9 Hot Debates to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main issues we’ll be tracking this week throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening next week we should know about? Let us know!

1. Major Fracking Forum to Be Held in Fullerton

After months of public concern about oil well fracking – and industry assurances that proper safeguards are in place – experts on the oil extraction method are scheduled Tuesday to answer questions from the public about its impact on water quality, earthquakes and other issues.

Several hundred people are expected to attend the fracking symposium organized by Cal State Fullerton that features industry representatives and experts on the science and regulatory rules of fracking and other oil extraction methods.

The forum was requested by Fullerton city officials after fracking sparked community concerns there and across north county several months ago.

Data from state water officials shows that six oil wells have been fracked in Yorba Linda, some of which are in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

Residents in north Orange County have been organizing against fracking, which has also been conducted near homes just north of Brea.

The debate comes amid a nationwide debate over fracking, known officially as hydraulic fracturing.

As it becomes more and more difficult for oil and gas to be extracted through traditional drilling methods, companies have been turning to fracking, which involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up rock formations containing fuel.

The method has been praised as the possible trigger for an economic boom that will create millions of jobs nationwide and help shift America from its dependence on foreign energy sources.

But fracking has also come under intense scrutiny for its potential environmental impacts, including unknown chemicals reaching drinking water supplies and the possibility fracking can cause small earthquakes.

A group of activists recently appealed to Orange County supervisors to implement a countywide ban on fracking until the method is further studied.

An industry representative, meanwhile, urged supervisors to allow state studies and regulations to play themselves out before considering local regulations.

Panelists expected to speak at the symposium are U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Robert Graves, Cal State Fullerton hydrogeology professor W. Richard Laton, South Coast Air Quality Management District strategic initiatives director Susan Nakamura, hydrogeologist Mark Zeko, oil company executive Trent Rosenlieb of LINN Energy and Steve Bohlen, a top oil regulator with the state government.

The forum is slated to be moderated by Cal State Fullerton earthquake seismology professor David Bowman.

In preparation for the event, concerned residents prepared detailed questions about fracking and its potential impacts, according to Brea-based blogger and commentator Rick Clark.

Clark said he and others will be watching closely to check for potential biases among the expert panelists.

The forum starts Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Titan Student Union on the Cal State Fullerton campus (map available here). Click here for more information on the forum.

For those who can’t make it to the event, live video of the discussion is expected to be streamed online.

Starting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the video should be available at this link (http://goo.gl/XRJwFv). Mobile devices can access the video at this link (http://goo.gl/lDzktJ).

2. Showdown on Toll Lanes Expected at County Transportation Meeting

As the debate over placing high-occupancy toll lanes on the I-405 freeway rages on, supporters of a no-toll plan are scheduled to push for their proposal – yet again.

After facing rejection last week from a committee of Orange County Transportation Authority board members, they’re set to plead their case before the full board Monday.

The no-toll plan was developed by a coalition of officials from cities near the 405 freeway who oppose state plans to require drivers to pay tolls to use some lanes. The no-toll proposal calls for adding one general-purpose and one carpool lane in each direction.

Caltrans officials have enthusiastically supported the toll lanes option, saying it’s the fastest way to move people and goods on the north county section of the 405. They deny they are backing the toll roads as a way to raise money.

A wide range of local officials and residents, meanwhile, argue that construction of the toll lanes would violate the promise to voters for Measure M2, the county’s half-percent sales tax, among other concerns.

The meeting starts Monday at 9 a.m. at OCTA headquarters in Orange.

3. Westminster Considers New Homeless Prevention and Rehousing Program

Westminster city officials Wednesday will consider new funding for a homeless prevention and rehousing program.

The proposed Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP) would support services already provided by the city’s police department and existing Family Resource Center, which offers health, education and other aids to homeless and low-income families.

According to a city staff report, homeless services are in the greatest demand at family resource centers across the county, but only limited funds are available. The Westminster School District recently reported it had 1,722 homeless children in the district.

If a grant application for funding from the County of Orange is approved, the program would provide additional temporary assistance to families that have open cases at the Family Resource Center. For example, families displaced by a residential fire could receive assistance to pay for a motel or security deposit on an apartment.

The city also is anticipating $14.3 million in revenue from its housing successor agency over the next several years, a repayment by the state as part of a 2009-2010 program that shifted money from its housing agency to schools.

Each year $250,000 from those funds would be allocated to a full-time administrative position for homeless prevention and partially fund two existing police department positions that do outreach to homeless individuals and at-risk youth.

According to the staff report, the homeless program would be a display of commitment to homeless services that would strengthen the city’s application for county funding.

Wednesday’s council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Read the full agenda here.

4. Villa Park to discuss license plate surveillance cameras

The Villa Park City Council Tuesday will discuss installing city-wide security cameras with an automated license plate recognition system for use by law enforcement.

The technology has come under fire from civil rights groups questioning the value of the data collected, how long it would be retained and the use of information on private citizens.

Pan, tilt and zoom cameras could be installed near the city’s entry and exit points or in residential neighborhoods. Additionally, fixed cameras that snap photos of license plates would be mounted to utility poles, traffic signals, patrol cars and speed radar trailers around town.

The system would check plate numbers against those on a list provided by the Department of Justice. If a match is found, deputies are alerted.

Security footage would be kept for a minimum of one year. If a crime is being investigated, the footage could be used as evidence.

A budget for the cameras is set at $50,000, with an additional $100,000 for maintenance.

The council will also continue its discussion of ending its contract with CalPERS, the state’s largest pension fund.

Villa Park City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. To read the agenda, click here.

5. Westminster Considers Repeal of Sex Offender Park Ban

The city council Wednesday is likely to repeal a 2011 ordinance banning registered sex offenders from entering city parks.

After a state appeals court struck down an Irvine ordinance in January, which barred sex offenders from parks without written permission from police, a number of Orange County cities have moved to repeal their bans. The state Supreme Court has declined to review the ruling, according to the Orange County Register.

Wednesday’s council meeting begins at 7 p.m. Read the full agenda here. 

6. Anaheim to Consider Exposing Johns

Anaheim City Council members Tuesday night are set to consider publicizing the names of men convicted of soliciting prostitutes.

The Orange County District Attorney’s office already issues press releases with the names of “johns” in a tactic known as “shaming.” According to a city staff report, sex purchasers fear being exposed more than they do criminal penalties.

To see the Anaheim council agenda, click here. 

7. Santa Ana Invites Input on Bike and Pedestrian Street Friendliness

Residents, business owners and others are being invited to help Santa Ana make its downtown streets more friendly for cycling and walking.

This week’s workshops, scheduled on three back-to-back days at the Garfield Community Center (501 N. Lacy Street, Santa Ana), are part of Santa Ana’s process to develop an overall plan for accommodating all types of travelers in the downtown area.

The goal is to “create a more walkable, bikeable, and livable Downtown Santa Ana,” according to a city flyer on the workshops.

The Santa Ana Downtown/Transit Zone Complete Streets Plan is expected to cover the city’s downtown and Civic Center areas, as well as surrounding parts of the city. The study area reaches from Flower Street east to Grand Avenue, and from Civic Center Drive south to First Street.

The first workshop is on Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s scheduled to include a “presentation kicking off the design workshop which will include the draft vision, goals, project process and outreach for the plan,” according to a city news release.

Then, on Friday from 1 to 7 p.m. “attendees can participate in a walk audit or a bike tour of the study area. Immediately after, the design workshop will ask participants to identify overall opportunities and constraints, and site specific issues,” according to the city.

The bike tour requires an RSVP with Cory Wilkerson, the city’s active transportation coordinator. He can be contacted at (714) 647-5643 or cwilkerson@santa-ana.org.

And on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, “a solutions workshop will be conducted asking participants on what types of solutions they would like to see based on previously identified issues,” according to the city.

This week’s meetings will be followed by a “community recommendations workshop” on Monday, Oct. 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Santa Ana train station.

Click here to read the city’s news release about the workshops, and here to visit the city’s website for the events.

8. Irvine to Receive $200,000 From Community Center Contractor

Irvine City Council members Tuesday are scheduled to consider a settlement agreement with Kishimoto Architects that would have the contractor pay $200,000 to the city.

The settlement stems from a dispute over the Northwood Community Center renovation and expansion project, which was rife with problems and ballooned up to 45 percent over budget.

A Voice of OC article last year detailed some of the issues — inaccurate staff reports, excessive change orders and city staffers inexperienced with complicated remodeling projects.

The council was going to put another $500,000 toward the project — raising the total to $5.8 million from an initial price of $4 million — until Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway questioned the allocation. The council instead directed the city attorney to investigate the issue.

To read the Irvine City Council agenda, click here.

9. Irvine Councilwoman Challenges Slate-Mailer

Irvine City Council members are set Tuesday to discuss whether a slate mailer promoting the council’s Democrats complies with the city’s ethics ordinance.

The Irvine Community News and Views mailer claims to be a newspaper and resembles one, but is in fact a slate mailer. Republican Councilwoman Christina Shea argues that is misleading to voters.

Historically, slate mailers promoting the council’s Democrats have been criticized for being financed by consultants who then received no-bid contracts with the 1,300-acre Great Park.

Republicans unseated the prior council majority in the 2012 election. They have since launched a forensic investigation into the park’s finances and contracts.

To see the Irvine council agenda, click here. 

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

Orange County Transportation Authority 

Cypress City Council 

Seal Beach City Council 

Tuesday

Anaheim City Council 

Anaheim Union High School District Board of Trustees 

Buena Park City Council 

Costa Mesa City Council – Special Meeting 

Garden Grove City Council 

Irvine City Council 

Laguna Hills City Council 

Newport Beach City Council 

Stanton City Council 

Villa Park City Council 

Wednesday

Rancho Santa Margarita City Council 

Westminster City Council 

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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