Read the Irvine Community Land Trust Q4 2019 Newsletter: New Affordable Housing, Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Conference, and More!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

ICLT Chair Melissa Fox speaking at the groundbreaking of Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

Recently, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

New Communities, the first modern land trust, started 50 years ago in Georgia by the descendants of slaves.

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Mark Asturias, Melissa Fox, and Leon M. Nappier at New Communities.

Last month, I traveled to Georgia with ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias and fellow board member Leon M. Napper for the Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Grounded Solutions Conference. While we were there, we visited New Communities, the first of the modern land trusts, founded in Leesburg, Georgia, in 1969, a former plantation is now owned by the descendants of slaves and dedicated to conservation and racial reconciliation. This land trust went on to inspire the hundreds of community land trusts that exist today, ourselves included.

All of these recent events are covered in our Q4 2019 Irvine Community Land Trust Newsletter HERE.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Orange County Fire Authority Press Release on New FIRIS Critical Wildfire Intel Program and Increased Local Staffing During Extreme Red Flag Weather

The Orange County Fire Authority is now using the Fire Integrated Real Time Intelligence System (FIRIS), a 150-day pilot program funded with $4.5 million from a state grant secured by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris.

Below is an OCFA Press Release detailing deployment of FIRIS and increased staff during the current extreme Red Flag Warning period.

NEW FIRIS PROGRAM PROVIDING

CRITICAL WILDFIRE INTEL

And OCFA Supports Neighboring Fires While Maintain Increased Local Staffing

Irvine, CA – October 29, 2019 – Since being launched nearly two months ago, the new Fire Integrated Real-Time Intelligence System (FIRIS) pilot program aircraft has flown more than a dozen missions and provided enhanced situational awareness to numerous fire agencies. Knowing the fire perimeter and the direction a wind-driven fire is moving has helped decision-makers on the ground determine where to put resources and more importantly which communities to evacuate.

The FIRIS program is fast becoming one of the first air resources requested by Southern California fire agencies when a wildfire breaks out. The ability of the fixed-wing aircraft, equipped with cameras and infrared and radar sensors that can see through smoke, to provide real-time fire perimeter mapping and live high definition video has made a positive difference for incident commanders and decision-makers located in local Command Centers. Data sent from the twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft has also supported the UC San Diego WIFIRE Laboratory that uses its supercomputer to provide a fire spread progression model to be shared with the incident and command center staff.

A partial list of wildfires assisted by FIRIS include: Tenaja –RRU, Ortega-ORC, Palisades-LAF, SaddleRidgeLAF/LAC, Tick, Old, ValVerde-LAC, Kincade-LNU and Getty-LAF.

In addition to the high tech tools being used by the FIRIS pilot program aircraft, Orange County Fire Authority has been supporting its neighbors in Los Angeles with boots on the ground. Currently, four OCFA strike teams are assisting with the Getty Fire. More than 80 firefighters assigned to ten Type 3 brush rigs, and ten Type 1 fire engines are helping to contain the blaze. In addition, the Southern California Edison (SCE) funded night-time hover-filling helitanker and reconnaissance helicopter are also providing support to the Getty Fire. Two of strike teams had previously been assigned to the Tick Fire with the additional two responding upon immediate request of Los Angeles Fire Department.

Neighboring Fires While Maintain Increased Local Staffing

More than a dozen firefighters of various levels, from Division Chief to firefighter, are also providing management and logistics support at the Tick and Kinkade fires.

“Nothing will replace the need for firefighters on the ground battling out of control wildfires. And I appreciate what our men and women do every day,” said Orange County Fire Authority Fire Chief Brian Fennessy. “I am also thankful that through collaboration, the FIRIS technology is helping to make a difference in decision-making which ultimately leads to suppressing wildfires more quickly.”

With critical fire weather predicted through the week, OCFA continues to have increased staffing in order to quickly respond to any wildfire that breaks out in our service territory. More than 100 additional firefighters are ready to respond in a moment’s notice. They’re staffing the following:

  • 10 – Type 1 Fire Engines
  • 5 – Type 3 Brush Rigs
  • 2 – Dozers
  • 3 – Helicopters
  • 2 – Hand Crews
  • 5 – Type 6 Patrols

The community is asked to remain diligent during this critical fire weather. If the wind is blowing, refrain from yard work with motorized equipment, never drive or park on dry grass, and throw cigarettes or other smoking materials properly in containers. For my tips, please visit OCFA.org/rsg.

###

California State Auditor Gives Irvine Highest Rating for Fiscal Health!

As an Irvine City Councilmember who ran on a promise of fiscal responsibility, I am very pleased to announce that the California State Auditor’s Office has recently published a comprehensive ranking of 471 California cities based on their fiscal health and that Irvine achieved the Auditor’s highest possible rating of “low risk.”

This designation indicates that a city has low risk of experiencing fiscal distress.

A map created by the state auditor’s office ranks cities by fiscal health. Green is low risk, yellow is moderate risk and red is high risk.

Among the indicators used to evaluate the cities’ fiscal health were each city’s cash position or liquidity, debt burden, financial reserves, revenue trends, and ability to pay for employee retirement benefits.

I’m proud of my record on the Irvine City Council in increasing government accountability, openness, and transparency.

I’ve received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Under my leadership, the Irvine Community land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

I was also the only member of the Irvine City Council to oppose Measure D, which would have eliminated voter input into development decisions, because I believe that citizens must have a strong voice in deciding the future of their neighborhoods.

I enthusiastically supported the City’s adoption of the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which expanded public notice to four times longer than California law requires and prevents government action without full and informed participation from the community. I also supported approval of a two-year budget cycle, along with a five-year financial planning program, to bring more accountability to government spending.

You can read the full California State Auditor’s Report HERE.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I am extremely proud of these accomplishments But much more important to me is the fact that our city is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

These awards reflect the commitment that I and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council, as well as our Finance Commissioners and our professional staff, have made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

Irvine Ranked “Safest City in U.S.” by 24/7 Wall St. Public Safety is Linked to Irvine’s Economic and Population Growth in “Virtuous Cycle.”

Recently, using data from the FBI, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the violent crimes rate in the 294 U.S. cities with populations of at least 100,000 — a population-adjusted measure of incidents of rape, robbery, homicide, and aggravated assault — to identify America’s safest cities. Irvine, California, was found to be the safest city in the United States.

Here is their report published on October 23, 2019, on public safety in Irvine:

“1. Irvine, California
> 2018 violent crime rate: 55.5 per 100,000 people
> 2018 homicides: 0
> Poverty rate: 13.2%
> 2018 unemployment rate: 2.8%

According to the most recent FBI data, there were zero murders, 40 rapes, 53 robberies, and 67 aggravated assaults reported in Irvine in 2018. Adjusted for population, there were just 56 violent crimes reported per 100,000 Irvine residents, by far the lowest rate of any U.S. city with a population of at least 100,000 and less than one-sixth the national violent crime rate.

The low prevalence of crime may have been a pull factor for the large influx of residents who moved to Irvine over the past decade. From 2009 to 2018, the population of Irvine grew by 33.6%, more than five times the 6.6% national growth rate.”

As the Orange County Register’s distinguished business and real estate columnist Jon Lansner reports, “when you compare the safety rankings with local housing prices, it’s no surprise that these safe cities are also among the nation’s priciest places to buy a residence.”

Lansner also notes that Irvine’s public safety success is connected to its economic and population growth in what University of Chicago Senior Fellow John Roman calls a “virtuous cycle.” “Growing cities tend to grow because they’re perceived as safe and that safety compounds in a virtuous cycle,” Roman said. “Safe places get safer.”

Congratulations to our outstanding Police Chief Mike Hamel and to all the dedicated professionals of the Irvine Police Department.  I know that Irvine continues to be recognized as America’s safest city because the men and women of the Irvine Police Department perform their duties every day at the very highest levels of professionalism and integrity.  Our community knows that our police officers are dedicated to ensuring the safety of our residents and treating everyone with fairness and respect.

Thank you, Irvine Police Department!

Irvine Police Department Holding Two Educational Community Meetings on Gun Violence Restraining Orders

I am very pleased to announce that the Irvine Police Department is holding two educational community meetings on Gun Violence Restraining Orders.

A Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) prohibits a person who is a danger to themselves or others from owning, possessing, or receiving any firearms, ammunition, or magazines.

You can read my previous posts on the need for educational outreach about GVROs and California’s Red Flag Law HERE and HERE.

Gun Violence Restraining Order Can Save Lives

A recent study by the U.C. Davis School of Medicine found that California’s red flag law has significantly reduced gun violence.

According to Laura Cutilletta, legal director of the Giffords Law Center, California’s red flag law acts as a sort of timeout, so someone in psychological distress can get counseling while their fitness to possess a gun is evaluated.  “It’s a way to allow for temporary removal of firearms in a situation just like this: where somebody has made threats, where they have been expelled from school because of those threats, they’re in counseling, and parents or the school or whoever it is understands that this person poses a threat,” she explained.

However, the effectiveness of Gun Violence Restraining Orders has been limited by the lack of awareness of the law on the part of both the public and the police.  Too often, neither the public nor the local police are aware of or encouraged to obtain Gun Violence Restraining Orders.

That’s why it is so important that our police department has made these educational workshops on GVROs available to the public.

Learn more about Gun Violence Restraining Orders by attending one of the two community meetings presented by members of the Irvine Police Department.

Two community meetings are scheduled:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine 92606

Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Portola Springs Community Center, 900 Tomato Springs, Irvine 92618

You can see the Facebook event page for the October community meeting HERE.

Thank you Chief Mike Hamel and the Irvine Police Department for holding these important educational community meetings.

See you there!

 

UCI Named No. 1 College in U.S. for Sustainability. The City of Irvine Should Follow UCI’s Example and Adopt the Community Choice Energy Program and Stand-Alone Climate Action Plan We’ve Been Promised!

Congratulations to the University of California, Irvine (UCI), on being named the No. 1 “Cool School” in the nation by the Sierra Club in its annual ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. colleges.

UCI is the only university to score in the top 10 for 10 consecutive years.

“As UCI is the only university to have ranked in the top 10 ‘Cool Schools’ for an unprecedented 10 years and counting, we’re continually impressed with its commitment to modeling, teaching and embodying excellent environmental stewardship in all areas,” said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra Magazine’s adventure and lifestyle editor. “The Anteaters are truly standouts in this increasingly important space.”

Colleges were ranked according to which ones offer the best sustainability-focused courses and carbon-neutral land and energy policies, as well as the most opportunities to engage with the environmental movement. UCI was recognized for EV charging stations and converting its central-cooling plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings —17 of which are certified LEED Platinum and seven of which are zero-waste facilities. UCI also was recognized for creating a new pilot project to provide free insulation retrofits and solar installations in nearby low-income communities.  In addition, UCI researchers were recognized for their work in  adapting medical and public health curricula to better prepare students to treat tropical diseases as they expand in range due to climate change.

You can listen to a podcast on UCI’s “Cool School” Award, including UCI’s efforts regarding sustainability and achieving reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions here.

The City of Irvine has a lot to learn from UCI’s accomplishments.

Under Irvine Mayors Larry Agran, Beth Krom and Sukhee Kang, Irvine was indeed a world leader in environmental programs and innovation. One of the highlights of Irvine’s environmental engagement was presence of the U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The Solar Decathlon is an international competition held every two years that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The houses are assembled at a central location for display, evaluation, and awards. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The Solar Decathlon was held at the Great Park in 2013 and 2015.

Another highlight of Irvine’s environmental leadership was the creation of the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee in 2012.  The Green Ribbon Committee was charged with the crucial task of developing and recommending environmental policy initiatives and programs, including sustainability policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi became mayor of Irvine in November 2014, both the Great Park Solar Decathlon and the Green Ribbon Committee became victims of Choi’s climate change denial and hostility to environmental action.

As I’ve detailed in How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon, Steven Choi was hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon — the need for replacing burning fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.  In sharp contrast to the previous three Irvine mayors who championed environmental and climate concerns, Choi “completely question[ed] the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention.”  Rather than recognizing the importance of environmental action,  both as an opportunity for technological innovation and as an existential imperative, Choi saw all environmental concerns as anti-business and climate change as wholly unconnected to human activity. You can read the full story of the Solar Decathlon here.

Similarly, Choi sabotaged the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee. In fact, when I was elected to the Irvine City Council in November 2016, the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee had been inoperative for several years because Mayor Steven Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council did not appoint sufficient members to constitute a quorum. In fact, the Committee did not meet during all of 2014 and 2016, cancelling every scheduled meeting. The words “climate change” and “global warming” were not permitted to be used in official City of Irvine publications or staff reports. Choi didn’t even allow the City of Irvine to participate in the Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by the Irvine-based Wyland Foundation.

As a longtime environmental activist, I wasn’t going to allow the City of Irvine to continue to ignore environmental issues and global warming. I convinced newly elected Mayor Donald P. Wagner, who replaced Steven Choi, to re-invigorate the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and appoint me to the Committee as the City Council’s representative.  I then appointed Krishna Hammond, a young progressive scientist, as my representative to the Committee and encouraged the other Councilmembers to make appointments.  At our first meeting, I was elected Chair of the Committee and Krishna was elected Vice Chair.  The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee was out of Choi-imposed exile and was off and running.

I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done and the things we’ve accomplished since then.

Perhaps most important, we commissioned a study of Community Choice Energy (CCE) and then recommended that the City Council follow its recommendation to implement a CCE plan with an expected savings of $7.7 million per year in citywide electricity cost savings for Irvine residents and businesses, and a $112,000 per year savings for the City itself in municipal energy costs, as well as driving additional local economic development benefits, such as new jobs and $10 million in annual economic output. 

Now I am concerned that the work we’ve done on CCE is about to be undermined by the current City Council leadership.  I have learned that CCE advocates have been getting “push back” from the City and the City Manager.

The Green Ribbon Committee also recommended swift adoption of a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, so that, in the words of climate activist Robin Raeder Ganahl, “Irvine residents know what the City’s plan is to reduce emissions, meet state targets, and protect our quality of life.” Again, I am now concerned that the current City Council leadership has no intention of adopting a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, and is simply sitting on the Green Ribbon Committee’s recommendation with no intention to move forward.

Melissa Fox attending the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park as an Irvine Community Services Commissioner.

We’ve made progress since the days when Steven Choi drove the U.S. Solar Decathlon out of town, shut down the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, refused to participate in the Wyland Foundation’s Water Challenge, and banned the words “climate change” and “global warning.”

But there is still much to be done. In particular, the current Irvine City Council leadership needs to show that its professed concern for action on climate change and protecting the environment isn’t just lip service and a public relations smokescreen.

Instead, the City Council needs to adopt a stand-alone Climate Action Plan that we’ve been promised and implement the Community Choice Energy program that we’ve shown to be a tremendous benefit to both the City and the planet. 

 

Show Your Support for a Great Park Botanical Gardens at our Board Meeting on Tues., October 22, 2019!

If you’re a supporter of botanical gardens in the Orange County Great Park, please attend the important Great Park Board Meeting on Tues., October 22, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. in the Irvine City Council Chambers.

This meeting is scheduled to include a development status update and accounting of projects currently proposed in the Orange County Great Park.

Of special concern to supporters of Great Park Botanical Gardens is the fact that there is no funding or acreage currently allotted or proposed for a botanical gardens.

You can read the Great Park Board Meeting agenda HERE.

You can read the staff report on Great Park development HERE.

It is crucial that supporters of a Great Park Botanical Gardens show up to the meeting and make your voices heard!

I have long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens and museums in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.  Every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park. The Orange County Register reported that “Gardens were among the most popular features in the surveys, according to the city staff report. Eighty-two percent of Orange County residents said they are at least somewhat interested in having botanical gardens at the Great Park, when they were asked specifically about the feature.”

I agree with the Great Park Garden Coalition that “We need places where children can experience nature and explore, where all can find refuge from the ever-increasing urban density and traffic, where people of all ages and abilities can experience beautiful outdoor spaces. All great urban parks have great garden spaces: Golden Gate Park, Central Park, Balboa Park.”

I also continue to agree with what Joyce Mann wrote in the Voice of OC in 2017: “Gardens are an inclusive, a-political opportunity to bring community together for generations. They are a public benefit that becomes a lasting legacy. Besides being beautiful to look at, education is fundamental to the mission of botanical gardens. Through them, we have an opportunity to teach students of all ages about developing environmental awareness and to learn about plant science, gardening and the ecology of our local forests, rivers and wetlands. Botanical gardens become a living plant museum that will inform visitors about the importance and often-irreplaceable value of plants to the well-being of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. Isn’t that the very definition of a legacy?”

My top priorities for the Great Park Cultural Terrace are a world-class Botanical Gardens and a California Natural History Museum. I want them moving forward without any more unnecessary delays or unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. I will continue to fight for them until they are a reality.

I appreciate that gardens and museums are not necessarily revenue-producing amenities. But as reported in OC Weekly, “Great Park Director/City Councilwoman Melissa Fox said that, ‘I will also insist that we follow the recommendations of residents and build world-class botanical gardens, museums and a lake to make Irvine the home of a truly Great Park.’ But most heartening, on May 22, Fox pushed back on the notion that everything in the Cultural Terrace must generate a lot of revenue. ‘The Cultural Terrace is the Cultural Terrace,’ she told Irvine planners and consultants at the Great Park board meeting. ‘Not the Commercial Terrace.'”

Please show up at our meeting at 1:00 p.m. on Tues., October 22, 2019, and give voice to the strong community support for a Great Park Botanical Gardens!