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. 

 

How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon

In a recent article in the Voice of OC, Chapman University Professor Fred Smoller and former U.S. Department of Energy official Richard King make a convincing case for a California version of the U.S. Solar Decathlon. The problem is, there already was a California-based Solar Decathlon – located at the Great Park in Irvine – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

The U.S. Solar Decathlon, which has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy approximately every two years since 2002, is an award-winning international competition 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.

As Smoller and King point out, since the Solar Decathlon’s inception in 2002, more than a dozen California colleges and universities have participated, but no California colleges or universities are slated to participate in the next competition in 2020.

This lack of California participation is troubling, Smoller and King note, because the Solar Decathlon introduces new solar energy technologies to the market and accelerates their implementation; increases and educates the ‘clean tech’ workforce; educates consumers about clean energy; and demonstrates that energy-efficient and solar-powered housing is attainable, practical, and beautiful.

Smoller and King further point out that “as the U.S. surrenders its leadership position on fighting climate change, other nations have stepped in: Solar Decathlons are now being held in Europe, China, the Middle East and Africa. In addition to combating climate change, countries in these regions — especially China — are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the rapidly expanding green economy.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Smoller and King in endorsing a California Solar Decathlon.

California is the ideal location for a Solar Decathlon. California leads the nation, and the world, in developing new and cleaner energy technologies. We are leaders in requiring more effective clean energy standards and in fighting climate change. “To maintain California’s leadership position in the field of clean energy, we must harness the creative energy of our youth, the academic community, industry and labor. By working together, this competition could set a new milestone in clean energy and help make California the sustainability capital of the world.”

Significantly, in both 2013 and 2015, the Solar Decathlon was held right here at the Great Park – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

It was an incredible achievement in January 2012 when the Great Park team was awarded a $1 million grant to bring the 2013 Solar Decathlon and the XPO in Irvine – the very first time such an award had been made and first time the Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.

As then-Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom stated at the time, the Solar Decathlon was expected to “bring worldwide attention and economic development to the Great Park and the region and raise public awareness about the benefits of clean energy and energy conservation.”

As I wrote at the time, I was “excited about the potential economic and technological impact that the Solar Decathlon will have for Irvine and Orange County in the future.”

But once the Solar Decathlon contract was awarded, the Irvine City Council, now led by Mayor Steven Choi, completely bungled the opportunity.

First, Mayor Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council and the Great Park Board (which were then, as now, one and the same) dismissed the public relations firm that had been instrumental in getting the Energy Department to award the Solar Decathlon contract to the Great Park, without hiring any replacement firm – or even adopt a plan – to handle the publicity for the event. The result was far less attendance than been had anticipated when it was assumed that the Solar Decathlon would be properly publicized.

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

Next, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council failed to provide proper signage and directions for the event, so that many people who planned to attend could not locate the venue within the uncompleted Great Park.

The City also failed to partner with science, engineering or community based groups to promote and engage with the Solar Decathlon.

In fact, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council were hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon. It had been the idea of former Mayor Larry Agran to bring the Solar Decathlon to the Great Park, and the contract was awarded during Agran’s tenure as mayor. Choi never embraced the event as truly belonging to Irvine or the Great Park, instead viewing it with suspicion as belonging to Agran and to Obama’s environmentally pro-active and climate change conscious Department of Energy.

Crucially, Choi did not share the Solar Decathlon’s basic rationale: concerns about the impact of human-caused climate change and the need for new, clean, energy technologies. Rather, Choi told his fellow Republicans that while “it is good to keep the environment clean but [he] completely questions the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention. He opposes cap and trade and other government imposed environmental regulations, calling them an extreme effort to tax businesses and economic growth.”

In line with this anti-scientific thinking regarding the relationship between climate change and human use of fossil fuels, Choi not only cared nothing about ensuring the success of the Solar Decathlon, but ended Irvine’s participation in the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation and failed to appoint a quorum for the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, causing that important committee – which I revived, along with Mayor Don Wagner, and which I now chair – to cease meeting for the years that Choi was mayor.

As I said in 2016 when the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the Solar Decathlon would be held in Denver, not the Orange County Great Park, “It is extremely disappointing that the Solar Decathlon will no longer he held in Irvine because the Irvine City Council refused to support the continuation of the Solar Decathlon in the Great Park. The Solar Decathlon served as an international showcase for our city — our businesses and educational institutions — as among the world’s leaders in scientific and environmental innovation, but our shortsighted City Council has allowed this tremendous opportunity to go elsewhere.”

In sum, I agree with Fred Smoller and Richard King that a Solar Decathlon in California– a “leading-edge design competition which promotes innovation, education, and market expansion” of clean energy technologies – would be great for our students, teachers, schools and businesses.  That’s why it’s such a pity that the Solar Decathlon was once here in the Great Park, until the event was mismanaged, and the opportunity was squandered, by the Irvine City Council led by Steven Choi.

 

Listen to Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

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“I’m going to be bringing my 25 years of advocasy to bear for the residents of Irvine in negotiating with our partners in development, our major developers, FivePoint Communities and the Irvine Company.” — Melissa Fox, on KUCI’s “Ask a Leader.”

Here is the interview I did on October 4 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program “Ask a Leader” on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, my plan to fix Irvine’s traffic congestion and make our streets safer, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle, environmental issues, and more.

My interview begins at 1:30 and ends at 22:50.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

It’s Official: Melissa Fox Qualifies to Run for Irvine City Council!

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It’s official — I’ve filed to run for Irvine City Council!  Here is the official press release:

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox announced today that she has officially filed for an open seat on the Irvine City Council and qualified for the ballot in the November 8th General Election.

“As a business owner, attorney and Irvine Community Services Commissioner,” Fox stated. “I understand the relationship between strong, pro-resident leadership and our quality of life. Our city needs a new vision for unsnarling our roads and creating melissa.smilebetter economic opportunities.”

Fox starts her campaign with great momentum, having already received the support of the Orange County Professional Firefighters, the LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council, numerous Irvine businesses and community members and Councilmember Beth Krom.

“Over the next 83 days,” Fox continued, “I plan to talk directly to Irvine voters about my plan for for restoring good planning. Irvine residents can count on me to work everyday to make Irvine an even better place to live and raise our families.”

Melissa Fox is an Irvine Community Services Commissioner, attorney, and small business owner in Irvine. To learn more about her campaign visit www.votemelissafox.com

To keep in touch with campaign updates, please “like” Melisss Fox for Irvine City Council’s Facebook page.

Listen to Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

radio-tower-full

Here is the interview I did on October 14 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program Ask a Leader on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, traffic congestion, infrastructure, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, the Irvine Barclay Theatre, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle,  environmental issues, losing one of farmers’ markets, my Irvine Food Tours, the OCTA’s irresponsible toll road decision, and more.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

It’s Official! Melissa Fox Files for Irvine City Council

Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, votemelissafox.com, melissajoifox,

It’s official!  Yesterday I filed the paperwork to qualify as a candidate for Irvine City Council.

Here is the press release we sent out:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Mills (714) 576-4303

Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox Files for Irvine City Council

Irvine Business-Owner and Attorney the Top Fundraiser Among Candidates

Irvine Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox announced her filing for Irvine City Council on Friday. Fox has also filed her campaign finance reports, showing her to be the top fundraiser among all candidates – even outpacing two council incumbents running for re-election.

“I’ve been tremendously encouraged by the support our campaign has received,” Fox said. “People in Irvine are responsive to a message that focuses on restoring smart growth and community-oriented planning. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done so far and excited about ramping up our campaign and focusing on the November election.”

An Irvine business-owner and attorney, Fox has also been holding neighborhood meet-and-greets across the city after opening up her campaign committee last year. In listening to residents from across the political spectrum, she has heard the same complaints about the direction of the city.

“People think that the current council is rubber-stamping too much development in the city. New housing tracts and apartment buildings are springing up over-night — they aren’t seeing the thought and planning that has made Irvine so special,” Melissa added. “People don’t move to Irvine to sit in traffic and send their kids to over-crowded schools. As a member of the City Council, I pledge to address the runaway development that’s threatening our quality of life.  I will be a strong pro-resident voice on the Council.”

Fox also pledges to ensure every public dollar is wisely budgeted and accounted for using her skills as a business attorney specializing in fighting fraud; promote Irvine businesses, large and small; and safeguard Irvine’s standing as a world-class city in education and public safety.

Melissa Fox is the daughter of a Korean War combat veteran and has been active in advocating for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park in the Great Park.

Melissa Fox lives with her husband, Dr. Michael Fox, their son, Max, and their Siberian Husky, Scout, in the Northwood Park area of Irvine.

The 2013 Solar Decathlon Opens in Irvine!

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Solar Decathlon Teams 2013

As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, we are used to new houses being built in Irvine.

But these new houses in the Great Park are special.

These are state-of-the-art solar-powered houses – each of them vying for the title of best solar-powered house in the world in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002. The competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.

This year, the Solar Decathlon will be held for first time outside of Washington, D.C. – at the Great Park, here in Irvine, California.

From October 3-6 and 10-13, 2013, twenty collegiate teams will be competing – and showing their state-of-the-art solar-powered houses to visitors – at the Great Park, free of charge on eight days over two weekends.  Public hours will be from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM:

  • Thursday, Oct. 3 – Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013.
  • Thursday, Oct. 10 – Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.

The Solar Decathlon is an award-winning international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. 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 winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production.

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to help remove barriers to the adoption of solar energy technologies by:

  • Educating students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions;
  • Demonstrating to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable-energy systems available today; and
  • Providing participating students with unique training that prepares them to enter the clean-energy workforce.

Solar-Power Competition: 10 Contests

Solar Decathlon, Melissa Fox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, melissafoxblog, melissajoifox

Commissioner Melissa Fox at Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon is a competition.  Like the Olympic decathlon, the Solar Decathlon consists of 10 individual contests. These individual contests are designed to gauge how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. Each individual contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a competition total of 1,000 points.

The 10 contests are:

  • Architecture – Teams are required to design and build attractive, high-performance houses that integrate solar and energy-efficiency technology seamlessly into the design. A jury of professional architects evaluates each team’s construction documents and the final constructed house, looking at architectural elements, holistic design, and inspiration.
  • Market Appeal – Teams build their houses for a target market of their choosing. Teams are then asked to demonstrate the potential of their houses to keep costs affordable within that market. A jury of professionals from the homebuilding industry evaluates how well suited each house is for everyday living, determines whether the construction documents would enable a contractor to construct the house as intended, and assesses whether the house offers potential homebuyers within the target market a good value.
  • Engineering – Team houses are evaluated by a jury of professional engineers for functionality, efficiency, innovation, and reliability.
  • Communications – Teams are judged on their success in delivering clear and consistent messages and images that represent the vision, process, and results of each team’s project through web sites, communications plans, and student-led house tours.
  • Affordability – Teams are encouraged to design and build affordable houses that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems, and earn points for building less expensive houses.  For this contest, teams can earn the maximum 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. A sliding point scale is applied to houses with estimated construction costs between $250,001 and $600,000. Houses with estimated costs that are more than $600,000 receive zero points.
  • Comfort – Teams are encouraged to design their houses to maintain steady, uniform indoor environmental conditions.  Points are awarded for maintaining narrow temperature and relative humidity ranges inside the houses.
  • Hot Water – Teams need to demonstrate that a solar-powered house can provide all of the energy necessary to heat water for domestic uses. Teams score points in this contest by successfully completing several daily hot water draws.
  • Appliances – Teams need to demonstrate that solar-powered houses can provide power for the appliance use and amenities of the average U.S. home while using less energy. Teams earn points for refrigerating and freezing food, washing and drying laundry, and running the dishwasher.
  • Home Entertainment – Teams earn points for demonstrating that houses powered solely by the sun can deliver more than just basic household functionality and also provide power for electronics, appliances, and other modern conveniences.
  • Energy Balance – Teams earn points for demonstrating that the solar-power can produce all the energy necessary for the daily energy demands of a small household.  Each house is equipped with a utility meter that measures the energy a house produces and consumes over the course of the competition. A team receives points for producing at least as much energy as its house needs.

The Teams: From 13 States and 4 Countries

The teams in this year’s competition (with links to their web pages) are:

Click here for a gallery of the solar-powered houses.

Click here for virtual tours.

XPO: Clean Energy Exposition

The Solar Decathlon is also part of XPO, a clean, renewable, and efficient energy exposition, simultaneously being held at the Great Park.  The XPO features visionary and innovative companies, products, and educational opportunities.  Through fun, interactive exhibits and activities, the XPO provides visitors with information about the broad spectrum of energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Visitors will experience actionable ways to implement energy efficiency today and into the future, with the goal to leave the XPO with tools and resources to live differently.

XPO features include:

  • The SunShot Innovation Pavilion will feature an educational trade show connecting consumers to clean, renewable, efficient energy companies, products and services and will also showcase the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, featuring educational activities and displays from a variety of solar companies.
  • The Powerful Ideas Symposium will feature guest speakers and panelists presenting useful, innovative ideas related to clean, renewable, efficient energy and its connection with the world and our everyday lives.
  • The Powerful Ideas Classroom will feature educational activities and lessons focused on science, engineering, architecture and energy for preschool through high school students.
  • The Competitors Pavilion will showcase the colleges and universities competing in the Solar Decathlon, providing opportunities to learn more about the technology and innovation used in the student teams’ homes. This Pavilion will also feature the U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards and the American Institute of Architects Orange County Student Design Committee Awards.
  • The Transportation Zone will feature electric vehicle demonstrations, ride-and-drives and competition.
  • The Arts and Culture Zone will feature artistic gallery exhibitions where guests can explore, discover, and experience how art can be influenced by environment and the environment by art.
  • The Farm + Food Zone will feature exhibits and workshops on the benefits of locally grown food and how to grow nutritious, delicious food and maintain healthy gardens.

What the Solar Decathlon and XPO Could Mean for Irvine

It was an incredible achievement in January 2012 when the Great Park team was awarded a $1 million grant to bring the 2013 Solar Decathlon and the XPO in Irvine – the very first time such an award had been made and first time the Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.  As then-Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom stated at the time, the Solar Decathlon will “bring worldwide attention and economic development to the Great Park and the region and raise public awareness about the benefits of clean energy and energy conservation.”

Indeed, Irvine – with its well deserved reputation for leadership in urban planning, innovation, conservation and green technology – is really the perfect place for the Solar Decathlon.

More than other 300,000 visitors are expected from across the nation and around the world.

(Public transportation is available through Metrolink and local shuttles).

I am tremendously excited about visiting each house in the Solar Decathlon and seeing what new solar energy technology and cutting edge innovative thinking can achieve.

I am also excited about the potential economic and technological impact that the Solar Decathlon will have for Irvine and Orange County in the future.