Urge the Irvine City Council to Adopt a Climate Action Plan Without Delay!

I’m unable to attend the Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Irvine City Council meeting because I’m on a long-planned trip to visit my son in Alaska.

Although I’m not able to be present, I urge you to attend the City Council meeting and speak in support of the City creating a Climate Action Plan without delay.

Action on climate and the environment have been crucial issues for me as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee.

Interestingly, I’m unable to attend the City Council meeting because I’m currently in Glacier Bay National Park, which is perhaps the place on earth where the effects of climate change can most dramatically be seen.

The magnificent tidewater glaciers here have been receding at an alarming rate because over time the snowpack has been inadequate to counteract the impact of long-term temperature increase.

In addition, the sky here is thick with smoke from more than 120 wildfires, because Alaska, like California, is suffering from the effects of long-term drought as well as climate change.

From my current vantage point in Glacier Bay National Park, there is no greater issue demanding action than climate change.

Please read the very compelling letter that Climate Action Campaign Orange County has sent to members of the Irvine City Council, explaining the urgent need for — and the benefits of — a swift adoption of a Climate Change Plan for Irvine.

As Climate Action Campaign Orange County Organizer Robin Raeder Ganahl has aptly stated, “Irvine residents deserve to know what the City’s plan is to reduce emissions, meet state targets, and protect their quality of life!”

I hope you can attend the Tuesday, July 9, 2019, Irvine City Council meeting, as well as write to the Mayor and the City Council, explaining why this issue matters to you.

Your participation in support of Irvine’s adoption of a Climate Action Plan can make a very big difference, not just for our generation but for generations to follow.

Thanks!

Join Me at the Green Ribbon Committee Meeting on Monday, June 24, to Discuss the Community Choice Energy Study!

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a way for cities, counties or regions in California to look out for their own energy interests, a hybrid between regulated and deregulated electricity supply. CCE programs seek to provide energy that is cheaper and cleaner than energy provided by for-profit utility companies.

Under a CCE program, the local utility company still provides all of the billing services and infrastructure to supply electricity to the point of use, but they are no longer responsible for selecting the electricity supplier. Instead, the community chooses its energy supplier. CCEs across the state are now offering more renewable energy content, and at lower cost, than the electricity supplied by the utility company.

On September 25, 2018, before a standing-room crowd, I joined with my colleagues on the Irvine City Council in voting to commission a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program in Irvine, including potential economic benefits for the community.

The proposal for a feasibility study of CCE in Irvine was initially developed and endorsed by the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, which I have the honor to serve as Chair.

We now have that study, as EES Consulting has completed a comprehensive analysis of the viability (including costs and benefits) of a Community Choice Energy program in Irvine.

Among the study’s crucial conclusions is the projection that a CCE in Irvine would result in $7.7 million per year in citywide electricity cost savings for Irvine residents and businesses, and a $112,000 per year savings for the City itself in municipal energy costs.

The study further reports that implementation of a CCE program in Irvine is likely to drive additional local economic development benefits, such as new jobs and $10 million in annual economic output.

While the study notes that there is some risk involved, it also points to several strategies by which these risks could be mitigated and managed.

As a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Green Ribbon Commission, I am tremendously excited by this study and its conclusions.

The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee will be discussing the study and next steps to take regarding implementation of Community Choice Energy in Irvine at our meeting on Monday, June 24, 2019, at 4:30 in Room L102 at Irvine City Hall. 

I urge everyone interested to attend the meeting and to speak up for cleaner, cheaper energy.

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.

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!

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.

Zot! The Dramatic Success of UC Irvine is Making Our City Better Educated and More Diverse!

Everyone knows that Irvine is changing.  Our city is becoming more populous and more diverse.

One of the major reasons for this change is the remarkable success of our city’s foundational institution and largest employer: The University of California, Irvine (UCI).

Founded in 1965, UCI now has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy.

UCI is now the most sought-after campus in the entire University of California system, according to a recent article in the Orange County Register.

The article reports that “The Irvine campus announced recently that 70,540 California students applied for admission as freshmen in the upcoming fall semester,  the most among the nine campuses in the UC system.”

Much of this growth is recent.  In fact, applications to UCI have increased by an amazing 32 percent just since 2015!

UCI’s growth has also led to a significant increase in the diversity of our City.  UCI has made a strong commitment to being an engine of social mobility for qualified individuals from nontraditional and disadvantaged circumstances.

As a result, UCI is now the top choice among UC schools for first-generation students and those from underrepresented minority groups and lower-income families.  Almost half of UCI’s freshman applicants come from immigrant backgrounds and are first-generation students.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, a former UCI student, and the wife of someone who who received his Masters and Ph.D. from UC Irvine, I want to congratulate UCI on its great success and pledge to help it continue making our city, our state, and our nation better educated and more diverse while ensuring a brighter future for Orange County and California!

Zot!

Autonomous Vehicle Technology in Irvine: Moving Irvine Toward Greener, Smarter Transportation Solutions

Mercedes-Benz Future Bus mit CityPilot; teilautomatisiert fahrender Stadtbus mit Ampelerkennung; Hindernis- und Fußgängererkennung; 10 Kameras; automatisierte Haltestellenfahrten; Radarsysteme für Nah- und Fernbereich Basisfahrzeug: Mercedes-Benz Citaro; OM 936 mit 220 kW/299 PS; 7,7 L Hubraum, Länge/Breite/Höhe: 12.135/2.550/3.120 mm ; Mercedes-Benz Future Bus with CityPilot; semi-automated city bus with traffic light recognition; recognition of obstacles and pedestrians; automated bus stop approaches basic vehicle: Mercedes-Benz Citaro; OM 936 rated at 220 kW/299 hp; displacement 7.7 l; length/width/height: 12135/2550/3120 mm;

Note:  I recently had the opportunity to present a talk to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) about bringing research and jobs to Irvine involving the development of autonomous vehicle technology.  Among those present were representatives of major innovative corporations.  I would like to say thank you to Irvine Planning Commissioner Dustin Nirschl for his invaluable help in writing this talk and in bringing AV technology to Irvine. 

Here is the text of that talk.

Irvine boasts a long-standing, commitment to planning that has resulted in it’s being viewed as one of the more desirable locations in the nation.  The city has been planned under a village community model to ensure that residents enjoy safe, accessible, family-oriented living, with short commutes to local entertainment, dining, shopping, and nearby schools.  To complement these village communities, Irvine has consistently worked to develop a robust network of bicycle paths.

Recently, Irvine’s population has surged, and two high-density hubs are nearly built out.  Residents still travel to close-proximity, village destinations, but now also frequent the Spectrum and Irvine Business Complex hubs.  These high-density hubs draw additional vehicle trips on Irvine roadways because: (1) the hub is too far to make walking/bicycling practical, (2) bicycle/pedestrian paths fail to completely connect community to key locations, or (3) a form of preferred alternative transportation such as shuttle or trolley is unavailable to the commuter. Congestion is compounded because Irvine’s daily population nearly doubles due to the influx of business professionals circulating to the Spectrum and IBC hubs. These issues signal that Irvine has reached a point of maturation where more sophisticated and smarter transportation planning with increased transportation choices for Irvine’s residents and commuters is required.

As a 21st century city, Irvine must shape its transportation initiatives and policy to accommodate its residents both for today and for the future.  One especially encouraging option for the future is the use of autonomous vehicles (AVs).  AV technology promises efficiency, and sustainability, as well as economic opportunity, improved freedom, and safety for residents.

Irvine is committed to both listening and leading. We recognize that implementing AV technology can only be done with the City fully behind the project.  We will need to continually educate residents, and to continue to refine the processes we intend to pursue to integrate AV into the community.  For this reason, we are working to re-purpose an abandoned air strip for the establishment of a Center for Excellence conducting AV and other research.  The Center for Excellence will house key players like Tesla and other innovative technology companies.  City partnerships with these innovative companies can enable necessary testing, while simultaneously demystifying many of the unknowns surrounding AV transportation.  Moreover, it will help develop additional partnerships and find ways to overcome infrastructure obstacles and regulatory issues raised by AV transportation to implement AV transportation in the City.

The City also plans to work closely with the University of California Irvine to find ways to bring the UCI Applied Innovation Department, an innovative technology incubator, into the City’s AV effort. This unique department connects the University’s intellectual property and entrepreneurism studies to real world applications.  In addition, the City will look to work with UCI Law School’s innovative Technology & Entrepreneurship Competition, which challenges interdisciplinary teams of graduate students from across the University to structure and negotiate a joint development agreement for a new and exciting technology.  We believe the Center for Excellence can integrate UCI faculty and students into an unrivaled force for research and real-world technological progress.

In addition, we are channeling Irvine City staff toward opportunities involving zero emissions and green city initiatives.  Recently, the VW settlement made available funding for City proposals committed to ZEV infrastructure, public outreach, redevelopment, and green city initiatives.  Obtaining extrinsic funding can help boost public participation and political momentum, while minimizing financial risk.  These initiatives are established to incentivize political mobility, and to lighten transition burdens.

Policymakers in California and across the country understand that local economies, the environment, and resident health all benefit across individual and collective layers of the community by embracing smart, green innovation, especially in transportation.

As an Irvine City Councilmember, I am grateful for the opportunity to better enable and further this quest.  In January, I successfully committed Irvine’s city staff to the exploration and implementation of advanced transportation methods and infrastructure.

I believe that our city, our businesses, and our people can become more connected.  AV transportation modes can connect village communities and travelers by acting as a first/last mile solution to business, entertainment, and transportation hubs.

We look forward to a greener, smarter future, but understand we have work to do right now to make that future possible.