When the story of Irvine’s elected and appointed officials is written, the chapter on Sally Anne Sheridan will be a long and satisfying read. She was appointed to the Community Services Commission in 1971, the year the city incorporated, and served alternately as a member and its chairwoman until 1984. That year she was elected to the City Council, serving uninterrupted until 1992, including as mayor her last two years. For good measure, Sheridan served as president of the League of California Cities; president of the board of Ballet Pacifica; as a board member of Arts Orange County; and chairwoman of Sanitation District 14, among others. March is National Women’s History Month, so we caught up with one of Irvine’s most accomplished former female public servants. Sheridan, who is now retired, reflected on her tenure and what makes Irvine a city unlike any other.
What stands out as your proudest accomplishments?
I take great pride in fulfilling the promises of the 1974 Park Bond Issue. A small group of forward-thinking residents indebted themselves to the then-astronomical amount of $18 million to provide land for parks and community services for the future residents of Irvine. That fund was the beginning of the integrated park system and included such facilities as the Turtle Rock Nature Center, Adventure Playground in University Park, and the Fine Arts Center in Heritage Park, among others. We were also able to develop ballfields, a child care facility and a senior center. Then, in 1990, the Irvine Barclay Theater opened, fulfilling the final promise from the original bond issue. (Editor’s note — The Trust for Public Land recently rated Irvine’s park system the 7th best in the nation)
What makes Irvine unique?
The people, no question. Dynamic, caring, invested people make Irvine an enjoyable place to live. From the very beginning of the city, a tremendous volunteer effort from the people of Irvine has made a dramatic positive contribution to the physical livability of Irvine, its quality education tradition, its preservation of open space and general attractiveness as a clean and safe place to raise a family.
The City Council currently comprises a majority of women. Your thoughts?
I’m happy to say that I’m not surprised. Irvine has a long tradition of women serving the city. From every volunteer position, to leading the many non-profit groups, to elected office, women have always played a key role in the planning and progress of Irvine. One of the main reasons women rise to the top of leadership positions is that they focus on service being its own reward, not a stepping stone to the next higher office or appointment.
What are one or two important things Irvine residents — both new and long-time — should know about their city?
To see the future, first look at the past. Go back to the very beginning of Irvine while it was basically a working ranch and study the works of William Pereira and his plan for making a community from the ground up. That original Master Plan set up a tradition of good planning that has served every citizen of Irvine, past and present, and that will benefit residents yet to come. Irvine has benefited from being a “new city” where the past did not dictate how things could be done now and in the future. Want to make it better? Join the legions of creative volunteers who serve the city in every imaginable capacity. Get involved. Join up. Make a difference.
What advice do you have for this dynamic city?
Traffic and over-development have been the twin circular complaints that have plagued every conversation about Irvine since the beginning of the city. It was true in 1974 and I’ll bet that if you went back to 1874 the cows would tell you that things have gotten really crowded around here since the cowboys moved in with their fences and barbed wire.
Seriously, these issues will always be with us. If all the building in Irvine stopped today, the traffic would not improve because surrounding communities continue to grow and add traffic. To solve the traffic issue, we all need to drive less or use other forms of transportation. We have to take personal responsibility for the situation. Today more and more people work at home or telecommute, which helps reduce traffic. We also have the toll roads, Metrolink, Uber, Lyft and other mass transit systems to make for easier movement.
Good planning and community involvement have made Irvine a wonderful place to live. If you see something you want changed, get involved, join up, volunteer to make a difference. Trust in the tradition of planning for a better future. To me, it has been an honor to serve the people of Irvine, and I consider that service to be its own reward.
Wall recognizes 400+ of Irvine’s finest
Sally Anne Sheridan is among the many notable women whose names are inscribed on the city’s Wall of Recognition. Established in 2006, the monument honors residents whose community service has helped Irvine become and remain America’s most celebrated master-planned city. To date the wall contains the names of more than 400 community leaders. See the wall at Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, 4 Civic Center Plaza.