Visiting the California Firefighter Memorial: Honoring Those Who Gave All

I made a visit to the California Firefighter Memorial this afternoon and it deeply touched my heart.

Fire and firefighters are in the news today, as hundreds of brave firefighters risk their lives to battle the flames trying to consume the irreplaceable and magnificent Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

These days, fire and firefighters are often in my thoughts, both as a member of the board of directors of the Orange County Fire Authority and as the mother of a 20-year-old who is studying firefighting at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and serves as an EMT and member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough HazMat Team.

In fact, fire and firefighters should be in all our thoughts, as California’s wild land fire season expands to year-round, and more and more Californians live on the very edge of extreme fire-danger zones.

The truth is, fires in California have become more frequent and more dangerous, and Californians have never relied more on well-trained, well-equipped, well-led and brave firefighters risking all to keep our lives and property safe.

The California Firefighters Memorial is located on the grounds of the California state capitol in Sacramento and honors the more than 1,300 California firefighters who have died in line of duty or of other duty-related illness or injury.

The California Fire Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created by California Professional Firefighters, raised the money to construct the Memorial and is responsible for its ongoing upkeep. Ongoing fundraising ensures the continued maintenance of the Memorial with no taxpayer dollars.

The California Firefighters Memorial was unveiled on April 6, 2002, carrying the names of 855 fallen California firefighters. Since the unveiling, more than 400 names have been added at annual Memorial ceremonies.

The Memorial has three components that work together seamlessly:

The Memorial Wall: A two-sided brushed limestone wall on which is inscribed the names of every firefighter who has died in the line of duty since California became a state. The wall is flanked by bronze statues of firefighter “turnouts” – the protective garments worn by firefighters in action

“Fallen Brother”: A bronze statue, directly adjacent to the wall, that honors our fallen heroes. It depicts an anguished firefighter removing a lifeless colleague from the flames. The statue was created by Jesus Romo, a retired Sacramento firefighter

“Holding the Line”: A bronze statue depicting four firefighters in action working a hose line. The statue was created by artist Lawrence Allen Noble.

You can see the names on the Memorial Wall here.

Be sure to visit when you come to Sacramento.

In addition, the California Fire Foundation invites you to join in memorializing the sacrifice and dedication of California’s fallen heroes at the 17th Annual California Firefighters Memorial Ceremony on September 28, 2019, at 11:30 a.m.

Irvine Returns to the Orange County Fire Authority and I am Returning to the OCFA Board of Directors

I want to thank Irvine Mayor Christina Shea and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council for their decision to re-appoint me to the Board of Directors of the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox on the scene of a structure fire in Irvine.

For many years, there has been a dispute between the City of Irvine and OCFA over Irvine’s disproportionately large financial contribution to the fire service.

Because of these concerns, last June, the City of Irvine notified OCFA that it intended to withdraw from the agency in 2020.

In the months that followed, the City of Irvine and OCFA engaged in intensive negotiations with the purpose of finding a way to resolve our differences, particularly the disparity between Irvine’s financial contributions and the services we receive.

Happily, the result of these negotiations was an agreement under which Irvine will receive substantial benefits and considerations in returning to OCFA.

OCFA will contribute $20.5 million to a police-fire training facility in Irvine that will be utilized by the Irvine Police Department and OCFA to meet both separate and joint training needs.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox with OCFA Fire Chief Brian Fennessy.

Also, OCFA will establish a drone program as part of the agreement that allows monitoring of Irvine’s open space areas with the objective of quickly detecting, assessing, and preventing fires and other hazards.

Significantly, the agreement also includes a pension pay-down, under which OCFA will pay $2 million per year for a total of $22 million over 11 years into an irrevocable pension trust that can be used only for payment of employee pension liability. Approximately 58% of those funds will be earmarked to pay down any portion of OCFA’s unfunded pension liability that is attributed to Irvine.

You can read the full agreement and the Irvine staff report online here.

As Irvine’s representative on the OCFA Board, I am delighted to work again with the dedicated professionals of the Orange County Fire Authority.

I am honored to serve the residents of Irvine and Orange County in this crucial role and pledge to ensure that OCFA continues to provide the very best in fire protection, fire suppression, and emergency services.

In today’s heightened, year-round, wildfire season, having a well-trained, well-equipped and well-led fire service has never been more important.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Congratulations to Chief Greg McKeown on His Retirement! Wishing Chief McKeown and His Family All the Best in the Future!

Congratulations to Orange County Fire Authority Division 2 Chief Greg McKeown on your retirement.

He will be greatly missed.

Chief McKeown is a life-long resident of Orange County who started his career with the Orange County Fire Authority in 1989. Serving the OCFA for nearly thirty years, Chief McKeown has held many positions within the fire service.

Moving up through the ranks, he has held the position of Firefighter, Paramedic, Fire Captain, Battalion Chief, and Division Chief. Chief McKeown’s most recent position has been leading Division 2, serving the City of Irvine and John Wayne Airport.

Chief McKeown has been very active in the ensuring the safety of our Irvine community, serving as the city’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) representative and instructor; as well as coordinating a comprehensive drowning prevention plan.

I will miss Chief McKeown’s day-to-day leadership and I am grateful for his decades of service, especially his stalwart leadership of Orange County Fire Authority Division 2.

During the worst fires in our region, I knew that our fire service was under the leadership of the best of the best.

From myself, the residents of Irvine, and all of us in Orange County, I wish Chief McKeown and his family all in best in the future!

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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