Opinion: Green Light

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By George, Laguna Needs an Environmental Leader as Mayor

By Tom Osborne

Bob Gentry, Lida Lenney, Toni Iseman: all three were local officials and environmental activists. In my nearly fifty years of living here, these are the mayors I remember for their courage and boldness in opposing offshore oil drilling, saving Laguna Canyon from developers’ bulldozers, and supporting climate action, respectively. Some of them drew statewide attention for their green leadership. 

Without being firebrands, they made sure good, green things happened. They all eventually left public office with legacies of respect and voters’ profound gratitude for their vision and public service.

When the current council appoints our next mayor and mayor pro tem on Dec. 12, the environment will be on the table. How could it be otherwise, given the climate-related catastrophes that are mounting with the Earth’s rising temperatures? The Highland Fire in Riverside County in late October is only the most recent of these calamities. Meanwhile, as our fire insurance goes up, sea level rise and increasing wave heights will continue to erode our retreating shoreline.

To its credit, city hall has largely been responsive to these matters. Where our city could have done more was with the opportunity to join several other cities in the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA), which would have provided Lagunans with a cleaner mix of electrical power via Community Choice Energy. I understand some of our officials are concerned about the earlier mismanagement of the OCPA, the short time left this year to collect data about our city’s electrical load records, and uncertainty about projected cost savings under CCE. When I spoke with council member Sue Kempf recently, she readily acknowledged the advantages of CCE and saw a place for it in Laguna’s future. But she was not alone in holding that our city government needed more time to conduct its “due diligence” to make sure that the matters just mentioned were addressed. 

For sure, the deplorable mismanagement of the OCPA two years ago–the subject of an Orange County Grand Jury investigation–was in need of a major correction. The prior CEO of that organization was fired, and about two dozen structural and procedural reforms have been put in place by a new management team. I’ve met and talked with the interim CEO, attorney Joe Mosca, and came away uniformly impressed. Mosca has served as a city mayor and CEO of the joint power authority that operated San Diego County’s clean energy program. He intends to apply for the permanent OCPA position when it opens. Also, I’ve spoken with Irvine council member Kathleen Treseder, a distinguished professor of biology at UC Irvine, who simultaneously serves as an officer of the OCPA. She assures me that that agency’s former mess has been cleaned up, and Laguna should now join. A year ago, before reforms had been undertaken, she advised me not to urge our city to join. My point is that I trust her judgment, as does just about everyone who knows her.

When I learned recently that an ad-hoc committee in our city hall decided against joining the OCPA in 2023, thereby forgoing access to cleaner electricity, I was disappointed. Council member George Weiss was the lone dissenting voice. He wanted to expedite Laguna’s joining the reformed OCPA rather than wait another full year before our town could take advantage of CCE. 

Weiss’s position on CCE and our city’s prospective membership in the OCPA was and remains that of an environmental leader. Only rarely since former mayors Gentry, Lenney and Iseman have I seen the bold thinking and courageous actions that once defined our city in environmental policymaking. 

For me, George Weiss is clearly the one best equipped to move our city forward on the environmental matters that are becoming more critical by the day. Beyond that, Weiss’s transparency, his newsletter on city business, his council experience, his independent thinking, and perhaps most of all, his civic valor only add to the many other reasons why he should be Laguna’s next mayor. Let council know what you think: [email protected]

Tom Osborne is an environmental historian, book author and climate activist. He and his wife, Ginger, co-lead the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. [email protected]

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