Sparky the Fire Dog’s Earth Smarts for Earth Day!

The Orange County Fire Authority came to Irvine City Hall today, Earth Day, to remind us and teach us that preventing fires is an important part of protecting our natural environment, as well as our own personal safety.

One of the things they shared with us is a website called “Sparky’s Fun House,” created by the National Fire Prevention Association, which teaches kids (and their elders) about fire, fire prevention, and firefighting.

Particularly appropriate for Earth Day is an activity sheet for kids called “Earth Smarts!

By checking off everything on this list , your kids (and you) will be helping to protect animals, trees, plants and your home.

There are lots of other fun activities, games, videos, and apps on the website that your kids (and you) will enjoying exploring.

But be careful — you might end up like me — the parent of a firefighter!

 

 

Visiting the California Firefighter Memorial: Honoring Those Who Gave All

I made a visit to the California Firefighter Memorial this afternoon and it deeply touched my heart.

Fire and firefighters are in the news today, as hundreds of brave firefighters risk their lives to battle the flames trying to consume the irreplaceable and magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

These days, fire and firefighters are often in my thoughts, both as a member of the board of directors of the Orange County Fire Authority and as the mother of a 20-year-old who is studying firefighting at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and serves as an EMT and member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough HazMat Team.

In fact, fire and firefighters should be in all our thoughts, as California’s wild land fire season expands to year-round, and more and more Californians live on the very edge of extreme fire-danger zones.

The truth is, fires in California have become more frequent and more dangerous, and Californians have never relied more on well-trained, well-equipped, well-led and brave firefighters risking all to keep our lives and property safe.

The California Firefighters Memorial is located on the grounds of the California state capitol in Sacramento and honors the more than 1,300 California firefighters who have died in line of duty or of other duty-related illness or injury.

The California Fire Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by California Professional Firefighters, raised the money to construct the Memorial and is responsible for its ongoing upkeep. Ongoing fundraising ensures the continued maintenance of the Memorial with no taxpayer dollars.

The California Firefighters Memorial was unveiled on April 6, 2002, carrying the names of 855 fallen California firefighters. Since the unveiling, more than 400 names have been added at annual Memorial ceremonies.

The Memorial has three components that work together seamlessly:

The Memorial Wall: A two-sided brushed limestone wall on which is inscribed the names of every firefighter who has died in the line of duty since California became a state. The wall is flanked by bronze statues of firefighter “turnouts” – the protective garments worn by firefighters in action

“Fallen Brother”: A bronze statue, directly adjacent to the wall, that honors our fallen heroes. It depicts an anguished firefighter removing a lifeless colleague from the flames. The statue was created by Jesus Romo, a retired Sacramento firefighter

“Holding the Line”: A bronze statue depicting four firefighters in action working a hose line. The statue was created by artist Lawrence Allen Noble.

You can see the names on the Memorial Wall here.

Be sure to visit when you come to Sacramento.

In addition, the California Fire Foundation invites you to join in memorializing the sacrifice and dedication of California’s fallen heroes at the 17th Annual California Firefighters Memorial Ceremony on September 28, 2019, at 11:30 a.m.

Orange County Veterans Deserve a Final Resting Place. The ARDA is the Only Site that has a Real Chance of Receiving the Necessary Funding. Let’s Get it Done!

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013.

As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

“Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state.  This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County. Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.”

“It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.  I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

“As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

On March 11, 2014, I cheered when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a verterans cemetery.

But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years because, I was informed, of the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the originally designated ARDA site.

Because the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable, I, along with the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, supported the Strawberry Fields site as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative.

When the voters rejected the Strawberry Fields site as causing too much traffic and being too close to the freeway, I then proposed, along with Irvine City Councilmember Christina Shea, using a portion of the Orange County Great Park (and the former MCAS El Toro) that is currently planned for a golf course to be used instead for a veterans cemetery.

Subsequently, a site was proposed in Anaheim Hills near the 91 Freeway.  While I am not opposed to that site, the fact is that it has not received support from the Assembly, has not received any financial backing from either the county, state, or federal government, and is not located on the historically appropriate grounds of the former MCAS El Toro. It does not appear to be viable.

Now several of our state legislators have recently indicated a strong preference for the ARDA site originally designated by the Irvine City Council.

Assembly Bill 368, authored by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and currently before the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, states that the California Department of Veterans Affairs “shall acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery, which shall be located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, on 125 acres known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] Site in the Orange County Great Park in the City of Irvine.”

Significantly, several members of the legislature, from both sides of the aisle — Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and Tom Daily (AD 69) and Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55) — have pledged to allocate the funds necessary for the decontamination of the site and the construction of a veterans cemetery in that location and urged the Irvine City City to re-designate it as the official site.

Their letter states, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

In addition, Nick Berardino, President of VALOR (Veterans Alliance of Orange County) and a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, who has been advocating for a veterans cemetery for years, has responded to the legislators’ letter by saying “We are excited that the legislature is poised to support the veterans cemetery and impressed that the Orange County delegation is able to secure the funding in this years budget.”

This week, on April 9, 2019, Assembly Bill 368 was unanimously approved (10-0) for passage by the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee and referred to the Appropriations Committee.

Accordingly, it is now clear that the only site that has a real chance of receiving the necessary funding for an Orange County veterans cemetery is the ARDA site.

For this reason, I am withdrawing my support for the golf course site option and joining with these state legislators in calling for the Irvine City Council to again designate the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery and calling on the state and federal government to provide the funding needed to build a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site in the Great Park on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Station.

Further, this month, United States Representative Gilbert Cisneros (CA 39), a retired naval officer and a member of the Congressional Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies has urged the federal government to step up and provide financial help for our long-overdue veterans cemetery in Orange County.

He wrote to the Subcommittee: “I urge you to provide increased funding for the Veterans State Cemetery Grant program in order to support a veterans cemetery in Orange County. With 3.19 million residents, Orange County has a disproportionately high population of veterans. However, it does not have a single veterans cemetery. Local veterans have been campaigning for a veterans cemetery for years, but the federal government has failed to rise to the occasion. While local entities are pursuing a state veterans cemetery, federal funding should be made available in order to get this project across the finish line. I urge you to increase the VA’s State Cemetery Grant program funding to ensure this long overdue project does not suffer any further delays.”

Along with the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, which has led the fight years-long fight for an Orange County veterans cemetery, I say “Hurrah!” to Rep. Cisneros’ letter.

Based on all these factors, as a member of the Irvine City Council and the daughter of a combat veteran, I hereby fully commit to the goal of building a Southern California Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former MCAS El Toro at the ARDA site.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an O.C. Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

I look forward to working in a positive, bipartisan way with our state and federal representatives, other Irvine City Councilmembers, the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, veterans organizations, community groups, and private donors, doing whatever it takes and pulling together in the same direction, to finally establish the Orange County veterans cemetery that we have fought for and needed for so long.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

Let’s get it done.

Irvine Returns to the Orange County Fire Authority and I am Returning to the OCFA Board of Directors

I want to thank Irvine Mayor Christina Shea and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council for their decision to re-appoint me to the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox on the scene of a structure fire in Irvine.

For many years, there has been a dispute between the City of Irvine and OCFA over Irvine’s disproportionately large financial contribution to the fire service.

Because of these concerns, last June, the City of Irvine notified OCFA that it intended to withdraw from the agency in 2020.

In the months that followed, the City of Irvine and OCFA engaged in intensive negotiations with the purpose of finding a way to resolve our differences, particularly the disparity between Irvine’s financial contributions and the services we receive.

Happily, the result of these negotiations was an agreement under which Irvine will receive substantial benefits and considerations in returning to OCFA.

OCFA will contribute $20.5 million to a police-fire training facility in Irvine that will be utilized by the Irvine Police Department and OCFA to meet both separate and joint training needs.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox with OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy.

Also, OCFA will establish a drone program as part of the agreement that allows monitoring of Irvine’s open space areas with the objective of quickly detecting, assessing, and preventing fires and other hazards.

Significantly, the agreement also includes a pension pay-down, under which OCFA will pay $2 million per year for a total of $22 million over 11 years into an irrevocable pension trust that can be used only for payment of employee pension liability. Approximately 58% of those funds will be earmarked to pay down any portion of OCFA’s unfunded pension liability that is attributed to Irvine.

You can read the full agreement and the Irvine staff report online here.

As Irvine’s representative on the OCFA Board, I am delighted to work again with the dedicated professionals of the Orange County Fire Authority.

I am honored to serve the residents of Irvine and Orange County in this crucial role and pledge to ensure that OCFA continues to provide the very best in fire protection, fire suppression, and emergency services.

In today’s heightened, year-round, wildfire season, having a well-trained, well-equipped and well-led fire service has never been more important.

 

 

Irvine Police Department and O.C. Dept. of Education Host Meeting on Teen Vaping at Irvine High School

The Irvine Police Department is participating in a parents meeting on April 9 at 6:00 PM at the Irvine High School Theater on vaping and other issues regarding substance abuse in conjunction with the Orange County Department of Education.

According to the O.C. Department of Education, “There is a growing concern about youth vaping, especially on school campuses. Newer, pod-based e-cigarettes are easy to conceal and contain high levels of nicotine, which can disrupt adolescent brain development.”

There will be a presentation by Mr. Stephan Lambert, the Orange County Department of Education’s Prevention Coordinator, on vaping and other issues regarding substance abuse. Jim Wright, the IHS School Resource Officer, will also be present to provide his perspective.

All are welcome.

In March 2014, the Irvine City Council, in one of its worst decisions, rejected a resolution to prohibit electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vaping) in city parks and recreational facilities.

Then-Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway celebrated the Council’s decision in favor of e-cigarettes with a misguided appeal to the rhetoric of personal liberty, saying he had confidence in “individuals and their ability to make their own [health] choices.”

At the time, I strongly criticized the City Council’s decision.

First, I pointed out the scientific evidence of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes, especially on developing brains.

Second, I made it clear that, for me, “what’s at issue is our freedom to enjoy Irvine’s parks and recreational facilities without breathing air polluted with second-hand e-cigarette chemicals. I have no problem with adults smoking e-cigarettes in their own homes or on their own property or on the property of people who say it’s okay with them. But I don’t want members of my family or yours — especially children — to be forced to inhale second-hand e-cigarette chemicals when they come to enjoy Irvine’s beautiful public parks and recreational facilities. That’s where we should draw the line.”

I am glad to see that we’ve made progress since that time.

You can find more information about the meeting and how to rsvp here.

Irvine Should Ban E-Cigarettes and Vaping in Our City Parks

teen-electronic-cigarette

Today’s New York Times has more bad news about teenagers and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

The Times reports a “sharp rise in the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers.”  E-cigarette use among middle- and high school students “tripled from 2013 to 2014 . . bringing the share of high school students who use them to 13 percent — more than smoke traditional cigarettes. The sharp rise, together with a substantial increase in the use of hookah pipes, led to 400,000 additional young people using a tobacco product in 2014, the first increase in years . . .”

Last year, the Times cited a similar report of the Center for Disease Control of a sharp rise in e-cigarette use among previously nicotine-free youth.

And who are the major marketers and lobbyists for e-cigarettes?  The very same big tobacco companies that still sell cigarettes and that told us for years that there was no harm in cigarette smoking.

Last March, the Irvine City Council rejected a resolution to prohibit electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in city parks and recreational facilities.  Mayor Steven Choi and Council Members Jeffrey Lalloway and Christina Shea voted against the ban.

Evidence is mounting that e-cigarettes are detrimental to one’s health. Their use is opposed by the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. UC Irvine and the entire University of California system bans their use in all indoor and outdoor areas of a UC campus.

The American Lung Association says they are “very concerned about the potential health consequences of electronic cigarettes, as well as the unproven claims that they can be used to help smokers quit. There is presently no government oversight of these products and absent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, there is no way for the public health, medical community or consumers to know what chemicals are contained in e-cigarettes or what the short and long term health implications might be. . . Also unknown is what the potential harm may be to people exposed to secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes. Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) coming from those secondhand emissions. Other studies have shown that chemicals exhaled by users also contain formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other potential irritants. While there is a great deal more to learn about these products, it is clear that there is much to be concerned about, especially in the absence of FDA oversight.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that recent scientific data “confirms pediatricians’ concerns about e-cigarettes and their liquid nicotine refills: they are poisoning children at an alarming rate. . . These new statistics should compel our nation’s leaders to act now to protect children from these dangerous products.”

The conservative editorial page of the San Diego Union Tribune has called for the regulation of e-cigarettes just like tobacco, “prohibiting their use in restaurants, bars and other public places where smoking is barred,” calling such regulations  “common sense for all of California.”

Council Member Lalloway celebrated the Council’s decision in favor of e-cigarettes by saying he had confidence in “individuals and their ability to make their own [health] choices.”

For me, what’s at issue is our freedom  to enjoy Irvine’s parks and recreational facilities without breathing air polluted with second-hand e-cigarette chemicals.

I have no problem with adults smoking e-cigarettes in their own homes or on their own property or on the property of people who say it’s okay with them.

But I don’t want members of my family or yours — especially children — to be forced to inhale second-hand e-cigarette chemicals when they come to enjoy Irvine’s beautiful public parks and recreational facilities.

That’s where we should draw the line.