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.

 

Your Feedback is Needed at Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission Meeting on Awarding Federal Block Grants

By Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris

Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission meeting will hear from non-profit applicants seeking federal block grant money

This grant money is awarded by the City and is intended to address community needs including services for youth, seniors, disabled residents, and fighting homelessness.

Your feedback on the award of these federal block grant funds is important and welcome!

The City of Irvine receives annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) entitlement grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

CDBG is the principal federal program providing local governments with grants to improve the physical, economic, and social conditions in their communities.

While spending priorities are determined at the local level, the program is primarily intended to provide affordable housing, establish and maintain a suitable living environment, and expand economic opportunities for low and moderate-income residents.

HOME funds are intended to facilitate long-term public-private partnerships in an effort to expand the availability of affordable housing. HOME funds may be used exclusively to create affordable housing for low and moderate-income residents.

These programs allow the City of Irvine to issue grants and loans to local organizations for a wide variety of community development activities that benefit eligible low and moderate-income Irvine residents.

You can see the agenda for tonight’s meeting here.

Tonight’s Irvine Community Services Commission will start at 5:30 p.m and be held at the City Council Chambers, Irvine City Hall, I Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA 92623-9575

All meetings of the Irvine Community Services Commission are open to the public and the public is entitled to comment.

We hope to see you there tonight and hear your comments.

 

Join Me for the Grand Opening of Los Olivos Community Park and Center!

Join me on Saturday, March 2, 2019, for the Grand Opening of Los Olivos Community Park!

The dedication event will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The new 12.5-acre Los Olivos Community Park features lighted baseball and soccer fields, a lighted basketball court, four tennis courts, and a musical-themed playground inspired by the former Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

In addition, the 6,700-square-foot community center features a large multipurpose room, warming kitchen, and patio area.

The dedication event will include:

  • Self-guided tours of the facility;
  • On-site tennis pro to answer questions about tennis programming; and
  • Entertainment by Concerts for Charities Club.

The sports fields, playground, and trails will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Los Olivos Community Center will be open to the public 9 a.m.– 9 p.m. Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon – 6 p.m. Sunday. Programming will include early childhood programs, youth camps, adult classes, and a variety of recreational offerings.

Los Olivos Community Park is located at 101 Alfonso, Irvine, CA 92618

No RSVP is needed for this free dedication event.

For more information, visit cityofirvine.org/specialevents or call 949-724-6814.

See you there!

Irvine Wins California Park & Recreation Society’s Award for Excellence in Marketing

I’m excited to announce that the City of Irvine was selected as the 2018 California Park & Recreation Society (CPRS) Marketing and Communications Award of Excellence recipient for our Your Irvine marketing campaign. The City competed for the award against government agencies serving populations of 250,000 or more.

The CPRS award reflects Irvine’s commitment to strategically and efficiently implement a new online registration and reservations software system for the public through a comprehensive marketing and public outreach campaign. Through this statewide award, the City has been recognized for the highest achievement in promoting and increasing public awareness of its parks, facilities, recreation, and leisure services programs.

In preparation for Irvine’s new registration software launch in February 2018, City staff developed Your Irvine as a brand identity for the classes and activities offered by the City.  The Community Services marketing team created the logo, website, and digital and print collateral in-house using only internal resources. They also worked with parks staff to outline a marketing campaign that would suit the needs of all unique facilities within the City. The resulting campaign drove traffic to the new registration website, supporting more than 10,000 class sessions, 41,000 facility bookings, and 80,000 community participants annually.

The City of Irvine will be honored at an awards recognition banquet on Friday, March 22, at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, during the 2019 CPRS Conference & Expo.

 

Wanted: Licensed Nonprofit Child Care Provider Needed for Irvine’s New Loma Ridge Elementary School!

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Welcome Tilly’s Life Center to Irvine! — Empowering Teens to Thrive!

Welcome Tilly’s Life Center to Irvine!

Tilly’s Life Center is a youth-focused, 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable foundation aimed at empowering all teens with a “youth-focused nonprofit empowerment program for teens helping to change attitudes and mindsets in order to overcome adversity and ultimately find happiness and success.”

Teens are facing problems that are universal, affecting them at every socioeconomic level and in every community. Even in supportive environments, teenagers face confusion and uncertainty in life.

As young people come under increased pressure to excel in a highly competitive world, Tilly’s Life Center is  providing teens the support they need to thrive.

Through the Center’s “I Am Me” program, teens are taught life skills that motivate them to pursue their dreams and to focus on improving their lives, be it through more positive thinking, stress management, motivation, and purpose.

I am delighted to welcome Tilly’s Life Center to our City. Through increased engagement with our teens, we can aim to relieve their stress and promote healthy, happy, and productive lifestyles!

Tilly’s Life Center is located at 17 Pasteur, Irvine, California 92618.

Contact Tilly’s Life Center: (949) 246-3067

Join Me for the Grand Opening of Portola Springs Community Park and Center!

Join me at the Grand Opening and Dedication Ceremony of Portola Springs Community Park and Center on Saturday, January 26, 2019, from 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

The 32-acre Portola Springs Community Park features a nature-themed playground, native garden, two lighted softball fields, two lighted soccer fields, one warm-up field, one sand volleyball court, six lighted pickleball courts, three lighted tennis courts, and a concession building.

It also features an expansive community center (more than 14,000 square feet), including a multipurpose room, large patio area, two classrooms, and a Native American Wing.

The dedication event will include:

  • Self-guided tours of the facility
  • Cultural display in the Native American Wing
  • Light refreshments
  • Pickleball courts open for play
  • Softball demonstrations by Irvine Girls Softball Association
  • Entertainment by Concerts for Charities Club, which includes a string quartet, piano quintet, violin and piano duet, and saxophone quartet made up of students from Trabuco Hills, Northwood, and Portola high schools

I am especially excited about the Center’s Native American Wing, which was a combined effort of City staff, representatives of our local Native American tribes, the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance and the Irvine Company.

The Portola Spring Community Center will be open to the public from 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, and 12:00 noon – 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Classes at the center will be available beginning in February, and programming will include after-school and camp activities as well as recreational activities and sports programs.

Portola Springs Community Park and Center are located at 900 Tomato Springs, Irvine, CA 92618.

No RSVP is needed for this free event.

For more information, visit cityofirvine.org/specialevents or call 949-724-6192.

See you there!