The Irvine Co. and its chairman, Donald Bren, may well be remembered for the homes, shopping centers and offices they have built. They are the masters of the master planned communities.
But the legacy Bren may be most proud of is the 50,000 acres the company will never develop. In a rare, semi-public moment late Thursday afternoon in a soft setting sunlight, Bren showed again his love for the open space he has guaranteed will always be there for Orange County’s 3.2 million residents. He unveiled a new book he commissioned, titled, “Southern California Coastal Mountains to the Sea.” It captures in words and several hundred photos the spectacular land he has donated and designated as permanent public open space. From Limestone and Bommer Canyons to Black Star Canyon, Loma Ridge and ultimately the magnificent Crystal Cove stretch of Pacific shoreline, the book takes readers on a pictorial tour of the wilderness that is now preserved forever on the doorstep of urban Orange County.
Looking fit and tan and very relaxed in a pair of jeans and hiking shoes, Bren celebrated the book launch with 100 invited guests and his closest advisors under several towering stands of oak and sycamore trees in Bommer Canyon, the onetime headquarters of the Irvine Ranch cattle operation. Several prominent conservationists spoke about the importance of Bren's land donations at the event, including former California Secretary of Resources Douglas Wheeler, who talked about the reality that development and open space can be economically and environmentally compatible.
“When I came to California to work for then-governor Pete Wilson, the first place he sent me was here to Orange County to see first-hand what the Irvine Company was doing,” said Wheeler, who served the state for eight years in the 1990s. “It was here that growth and development included a requirement to protect the need and value of open space. This is a business model that is a win for all concerns. It is example for so many others to follow.”
The Irvine Co. owns roughly one-sixth of Orange County and has been responsible for planning and developing much of Newport Beach, Irvine, Tustin and Orange from residential to retail and commercial office and industrial. Early in the company’s storied history, environmentalists railed at the density of some projects and protested the push to build on ridgelines and near sensitive habitats. In recent years, however, Bren has dedicated wide swaths of acreage in some of the most visually unique and spectacular corners of the ranch and he has increasingly won praise and endorsement from groups that once criticized the company.
A man of few words in public, Bren said it best Thursday when he remarked: “I am very proud of the balance we have created. It’s just wonderful.”
The book’s launch celebration on a perfect fall afternoon was another brief opportunity for Bren to acknowledge those who have helped shape his thinking on open space issues. He tipped his cap to Joan Irvine Smith for paving the company’s early philosophy about the importance of preserving portions of the Irvine Ranch for public use and access.
“There are many who have contributed to this open-space legacy,” Bren said looking out over the crowd, most of whom had left ties, coats and heels behind for this outdoor gathering. “I am proud we have followed through.”
The new book was published to help educate Southern Californians about the miles of trails and thousands of acres of backcountry and shoreline that is open to the public in Orange County. It is also a coffee table keepsake that best captures one of the legacies Bren is most fond of sharing. He commissioned noted Western photographer David Stoecklein to spend months shooting the Irvine Ranch from the ground and air. Bren, working closely with Irvine Co. Vice President of Corporate Communications Erin Freeman, then spent weeks editing and selecting hundreds of images that ultimately were published in the 208-page book.
Available now in local bookstores for $47.50, all proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, which manages much of the open space the company has donated.
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