It was déjà vu all over again at the Irvine City Council meeting on March 14th as two contentious issues — the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) and district elections — came back to once again ignite fireworks in the Council chamber.
The results were familiar as well: A 3-2 divided Council voted once again to continue with the status quo regarding OCPA; and on another 3-2 vote, the Council rejected a Council-appointed “citizens’ commission” to draw a map of proposed Council districts.
On the Power Authority, the Council heard a report from City staff that the City government, as an electricity customer, is paying $75,000 more per month for OCPA’s so-called 100% renewable energy plan than it was paying Southern California Edison (SCE) the previous year. The City of Irvine — as an electricity customer itself — pays upwards of $7 million per year for electricity at City Hall and to light and cool other City facilities.
Councilmember Larry Agran, who has been highly critical of OCPA since he returned to the Council in late 2020, moved to opt the City down to OCPA’s basic plan. This would save Irvine taxpayers $45,000 per month. Agran indicated this was a first step the Council could take immediately while “figuring out a way to unwind our involvement with OCPA entirely.”
Agran noted that audits in recent months by the County and the State have revealed severe problems at OCPA — including the hiring of unqualified staff; contracting improprieties; and deficient or deceptive marketing practices.
Agran said that OCPA “is incompetent and may be engaged in fraud. We’re not talking about a little bit of money here. This is tens of thousands of Irvine taxpayer dollars that are being wasted every month. We’re told we are paying a premium for cleaner energy, but there is absolutely no proof that’s what we’re getting.”
Councilmember Mike Carroll seconded Agran’s motion. Carroll formerly chaired the OCPA board, but has recently expressed strong concerns that the City and its ratepayers could be left “holding the bag” — that is, financially liable — if the troubled agency dissolves or goes bankrupt.
Councilmember Tammy Kim and Mayor Farrah Khan, who have supported OCPA in past debates, continued to do so. Councilmember Kathleen Treseder, who repeatedly threatens to vote against OCPA, once again voted to support the agency. She cited concerns about the climate effects of switching to a power mix with less renewable energy.
Agran reminded Treseder that OCPA could not certify to City staff that the money paid to OCPA by the City for the so-called 100% renewable plan is indeed going to purchase renewable energy.
“We are environmental stewards and we take that very seriously,” Councilmember Agran told his Council colleagues, “but we are also stewards of Irvine taxpayers’ money. We should not be paying $75,000 more every month without even knowing what we’re getting in the way of renewables for that extra money.”
In the end Kim, Khan and Treseder voted to continue paying OCPA the extra $75,000 each month, without any proof that the City is receiving “100% renewables.”
On the matter of district elections, Councilmember Kim again brought up her “citizens’ commission” proposal that the Council had previously voted down.
The move received a sharp rebuke from Mayor Khan in a pre-meeting Facebook post. After noting that Councilmember Kim has long been against district elections in Irvine, Khan wrote “No more delay tactics!”
Kim’s motion was defeated on another divided vote, with Treseder joining Kim in support of a commission, while Khan, Agran and Carroll voted NO.
In April, the City will begin a series of 19 or more public hearings, as well as online and canvassing outreach efforts. The timeline calls for a map to be publicly drawn and finalized by October, and then submitted to Irvine voters as part of the March 2024 statewide primary election. The map will be part of a ballot measure to expand the Council to seven members, with the Mayor elected in a citywide vote and six Councilmembers elected from districts.
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