I just completed a one-year stint as a City of Irvine Planning Commissioner, having been appointed by former Councilmember Larry Agran who lost his re-election to the City Council to the detriment of all the residents and working population of Irvine. I’ve known Larry for years, and he has been a major force, along with continuing Councilmember Beth Krom, for the public interest of all of Irvine’s residents.
The year on the “non-partisan” Planning Commission, which has the same political composition as the “non-partisan” City Council, Mary Ann Gaido are I frequently faced ideological opposition to a number of public interest proposals we offered. And that ideology was always to support the free-market against the public interest, to support the property owner and developer in their needs over those of the community. It was always to support the powerful over the individual. It was an eye-opening experience.
A minor example is highly illustrative: There is a requirement that a child-care facility located within 300 feet of a freeway had to have installed a stringent air filtration system (known as a MERV filter). However, there had been no maintenance requirement for the filter, which made no sense to me. After consultation with the Irvine Company, City staff and an A/C contractor, I introduced a requirement, written by staff, that these mandated MERV filters had to be replaced every three months, a record of such replacement maintained on-site, and a copy of those records sent to the City, annually. Sound reasonable? Especially with children involved?
Well, our Republican commissioners felt that that would all be too burdensome on the property owner; the property owner should be trusted to maintain his or her air filters. When I mentioned that it was actually a property owner who suggested the 3-month replacement schedule, the opposition backed off a bit, claiming that the owner “could see the handwriting on the wall.” However, the Republicans on the Planning Commission still refused to impose a record-keeping requirement designed to make sure kids in child care facilities near the freeway didn’t matter.
When I suggested that a technician wouldn’t know when the filter was last replaced unless that date were recorded, because you can’t tell by looking at the filter, the opposition backed off that, too. However, it remained intransigent in its opposition to reporting to the City a copy of that record, as that would be far too burdensome on the property owner and also to City staff (Note that there were only two such child-care centers with MERV filters in Irvine, so City staff would have to examine two sheets of paper, once every year!). I couldn’t get that part passed because my colleagues felt it was too burdensome on City staff and would increase costs!
But, what about the health risks to the hundreds of children? Where are the parents protesting, if they only knew?
And now, the Irvine City Council, and thus the Planning Commission will be 4:1 (with Councilmember Beth Krom being the “1.”), so things will surely only get worse for the public interest.
Elections have consequences. And sometimes it’s kids who pay the price.