Democracy in Action: Public Outrage Leads Irvine City Council to Call on U.S. Postal Service to End and Rescind Actions that Impede Prompt Delivery of the Mail!

Following reports of postal boxes disappearing across Orange County, coupled with recent news stories that the Postmaster General of the United States was removing thousands of postal boxes and mail-sorting machines, eliminating overtime for mail carriers, and reducing post office hours, I joined with Irvine City Councilmember Farrah Khan in calling for the Irvine City Council to speak up on behalf of our residents to urge the Postmaster General to immediately end and rescind these changes.

Thanks to tremendous public support, we succeeded!

At the Irvine City Council meeting on September 8, 2020, the Council unanimously agreed to send an official letter to the U.S. Postmaster, on behalf of our residents, to cease and rescind any actions that undermine prompt delivery of the mail, including “expeditious action to re-store mail sorting equipment and remedy the recent changes to USPS polices and procedures that would result in reduced or delayed mail service levels.”

Here is the full text of the official letter sent to the U.S. Postmaster General:

Thank you to everyone who wrote to the Irvine City Council in support of the U.S. Postal Service! This letter is truly the result of democracy in action.

Now, we must keep the pressure on the federal government to ensure that the USPS “to provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and render postal services to all communities, without interruption.”

UPDATED! Tell the Irvine City Council to Oppose the Slow Down of the U.S. Postal Service!

I have received numerous reports of postal boxes suddenly disappearing across Orange County, including Irvine.  These reports are consistent with recent changes in policy by the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service, which have included removing thousands of postal boxes and mail-sorting machines, eliminating overtime for mail carriers, and reducing post office hours.

These changes in U.S. Postal Service policy have been faulted for slowing mail delivery — including the delivery of medicine and medical supplies veterans benefits, Social Security checks, census forms, and rent checks — and for making it more difficult for our residents to vote safely and with confidence that their ballots will be timely received during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For these reasons, Councilmember Farrah Khan and I will be asking our colleagues on the Irvine City Council to speak up on behalf of our residents and our businesses to urge the Postmaster General to immediately end and rescind these changes.

Here is the proposed Resolution:

RESOLUTION URGING THE U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL TO CEASE AND RESCIND ALL ACTIONS THAT SLOW DOWN OR UNDERMINE THE PROMPT DELIVERY OF THE U.S. MAIL, ESPECIALLY DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

WHEREAS, The United States Postal Service is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution “to bind the country together through the correspondence of the people”; and

WHEREAS, The Postal Service guarantees universal delivery to everyone, ensuring affordable and equitable communication and delivery as a basic right; and is indispensable, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to the American people, especially veterans, seniors, and small businesses, delivering medications, stimulus checks, social security checks, census forms, rent checks, medical supplies, and election ballots;

WHEREAS, The Postal Service is one of the most important employers in the United States, providing family sustaining jobs, especially to veterans;

WHEREAS, By failing to seek regulatory approval on policy changes that have a nationwide impact, the United States Postmaster General has unilaterally implemented a series of revisions to the postal service’s protocols and procedures that threaten to undermine the timely delivery of mail across the country, including Irvine. These unilateral changes have included:

  • Removing mailbox locations around the country, including in Irvine and other cities in Orange County;
  • Decommissioning mail-sorting machines, with severe reductions in sorting capacity and the speed of delivery;
  • Severely limiting employees from working overtime, despite reported increases in demand and the need to compensate for employees who are out sick or at home quarantining; and
  • Instructing letter carriers to leave mail behind if it delays routes, running counter to the training postal workers traditionally receive to ensure prompt delivery of the mail;

WHEREAS, The USPS’s actions align with the President’s own recent assertion that he will prevent the postal service from being able to handle the expected surge in demand for voting by mail, and the USPS has warned several states, including California, that it could no longer guarantee timely compliance with all state election deadlines and delivery of all ballots cast by mail for the presidential election.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, THAT THE CITY OF IRVINE URGES THE UNITED STATES POSTMASTER GENERAL TO IMMEDIATELY CEASE AND RESCIND ALL ACTIONS, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO REMOVAL OF POST BOXES, DECOMMISSIONING OF MAIL SORTING EQUIPMENT,  AND RESTRICTING MAIL CARRIER OVERTIME, THAT SLOW DOWN OR UNDERMINE THE PROMPT DELIVERY OF THE U.S. MAIL, ESPECIALLY DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.

PASSED AND ADOPTED by the City Council of Irvine at the meeting held on the 8th day of September 2020.

Please join us in urging the Irvine City Council to adopt this Resolution.

You can contact the other three members of the Irvine City Council to tell them to urge the Postmaster General to immediately cease and rescind that slow down or undermine the prompt delivery of the U.S. mail here:

Mayor Christina Shea:
christinashea@cityofirvine.org

Councilmember Anthony Kuo:
anthonykuo@cityofirvine.org

Councilmember Michael Carroll:
michaelcarroll@cityofirvine.org

You can also SIGN OUR PETITION here.

Thanks!

UPDATE: On August 27, 2020, the California Assembly voted 50-0 in favor of a Resolution that “urges the federal administration and the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to cease and desist from all efforts to reduce the ability of voters to cast their ballots by mail or diminish public confidence in the vote by mail program as it relates to the November 3, 2020, general election” and that United States Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to immediately restore all mailboxes and mail sorters back to the communities from which they were removed in order to guarantee the timely and efficient delivery of vote by mail ballots in the November 3, 2020, general election.”

Of course, I would have voted in favor of this Resolution. Our current representative to Sacramento for the 68th AD, Steven Choi, again failed to show up to vote. In fact, Choi has one of the highest no-show rates in the CA legislature.  It’s time for us in AD68 to have a representative in Sacramento who cares about the people’s business and shows up to do the job he was elected to do.

UPDATE: Thank you to everyone who wrote to the Irvine City Council in support of the Postal Service. As the result of your efforts, the Council at its meeting on September 8. 2020, unanimously agreed to send an official letter to the U.S. Postmaster, on behalf of our residents, to cease amd rescind any actions that undermine prompt delivery of the mail.

Tell the Irvine City Council To Repeal Its Unconstitutional Anti-LGBTQ Law!

“If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.” — Louis Brandeis, Justice of the United States Supreme Court

Please join us on July 14, 2020, when the Irvine City Council decides whether to approve the motion from Councilmembers Melissa Fox and Farrah N. Khan to repeal and remove a cruel and unconstitutional anti-LGBTQ ordinance that has been part of Irvine’s Municipal Code as Sec. 3-5-501 through 503 since 1989.

[UPDATE: Sign our Petition to Repeal and Remove Irvine’s Ant-LGBTQ Ordinance].

Most residents of Irvine do not know that our diverse and forward-thinking city has an ordinance on the books that specifically and explicitly denies anti-discrimination protection to people based on their sexual orientation.

In fact, most residents are shocked when they learn that the Irvine Municipal Code includes the following:

“Sec. 3-5-503. – City Council parameters.

Except as provided in section 3-5-502, the City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that:

A.  Defines sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.

B.  Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.

C.  Provides preferential treatment or affirmative action for any person on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

We believe it is outrageous that this cruel and unconstitutional law is still on the books in Irvine! It’s long past time for it to be repealed and removed!

These provisions were added by Ord. No. 89-1, which was adopted as Measure N by 53% of the voters as an initiative on Nov. 7, 1989, overturning an Irvine Human Rights Ordinance enacted by the Council in July 1988 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The main proponent of the Measure N ballot initiative and the subsequent anti-LGBTQ ordinance was a group calling itself the “Irvine Values Coalition,” led by carwash-developer Michael Shea and his then-wife (and later Irvine mayor) Christina Shea.

According to Christina Shea, the initiative was needed because the earlier Human Rights ordinance gave “special legislative protection to the homosexual, bisexual and lesbian communities” and “homosexuality is characterized by a wide range of sexual perversions, varying degrees of promiscuity and a disproportionate percentage of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution prohibits a state from banning LGBTQ people from seeking “specific legal protection from injuries caused by discrimination.”

The facts of Romer v. Evans are as follows: after various cities and counties in Colorado enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the State of Colorado, through a ballot initiative, amended its state constitution to “prohibit[] all legislative, executive or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians.”  As the Supreme Court explained, under the amendment, “Homosexuals, by state decree, are put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres. The amendment withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination, and it forbids reinstatement of these laws and policies.”

The Supreme Court declared that the Colorado constitutional amendment was based upon animosity toward homosexual people and lacked a rational relation to any legitimate governmental purpose.  Accordingly, the Court determined that Colorado’s constitutional amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment.

Like the Colorado constitutional amendment that the Supreme Court invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance attempts to prohibit local government action “designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians” [i.e., protects people based on “sexual orientation.”] and like the Colorado constitutional amendment invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance “withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination.” Accordingly, Romer v. Evans renders Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional.

Moreover, not only is Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional, it also clearly contradicts and is superseded by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against people based on “sexual orientation.”

Because state law supersedes any city law or local ordinance, the Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation anywhere in California means that Irvine lacks the power to declare that “the City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that: Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.”

We would like the see the eyes of the world on Irvine. 

We believe that the three others on the Irvine City Council — Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmembers Anthony Kuo and Mike Carroll — are far more likely to vote to repeal and remove this cruel and unconstitutional ordinance from the Municipal Code if they know that PEOPLE ARE WATCHING!

You can read more about the origins of this anti-LGBTQ ordinance — how it was promoted by (now Mayor) Christina Shea and her then-husband Michael Shea out of animosity and fear toward LBGTQ people and as a launching pad for their right-wing political careers — at Melissa Fox’s blog post HERE.

The Irvine City Attorney, who is an ally of Mayor Christina Shea, has stated that because this anti-LGBTQ ordinance was made law by a ballot initiative, it can only be repealed and removed by another ballot initiative. Our argument against this assertion is that this ordinance is clearly unconstitutional under many United States Supreme Court cases, as well as in violation of federal and state law; for this reason, it’s repeal and removal does not change the law in a way that requires another ballot measure.

In fact, the California Legislature dealt with this very issue in its repeal of the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 by Senate Bill 396 (2014) by a majority vote of the Legislature without a vote of the entire electorate.  As the Judicial Committee of the California Senate noted, “Under existing law, California’s Constitution only authorizes the Legislature to amend or repeal initiative statutes by way of another statute that becomes effective only when approved by the electors –unless the initiative statute permits amendment or repeal without their approval. (Cal. Const., art. II, Sec. 10, subd. (c).) This bill [SB 396] seeks to repeal several state statutes implemented upon voter approval of Proposition 187, which generally prohibited the provision of various benefits to undocumented aliens. That proposition did not authorize the Legislature to amend or repeal its provisions without voter approval.”

Nevertheless, the Judicial Committee found that the Legislature had authority to repeal the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 without a vote of the entire electorate. It reasoned that because the bill did not modify or repeal any provisions of Prop 187 except those that are unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, it did not make any change in existing law. Accordingly, “SB 396 would not impermissibly repeal or amend the initiative; rather, it would merely update California statutes to accurately reflect current law.” The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate with only a single No vote.

The same circumstances exist here. Keeping this discriminatory language on the books, “causes confusion and harmful outcomes . . . [Therefore], it is fitting that [we] expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language] by removing its stain from the state’s statutes.”  That is precisely what our City Council needs to do now, and what the precedent of SB 396 gives us clear authority to do: “expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language of Sec. 3-5.501-503] by removing its stain from the [City’s Code.]”

In addition to being unconstitutional and in violation of superseding state laws, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance is a cruel and embarrassing relic of a more prejudiced time.

Does Irvine want to remain on record as being one of the very few cities in America, and  indeed the world, that still officially discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation?  We hope not!

Please watch the Irvine City Council Meeting online on July 14.

Please ask your friends and family to watch.

And, crucially, LET THE IRVINE CITY COUNCIL KNOW THAT YOU’RE WATCHING THEM!

You can WATCH the meeting live on ICTV, Cox Communications local access channel 30, and AT&T U-verse channel 99, and livestreamed online at cityofirvine.org/ictv.

You can CONTACT the other three members of the Irvine City Council to tell them to REPEAL AND REMOVE IRVINE’S ANTI-LGBTQ ORDINANCE here:

Mayor Christina Shea:
christinashea@cityofirvine.org

Councilmember Anthony Kuo:
anthonykuo@cityofirvine.org

Councilmember Michael Carroll:
michaelcarroll@cityofirvine.org

You can SIGN OUR PETITION to Repeal and Remove Irvine’s Ant-LGBTQ Ordinance.

Please see our Facebook event page, hosted by Melissa Fox, Farrah N. Khan, Tammy Kim, and Lauren Johnson-Norris.

Rally for Flying the Pride Flag in Irvine! Tues., June 23, 2020 Time: 3:30 pm at Irvine City Hall Plaza!

June is Pride Month, when the State of California, and nations and cities around the world, stand with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community as they declare their pride in who they are and who they love.

Show your support for flying the Pride Flag in Irvine by joining Irvine City Councilmembers Melissa Fox and Farrah N. Khan at a Rally at City Hall before Tuesday’s Irvine City Council Meeting! 

What: Rally for Flying the Pride Flag in Irvine
Where: Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza
Date: Tues., June 23, 2020
Time: 3:30 p.m. 

Click here to see the Facebook event page for the Rally.

Remember face coverings and social distancing is legally required in Irvine! Let’s keep each other safe while we make the world a better place!

Please also show your support for flying the Pride Flag in Irvine by contacting Mayor Christina Shea and the Irvine City Council to let them know. We need only one more vote! Contact the Irvine City Council: https://www.cityofirvine.org/city-council/contact-council

Note: At the following meeting on July 14th, we will be urging the Irvine City to repeal and remove its unconstitutional and cruel anti-LGBTQ ordinance!
https://melissafoxblog.com/2020/06/14/irvine-should-repeal-its-anti-lgbtq-ordinance-now/

Irvine Should Repeal Its Anti-LGBTQ Ordinance Now!

At the Tues., July 14, 2020, Irvine City Council meeting, I will move to repeal Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance [Sec. 3-5-501 through 503] as unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and in violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against people based on “sexual orientation.”

Councilmember Farrah Khan has agreed to join me in putting this item on the July 14 Council agenda and in supporting this motion.

Most residents of Irvine do not know that our diverse and forward-thinking city has an ordinance on the books that specifically and explicitly denies anti-discrimination protection to people based on their sexual orientation.

In fact, most residents are shocked when they learn that the Irvine Municipal Code includes the following:

“Sec. 3-5-503. – City Council parameters.

Except as provided in section 3-5-502, the City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that:

A.  Defines sexual orientation as a fundamental human right.

B.  Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.

C.  Provides preferential treatment or affirmative action for any person on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

These provisions were added by Ord. No. 89-1, which was adopted as Measure N by 53% of the voters as an initiative on Nov. 7, 1989, overturning an Irvine Human Rights Ordinance enacted by the Council in July 1988 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The main proponent of the Measure N ballot initiative and the subsequent anti-LGBTQ ordinance was a group calling itself the “Irvine Values Coalition,” led by carwash-developer Michael Shea and his then-wife (and later Irvine mayor) Christina Shea.

According to Christina Shea, the initiative was needed because the earlier Human Rights ordinance gave “special legislative protection to the homosexual, bisexual and lesbian communities” and “homosexuality is characterized by a wide range of sexual perversions, varying degrees of promiscuity and a disproportionate percentage of sexually transmitted diseases.”

This anti-LGBTQ ordinance violates both the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

In Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution prohibits a state from banning LGBTQ people from seeking “specific legal protection from injuries caused by discrimination.”

The facts of Romer v. Evans are as follows: after various cities and counties in Colorado enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, the State of Colorado, through a ballot initiative, amended its state constitution to “prohibit[] all legislative, executive or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians.”  As the Supreme Court explained, under the amendment, “Homosexuals, by state decree, are put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres. The amendment withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination, and it forbids reinstatement of these laws and policies.”

The Supreme Court declared that the Colorado constitutional amendment was based upon animosity toward homosexual people and lacked a rational relation to any legitimate governmental purpose.  Accordingly, the Court determined that Colorado’s constitutional amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, applicable to the states through the 14th Amendment.

Like the Colorado constitutional amendment that the Supreme Court invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance attempts to prohibit local government action “designed to protect . . . homosexual persons or gays and lesbians” [i.e., protects people based on “sexual orientation.”] and like the Colorado constitutional amendment invalidated in Romer v. Evans, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance “withdraws from homosexuals, but no others, specific legal protection from the injuries caused by discrimination.”

Accordingly, Romer v. Evans renders Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional.

Moreover, not only is Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance unconstitutional, it also clearly contradicts and is superseded by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination against people based on “sexual orientation.”

Because state law supersedes any city law or local ordinance, the Unruh Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation anywhere in California means that Irvine lacks the power to declare that “the City Council shall not enact any City policy, law or ordinance that: Uses sexual orientation, in whole or in part, as the basis for determining an unlawful discriminatory practice and/or establishes a penalty or civil remedy for such practice.”

Irvine anti-LBGTQ initiative was one of several ballot measures across the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s not only to seek to repeal existing anti-discrimination ordinances, but to proactively prohibit any local unit of government from ever passing such ordinances in the future.

Hence, the Irvine anti-LGBTQ ordinance includes provisions that purport to make it extremely difficult for a future Irvine City Council  to repeal it.  According to the ordinance, “Any law or ordinance pertaining to Section 3-5-503 may only be enacted by obtaining the approval of a majority of the voters of the City of Irvine voting on the measure at a regular or special election. Such a measure may only be placed on the ballot by citizen’s initiative or a two-thirds majority vote by the City Council.” [Sec. 3-5-502.].

The Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans made clear that it is an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause to single out LGBTQ people for special burdens. including burdening them with special difficulties in enacting anti-discriminatory laws.  According, it is clear that the procedural provisions of Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance — requiring a 2/3 vote of the Council and then a ballot initiative for repeal — is again a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments because it is designed to make passage of protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation especially burdensome and difficult.

The California Legislature dealt with this very issue in its repeal of the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 by Senate Bill 396 (2014) by a majority vote of the Legislature without a vote of the entire electorate.

As the Judicial Committee of the California Senate noted, “Under existing law, California’s Constitution only authorizes the Legislature to amend or repeal initiative statutes by way of another statute that becomes effective only when approved by the electors –unless the initiative statute permits amendment or repeal without their approval. (Cal. Const., art. II, Sec. 10, subd. (c).) This bill [SB 396] seeks to repeal several state statutes implemented upon voter approval of Proposition 187, which generally prohibited the provision of various benefits to undocumented aliens. That proposition did not authorize the Legislature to amend or repeal its provisions without voter approval.”

Nevertheless, the Judicial Committee found that the Legislature had authority to repeal the unconstitutional sections of Prop 187 without a vote of the entire electorate. It reasoned that because the bill did not modify or repeal any provisions of Prop 187 except those that are unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable, it did not make any change in existing law. Accordingly, “SB 396 would not impermissibly repeal or amend the initiative; rather, it would merely update California statutes to accurately reflect current law.” The bill passed the Assembly and the Senate with only a single No vote.

The same circumstances exist here.

Like the parts of Prop 187 repealed by a simple majority vote of the Legislature in 2014, the anti-LGBTQ ordinance is unconstitutional and enforceable. Like the unconstitutional parts of Prop 187, although Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance is unconstitutional and unenforceable, its language remains on the books. Keeping this discriminatory language on the books, “causes confusion and harmful outcomes . . . [Therefore], it is fitting that [we] expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language] by removing its stain from the state’s statutes.”

That is what our City Council needs to do now, and what the precedent of SB 396 gives us clear authority to do: “expressly acknowledge the detrimental impact of the discriminatory [language of Sec. 3-5.501-503] by removing its stain from the [City’s Code.]”

In addition to being unconstitutional and in violation of superseding state laws, Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance is a cruel and embarrassing relic of a more prejudiced time.

Does Irvine want to remain on record as being one of the very few cities in America, and  indeed the world, that still officially discriminates against people based on their sexual orientation?  I hope not.

For all of these reasons, I will move to repeal Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance.  

As noted above, Councilmember Farrah Khan has agreed to join me in putting this item on the next Council agenda for Tues., July 14, 2020, and in supporting this motion.

If you agree with us, please tell Mayor Christina Shea and the rest of the Irvine City Council that Irvine’s anti-LGBTQ ordinance [Sec. 3-5-501 through 503] needs to be repealed NOW.

Contact the Mayor and the Irvine City Council by email here.

June is Pride Month: Support Flying the Pride Flag at Irvine City Hall!

June is Pride Month, when the State of California, and nations and cities around the world, stand with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community as they declare their pride in who they are and who they love.

June holds historic significance for the LGBT community.  In 1969, the Stonewall Riots occurred in the New York City as a protest against the police department’s unfair targeting of the LGBT community. The Stonewall Riots led to political organizing that is considered to be the beginning of the modern LGBT civil rights movement. The following year, the first LGBT Pride Parade was held in New York City on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Today, California has the largest LGBT population in the nation and is home to over forty LGBT Pride celebrations. 

As Governor Newsom stated recently in his Pride Month Proclamation, “The LGBTQ community has worked tirelessly for respect, equality and their very right to exist. Their battles have been fought in the courts, from marriage equality to demanding equal protection under the law.  While there has been remarkable progress towards acceptance and equality in recent years, members of the LGBTQ community in the United States and around the world still face an unacceptable level of discrimination and violence. This includes LGBTQ people who aren’t safe at home and those who do not have a home in which to stay.  We must push back against those who threaten the safety of LGBTQ Californians and challenge our progress. And we must continue to make the case that all human beings share something fundamental in common – all of us want to be loved, and all of us want to love. We cannot march in a parade this June, but we can and will stand with our LGBTQ family, friends and neighbors. Pride celebrations may look different this year, but in California, no matter the circumstances, we are proud to support our LGBTQ community’s right to live their lives out loud. As we celebrate Pride across the state, we must continue to demand equal rights for all to create a California for all.”

Last year, I asked the Irvine City Council to fly the Pride Flag from our Civic Center. In doing so, we would be joining many other cities, including Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, and Fullerton, as well as the Orange County Fairgrounds, in flying the Pride Flag to recognize Pride Month by making it clear to all that our community is a place where LGBT people are visible, accepted, and welcome.

Unfortunately, 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. Councilmember Mike Carroll even called the Pride Flag “a spectacle of divisiveness.” 

In fact, in direct response to my motion to fly the Pride Flag, 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.  As the Orange County Register correctly stated in a powerful editorial opposing the Council’s action, “the transparent goal [was] to shut down the views of the political minority.”

Following the City Council’s rejection of my Pride Flag motion, I joined with numerous other Irvine residents in our own Pride Flag event in front of City Hall, celebrating LGBTQ Pride and diversity in Irvine.  I also placed a Pride Flag in front of my office at City Hall.

I said at the time that I had no intention of being silent.  Therefore, I will again bring a motion to the Irvine City Council to fly the Pride Flag from our Civic Center as a visible and prominent expression of our City’s commitment to equal rights for all and to ensure that our LGBTQ community can live their lives out loud.

Under the new rules imposed by the City Council majority in response to my Pride Flag motion last year, I asked Councilmember Farrah Khan to join me in placing this motion on the City Council agenda.  She told me she was working with other, Republican, councilmembers on a Pride-related agenda item.  When I asked her specifically whether the item included flying the Pride Flag, she did not respond.

I have now seen the agenda item, a proclamation, and it does not call for flying the Pride Flag from the Civic Center as a clear symbol of Irvine’s commitment. 

Accordingly, this year I will again bring a motion to fly the Pride Flag from our Irvine Civic Center.

Please show your support for flying the Pride Flag in Irvine by contacting Mayor Christina Shea and the Irvine City Council to let them know.  Click here for their email addresses.

Click here for a link to e-comment of the agenda item. Your comment is supposed to be read aloud by the clerk during the City Council meeting.

As Harvey Milk told us, “Hope will never be silent.”

UPDATE: Tues., June 9, 2020

I am deeply disappointed that no other member of the Council supported my motion to fly the Pride flag in Irvine during Pride. Not Mayor Christina Shea. Not Councilmembers Farrah Khan, Anthony Kuo, or Mike Carroll. What an embarrassment for our City. 

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Continues Mission of Providing Affordable Housing During COVID-19 Crisis

Last week, my colleagues on the Board of Directors of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) unanimously elected me to serve another year as Chair.  I am grateful for their support and for the opportunity to continue to lead the important work of the Land Trust in this difficult time.

As we fight this deadly outbreak, secure and affordable housing has never been more important.

I’m very happy that California Governor Newsom has issued an Executive Order halting evictions due to non-payment of rent due to medical or financial consequences of COVID-19.  Adding to California’s already far too high 150.000 homeless population would make it even more difficult for us to stop the spread of the virus.

At our next meeting, which will be conducted electronically and to which the public is invited, we will be adopting new measures to help our tenants deal with the COVID-19 emergency, including rent deferments and other forms of assistance.

Our Executive Director of the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, has released the following statement in regard to ICLT’s response to COVID-19:

“Greetings,

There’s no shortage of uncertainly in the world lately, so I’d like to take a moment to tell you exactly how the Irvine Community Land Trust is navigating the post-COVID world.

As an affordable housing nonprofit, our communities are comprised of some of Irvine’s most vulnerable populations, even when there isn’t a global crisis weighing on them. No matter the circumstances, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our residents and to ensuring they have a place they can be proud to call “home.”

We will not falter, but we are doing things a little differently to best protect the health and safety of our staff, board members, residents and partners in the community.

For starters, we’re observing social distancing by moving our regular public board meetings online. Earlier this week, we held the ICLT’s first online board meeting, utilizing both Zoom and a public phone line to great effect. Information on joining our future digital meetings will be posted as available at http://www.irvineclt.org/agenda.

At each of our properties – Parc Derian, Alegre and Doria – we’re working with property managers to ensure residents are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to navigate these trying times.

Through a series of special government protocols, we’re continuing construction on our new community, Salerno. Out of concern for our construction workers, we’re also undertaking extraordinary measures to ensure they stay safe and healthy while on the job. And, in cooperation with our community partners, we’re continuing our work to make Irvine the best it can be, no matter the challenges we face.

In the coming weeks, the next edition of our newsletter will be delivered as usual, packed with the latest and greatest from the ICLT. For now, rest assured that our commitment to our mission burns stronger than ever as we rise to face this unprecedented situation.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy – we’re all in this together.

Sincerely,

Mark Asturias
Executive Director
Irvine Community Land Trust”

For links to up-to-date COVID-19 Resources and Information, click HERE.

 

 

Creating Affordable Housing in Irvine: Read the Irvine Community Land Trust 2019 Annual Report!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Located in Irvine, California, the heart of Southern California’s most expensive real estate market, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing. Because this is our home, too, ICLT is committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place everyone can call “home.”

Recently, ICLT has released its 2019 Annual Report, which I want to share with you.

The Annual Report includes information about the latest achievements in our mission to provide permanent affordable housing to income-eligible Orange County residents.

Read the full report HERE.

We are proud of our progress in this critical area for our community and recognize that there is much more work to be done in 2020 and beyond.

We at the Irvine Community Land Trust are extremely proud to put a successful 2019 to bed. It was a landmark year for our nonprofit organization, marked by critical milestones, a host of awards and a major legislative accomplishment that will benefit the affordable housing landscape across California for decades to come.

Progress on Salerno as of Feb. 2020. Groundbreaking on Sept. 19, 2019. Completion expected Fall 2020.

Most importantly, though, 2019 saw the birth of new, high-quality affordable rental housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Due to our robust economy and desirable standard of living, Irvine remains one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation.

Unfortunately, affordable housing is extremely limited and our working-class citizens, who are the backbone of the city, are among some of Irvine’s most vulnerable residents. With them in mind and in our hearts, we were thrilled to break ground on Salerno, the ICLT’s newest community which will bring 80 affordable homes to the city, including 15 for veterans, 10 for individuals with disabilities and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

The homes at Salerno are growing by leaps and bounds, and have now climbed up to include a third floor. Keep checking back for more progress pictures from the site, and look forward to the community opening its doors later this year.When completed in the fall, Salerno will join Parc Derian, Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes as places where income eligible residents will proudly call Irvine “home.”

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Looking ahead, 2020 is shaping up to be equally exciting as we begin work on our first home ownership community, Native Spring. That will prove to be a real game-changer for us, the city and, of course, the new homeowners! For the first time, the Irvine Community Land Trust will build for-sale homes that hard-working Irvine residents making less than $100,000 can actually afford to buy.

The Native Spring homeownership project will serve moderate-income families with a 68-house development in Portola Springs that will have all the features of any market rate for-sale project in the city. A young couple earning $76,000 to $94,000 annually will be able to purchase a home for about $370,000.

Additionally, these homebuyers will “pay it forward” by agreeing to resale provisions that keep these homes permanently affordable. This development, which will break ground in 2020, is tremendously exciting for the ICLT as it stands to make the American dream a reality for many first time home buyers.

The ICLT continues to look for corporate donors who can provide grant opportunities, donate materials and items to help build, furnish and landscape new communities. Contact us to learn how to contribute!

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

The Challenges of Affordable Housing – and How the Irvine Community Land Trust is Making Progress by Opening the Door to a Wave of New Home Owners

As many of you know I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Late last year, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.  As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Recently, ICLT has released a video made during the groundbreaking for Salerno, which I want to share with you:

 

In the video, I talk about the crucial role that ICLT and I played in the passage of new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much easier and more practical to build more permanently affordable housing for more people in need.

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Read the Irvine Community Land Trust Q4 2019 Newsletter: New Affordable Housing, Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Conference, and More!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

ICLT Chair Melissa Fox speaking at the groundbreaking of Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

Recently, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

New Communities, the first modern land trust, started 50 years ago in Georgia by the descendants of slaves.

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Mark Asturias, Melissa Fox, and Leon M. Nappier at New Communities.

Last month, I traveled to Georgia with ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias and fellow board member Leon M. Napper for the Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Grounded Solutions Conference. While we were there, we visited New Communities, the first of the modern land trusts, founded in Leesburg, Georgia, in 1969, a former plantation is now owned by the descendants of slaves and dedicated to conservation and racial reconciliation. This land trust went on to inspire the hundreds of community land trusts that exist today, ourselves included.

All of these recent events are covered in our Q4 2019 Irvine Community Land Trust Newsletter HERE.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Leading Real Estate News Source Highlights Irvine Community Land Trust’s Role in a Enacting New Tax Reforms Expected to Fuel Affordable Housing Construction in California!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

I’m very pleased that GlobeSt.com, a leading real estate news source, has written about our success.

Here is their report:

The New CA Law That Could Generate Loads of Affordable Housing
SB 196 provides a property tax exemption to affordable housing developers during construction.

By Kelsi Maree Borland

“Last week, Gavin Newsom signed a SB 196 into law, creating new opportunities for affordable housing throughout the state. The new law provides a property tax exemption for developers of affordable housing during the construction phase—the first three to five years after purchasing raw land. The legislation is expected to go a long way in fueling more affordable housing development.”

“Organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust have been advocating for like legislation for years. ‘We have been looking at legislation to support community land trusts for many years,’ Mark Asturias, executive director of the ICLT, tells GlobeSt.com. ‘Our land trust was looking at the welfare exemption specifically because of the high property tax carry cost here in Orange County. Many people understand that the cost of land and housing is very expensive in Orange County, and in our world, we can’t carry the cost of market-rate land. Because most of our land is developed through a public partnership, we hoped to get this in place to use money to pay for the construction of new projects.'”

“Asturias anticipates that the legislation will be successful in generating more affordable housing, which the state of California desperately needs. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for us. We are now going to be able to develop properties without paying taxes on the property at market rate while we are trying to get our entitlements in place,’ Asturias. ‘In California, it takes three to five years to get through the process from the day you buy the property to the day you can actually finish the construction of the house.'”

“The legislation does come with a caveat. Developers must start and complete their project on time, or they must pay back the taxes. ‘We talked with many people in the community land trust about how long we would need to develop vacant land. It is usually three to five years,’ Asturias says. “We didn’t want to represent to anyone as we were getting this bill put forward that we were land banking, meaning that we were going to hold vacant land and not develop it. That isn’t the mission of a community land trust, and we felt that was reasonable to put a limit on the amount of time that the exemption could be in place. That was a fair trade-off in our view.'”

“The state and Governor’s office is on a mission to combat the housing crisis, and this is only the latest piece of legislation. ‘We want to demonstrate that we can offer a variety of tools, and we believe that the Governor recognized that,’ says Asturias. ‘With all of the legislation that he is passing, we believe that he is demonstrating an effort to address the entire housing spectrum.’”

Our next affordable housing community for the Irvine Community Land Trust is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

We Just Opened a New Affordable Housing Community in Irvine and Made it Easier to Create Affordable Housing Throughout California!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Solarno, the Irvine Community Land Trust’s newest affordable housing community.

Last week, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom. Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, this affordable community will be “a new beginning for the veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness who will become its tenants when it opens next year.”

In addition, I’m excited to report on the passage of new tax break legislation I’ve been fighting for in Sacramento, which will make it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California! 

The new legislation, which I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.

As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.

Before the new legislation, property taxes were not adequately adjusted for below-market rate housing.  Landowners such as the ICLT that wanted to build affordable, below-market housing couldn’t get a property tax exemption until a project was underway, and county tax assessors interpreted that requirement to mean anything from shovels in the ground to tenants moving in.  In the case of Salerno in Irvine, where vacant land is assessed at approximately $4 million an acre, taxes on the land amounted to $275,000, which had to be paid before the project could be constructed.

Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Our next affordable housing community is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

Join Me on Thurs., September 19 at 10:00 a.m. for the Groundbreaking for Salerno — the Irvine Community Land Trust’s Newest Affordable Housing Community!

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, (ICLT) guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation. 

We build high-quality affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing for the benefit of income-eligible families. Located in the heart of Southern California’s one of the most expensive real estate markets, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing.

Because this is our home, too, the we are committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place where everyone can call “home.”

On Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10:00 a.m., we’ll be hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for our latest project — the 80-unit Salerno.

You are invited to attend!

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

Like all ICLT homes, qualifying residents must register on our Interest List: www.irvineclt.org/interest-list.

Please know that parking will be limited, so come early!

I hope to see you there!

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In 2019, ICLT was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations

 

 

 

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.

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, again aided by its ostensibly Democratic ally, 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 with its ostensibly Democratic ally and the developer FivePoint — 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.

 

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.

 

What I’m Listening for in the Mayor’s 2019 State of the City Address

Irvine Mayor Don Wagner will give his “State of the City” address at the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.

The Mayor will have many positive things to talk about, including the tremendous progress that we’ve made on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park — a new 80,000 square-foot ice arena, a 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium and new additional baseball and softball fields, a 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium, a 2.5 mile nature corridor, plus an agreement with Wild Rivers to build a new water park and an exclusive negotiating agreement with Pretend City Children’s Museum to relocate in the Great Park

He will remind us that Irvine remains America’s safest city and was recently declared one of the safest cities in the world.

He will also note that Irvine was rated the number one city in the nation in fiscal strength.

He can also speak positively about the advances that our City Council has made in providing for greater openness and transparency in our budget process, pointing to our new two-year budget cycle, our new five-year planning program and our new Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands public notice of agenda items to four times longer than California law requires.

These are indeed wonderful accomplishments that the Mayor, the entire City Council, and all residents of Irvine should be proud of.

But much more remains to be done and problems remain to be solved.

Here is what I would like to hear the Mayor address:

Climate and the Environment

Irvine must become ever more environmentally responsible and should be a national leader in meeting the existential ecological demands of the future.

As Chair of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, I have helped guide Irvine toward greener policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

But more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor commit to establishing a Climate Action Plan for Irvine, with the goal of eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the city and aiming for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035.

Climate Action Plans make it easy for the public to see what cities plan to do to meet state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sprinkling such actions throughout the General Plan is not as transparent and is not in the best interest of the public.

Other cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, Baltimore, Phoenix and Houston already have Climate Action Plans.  As the self-proclaimed City of Innovation, Irvine should be a leader in this national effort.

An Irvine Climate Action Plan would benefit both the environment and the regional economy, creating new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production, improve the quality of life, and save taxpayer money.

Most importantly, a Climate Action Plan would fulfill our obligation to ensure that Irvine remains a beautiful green city for future generations.

Traffic Congestion and Traffic Safety

We have made significant progress in alleviating Irvine’s traffic congestion.  We expanded the iShuttle to provide more transportation.  We’ve enabled left-hand turns in some intersections to allow traffic to move faster and more efficiently.  We’ve widened roads and made other improvements.

But we need to do more.

I would like to hear the Mayor announce a plan to create a greener, smarter, and more efficient transportation future by further expanding our iShuttle.  For example, a route that would take people from UCI to the Spectrum would be good for both Irvine traffic reduction, Irvine’s air quality, as well as for UCI students and Spectrum businesses.

Our roads are not only too often congested, they are also becoming too dangerous, as people fail to obey stop signs and follow the rules of the road.

I have been working with residents and the Irvine Police Department on improving the safety of our pedestrians and bicyclists, especially our children, and I held a Town Hall Meeting on Traffic Safety with the Chief of Police, but more must be done.

I would like to hear the Mayor propose a major comprehensive traffic safety project, focusing on ensuring motorists come to a full stop at stop signs.  This project would involve education, increased enforcement and deploying more advanced stop sign technology.

Many cities have lighted stop signs.  Irvine should have them as well.  Our Irvine Police should also receive a clear mandate from the Mayor and the City Council to take whatever enforcement actions are necessary to make our streets safer for our residents.

The Great Park

Irvine has made tremendous progress on fulfilling the promise of the Great Park and all of us should be proud of what we’ve accomplished.

I am looking forward to the Grand Opening of the new 270,000-square-foot Great Park Ice Area — the largest ice-skating facility in California and one of the largest in the United States.

I am also looking forward to the announcement of further progress on the return of Wild Rivers Water Park.

I also continue to support a veterans cemetery within the hallowed grounds of the former Marine Air Station El Toro, where so many brave men and women flew to Vietnam and other war zones, some never to come back.  My proposal (along with Christina Shea) to locate the veterans cemetery on land that had been intended as a golf course has been through the Commission process and will soon come before the City Council.

What I would like to hear the Mayor speak about tonight is a vision and a plan for completing the next crucial phase of the park – the Cultural Terrace.

The City Council entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement to bring Pretend City Children’s Museum to the Cultural Terrace.  When the relocation of Pretend City to the Great Park Cultural Terrace initially came before the City Council in 2017, I strongly supported it and was disappointed when we did not have the votes to act at that time.  I am extremely pleased that we have moved forward this year.

But much more needs to be done to truly create the Cultural Terrace as the jewel of the Great Park.

I believe the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace would be the ideal location for a natural history museum, showcasing the natural history of our area.

Importantly, the history of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Gabrielino/Tongva — our County’s indigenous people — needs to be told!

In fact, while Orange County is the only county in Southern California that does not have a natural history museum, Orange County is already home to a fabulous collection of fossils and artifacts in the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, now located in several warehouses in Santa Ana.  This rich history of fossils and artifacts, perhaps one of the most important fossil-bearing areas in North America, if not the world, needs to be curated and displayed.

Our county’s rich store of fossils and artifacts ought to be open to all in a magnificent museum – a new Orange County Natural History Museum in the Great Park!

I have also made clear my support for the California Fire Museum and Safety Learning Center, and for preserving the heritage of our California firefighters in a permanent facility in the Great Park.

I have also long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.  In fact, every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park.

I agree with the Great Park Garden Coalition that “We need places where children can experience nature and explore, where all can find refuge from the ever-increasing urban density and traffic, where people of all ages and abilities can experience beautiful outdoor spaces. All great urban parks have great garden spaces: Golden Gate Park, Central Park, Balboa Park.”

The Great Park in Irvine should, too.

Homelessness and Attainable Housing

As we all know, Irvine is among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation; for this reason, there is a tremendous need for, and tremendous obstacles to, affordable housing.

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

Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

I’m proud of what the Irvine Land Trust has accomplished in the past year.

In 2018, we opened Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.  We also 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, we have begun 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.

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.

In addition to my work on the Irvine Land Trust, I have traveled to Pittsburgh and San Antonio to see what other cities have done to successfully combat homelessness, and I have traveled to Sacramento to encourage the legislature to revise regulations and the tax code to make it easier to build affordable housing.

I would like to hear the Mayor reaffirm Irvine’s commitment to support the Irvine Community Land Trust as successful model for other cities to emulate in providing housing for diverse income levels.

I would also like to hear the Mayor present his vision for alleviating the homelessness crisis, and especially what role he envisions Irvine should play in providing shelter and services, especially in light of the case in federal court.

How will he work with the federal court and Board of Supervisors to tackle this crisis on a truly regional basis, and how will he get the Board of Supervisors to spend the money and resources that they have been given specifically to deal with homelessness on an actual solution?

Working Together in an Inclusive Democracy  

Our City Council is no longer gridlocked in the partisan bickering that prevented progress for so many years; we have seen that we need to work together to improve the lives of all of Irvine’s residents.

I would like to see our city leaders display the truly democratic spirit that united all decent people in our community in condemning religious and racial bigotry, and not the divisiveness that is created when wedge issues, outside our jurisdiction and purview, are brought before the City Council.  Focusing on these wedge issues does not produce positive policies that bring our city together, but instead a theatrical politics of division that can only drive us apart.

I would like to hear the Mayor reach out to those of us on the other side of the aisle, as he has often done, recognizing that it is best for our city and our residents when we work for the common good by looking for common ground.

A Vision for our Great City of Irvine

Our great City of Irvine is truly blessed with wonderful people, a beautiful natural environment, thriving businesses, and remarkable schools.

What Irvine needs is a vision for the future that focuses and energizes our continued quest for being the very best place in the world to live, work and raise a family.

The event begins with a reception at 5:00 p.m., followed by the Mayor’s address at 6:00 p.m.

Both the “State of the City” address and the reception are open to the public. No RSVP is necessary to attend.

The Civic Center is located at 1 Civic Center Drive, Irvine CA 92606-5207.  Call 949-724-6077 for more information.

I hope to see you there!

You Can Make a Difference: Volunteers Needed for “Point in Time” Count of People Experiencing Homelessness in South Orange County!

You can make a difference for people in need in South Orange County!

I have just learned that the Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness in our area (South Orange County) is critically short of volunteers. 

The Point In Time is a biennial count of people experiencing homelessness on a given point in time during the last ten days in January.

The count provides vital information that helps the County better understand homelessness in the community and guides the way the County and its partners respond to homelessness in Orange County.

Orange County will be conducting the 2019 Point In Time count on Wednesday, January 23 and Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Please consider volunteering for this important community humanitarian effort!

Volunteers are needed in the following roles for a successful effort: Team Captains, Field Surveyors, Deployment Center Support, Videographers and Photographers. Volunteer opportunities are available in the early morning and late evening.

Sign up to volunteer and help shape homelessness services in Orange County!

Registering to volunteer will take less than 5 minutes.

Training will be provided!

Click to sign up today!

 

Making Affordable Housing a Reality: My Remarkable Year with the Irvine Community Land Trust!

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.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.

I am very proud of what we accomplished at the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) this year!

As we all know, Irvine is among the most expensive real estate markets in the nation; for this reason there is a tremendous need for, and tremendous obstacles to, affordable housing. 

Finding 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.  Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

Here is a short video that explains the work the Irvine Community Land Trust does to create more affordable housing in Irvine:

2018 was truly a remarkable year for the Land Trust.

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.

Designed to bring employees closer to work, it is a short walk to many jobs as well as Irvine Unified Schools, public transportation, dining and shopping options. Apartments range from one- to three bedrooms and include walk-in closets, energy-efficient appliances, assigned parking and balconies.  Parc Derian is the result of a public/private partnership between the Irvine Community Land Trust, C&C Development, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Lennar Corporation, and the City of Irvine.

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.

In 2018, I traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to represent the Irvine Community Land Trust at a national conference on affordable housing and traveled to Sacramento, where we moved forward to convince the California Legislature to remove tax barriers to creating permanent affordable housing, meaning that more affordable housing could be built in California. We expect that this year we will have the support we need to pass the legislation and I am again making the trip to Sacramento to secure more affordable housing in our state.

It should also be noted that in 2018, the Irvine Community Land Trust became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. This development was envisioned as eventual in the City’s initial 2006 plan for the Land Trust, which states that the trust shall become self-sustaining and independent after it attains 200 affordable housing units. That threshold was crossed in 2017, and the Irvine Community Land Trust now owns more than 200 homes in three Irvine communities.

The move to become independent from the City of Irvine is designed to make it easier for donors and strategic partners to contribute materials, services, and funds on a tax-free basis, therefore increasing the resources that the Irvine Community Land Trust has to create more affordable housing.

The City of Irvine and its residents also benefit from the separation due to the financial savings in regard to staff salary and office space, which will no longer be provided by the City.

As ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias explained, becoming legally independent from the City “is a tremendous win-win for both the Land Trust and the citizens of Irvine.  We can operate more efficiently and with less reliance on taxpayers, and we can apply a greater focus on our core mission – to provide high-quality affordable housing to the community.”

Moreover, in the interest of maintaining transparency and community engagement, the Irvine Community Land Trust, on my motion, has voluntarily opened all meetings to the public.  The open session format will allow members of the community to come, hear and be heard on programs and projects being implemented by the Land Trust Board.

Through this meeting format the Land Trust Board hopes to generate community interest and support for its programs, and foster collaboration on its mission to build quality affordable housing for Irvine residents.

I have also called for a City Council vote to apply the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit agencies that receive significant funding from the City of lrvine.

Accordingly, for the January 8, 2019 City Council meeting, I have requested a presentation from City staff followed by discussion and direction from the City Council, regarding the application of the City’s Sunshine Ordinance to all non-profit entities in the community that receive significant funding from the City. Please come to the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, to discuss this important matter.

Stay tuned to this blog, as well as the Land Trust’s newly launched Facebook and Linkedin pages, for more information on our progress in creating affordable housing.

2019 promises to be even more positive and exciting!

 

My Response to the Grand Jury Report on Housing Orange County’s Homeless: Irvine Offers Leadership in Providing Real Solutions for the Homelessness Crisis

Finding solutions to the 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.

At our recent Irvine City Council meeting on August 26, 2018, the City Council was presented with our city staff’s response to the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox preparing to lead a meeting of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Following the staff presentation, I made the following remarks, which I’d like to share with you here:

“Thank you very much for a terrific response.

I did feel that there needs to be some additional information in the response, however, and Mayor Wagner touched on much of it, in particular the $29.2 million that we’re putting aside, as well as land, and the additional permanent supportive housing, potentially as many as 80 units, which we are set to break ground on in the very near future with the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition, there’s another project stacked right behind the first project for the Land Trust, which will be unique in that it will provide an ownership for affordable housing, and all of this backed by services, so we will be creating permanent, supportive housing.

Irvine has been a model in this area, and what I think the Grand Jury, and even our own response misses, is that the Land Trust concept is something that Irvine has pioneered.

No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours. Our executive director is a national leader, and we have a great deal of experience in the Land Trust area, so I think what we have best to contribute to the ACC-OC (Association of California Cities – Orange County) and a potential Joint Powers Agreement is leadership.

In Irvine, we don’t need an additional Land Trust.  We already have one, and we paved the way, and we already have a vehicle to receive the funds that are ready to come forward from the State. The reason that the Joint Powers Agreement for a Land Trust for the County needed to be created is that the County didn’t have one.  In Irvine, we already did.

And so I would notify, and let the Grand Jury know, that we could be of assistance and leadership in this area.  Our executive director for the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, is an executive director of the national Land Trust Alliance, and so he’s leading the way.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox speaking with homeless people at the former Riverbed encampment with Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva, Huntington Beach Councilmember Billy O’Connell, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

I also want to comment on the allegation of NIMBYism in Irvine, which I thought was very pejorative and unfair.

Irvine has never said we don’t want to help homeless people in our community. Rather, we’ve said we’ll be the first to form this Land Trust and move forward with it.

So just last year, Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris and I traveled with ACC-OC to San Antonio to look at what was really an exceptional program (Haven for Hope) helping the homeless community in San Antonio that has been held up as a model.  We went with many other stakeholders. One thing we learned on that trip was that neighbors are important.  And it was very important for the success of this homeless shelter in San Antonio to be located in a community that their services also served, to prevent the community members from becoming homeless.  So the shelter has to be located in an area where the neighborhood is receptive, and sees it as a benefit because they’re providing social services to the neighborhood, they’re providing schooling, they’re providing medical clinics, they’re providing dental services, and so on.

Location is very important, and what we heard our residents in Irvine saying is that there was a problem with placing homeless people in tents adjacent to the Great Park as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.  And, in addition, what Irvine residents and the Irvine City Council said is that human beings should not be housed in tents with no water, no electricity, and no transportation.

So, I think to denigrate Irvine and the residents who came together as not compassionate and full of NIMBY sentiment is absolutely incorrect, and we need to put forward that our residents came together, not only to say that they were opposed to the County’s tent city plan for a homeless shelter, but they literally hired their own attorneys to put together solution packages, and they came to the same conclusions that the experts did, that you must have permanent supportive services that go along with the housing.

They weren’t just saying we don’t want it here, they said we want to help fix this program, and I think we can reach out to that same group to work with us on this issue.

I have also traveled to Sacramento and worked with many of our legislators to increase the number of units that we can move forward with under the Land Trust by creating legislation (Senate Bill 1056) that would give us favorable tax treatment.

And so I think we have a lot to teach the cities that haven’t done this kind of work.  We blazed that path, and I’d like this report to make that clear, especially the work that the Irvine Community Land Trust has done, that prior city councils have invested in this, and that the Mayor himself has expended countless hours in looking forward to a solution, and I think that at the very least, the Mayor’s comments should be incorporated as a preface to our response.”

You can read the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless,” and the original proposed response of the City of Irvine here.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Opens New Affordable Housing for Working Families, Veterans, and Special Needs Residents

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, I am extremely proud of the Land Trust’s most recent affordable housing accomplishment, Parc Derian, which brings 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine.

Perc Derian officially opened on August 3, 2018.

Here is a news report from Affordable Housing Finance that I am delighted to share with you:

AFFORDABLE HOUSING FINANCE
Development to Help Fill Housing Need in Irvine, Calif.

Parc Derian will serve working families and others with special needs.

By Donna Kimura

August 13, 2018

The recently completed Parc Derian brings 80 units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents in Irvine, Calif.

The development is a public/private partnership between C&C Development, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Lennar Corp., the city of Irvine, and the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Located in the heart of the Irvine Business Complex, a major economic and job hub for the city, Parc Derian had 2,000 households on its interest list, from which 80 households were selected by lottery and all moved in within 30 days. Twenty percent of the units are designated for veterans

Developed on a 2.2-acre urban infill site as part of Irvine’s inclusionary zoning plan, the apartment community features almost a half-acre of open space, and residents are served by 5,000 square feet of community space with such amenities as a fitness room, a community room, on-site laundry facilities, and secured bicycle storage. A second-floor exterior podium deck encompasses a tot lot, an outdoor barbeque and fireplace pavilion, a swimming pool, and a community garden.

Designed by KTGY Group, the $33.6 million Parc Derian is a four-story structure featuring contemporary architecture that incorporates urban-inspired elements and finishes and is designed to achieve a LEED Gold certification. It utilizes sustainable building methods such as low-e energy-conserving windows, water saving plumbing fixtures, and LED lighting throughout the property. Advent Cos. is the general contractor.

“Parc Derian underscores our mission to design and build affordable housing that is indistinguishable from market-rate housing and provides a secure and comfortable environment for families and individuals that improves their lives and lifestyle,” said Todd Cottle, a C&C Development principal. “Design and quality of craftsmanship that is represented by Parc Derian play an important role in our properties, especially in inclusionary zoning environments such as the city of Irvine.”

Ranging in size from approximately 635 to 1,203 square feet, the one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments have private balconies and patios and are designed to accommodate large families and special-needs individuals with household incomes between 30% and 50% of the area median income (AMI). Monthly rents range from $527 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,218 for a three-bedroom unit, significantly lower than monthly rents for comparable market-rate apartments in the Irvine area.

To provide housing for residents with special needs, C&C Development and IHO have partnered with Families Forward to set aside apartments that are designed for family households that are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness. Families Forward assists people in crisis to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through housing, counseling, and education.

The developers have also partnered with the Regional Centers of Orange County and United Cerebral Palsy to set aside apartments for developmentally disabled residents. The organizations help residents with disabilities reach their full potential, improve their quality of life, and foster an attitude of acceptance and inclusion.

Residents will further benefit from social services such as health and education enhancement programming offered by Lighthouse Community Center and IHO.

Parc Derian is an excellent example of public-private partnerships working creatively to provide affordable housing for Irvine’s workforce, according to Mark Asturias, executive director of the Irvine Community Land Trust, which provides land that is leased to developers such as C&C Development to build housing that will remain permanently affordable.

“Every family and individual deserves the ability to afford a home in their community,” Asturias said in a statement. “Parc Derian is a tremendous accomplishment for all the partners involved and for the Irvine community. It demonstrates how a city can partner with a home-grown nonprofit such as the Land Trust and developers to bring permanently affordable housing into the community. By providing homes people can afford, they commute less, spend more time with their family, and give back to the community they live in. Irvine is stronger with affordable housing.”

The $33.6 million Parc Derian was financed with low-income housing tax credits from the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, a construction loan provided by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and a permanent loan through the California Community Reinvestment Corp.

The housing tax credits, which were syndicated by National Equity Fund, generated approximately $18.4 million in equity. Additional financing was invested by the City of Irvine and Lennar Corp.

 

 

Councilmember Melissa Fox Receives Award on Behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust for Opening of New Permanent Affordable Housing in Irvine

Irvine, CA — Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox today received an award on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust for the opening of new permanent affordable housing in Irvine.

The new housing project is Parc Derian, an 80-unit,100% permanent affordable housing community.  Eight units (10%) are reserved for veterans, four units are reserved for “at risk” families through Families Forward, and four units are reserved for disabled individuals.

Councilmember Fox is the Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.  She has made creating more affordable housing a priority.  In addition to her work on the Irvine City Council and the Irvine Community Land Trust, Councilmember Fox has made numerous trips to Sacramento to testify before legislative committees and to work with the state legislators, including State Senators John Moorlach, Jim Beall, Scott Wiener, and Janet Nguyen, and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva on solutions to the California housing crisis.

In addition to the Irvine Community Land Trust, other partners in the Parc Derian project included the City of Irvine, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, the National Equity Fund, the Bank of America, C & C Development, Lennar Corporation, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Orange County and United Cerebal Palsy, Familes Forward, and Lighthouse Community Centers.

Parc Derian is located within the Irvine Business Complex (IBC).

At the opening ceremony, Councilmember Fox made the following remarks:

“Good afternoon and welcome. I’m delighted that you have come to enjoy the grand opening of our latest affordable housing project.

Many of you may wonder what is the Irvine Community Land Trust and why are we involved in this project.  The Irvine Community Land Trust was established by the City in 2006.  We were the City’s homegrown nonprofit created to hold land in perpetuity for affordable housing.

Three years ago, in partnership with the City and C&C Development, we started development of our second affordable housing project – Parc Derian.  Today you see the finished product.  But what you may not realize is that this property will always be affordable.  This is because the Irvine Community Land Trust, as a nonprofit, holds land for the community in perpetuity. This was and is the vision the City had when it created the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Today, the Irvine Community Land Trust remains committed to implementing the City’s vision of creating permanent affordable housing. It bears repeating that the City’s vision of housing for Irvine is that we have “a full spectrum of housing types to meet the needs of all income groups at all stages of life that will be permanently affordable.”

You have heard how Parc Derian serves families, special needs residents, and veterans.  You will hear from some of these residents shortly.  Remember, because of the Irvine Community Land Trust’s commitment to permanent affordable housing, these residents will never fear that they might be displaced from their homes because of market rate rent increases. These homes provide a high quality of life for today’s and tomorrow’s residents.

And we have made these homes wonderfully affordable to residents with rents as low as $570 per month. Parc Derian gives individuals and families a sense of community; it is not a coincidence that “community” is part of our name.

As we celebrate the successful completion of this project and the partnership we have with the City,  we also look forward to our next housing permanent affordable developments.  A new 80-unit rental project along Sand Canyon is in the design phase and should break ground this time next year.  And looking beyond that project, we are anticipating more land and funding from the City to the Land Trust to create more permanently affordable housing.

As the City’s nonprofit we will develop future properties and assure the community that they will never be lost or converted to market rate housing.

We call this commitment “stewardship” — and you have our solemn promise that we will always strive to meet the vision of creating and managing a full spectrum of housing opportunities for families, as the Irvine Community Land Trust continues to work with the City to create more permanent affordable housing for our residents.”

 

Irvine Should Ban E-Cigarettes and Vaping in Our City Parks

teen-electronic-cigarette

Today’s New York Times has more bad news about teenagers and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

The Times reports a “sharp rise in the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers.”  E-cigarette use among middle- and high school students “tripled from 2013 to 2014 . . bringing the share of high school students who use them to 13 percent — more than smoke traditional cigarettes. The sharp rise, together with a substantial increase in the use of hookah pipes, led to 400,000 additional young people using a tobacco product in 2014, the first increase in years . . .”

Last year, the Times cited a similar report of the Center for Disease Control of a sharp rise in e-cigarette use among previously nicotine-free youth.

And who are the major marketers and lobbyists for e-cigarettes?  The very same big tobacco companies that still sell cigarettes and that told us for years that there was no harm in cigarette smoking.

Last March, the Irvine City Council rejected a resolution to prohibit electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in city parks and recreational facilities.  Mayor Steven Choi and Council Members Jeffrey Lalloway and Christina Shea voted against the ban.

Evidence is mounting that e-cigarettes are detrimental to one’s health. Their use is opposed by the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. UC Irvine and the entire University of California system bans their use in all indoor and outdoor areas of a UC campus.

The American Lung Association says they are “very concerned about the potential health consequences of electronic cigarettes, as well as the unproven claims that they can be used to help smokers quit. There is presently no government oversight of these products and absent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation, there is no way for the public health, medical community or consumers to know what chemicals are contained in e-cigarettes or what the short and long term health implications might be. . . Also unknown is what the potential harm may be to people exposed to secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes. Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a carcinogen) coming from those secondhand emissions. Other studies have shown that chemicals exhaled by users also contain formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and other potential irritants. While there is a great deal more to learn about these products, it is clear that there is much to be concerned about, especially in the absence of FDA oversight.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that recent scientific data “confirms pediatricians’ concerns about e-cigarettes and their liquid nicotine refills: they are poisoning children at an alarming rate. . . These new statistics should compel our nation’s leaders to act now to protect children from these dangerous products.”

The conservative editorial page of the San Diego Union Tribune has called for the regulation of e-cigarettes just like tobacco, “prohibiting their use in restaurants, bars and other public places where smoking is barred,” calling such regulations  “common sense for all of California.”

Council Member Lalloway celebrated the Council’s decision in favor of e-cigarettes by saying he had confidence in “individuals and their ability to make their own [health] choices.”

For me, what’s at issue is our freedom  to enjoy Irvine’s parks and recreational facilities without breathing air polluted with second-hand e-cigarette chemicals.

I have no problem with adults smoking e-cigarettes in their own homes or on their own property or on the property of people who say it’s okay with them.

But I don’t want members of my family or yours — especially children — to be forced to inhale second-hand e-cigarette chemicals when they come to enjoy Irvine’s beautiful public parks and recreational facilities.

That’s where we should draw the line.