Santana: OC Offers Paris Climate Talks a View Toward the Past

With world leaders gathering in Paris this week for pivotal talks on climate change, California just sent its own message, stepping backwards by handing over Southern California’s air quality regulation to the business lobby.

It’s a move that even some Orange County Republicans are publicly questioning as a bad omen for local government, even though many leaders in our region who hate the Air Quality Management District – like Gov. Jerry Brown’s California Transportation Commission Chairwoman Lucy Dunn (who leads the Orange County Business Council) and Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whittaker – are apparently thrilled over the change.

The whole point of Paris seems to be taking concrete steps, forging leadership. That leads to innovation. Firms need confidence to invest, risk.

Yet if they look to Southern California, the message being sent is hold back. Hang on.

You can fight change.

Southern California just installed a Lake Forest city councilman, Dwight Robinson, with business ties to the LA Ports, as the swing vote tilting the agency regulating our air quality toward Republicans.

Robinson is a senior official at the Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal, which transfers commodities like grain into large shipping containers.

Yet if you look at the firm’s website, it doesn’t tell you much about the business or Robinson’s role there.

Indeed, Robinson’s business interests aren’t something you’ll read much about if you visit his city website biography or even his campaign website – even though he’s campaigned numerous times on his business acumen.

Yet you’ll see more about his Sunday school teaching and little league experiences on his official biographies than anything about his business ties.

In an editorial in the Flash Report before the critical vote earlier this month that tilted the air quality agency, Whitaker set the stage for Robison’s assension, touting him as “a businessman and entrepreneur who understands the modern world economy and the necessity of enabling Southland businesses to compete and grow free of destructive regulation by uncomprehending government bureaucrats.”

“From his businesses in the LA Harbor to Lake Forest, Dwight has seen the untold cost on the goods and services average people consume caused by bad regulation. The AQMD badly needs the voice of this self-described ‘serial entrepreneur’ who understands that robust economic growth is necessary for a healthy environment,” Whitaker wrote.

Handing over regulation of my region’s air quality to a “serial entrepreneur” doesn’t instill confidence.

Now local Republicans who I respect as people, like Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait or Republican Central Committee Member TJ Fuentes, will tell you that Robinson is a great guy, a family man, a smart businessman.

Ironically, Tait was the swing vote on installing Robinson – probably the only time in recent memory that he and Dunn (who have battled intensely in Anaheim over business subsidies) have been on the same page.

Now, we’ve written extensively about the corruption questions that in recent years have dogged incumbent AQMD appointee, Santa Ana Democratic Mayor Miguel Pulido. And we’ve also documented questionable practices like employing his brother, Luis, as an AQMD consultant.

Yet other Republicans who I also respect, like Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway or Costa Mesa’s Steve Mensinger, are uncomfortable with the switch. Both – who opposed the change – told me that mixing local governance and political party platforms isn’t smart.

Mensinger – no darling of the Left – even voted publicly against the change, noting that Pulido had worked with Costa Mesa on local issues at AQMD – including the recent battle over fire rings on the coast.

Lalloway argues the move is not only deadly for air quality – he keeps asking me wryly what is “business-friendly” air regulation – but notes this kind of move in California is also toxic for his political party’s future in the state.

I’ve already seen how Robinson votes and it isn’t pretty.

Back in 2012, Robinson was catapulted into office with the support of a developer-funded $50,000 independent mail campaign that harshly attacked other local Republicans who were opposed to zoning changes.

Robinson got into office. And when it came time to vote to study the impacts of rezoning an abandoned auto mall in a commercial corridor into a small condo development, Robinson said such studies – costing $12,000 – were too much.

Robinson voted to rezone without the studies.

“I ran as a business-friendly businessman, and that’s the way I’m going to go,” Robinson declared.

There’s the new governing philosophy for your air quality board, a business-friendly businessman.

Is there any doubt which way Robinson will go when it comes to the delicate balancing act between our air quality and business profits?

I’m old enough to remember what Southern California’s smog looked like in the 1970s (indoor recess was real fun). I’ve seen what sensible regulation can do by looking out my window each morning. I’m not excited to go back.