Irvine leaders decided to stay in the green power agency they created after hours of intense discussion on Tuesday night, leaving the agency’s largest customer intact for now.
City council members gridlocked for hours over what their final decision on the Orange County Power Authority would be, with members accusing one another and the public for the agency’s problems as both sides claimed they would be liable for millions of dollars.
Their discussion comes as Huntington Beach leaders ask for a vote to dissolve the agency altogether after a series of scathing audits found a systemic lack of transparency and oversight at the agency, leading to the firing of CEO Brian Probolsky.
That vote is coming in June according to Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland.
“We think we can get the votes,” Strickland said in a Sunday interview. “They can sell off those contracts and actually have excess revenue come back to the city.”
Irvine’s discussion also comes in the wake of Surf City and the County of Orange bailing out from the embattled agency.
[Read: Is Orange County’s Power Authority on its Deathbed?]
Their departures leave Irvine, Buena Park and Fullerton as the only remaining cities onboard, with no other cities currently seeking to jump in – something Irvine City Council members pointed out Tuesday.
Fullerton and Buena park are studying whether to pull out, and Irvine has discussed potentially pulling out several times over the last five months.
Councilman Mike Carroll, who’s also the former chair of the power authority’s board, and Councilman Larry Agran said that with Huntington Beach’s exit, the entire future of the agency is a toss-up.
“The financial implications of those things are still not known,” Carroll said, referencing the departure of the county and Huntington Beach. “We have absolutely no idea. That changed me in ways I didn’t think I could be changed.”
They also pointed out a series of open questions at the agency, like whether the city would get its $7.5 million investment back from the agency, and highlighted the increasing uncertainty around the agency’s finances.
On the other side, Councilwomen Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim say the agency is on a fast track to reaching its reform goals, pointing out that their position as board members puts them in the driver’s seat on enacting quick changes.
“OCPA did have a rough start for sure,” Treseder said. “We’ve already seen great progress reforming the agency, the general counsel is being replaced, the CEO has been removed and is being replaced. We’ve made something like 90% of the reforms suggested by all the audits.”
“We’re on a good track.”
Kim also accused Carroll of being part of a Republican plot to dismantle the agency in an interview with Voice of OC earlier this week.
It’s an accusation Carroll vehemently denied as he questioned Treseder and Kim’s records on the board.
“There have been a lot of games played with the OC Power Authority, including by some of us up here,” Carroll said. “The press reports that I was part of a plot to overthrow the OCPA, which is completely and utterly absurd.”
While Mayor Farrah Khan was ultimately the deciding vote that kept the city in the power authority, she made it clear to environmental activists that she was not happy with them over their past criticisms of the agency.
“Please stop, every time you clap for me it pisses me off,” Khan said after she said she wouldn’t vote to pull out. “Because when we needed your help, you weren’t there. You were fighting against everything we were trying to do.”
Yet the complaints leveled by those activists in the early days of the agency were backed up by audits from a county grand jury, the county government and the state auditors.
[Read: State Auditor Lambasts OC’s Green Energy Agency Over Transparency and Contracting]
At Tuesday night’s meeting, many of the activists who pushed for the agency’s founding acknowledged the agency’s checkered past, but said they have high hopes for the future.
“There’s a real chance the agency can turn around and provide affordable, renewable energy.” said Tomas Castro, a member of the local Citizens Climate Lobby chapter. “By voting to leave, you’d effectively kill that choice for … a generation.”
Carroll also pitched the idea of having Kim and Treseder step down from the board, which never got a vote.
He also pitched the idea of forcing the cities of Fullerton and Buena Park to pay the city $2 million apiece for Irvine to stay in, which was voted down.
Khan said she believed that now more than ever, Irvine needs to stop waffling on whether or not they’ll remain in the agency and project stability.
“Just as we displayed leadership in the past, with the inception and formation of OCPA, we need to display the same leadership today,” Khan said. “That’s how we protect our city’s ratepayers and those of other cities.”
Both the cities of Buena Park and Fullerton are discussing what it would take to jump ship and whether or not they want to take that option, with Buena Park set to discuss the issue on June 6.
After Carroll’s ideas were shot down, he warned the thought of Irvine bailing out isn’t dead.
“Make no mistake, Irvine Council Members,” Carroll said. “This is coming back.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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