A new fight over how much control Irvine has at the Orange County Power Authority could be on the horizon after city council members voted to overrule their colleagues and fight to keep their larger vote on the agency’s board.
The issue in question revolves around the weighted vote, which lets board members – city council members from other member cities – call for a re-vote on any issue if at least two of the four member cities request it.
But in the second vote, not all cities have an equal say, with their voting power determined by how many customers they have.
Irvine represents nearly half the authority’s customers when stacked up alongside Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Buena Park, leaving them with the largest chunk of voting power should a re-vote ever be called.
While Huntington Beach voted to leave the power authority, they won’t formally exit until July 2024.
The weighted vote has never been used in the two years since the green energy agency’s inception, but leaders of the smaller cities in the authority have asked for it to be removed, saying it gives Irvine too much power because they represent nearly half the authority’s customers.
““This is the definition of using your weighted vote advantage to try and control the proceedings of this board,” said Buena Park Councilman and board member Jose Trinidad Castaneda at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting. “Any dissent from other member agencies is not accepted by the city of Irvine.”
Castañeda’s sentiments were echoed by Irvine Councilmembers Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim, who sit on the agency’s board of directors and ultimately voted to move forward with removing the weighted vote at the board’s April meeting.
But some Irvine City Council Members have said they need an extra vote on the board along with the weighted vote to protect the large investment they’ve made in the agency.
“This weighted voting provision was recommended to the founding members,” said Irvine Councilman Mike Carroll, who served as chair of the agency’s board until the end of last year, at the council’s June 13 meeting. “To remove this critical aspect of the joint powers agreement would be something that would reduce the ability of the city to exercise its power.”
Irvine exclusively funded the agency’s launch in 2020, putting up over $7 million to cover the startup costs and inviting other cities to join risk free, most of which has yet to be repaid.
In exchange, the city was guaranteed a return on their investment without interest and an extra seat on the board of directors until the loan was paid back, giving them more power than any other municipality in the county.
At the council’s Jun. 13 meeting, Carroll put up a motion that would require Treseder and Kim to defend the weighted vote or be immediately fired from their positions on the agency’s board.
“We can’t force anybody to vote or not vote on anything,” Carroll said. “I came up with what I think are reasonable solutions.”
Ultimately, that was changed to instead trigger a council discussion of removing Kim and Treseder if they voted to remove the weighted vote, instead of immediately having them fired.
Both Kim and Treseder pushed back on the item, with Kim calling it “outrageous,” and saying Carroll should serve on more countywide boards before he tries to tell them how to vote on theirs.
“One cannot help but be marveled by the sheer laziness and gall,” Kim said. “These handcuffs you seek to put on all of us here cause you’re not stepping up and doing anything besides the bare minimum to represent your constituents … is impractical.”
“The mechanism involved here is to simply vote no on a motion,” Carroll said. “You don’t have to be unprofessional.”
Other leaders at the power authority sharply criticized Carroll’s motion, with Fullerton Mayor and current chair of the agency’s board Fred Jung calling the move undemocratic and a potential violation of the Brown Act, California’s law that governs public meetings.
“Why don’t you let the representatives you appointed for that agency to do their job, to have their fiduciary duty and commit to it, instead of trying to micromanage an agency from afar,” Jung said in an interview earlier this month. “If you feel the agency is not being well served by your representatives, remove them.”
Carroll already floated the idea of removing Kim and Treseder at a meeting last month, but failed to pick up enough votes.
Castaneda also called out city leaders, saying that Carroll “needs to stop interfering with the day to day and policy making of OCPA.”
“I think it would be very difficult to attract new member agencies with a weighted vote scenario in place,” Castaneda said in an interview with Voice of OC. “I would strongly request Councilmember Carroll stop meddling in OCPA considering he was the chair for two years and failed miserably in his responsibilities.”
It remains unclear when the power authority’s board will take the final vote on removing the weighted vote, but it’s expected to come before the end of the summer.
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.