Tell the Irvine City Council to Implement Community Choice Energy (CCE) Now!

At our Irvine City Council meeting on July 14, 2020, we will be discussing Irvine’s next steps regarding implementation of a Community Choice Energy Plan.

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

Nearly two years ago, on September 25, 2018, before a standing-room crowd, as Chair of Irvine’s Green Ribbon Committee, I joined with my colleagues on the Irvine City Council to vote to commission a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a Community Choice Energy program in Irvine, including potential economic benefits for the community.

At the direction of the Irvine City Council, EES Consulting completed a comprehensive analysis of the feasibility (including costs and benefits) of a Community Choice Energy program in Irvine.  For this work, the taxpayers of the City of Irvine paid EES Consulting over $180,000.  We received the EES Consulting Feasibility Study in June 2019.

Among the study’s crucial conclusions was the projection that a CCE in Irvine would result in 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.

Despite the extremely positive results of the feasibility study (or perhaps precisely because of these very positive results), the Republicans on the Irvine City Council insisted that we undertake a second study to evaluate the results of the first study.

I believed at the time that this second study was unnecessary and feared that it was really a scheme to delay and ultimately derail implementation of CCE in Irvine.

These fears have been born out.

In this second study (a so-called “third-party peer review”), MRW & Associates reviewed the EES Consulting Feasibility Study and found that, while there were some quibbles about the EES Consulting Feasibility Study’s assumptions and analysis, (1) the analytical approach of the EES Consulting Feasibility Study was sound; (2) the rate savings projected by the EES Consulting Feasibility Study is consistent with what current CCE programs are offering, and (3) a CCE program in Irvine could be financially viable.

In addition, MRW & Associates found that (4) the EES Consulting Feasibility Study adequately addressed the four CCE governance options available to the City, and (5) agreed with EES Consulting Feasibility Study that the two most reasonable options are forming an Irvine-only CCE or developing a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with other Orange County cities.

Nevertheless, according to the staff report, “Given the uncertainty of some variable inputs, MRW recommends that if the City pursues formation of a CCE, a more extensive and detailed pro forma analysis be required prior to implementation.”

In other words, despite overall agreement with the analytical approach and the positive conclusions of the EES Consulting Feasibility Study, the MSW report recommends that Irvine undertake (and pay for and wait for) yet another study, and of course, more paralysis by analysis.

Instead, the City Council should immediately implement the Community Choice Energy program that studies we have twice paid for show to be a tremendous benefit to both the City and the planet.

We also need to adopt and implement the stand-alone Climate Action Plan that the Irvine City Council unanimously voted to develop, with lots of public fanfare and self-congratulations, in July 2019.   Like the Community Choice Energy plan, I am concerned that the Republican majority on the Irvine City Council has no intention of adopting a stand-alone Climate Action Plan and is delaying implementation with no intention to move forward.

For all of these reasons, I call on all Irvine residents to sign the petition to “Tell Irvine’s City Council to Implement Community Choice Energy (CCE) Now.”

I also ask you to submit an e-comment to the Irvine City Council in support of implementing a CCE now, without further and unnecessary delay.

The Climate Action Campaign has created an engaging 10 minute video explaining the issue.

Watch it here:

 

 

Exposing Inequalities During COVID-19: Join Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton!

Join us on Thurs., May 28 at 6:00 pm PDT for a ZOOM Town Hall Meeting with Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and special guest Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton on “Exposing Inequalities During COVID-19.” 

Black and brown communities in the United States are being hit much harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than white communities. 

Join Melissa and Dr. Hilton as they discuss why people of color have a much higher risk of being infected and dying from COVID-19, what the pandemic reveals about the underlying racial and economic disparities in our society, and what we can — and must — do about it.

Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton is Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Virginia Medical School, medical director of Goodstock Consulting, and a nationally recognized expert on how institutional racism has led to more severe impacts for communities of color from diseases such as COVID-19. 

Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton received her M.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in 2008. She remained at MUSC for completion of her Residency in Anesthesia, followed by a Fellowship in Critical Care Medicine. In 2013 Dr. Hilton made history as she was hired as the 1st African American Female anesthesiologist since the hospital’s opening in 1824.

Throughout her tenure at MUSC Dr. Hilton’s passions have centered on exploring the issue of health disparities, particularly as it pertains to race, and bridging the gap between physicians and the communities they serve. Her works have led to her integration in the medical school curriculum, serving as a clinical instructor for fourth year medical students in Intern 101 and has taken her across the globe as a participant in numerous medical mission trips via Project Madaktari at Bugando Medical Center in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Now as a practicing physician at the University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Dr. Hilton has continued advocating for underserved and marginalized populations.

Her efforts have been recognized by the National Medical Association as well as the National Minority Quality Forum as one of the top 40 under 40 Leaders in Health Care award recipients.

She is also the author of the children’s book “We’re Going to be O.K.,” a book about staying safe, healthy, and optimistic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What: “Exposing Inequalities During COVID-19” : A Virtual Town Hall with Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton

When: Thurs., May 28, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. PDT

Where: ZOOM Meeting ID 951-321-0807

See the Facebook page for this event HERE.

Melissa Fox is an Irvine City Councilmember and a candidate to represent AD 68 in the California State Assembly.

Visit Melissa’s assembly campaign website at http://votemelissafox.com.

Please “like” Melissa Fox for California Assembly!

For more information, please contact Allison at alli@votemelissafox.com

UPDATE: Watch the video of “Exposing Inequalities During COVID-19” : A Virtual Town Hall with Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton HERE

Congratulations to Irvine on Earning Top Parks Rating in California and 7th in the Nation!

The City of Irvine park system has been ranked 7th in the nation by the Trust for Public Land annual ParkScore Index, effectively making Irvine the top-ranked city in California.

This is the third consecutive year the City’s parks have ranked in the top 10 nationally.

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 nation for basketball hoops per 10,000 residents.

Among the factors considered in the evaluation is the fact that 82 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 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 my appointee to the Irvine Community Services Commission, Lauren Johnson-Norris, who has worked so hard to improve the experiences of our residents in our parks and open spaces.

Watch Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell!

I’ve always been an outdoors person, and I love going hiking and exploring in Southern California’s beautiful wild lands, mountains, and deserts.  Long before I entered politics, I served as a volunteer Ranger with the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.  This past week, I had the pleasure of talking with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Michael O’Connell last week during a ZOOM meeting Town Hall.  

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship. Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

After we talk about the history and the special character of this incredible land, Mike leads us on a tour of this incredible natural resource in our backyard.

 Watch our Town Hall on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy here:

Join Melissa Fox’s ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Director Mike O’Connell. Thurs., May 14 at 4:00 PM!

Join Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox in a ZOOM Town Hall with Irvine Ranch Conservancy Executive Director Mike O’Connell

Thurs., May 14, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.

ZOOM Meeting ID 951-321-0807

Note: We will also be streaming live from Melissa Fox’s YouTube Channel HERE.

The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is a non-profit, non-advocacy organization, committed to the highest possible standards of long-term land stewardship.

Based in Orange County, California, the mission of the IRC is to ensure the protection, restoration and enhancement of the natural resources of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks forever and to provide diverse opportunities for public participation by conducting and supporting scientific, recreational and educational initiatives and programs.

Michael O’Connell, Irvine Ranch Conservancy President and Executive Director, oversees all aspects of stewardship, public programs and business operations for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. He has 25 years experience in land protection and conservation science including senior positions with The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. He has served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, and the Advisory Board of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara. He is currently on the Dean’s Leadership Council for the School of Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael has co-authored two books on conservation and a number of scientific and popular articles. He has a bachelor’s degree in Geology from Carleton College and a Master’s in Conservation Biology from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

Melissa Fox has been a member of the Irvine City Council since 2016. She is life-long hiker, outdoors person, and fierce environmental advocate. She also served as a Ranger in the Orange County Park Ranger Reserve.

For more information, contact Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org

To see the Facebook event for this Town Hall, click here.

UPDATED: Watch the ZOOM Town Hall with Mike O’Connell here.

We look forward to you joining us!

Join Me for a ZOOM Town Hall on California’s Fiscal Health with State Controller Betty T. Yee!

Join me on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. for a Virtual Town Hall on California’s Fiscal Health with California State Controller Betty Yee!

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have made it a priority to support local business and ensure that our government operates with fiscal responsibility, openness, and transparency.

I’ve received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Under my leadership, the Irvine Community Land Trust has received the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

I was also the only member of the Irvine City Council to oppose Measure D, which would have eliminated voter input into development decisions, because I believe that citizens must have a strong voice in deciding the future of their neighborhoods.

I enthusiastically supported the City’s adoption of the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which expanded public notice to four times longer than California law requires and prevents government action without full and informed participation from the community. I also supported approval of a two-year budget cycle, along with a five-year financial planning program, to bring more accountability to government spending.

I’ve often said that Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

The economic distress caused by COVID-19 will make this important task even more difficult.

COVID-19 has already impacted every facet of California’s economy, including the fiscal health of California’s government institutions, from large state agencies to cities and school districts. 

That’s why it will be especially valuable to hear from California State Controller Betty T. Yee on California’s fiscal health.

State Controller Betty T. Yee was elected in November 2014, following two terms of service on the California Board of Equalization. As Controller, she continues to serve the Board as its fifth voting member. Reelected for a second term as Controller in 2018, Ms. Yee is only the tenth woman in California history to be elected to statewide office.

As the state’s chief fiscal officer, Ms. Yee chairs the Franchise Tax Board and serves as a member of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) Boards. These two boards have a combined portfolio of more than $620 billion.

Ms. Yee has more than 35 years of experience in public service, specializing in state and local finance and tax policy. Ms. Yee previously served as Chief Deputy Director for Budget with the California Department of Finance where she led the development of the Governor’s Budget, negotiations with the Legislature and key budget stakeholders, and fiscal analyses of legislation. Prior to this, she served in senior staff positions for several fiscal and policy committees in both houses of the California State Legislature. She also co-founded the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project, which exposes California high school youth to the public service, public policy, and political arenas.

A native of San Francisco, Ms. Yee received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and she holds a master’s degree in public administration.

What: Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and California’s Fiscal Health with California State Controller Betty T. Yee.

When: Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.

Where: On-line at ZOOM Meeting ID 951-321-0807

To see the Facebook page for this event, click here.

For more information, contact Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org.

 

Watch Melissa Fox’s Town Hall on Small Business Assistance, Affordable Housing, and COVID-19 with California State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Small Business Majority’s Claudia Moreno

COVID-19 has impacted both small businesses and housing in California.

In this Town Hall held on Wednesday, April 29, 2020, Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox , California State Treasurer Fiona Mam and Claudia Moreno of Small Business Majority discuss the impact of COVID-19 on California’s economy, small business assistance programs, and new opportunities for affordable housing.

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th State Treasurer. She was elected on November 6, 2018, with more votes (7,825,587) than any other candidate for treasurer in the state’s history. She is the first woman of color and the first woman Certified Public Accountant (CPA) elected to the position.

Claudia Moreno is an Southern California Outreach Director for Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization. She previously worked at the White House during the Obama Administration in the Executive Office of Presidential Correspondence where she served as an intermediate between the President and the American people. She also took lead in the Office’s Spanish Analytical Department as an interpreter to support the President’s vision to serve all communities.

Melissa Fox is an Irvine City Councilmember and an attorney, and also serves as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, dedicated to building more affordable housing.

Watch the Town Hall here:

Note:

Join me for our next virtual Town Hall!

On Wednesday, May 5, 2020, at 4:00 p.m., I’ll be speaking with California State Controller Betty T. Yee about the COVOD-19 Crisis and the California Economy.

The title of the Town Hall is “The California Economy Challenged.”

The ZOOM Meeting ID is 951-321-0807.

Please contact my Chief City Council Aide Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org.

I hope you can join us!

 

Join Me for a Virtual Town Hall on Small Business Assistance and Affordable Housing with State Treasurer Fiona Ma!

Join me on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 4:00 p.m. for a Virtual Town Hall on Small Business Assistance and Affordable Housing with California State Treasurer Fiona Ma!

ZOOM Meeting ID is 951-321-0807

COVID-19 has impacted both small businesses and housing in California.

Join Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox and California State Treasurer Fiona Ma as they discuss the impact of COVID-19 on California’s economy, small business assistance programs, and new opportunities for affordable housing.

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th State Treasurer. She was elected on November 6, 2018 with more votes (7,825,587) than any other candidate for treasurer in the state’s history.

She is the first woman of color and the first woman Certified Public Accountant (CPA) elected to the position.

Melissa Fox is an Irvine City Councilmember and an attorney, and also serves as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, dedicated to building more affordable housing.

For more information, contact Allison Binder at abinder@cityofirvine.org.

To see the Facebook page for this event, click here.

UPDATE:

Melissa Fox will also be joined joined on the Virtual Town Hall by Claudia Moreno, Southern California Outreach Manager for Small Business Majority.

Claudia Moreno develops relationships with both business partners and small business owners across the region to discuss ways to best help small businesses thrive in their local economies. Claudia also works closely on statewide policy initiatives. The daughter of a small business owner, Claudia understands the importance of giving back to her community and intentionally working to empower under-served entrepreneurs.

She previously worked at the White House during the Obama Administration in the Executive Office of Presidential Correspondence where she served as an intermediate between the President and the American people. She also took lead in the Office’s Spanish Analytical Department as an interpreter to support the President’s vision to serve all communities.

Happy Earth Day 2020!

Today, Wednesday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly.  In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and more than 1 billion people in 193 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

The City of Irvine has been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology, and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy-saving.

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.

 

 

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A crucial environmental issue facing Irvine in the near future is whether to switch from purchasing energy from SoCal Edison to utilizing a Community Choice Energy provider.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

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.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Continues Mission of Providing Affordable Housing During COVID-19 Crisis

Last week, my colleagues on the Board of Directors of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) unanimously elected me to serve another year as Chair.  I am grateful for their support and for the opportunity to continue to lead the important work of the Land Trust in this difficult time.

As we fight this deadly outbreak, secure and affordable housing has never been more important.

I’m very happy that California Governor Newsom has issued an Executive Order halting evictions due to non-payment of rent due to medical or financial consequences of COVID-19.  Adding to California’s already far too high 150.000 homeless population would make it even more difficult for us to stop the spread of the virus.

At our next meeting, which will be conducted electronically and to which the public is invited, we will be adopting new measures to help our tenants deal with the COVID-19 emergency, including rent deferments and other forms of assistance.

Our Executive Director of the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, has released the following statement in regard to ICLT’s response to COVID-19:

“Greetings,

There’s no shortage of uncertainly in the world lately, so I’d like to take a moment to tell you exactly how the Irvine Community Land Trust is navigating the post-COVID world.

As an affordable housing nonprofit, our communities are comprised of some of Irvine’s most vulnerable populations, even when there isn’t a global crisis weighing on them. No matter the circumstances, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our residents and to ensuring they have a place they can be proud to call “home.”

We will not falter, but we are doing things a little differently to best protect the health and safety of our staff, board members, residents and partners in the community.

For starters, we’re observing social distancing by moving our regular public board meetings online. Earlier this week, we held the ICLT’s first online board meeting, utilizing both Zoom and a public phone line to great effect. Information on joining our future digital meetings will be posted as available at http://www.irvineclt.org/agenda.

At each of our properties – Parc Derian, Alegre and Doria – we’re working with property managers to ensure residents are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to navigate these trying times.

Through a series of special government protocols, we’re continuing construction on our new community, Salerno. Out of concern for our construction workers, we’re also undertaking extraordinary measures to ensure they stay safe and healthy while on the job. And, in cooperation with our community partners, we’re continuing our work to make Irvine the best it can be, no matter the challenges we face.

In the coming weeks, the next edition of our newsletter will be delivered as usual, packed with the latest and greatest from the ICLT. For now, rest assured that our commitment to our mission burns stronger than ever as we rise to face this unprecedented situation.

Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy – we’re all in this together.

Sincerely,

Mark Asturias
Executive Director
Irvine Community Land Trust”

For links to up-to-date COVID-19 Resources and Information, click HERE.

 

 

Nowuz Mubarak! نوروز مبارک When was a New Beginning — Nowruz or a “New Day”– More Needed Than Now?

In Irvine, we love to celebrate our many heritages.  Irvine is home to more than 80 different churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, serving Irvine’s wonderful cultural and religious diversity.

One of our biggest cultural celebrations in Irvine is the annual Persian New Year (Nowruz) Festival at Irvine’s Bill Barber Community Park, sponsored by the Iranian-American Community Group Orange County.

Sadly, this year’s Nowruz Festival in Irvine had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak and the need for all of us to maintain social distancing.

In an announcement, my friend Neda Mottaghi-Movahed, a long-time organizer of the Irvine Nowruz Festival, wrote: “Dear friends and supporters, we regret to inform you that IAC 7th annual Nowruz festival which was scheduled for March 22nd in Irvine has been canceled. This was a very difficult decision due to outbreak of Coronavirus and Orange County Public Health recommendations which is to avoid large gatherings. Celebrate Nowruz with your friends and family. Eid Mobarak.”

Persian New Year, or “Nowruz,” translated from Persian to literally mean “New Day,” takes place at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, centering around the Spring Equinox. It is an ancient tradition, having been observed in Persian culture for approximately 5,500 years (older than the great pyramids of Egypt), celebrating the rebirth of the Earth after the cold of winter and welcoming the warmth of spring.

When was a new beginning — a “New Day” or Nowruz — more needed than now?

So even though we won’t have the Festival and we must keep apart from each other, let us celebrate Nowruz together with all our hearts.

May first day of Spring brings us all health, peace, happiness and joy!

Nowuz Mubarak! نوروز مبارک

 

Creating Affordable Housing in Irvine: Read the Irvine Community Land Trust 2019 Annual Report!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Located in Irvine, California, the heart of Southern California’s most expensive real estate market, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing. Because this is our home, too, ICLT is committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place everyone can call “home.”

Recently, ICLT has released its 2019 Annual Report, which I want to share with you.

The Annual Report includes information about the latest achievements in our mission to provide permanent affordable housing to income-eligible Orange County residents.

Read the full report HERE.

We are proud of our progress in this critical area for our community and recognize that there is much more work to be done in 2020 and beyond.

We at the Irvine Community Land Trust are extremely proud to put a successful 2019 to bed. It was a landmark year for our nonprofit organization, marked by critical milestones, a host of awards and a major legislative accomplishment that will benefit the affordable housing landscape across California for decades to come.

Progress on Salerno as of Feb. 2020. Groundbreaking on Sept. 19, 2019. Completion expected Fall 2020.

Most importantly, though, 2019 saw the birth of new, high-quality affordable rental housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Due to our robust economy and desirable standard of living, Irvine remains one of the most expensive real estate markets in the nation.

Unfortunately, affordable housing is extremely limited and our working-class citizens, who are the backbone of the city, are among some of Irvine’s most vulnerable residents. With them in mind and in our hearts, we were thrilled to break ground on Salerno, the ICLT’s newest community which will bring 80 affordable homes to the city, including 15 for veterans, 10 for individuals with disabilities and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

The homes at Salerno are growing by leaps and bounds, and have now climbed up to include a third floor. Keep checking back for more progress pictures from the site, and look forward to the community opening its doors later this year.When completed in the fall, Salerno will join Parc Derian, Alegre Apartments and Doria Apartment Homes as places where income eligible residents will proudly call Irvine “home.”

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Looking ahead, 2020 is shaping up to be equally exciting as we begin work on our first home ownership community, Native Spring. That will prove to be a real game-changer for us, the city and, of course, the new homeowners! For the first time, the Irvine Community Land Trust will build for-sale homes that hard-working Irvine residents making less than $100,000 can actually afford to buy.

The Native Spring homeownership project will serve moderate-income families with a 68-house development in Portola Springs that will have all the features of any market rate for-sale project in the city. A young couple earning $76,000 to $94,000 annually will be able to purchase a home for about $370,000.

Additionally, these homebuyers will “pay it forward” by agreeing to resale provisions that keep these homes permanently affordable. This development, which will break ground in 2020, is tremendously exciting for the ICLT as it stands to make the American dream a reality for many first time home buyers.

The ICLT continues to look for corporate donors who can provide grant opportunities, donate materials and items to help build, furnish and landscape new communities. Contact us to learn how to contribute!

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

Irvine Again Ranked No. 1 City in Fiscal Strength!

I am proud to report that the City of Irvine has again — for the 3rd straight year — been ranked as the No. 1 City in the United States in Fiscal Strength by Truth in Accounting (TIA), a nonprofit organization that “cuts through politicization and accounting tricks, presenting transparent and nonpartisan figures of government finances.”

The Truth in Accounting ranking of America’s largest 75 cities calculated how a city would fare financially after all the bills are paid. Irvine was given a surplus score of $4,100 per taxpayer, earning the distinction as the most fiscally healthy large city in the United States.

The key findings of the report regarding Irvine were:

  • Irvine’s Taxpayer Surplus is $4,100, and it received a “B” from TIA. A particular city’s Taxpayer Surplus/Burden is the money available (or needed, if a burden) to pay bills divided by the number of taxpayers.
  • Irvine is a Sunshine City with enough assets to cover its debt. A Sunshine City is a city in state with a taxpayer surplus, which means that the state has enough funds and resources to pay its bills.
  • Decisions by elected officials have created a Taxpayer Surplus, which is each taxpayer’s share of money available after city bills have been paid.
  • Irvine has $626 million of assets available to pay bills.
  • Irvine has $380.4 million available after bills have been paid, which breaks down to $4,100 per taxpayer.

You can read the report on Irvine here and read the full report here.

We were also ranked No. 1 by Truth in Accounting in 2018 and 2017.

I am extremely proud of these awards, which reflect the strong commitment I’ve made to assuring Irvine’s fiscal health and stability, as well as the commitment of my City Council colleagues and City Staff.

Most important to me is the fact that our City is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and financial transparency.

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

I have made it my mission to make our City’s budget truly transparent and free from any obfuscations or accounting tricks — and I am tremendously proud that Irvine has received this prestigious non-partisan award as America’s most fiscally healthy city in every year that I have served on the City Council.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

The Challenges of Affordable Housing – and How the Irvine Community Land Trust is Making Progress by Opening the Door to a Wave of New Home Owners

As many of you know I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.

Late last year, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.  As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

Recently, ICLT has released a video made during the groundbreaking for Salerno, which I want to share with you:

 

In the video, I talk about the crucial role that ICLT and I played in the passage of new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much easier and more practical to build more permanently affordable housing for more people in need.

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

Irvine City Council Holding Moment of Silence for Those Lost in Iranian Downing of Passenger Airliner

Tonight, after the pledge of allegiance, the Irvine City Council will hold a moment of silence for the 176 innocent passengers and crew who tragically lost their lives last week when Iran shot down a commercial airliner.

Many of the airliner’s passengers were Iranian Canadians who were affiliated with Canadian universities as students or researchers and had traveled to Iran during Christmas break.

Some victims had ties to our own Iranian American community, which includes more than 11,000 Iranian Americans in Irvine and 36,000 Iranian Americans in Orange County.  Irvine is also the home of UCI’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture, one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary institutions for the study of Iranian culture and history.

As my friend, Irvine resident, and community leader Neda Mottaghi-Movahed has said, this has been “a very sad few weeks for all of us” in the Iranian American community, which has held memorials in Irvine for those whose lives were lost.

We are proud of saying that our city is not only among the most diverse cities in the nation, it is also the most fully integrated.  There are no ethnic, linguistic, religious, or cultural enclaves in Irvine: every neighborhood reflects Irvine’s harmonious ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity.

In most cases, this means that we share in each other’s holidays and celebrations.

In this case, it means we share in each other’s sorrow.

My deepest condolences to the families and friends of all who were lost, as well as to the entire Iranian American community.

My heart reaches out to my many Iranian American friends and neighbors.

I join with the Iranian American community in mourning the senseless loss of so many lives and in praying for peace.

 

Help Develop a Strategic Energy Plan for Irvine by Attending a Community Workshop on January 13, 2020

The City of Irvine is developing a Strategic Energy Plan to create a sustainable, economically feasible, and actionable road map for City operations and to identify effective measures the Irvine community can implement to become energy efficient. The objectives of the Plan are to analyze the City’s baseline energy use to project future energy needs, evaluate priorities to meet those needs, and identify funding opportunities to implement the Plan.

The project began in November 2018 and is anticipated to be completed in April 2020. When the Plan is completed, it will be presented to the City Council for consideration and adoption.

Community engagement will help form the vision for the Plan.  As part of the Plan’s development, the City seeks community stakeholder feedback via public workshops, which will be scheduled in the coming months.

The next community workshop on the Strategic Energy Plan will be held on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at City of Irvine City Hall, 1 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine, California 92606.

At this workshop, City of Irvine staff will present strategies to reduce energy consumption in our energy supply, buildings, and transportation sectors, and guide participants through facilitated discussions on each area.  All residents are invited to ensure that your ideas and feedback are captured as we create the Strategic Energy Plan.

To register for the workshop and to learn more, click HERE.

You can also help by taking our City of Irvine Strategic Energy Plan Stakeholder Input Survey HERE.

For more information about the project, contact Sona Coffee in Public Works at 949-724-7562.

 

 

 

Why I Voted “No” on a Zoning Change to Permit 1,000 More Million Dollar Single Family Houses in Irvine. Tell the Irvine City Council What You Think!

Recently, I voted “No” on continuing the second reading of a re-zoning proposal that would allow the addition of 1,000 single family million dollar houses to be built by the Irvine Company in the area of Portola Springs/Orchard Hills in Irvine.

This vote could have been the end of the issue, since on the first reading both Mayor Christina Shea and Councilmember Mike Carroll voted against the re-zoning.

However, Councilmember Mike Carroll now voted with the supporters of adding 1,000 new homes (Councilmembers Anthony Kuo and Farrah N. Khan) to continue the item to January 2020.

Carroll, Kuo and Khan won the vote to continue, 3-2. This means that these additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses will again come before the Council.

As a longtime advocate for local communities to permit more housing to alleviate our statewide affordable housing crisis, I was initially disposed to vote in favor of this re-zoning proposal.

But on further reflection, it became apparent to me that this proposed housing development would be built without the necessary infrastructure, including new schools and a local retail center, which are needed and have long been promised to residents.

I am a strong advocate for action on the local and state level addressing the housing crisis, but not at the cost of overcrowded schools and the abandonment of Irvine’s renowned village model and our Master Plan balancing housing with schools, retail centers, and open space.

In particular, I am a strong supporter of Irvine’s village concept, which is intended to reduce sprawl and traffic congestion, and create walkable neighborhoods and a sense of community, by locating housing, at several different levels of purchase price or rental cost, around both local schools and a local retail center.  This village model — an essential part of Irvine’s Master Plan long promoted by the Irvine Company — has been enormously successful.  As the Irvine Chamber of Commerce has boasted, Irvine is a “City of Villages.”

You can see a video promoting the Irvine Master Plan, with specific reference to the Irvine village model as an integral part of the Master Plan, here:

For this reason, I was very concerned — shocked, actually — when a representative of the Irvine Company responded to my questioning by stating that the Irvine Company had no plans to build a retail center near these new homes and were no longer committed to the village model.

In other words, I came to see that voting in favor of this zoning change is tantamount to voting for Irvine to no longer be a “City of Villages.”

On the issue of whether these proposed 1,000 million dollar homes would help alleviate the affordable housing crisis, here are the facts:

This week’s OC Register reports on an analysis by the Southern California News Group that graded every jurisdiction in California on its progress on state-mandated housing goals (the Regional Housing Needs Assessment or RHNA).

According to the article, Irvine is supposed to permit 12,149 homes between 2013 and 2021. Housing units are mandated in each of four categories: (1) very low income, (2) low income, (3) moderate income, and (4) above moderate income.

The number show that Irvine has done exceptionally well in providing housing in the moderate and (especially) above moderate income categories, but is not doing nearly as well in the low income and very low income categories, where it is seriously off track in meetings its RHNA goals.

Very Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 907 very low income units, needs 1,761 to be on track, 2,817 for final goal.  In sum, very low income units are not on track, and are far from the final goal.

Low Income Units: Irvine has permitted 3 units, needs 271 to be on track, 2,034 for final goal. In sum, low income units are not on track, and are far from final goal.

Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,973 units, needs 1,399 to be on track, 2,239 for final goal. In sum, moderate income units are more than on track, and are already in excess of the final goal.

Above Moderate Income Units: Irvine has permitted 12,137 units, needs 3,162 to be on track, 5,059 for final goal. In sum, above moderate income units are far more than on track, and are already far in excess of the final goal.

These numbers demonstrate what everyone knows: Irvine’s housing is overwhelmingly skewed toward the “Above Moderate Income” market.

The 1,000 housing units that would be added to Portola Springs/Orchid Hills under the re-zoning proposed by the Irvine Company are single family homes costing above $1,000,000.  These 1,000 “Above Moderate Income” units would not help Irvine meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals.

On the contrary, they would exacerbate Irvine’s school over-crowding and traffic congestion problems while doing little or nothing to ease our affordable housing crisis.

That’s why I voted No.

It is my belief that only saying No to these projects that provide housing only for the well-to-do, will we encourage developers to build more environmentally responsible and affordable housing projects.

I hope Irvine residents will make their views on this proposal for an additional 1,000 million dollar single family houses clear to all members of the Council between now and then.

Contact information for all members of the Irvine City Council can be found here.

Read the Irvine Community Land Trust Q4 2019 Newsletter: New Affordable Housing, Tax Reform, Affordable Housing Conference, and More!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

ICLT Chair Melissa Fox speaking at the groundbreaking of Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

Recently, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine. On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, these affordable communities offer “a new beginning for veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness.”

New Communities, the first modern land trust, started 50 years ago in Georgia by the descendants of slaves.

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes.

The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”  Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Mark Asturias, Melissa Fox, and Leon M. Nappier at New Communities.

Last month, I traveled to Georgia with ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias and fellow board member Leon M. Napper for the Reclaiming Vacant Properties and Grounded Solutions Conference. While we were there, we visited New Communities, the first of the modern land trusts, founded in Leesburg, Georgia, in 1969, a former plantation is now owned by the descendants of slaves and dedicated to conservation and racial reconciliation. This land trust went on to inspire the hundreds of community land trusts that exist today, ourselves included.

All of these recent events are covered in our Q4 2019 Irvine Community Land Trust Newsletter HERE.

The affordable housing we’ve created with ICLT profoundly and positively impacts the health and education outcomes for hundreds of people. That’s why I volunteer to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust. The affordable housing crisis isn’t just about buildings. We’re building communities for all the people who desperately need a place to live, including children who need a positive environment to thrive.

You can learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.  You can read about it HERE.

California State Auditor Gives Irvine Highest Rating for Fiscal Health!

As an Irvine City Councilmember who ran on a promise of fiscal responsibility, I am very pleased to announce that the California State Auditor’s Office has recently published a comprehensive ranking of 471 California cities based on their fiscal health and that Irvine achieved the Auditor’s highest possible rating of “low risk.”

This designation indicates that a city has low risk of experiencing fiscal distress.

A map created by the state auditor’s office ranks cities by fiscal health. Green is low risk, yellow is moderate risk and red is high risk.

Among the indicators used to evaluate the cities’ fiscal health were each city’s cash position or liquidity, debt burden, financial reserves, revenue trends, and ability to pay for employee retirement benefits.

I’m proud of my record on the Irvine City Council in increasing government accountability, openness, and transparency.

I’ve received the Orange County Taxpayers Watchdog Award for “demonstrating dedication to the protection of taxpayer funds and for the advocacy of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.”

Under my leadership, the Irvine Community land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

I was also the only member of the Irvine City Council to oppose Measure D, which would have eliminated voter input into development decisions, because I believe that citizens must have a strong voice in deciding the future of their neighborhoods.

I enthusiastically supported the City’s adoption of the Irvine Sunshine Ordinance, which expanded public notice to four times longer than California law requires and prevents government action without full and informed participation from the community. I also supported approval of a two-year budget cycle, along with a five-year financial planning program, to bring more accountability to government spending.

You can read the full California State Auditor’s Report HERE.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I am extremely proud of these accomplishments But much more important to me is the fact that our city is truly serving its residents with fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I ran for City Council on a platform of using my skills as a business attorney to safeguard every public dollar, and I have kept that promise by making sure that Irvine is financially transparent and doesn’t spend more than it can afford.

These awards reflect the commitment that I and my colleagues on the Irvine City Council, as well as our Finance Commissioners and our professional staff, have made to the taxpayers and residents of Irvine, and to the principles of government transparency and fiscal responsibility.

Government transparency and fiscal responsibility should be neither a conservative nor a liberal idea, but appeal to both, as we strive to address increasing social needs with limited resources.

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. 

 

Leading Real Estate News Source Highlights Irvine Community Land Trust’s Role in a Enacting New Tax Reforms Expected to Fuel Affordable Housing Construction in California!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I have been actively working with members of the California State Legislature to enact tax reforms to make it it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California.

The new legislation, SB 196, which ICLT and I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire, and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, and which has now been signed into law by the Governor, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.  As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.  Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

I’m very pleased that GlobeSt.com, a leading real estate news source, has written about our success.

Here is their report:

The New CA Law That Could Generate Loads of Affordable Housing
SB 196 provides a property tax exemption to affordable housing developers during construction.

By Kelsi Maree Borland

“Last week, Gavin Newsom signed a SB 196 into law, creating new opportunities for affordable housing throughout the state. The new law provides a property tax exemption for developers of affordable housing during the construction phase—the first three to five years after purchasing raw land. The legislation is expected to go a long way in fueling more affordable housing development.”

“Organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust have been advocating for like legislation for years. ‘We have been looking at legislation to support community land trusts for many years,’ Mark Asturias, executive director of the ICLT, tells GlobeSt.com. ‘Our land trust was looking at the welfare exemption specifically because of the high property tax carry cost here in Orange County. Many people understand that the cost of land and housing is very expensive in Orange County, and in our world, we can’t carry the cost of market-rate land. Because most of our land is developed through a public partnership, we hoped to get this in place to use money to pay for the construction of new projects.'”

“Asturias anticipates that the legislation will be successful in generating more affordable housing, which the state of California desperately needs. ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for us. We are now going to be able to develop properties without paying taxes on the property at market rate while we are trying to get our entitlements in place,’ Asturias. ‘In California, it takes three to five years to get through the process from the day you buy the property to the day you can actually finish the construction of the house.'”

“The legislation does come with a caveat. Developers must start and complete their project on time, or they must pay back the taxes. ‘We talked with many people in the community land trust about how long we would need to develop vacant land. It is usually three to five years,’ Asturias says. “We didn’t want to represent to anyone as we were getting this bill put forward that we were land banking, meaning that we were going to hold vacant land and not develop it. That isn’t the mission of a community land trust, and we felt that was reasonable to put a limit on the amount of time that the exemption could be in place. That was a fair trade-off in our view.'”

“The state and Governor’s office is on a mission to combat the housing crisis, and this is only the latest piece of legislation. ‘We want to demonstrate that we can offer a variety of tools, and we believe that the Governor recognized that,’ says Asturias. ‘With all of the legislation that he is passing, we believe that he is demonstrating an effort to address the entire housing spectrum.’”

Our next affordable housing community for the Irvine Community Land Trust is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

We Just Opened a New Affordable Housing Community in Irvine and Made it Easier to Create Affordable Housing Throughout California!

I am honored to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation.  

Since I joined the ICLT, we’ve built two below-market rate apartment communities, Parc Derian and Doria, for families making no more than 80 percent of the area’s median household income; some residents earn less than 30 percent of the median income, which in Orange County is $97,900 for a family of four.

Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for Solarno, the Irvine Community Land Trust’s newest affordable housing community.

Last week, we celebrated the groundbreaking for Salerno, our newest affordable housing community in Irvine.

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom. Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

As the Orange County Register observed, this affordable community will be “a new beginning for the veterans, developmentally disabled people and families at risk of homelessness who will become its tenants when it opens next year.”

In addition, I’m excited to report on the passage of new tax break legislation I’ve been fighting for in Sacramento, which will make it much easier to create affordable housing throughout California! 

The new legislation, which I worked on with Senators Jim Beall, Mike McGuire and Bob Wieckowski to pass in Sacramento, allows properties slated for affordable rental homes to get a tax exemption sooner, saving nonprofit builders between millions of dollars that can instead go toward building more affordable homes. The new law also extends this property tax break to land for owner-occupied affordable home projects.

As I told the Orange County Register, “It’s really hard to build these [affordable housing] projects. You have to have a lot of funding, and property taxes can take a significant bite out of that. Even if it didn’t prevent us from doing the [Salerno] project, it lowered the number of units we could do.”

Now that’s been changed.

Before the new legislation, property taxes were not adequately adjusted for below-market rate housing.  Landowners such as the ICLT that wanted to build affordable, below-market housing couldn’t get a property tax exemption until a project was underway, and county tax assessors interpreted that requirement to mean anything from shovels in the ground to tenants moving in.  In the case of Salerno in Irvine, where vacant land is assessed at approximately $4 million an acre, taxes on the land amounted to $275,000, which had to be paid before the project could be constructed.

Under the new law, property tax rates will be lower at the outset for below-market rate, affordable housing, making it much more practical to build more housing for more people in need.

Our next affordable housing community is 68 owner-occupied townhomes on Native Spring alongside the 133 toll road.  The ILCLT  has been under contract to buy the land from the city for four and a half years, but has held off closing escrow until the new legislation is in place, saving an estimated $600,000 in property taxes.  Now we are able to move forward immediately on this innovative and exciting project in affordable home ownership!

Learn more about the Irvine Community Land Trust at our website HERE.

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In May 2019, the Irvine Community Land Trust was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations. Read about it HERE.

Join Us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for Public Outreach on the Universal Playground Project at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park!

Please join us on Thursday, September 19, at 5:30–6:30 p.m. for the City’s public outreach opportunity regarding the Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. 

This event is the public’s first opportunity to provide input that will help guide the planning and design for this important Universal Playground project.

In July 2019, the City’s Disability Services program relocated its offices from City Hall to Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park. As a renovated facility, the Sweet Shade Ability Center provides a larger, more accessible, and inviting hub for the delivery of Disability Services activities to Irvine residents. To complement this use, the City proposes to develop the City’s first Universal Playground.

Universal playgrounds are designed to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design, including theme-oriented playground equipment, site furnishings, and shade canopies that are well integrated with the existing park, leaving no child on the sidelines.

This public outreach event will include a staff-led tour of the existing playground and potential locations for integrating universal play elements or developing an adjacent universal playground. Planning staff will be present to answer questions about the project, and participants will be able to sign up and receive project updates.

Universal Playgrounds are designed to provide inclusive and meaningful play experiences for children of all ages and abilities. Your input will help the City of Irvine create a unique and meaningful play environment that meets universal developmental needs by providing opportunities for physical, cognitive, communicative, social/emotional, and sensory development for all children to the greatest extent possible.

I’m excited to join Irvine Community Services Commission Chair Lauren Johnson-Norris and other City officials who have been working for all of Irvine’s children at this important event.

Date: Thursday, September 19, 2019
Time: 5:30–6:30 p.m.
Location:Sweet Shade Ability Center at Sweet Shade Neighborhood Park, 15 Sweet Shade, Irvine CA 92606

See you there!

Join Me on Thurs., September 19 at 10:00 a.m. for the Groundbreaking for Salerno — the Irvine Community Land Trust’s Newest Affordable Housing Community!

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, (ICLT) guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  Like all Irvine Community Land Trust Board Members, I serve as a volunteer, without compensation. 

We build high-quality affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing for the benefit of income-eligible families. Located in the heart of Southern California’s one of the most expensive real estate markets, there is a tremendous need for affordable housing.

Because this is our home, too, the we are committed to ensuring that Irvine is a place where everyone can call “home.”

On Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10:00 a.m., we’ll be hosting a groundbreaking ceremony for our latest project — the 80-unit Salerno.

You are invited to attend!

On schedule to be completed in the Fall of 2020, Salerno will offer affordable rents as low as $550 for a one-bedroom, $625 for a two-bedroom and $695 for a three-bedroom.

Thirty-five of the homes will be reserved for those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income: 15 for veterans; 10 for individuals with developmental disabilities; and 10 for families at risk of homelessness.

Like all ICLT homes, qualifying residents must register on our Interest List: www.irvineclt.org/interest-list.

Please know that parking will be limited, so come early!

I hope to see you there!

You can read our ICLT Newsletter HERE.

In 2019, ICLT was awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations

 

 

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Receives “No Place Like Home” Award from Families Forward!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT), I’m proud to announce that we have been honored with the “No Place Like Home” award during the 8th Annual Housing Partner Appreciation Event hosted by Families Forward.

ICLT’s Parc Derian, which provided 80 new units of housing for working families, veterans, and special-needs residents of Irvine, was celebrated for providing access to stabilized housing for qualifying low-income families.

Located in the Irvine Business Complex and developed on a 2.2- acre urban infill site, Parc Derian beautiful multifamily four-story community with a pool, tot lot, private parking, exercise center, computer lab, and onsite resident services. Featuring contemporary architecture that incorporates urban inspired elements and finishes, it is also environmentally conscious and designed to achieve a LEED Gold certification.

Intended to bring employees closer to work, it is a short walk to many jobs as well as Irvine Unified Schools, public transportation, dining and shopping options. Apartments range from one- to three bedrooms and include walk-in closets, energy-efficient appliances, assigned parking and balconies.

Parc Derian is the result of a public/private partnership between the Irvine Community Land Trust, C&C Development, Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO), Lennar Corporation, and the City of Irvine.

Finding solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.  Irvine has been a model in this area and the Land Trust concept, now being adopted by Orange County and many other cities, is something that Irvine has pioneered.  No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours.

As ICLT Executive Director Mark Asturias has stated, “Parc Derian is an excellent example of public-private partnerships working creatively to provide affordable housing for Irvine’s workforce. Every family and individual deserves the ability to afford a home in their community. Parc Derian is a tremendous accomplishment for all the partners involved and for the Irvine community. It demonstrates how a city can partner with a home-grown nonprofit such as the Land Trust and developers to bring permanently affordable housing into the community. By providing homes people can afford, they commute less, spend more time with their family, and give back to the community they live in. Irvine is stronger with affordable housing.”

Nonprofit organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust that work to create more affordable housing are often under attack from NIMBY groups.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m so delighted to see our work recognized by those whose mission is to provide affordable housing for those in need.

I look forward to working with the Irvine Community Land Trust, community partners such as Families Forward, and community-minded businesses in the private sector to continue to provide more permanent, affordable housing for veterans, disabled persons, and working families.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join Me at the Irish Fair and Music Festival June 15th and 16th at the Great Park!

Céad míle fáilte!

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes!

In March 2018, 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.

Now, the Irish Fair and Music Festival will be back at the Great Park in Irvine for a second year!

This year, the Irish Fair and Music Festival will be held on Father’s Day weekend, June 15 and 16, 2019, at the Great Park in Irvine. It 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 44th 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 Young Dubliners, Craic in the Stone , Sligo Rags, The Ploughboys, Mary’s Lane, Killian’s Angels, The Whooligans, and Michael Mullen’s Trio of One.

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

The entrance for the Irish Fair and Music Fest is 6950 Marine Way, Irvine, California 92618.

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

See you there!

Slán go fóill

Here’s a preview of some of the musical artists:

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!

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Earns Highest Award for Transparency!

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as a longtime advocate for more affordable housing, I am very pleased to announce that the Irvine Community Land Trust has been awarded the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, the world’s most respected source of information on nonprofit organizations.

This award is the highest honor that GuideStar can bestow — an objective and authoritative affirmation of the Irvine Community Land Trust’s dedication to transparency and openness.

In fact, the Irvine Community Land Trust trust goes well beyond what is expected of a typical nonprofit by voluntarily keeping our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns available online for all to see.

Nonprofit organizations like the Irvine Community Land Trust that work to create more affordable housing are often under attack from NIMBY groups.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m so delighted to see that GuideStar, a universally well-respected and objective organization, has officially recognized the commitment to openness of the Irvine Community Land Trust with their highest award for transparency!

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, herehere and here.

 

Irvine Community Land Trust Featured in Case Study in UC Berkeley’s Affordable Housing Series

As Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and as an Irvine City Councilmember who has made helping to create affordable housing a priority, I am excited that the Land Trust was recently featured in a case study by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, exploring the impact that local efforts can have in improving the state’s housing crisis.

The Terner Center explains that “Cities have an important role to play in addressing California’s affordable housing shortage, and local policies such as community land trusts, reforming impact fees, and reducing barriers to multi-family housing production can all make a significant difference. Made possible by the support of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the Terner Center has conducted a series of case studies to explore how action at the local level can help to address the state’s housing shortfall.”

Irvine Community Land Trust Chair Melissa Fox with Affordable Housing Award for ICLT’s Parc Derian

The case study explains that “Homes for sale or rent within a CLT [Community Land Trust} are permanently held below the market cost while also offering the potential for residents to build equity and share in the economic advancement of their neighborhood.

Faced with rising housing costs and a steady decline in affordable homes, Irvine, California created the Irvine Community Land Trust (Irvine CLT) in 2006 to ensure that all new units created using a public subsidy or as a result of the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance would remain affordable in perpetuity.”

It notes that the Land Trust has recently run into greater opposition from some residents who oppose additional housing, noting that “While
initially the Irvine CLT only developed on vacant land without much neighborhood opposition, the CLT reported that they had
begun to experience neighborhood resistance to an infill project.”

In fact, one of the most difficult to overcome obstacles to creating affordable housing throughout California is resistance from the affluent neighbors, which was the subject of a special — and packed — session at the 2019 Housing California Conference I attended this month in Sacramento.

At the Irvine Community Land Trust, we have sought to overcome resistance and generate community support by voluntarily continuing to keep our board meetings open to the public, by making our board agendas and minutes, going back to 2012, available online, as well as by making our financials and tax returns also available online.

You can read the Terner Center Case Study, which is part of its series “Statewide Goals, Local Tools: Case Studies in Affordable Housing Development in California,” here.

You can read more about my work with the Irvine Community Land Trust to create more affordable housing here, here and here.

 

Happy Earth Day 2019!

Today, Monday, April 22, is Earth Day.

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the US and around the world, smog was becoming deadly and evidence was growing that pollution led to developmental delays in children. Biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants.

The global ecological awareness was growing, and the US Congress and President Nixon responded quickly.  In July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, and robust environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Earth Day is now a global event each year, and more than 1 billion people in 193 countries now take part in what is the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.

The City of Irvine has been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology, and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy-saving.

Irvine’s San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Geoff Fox.

Unfortunately, when Steven Choi was Irvine’s mayor, our city took several steps backwards. The term “climate change” was banned from all city documents and not enough Councilmembers made appointments to the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee to enable a quorum.

Mayor Steven Choi even refused to participate in the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, sponsored by Irvine’s own Wyland Foundation.

When I joined the Irvine City Council, I successfully pushed for revitalization of the Committee, which has now resumed its work of serving as the official environmental advisory committee, increasing public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, and helping the city serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I am delighted that the Committee now has the full support of the entire City Council, and both Mayor Don Wagner and Mayor Christina Shea have joined with other mayors across the country in asking residents to make a commitment to conserve water and protect this vital resource by taking part in annual Wyland Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, through the month of April.

One of the best — and most distinctive — qualities of Irvine is our commitment to preserving open space. The City of Irvine has more than 16,000 acres of permanently preserved parkland and open space – remarkable for a city of our size.

“The Sinks” — Irvine’s own Grand Canyon.

In 1974, early in our city’s history, voters approved multi-million dollar measures to fund public parks and recreational facilities, and for the acquisition and development of bicycle trail and hiking trail improvements.

In 1989, the City negotiated an historic agreement with the Irvine Company that set aside more than 9,500 acres as permanent open space marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas, protecting fully one-third of the city from development.

In addition, in 2006, nearly 37,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch were selected as a National Natural Landmark, a designation which reflects the outstanding condition, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education of the natural resources on the land.

As our Irvine Open Space Preserve website explains, “Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has had a strong desire to balance the built and natural environment. As this incredible master-planned community has grown, each phase of development has been accompanied by the preservation and enhancement of natural open spaces, creating the network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors may enjoy today and for generations to come.”

Bommer Canyon. Photo by Sanjay B. Dalal.

A crucial environmental issue facing Irvine in the near future is whether to switch from purchasing energy from SoCal Edison to utilizing a Community Choice Energy provider.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is a program that brings local control and freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. Community Choice allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

It has been operating in California since 2002 following passage of Assembly Bill 117.

On September 25, 2018, the Irvine City Council approved conducting a feasibility study to determine the pros and cons of implementing a CCE program, including potential economic benefits for the community.

Community Choice programs enable local government control over energy procurement to purchase power, set competitive rates, and collect revenue. The local utility still maintains the electricity grid, deliver energy, and bill customers.

Community Choice Energy programs offer automatic enrollment to businesses and residences in its jurisdiction, with the ability for the customer to opt out and continue to purchase electricity from the utility. Customers have the option of choosing increased percentages of renewable energy.

Councilmember Melissa Fox with the artist Wyland at his studio in Irvine.

CCE programs in California generally procure and resell a power mix between 50 percent and 100 percent renewable energy to their customers.

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from fossil to cleaner renewable energy.

Community Choice introduces competition and consumer choice into the electricity sector with a focus on local, renewable energy to stimulate rapid innovations in clean energy systems.

By the mid 2020s, as much as 85% of Californians will be served by a Community Choice Energy program.

When our feasibility study is completed, I hope Community Choice Energy will soon be available in Irvine and throughout Orange County.

At our best, the City of Irvine has striven to be simultaneously people-friendly, business-friendly, and earth-friendly.

We must continue to insist that each phase of our City’s development be informed by science, accompanied by careful planning, and prioritize the preservation and enhancement of our environment.

I’m Attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, Working with Experts, Legislators, and Community Advocates to find Practical Solutions to California’s Housing and Homelessness Crisis.

I’m in Sacramento for the next three days lobbying for housing and attending the 2019 Housing California Conference as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Housing California is the “voice in the state Capitol for children, seniors, families, people experiencing homelessness,and everyone who needs a safe, stable, affordable place to call home.”

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox with Kelsey Brewer of Jamboree Housing Corporation at the 2019 Housing California Conference.

The vision of the Housing California is creating “a California in which no one is homeless and everyone can afford a safe, stable place to call home in a healthy and vibrant community.”

The Housing California Annual Conference started in 1979 with a small gathering across the street from the State Capitol, and has since grown into the largest and most diverse affordable housing and homelessness conference in the country.

The 2019 Housing California Conference focuses on the most crucial issues for housing in our state, including legislative, electoral, administrative, and budgetary policy strategy and solutions pertaining to affordable housing and homelessness; supportive housing, rapid re-housing, emergency responses, and bridge housing; affordable housing development including construction, design and entitlement, sustainable practices, and development innovations; affordable housing finance and asset management; and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Housing is truly the issue of our time in California, and helping to create more affordable and attainable housing, especially for seniors, young families, veterans, and people with disabilities, has been an important focus of my career as a public official.

In 2018, I was elected to serve as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust, guiding its mission of providing secure, high-quality affordable housing for the benefit of income-eligible families.  

I am excited to learn and share ideas, and to work with experts, legislators, and community advocates to find practical solutions to California’s housing and homelessness crisis.

I will keep you posted!

 

UCI Housing Security Town Hall: Housing is the Issue of Our Time

In California, housing is the issue of our time.

I was grateful to be invited to speak recently at the recent Housing Security Town Hall sponsored by Associated Students at the University of California, Irvine.

Finding real and practical solutions to the housing and homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

The problem of housing insecurity affects millions of Californians, impacting people of every age group and every background, hitting the most financially vulnerable first and hardest.

One of the groups most affected are students at our public colleges and universities.

The fact is that most students struggle financially with their housing during their time at UCI.  Some are even homeless.

According to a study done at UCI, 53% of students experience anxiety, depression, or severe stress due to housing insecurity, and minority students are more likely to face housing insecurity issues than non-minority students.

As the UCI student newspaper New University has reported, “Housing insecurity has been an increasing burden on UCI’s student population due to rising tuition prices and the growing Irvine housing market. Irvine Company, which owns several apartment complexes near campus as well as throughout the affluent city of Irvine, raises rent prices for students alongside prices for renters throughout the city. Housing insecurity has become such a problem that students are sometimes living in their cars because they are unable to find an affordable apartment.”

At the Town Hall, I spoke about what I’ve been doing to ensure more housing affordability in Irvine and throughout Orange County, including being the only member of the Irvine City Council to vote against the so-called boarding house ordinance — which would make illegal the living arrangements that are an economic necessity for most students and young people — and being the only member of the Irvine City Council to vote to allow incentives to build more permanently affordable housing.

It is time to recognize that the housing crisis will not get better unless we do what it takes to create more affordable housing.

All of us involved in housing — state and local elected officials, real estate developers, labor unions, financial institutions, and community groups — must find ways to work together to create the right legislative and economic environment for building the affordable housing that our state desperately needs.

 

 

Join Me at the ASUCI Housing Security Town Hall on April 4 at UCI’s Crystal Cove Auditorium!

Please join me and leaders from the Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine (ASUCI) on Thursday, April 4, 2019, at 5:30 PM for the presentation of a groundbreaking report on student housing issues at UC Irvine.

Despite opposition from many community members and UCI student leaders, the Irvine City Council recently voted 4–1 to tighten restrictions on “boarding houses” and to ramp up code enforcement of housemate arrangements that are not the “functional equivalent of a family.”

As the UCI student newspaper New University has reported, “Housing insecurity has been an increasing burden on UCI’s student population due to rising tuition prices and the growing Irvine housing market. Irvine Company, which owns several apartment complexes near campus as well as throughout the affluent city of Irvine, raises rent prices for students alongside prices for renters throughout the city. Housing insecurity has become such a problem that students are sometimes living in their cars because they are unable to find an affordable apartment.”

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I voted against this proposed ordinance.  I believe that preserving neighborhood character is important, as is preventing excessive noise and improper home modifications. But these goals can best be achieved by enforcing regulations we already have on the books, not by prohibiting living arrangements that are financially necessary to students and young people.

I also have serious concerns about the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance, its intrusion into residents’ private lives, as well as its conflict with state law regarding housing.

Indeed, the California Department of Housing and Community Development contacted the City of Irvine immediately after the vote, expressing their concern that the ordinance violated state law.

As a result, the ordinance is being re-worked by City staff and will not move forward in its current form.

But those of us concerned about student housing insecurity and homelessness can’t let down our guard.

Brought to you by ASUCI Office of the President’s Housing Security Commission, the ASUCI Housing Security Town Hall will feature a groundbreaking report on student homelessness and housing insecurity presented by Izzak Mireles, a UCI Masters of Urban and Regional Planning graduate student.

In addition, I will be making some remarks and engaging in a question and answer session.

I hope you will join us alongside experts and leaders from across the Irvine community.

What: ASCUI Housing Security Town Hall 

When: Thursday, April 4, 2019, 5:30 – 7:00 PM

Where: UCI Crystal Cove Auditorium

Free admission. All are welcome!

You can find the Facebook Event Page here.

See you there!

Sunday, March 30, is Earth Hour 2019

This Saturday, March 30, join millions of people around the world in switching off your lights and electronics from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. for Earth Hour.

Starting as a symbolic lights out event in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour is now the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, inspiring millions of people to take action for our planet and nature.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I have been able to reinstate and vitalize the Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Commission, which seeks to increase public participation in energy conservation and sustainable practices, helping the City serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

I’ve also helped move the City toward adopting Community Choice Energy, which allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents and businesses to provide cleaner power options at a competitive price.

In addition, I’ve helped to make Irvine a national leader in finding non-toxic solutions to weed and pest control, and finding effective, non-toxic and eco-friendly ways to maintain Irvine’s open spaces and reduce fire danger.

I’ve helped Irvine increase our iShuttle program by 50 percent, and worked to improve Irvine’s bike trails for recreation and commuting.

But we need to do more, and faster. Most importantly, we need to step up efforts to switch from using fossil fuels – the biggest cause of climate change – to clean, renewable energy.  And we need to help people and nature adapt to the inevitable changes ahead.

Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.  It affects every corner of our planet – from the poles to the tropics, and from the mountains to the oceans. People and nature worldwide are already feeling the effects: water supplies are shrinking, extreme weather events increasing in frequency and intensity, forests burning, and coral reefs dying.

All around the world, governments and communities are coming together to act –- and we can st