Says


By Jeff Rowe, Orange County Register—May 27, 2005; News: page 4

When he is not working on developments or wilderness preservation projects, Orange County’s wealthiest and most powerful businessman likes to jump on his bike and pedal along the trails traversing the 50,000 acres of wilderness his company has placed in reserve.

Donald Bren has controlled the Irvine Co. for 22 years.

Today the company owns or controls an archipelago of office buildings, apartments and shopping centers on the Irvine Ranch, 93,000 acres that stretch from the Cleveland National Forest to the sea. Bren has placed more than half that land in a reserve that will be permanently retained as wilderness.

Only occasionally has Bren spoken with the media.

He agreed to answer questions via e-mail about the Irvine Ranch Land Trust, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and plans for other trails and his legacy.

Q. Why do you place such emphasis on open space?
A. First, from a planning perspective, it is a critical component of comprehensive community master planning. It enriches the fabric of great communities.

It makes them more livable. If the open space is improved, it provides a wonderful, natural, outdoor experience for people to savor. We also appreciate that it is important for the preservation of significant habitat and for the nurturing of plant and animal species. It is an important part of our ecosystem.

Q. Why is that important to the average person?
A. That’s an excellent question. And the answer is complex. Some people prize open space for its recreational value. They want to get out on it. To hike, ride a bike, or ride a horse. Others will never use it in that fashion. But they like knowing that it exists and is protected. Some see it as relief from development. Others see it as protecting the character of their community from encroachment. Others see it as enhancing their home values. Still others want it maintained for environmental reasons.

Q. What do you envision as the mission of the nonprofit Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust?
A. I want the trust to work with our fellow landowners and interest groups – we know them as stewards – on the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve to set a higher standard for conservation and recreation. A standard that will be nationally recognized and applauded. And on par with our national parks. The trust will build on the wonderful work that is being done by municipalities and nonprofits on the reserve, and it will offer resources – both financial and environmental expertise. In the end, I expect the trust to outlive all of us. I want the trust to help assure that the globally important resources of the reserve will be expertly and consistently managed far into the future. And I want the trust to provide a variety of outdoor opportunities for people to experience Southern California as it was a long time ago.

YGNACIO NANETTI, THE REGISTER BADGES AND SADDLES: Two Orange County deputy sheriffs patrol Irvine Regional Park on horseback Thursday morning.
BADGES AND SADDLES: Two Orange County deputy sheriffs patrol Irvine Regional Park on horseback Thursday morning.

Q. What is the Nature Conservancy’s role in the trust and the stewardship of Irvine Ranch wilderness areas and trails? Why is that group over other conservation organizations?
A. In the early 1990s, I invited the Nature Conservancy to become involved with assessing the environmental significance of the open space and wilderness lands on the Irvine Ranch. Over time, its role expanded to the management of our open space lands, the restoration of habitats, the nurturing of sensitive species, the sponsoring of public access programs. It has been a wonderful, productive and thoughtful partner.

Q. What is significant about this trail and the two more that are planned?
A. I believe the Mountains-to-Sea Trail is the recreational backbone of the Irvine Ranch. It’s also the recreational heartbeat. I hiked and biked it two weeks ago and was stunned by the hundreds of people who were walking it, hiking it, jogging it, and riding it on bikes, Rollerblades, and even horses. Not only is it a beautiful 22-mile, half-day experience, but it is also easily accessible to the people living near it for shorter, less strenuous exercise. It connects people to the outdoors, but also connects people to communities. I believe open space is never fully appreciated if you can’t get out on it. I believe it provides and promotes freedom. The three trails will provide spectacular outdoor recreational experiences, and, I believe, add significantly to the quality of life of those who take advantage of them.

Q. What other natural interactions are planned for the remaining Irvine Ranch land?
A. My hope is that we will reach consensus with other landowners and provide new staging areas, trails, picnic areas, campgrounds, vista points and interpretive experiences.

Q. How does the Great Park fit into the Irvine Ranch picture? The regional picture? Are you pleased with the “10 parks in one concept” for the Great Park?
A. The Great Park has the promise to be a spectacular public asset and resource. Two of the Mountains-to-Sea Trails will go through the Great Park. We are committed to working with the Great Park board to assure the integrity and compatibility of trail connections to regional open space on the reserve.

Q. How do you want to be remembered 50, 100 years from now? What will be Donald Bren’s legacy?
A. I don’t give that much thought, and legacies often are for others to determine. But I would like our company to be known and respected for creating wonderful communities where people really want to live. Communities that work. Safe. Economically vital. Great schools. Abundant parks. Significant open spaces. Many choices for shopping. Short commutes. Architecturally pleasing. Fresh. Beautifully landscaped. Streets that move traffic. I’d like it known and appreciated that good, thoughtful, and comprehensive master planning is both achievable, and actually works. That we had an ambitious dream, and it came true after years of hard work. And I hope that our support for public education and conservation – our two highest philanthropic priorities – would be remembered.

Q. How will you ensure that your conservation vision is followed?
A. The new trust will have both environmental expertise and resources to offer. Our challenge will be to gain a permanent and unwavering commitment from others with an interest in the reserve to ensure that the protected land is managed, improved and enjoyed forever, regardless of ownership. I’m optimistic that we can gain that commitment.

Q. What do you envision for UCI and the surrounding area at buildout?
A. UCI has lived up to every expectation that it would be a catalyst for economic growth and for breakthroughs in science that would positively touch us in many ways. I expect UCI to grow, along with its influence.

Q. To what degree are you involved in exporting Irvine; that is, aiding other cities on urban planning?
A. We don’t have to do much because so many cities, planners and builders around the world regularly come here to study our experience. To study our planning principles. To study what has worked here and why. It’s a source of great pride to our company.

Q. What are you proudest of at the Irvine Ranch?
A. Tough question. I think I am most proud that we have taken seriously our role and responsibility as the steward of some of the most beautiful and important land anywhere. We have respected the master plan for the ranch conceived in the 1960s. And we have been guided by sound and sensitive planning principles. We have given as much thought and consideration to preserving parks and open space as we have to the communities we have built. At the end of the day, we don’t force anyone to live on the Irvine Ranch. The fact that people have found their way here – and want to stay for a lifetime – that may be the ultimate compliment.