Defend Democracy. Tell the Irvine City Council: These are the Public’s Meetings!

City Councils are not private clubs. Public meetings in a real democracy should not be stage-managed by the political majority to prevent public discussion of issues that they want to avoid for their own political advantage.

Last July, while I was on a long-planned vacation to visit my son in Alaska, the Irvine City Council adopted a new anti-democratic policy that prohibits an item from being placed on the agenda unless the mayor or two city council members agree to do so.

As the Orange County Register correctly stated in a powerful editorial opposing the Council’s action, “the transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority.”

The new policy was in direct response to my proposal in June to fly the Gay Pride Flag from City Hall during Gay Pride Month. Although dozens of residents spoke at the meeting in support of flying the Pride Flag, the Council defeated the proposal and I was the only Councilmember to speak in favor of it.

In opposing this restrictive and anti-democratic agenda policy, the Register observed that “Public-meetings laws have a vital purpose in a free society. The public is supposed to be privy to the inner workings of government so they can witness the sausage-making legislative process in action, ugly and unappetizing as it can be. Unfortunately, many local officials act as if hearings are a show – a way to put their best foot forward before the citizenry.”

The Register also recognized that while the new rule was adopted specifically to silence me, the effect of the rule will be to silence all disagreement and dissent:

“Fox has previously discussed supposedly ‘divisive’ issues ranging from flying the LGBTQ flag at City Hall to creating a veterans’ cemetery near the Great Park. But this fracas isn’t about the particular issues any member might want to discuss, but about whether a duly elected official has the right to publicly discuss them. Councils are not private clubs . . . These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.”

At this Tuesday’s Irvine City Council meeting, the political majority will propose to extend this anti-democratic policy to the Great Park Board (composed of the members of the Irvine City Council) as well as to all City Commissions.

The public should not tolerate this extension of the current majority’s attack on representative democracy.

Please attend the Tuesday, September 10, 2019, Irvine City Council meeting and let them know that your City Council is not a private club. The meetings of the City Council, the Orange County Great Park, and Irvine City Commissions belong to the public and cannot be staged managed for political advantage. 

As the O.C. Register eloquently stated, “These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.”

As I stated in July, I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

Tell the Irvine City Council to Agendize the Proposal to Educate Residents and Law Enforcement about California’s Red Flag Law and Gun Violence Restraining Orders

California has a “red flag law” that allows family members or police to seek a court order to temporarily remove guns from mentally unstable people, but too few are aware of it. I have asked the mayor to place my proposal that Irvine educate our residents and police about California’s red flag law and its appropriate use on the City Council agenda. 

Here is the memo that I sent to the mayor:

“​Re: Reducing Gun Violence and California’s Red Flag Law

After the May 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista in which a mentally unstable young man killed six people and injured fourteen others before killing himself, California passed a ‘red flag law’ that empowers family members and law enforcement officers to petition a court to obtain a “Gun Violence Restraining Order” (GVRO) to temporarily limit a person’s access to guns if they are an immediate and present danger of harming themselves or others.

Red flags laws have now been passed in 17 states and several more states are considering such laws. Red flag laws have been supported by both Republicans and Democrats. In the aftermath of the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, President Trump declared that ‘We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. . . That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.’

Red flag laws are not just meant to prevent mass shootings. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Nearly two-thirds of the gun deaths in the United States — over 22,000 per year — are suicides. Eighty-three percent of suicide attempts by gun succeed; suicide attempts by other means are fatal only 5% of the time. A GRVO can save lives by temporarily preventing a loved one from accessing the most lethal form of suicide until the crisis passes, giving them a chance to get the help they need.

But for red flag laws to be effective, it is important that members of the public and local police officers are aware of the law and encouraged to obtain Gun Violence Restraining Orders when appropriate. Unfortunately, awareness of our red flag law is not nearly as widespread as it should be.

​I am proposing that the Irvine City Council work with City Staff and the Irvine Police Department to devise and implement a public awareness program regarding California’s red flag law, hold training sessions on the red flag law for members of the Irvine Police Department, and direct our law enforcement officers to use GVRO’s when appropriate.

I am requesting that this item be placed on the agenda for the Irvine City Council.”

Due to the City Council’s new restrictive agenda policy, which prohibits an item from being placed on the agenda unless the mayor or two city council members agree to do so, I can not place this item on the agenda without the support of the mayor or other councilmembers.  Accordingly, I have asked Irvine Mayor Christina Shea to agree to put this proposal on the Irvine City Council agenda.

Red flag laws save lives.

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

OC Sheriff’s deputies in Mission Viejo successfully petitioned the court for a Gun Violence Restraining Order and temporarily removed over 22 firearms and 3,000 rounds of ammunition from the home. All the firearms were legally obtained by the suspect who was arrested for domestic violence.

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

A national organization, Speak for Safety, has formed for the specific purpose of raising awareness of the Gun Violence Restraining Order as a tool to remove firearms and ammunition from people who are an immediate danger to themselves or others.

Recently, deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department  a domestic violence victim in Mission Viejo who feared for her family’s safety. Deputies petitioned the courts for a Gun Violence Restraining Order and an Emergency Protective Order. They temporarily removed over 22 firearms and 3,000 rounds of ammunition from the home. All the firearms were legally obtained by the suspect who was arrested for domestic violence.

But too often, neither family members nor law enforcement personnel know that such a gun violence prevention tool exists, even in states, like California, that have very effective GVRO laws on the books.

This the reason I have proposed  that the Irvine City Council work with City Staff and the Irvine Police Department to devise and implement a public awareness and education program regarding California’s red flag law, hold training sessions on the red flag law for members of the Irvine Police Department, and direct our law enforcement officers to use GVROs whenever appropriate.

Please join me in this effort by contacting the Mayor and the Irvine City Council and urging them to support this common sense proposal to use California’s existing red flag law to prevent gun violence and save lives in Irvine.

Yes, Let’s Create a Gun Violence Task Force — And Let’s Also Have a Real Discussion about How to Prevent Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

Based on her recent social media post, it appears that in the wake of three recent mass shootings (in Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio) leaving at least 45 people dead and many dozens more injured, Irvine Mayor Christina Shea intends to create a task force to discuss what we can do in Irvine to prevent gun violence.

Significantly, Mayor Shea asks that we not turn this discussion into a “partisan” issue, and that we not hold local, state, or national politicians responsible for their actions, or lack of action, leading to the proliferation of mass shootings and gun violence.

I fully support a discussion of how our City Council can help prevent Irvine from becoming the site of the next gun violence atrocity. This discussion is long overdue. Our nation is suffering from a gun violence emergency.

But the discussion must not be a sham, and not be muzzled from the very beginning by preventing mention of the fact that Republican politicians — at every level of government — have sided with gun dealers and the NRA over the safety of our communities and families, and have stubbornly blocked Congress from enacting meaningful, common sense federal gun regulation.

We must also be willing to acknowledge the fact that President Donald Trump has incited violence and manipulated racial hatred in ways that many of us had hoped belonged to our tragic past. And we must explicitly reject and condemn Trump’s racist rhetoric.

As President Obama recently said, as elected officials and community leaders, we must reject the rhetoric of those “who demonize those who don’t look like us, or suggest that other people, including immigrants, threaten our way of life, or refer to other people as sub-human, or imply that America belongs to just one certain type of people.” Such language “has no place in our politics and our public life” and it is time “for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much — clearly and unequivocally.”

Let’s have a real discussion of mass shootings and gun violence — without any attempts at mirco-management by the Mayor or self-serving limitations on that discussion being imposed in advance by local politicians who are afraid that the public is fed up with the Republican Party’s spinelessness in the face of the NRA and the racist rhetoric of Trumpism, and their policy of creating diversions after each mass shooting rather than enacting real, common sense, gun control regulation.

I also ask that this Task Force be comprised of and led by real experts in the field of gun violence prevention. We have many such experts here in Irvine on the faculty of UCI and the UCI School of Law.  Our task force should not be solely composed of — or led by — politicians with an interest in self-promotion or self-protection, or protecting their political allies from justified and necessary criticism.

In addition, I suggest that the Irvine City Council immediately direct our Irvine Police Department to promote awareness of California’s Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law, which allows family members and law enforcement to seek the temporary removal of firearms from someone they believe poses a danger to themselves or others.

While GVROs have been called “the best tool in the state of California for responding to a threat of gun violence,” they are rarely used because residents and law enforcement remain largely unaware of the law and its potential to help stop a crime before it has been committed.

You can see a video presentation of California GVROs here:

I also propose that the City of Irvine and the Irvine Police Department remind residents about California’s safe storage laws requiring that guns be locked away from minors and anyone who should not have access to them.

I look forward to a lively, positive and open-minded discussion of what we can do in Irvine to prevent mass shootings and gun violence, including an awareness and educational campaign about GVROs, issuing official statements from our City Council calling on President Trump to stop his inflammatory rhetoric demonizing immigrants, Muslims, and people of color, and calling on Congress to pass common sense gun regulations relating to universal background checks, military-style assault rifles, and high capacity magazines.

 

OC Register Editorial: Democracy Cannot be Stage-Managed by the Majority for their Own Convenience and Political Advantage

The Orange County Register’s editorial of July 17, 2019, correctly calls out and condemns the recent move by the Irvine City Council to prevent a Council Member from putting an item on the agenda unless two other members agree to do so.

As the Register states, “The transparent goal is to shut down the views of the political minority. Irvine officials said they want to stop ‘grandstanding,’ but one person’s grandstanding is another’s chance to raise vital concerns.”

The Register also recognizes that while the new rule was adopted specifically to silence me, the effect of the rule will be to silence all disagreement and dissent:

“Fox has previously discussed supposedly ‘divisive’ issues ranging from flying the LGBTQ flag at City Hall to creating a veterans’ cemetery near the Great Park. But this fracas isn’t about the particular issues any member might want to discuss, but about whether a duly elected official has the right to publicly discuss them. Councils are not private clubs . . . These are the public’s meetings and all officials, even minority voices, represent their constituencies. All elected bodies need to encourage wide-ranging discussions so the public can be part of the self-government process – and not just observers of a carefully crafted script. That’s the essence of representative democracy.”

Thank you to the OC Register for recognizing that public meetings in a real democracy cannot be stage-managed by the majority for their own convenience and political advantage.

As I’ve said before, Irvine’s current pro-Trump Council majority has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day, and throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

No, We Won’t Back Down

At its last meeting, the Irvine City Council took the unprecedented step of voting to prohibit a council member from placing an item on the agenda without two other council members’ approval.

Now, only the mayor will be allow to put an item on the agenda — a power that until last week had for decades belonged to every individual member of the City Council.

There have been many shifting majorities on the City Council over the years, but no other Council has gone so far to silence dissenting voices and points of view.

You can read about what took place in this excellent article in Voice of OC, including how this new rule is directed squarely at me in retaliation for proposing that Irvine fly the Pride Flag at City Hall, and how they made sure to propose the new rule — and then quickly enact it —  while I was on a long-planned trip to Alaska.

The truth is that Irvine’s Republican, pro-Trump Council majority — created by appointment in a back-room deal — has made it clear that they are following in Irvine the very same playbook of obstruction and bullying used in Washington by Trump and Mitch McConnell, and with the same goal: to silence opposing voices.

But I have no intention of being silent.

And neither do you.

As with Trump and McConnell, we must persist and resist every day.

And throw them out decisively in November 2020.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise my voice to speak for progressive policies and values — like respect for LGBTQ people, a state cemetery for our veterans, implementation of a serious plan to tackle climate change, more accessible child care, ending sexual violence and discrimination in the workplace, building affordable housing, and ensuring greater government transparency — as I was elected to do.

 

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.

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!