Irvine Mayoral Candidate Farrah Khan Under Investigation for Accepting Foreign Gifts

Irvine mayoral candidate Farrah Khan is under investigation for allegedly accepting a gift from a foreign government, the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has confirmed. The investigation comes less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, and is the latest in a series of controversies and scandals that have erupted in the city council and mayoral elections in Irvine, California. City council candidate Mark Newgent alleges in his complaint filed with FPPC that Khan accepted an offer from the Republic of Azerbaijan to pay for her trip to Baku, Azerbaijan, in late April 2019 to attend the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.  “I became alarmed for several reasons,” Newgent wrote in his complaint. “City council member Kahn’s conduct appears to be a clear violation of the Political Reform Act’s Gift provisions. More importantly—as a retired army captain and decorated Anti-Terrorism Officer—I can tell you from experience that taking money from hostile foreign governments—such as Azerbaijan—is often an indicator of subversive activity.”  “Aside from the Gift violations, as an American, veteran and City of Irvine resident, I find it quite disturbing that Council Member Khan would accept an invitation to such an event knowing that she would be sharing the stage with Iranian government officials—and that the event would be covered by the Iran Press Agency,” Newgent stated. The event was organized by the Republic of Azerbaijan in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international organizations. The FPPC letter dated Oct. 22 is signed by Galena West, FPPC’s enforcement chief, and states the FPPC is investigating the claim, but has not made a determination about the validity of the allegations. When contacted by the Epoch Times on Oct. 23, Khan said she is planning to put out a statement. Her campaign spokesman Cory Allen, said via email he expects the statement to be released “in the coming days.” Newgent said Khan reported that on April 29, 2019, she accepted gifts totaling $1,693 from the Republic of Azerbaijan on her Form 700 Statement of Economic Interests filed on March 11, 2020. Under federal law, elected officials are prohibited from accepting gifts directly or indirectly from foreign governments, and gifts from any single source of more than $500 in a single calendar year.  Irvine Mayor Christina Shea told The Epoch Times that Khan had not informed the council she had planned to attend the event in an official capacity or ceremonial role as an elected official representing Irvine City Council. Councilmember Melissa Fox was also invited by the Azerbaijan government to attend the event, but declined the offer, Shea said. “I know that they had invited Melissa Fox, and she was very uncomfortable, because they have been warned about taking foreign money.” Fox could not immediately be reached for comment. When Khan returned, she discussed the trip at a May, 2019, council meeting, but Shea was under the impression Khan had gone on a personal trip related to involvement in an interfaith group in Orange County. “I did not have any understanding that this foreign government was paying her.” “This is very odd, because she was invited as an elected official from Irvine. She had only been holding office for three months, and she went to this foreign country. What she spoke about, I have no idea,” Shea said. “She was not authorized to go … and she did not get any city approval. The bottom line is, what she took was inappropriate.” CAIR Connections Anila Ali, a self-described moderate Muslim, who ran unsuccessfully against Khan for city council in 2016, told The Epoch Times that Khan is backed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and CAIR PAC, its political action committee. Ali claims that Khan and other CAIR supporters have harassed her over her support of Israel and women’s rights.  Ali also ran as a Democrat in California’s 74th State Assembly district in 2014. She is a schoolteacher in Los Angeles, who once taught in Irvine.  When contacted by The Epoch Times, Khan declined to comment on Ali’s allegations. Several years ago, former President Barack Obama asked Ali to speak at the White House and implement his Countering Violent Extremism Task Force policy. Ali said Khan “and her CAIR activist friends” tried to prevent her from speaking at Democratic events.  Although Khan has been endorsed by the Democratic Party and was the first Muslim elected to Irvine City Council, Ali doesn’t support her.  “I don’t think she is a true Democrat, just like she told me I’m not a true Muslim,” said Ali. “If she’s really working for Azerbaijan, I want to know, because I have Armenian friends.”  The Trump administration has “waded cautiously into international efforts to halt fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the Associated Press reported on Oct. 23. The two former Soviet republics are engaged in their worst conflict in more than 25 years over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

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Dark Money Accusations Swing Both Ways in Irvine Elections

Incumbent Irvine Mayor Christina Shea has challenged allegations that she is caught “in the clutches of developers.” And, she dismissed as hypocritical former mayor Larry Agran’s claims that she has accepted “dark money” in her re-election campaign. Agran made the remarks at a debate for city council candidates in Irvine, California, hosted by students at the University of California–Irvine. Shea and several other conservative candidates chose not to attend the student-led debates, claiming the structure and format of the debates were biased. Shea later told The Epoch Times that Agran’s accusations are “laughable,” and countered that he has benefited from more than $1 million total in dark money from developers in many of his past campaigns. Agran, who is running for a seat on city council in November, denied the allegations. “How can I put this politely? She’s crazy,” he told The Epoch Times. “I’ve never received any money from any development firms. If I have, whether it was architectural firms or individuals who work for a developer, any money that came to me was within the confines of the campaign contribution limits,” Agran said. Though the city limits contributions to candidates to $530 per donor, there is no limit on how much political action committees (PACs) can receive from donors. PACs typically receive large donations from corporations, labor unions, and wealthy supporters, and use the funds for independent campaign advertising, including mailouts known as slate mailers. The money going to PACs in support of particular candidates is often called “dark money,” because the PACs don’t have to publish the identities of donors. In a campaign video on his website, Agran says: “In the middle of the campaign season, your mailbox is stuffed with all kinds of political hit pieces, attack ads, lies, smears. You may not know this, but just about all of it is funded by developers here in Irvine—by developers who move through dark money committees and try to get their candidates elected and, of course, attack those candidates—often unfairly—that they oppose.” He told The Epoch Times that the infusion of dark money from PACs is “legalized corruption of our local representative democracy.” Shea has also denounced the slate mailers. But, she said, “Whether you believe it or support it or not, it is part of our system.” The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that freedom of speech prohibits the government from restricting them. Agran is a self-described “progressive” endorsed by the Democratic Party, and Shea is an endorsed Republican. The two are old political foes and have often clashed. While Agran, as well as a local watchdog group loosely connected with Agran, accuses Shea of having dark money behind her, Shea says Agran funnels his “dark money” through a newspaper that essentially acts as a PAC for him though doesn’t technically qualify as one. Mayor Christina Shea of Irvine, Calif. (Courtesy of Christina Shea) Larry Agran is a city council candidate in Irvine, Calif., for the November 2020 election. (Courtesy of Larry Agran) Irvine Watchdog On Oct. 12, Irvine Watchdog posted an article alleging that between Sept. 21 and Oct. 9, Shea was supported by $122,115 in “dark money,” followed by city council candidates Mike Carroll, $32,000; Carrie O’Malley $2,425; and John Park, $1,196. The sources of the dark money behind Shea, according to the group, are the Greater Irvine Education Guide, Taxpayers for Ethical Government, California Homeowners Association PAC, California Taxpayer Protection Committee, and the National Association of Realtors Fund. During the same window, Irvine Watchdog reported $105,941 in dark money has been spent to oppose Agran, and $106,699 to oppose Tammy Kim, a city financial commissioner endorsed by the Democratic Party. Irvine Watchdog is run mostly by Agran supporters, Katherine Daigle told The Epoch Times. Daigle is a columnist for Politichicks, a conservative news and opinion organization, and she is running against Shea for the mayoral chair. Katherine Daigle, a mayoral candidate in Irvine, Calif., for the November 2020 election. (Courtesy of Katherine Daigle) Mark Newgent is a city council candidate in Irvine, Calif., for the November 2020 election. (Courtesy of Mark Newgent) Shea and city council candidate Mark Newgent, a Republican, told the Epoch Times that Irvine Watchdog is anything but non-partisan, and that Agran is more connected to the organization than he will admit. Agran said he has no financial connection to Irvine Watchdog and he described it as an asset to the community and the democratic process. “I have a number of friends who are a part of the organization, but I think it’s—as far as I can tell—a good organization that does what its name implies: It watches carefully what’s going on at City Hall in terms of disclosure and transparency,” he said. Irvine Watchdog shows no dark money supporting Agran, but Shea says Agran has taken a more covert approach to receiving dark money. Agran’s Newspaper Connection Shea has accused Agran of skirting campaign finance laws by publishing a newspaper that’s really a “campaign mailer.” He has a financial stake in the Irvine Community News and Views (ICNV). “He suggested that it’s a newspaper, and newspapers don’t fall under the campaign reporting rules,” Shea said. Newspapers and other news media are exempt from campaign finance laws because they are protected under the First Amendment. Several news media outlets, including the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times, have criticized Agran and ICNV of misleading voters. Shea implied that dark money may be funding the publication, which she said is running in the red with a huge deficit. “No one is talking about who is funding that newspaper,” she said. The ICNV has recently come under fire from several candidates, including Democrats, for unethical editorial standards and overt political bias. Agran told The Epoch Times he invested in the paper when his longtime associate Franklin Lunding launched it in 2014. “I have an ownership stake of 4 percent,” he said. Agran confirmed that his daughter-in-law, Kerrie Agran, works as an editor at the newspaper. In the print edition, she is listed as Kerrie Mahan, chief operations officer and calendar editor, but the business is registered to “Kerrie Mahan Agran,” according to legal records. Agran, himself, is listed as a writer and contributor. However, the paper does not publish the names of writers, known as bylines, on its articles. The newspaper recently endorsed a slate of Democratic candidates, including Larry Agran, Tammy Kim, and Lauren Johnson-Norris for council, as well as Councilmember Farrah Khan for mayor. There are two at-large council seats and the mayor’s chair up for grabs on Nov. 3. However, if Khan wins the mayor’s chair, the third highest vote-getter would take her seat on council. The mayoral position is for a two-year term, while councilmembers each serve a four-year term. The terms of the four council members are staggered. ICNV has reported that all the endorsed Democrats are running clean-money campaigns, while their rivals, Shea, Carroll, Carrie O’Malley, and John Park rely on dark money. “In effect, they are outsourcing their campaigns to developers and other special interests that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect their favorite candidates who then return the favor by rubber-stamping their massive development projects,” ICNV states on its website. On Oct. 5, Newgent filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) against Agran and other Democratic candidates, alleging they were “using Irvine Community News & Views ‘newspaper’ to shield its donors and circumvent state and local campaign finance laws.” “They [FPPC] dismissed it out of hand because it’s a newspaper with certain rights that are protected by the First Amendment. There is no relationship at all to these dark money committees that are really campaign finance schemes,” Agran said. “It’s really about ethics,” Newgent told The Epoch Times. “He [Agran] wants everyone to disclose where they get their money, but he is not disclosing his.” In July 2017, the City of Irvine paid $350,000 to ICNV to settle a lawsuit alleging the city had violated its own free speech ordinance by banning the publication from being displayed on racks alongside other publications and brochures at Irvine City Hall. “I don’t know what she [Shea] is complaining about. It just doesn’t make sense,” Agran said. “It’s easy to swing wildly and make allegations, but this is the person, after all, who wanted to banish the paper from City Hall.” Despite Irvine’s reputation as one of the safest cities in the nation, it is also one of the most politically venomous, according to a 2016 New York Times report.

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Conservative Candidates Skip Student-Led Mayoral Debate in Irvine

Irvine Mayor Christina Shea and rival conservative candidate Katherine Daigle were noticeably absent from a mayoral debate hosted by University of California–Irvine (UCI) students on Oct. 16, as liberal candidates Councilmember Farrah Khan and Luis Huang presented their platforms. Daigle told The Epoch Times she has participated in UCI events in the past and had received an email from the debate organizers, but wasn’t interested in answering questions that revolve around topics like climate change. “Obviously, it’s disheartening just to have to answer the same old talking points from the left-of-center candidates,” said Daigle, a columnist for Politichicks. Mayor Christina Shea was not available for comment as of press deadline. The topics selected by the Associated Students of the University of California–Irvine (ASUCI) were the COVID-19 pandemic, the environment, and affordable housing. Candidates who participated also fielded questions from students and local residents via Zoom. COVID-19 Khan said he has been reaching out to state and federal lawmakers to try and bring more federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money to Irvine. Orange County received a little over $530 million to divide among its cities. So far it has given $7 million to Irvine: $5 million to assist local businesses and $2 million for rental assistance. Last week at a similar UCI forum for city council candidates, candidate Tammy Kim had blamed Shea and councilmembers for not fighting for Irvine’s “fair share” of the money. She reckoned the city should have gotten about $50 million. Khan said, “Right now, the county is holding on to that money, but by the end of December, they’re going to have to give it back if they don’t use it.” So now’s the time to press the county to distribute more of it to Irvine. Candidates for the mayoral race in Irvine, Calif., Councilwoman Farrah Khan (middle left) and Luis Huang (middle right), along with three student moderators, attend a forum held by the Associated Students of the University of California–Irvine (ASUCI) on Oct. 16, 2020. (Screenshot/Zoom) Katherine Daigle is running for mayor in Irvine, Calif., in November 2020. (Courtesy of Katherine Daigle) Daigle told The Epoch Times she was disappointed that Shea and the council hadn’t worked harder to secure more of the CARES Act funding. “I was completely dismayed at why this was not done. That council did nothing … I was very upset over it.” If it had been up to her, Daigle said, she wouldn’t have shut down businesses during the COVID-19 crisis but would have left that decision up to business owners, with the caveat they could not fire workers who chose not to work. “We live in a free society, to be able to use our freedoms to build a business, to employ people. This is what we are here in the United States, and I would not have taken liberty away from them,” she said. Daigle said schools should be open, but that it should be left up to parents to decide whether or not to send their children back to classrooms. If elected mayor, she said, she would have to abide by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Orange County guidelines, but she would fight for reopening. Huang advised residents to stay out of movie theaters. “I’m sorry, Regal [Theaters], we are going to keep you shut,” he said. And, for those who are at high-risk and worried they could get sick, Huang suggested they “put an N-95 on top of your surgical mask.” “So, I truly believe if we, if we just implement these two simple things, [social distancing and wearing masks], you know, the numbers will continue to improve and we’ll get to open up a lot more businesses, and we’ll get to keep the economy at least chugging along,” he said. The Environment Khan said she supports the city’s Climate Action Plan and has worked hard to get a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program in Irvine to allow the city to procure energy and set rates. The city has also been talking to surrounding cities, such as Costa Mesa and Fullerton, to create a Joint Power Authority. Because the CCE is coming back to council this month for funding, Khan said, “I’m afraid that people are going to say because we’re in a pandemic we can’t spend.” She said the city should spend the money now as an investment in the future. Huang, an electrical engineer in the solar industry, said he has been fighting for 10 years for more solar-generated power and supports the CCE program. “Up in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, I was part of the campaigns to get CCE launched,” he said. He criticized Shea, saying she has been delaying the CCE deal. “She’s been fighting CCE tooth and nail. She’s been slowing it out and drawing it out.” With billions of dollars at stake, power utility companies, such as Southern California Edison, are fighting to keep their profits and don’t want CCE implemented, he said. “It all boils down to money. … It’s as simple as that.” Daigle told the Epoch Times that she “wouldn’t jump on board” the CCE program. Before the pandemic when “I guess we had lots of money to burn,” Daigle said she would have supported CCE “to a certain extent, but not now.” While Daigle believes the CCE plan to generate more solar power and sell surplus electricity is a great idea in theory, she said, “I don’t see it happening today.” Instead, she said, the city needs to focus on “getting people back to work, getting our kids back in school, and helping people live and eat.” Generally, the city has done a good job on environmental issues, said Daigle, an avid supporter of wildlife conservation. Affordable Housing Irvine City Council has balked at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) requirement to build more than 20,000 affordable housing units and has questioned how the SCAG arrived at this number. Khan said council is looking at more “inclusionary zoning” to permit more multi-family homes and considering increasing the percentage of affordable housing units from 15 percent to 20 or 25 percent in Irvine. She pledged to work with state legislators to “cut some of the red tape, because, I’ll tell you, when it comes to affordable housing, it takes five to 10 years to develop one project. And that is unacceptable.” The council recently passed a resolution asking businesses that are now offering work-from-home opportunities to extend them, Khan said. Huang agreed with this move. “Let’s reduce our carbon footprints. Let’s stop driving. Let’s stop requiring our employees to be seated in office buildings from nine to five,” he said. Huang suggested converting empty office spaces into affordable housing units. He urged more young people to vote because “the people who are voting in record numbers are people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and they don’t give a darn about affordable housing.” Huang suggested that the city “move away from giving all the most prime pieces of land to the big developers,” and allow smaller developers to build smaller housing projects, such as five-unit apartment buildings. “Homeowners in Irvine do not care about affordable housing,” he said. “There’s too many people in million-dollar houses complaining about traffic, and just—I’m so sick of it.” Daigle told The Epoch Times that even 20,000 affordable housing units is not enough, and that she would like to see an increase in the percentage of affordable homes in Irvine. She said voters should hold the city accountable to create more affordable homes, but said she’s adamantly opposed to rent control and state mandates. Social Justice During the debate, the candidates fielded questions from students and residents on a variety of topics, including social justice and whether the Irvine Police Department “has room to improve in regard to reducing or eliminating racial bias.” “There’s always room for improvement. And, if there’s anyone who says that there isn’t, then that’s when we become a stagnant state,” said Khan. “After the BLM [Black Lives Matter] protests … I reached out to a lot of our black community members,” she said. Roundtable discussions between the black community and the police department were held, and continue to be held monthly to discuss issues, she said. Huang listed the racial breakdown of Irvine’s police department and called for more racial and language diversity on the force. He also called for “unarmed” community peace officers to connect more with the communities they serve. He said his generation has a better track record when it comes to supporting the LGBTQ community. In his closing remarks, he appealed to younger voters: “Don’t let the boomers have a say in our future. … Don’t let the older generation … dictate your future. Everyone has got so many decades left on this Earth. We’ve got to make the best of it.” Daigle told The Epoch Times she respects the right of BLM supporters to protest peacefully and the LGBT community to fly Pride flags. But, her answer to social justice groups seeking endorsements from city council would be “a flat no.” “I am not endorsing anything,” she said. “What’s it got to do with the economics of the city? … I don’t understand it. We’re all Americans. I don’t care about the color of your skin. … You’re an American. …We are in this together.”

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Irvine City Council Candidates Address COVID-19, Housing, Environmental Issues

Five Irvine City Council candidates who participated in the second of two debates hosted by the Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine (ASUCI), on Oct. 14, said they want to build more affordable housing, safely reopen the economy, and build on the city’s Climate Action Plan. All 14 candidates were invited to participate in the virtual debate, however Vice Mayor Mike Carroll, Mark Newgent, John Park, and Hai Yang Liang declined. When candidates were asked how they would handle reopening the economy amid the pandemic, most agreed a safe recovery will hinge on frequent testing, social distancing, and ample supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Carrie O’Malley, a state public policy expert, vowed to create two public-private sector advisory committees, one to assist small businesses and another—including doctors, nurses and health-care providers—to address public health. The committees would work to ramp up testing, ensure there is enough PPE, and make sure loans are available to small businesses. The Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine (ASUCI), hosts a city council candidates debate in Irvine, Calif., on Oct. 14, 2020. From top left to bottom right: an ASUCI moderator, candidate Larry Agran, an ASUCI moderator, candidate Dylan Green, candidate Carrie O’Malley, an ASUCI moderator, candidate Tammy Kim, and candidate Laura Bratton. (Screenshot/Zoom) Larry Agran, a public interest attorney and former mayor of Irvine, blasted national, regional, and local elected officials. “With respect to the pandemic, not only have we had a national failure, we have had a total failure of preparedness as well here in the city of Irvine, and in Orange County.” He said Irvine should create an office of public health and appoint a chief health officer. He also wants to create offices for small business assistance and emergency rental assistance. “Obviously, we need not to pay attention to the Board of Supervisors, and not to pay attention to the Trump anti-maskers and so many others who want to reopen … too early, and without adequate preparation,” he said. The county has reopened schools too soon, he said. Tammy Kim, a city finance commissioner and educator, blamed city council for not fighting for its “fair share” of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding from the county. “Currently, we’re experiencing a $22 million deficit budget shortfall as a result of decline in sales tax revenue, hotel tax revenue, and recreational fees. But, unfortunately, what many Irvine residents don’t realize is that the County of Orange received $500 million from the federal government for the CARES Act,” she said. Up to $49 million of those funds should have gone to Irvine to assist businesses and pay for rental relief programs, she said. “Unfortunately, we have a city council led by a mayor who will not stand up directly to the Board of Supervisors to ensure that the City of Irvine receives our fair share of resources.” Laura Bratton, a family manager, said that, if elected, she would look into the CARES Act funding. “Irvine should have got $49 million. To me, it makes no sense that we’re in a deficit right now.” Following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines is crucial and means wearing masks, she said. “Respect your neighbor, respect the person six feet away from you, and wear a mask.” “We’ve talked a lot about how we didn’t get $49 million,” said Dylan Green, a graduate student at UCI. “[But] I want to talk about solutions moving forward. We can’t go back and change how we reacted to COVID-19.” He noted that one use of the CARES Act funding Irvine did receive was a $2 million rental assistance program. He would like to see that program expanded. Green said an eviction ban should remain in place, but the economy also needs to reopen so people can work to pay their rent. “That’s going to help with a budget shortfall, because we’ll get the taxes back into the economy,” he said. The Environment Candidates were asked how they would build on the city’s Climate Action Plan and protect the local environment. Environmental measures were also a prominent topic at the first forum held by the student association on Oct. 12. “Climate change is … the biggest existential threat we have facing humanity,” Kim said. She said for Irvine and UCI to help lead green tech, students from all over the world need to be able to come “to build upon our city of innovation.” She criticized the Trump administration for its proposed limits on student visas. Currently, international students can stay in the United States indefinitely as long as they maintain their student status. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed in September limits requiring students to reapply after four years, or after only two years if they are from countries with a greater “visa overstay rate.” Bratton backed the idea of brainstorming with the “young minds at UCI,” and warned against overbuilding, creating more traffic, and losing green space to more office buildings. “We need to stand up as a community and say, ‘No more!’” She supports solar panels and recycling programs, but questioned the cost of expanding public transit. “We don’t need to waste any more money.” Green supports the city’s proposed plan for Community Choice Energy (CCE). The state allows for CCE, which is the ability of local governments to procure energy, set rates, and collect revenue. CCE programs give customers the option of getting a higher percentage of their power from renewable sources. Irvine commissioned a feasibility study in 2018 for implementing a CCE. The study was completed last year, and proponents highlight the savings it predicts—$7.7 million per year for Irvine residents and businesses, and $112,000 per year for the City in municipal energy costs. Green praised the fleet of electric-powered buses at the UCI campus as a good example to be followed citywide. “We all talk about working with the young people, but these people were presenting solutions for years, and people have been ignoring them. I mean, some of the biggest climate change research was done here at UCI,” Green said. Agran also supports building on the city’s Climate Action Plan, and touted Irvine as a world leader in fighting climate change. “It’s imperative that the city and the university work much more closely on this global challenge, just as we did when I was mayor in the … late 1980s, early ’90s. We instituted a ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting compounds that directly addressed the stratospheric ozone layer depletion problem,” Agran said. “It was a global story. Other cities copied what we did. And, as a result, we had local, state, national and international action that resulted in that case, an action plan that indeed, repaired the ozone layer over time.” Agran also said the city should vastly expand its iShuttle program, which helps connect commuters—particularly those working at the Irvine Spectrum and the Irvine Business Complex—with Metrolink stations. Kim said she supports the CCE. “It would end the monopoly and bring freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace, and as a result, would reduce our rates.” She said all municipal buildings should meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, and that the city needs “to take bold steps to make sure that Irvine is 100 percent energy efficient, which includes requiring that all new construction is designed for net zero impact.” O’Malley said the city should work with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to explore new forms of public transit. She suggested bringing OC Flex to Irvine. OC Flex is an Uber-like system where users download a phone app and pay $5 a day for unlimited travel on mini-buses within the city and to adjacent cities. “Right now, it’s being piloted in Mission Viejo, Huntington Beach, and a couple other cities. It has done well, and it’s the perfect option,” she said. Affordable Housing Candidates were asked how they would increase affordable housing in the city and ensure it is well-distributed. Bratton said she wants to examine the affordable housing issue more thoroughly before jumping into any new plans, but said there are already several housing programs available. “Call 211. Call Families Forward,” Bratton said, encouraging students and residents in need to search online for affordable housing waiting lists and get on them. “They’re available, and you can utilize them.” “I came here on the low-income program, so I’m fully aware that Irvine does allocate two percent of [its] apartment homes to low-income residents,” she said. “There’s a host of people that I’ve met here that came to Irvine on that program, and they used it as a stepping stone, went back to school, and got a better job to where they were able to pay the rent and stay in Irvine, or maybe decided to move to Mission Viejo or Laguna Beach.” Green said Irvine has the most affordable housing units of any nearby cities in Orange County, but that there are few vacancies because the city has grown rapidly. “The City Council needs to explicitly zone certain areas as affordable housing,” he said. O’Malley suggested creating more public-private sector partnerships and working more closely with state legislators to grant tax breaks to landlords willing to cut rent costs for their tenants. While it’s possible to forge partnerships, they usually require arm wrestling with developers who generally want “high-end, high-profit housing,” Agran said. The best way to make housing more affordable is to pay people higher wages, he said. He said the city council should bring back the “living wage,” which was $2 more per hour than the state minimum, a policy he and others had helped institute years ago. If elected, Kim promised to create more workforce housing, so that more mid-range salaried workers who choose to work and live in Irvine can afford to do so. The city is currently required to plan for more than 12,000 affordable units, “so, we have to do a lot more,” she said. “At the most recent update, the city maintains currently an inventory of about 4,100 affordable rental units and 13 home ownership units for low-income households, but the waitlist is like 5,000.” Irvine has doubled in size over the past decade, but its affordable housing inventory hasn’t grown at the same rate, making housing even more expensive, Kim said. “We now have more renters than we have homeowners for this very reason.”

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