Irvine Community Land Trust Earns Highest Award for Transparency!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as a longtime advocate for more affordable housing, I am very pleased to announce that the Irvine Community Land Trust has been awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s largest and mos respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

This award is the highest honor that GuideStar can bestow — an objective and authoritative affirmation of the Irvine Community Land Trust’s dedication to transparency and openness.

In fact, the Irvine Community Land Trust trust goes well beyond what is expected of a typical nonprofit by voluntarily keeping our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns available online for all to see.

Nonprofit organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust that work to create more affordable housing are often under attack from NIMBY groups.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m so delighted to see that GuideStar, a universally well-respected and objective organization, has officially recognized the commitment to openness of the Irvine Community Land Trust with their highest award for transparency!

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, herehere and here.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Featured in Case Study in UC Berkeley’s Affordable Housing Series

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as an Irvine City Councilmember who has made helping to create affordable housing a priority, I am excited that the Land Trust was recently featured in a case study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, exploring the impact that local efforts can have in improving the state’s housing crisis.

The Terner Center explains that “Cities have an important role to play in addressing California’s affordable housing shortage, and local policies such as community land trusts, reforming impact fees, and reducing barriers to multi-family housing production can all make a significant difference. Made possible by the support of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the Terner Center has conducted a series of case studies to explore how action at the local level can help to address the state’s housing shortfall.”

Irvine Community Land Trust Chair Melissa Fox with Affordable Housing Award for ICLT’s Parc Derian

The case study explains that “Homes for sale or rent within a CLT [Community Land Trust} are permanently held below the market cost while also offering the potential for residents to build equity and share in the economic advancement of their neighborhood.

Faced with rising housing costs and a steady decline in affordable homes, Irvine, California created the Irvine Community Land Trust (Irvine CLT) in 2006 to ensure that all new units created using a public subsidy or as a result of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance would remain affordable in perpetuity.”

It notes that the Land Trust has recently run into greater opposition from some residents who oppose additional housing, noting that “While
initially the Irvine CLT only developed on vacant land without much neighborhood opposition, the CLT reported that they had
begun to experience neighborhood resistance to an infill project.”

In fact, one of the most difficult to overcome obstacles to creating affordable housing throughout California is resistance from the affluent neighbors, which was the subject of a special — and packed — session at the 2019 Housing California Conference I attended this month in Sacramento.

At the Irvine Community Land Trust, we have sought to overcome resistance and generate community support by voluntarily continuing to keep our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns also available online.

You can read the Terner Center Case Study, which is part of its series “Statewide Goals, Local Tools: Case Studies in Affordable Housing Development in California,” here.

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, here and here.

 

I’m Attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, Working with Experts, Legislators, and Community Advocates to find Practical Solutions to California’s Housing and Homelessness Crisis.

I’m in Sacramento for the next three days lobbying for housing and attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Housing California is the “voice in the state Capitol for children, seniors, families, people experiencing homelessness,and everyone who needs a safe, stable, affordable place to call home.”

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox with Kelsey Brewer of Jamboree Housing Corporation at the 2019 Housing California Conference.

The vision of the Housing California is creating “a California in which no one is homeless and everyone can afford a safe, stable place to call home in a healthy and vibrant community.”

The Housing California Annual Conference started in 1979 with a small gathering across the street from the State Capitol, and has since grown into the largest and most diverse affordable housing and homelessness conference in the country.

The 2019 Housing California Conference focuses on the most crucial issues for housing in our state, including legislative, electoral, administrative, and budgetary policy strategy and solutions pertaining to affordable housing and homelessness; supportive housing, rapid re-housing, emergency responses, and bridge housing; affordable housing development including construction, design and entitlement, sustainable practices, and development innovations; affordable housing finance and asset management; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Housing is truly the issue of our time in California, and helping to create more affordable and attainable housing, especially for seniors, young families, veterans, and people with disabilities, has been an important focus of my career as a public official.

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

I am excited to learn and share ideas, and to work with experts, legislators, and community advocates to find practical solutions to California’s housing and homelessness crisis.

I will keep you posted!

 

UCI Housing Security Town Hall: Housing is the Issue of Our Time

In California, housing is the issue of our time.

I was grateful to be invited to speak recently at the recent Housing Security Town Hall sponsored by Associated Students at the University of California, Irvine.

Finding real and practical solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

The problem of housing insecurity affects millions of Californians, impacting people of every age group and every background, hitting the most financially vulnerable first and hardest.

One of the groups most affected are students at our public colleges and universities.

The fact is that most students struggle financially with their housing during their time at UCI.  Some are even homeless.

According to a study done at UCI, 53% of students experience anxiety, depression, or severe stress due to housing insecurity, and minority students are more likely to face housing insecurity issues than non-minority students.

As the UCI student newspaper New University has reported, “Housing insecurity has been an increasing burden on UCI’s student population due to rising tuition prices and the growing Irvine housing market. Irvine Company, which owns several apartment complexes near campus as well as throughout the affluent city of Irvine, raises rent prices for students alongside prices for renters throughout the city. Housing insecurity has become such a problem that students are sometimes living in their cars because they are unable to find an affordable apartment.”

At the Town Hall, I spoke about what I’ve been doing to ensure more housing affordability in Irvine and throughout Orange County, including being the only member of the Irvine City Council to vote against the so-called boarding house ordinance — which would make illegal the living arrangements that are an economic necessity for most students and young people — and being the only member of the Irvine City Council to vote to allow incentives to build more permanently affordable housing.

It is time to recognize that the housing crisis will not get better unless we do what it takes to create more affordable housing.

All of us involved in housing — state and local elected officials, real estate developers, labor unions, financial institutions, and community groups — must find ways to work together to create the right legislative and economic environment for building the affordable housing that our state desperately needs.

 

 

Join Me at the ASUCI Housing Security Town Hall on April 4 at UCI’s Crystal Cove Auditorium!

Please join me and leaders from the Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine (ASUCI) on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at 5:30 PM for the presentation of a groundbreaking report on student housing issues at UC Irvine.

Despite opposition from many community members and UCI student leaders, the Irvine City Council recently voted 4–1 to tighten restrictions on “boarding houses” and to ramp up code enforcement of housemate arrangements that are not the “functional equivalent of a family.”

As the UCI student newspaper New University has reported, “Housing insecurity has been an increasing burden on UCI’s student population due to rising tuition prices and the growing Irvine housing market. Irvine Company, which owns several apartment complexes near campus as well as throughout the affluent city of Irvine, raises rent prices for students alongside prices for renters throughout the city. Housing insecurity has become such a problem that students are sometimes living in their cars because they are unable to find an affordable apartment.”

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I voted against this proposed ordinance.  I believe that preserving neighborhood character is important, as is preventing excessive noise and improper home modifications. But these goals can best be achieved by enforcing regulations we already have on the books, not by prohibiting living arrangements that are financially necessary to students and young people.

I also have serious concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance, its intrusion into residents’ private lives, as well as its conflict with state law regarding housing.

Indeed, the California Department of Housing and Community Development contacted the City of Irvine immediately after the vote, expressing their concern that the ordinance violated state law.

As a result, the ordinance is being re-worked by City staff and will not move forward in its current form.

But those of us concerned about student housing insecurity and homelessness can’t let down our guard.

Brought to you by ASUCI Office of the President’s Housing Security Commission, the ASUCI Housing Security Town Hall will feature a groundbreaking report on student homelessness and housing insecurity presented by Izzak Mireles, a UCI Masters of Urban and Regional Planning graduate student.

In addition, I will be making some remarks and engaging in a question and answer session.

I hope you will join us alongside experts and leaders from across the Irvine community.

What: ASCUI Housing Security Town Hall 

When: Thursday, April 4, 2019, 5:30 – 7:00 PM

Where: UCI Crystal Cove Auditorium

Free admission. All are welcome!

You can find the Facebook Event Page here.

See you there!

Democracy Requires an Election to Fill the Vacancy on the Irvine City Council

When Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner took office as an Orange County Supervisor, Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea automatically took his place as Mayor.

As a result, there is now a vacancy on the Irvine City Council.

Democracy requires an election rather than an appointment to fill this vacancy.

According to law, a vacancy on the Irvine City Council can be filled by appointment by the remaining four members of the Council or by election by the vote of all the residents of Irvine.

Even if the City Council appoints a new member, the people can still override that appointment and demand an election by filling a petition signed by seven percent of the voters of the City.

Some argue that precedent and financial concerns support appointing the third-place runner-up in the previous election to the open seat on the Irvine City Council, rather than holding an election in which the people will choose the person to serve as their representative.

In fact, neither precedent nor principle support an appointment over the people’s choice as determined by an election.

Since the incorporation of Irvine as a City in 1971, there have been three times that a vacancy needed to be filled for a councilmember.

In the first instance, on October 15, 1985, Ralph A. “Ray” Catalano, a professor at UCI and a former planning commissioner, was appointed to serve the remaining three years of Councilmember David Sills term when Sills resigned from the Council to become a superior court judge.

Significantly, Catalano was not the next highest vote-getter in the previous election.  Catalano was not even a candidate in that election and had never run for office. The person who was the next highest vote-getter in the previous election, Mary Ann Gaido, was not appointed to the open seat. Catalano later explained that he was a political compromise choice and was picked by Sills as his successor.

That is the only time that the Irvine City Council has used an appointment by Councilmembers rather than an election by the people to fill a vacancy on the Council.  In every other case of a vacancy on the City Council, the seat has been filled by a vote of the people in a special election.

Our very first Irvine City Council election was a special election, held on December 21, 1971, when Irvine residents approved the City charter.

On November 6. 1990, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Sally Anne Sheridan was elected Mayor the previous June. The next highest vote-getter from the previous election – again it was Mary Ann Gaido – was not appointed.  Bill Vardoulis, who had not run in the prior election, entered that race and won that special election.

On November 3, 1992, a special election was held to fill the vacancy on the City Council when Councilmember Art Bloomer resigned with two years remaining in his term.  The next highest vote getter from the year of Bloomer’s election – and it was again Mary Ann Gaido — was not appointed. Greg Smith won that special election.

Additional special elections have also been called numerous other times for various reasons, such as voting on charter amendments, measures and ordinances.

In fact, in the history of municipal elections in Irvine, special elections seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

Third-place candidates have been elected to the City Council under Measure A, which was adopted by the voters in 1991.

Measure A provides in that in City Council elections where one of the sitting Councilmembers is running for Mayor, the voters can cast three ballots for candidates for the office of City Council, so that “if a council member whose term of office has not yet expired is elected to the office of Mayor, the vacancy in the office of that Councilmember shall be filled by the candidate for Councilmember receiving the third highest number of votes.”

So far, this situation has happened four times.

On June 7, 1988, third-place City Council candidate Cameron Cosgrove was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 7, 2000, third-place City Council candidate Beth Krom was elected when Larry Agran was elected Mayor.

On November 2, 2004, third-place City Council candidate Sukhee Kang was elected when Beth Krom was elected Mayor.

On November 4, 2008, third-place City Council candidate Larry Agran was elected when Sukhee Kang was elected Mayor.

Our current situation is very different from those cases.

In those cases, the voters were given the explicit opportunity to vote for three candidates for City Council.

As a result, the third-place candidate gained his or her seat on the City Council directly and democratically through the knowing vote of the people, not by appointment based on coming in third when the voters only had the choice of two.

Indeed, as I have shown, our City has NEVER appointed a Councilmember based on a third-place or next-highest finish in a previous election.

Some have argued that we should use this method of appointment – which we’ve never used before – simply in order to save the money that would need to be spent on an election.

First, it should be noted that other local cities are conducting special elections for councilmembers that could easily be coordinated by the Orange County Registrar with our own, thereby reducing the cost of the election.

Most importantly, however, I believe that democracy is worth the cost.

Democracy is far from perfect.

Many of us are convinced that we could pick better officials than those the people elect.

But that is not what our nation is about.

We elect our officials as our representatives; they are not appointed over us.

Democracy is messy, inefficient, and, yes, sometimes expensive.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

I agree.

We should fill the vacant seat on the City Council with the choice of the people as determined by an election.

UPDATE:

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the Irvine City Council officially declared a vacancy on the Council.

I have been informed by the city’s attorney and the city manager this declaration “starts the clock” regarding the process of filling the vacant council seat. We now have 60 days from April 3, 2019, to come to an agreement on the appointment of a new Councilmember or there will be an election.

Residents have 30 days from April 3, 2019, to file a petition signed by seven percent of Irvine’s registered voters to require an election regardless of what the council does.

UPDATE:

There is now a Republican proposal to circumvent this voting process by using an arbitrary ‘point proposal,’ under which “each Councilmember shall list three (3) applicants [candidates] in order of preference.” The candidates will be assigned the following point values: Top candidate 3 points, second candidate 2 points, and third candidate, 1 point.

Under this proposed procedure, the applicant receiving the most points will be appointed.

This proposed “point ” procedure:

(1) has never been used by the Irvine City Council to decide how to fill a council vacancy or to make any other appointment;
(2) violates the most crucial principle of a representative democracy — that the people’s representatives are selected by majority rule.

Arbitrarily assigning points to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice applicants, and then saying the applicant with the “most points” wins, is simply a way to avoid majority rule. It undermines the basic legitimacy of Irvine’s government.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at approximately 3:00 p.m. to make sure your voices are heard.

UPDATE:

While the so-called “point” procedure was defeated at the last meeting, the question of whether to appoint or have an election is still not settled.

Please attend the next Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 23, where the Council will likely decide either on a process for appointment of the 5th council member to the vacant seat or deadlock to cause an election.

Closed session starts at 4:00 p.m. and the open meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. The agenda is packed so this may run late.

Let the voters have their say!

 

Irvine Posts New Web Page Detailing the City’s Efforts to Combat Homelessness

The City of Irvine has posted a new web page detailing the City’s efforts to combat homelessness.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I’m proud of what we’ve done.

I’m especially proud of our inclusionary housing requirement that 15 percent of all new residential development be affordable to lower-income households.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox receiving affordable housing award on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust

I’m also proud of the City of Irvine’s establishment and funding of the Irvine Community Land Trust, which I am honored to serve as Chair, dedicated to creating affordable housing.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine. Located in the Irvine Business Complex, Parc Derian is a beautiful multifamily community with a pool, tot lot, private parking, exercise center, computer lab, and onsite resident services.

Also in 2018, we began work on Salerno, a new 80-unit rental community. Like Parc Derian, Salerno will provide permanent affordable housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.

Significantly, in 2018 we began to develop our first homes for ownership with help from a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Orange County. This new Irvine community, called Chelsea on Native Spring, located north of Irvine Boulevard, will include 68 affordable home for sale to income-eligible veterans, working families, and young professionals.

Homes will be sold to first-time homebuyers who earn up to 120 percent of the area’s medium income. In an area where the median home price is $727,000 and average annual income is around $80,000 for a family of four, many people are priced out of the market and face housing and financial uncertainties while trying to build a life in Irvine. The Chelsea on Native Spring project aims to keep those people in Irvine, especially military veterans, teachers, nurses, and young professionals.  It is expected to begin construction in 2019.

In addition to these new projects, we continued in 2018 to provide quality housing and services to 238 households living at Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes.

In all, that’s 466 households, and more than a thousand people, who can comfortably live, work and raise families in Irvine directly because of the work of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox and other officials listen to a homeless man at the Santa Ana riverbed.

In fact, over the past 30 years, Irvine has developed more affordable housing for families and individuals at risk of homelessness than any other city in Orange County.

Irvine has also provided over $6.7 million in grant funding to nonprofit organizations for homelessness prevention programs.

I am proud too of our Irvine Police Department’s approach to homelessness, which employs a dedicated team of Mental Health and Homeless Liaison Officers and is characterized by compassion and concern for those suffering from economic hardship, mental illness, and addiction.

The City has established a dedicated email address, outreach@cityofirvine.org, to address homelessness in Irvine. If you know someone in need of services, or if you have a question related to homelessness in Irvine, please contact us.

Irvine has also partnered with several non-profit community organizations — including Families Forward, Second Harvest Food Bank, FOR FAMILIES, Human Options, Second Chance OC, South County Outreach and StandUp for Kids — to help people experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness.

Please read the web page to see all we’re doing.

Of course, more needs to be done to resolve the homelessness crisis and alleviate the human suffering we see around us throughout Orange County.

While I’m proud of all we’ve done in Irvine, I’m also dedicated to doing more.

I’ve traveled to Sacramento to convince our legislators to reform the tax code to make it easier to build affordable housing.

I’ve traveled to San Antonio, Texas, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to see possible solutions in action.

We need more affordable housing and more attainable housing.

We need more mental health services.

Irvine Councilmember Melissa Fox and Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris attending conference at Haven of Hope in San Antonio on helping people suffering homelessness.

We need real regulation and supervision of so-called sober living homes that heartlessly dump untreated addicts into our communities when their money runs out.

No area of the nation has been more adversely impacted by these unregulated and profiteering sober living homes than Orange County.

We need to work with responsible non-profit community and faith organizations to find real solutions to the growing crisis of drug and alcohol abuse.

Homelessness is a both humanitarian crisis and a public health crisis that we can not ignore or simply pretend to legislate out-of-existence. Helping our homeless population will require a concerned, regional, and state-funded approach that both provides safe temporary shelter and effective, humane solutions of the root causes of homelessness.

Let’s working together to achieve these goals and truly resolve the homelessness crisis.