Orange County’s green power agency could soon be terminated as Huntington Beach leaders are calling for a vote to dissolve the agency altogether after announcing they were pulling out last week.
The request also comes just days before Irvine, which currently represents around 40% of the agency’s customers, is again expected to consider whether or not they want to stay in.
It’s also sparked claims there’s a coordinated effort to kill the agency.
The motion was put forward by Surf City Mayor Tony Strickland and Councilman Casey McKeon, asking for the Orange County Power Authority’s board members to vote on whether or not to dissolve the agency and return all of their residents to Southern California Edison.
In an interview with Voice of OC on Sunday, Strickland said the agency’s dissolution comes at the “ideal” time.
“The dissolution of the whole organization would make it a lot easier for my citizens in Huntington Beach,” Strickland said. “They can sell off those contracts and actually have excess revenue come back to the city.”
When asked how he knew that, Strickland said he’d spoken with “people within the organization,” along with “county folks,” and “power experts.”
Some of the power authority’s remaining leaders say they’re bringing change at a lightning pace, and that Huntington Beach’s bailout and requested termination vote is an attempt by conservative politicians and political operatives to kill an agency they once championed.
“I believe it’s an orchestrated effort by conservatives to not only shut down the Power Authority, but to re-exert their influence over Orange County,” said Irvine Councilwoman Tammy Kim in a Sunday text message.
The authority already lost both the County of Orange and the City of Huntington Beach as members after reports from the OC Grand Jury, the county government and state auditors all found systemic transparency issues at the agency and a failure to properly manage contracts.
The county’s departure doesn’t take effect until the start of July, and Huntington Beach can’t leave until the end of June 2024, meaning they both still hold seats on the board of directors.
Under the agency’s rules, they’d need a two-thirds majority vote from the board to collapse the agency, or a separate vote by every member’s city council.
The cities of Irvine, Buena Park and Fullerton are still onboard, but Fullerton City Council members have also directed the city manager to research how much it could cost the city to withdraw from the agency.
A Coordinated Effort to Pull the Plug?
OC Power Authority Board members Irvine Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder and Buena Park Councilman Jose Trinidad Castaneda also raised concerns of a concentrated effort to kill the agency.
“The OCPA is on, so far, a very successful path to reform,” Treseder said in a Friday interview “Now, there are these schemes being cooked up by people who don’t seem to align with the mission of OCPA.”
After the audits, agency leaders announced a revival plan for the agency to implement new transparency measures, which ultimately included firing CEO Brian Probolsky, who’d been the focus of many complaints over his lack of experience in public utilities.
[Read: Orange County Power Authority Fires Controversial CEO After Two Years of Unrest]
“What’s happening here is a corrupt plot by very bad actors who need to be investigated by the state attorney general for corruption,” Castaneda said in an interview last Friday. “I would seriously call for a very thorough investigation into their communications.”
When asked to specify who’s behind the alleged plan, Kim pointed to Strickland, McKeon, OC Supervisor Don Wagner and Irvine Councilman Mike Carroll, the former chair of the agency’s board during the time the audits focused on.
Wagner sits on the power authority’s board of directors, while McKeon holds Huntington Beach’s seat on the board, with Strickland as an alternate.
Castaneda said he believed the agency’s former general counsel Ryan Baron was also responsible.
In a text message, Baron called the accusation “absurd and entirely false.”
Strickland denied any coordinated effort to dissolve the agency.
“I don’t know what a response would be there,” Strickland said. “The fact of the matter is Don Wagner is my former roommate in Sacramento and I have talked to Don about why he dropped out and why the county dropped out, and what their thoughts were.”
But he added it was an “incorrect statement,” to say they’d planned efforts to collapse the agency.
When asked about it last Friday, Wagner pointed out that Strickland and McKeon had campaigned on getting rid of the OCPA, and that the chaos at the agency only highlighted why it should be dissolved.
“I think everything we’ve seen over the course of the last six months … suggests the OCPA is not going to be viable long term,” Wagner said in a phone interview. “All the cities that are in it are questioning whether the political will to actually pull out is there.”
Carroll did not return requests for comment.
What Will Irvine Do?
Meanwhile, Irvine is slated to discuss potentially pulling out, after Carroll and Councilman Larry Agran both called for a discussion to either leave or change who sits on the board.
“I’ve pretty well had it with OCPA,” Agran said in a Friday phone interview. “The fundamental promises that were made, cleaner electricity at cheaper prices have been broken.
If Irvine pulls out, it could be the death knell of the struggling Orange County Power Authority, as Irvine represents over half of the agency’s remaining customer accounts after the departures of Huntington Beach and the county.
While Carroll was originally one of the strongest supporters for the agency, serving as its founding board president for two years, ever since he stepped off the power authority board he’s been a vocal opponent of remaining.
“The worry we have is that if we don’t do this, Irvine gets caught holding the bag at the end of the story,” Carroll said in December, the first time the city discussed leaving. “I don’t really see a way out.”
But Treseder and Kim, who both serve on the agency’s board, have said they have no intention of leaving, with Kim adding any move to replace them could doom the agency.
“I’m hopeful that the vote will end up being to keep representation as it is,” Kim said. “Anything short of that is an indication that those who vote to remove either myself or Kathleen, or a combination of both, are part of this movement to blow it up.”
[Read: Irvine Councilwoman Reverses Course, Plans to Stay in Controversial OC Green Power Agency]
Now, it appears the decision to stay in or leave will rest on the shoulders of Mayor Farrah Khan.
Previously, Khan has voted to stay in the power authority, but has not commented on the issue to Voice of OC since Huntington Beach’s decision to leave.
Khan did not return requests for comment on Thursday last week.
When asked if a vote to pull out hinged on what happens in Irvine, Strickland he believes there’s a “possibility,” of the two thirds vote needed.
“We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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