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 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 — 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.

 

Congratulations to Irvine on Earning Top Parks Rating in California and 6th in the Nation!

The City of Irvine park system has been ranked 6th in the nation by the Trust for Public Land annual ParkScore Index, effectively making Irvine the top-ranked city in California.

Significantly, with new parks, open space, and amenities added over the past year, the City rose from last year’s ranking of 10th in the nation, climbing up four places.

The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rankings assess the nation’s 100 largest cities on factors such as park access, acreage, investment, and amenities. Irvine earned a perfect sore in park spending per resident, and is second in the national for basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

Among the factors considered in the evaluation is the fact that 80 percent of Irvine’s residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park (compared to a national average of 54 percent) and that 27 percent of Irvine’s city land is used for parks and recreation (compared to a national average of 15 percent).

Of special note, the ParkScore Index did not find any significant difference regarding closeness to parks in Irvine based on the race, nationality, age, or income level of Irvine residents.

The ParkScore Index includes parks, facilities, and amenities managed by the City, either through ownership or joint-use agreements.

The full ParkScore Index is available at tpl.org/parkscore, including score details and demographic information for each city.

Learn more about Irvine parks at cityofirvine.org/parks.

The Trust for Public Land works to protect the places people care about and to create close-to-home parks — particularly in and near cities, where 80 percent of Americans live. It’s goal is to “ensure that every child has easy access to a safe place to play in nature. We also conserve working farms, ranches, and forests; lands of historical and cultural importance; rivers, streams, coasts, and watersheds; and other special places where people can experience nature close at hand.”

Congratulations to my City Council colleagues, our City Manager and City staff, and our Community Services Commissioners, especially our Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris!

 

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!

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Mark Your Calendars for the Irish Festival in June at the Great Park!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Last year, I was named an Irish Honoree by the City of Los Angeles.  The award came as a result of my help in bringing the annual Irish Fair and Music Festival to the Great Park in Irvine.

I am tremendously honored to have been named an Irish Honoree.  Irish Americans have contributed enormously to our nation, and I am proud to help share and celebrate Irish culture.

This year, the Irish Fair and Music Festival will return to the Great Park in Irvine!

Festival dates are Father’s Day weekend, Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16, 2019. 

The Irish Fair and Music Festival is dedicated to preserving and promoting Irish and Irish-American culture in the Southern California area by presenting Irish music, dance, theater, language, sports and all other aspects of the Irish heritage.

Now in its 45th year, the Irish Fair has become a landmark for Irish and Irish American culture and family entertainment. Over 30,000 people attend the event annually. It has been described as the happiest and most fun filled event in all of Southern California!

Among the many artists appearing at the Festival at the Great Park this year are The Fenians,  The Humble HooligansCraic in the Stone,  Sligo Rags,  Young DublinersMarys Lane, and The Ploughboys.

The Irish Fair also features Irish Step Dancing, historical reenactments, Irish and Scottish import shops and arts & craft vendors.

You can find more information, and tickets, online at the Irish Fair and Music Festival.

See you there!

In the meantime, you can get your Irish on and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by enjoying this phenomenal musical performance of “Rocky Road to Dublin” from last year’s Irish Festival at the Great Park:

 

Irvine Happiest City in California! Second Happiest City in the Nation!

Congratulations to us!

Irvine has recently been named the 2019 Happiest City in California and the second Happiest City in the USA by the personal finance website WalletHub!

According to their report, WalletHub “drew upon the various findings of positive-psychology research in order to determine which among more than 180 of the largest U.S. cities is home to the happiest people in America. We examined each city based on 31 key indicators of happiness, ranging from depression rate to income-growth rate to average leisure time spent per day.”

The factors examined included depression rates, sleep rates, income growth, sports participation, and separation and divorce rates.

Married couples in Irvine will be happy to know that Irvine has the second lowest separation and divorce rate in the nation!

Read the WalletHub report online here.

Does Irvine have problems?

Of course, we do!

But just for today, let’s remind ourselves that, for the most part, we really love living here!