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"Out to Save Our Part of It": Remembering, and Celebrating, Mary Ann Gaido

Larry Agran

Below are remarks offered by Larry Agran at the April 18, 2024 dedication event honoring the late Mary Ann Gaido. Toward celebrating her advocacy, leadership, and contributions to civic life, The City of Irvine that afternoon officially dedicated the Sycamore Grove at the Cattle Camp at Bommer Canyon Preserve in Mary Ann Gaido's memory.

Let me just introduce myself. Of course, I am on the City Council. I am also the oldest living mentee of Mary Ann Gaido. She taught me everything I know. I wanted to just use my few minutes to put today’s gathering in context. Let me just tell a little bit of our family’s personal journey. We never imagined, Phyllis my wife here and I, we never imagined that we would wind up in Orange County, California. After all, we had gotten our degrees from UC Berkeley. Berkeley in the '60s, and Orange County was thought of as not only behind the orange curtain but an entirely different country, maybe a different universe. But Phyllis happened to get accepted to medical school, breaking the barriers of discrimination that had been there for years against women and against older admittees. She was twenty-eight years old. That was considered very old at the time to get into medical school but that brought us to Irvine and initially we tried to figure out what was the political landscape of this particular area. We hunted for vocal liberals who might share some of our views, not just our worldviews but our views on local issues and so forth and at that time we heard of a group. It was called Irvine Tomorrow.

There was a fellow on the City Council at the time named John Burton, very conservative, had different politics. He referred to Irvine tomorrow as a bunch of “nitwit utopians,” and that actually satisfied the definition of a kind of group that Phyllis and I would want to be part of. It was a group deeply dedicated to master planning, to building a new and different kind of city, a remarkable place that we happen to live in today. Through Irvine Tomorrow we met Mary Ann Gaido. This was in the mid -1970s and at that time this cattle camp had already been included in a citywide bond issue and part of a state bond issue as well that actually established this as part of the initial community parks that we have in the city today. And when you think about it, in Orange County in the mid-1970s, people taxing themselves to build a community park system? That was the kind of work that not just nitwit utopians, but other utopians were hard at work at, and it made all the difference in the world.

Mary Ann took a special interest in Bommer Canyon. It was near her house. She and her family had moved here in 1968, years before we actually became a city, and from the very beginning she got involved in the master planning process. When you think about the trajectory of her civic engagement --- from 1968 up until just I would say a week or two before she passed away --- she was engaged with the Master Plan with setting aside ample open space. She was engaged in every aspect of city planning, served on the Planning Commission for over 20 years, and of course served on the City Council for eight.

I see Peggy [Mary Ann Gaido’s daughter] here. We were involved in all kinds of politics in the city. We were part of every election cycle, what we called the “dawn patrol,” where we began to distribute literature around the city at six in the morning, weekend after weekend, for causes and for candidates. This was the context in which all this came to pass.

Mary Ann was, of course, dedicated to more than the preservation of open space. She was dedicated to affordable housing, healthcare, and building the kind of diverse inclusive community that we have in the main realized today.

So we come back to Bommer Canyon. And she would come back to it, time and again. In taking stock of where we've been where we're going, she would refer to Bommer Canyon. She had a special love for this particular part of our open space preserve. I think that's traceable to two things. One, it is just so beautiful in and of itself, so accessible by people but also I think she had a special place in her heart for Bommer Canyon because it was the first time that she realized, “Wow, my interest in master planning, my involvement in civic affairs can actually make a difference.” This was the first major success and we're enjoying the benefits of it today.

I'll just close by saying when we were attacked over and over again, Mary Ann in particular. She endured political attacks that were so cruel so vicious over the years. But she was resilient. She just kept at it. One of the charges they made against Mary Ann over and over again was, of course: “She's a liberal, she's basically a socialist.”  You know, the litany of stuff. They also said, “She's just sitting there because she wants to save the world. Mary Ann Gaido's out to save the world.”

So we turned that around. I remember we sat down and thought, “How do we deal with that?” And so we developed this slogan: “Mary Ann Gaido: She's not out to save the world. She's just out to save our part of it…here in Irvine!”

All Photos: City of Irvine


Larry Agran is currently the Vice Mayor of the City of Irvine.

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