By AISHEE DAS
On December of 2013, Assi Natural Market announced its closure at its highly publicized location at the Woodbridge Village Center. The closure led to discussions within the Irvine Company about the use of the Woodbridge Village Center. The Irvine Company has not made any long-term leases at the Village Center and is rumored to have not renewed any of its existing leases in favor of tearing down the center to build high-density housing (condominiums) and parking lots.
The Woodbridge Center, home to the Woodbridge Movies 5, more commonly known as the “dollar theater,” Barnes & Noble, Sticky Fingers and Ruby’s, was once a bustling community center. The Woodbridge Village Center was opened by the Irvine Company in September 1991 with a dedication to “the children of Irvine for helping to build a better Woodbridge.” Unfortunately, its vision of Woodbridge community’s center has decayed as more and more shops closed. The Woodbridge Village Center was once home to restaurants and shops like: Claim Jumpers, ACE Hardware, Office Depot, Woodbridge Pharmacy, El Cholo and Chevys, but all of them closed down because of low profits and high maintenance costs.
With the Irvine Mayor and City Council elections passing on November 4, candidates Larry Agran, Mary Ann Gaido and Melissa Fox, who together stand as the “Slow Growth Team,” used their opposition to building new houses and parking lots as leverage in their campaigning. They argue that bringing high-density buildings to Woodbridge would bring congested traffic and demolish an important and notable retail center for Woodbridge residents. One employee, wishing to remain anonymous, worked at the center for almost ten years and said that the future of the center depended on who is voted as mayor.
In the 11 years that I have lived in Irvine, the Woodbridge Village Center is one of the only parts of Irvine that has appeal and sentiment attached. I have enjoyed its July 4th fireworks and the giant frog statues since I was five years old, and I constantly visited the dollar theater for “family outings” instead of the pricier Edwards Cinemas at the Irvine Spectrum. Recently, I have moved within biking distance of the center, and the center’s charm and the two beautiful lakes surrounding it provide me with a quiet and safe haven from my hectic life.
I have seen the Woodbridge Village slowly shutting down, starting with the little boutiques on the inside of the Center to the larger chains on the outside, and it upsets me greatly. I know that many residents share the same sentiment and would be devastated to have a center with so many memories and spirit be torn down in favor of more housing. Mildred Yu (Jr.) said, “The Woodbridge Center has so much sentimental value to me. It’s a great place to hang out with friends if you just want to watch a movie at a cheap price and maybe eat some Ruby’s after. It upsets me that Irvine would rather build homes for more people, which we don’t need, than keep a great family place like the Woodbridge Center.”
A petition created on September 16th, 2014 in opposition to the tearing down of the Woodbridge Village Center has received 2,475 votes in the past month with Irvine residents comprising 86% of the signatories and the remaining 14% reside outside of Irvine, having fallen to the charms of the Center all the same.