How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon

In a recent article in the Voice of OC, Chapman University Professor Fred Smoller and former U.S. Department of Energy official Richard King make a convincing case for a California version of the U.S. Solar Decathlon. The problem is, there already was a California-based Solar Decathlon – located at the Great Park in Irvine – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

The U.S. Solar Decathlon, which has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy approximately every two years since 2002, is an award-winning international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The houses are assembled at a central location for display, evaluation, and awards. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

As Smoller and King point out, since the Solar Decathlon’s inception in 2002, more than a dozen California colleges and universities have participated, but no California colleges or universities are slated to participate in the next competition in 2020.

This lack of California participation is troubling, Smoller and King note, because the Solar Decathlon introduces new solar energy technologies to the market and accelerates their implementation; increases and educates the ‘clean tech’ workforce; educates consumers about clean energy; and demonstrates that energy-efficient and solar-powered housing is attainable, practical, and beautiful.

Smoller and King further point out that “as the U.S. surrenders its leadership position on fighting climate change, other nations have stepped in: Solar Decathlons are now being held in Europe, China, the Middle East and Africa. In addition to combating climate change, countries in these regions — especially China — are positioning themselves to take full advantage of the rapidly expanding green economy.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Smoller and King in endorsing a California Solar Decathlon.

California is the ideal location for a Solar Decathlon. California leads the nation, and the world, in developing new and cleaner energy technologies. We are leaders in requiring more effective clean energy standards and in fighting climate change. “To maintain California’s leadership position in the field of clean energy, we must harness the creative energy of our youth, the academic community, industry and labor. By working together, this competition could set a new milestone in clean energy and help make California the sustainability capital of the world.”

Significantly, in both 2013 and 2015, the Solar Decathlon was held right here at the Great Park – until lack of support and mismanagement by the administration of then-mayor Steven Choi forced the U.S. Department of Energy to find another location elsewhere.

It was an incredible achievement in January 2012 when the Great Park team was awarded a $1 million grant to bring the 2013 Solar Decathlon and the XPO in Irvine – the very first time such an award had been made and first time the Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.

As then-Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom stated at the time, the Solar Decathlon was expected to “bring worldwide attention and economic development to the Great Park and the region and raise public awareness about the benefits of clean energy and energy conservation.”

As I wrote at the time, I was “excited about the potential economic and technological impact that the Solar Decathlon will have for Irvine and Orange County in the future.”

But once the Solar Decathlon contract was awarded, the Irvine City Council, now led by Mayor Steven Choi, completely bungled the opportunity.

First, Mayor Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council and the Great Park Board (which were then, as now, one and the same) dismissed the public relations firm that had been instrumental in getting the Energy Department to award the Solar Decathlon contract to the Great Park, without hiring any replacement firm – or even adopt a plan – to handle the publicity for the event. The result was far less attendance than been had anticipated when it was assumed that the Solar Decathlon would be properly publicized.

Melissa Fox attending the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park as an Irvine Community Services Commissioner.

Next, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council failed to provide proper signage and directions for the event, so that many people who planned to attend could not locate the venue within the uncompleted Great Park.

The City also failed to partner with science, engineering or community based groups to promote and engage with the Solar Decathlon.

In fact, Mayor Choi and his allies on the City Council were hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon. It had been the idea of former Mayor Larry Agran to bring the Solar Decathlon to the Great Park, and the contract was awarded during Agran’s tenure as mayor. Choi never embraced the event as truly belonging to Irvine or the Great Park, instead viewing it with suspicion as belonging to Agran and to Obama’s environmentally pro-active and climate change conscious Department of Energy.

Crucially, Choi did not share the Solar Decathlon’s basic rationale: concerns about the impact of human-caused climate change and the need for new, clean, energy technologies. Rather, Choi told his fellow Republicans that while “it is good to keep the environment clean but [he] completely questions the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention. He opposes cap and trade and other government imposed environmental regulations, calling them an extreme effort to tax businesses and economic growth.”

In line with this anti-scientific thinking regarding the relationship between climate change and human use of fossil fuels, Choi not only cared nothing about ensuring the success of the Solar Decathlon, but ended Irvine’s participation in the Wyland Foundation’s National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation and failed to appoint a quorum for the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, causing that important committee – which I revived, along with Mayor Don Wagner, and which I now chair – to cease meeting for the years that Choi was mayor.

As I said in 2016 when the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the Solar Decathlon would be held in Denver, not the Orange County Great Park, “It is extremely disappointing that the Solar Decathlon will no longer he held in Irvine because the Irvine City Council refused to support the continuation of the Solar Decathlon in the Great Park. The Solar Decathlon served as an international showcase for our city — our businesses and educational institutions — as among the world’s leaders in scientific and environmental innovation, but our shortsighted City Council has allowed this tremendous opportunity to go elsewhere.”

In sum, I agree with Fred Smoller and Richard King that a Solar Decathlon in California– a “leading-edge design competition which promotes innovation, education, and market expansion” of clean energy technologies – would be great for our students, teachers, schools and businesses.  That’s why it’s such a pity that the Solar Decathlon was once here in the Great Park, until the event was mismanaged, and the opportunity was squandered, by the Irvine City Council led by Steven Choi.

 

Irvine Police Department and O.C. Dept. of Education Host Meeting on Teen Vaping at Irvine High School

The Irvine Police Department is participating in a parents meeting on April 9 at 6:00 PM at the Irvine High School Theater on vaping and other issues regarding substance abuse in conjunction with the Orange County Department of Education.

According to the O.C. Department of Education, “There is a growing concern about youth vaping, especially on school campuses. Newer, pod-based e-cigarettes are easy to conceal and contain high levels of nicotine, which can disrupt adolescent brain development.”

There will be a presentation by Mr. Stephan Lambert, the Orange County Department of Education’s Prevention Coordinator, on vaping and other issues regarding substance abuse. Jim Wright, the IHS School Resource Officer, will also be present to provide his perspective.

All are welcome.

In March 2014, the Irvine City Council, in one of its worst decisions, rejected a resolution to prohibit electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or vaping) in city parks and recreational facilities.

Then-Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway celebrated the Council’s decision in favor of e-cigarettes with a misguided appeal to the rhetoric of personal liberty, saying he had confidence in “individuals and their ability to make their own [health] choices.”

At the time, I strongly criticized the City Council’s decision.

First, I pointed out the scientific evidence of the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes, especially on developing brains.

Second, I made it clear that, for me, “what’s at issue is our freedom to enjoy Irvine’s parks and recreational facilities without breathing air polluted with second-hand e-cigarette chemicals. I have no problem with adults smoking e-cigarettes in their own homes or on their own property or on the property of people who say it’s okay with them. But I don’t want members of my family or yours — especially children — to be forced to inhale second-hand e-cigarette chemicals when they come to enjoy Irvine’s beautiful public parks and recreational facilities. That’s where we should draw the line.”

I am glad to see that we’ve made progress since that time.

You can find more information about the meeting and how to rsvp here.

Watch My Town Hall Meeting!

I held a public Town Hall Meeting at the Irvine Championship Stadium in the Great Park on Saturday, October 21, where we discussed traffic, childcare, the Southern California Veterans Cemetery, affordable housing, and other issues of interest to Irvine residents.

I was joined by several of my city commissioners, as well as by members of the Irvine Police Department, who were also there to answer questions.

Several dozen Irvine residents spoke and asked questions, and I thank everyone who attended.

Here are some photos from the event:

I really enjoyed the open, public dialogue with Irvine residents, and I intend to make these Town Hall Meetings a regular part of my work as an Irvine City Councilmember.

You can watch the complete October 21 Town Hall Meeting on my YouTube channel (Melissa Fox, Irvine City Council) here:

 

 

 

 

 

OC Register Slams Agran, Lalloway, and “Despicable,” “Misleading” Veterans Cemetery Petition

The Orange County Register published a powerful editorial this week entitled “Stop the Politics and Build the Veterans Cemetery Now.”

It condemns the deceptive “Save the Veterans Cemetery” petition.  It points out that the cemetery does not need saving (since it is already moving forward) and it condemns the aggressive and sometimes violent tactics of its paid out-of-town signature gatherers.

It urges Irvine voters not to be “fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.”

Here is the editorial in full:

“Politicians will exploit anything to gain political power. That’s exactly what is happening over the veterans cemetery in Irvine. It’s despicable to use veterans as pawns and our entire community should be outraged and informed.

A misleading petition drive has been launched in the city to “Save the Veterans Cemetery.” But the cemetery doesn’t need saving; it’s just a veiled effort to derail the current cemetery plans. There is already a great space approved, the veteran community supports it and the city had a dedication for the land last Friday.

But this is all about politics and trying to win next year’s city election. Sadly, this is par for the course in Irvine where creating a political wedge issue and riding it to the election seems torn right out of the pages of former Irvine Mayor and Councilman Larry Agran’s playbook. It should come as no surprise that the pro-Agran Irvine Community News and Views publication supports the referendum. Agran even wrote a column in its pages supporting it.

Don’t be fooled by the propaganda or petition gathers. They are simply attempting to mislead and deceive the community in an effort undo the approved veterans cemetery and move it.

To make matters worse, one of the petition gathers seeking to block the approved veterans cemetery allegedly assaulted Councilwoman Melissa Fox over the weekend. Fox has been an incredible advocate for veterans and the cemetery in Irvine. While demonstrating against the misleading signature gathers, one of them, a paid political consultant from Colorado, allegedly took her sign and hit her with it, according to the Register.

It’s disgusting to see how some of the political forces in the community behave. Even more despicable perhaps was the response from Councilman Jeff Lalloway who insinuated that Fox shouldn’t have tried to inform people signing petitions against the cemetery.

Lalloway has been a disappointment on the council, opposing the current plan for the veterans cemetery and bringing utter nastiness to city politics. Don’t be fooled by the bogus antics of some in Irvine trying to undo the veterans cemetery location. The creation of a veterans cemetery shouldn’t be a political football. It should be a proud moment for the city and the county.”

For more information about the Veterans Cemetery, see my blog posts:

Help Us Defeat the Paid Mercenaries who have Invaded Irvine and their Fraudulent “Save the Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

Don’t Be Deceived By The “Save The Veterans Cemetery” Petition!

Irvine Takes Historic Step Forward for a Veterans Cemetery at the Former El Toro Marine Base

Tell the Irvine City Council to Keep Your Promises to Our Veterans

The Strawberry Fields Site is the Best Location for the Veterans Cemetery. Now Let’s Get it Done!

If you signed the petition because you mistakenly believed that it would support the veterans cemetery, please contact me at melissa@melissafoxlaw.com and I will see that you get a form to revoke your signature.

Thanks!

 

 

 

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

teen-electronic-cigarette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where we should draw the line.

Planning Commission Decision Dooms Irvine University Center Farmers’ Market

We were excited to report last June that Irvine, which has long has two certified farmers’ markets, was getting two more.

Now it appears that soon there may be one less.

The farmers’ market at University Town Center, which has been serving the University area and all of Irvine for nearly 20 years, is scrambling to find a new location.

The reason?

In January 2014, the Irvine Planning Commission, by a close vote of 3-2, approved the development of another drive-through fast-food restaurant at the University Town Center, including the removal of 58 parking spaces.

Voting in favor of the fast-food drive-through restaurant development and the removal of the parking spaces was Jeffrey Lalloway appointee Lynn Schott, now seeking her own seat on the City Council.

The loss of these parking spaces is what is now causing the University Town Center farmers’ market to struggle to find another location.

I certainly hope that the farmers’ market at University Town Center finds a new location in time for a 20th anniversary celebration and continues to serve Irvine for another 20 years.

Fast-food and too fast growth.

Bad planning has bad consequences.

Important Message from Seven-Year-Old Amin, My Favorite Campaign Volunteer!

Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, Melissa Fox Irvine, melissafoxblog, melissafoxblog.com, votemelissafox, votemelissafox.com, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox

Here is a message to all Irvine voters from seven-year-old Amin, my favorite campaign volunteer.

As Amin says: “I am seven-years-old. I can not vote, but YOU CAN! Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote Vote!”

Listen to Amin: 

Click here to visit Melissa’s campaign website.