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.

Join Me at the City Council Meeting on August 28 to Hear City of Irvine Staff Present Results of the Second Public Outreach Survey on the General Plan Update

Please join me to hear City of Irvine staff present results of the Second Public Outreach Survey on the General Plan Update.

The City of Irvine staff presents the results of the second public outreach survey to the City Council and the public at the Irvine City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018.

Please note, this meeting was rescheduled from a previous date.

The City Council meeting begins at 5 p.m. in the Conference and Training Center at Irvine City Hall located at 1 Civic Center Plaza (at Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway).

What is the General Plan Update?

The City of Irvine is updating its General Plan, a state-required document representing the long-range vision of the City.

The purpose of the update is to build upon longstanding objectives that define Irvine and for the City Council to consider changes as needed. The update will serve as the City’s policy blueprint for the future. It will update community goals and public policy direction to ensure Irvine’s high quality of life is preserved and enhanced as the City builds out and matures.

The City conducted extensive public outreach to establish the preliminary General Plan Planning Framework and to identify major goals and topics for consideration in the update. City staff presented the results of the second  outreach survey and Planning Framework developed for the General Plan Comprehensive Update project to City Commissions throughout Spring 2018.

No changes to existing land uses or allowable development intensities are proposed.

This update will also incorporate changes required by state law.

Visit irvine2035.org for more information regarding the General Plan Update project.

You can find more information about Irvine City Council meetings HERE.

 

Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox Seek Relocation of the Veterans Cemetery to Area Currently Planned for a Golf Course in the Great Park

The following is a press release that was sent out on July 13, 2018.

July 13, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Daniel Robertson 949-874-3442

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBERS CHRISTINA SHEA AND MELISSA FOX SEEK POTENTIAL RELOCATION OF VETERANS CEMETERY TO AREA CURRENTLY PLANNED FOR A GOLF COURSE IN THE GREAT PARK.

IRVINE, CA – Based on the voters rejection of Measure B, Irvine City Councilmembers Christina Shea and Melissa Fox have sent a memo to Acting City Manager Grace Leung directing the City’s planning staff to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park.

The memo is as follows:

As we continue to seek a site for the Veterans Cemetery, it has occurred to us and others, as mentioned July 10th at our council meeting, that the area within the Great Park planned for a golf course offers several benefits as a potential location. The golf course site has ample space, at about 195 acres; it is within the Great Park and in the heart of the former MCAS El Toro, honoring those who served there; it is not located adjacent to neighborhoods or schools, and it could provide multiple points of access for future visitation and processions. If up to 125 acres were to be dedicated to the Veterans Cemetery, 70 plus acres would still be available for a smaller golf-related use, other recreational uses and a potential for the expansion of the Organic Circle Farm, helping with annual revenues for the Great Park.

The golf course site wouldn’t require the 40 million dollars demolition and remediation costs that the ARDA site requires. The golf course site has also gone thru the CEQA process. Additionally, by creating a veteran’s cemetery in the heart of the Great Park, not outside the Great Park where the ARDA site is located, our Veterans would realize a true resting place inside the Great Park, where so many citizens have requested the cemetery to be developed. In lieu of a full length golf course, there may be financial savings that can be used for cemetery construction.

For the reasons outlined above, we believe this is worthy of our planning staff to add this second site to their present review and due diligence study for the City’s review process of the ARDA site. This will allow staff to review this concept along with any other alternatives we may deem of value for our Veterans Cemetery.”

Councilmember Christina Shea stated that “We are listening to our voters and we want to find what works best to create a veterans cemetery and to bring peace and civility back to our city.  We are determined to find a positive solution to provide a veterans cemetery in our city and ensure that our residents’ voices are heard.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox stated that “The voters have spoken. We are listening. We need to find a location for the veterans cemetery that responds to the voters’ concerns. I have been a strong and consistent supporter of 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. The Great Park is an altogether fitting and proper location for this veterans cemetery, where it would also be a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

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Note:

Anyone who wishes to express support for this proposal — to consider the potential relocation of the Orange County Veterans Cemetery to the area currently planned for a golf course in the Great Park — can contact the Irvine City Council here.

Press Release: Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox Refers Email Threat to Orange County District Attorney

July 9, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jason Mills (714) 576-4303

IRVINE CITY COUNCILMEMBER MELISSA FOX REFERS EMAIL THREAT TO ORANGE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

IRVINE, CA – Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox referred an email communication from Harvey Liss to the Orange County District Attorney’s office today.

In his email to Councilmember Fox, Liss directed her to vote for a motion regarding the veterans’ cemetery to be presented by Councilmember Jeff Lalloway at the July 10, 2018, City Council meeting or face an end to her participation on the Irvine City Council.

Liss’s email to Councilmember Fox may constitute a violation of several California criminal code sections designed to protect public officials from being extorted for their votes.

Liss is a close ally of Larry Agran and Ed Pope of the “Save the Veterans Cemetery” campaign committee, and an editor of the Irvine Community News & Views, which was one of the major donors to the campaign urging a “No” vote on Measure B, lending over $300,000 to the campaign, without transparency as to where its money came from.

Liss’s communication to Councilmember Fox via her private email account may also violate the City of Irvine’s Ethics and Lobbying Ordinance, since Liss is demanding that Councilmember Fox take a position on a municipal question on which Irvine Community News & Views has spent money far over the threshold reporting amount without reporting or registering as a city lobbyist and without reporting the lobbying activities that he and other agents of Irvine Community News & Views have undertaken.

In response to the email, Councilmember Fox said, “Liss’s threat is a misuse of the political system.  It is to the people of Irvine that I owe my best efforts, my best judgment, my faithfulness, and my sole allegiance.  I will not be bullied, threatened, or extorted into voting against what I believe to be the best interests of the City of Irvine.”

 

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The Veterans Cemetery: What Should Irvine Do Now?

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B. The issues now are what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide, and what should the Irvine City Council do in response to the voters’ decision.

Some argue that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters said that the proposed veterans cemetery should be located at the ARDA site that was originally selected by the City Council in July 2014, and that the City Council should begin immediately to build a veterans cemetery at that location.

But the actual language of Measure B said nothing about the original ARDA site, except that the development previously zoned for the strawberry fields site would be moved there.

Looking at the specific language of Measure B, what the voters said No to was “allowing the previously planned development for the Bake Parkway Site to be relocated to the intersection of Pusan and Irvine Blvd and allowing the development of a veterans cemetery near the intersection of I-5 and Bake Parkway.”

Thus, by its express language, the no vote on Measure B rejects that zoning decision, but does not authorize the city to place a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site.

Sign used by Measure B opponents warning of thousands more cars on Irvine roads if Measure B passed.

In addition, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site in 2014 was based on the belief that the City would provide the land for the veterans cemetery, but the costs of construction and subsequent maintenance of the cemetery would be wholly paid by state and federal government.

Crucially, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site also came several years before we learned that construction of the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site would cost nearly $80 million, mostly due to the need for decontamination of the soil and the decontamination and removal of numerous existing structures, and that in addition to providing the land, the City would have to bear a significant portion of these construction costs.

In particular, Measure B said nothing at all about approving the spending of tens of millions of dollars that are now earmarked for creating the features of the Great Park that residents have said they want – such as museums, botanical gardens, a new Wild Rivers Water Park, and a permanent amphitheatre for live music – and, instead, using that money for a veterans cemetery.

My belief is that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters did not want a zoning change that, as the No on B campaign said, would have allowed “massive development projects” at the ARDA site, add “812,000 square feet of development,” and “bring 10,000 more cars and trucks to Irvine streets and neighborhoods every day.”

For me, the lesson of Measure B is that the voters did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange would lead to more development and more traffic congestion, as well as the voters believing that it was too favorable a deal for the developer.

In other words, I see the rejection of Measure B as a vote against more development and traffic congestion, and not a vote in favor of spending $40 – $80 million dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park.

In a survey of Irvine voters I conducted from my blog and through email, the great majority said that they voted against Measure B because they did not want more development and traffic.

Even more significantly, 64% said that Irvine should not spend $40 to $80 million dollars for a veterans cemetery, compared to only 13.5% in favor.

Current view of the original (ARDA) site for a veterans cemetery.

In a new and promising twist to the veterans cemetery saga, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has now agreed to have its staff study and advise whether county-owned open space outside Irvine might be a feasible location for an Orange County veterans cemetery. The approximately 234-acre site is in the city of Anaheim, near the 91 and 241, adjacent to Gypsum Canyon.

This site would provide a larger veterans cemetery for Orange County veterans, at no cost to Irvine, and be free from the divisive politics that has characterized the veterans cemetery debate in Irvine.

In fact, many of the veterans who initiated the fight for a veterans cemetery now favor this site, because, as Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran Nick Berardino has said, it appears that “veterans are removed from the political equation, and are now heading in a practical, reasonable direction to give all the brave men and women a final resting place.”

If the Irvine City Council approves Jeff Lalloway’s motion to spend $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery, it will deplete the Great Park budget for at least a decade.

As the Irvine City News noted, “It sounds noble when [Jeff] Lalloway, [Larry] Agran and their followers hold up the service of our veterans. But when you understand that the veterans still can’t get what they were promised without taking away the gardens, the museums, the music, the culture and the future of the Great Park, it puts Lalloway’s political power move in perspective.”

I have been a strong and consistent supporter of a veterans cemetery in Irvine.  But I have also been a strong supporter of fulfilling the promises that the City made to residents when it created the Great Park, and I am not in favor of giving up on those promises.

I believe the Great Park should have great gardens and a great museum, as well as other features for the enjoyment of all residents, and I do not believe that the City can afford to spend $40 to $80 million on a cemetery and continue with these other projects.

What do you think?  

Do you favor spending $40 to $80 million dollars to clean up the original site for a cemetery or should that money go to create other features for the Great Park?

The City Council will decide on Tues, July whether to approve Lalloway’s motion or whether some other course is more sensible and also responsive to the will of the voters and the needs of the community.

As always, the public is invited to attend and speak on these issues at the City Council meeting.

I also urge interested residents to contact the Mayor and the City Council by email and tell us in writing what you think we ought to do.

Here is how to contact the Mayor and the City Council:

Irvine City Council
949-724-6233 or irvinecitycouncil@cityofirvine.org

Mayor Wagner: donaldwagner@cityofirvine.org
Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea: christinashea@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Jeff Lalloway: jeffreylalloway@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Lynn Schott: lynnschott@cityofirvine.org
Councilmember Melissa Fox: melissafox@cityofirvine.org

Thank you.

Why Did Measure B Lose? What Should Irvine Do Now? Take the Surveys!

[Take the surveys below at the end of this blog post.]

The voters in Irvine recently rejected Measure B.

The issue now is what, in rejecting Measure B, did the voters really decide.

Sign used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would mean thousands more cars on every road in Irvine.

Some argue that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters said that the proposed veterans cemetery should be located at the ARDA site that was originally selected by the City Council in July 2014.

But the actual language of Measure B said nothing about the original ARDA site, except that the development previously zoned for the strawberry fields site would be moved there.

Looking at the specific language of Measure B, what the voters said No to was “allowing the previously planned development for the Bake Parkway Site to be relocated to the intersection of Pusan and Irvine Blvd and allowing the development of a veterans cemetery near the intersection of I-5 and Bake Parkway.”

Thus, by its express language, the no vote on Measure B rejects that zoning decision, but does not authorize the city to place a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site.

Map used by opponents of Measure B, warning that passage of Measure B would lead to massive development and 10,000 more car and truck trips every day.

In addition, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site in 2014 was based on the belief that the City would provide the land for the veterans cemetery, but the costs of construction and subsequent maintenance of the cemetery would be wholly paid by state and federal government.

Crucially, the City Council’s approval of the ARDA site also came several years before we learned that construction of the veterans cemetery at the ARDA site would cost nearly $80 million, mostly due to the need for decontamination of the soil and the decontamination and removal of numerous existing structures, and that in addition to providing the land, the City would have to bear a significant portion of these construction costs.

In particular, Measure B said nothing at all about approving the spending of tens of millions of dollars that are now earmarked for creating the features of the Great Park that residents have said they want – such as museums, botanical gardens, a new Wild Rivers Water Park, and a permanent amphitheatre for live music – and, instead, using that money for a veterans cemetery.

My belief is that the rejection of Measure B means that the voters did not want a zoning change that, as the No on B campaign said, would have allowed “massive development projects” at the ARDA site, add “812,000 square feet of development,” and “bring 10,000 more cars and trucks to Irvine streets and neighborhoods every day.”

For me, the lesson of Measure B is that the voters did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange would lead to more development and more traffic congestion, as well as the voters believing that it was too favorable a deal for the developer.

In other words, I see the rejection of Measure B as a vote against more development and traffic congestion, and not a vote in favor of spending tens of millions of dollars on a veterans cemetery rather than building other popular features of the Great Park

I would like to know what you believe the rejection of Measure B means, especially if you were among the majority in Irvine who voted against it.

Please take the surveys below:

 

The City Council must now decide whether, and how, to proceed with a veterans cemetery.  What do you want the City Council to do:

 

Please share these surveys with your Irvine friends and neighbors. I would like as much resident input as possible.

Thanks!

Melissa

UPDATE:

The surveys are now closed.

While the surveys are not scientific, I believe their results are straight-forward and present an accurate view of why Measure B failed.

The survey results show that the main reason people voted No on Measure B was opposition to development and traffic, rather than a desire to return the veterans cemetery to its original site.

These results should not be unexpected since the No on Measure B campaign focused almost exclusively on the claim that Measure B would lead to more development and traffic (“B = Thousands MORE Cars on THIS Road!”).

Further underscoring the conclusion that Measure B failed because of perceptions about development and traffic rather than preference for the original site, the survey results show that few residents are in favor of spending the $40 – $80 million required to build the veterans cemetery on the original site.