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.