UCI Named No. 1 College in U.S. for Sustainability. The City of Irvine Should Follow UCI’s Example and Adopt the Community Choice Energy Program and Stand-Alone Climate Action Plan We’ve Been Promised!

Congratulations to the University of California, Irvine (UCI), on being named the No. 1 “Cool School” in the nation by the Sierra Club in its annual ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. colleges.

UCI is the only university to score in the top 10 for 10 consecutive years.

“As UCI is the only university to have ranked in the top 10 ‘Cool Schools’ for an unprecedented 10 years and counting, we’re continually impressed with its commitment to modeling, teaching and embodying excellent environmental stewardship in all areas,” said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra Magazine’s adventure and lifestyle editor. “The Anteaters are truly standouts in this increasingly important space.”

Colleges were ranked according to which ones offer the best sustainability-focused courses and carbon-neutral land and energy policies, as well as the most opportunities to engage with the environmental movement. UCI was recognized for EV charging stations and converting its central-cooling plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings —17 of which are certified LEED Platinum and seven of which are zero-waste facilities. UCI also was recognized for creating a new pilot project to provide free insulation retrofits and solar installations in nearby low-income communities.  In addition, UCI researchers were recognized for their work in  adapting medical and public health curricula to better prepare students to treat tropical diseases as they expand in range due to climate change.

You can listen to a podcast on UCI’s “Cool School” Award, including UCI’s efforts regarding sustainability and achieving reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions here.

The City of Irvine has a lot to learn from UCI’s accomplishments.

Under Irvine Mayors Larry Agran, Beth Krom and Sukhee Kang, Irvine was indeed a world leader in environmental programs and innovation. One of the highlights of Irvine’s environmental engagement was presence of the U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The Solar Decathlon is an international competition held every two years that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The houses are assembled at a central location for display, evaluation, and awards. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The Solar Decathlon was held at the Great Park in 2013 and 2015.

Another highlight of Irvine’s environmental leadership was the creation of the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee in 2012.  The Green Ribbon Committee was charged with the crucial task of developing and recommending environmental policy initiatives and programs, including sustainability policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi became mayor of Irvine in November 2014, both the Great Park Solar Decathlon and the Green Ribbon Committee became victims of Choi’s climate change denial and hostility to environmental action.

As I’ve detailed in How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon, Steven Choi was hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon — the need for replacing burning fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.  In sharp contrast to the previous three Irvine mayors who championed environmental and climate concerns, Choi “completely question[ed] the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention.”  Rather than recognizing the importance of environmental action,  both as an opportunity for technological innovation and as an existential imperative, Choi saw all environmental concerns as anti-business and climate change as wholly unconnected to human activity. You can read the full story of the Solar Decathlon here.

Similarly, Choi sabotaged the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee. In fact, when I was elected to the Irvine City Council in November 2016, the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee had been inoperative for several years because Mayor Steven Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council did not appoint sufficient members to constitute a quorum. In fact, the Committee did not meet during all of 2014 and 2016, cancelling every scheduled meeting. The words “climate change” and “global warming” were not permitted to be used in official City of Irvine publications or staff reports. Choi didn’t even allow the City of Irvine to participate in the Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by the Irvine-based Wyland Foundation.

As a longtime environmental activist, I wasn’t going to allow the City of Irvine to continue to ignore environmental issues and global warming. I convinced newly elected Mayor Donald P. Wagner, who replaced Steven Choi, to re-invigorate the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and appoint me to the Committee as the City Council’s representative.  I then appointed Krishna Hammond, a young progressive scientist, as my representative to the Committee and encouraged the other Councilmembers to make appointments.  At our first meeting, I was elected Chair of the Committee and Krishna was elected Vice Chair.  The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee was out of Choi-imposed exile and was off and running.

I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done and the things we’ve accomplished since then.

Perhaps most important, we commissioned a study of Community Choice Energy (CCE) and then recommended that the City Council follow its recommendation to implement a CCE plan with an expected savings of $7.7 million per year in citywide electricity cost savings for Irvine residents and businesses, and a $112,000 per year savings for the City itself in municipal energy costs, as well as driving additional local economic development benefits, such as new jobs and $10 million in annual economic output. 

Now I am concerned that the work we’ve done on CCE is about to be undermined by the current City Council leadership.  I have learned that CCE advocates have been getting “push back” from the City and the City Manager.

The Green Ribbon Committee also recommended swift adoption of a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, so that, in the words of climate activist Robin Raeder Ganahl, “Irvine residents know what the City’s plan is to reduce emissions, meet state targets, and protect our quality of life.” Again, I am now concerned that the current City Council leadership has no intention of adopting a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, and is simply sitting on the Green Ribbon Committee’s recommendation with no intention to move forward.

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

We’ve made progress since the days when Steven Choi drove the U.S. Solar Decathlon out of town, shut down the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, refused to participate in the Wyland Foundation’s Water Challenge, and banned the words “climate change” and “global warning.”

But there is still much to be done. In particular, the current Irvine City Council leadership needs to show that its professed concern for action on climate change and protecting the environment isn’t just lip service and a public relations smokescreen.

Instead, the City Council needs to adopt a stand-alone Climate Action Plan that we’ve been promised and implement the Community Choice Energy program that we’ve shown to be a tremendous benefit to both the City and the planet. 

 

Join Us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for Public Outreach on the Universal Playground Project at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park!

Please join us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for the City’s public outreach opportunity regarding the Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. 

This event is the public’s first opportunity to provide input that will help guide the planning and design for this important Universal Playground project.

In July 2019, the City’s Disability Services program relocated its offices from City Hall to Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. As a renovated facility, the Sweet Shade Ability Center provides a larger, more accessible, and inviting hub for the delivery of Disability Services activities to Irvine residents. To complement this use, the City proposes to develop the City’s first Universal Playground.

Universal playgrounds are designed to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design, including theme-oriented playground equipment, site furnishings, and shade canopies that are well integrated with the existing park, leaving no child on the sidelines.

This public outreach event will include a staff-led tour of the existing playground and potential locations for integrating universal play elements or developing an adjacent universal playground. Planning staff will be present to answer questions about the project, and participants will be able to sign up and receive project updates.

Universal Playgrounds are designed to provide inclusive and meaningful play experiences for children of all ages and abilities. Your input will help the City of Irvine create a unique and meaningful play environment that meets universal developmental needs by providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development for all children to the greatest extent possible.

I’m excited to join Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris and other City officials who have been working for all of Irvine’s children at this important event.

Date: Thursday, September 19, 2019
Time: 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Location:Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park, 15 Sweet Shade, Irvine CA 92606

See you there!

Happy Constitution Day 2019! Our Constitution is 232 Years Old Today!

The United States Constitution was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 232  years ago today on September 17, 1787.

On February 21, 1787, Congress called on each state legislature to send delegates to a convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation in ways that, when approved by Congress and the states, would render the federal constitution adequate to the  exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”

To amend the Articles into a workable government, 74 delegates from the twelve states were named by their state legislatures; 55 delegates showed up, and 39 delegates eventually signed.

The Preamble of this history-changing document makes clear why it was written: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

As United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, explained, “What makes the Constitution worthy of our commitment? First and foremost, the answer is our freedom. It is, quite simply, the most powerful vision of freedom ever expressed. It’s also the world’s shortest and oldest national constitution, neither so rigid as to be stifling, nor so malleable as to be devoid of meaning. Our Constitution has been an inspiration that changed the trajectory of world history for the perpetual benefit of mankind. In 1787, no country in the world had ever allowed its citizens to select their own form of government, much less to select a democratic government. What was revolutionary when it was written, and what continues to inspire the world today, is that the Constitution put governance in the hands of the people.”

It is of the nature of constitutions that their meaning evolves over time and in newly encountered situtions.  As founding UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in the University of Chicago Law Review, “[t]he Constitution inevitably must be interpreted. There are countless issues — such as whether the president can fire cabinet officials or rescind treaties or assert executive privilege — where the document is silent, but a constitutional answer is necessary.  So much of the Constitution is written in broad language that must be given meaning and applied to specific situations. . .”

It is my hope that one day soon the Supreme Court will recognize that in order to ensure and protect our democracy, we must get unlimited and unaccountable money out of politics, and that there must be limits on the amount of money that individuals, corporations, or other organizations can spend to support or attack political candidates or to influence government policies.

It is my hope, too, that one day soon the Equal Rights Amendment will be adopted so that women will at long last be accorded full and equal rights in the United States.

In fact, our Constitution provides the means to make these changes and improvements in our government and our political process.

Our Constitution remains our best hope of “We the People” forming an even “more perfect Union.”

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.