Happy Earth Day 2019!

Today, Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly.  In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and more than 1 billion people in 193 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

The City of Irvine has been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology, and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy-saving.

Irvine’s San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Geoff Fox.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi was Irvine’s mayor, our city took several steps backwards. The term “climate change” was banned from all city documents and not enough Councilmembers made appointments to the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee to enable a quorum.

Mayor Steven Choi even refused to participate in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by Irvine’s own Wyland Foundation.

When I joined the Irvine City Council, I successfully pushed for revitalization of the Committee, which has now resumed its work of serving as the official environmental advisory committee, increasing public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, and helping the city serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I am delighted that the Committee now has the full support of the entire City Council, and both Mayor Don Wagner and Mayor Christina Shea have joined with other mayors across the country in asking residents to make a commitment to conserve water and protect this vital resource by taking part in annual Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, through the month of April.

One of the best — and most distinctive — qualities of Irvine is our commitment to preserving open space. The City of Irvine has more than 16,000 acres of permanently preserved parkland and open space – remarkable for a city of our size.

“The Sinks” — Irvine’s own Grand Canyon.

In 1974, early in our city’s history, voters approved multi-million dollar measures to fund public parks and recreational facilities, and for the acquisition and development of bicycle trail and hiking trail improvements.

In 1989, the City negotiated an historic agreement with the Irvine Company that set aside more than 9,500 acres as permanent open space marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas, protecting fully one-third of the city from development.

In addition, in 2006, nearly 37,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch were selected as a National Natural Landmark, a designation which reflects the outstanding condition, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education of the natural resources on the land.

As our Irvine Open Space Preserve website explains, “Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has had a strong desire to balance the built and natural environment. As this incredible master-planned community has grown, each phase of development has been accompanied by the preservation and enhancement of natural open spaces, creating the network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors may enjoy today and for generations to come.”

Bommer Canyon. Photo by Sanjay B. Dalal.

A crucial environmental issue facing Irvine in the near future is whether to switch from purchasing energy from SoCal Edison to utilizing a Community Choice Energy provider.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

It has been operating in California since 2002 following passage of Assembly Bill 117.

On September 25, 2018, the Irvine City Council approved conducting a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program, including potential economic benefits for the community.

Community Choice programs enable local government control over energy procurement to purchase power, set competitive rates, and collect revenue. The local utility still maintains the electricity grid, deliver energy, and bill customers.

Community Choice Energy programs offer automatic enrollment to businesses and residences in its jurisdiction, with the ability for the customer to opt out and continue to purchase electricity from the utility. Customers have the option of choosing increased percentages of renewable energy.

Councilmember Melissa Fox with the artist Wyland at his studio in Irvine.

CCE programs in California generally procure and resell a power mix between 50 percent and 100 percent renewable energy to their customers.

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from fossil to cleaner renewable energy.

Community Choice introduces competition and consumer choice into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.

By the mid 2020s, as much as 85% of Californians will be served by a Community Choice Energy program.

When our feasibility study is completed, I hope Community Choice Energy will soon be available in Irvine and throughout Orange County.

At our best, the City of Irvine has striven to be simultaneously people-friendly, business-friendly, and earth-friendly.

We must continue to insist that each phase of our City’s development be informed by science, accompanied by careful planning, and prioritize the preservation and enhancement of our environment.

Sunday, March 30, is Earth Hour 2019

This Saturday, March 30, join millions of people around the world in switching off your lights and electronics from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. for Earth Hour.

Starting as a symbolic lights out event in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour is now the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, inspiring millions of people to take action for our planet and nature.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have been able to reinstate and vitalize the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which seeks to increase public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, helping the City serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I’ve also helped move the City toward adopting Community Choice Energy, which allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

In addition, I’ve helped to make Irvine a national leader in finding non-toxic solutions to weed and pest control, and finding effective, non-toxic and eco-friendly ways to maintain Irvine’s open spaces and reduce fire danger.

I’ve helped Irvine increase our iShuttle program by 50 percent, and worked to improve Irvine’s bike trails for recreation and commuting.

But we need to do more, and faster. Most importantly, we need to step up efforts to switch from using fossil fuels – the biggest cause of climate change – to clean, renewable energy.  And we need to help people and nature adapt to the inevitable changes ahead.

Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.  It affects every corner of our planet – from the poles to the tropics, and from the mountains to the oceans. People and nature worldwide are already feeling the effects: water supplies are shrinking, extreme weather events increasing in frequency and intensity, forests burning, and coral reefs dying.

All around the world, governments and communities are coming together to act –- and we can still escape the worst impacts of climate change, and build a safer future for all.

You can find out more about Earth Hour and how you can participate at EarthHour.org.

You can also find out more about what Irvine is doing to preserve and protect our planet, and what else you can do, at https://www.cityofirvine.org/environmental-programs/make-earth-day-every-day.

Our connection to Earth and nature is undeniable: our planet’s gain is everyone’s gain.

Nature not only provides us with all the things we need to live — from the air we breathe to the water we drink, and from the shelter we need to the economy we rely on — but also makes our lives better.  But its growing loss puts this all under threat.

This Earth Hour, join millions around the world to turn off the lights and speak up about why nature matters!

Irvine Police Department Offers Traffic and Bicycle Safety Class for Kids!

As an Irvine City Councilmember who has been actively working with the Irvine Police and the community to increase traffic safety, I am very pleased to announce that the Irvine Police Department invites kids ages 6-11 and their parents to attend a fun, new and informative Traffic STARS (Safety Training and Riding Skills) class.

The class will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2019, from 9:00 a.m. — 11:00 a.m.

Students will learn:

* How to travel along safe routes.
* Situational awareness.
* Pedestrian safety.
* Practical, emergency, and defensive riding.
* Common courtesy skills.
* Bicycle and equipment maintenance.

Designed to enhance kids’ safety when out in the community, this class will combine classroom and practical riding skills components.

Kids are encouraged to bring their bikes, their helmets, and a parent/guardian (basic bike riding skills are required).

RSVP by March 1st to STARS@CityofIrvine.org.

See the Facebook Event Page here.

The class will be held at Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606-5207

Can’t make this date?  More classes will be offered in the future.

Thank you, Irvine Police Department!

 

We’re Number One: OC Register Rates Irvine “Best City” for 2018

The readers of the Orange County Register have rated Irvine the “Best City” in Orange County for 2018.

Here is what the Register had to say:

“By now, Irvine is used to accolades.

The Fiscal Times recently ranked it No. 1 out of 116 municipalities in its annual City Fiscal Strength Index. Within the past year it also made the top 10s of other “best-of”lists, including the Best Place to Raise a Family, the Best Park System in the U.S., Best City for Working Parents and Best City to be a Homeowner.

The personal finance website WalletHub ranked Irvine No. 8 – the highest of any Southern California locale – on its 2018 list of the Happiest Cities in America, which was based on factors such as emotional and physical well-being, income and employment and community and environment.

Last year, Sunset magazine selected Irvine as the SoCal runner-up – behind Ventura – on its list of the 19 Best Value Towns in the West.

“This O.C. town was engineered for livability back in the 1960s,” the magazine wrote. “What it lacks in an actual downtown, it makes up for with 350 miles of bike lanes and trails, an infinitesimal crime rate, a robust economy, a multicultural population, and the Orange County Great Park.”

None of this is news to Best of Orange County voters. Irvine has been voted Best City Live In for 8 of the past 10 years and always places in the top three. Beyond its highly regarded schools and abundant parks, Irvine is frequently cited as a model of master planning – even as the city’s population has grown to 268,000, its design as a cluster of villages helps it retain a small-town vibe.”

Congratulations to us!

See the Register’s full “Best of” issue here.

 

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox Speaks at Ceremony Marking Project to Protect Newport Bay Watershed

As a member of the Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee, as a representative of the City of Irvine, and as a life-long environmentalist, it was my pleasure to speak today at the ceremony marking the start of an extensive project to remove high levels of sediment from the Newport Bay Watershed.

The project, which will remove 172 thousand cubic yards of sediment, will protect many aquatic, wildlife, and rare and endangered species that habitat in Newport Bay, as well as protect the integrity of our flood channels.

Here is what I said:

“Prior to development, this section of the Irvine Ranch was mainly agricultural.

Geographically, Irvine is the largest city in Orange County and it has now grown to become the third largest by population after Anaheim and Santa Ana.

Our planning prioritizes smart, sustainable growth, particularly now, and we are a leader in low-impact development.

Our growth in population and modern development must be balanced with our need to protect our City’s natural open spaces and waterways. In fact, we have dedicated over a third of the land in our City to permanent open space. As our population continues to grow, must our efforts to maintain and enhance environmental health.

We have worked with our partners on major environmental engineering projects, such as this one, to protect our watershed and capture sediment and other environmental hazards before they enter Upper Newport Bay.

Another example is the Natural Treatment System, a partnership with the Irvine Company and Irvine Ranch Water District. The Natural Treatment System is modeled after a natural treatment system and provides a cost-effective, environmentally sound method for treating dry weather runoff to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and bacteria.

Ongoing collaboration between agencies is critical. We all have a vested interest in preserving the long-term health and safety of our regional watershed and our common interests go beyond municipal boundaries.

Our proactive approach to water treatment mitigates urban runoff and excess water flow and significantly reduces the amount of trash, debris, and many other pollutants entering into our storm drain systems and Newport Bay.

This is how we protect our home, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

Thank you.”

 

 

 

Irvine Slated to Name John Russo as New City Manager!

The following is a press release from the City of Irvine:

The Irvine City Council has chosen John A. Russo as its finalist for City Manager, and will formally consider hiring him at its July 10 meeting.

Russo has 23 years of results-oriented public service gained through leadership positions in Oakland, Alameda, and Riverside. Having served as a City Councilmember, City Attorney, and City Manager, Russo’s combination of experience at three California cities gives him a unique perspective as he prepares to lead Irvine in implementing the vision at the direction of its City Council.

“It is an extraordinary honor to be selected to serve in this position in a city known across America for its foresight, commitment to public safety, and adherence to financial stability,” said Russo. “Consistent with Irvine’s values, I am committed to open and transparent decision-making – listening to all stakeholders (citizens, business, university, public sector, and faith communities) with an open mind, and equally committed to decisive action and a long-term approach to policy. Process matters. Results matter more.”

Russo most recently served as City Manager for the City of Riverside for nearly three years. His experience in municipal government fits well with Irvine’s priorities.

Among the City Council goals in 2018:

  • Traffic improvement initiatives that include 16 capital improvement program projects now underway. The City Council has approved more than $71 million for traffic management and congestion improvements, with construction scheduled over the next 12 months.
  • City Council support of public safety. For a 12th consecutive year, Irvine is the safest city with a population of 250,000 or more for Part 1 violent crime, according to FBI data.
  • The City Council’s ongoing support of its public schools. The City Council provides $10.2 million annually in direct and indirect support.
  • The opening of large sections of the Orange County Great Park, including soccer fields, baseball and softball stadiums with multiple playing fields, basketball courts, and the $100 million public ice facility.
  • Continued high service to the community.

Highlights from Russo’s background align with Irvine’s focus areas:

  • Maintaining Irvine’s renowned employment base – one of the highest jobs-to-population ratios in the country – driven, in part, by major business headquarters such as Edwards Lifesciences and Blizzard Entertainment. Russo last year helped bring the California Air Resources Board’s headquarters and testing facilities to Riverside.
  • Developing of the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park, a former Marine base. While in Alameda, Russo expeditiously implemented all land use entitlements for redevelopment of the closed Alameda Naval Air Station, a 1,000-acre waterfront property across the bay from San Francisco.
  • Continuing Irvine’s fiscal health, including its recognition as the No. 1 fiscally responsible large city for two straight years. During Russo’s tenures in both Alameda and Riverside, he eliminated structural deficits, significantly increased financial reserves, and presided over improvements in those cities’ bond ratings.

Russo began his career in public service as an elected official with the City of Oakland, first as a Councilmember from 1994-2000, and then City Attorney from 2000-2011. While in Oakland, he authored the open government law and the “Sunshine Ordinance” to ensure public transparency and full residential access to public information. He then moved to the City of Alameda, where he served as City Manager from 2011-2015.

The Brooklyn native, 59, graduated with honors in economics and political science from Yale University, and earned his law degree from New York University School of Law. He was a Legal Aid attorney in St. Louis before moving to Oakland in 1987, where he was president of Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation, treasurer of the East Bay League of Conservation Voters, and pro bono attorney for neighborhood associations and nonprofits. In 2002, Russo served as League of California Cities president; he also was a Board member for the National League of Cities.

Russo would become Irvine’s fifth City Manager. Sean Joyce retired in February 2018 after a nearly 13-year career in Irvine. The first City Manager, William Woollett Jr., served from 1972-1989, followed by Paul Brady (1990-1999) and Allison Hart (1999-2005).

Russo has agreed to a base salary in Irvine of $303,014.

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Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has become a nationally recognized city, with a population of 267,086 that spans 66 square miles and is recognized as one of America’s safest and most successful master-planned urban communities. Top-rated educational institutions, an enterprising business atmosphere, sound environmental stewardship, and respect for diversity all contribute to Irvine’s enviable quality of life. This family-friendly city features more than 16,000 acres of parks, sports fields and dedicated open space and is the home of the Orange County Great Park. For more information, please visit cityofirvine.org.  

 

 

Why Did Measure B Lose? What Should Irvine Do Now? Take the Surveys!

[Take the surveys below at the end of this blog post.]

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B.

The issue now is what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide.

Sign used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would mean thousands more cars on every road in Irvine.

Some argue that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters said that the proposed veterans cemetery should be located at the ARDA site that was originally selected by the City Council in July 2014.

But the actual language of Measure B said nothing about the original ARDA site, except that the development previously zoned for the strawberry fields site would be moved there.

Looking at the specific language of Measure B, what the voters said No to was “allowing the previously planned development for the Bake Parkway Site to be relocated to the intersection of Pusan and Irvine Blvd and allowing the development of a veterans cemetery near the intersection of I-5 and Bake Parkway.”

Thus, by its express language, the no vote on Measure B rejects that zoning decision, but does not authorize the city to place a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site.

Map used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would lead to massive development and 10,000 more car and truck trips every day.

In addition, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site in 2014 was based on the belief that the City would provide the land for the veterans cemetery, but the costs of construction and subsequent maintenance of the cemetery would be wholly paid by state and federal government.

Crucially, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site also came several years before we learned that construction of the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site would cost nearly $80 million, mostly due to the need for decontamination of the soil and the decontamination and removal of numerous existing structures, and that in addition to providing the land, the City would have to bear a significant portion of these construction costs.

In particular, Measure B said nothing at all about approving the spending of tens of millions of dollars that are now earmarked for creating the features of the Great Park that residents have said they want – such as museums, botanical gardens, a new Wild Rivers Water Park, and a permanent amphitheatre for live music – and, instead, using that money for a veterans cemetery.

My belief is that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters did not want a zoning change that, as the No on B campaign said, would have allowed “massive development projects” at the ARDA site, add “812,000 square feet of development,” and “bring 10,000 more cars and trucks to Irvine streets and neighborhoods every day.”

For me, the lesson of Measure B is that the voters did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange would lead to more development and more traffic congestion, as well as the voters believing that it was too favorable a deal for the developer.

In other words, I see the rejection of Measure B as a vote against more development and traffic congestion, and not a vote in favor of spending tens of millions of dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park

I would like to know what you believe the rejection of Measure B means, especially if you were among the majority in Irvine who voted against it.

Please take the surveys below:

 

The City Council must now decide whether, and how, to proceed with a veterans cemetery.  What do you want the City Council to do:

 

Please share these surveys with your Irvine friends and neighbors. I would like as much resident input as possible.

Thanks!

Melissa

UPDATE:

The surveys are now closed.

While the surveys are not scientific, I believe their results are straight-forward and present an accurate view of why Measure B failed.

The survey results show that the main reason people voted No on Measure B was opposition to development and traffic, rather than a desire to return the veterans cemetery to its original site.

These results should not be unexpected since the No on Measure B campaign focused almost exclusively on the claim that Measure B would lead to more development and traffic (“B = Thousands MORE Cars on THIS Road!”).

Further underscoring the conclusion that Measure B failed because of perceptions about development and traffic rather than preference for the original site, the survey results show that few residents are in favor of spending the $40 – $80 million required to build the veterans cemetery on the original site.