UCI Named No. 1 College in U.S. for Sustainability. The City of Irvine Should Follow UCI’s Example and Adopt the Community Choice Energy Program and Stand-Alone Climate Action Plan We’ve Been Promised!

Congratulations to the University of California, Irvine (UCI), on being named the No. 1 “Cool School” in the nation by the Sierra Club in its annual ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. colleges.

UCI is the only university to score in the top 10 for 10 consecutive years.

“As UCI is the only university to have ranked in the top 10 ‘Cool Schools’ for an unprecedented 10 years and counting, we’re continually impressed with its commitment to modeling, teaching and embodying excellent environmental stewardship in all areas,” said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra Magazine’s adventure and lifestyle editor. “The Anteaters are truly standouts in this increasingly important space.”

Colleges were ranked according to which ones offer the best sustainability-focused courses and carbon-neutral land and energy policies, as well as the most opportunities to engage with the environmental movement. UCI was recognized for EV charging stations and converting its central-cooling plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings —17 of which are certified LEED Platinum and seven of which are zero-waste facilities. UCI also was recognized for creating a new pilot project to provide free insulation retrofits and solar installations in nearby low-income communities.  In addition, UCI researchers were recognized for their work in  adapting medical and public health curricula to better prepare students to treat tropical diseases as they expand in range due to climate change.

You can listen to a podcast on UCI’s “Cool School” Award, including UCI’s efforts regarding sustainability and achieving reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions here.

The City of Irvine has a lot to learn from UCI’s accomplishments.

Under Irvine Mayors Larry Agran, Beth Krom and Sukhee Kang, Irvine was indeed a world leader in environmental programs and innovation. One of the highlights of Irvine’s environmental engagement was presence of the U.S. Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The Solar Decathlon is an international competition held every two years 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. The Solar Decathlon was held at the Great Park in 2013 and 2015.

Another highlight of Irvine’s environmental leadership was the creation of the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee in 2012.  The Green Ribbon Committee was charged with the crucial task of developing and recommending environmental policy initiatives and programs, including sustainability policies related to energy, recycling and waste management, mobility, open space and water issues.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi became mayor of Irvine in November 2014, both the Great Park Solar Decathlon and the Green Ribbon Committee became victims of Choi’s climate change denial and hostility to environmental action.

As I’ve detailed in How Orange County Lost the U.S. Solar Decathlon, Steven Choi was hostile to the very premises of the Solar Decathlon — the need for replacing burning fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy.  In sharp contrast to the previous three Irvine mayors who championed environmental and climate concerns, Choi “completely question[ed] the idea of global warming being caused by human intervention.”  Rather than recognizing the importance of environmental action,  both as an opportunity for technological innovation and as an existential imperative, Choi saw all environmental concerns as anti-business and climate change as wholly unconnected to human activity. You can read the full story of the Solar Decathlon here.

Similarly, Choi sabotaged the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee. In fact, when I was elected to the Irvine City Council in November 2016, the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee had been inoperative for several years because Mayor Steven Choi and his allies on the Irvine City Council did not appoint sufficient members to constitute a quorum. In fact, the Committee did not meet during all of 2014 and 2016, cancelling every scheduled meeting. The words “climate change” and “global warming” were not permitted to be used in official City of Irvine publications or staff reports. Choi didn’t even allow the City of Irvine to participate in the Annual National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by the Irvine-based Wyland Foundation.

As a longtime environmental activist, I wasn’t going to allow the City of Irvine to continue to ignore environmental issues and global warming. I convinced newly elected Mayor Donald P. Wagner, who replaced Steven Choi, to re-invigorate the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and appoint me to the Committee as the City Council’s representative.  I then appointed Krishna Hammond, a young progressive scientist, as my representative to the Committee and encouraged the other Councilmembers to make appointments.  At our first meeting, I was elected Chair of the Committee and Krishna was elected Vice Chair.  The Green Ribbon Environmental Committee was out of Choi-imposed exile and was off and running.

I am extremely proud of the work we’ve done and the things we’ve accomplished since then.

Perhaps most important, we commissioned a study of Community Choice Energy (CCE) and then recommended that the City Council follow its recommendation to implement a CCE plan with an expected savings of $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, as well as driving additional local economic development benefits, such as new jobs and $10 million in annual economic output. 

Now I am concerned that the work we’ve done on CCE is about to be undermined by the current City Council leadership.  I have learned that CCE advocates have been getting “push back” from the City and the City Manager.

The Green Ribbon Committee also recommended swift adoption of a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, so that, in the words of climate activist Robin Raeder Ganahl, “Irvine residents know what the City’s plan is to reduce emissions, meet state targets, and protect our quality of life.” Again, I am now concerned that the current City Council leadership has no intention of adopting a stand-alone Climate Action Plan, and is simply sitting on the Green Ribbon Committee’s recommendation with no intention to move forward.

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

We’ve made progress since the days when Steven Choi drove the U.S. Solar Decathlon out of town, shut down the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, refused to participate in the Wyland Foundation’s Water Challenge, and banned the words “climate change” and “global warning.”

But there is still much to be done. In particular, the current Irvine City Council leadership needs to show that its professed concern for action on climate change and protecting the environment isn’t just lip service and a public relations smokescreen.

Instead, the City Council needs to adopt a stand-alone Climate Action Plan that we’ve been promised and implement the Community Choice Energy program that we’ve shown to be a tremendous benefit to both the City and the planet. 

 

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.

 

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.

Listen to Melissa Fox’s Interview on KUCI’s ‘Ask a Leader’

radio-tower-full

Here is the interview I did on October 14 with Claudia Shambaugh on the program Ask a Leader on KUCI-FM about my campaign for Irvine City Council and the future of the City of Irvine.

We discussed development and over-development, traffic congestion, infrastructure, protecting Irvine’s villages and local businesses, the Irvine Barclay Theatre, improving our bikeways and the iShuttle,  environmental issues, losing one of farmers’ markets, my Irvine Food Tours, the OCTA’s irresponsible toll road decision, and more.

I hope you’ll listen and let me know what you think!

 

Saving the Irvine Barclay Theatre is Up to You

One of the first things that Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway did when they captured the majority on the Irvine City Council was attempt to slash the City’s funding for the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Choi and Lalloway asserted that the City’s contribution to the Irvine Barclay Theatre is “wasteful spending” and proposed to cut it by more than half, from $925,000 to $425,000.

Doug Rankin, president of the Irvine Barclay, warned that if the City’s contribution to the Barclay was cut as Choi and Lalloway wanted, the impact on the Barclay would be  “Somewhere between completely adverse and catastrophic.

Diavolo Dance Theatre, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, melissajoifox, votemelissafox.com, melissafoxblog, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox

World Famous Diavolo Dance Theatre performing at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

Founded in 1990, the Irvine Barclay Theatre is a unique collaboration among the City of Irvine, the University of California, Irvine, and the private sector.  The Barclay has earned “a reputation for wide-ranging programming in the fields of contemporary dance, music, and theater arts . . .  The Barclay’s 750-seat Cheng Hall is now virtually in constant use.  The Irvine Barclay Theatre has gained a national reputation for its great acoustics, intimate feel, and the high quality of its production facilities. Among artists, it is a venue of choice when performing in southern California.”

Choi’s and Lalloway’s attempt to impose “catastrophic” cuts in the Barclay’s funding failed when dozens of citizens – from across the political spectrum – including former Irvine Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan, UCI Claire Trevor School of the Arts Dean Joseph Lewis, Bluestone Communities President Michael Kerr, Arts Orange County Executive Director Richard Stein, and Philharmonic Society of Orange County President Dean Corey – showed up at the City Council chambers to protest.

Republican Councilmember Christina Shea then voted with Democratic Councilmembers Beth Krom and Larry Agran to restore the Barclay’s funding – to much audience applause.

Angry over losing the vote and undeterred by the overwhelming popular sentiment in favor of restoring the Barclay’s funding, Lalloway responded by publicly insulting Councilmember Christina Shea, saying she had deceived the voters when she claimed to be ‘fiscally responsible.

China National Opera and Dance Company, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Melissa Fox, Melissa Fox for Irvine, Melissa Fox for Irvine City Council, melissajoifox, votemelissafox.com, melissafoxblog, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fo

China National Opera and Dance Company performing this month at the Irvine Barclay Theatre

Now, the Barclay is again in danger.

If Choi and Lalloway are re-elected this November, they will again try to inflict catastrophic cuts in the City’s funding for the Barclay Theatre.

The result would be, in Doug Rankin’s words, “catastrophic” for the Barclay, as well as many other City of Irvine programs.

In contrast, if I am elected to the Irvine City Council, I will ensure that the City continues to support the Irvine Barclay Theatre – where I have seen numerous wonderful performances from both UC Irvine students and touring professionals from around the globe, most recently last week’s performance of the China National Opera and Dance Drama Company – so that it continues to be Irvine’s most treasured cultural center for at least another 25 years.

The fate of the Irvine Barclay Theatre depends on who the voters elect this coming November.

Whether the Barclay survives for another 25 wonderful years – and more – is up to you.

UCI Sets “Green” Example for City of Irvine

UCI aerial.01

Congratulations to the Univerisity of California, Irvine, on its selection as the 2014 “Greenest School in the Nation,” according to the Sierra Club’s magazine. The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest and oldest environmental organization.

The decision was based on a survey of America’s four-year degree-granting undergraduate colleges conducted by four organizations: the Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI), and the Princeton Review.

President Obama speaking at UC Irvine 2014

UCI came in first out of the 173 colleges that completed the survey by scoring 813.51 out of a possible total of 1000 points.

According to the Sierra Club Magazine, “In 2008, UC Irvine vowed to improve its energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020, then hit that target seven years early, making it the first U.S. school to achieve that goal. Then administrators doubled down by pledging an additional 20 percent energy reduction by 2020. Helping the matter: three on-site solar power projects and a 19-megawatt cogeneration plant with turbines powered by combustion and steam. The school’s water-recycling program saves more than 210 million gallons per year.”

This recent recognition by the Sierra Club comes just a few weeks after President Obama, at his UCI Commencement Address, lauded UC Irvine for “set[ing] up the first Earth System Science Department in America. A UC Irvine professor-student team won the Nobel Prize for discovering that CFCs destroy the ozone layer.  A UC Irvine glaciologist’s work led to one of last month’s report showing one of the world’s major ice sheets in irreversible retreat. Students and professors are in the field working to predict changing weather patterns, fire seasons, and water tables – working to understand how shifting seasons affect global ecosystems; to get zero-emission vehicles on the road faster; to help coastal communities adapt to rising seas. And when I challenge colleges to reduce their energy use to 20 percent by 2020, UC Irvine went ahead and did it last year.  Done.  So UC Irvine is ahead of the curve. All of you are ahead of the curve.”

To me, one of UCI’s most impressive “green” achievements is ZotWheels, an  innovative bike sharing system.  As UCI explains, ZotWheels is “the first automated self-service bike share program in California . . .  Almost a pound of tailpipe emissions will be saved for every mile a member rides a bike instead of driving.  Bike sharing allows faculty, students, and staff an alternative to driving when making short-distance trips during the work and school day, as well as addressing important issues such as health and environmental sustainability, the future of transportation, and promoting community building on campus. Bike sharing already exists in many European cities, such as Paris and Barcelona. Take our bikes for a short ride around the inner ring, to the park, to a meeting, or to class.  ZotWheels are meant to be shared; so rent one, ride it, return it and repeat any time you want to bring a little fun to your day!”

Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox at 2013 Solar Decathlon

Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox at Solar Decathlon

The City of Irvine has a lot to learn from UC Irvine’s accomplishments.

The City of Irvine ought to be a leader in creating sustainable communities that incorporate smart growth principles, public transit and active transportation access to work, parks, shopping and recreation. Our heritage as a master planned community and our long-standing commitment to well-planned smart growth ought to make Irvine a natural leader in promoting green building practices and smart growth principles.

Unfortunately, in recent years we have set our environmental goals too low.  Nor is the current council majority committed to smart, green growth, instead approving frantic growth and development at any cost.

The result of the current council’s rubber-stamping of developers’ proposals has been runaway development of housing tracts and apartments causing terrible traffic and overcrowded schools – posing a clear and present danger to our quality of life.

Irvine is positioned to become a leader in renewable energy use.  Last year, the Solar Decathlon was held for first time outside of Washington, D.C. – at the Great Park, in Irvine. Despite a lukewarm, anti-environmentally conscious majority on the city council, the event was successful.  The 2015 Solar Decathlon will be held once again here in Irvine. And a team from Orange County, led by UC Irvine, will be in the competition.  This time, with an enthusiastic and committed city council and thoughtful promotion and planning, the event could have much more wide-ranging and economically beneficial impact for the city.  But before that can happen – and before Irvine can claim the title of the nation’s energy innovation capitol – we must elect a city council committed to making solar and renewable energy a far more significant energy source for Irvine’s city buildings, homes and businesses.

So congratulations UC Irvine!  You’ve shown us the direction that the City of Irvine should be taking.