Irvine City Councilmember and Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) board member Kathleen Treseder has requested a special meeting of the OCPA Board for Friday (February 10th) to consider terminating its legal services contract with the Best Best & Krieger (BBK) law firm, whose partner Ryan Baron currently serves as general counsel for OCPA.
Treseder has publicly stated that the removal of Baron and OCPA CEO Brian Probolsky are necessary first steps in reforming the troubled power agency.
Critics have said that Baron functions more as Probolsky’s personal attorney than as the legal representative for the agency. And, according to Treseder, BBK’s billings are more than double OCPA’s budget for legal services.
OCPA was created by the Irvine City Council in 2019 and 2020. At the time, Irvine ratepayers were promised that OCPA would provide electricity from renewable, “green” sources at rates below what Southern California Edison (SCE) charges its customers.
But, when Irvine businesses and residents were automatically enrolled in OCPA last year, customers reported receiving electricity bills that were much higher than SCE for the same ratios of green energy.
In June 2022, the Orange County Grand Jury released a scathing report on its investigation of OCPA, stating that the agency was rife with cronyism, incompetence, and a lack of transparency.
Last fall, the Orange County Board of Supervisors initiated an audit of OCPA. Its findings echoed many of the same problems included in the Grand Jury report. Following release of the County of Orange audit, the Supervisors voted to withdraw from agency.
Although the Grand Jury and other critics focus largely on Probolosky, Ryan and the staff, accountability for the failings of the agency rests with the OCPA Board. The Board hired Probolsky to run the agency as its CEO, and authorized him to enter into energy purchasing agreements worth hundreds of millions of dollars — even though he has no experience in the electricity field. It was the OCPA Board that voted to raise rates before service was launched. And, it was the Board that voted to allow staff to delete negative comments on the agency’s social media platforms, and ban users critical of OCPA.
Last December, Councilmember Larry Agran requested that the City of Irvine give OCPA a notice of withdrawal from the agency, effective July 1, 2023, with the caveat that the withdrawal will be rescinded if OCPA has taken concrete steps to address the problems identified in the Orange County Grand Jury report and County of Orange audit. (The timing of Agran’s request was critical due to the fact that the City needed to give a notice of withdrawal by the end of 2022 to prevent Irvine from being stuck in OCPA until at least 2024.)
Councilmember Mike Carroll, who had chaired the OCPA Board to that time, supported Agran’s request, saying he feared that the County’s decision to pull out of OCPA would leave Irvine “holding the bag” if the agency failed.
Councilmember Treseder, along with Mayor Farrah Khan and Vice Mayor Tammy Kim voted against Agran’s proposal.
However, Treseder now says that if the OCPA Board has not taken substantial steps to improve the agency by June, she will call for Irvine to pull out of OCPA.
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