Happy Earth Day 2019!

Today, Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly.  In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and more than 1 billion people in 193 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

The City of Irvine has been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology, and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy-saving.

Irvine’s San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Geoff Fox.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi was Irvine’s mayor, our city took several steps backwards. The term “climate change” was banned from all city documents and not enough Councilmembers made appointments to the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee to enable a quorum.

Mayor Steven Choi even refused to participate in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by Irvine’s own Wyland Foundation.

When I joined the Irvine City Council, I successfully pushed for revitalization of the Committee, which has now resumed its work of serving as the official environmental advisory committee, increasing public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, and helping the city serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I am delighted that the Committee now has the full support of the entire City Council, and both Mayor Don Wagner and Mayor Christina Shea have joined with other mayors across the country in asking residents to make a commitment to conserve water and protect this vital resource by taking part in annual Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, through the month of April.

One of the best — and most distinctive — qualities of Irvine is our commitment to preserving open space. The City of Irvine has more than 16,000 acres of permanently preserved parkland and open space – remarkable for a city of our size.

“The Sinks” — Irvine’s own Grand Canyon.

In 1974, early in our city’s history, voters approved multi-million dollar measures to fund public parks and recreational facilities, and for the acquisition and development of bicycle trail and hiking trail improvements.

In 1989, the City negotiated an historic agreement with the Irvine Company that set aside more than 9,500 acres as permanent open space marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas, protecting fully one-third of the city from development.

In addition, in 2006, nearly 37,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch were selected as a National Natural Landmark, a designation which reflects the outstanding condition, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education of the natural resources on the land.

As our Irvine Open Space Preserve website explains, “Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has had a strong desire to balance the built and natural environment. As this incredible master-planned community has grown, each phase of development has been accompanied by the preservation and enhancement of natural open spaces, creating the network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors may enjoy today and for generations to come.”

Bommer Canyon. Photo by Sanjay B. Dalal.

A crucial environmental issue facing Irvine in the near future is whether to switch from purchasing energy from SoCal Edison to utilizing a Community Choice Energy provider.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

It has been operating in California since 2002 following passage of Assembly Bill 117.

On September 25, 2018, the Irvine City Council approved conducting a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program, including potential economic benefits for the community.

Community Choice programs enable local government control over energy procurement to purchase power, set competitive rates, and collect revenue. The local utility still maintains the electricity grid, deliver energy, and bill customers.

Community Choice Energy programs offer automatic enrollment to businesses and residences in its jurisdiction, with the ability for the customer to opt out and continue to purchase electricity from the utility. Customers have the option of choosing increased percentages of renewable energy.

Councilmember Melissa Fox with the artist Wyland at his studio in Irvine.

CCE programs in California generally procure and resell a power mix between 50 percent and 100 percent renewable energy to their customers.

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from fossil to cleaner renewable energy.

Community Choice introduces competition and consumer choice into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.

By the mid 2020s, as much as 85% of Californians will be served by a Community Choice Energy program.

When our feasibility study is completed, I hope Community Choice Energy will soon be available in Irvine and throughout Orange County.

At our best, the City of Irvine has striven to be simultaneously people-friendly, business-friendly, and earth-friendly.

We must continue to insist that each phase of our City’s development be informed by science, accompanied by careful planning, and prioritize the preservation and enhancement of our environment.

City of Irvine Seeks New Member for Irvine Residents with Disabilities Advisory Board

The City of Irvine is accepting applications for one vacant position on the Irvine Residents with Disabilities Advisory Board.

The Irvine Residents with Disabilities Advisory Board was established in 1990 by the Irvine City Council to ensure residents with disabilities have equal access in community life.

The Board’s mission is identifying and recommending programs and services meeting the physical and social needs of residents who have disabilities, regardless of age.

The Board provides advocacy and support for programs related to community needs and propose recommendations to a variety of City departments.

Membership is not to exceed 14 voluntary members, with 51 percent of the board required to be a person with a disability or directly related to a person with a disability.

The Board is a public advisory body of the City of Irvine that reports to the Community Services Commission. Members provide input on the needs of Irvine residents with disabilities. The board is made up of volunteer members who live or work in Irvine.

Board members must participate in monthly meetings, which are held on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Irvine Civic Center.

Applications are available at the Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza. Applicants should visit the second floor Community Services Department front counter to obtain an application.

Interested parties can also visit cityofirvine.org/irdab to download an application.

Completed applications must be received by 5:00 p.m. Monday, April 22, 2019. Turn in applications by mail, in person, or via email to City of Irvine City Clerk, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, CA 92606 or clerk@cityofirvine.org.

For more information, contact Community Services Supervisor Susie Blanco at 949-724-6633 or sblanco@cityofirvine.org.

 

Sunday, March 30, is Earth Hour 2019

This Saturday, March 30, join millions of people around the world in switching off your lights and electronics from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. for Earth Hour.

Starting as a symbolic lights out event in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour is now the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, inspiring millions of people to take action for our planet and nature.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have been able to reinstate and vitalize the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which seeks to increase public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, helping the City serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I’ve also helped move the City toward adopting Community Choice Energy, which allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

In addition, I’ve helped to make Irvine a national leader in finding non-toxic solutions to weed and pest control, and finding effective, non-toxic and eco-friendly ways to maintain Irvine’s open spaces and reduce fire danger.

I’ve helped Irvine increase our iShuttle program by 50 percent, and worked to improve Irvine’s bike trails for recreation and commuting.

But we need to do more, and faster. Most importantly, we need to step up efforts to switch from using fossil fuels – the biggest cause of climate change – to clean, renewable energy.  And we need to help people and nature adapt to the inevitable changes ahead.

Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.  It affects every corner of our planet – from the poles to the tropics, and from the mountains to the oceans. People and nature worldwide are already feeling the effects: water supplies are shrinking, extreme weather events increasing in frequency and intensity, forests burning, and coral reefs dying.

All around the world, governments and communities are coming together to act –- and we can still escape the worst impacts of climate change, and build a safer future for all.

You can find out more about Earth Hour and how you can participate at EarthHour.org.

You can also find out more about what Irvine is doing to preserve and protect our planet, and what else you can do, at https://www.cityofirvine.org/environmental-programs/make-earth-day-every-day.

Our connection to Earth and nature is undeniable: our planet’s gain is everyone’s gain.

Nature not only provides us with all the things we need to live — from the air we breathe to the water we drink, and from the shelter we need to the economy we rely on — but also makes our lives better.  But its growing loss puts this all under threat.

This Earth Hour, join millions around the world to turn off the lights and speak up about why nature matters!

Irvine Releases Proposed 2019-2021 Budget. Tell Us What You Think!

The City of Irvine has released a proposed budget for FY 2019-2021.

Tell us what you think!

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and accountable, and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

I am proud to have received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award from Orange County Auditor-Controller Eric H. Woollery, along with Mayor Don Wagner and Councilmember Christina Shea.

I am proud that during my tenure on the Irvine City Council, Irvine has received numerous awards for fiscal responsibility and transparency. These awards reflect the commitment that I and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council have made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

I am also proud that during my term in office, Irvine has adopted the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance that expands public notice to four times longer than California law requires, and has approved a two-year budget cycle, along with a five-year financial planning program. These changes make planning more transparent, give residents more opportunity for input into budget and planning, and make city government more accountable.

The City of Irvine has now released its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019-2021.

Prior to proposing a budget for FY 2019-2021, the City hosted four Community Budget Meetings in March. These meetings were the City’s first-ever attempt at both informing constituents about the state of its finances and seeking input on spending priorities before the budget proposal was finalized.

Strategic priorities addressed in the proposed budget include: maintaining high-quality essential City services, enhancing Citywide mobility through transportation improvements, promoting innovation through effective use of Information Technology solutions, and recruiting and retaining high-quality employees.

Next in the process, the budget will be presented to the Finance Commission in April 2019.  These meetings are open to the public and your continued input in the form of public comment is welcome.

My appointee to the Finance Commission is Roger Sievers. Roger is a long-time corporate CFO/VP/Controller with a master’s degree in finance from Stanford University who cares deeply about ensuring both Irvine’s financial health and our quality of life.  He would love to hear from you about the proposed FY 2019-2012 budget. He can be reached at rsievers@cityofirvine.org.

Following Finance Commission input, the proposed two-year budget and five-year plan will be presented to the City Council for approval in May.

For more information about the budget process, and to access the Fiscal Year 2019-21 Proposed Budget, visit cityofirvine.org/budget.

You can also contact the City of Irvine’s Financial Management & Strategic Planning Department at 949-724-6255.

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!

 

The City of Irvine’s Budget Will Not Include Cuts to Irvine Schools

Recently, City of Irvine staff proposed that, due to a projected budget shortfall, the City should consider cutting its support for Irvine’s public schools and reduce its spending on public safety.

I strongly opposed these cuts.

While I am concerned about the City’s fiscal health and our budget — a topic I will address soon in a future blog post — I do not believe that it is in the best interests of Irvine’s residents to curtail our support for education and public safety.

Due to my opposition and that of other City Council Members, as well as conversations between myself and Irvine Unified School District Board Members, and IUSD and City staff, reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming City budget.

Here is the official announcement:

“A special message about the City of Irvine’s $80 million in cash grants and program support for Irvine schools since 2008.

The City of Irvine has proudly provided cash grants to benefit Irvine schools and students for 13 years. The City uses vehicles such as the Educational Partnership Fund (EPF) program, established in 2006, and the Challenge Match Grant Program, created in 2008, to facilitate support.

From 2006 through June 2019, the City has provided $32 million in direct cash grants benefiting Irvine schools. The City is continuing to commit another $4 million annually for the next two fiscal years, for a total cash contribution of $40 million to benefit Irvine schools.

Beyond cash support, the City provides over $10 million annually in direct and indirect services to Irvine schools and students. The City of Irvine has provided over $80 million in direct and indirect support benefiting Irvine schools since 2008.

Indirect programs include school resource officers at middle and high schools; D.A.R.E. instruction so that elementary school students refrain from drug use and bullying and practice responsible internet use; crossing guards; middle school and high school youth action teams; and joint field and pool use. The two Partnership for Educational Excellence Programs grew from $1.5 million per year to $4 million per year in direct cash grants. The City Council established this funding because schools are a priority; voters affirmed it, and the Irvine City Council continued this unique funding tradition after the voter measures expired in 2016.

The City remains committed to supporting Irvine schools. The City is also committed to its long-term financial planning, transitioning to a two-year budget and a five-year financial plan. The City’s financial condition shows a structural deficit. The executive management team values transparent discussions early in the budget planning cycle. This includes open dialogue at community meetings, in order to facilitate a proposed balanced budget that meets many needs. City executive management proposed a host of changes and reductions to address the shortfall, including a possible reduction to some of the $10 million in annual support to Irvine schools in order to ensure adequate City and Police services.

While reductions to school funding will no longer be proposed for the upcoming budget, we need to work together to find constructive approaches. The City faces leaner times. We want to ensure our support for Public Safety, which is a top priority for the Council and the community, is not jeopardized. Mutual cooperation and productive communication is critical for effective long-term financial planning that balances community priorities and the City’s budget.”

Thank you to the many Irvine residents and IUSD Board Members who reached out to me and other members of the City Council opposing these cuts.

Our voices have been heard.

Join Me for a Community Choice Energy Workshop!

Join me on Sunday, March 17, 2019, 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., for Community Choice Energy Workshop!

SoCal Edison rates are going up in March 2019 under the new time of use rate plan, so there’s never been a better time to look into a local not-for-profit alternative – Community Choice Energy.

What is Community Choice Energy?

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

It has been operating in California since 2002 following passage of Assembly Bill 117.

On September 25, 2018, the Irvine City Council approved conducting a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program, including potential economic benefits for the community.

Community Choice programs enable local government control over energy procurement to purchase power, set competitive rates, and collect revenue. The local utility still maintains the electricity grid, deliver energy, and bill customers.

Community Choice Energy programs offer automatic enrollment to businesses and residences in its jurisdiction, with the ability for the customer to opt out and continue to purchase electricity from the utility. Customers have the option of choosing increased percentages of renewable energy.

CCE programs in California generally procure and resell a power mix between 50 percent and 100 percent renewable energy to their customers.

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from fossil to cleaner renewable energy.

Community Choice introduces competition and consumer choice into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.

By the mid 2020s, as much as 85% of Californians will be served by a Community Choice Energy program.  When will it be available in Orange County?

Join us Sunday, March 17th to learn:

  • What is Community Choice Energy?
  • How 160 cities across California are already benefiting from community choice energy.
  • What is the status of Irvine’s community choice study & what comes next?
  • What you can do to advocate for community choice in Irvine or your city.

Featuring:

The Workshop location is Irvine United Congregational Church, 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine, CA 92604

This event is free and open to the public.

Donations appreciated to offset the cost of food/drink and/or to support Climate Action Campaign’s expansion to Orange County.