The Orange County Power Authority will remain in place after board members decided not to collapse the agency at their board meeting this week.
The future of the agency has been up in the air for months, as every member municipality debated pulling out after a series of audits found systemic transparency and oversight issues, with county supervisors and Huntington Beach ultimately deciding to jump ship.
“I think the tipping point has been reached, and we were pushed over,” said county supervisor Don Wagner, who sits on the agency’s board. “Now’s the time to say we gave it a good try, community didn’t like it.
But at the agency’s regular public meeting on Wednesday morning, Wagner and Surf City Councilman Casey McKeon were ultimately the only members who voted to dissolve the agency, with representatives from Irvine, Fullerton and Buena Park all voting to continue moving forward.
Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung, who also chairs the agency’s board, pointed to numerous reforms implemented over the past few months to fix the problems raised by the audits as a reason they should keep going.
“Is it a new day for this agency?” Jung said. “I certainly hope so.”
Irvine Councilwoman Tammy Kim pointed out that it was a new regime at the power authority, highlighting that the founding CEO, general counsel and entire board of directors aside from Jung had been replaced.
“I need to remind everyone that not only the CEO, the legal counsel, but also the past board chair, no one is here anymore,” Kim said. “This is a fresh start.”
At the same meeting where they voted not to dissolve the agency, board members also approved a new policy that reduced the CEO’s purchasing powers after concerns were raised by multiple audits about contracts former CEO Brian Probolsky set up without board approval.
That policy also requires the agency staff to release a public report every three months documenting the dollar value of all contracts, the amount paid, and the amount owed to every contractor.
It remains unclear how much it will cost the county to pull out despite their exit being just weeks away, but Wagner said the final cost is set to be far lower than the initial $65 million figure that was pitched by county staff last year.
“We found out not only was that not true, but we’re currently negotiating an amount well less than a million in administrative costs,” Wagner said at the meeting. “Every city…can look at their contracts and realize a profit.”
While the county is set to leave at the end of June, Huntington Beach will remain a member until July 2024 as they continue to negotiate their exit.
It’s also unclear how much it will cost Huntington Beach to pull out, or what impact it will have on the remaining cities given the city represents around 20% of their customers and has been receiving power for over a year, while county customers never actually switched off Edison.
Another big question is whether or not any more cities will join the agency.
Councilmembers Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim both claim there are interested cities, but have declined to identify them publicly.
“There are, from my understanding, agencies that are interested in joining,” Kim said.
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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