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Here are three things you should know about the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Solar Decathlon“:
- First, it’s spelled “Decathlon,” with no second “a,” so stop doing that.
- Second, its a premier national event for university engineering and design students — consisting of ten competitions that may help to promote technology, innovation, and interest in construction of solar homes — that has influenced the construction of similar competitions in Europe and, starting this year, China.
- Third, it moves this year from its initial home in Washington D.C., pushed out by the National Park Service, to it’s new California home in the Great Park in Orange Coun … wait, wait … we’re getting a news flash … please stand by!
Uh-oh. Another story has come in (with the extremely unfortunate time stamp of 4:24 a.m.) from Adam Elmahrek of the Voice of OC that might affect how we report that story. It seems that the new Irvine City Council majority took some extraordinary actions at its meeting yesterday (and early today):
- It disbanded the Great Park Board and replaced it with direct control by the City Council.
- It terminated its contracts for PR with Ford & Mollrich and for lobbying with Chris Townsend’s firm.
- It also called for a forensic audit of Great Park operations and accounts.
We’ll have to get back to our Solar Decathlon coverage and our “Australia reaching record highs” coverage later.
Looking at that second set of three bullet points, I suppose that a forensic audit could be at least a semi-urgent matter. A new City Council majority should generally feel free to audit its little heart out. Larry Agran has long maintained — and nothing but insinuation has been raised to contradict him — that there has nothing wrong has been done with Great Park management for such a forensic audit to discover, offering the bon mot “I don’t want to spend millions of dollars searching for an unaccounted ham sandwich.” (Not to worry: the tab will be only $250,000, at least to start. And really, a ham sandwich in Irvine? Surely Agran meant panini with pancetta!)
So, while $250,000 is a lot to spend on a goose chase — and a lot to give to a crony to conduct one, especially if it’s no-bid will get the audit contract and whether it will be no-bid, which may depend on the Council majority’s sense of irony — one certainly can’t complaint too much about their doing one. After all, reviewing the results of the audit will give the Council the opportunity to reconsider its PR and lobbying contracts and to restructure the Board, if any findings warrant it. What’s that? Look at the two bullet points above it? Oh, yeah, them. That is odd.
So what we’re apparently looking at here is the possibility that a fair and impartial audit will show that there was no corruption, that the Great Park was managed well under the circumstances (including an economic implosion), that Forde & Mollrich were actually doing decent PR for the money (although much of it aimed at targets outside of the local area, such as the ones who could decide to give the prestigious Great Park franchise and the commercial advantages that come with it to Orange County), and that Thompson’s firm was actually doing some quite effective lobbying on behalf of the Park — and that despite finding general good management the Council will have already taken the steps to remedy a problem that didn’t exist by executing its own power grab.
Tell me — why exactly were they in such a hurry that they couldn’t even wait for the results of their own precious forensic audit? Did they think the whole thing through?
The ironic part is that the more offensive and controversial of the first two bullet points — grabbing the Great Park (or maybe now it’s going to be the “Coulda Been Great Park”) for the sole control of the City of Irvine and whatever 3-2 faction happens to run its Council without the agreement of, or courtesy of consultation with, the rest of the County — is not actually the worse-timed of these two changes. Yes, the pleasure of their giving the finger not only to Agran and Krom but to the rest of the cities in the region who had thought that they were supposed to be part of the governing structure might have been painful for them to await, but if it was going to happen it doesn’t matter so much whether it was in January or November.
The truly bone-headed move is with summarily canceling those (very possibly extravagant for all I know) contracts right now — before that audit comes in and before one other thing happens: the Solar Decathlon, which starts Oct. 3 and lasts until Oct. 13.
This is a big deal for the Great Park, for Irvine, and for Orange County. It’s a party that we’d really like to go well. You know how much buzz Las Vegas is getting right now from its annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES)? This, while at a smaller scale, is in the same genre. Things will be shown at the Solar Decathlon that may dazzle and amaze and — yeah — stimulate cutting edge commerce right here in Orange County. It’s an EVENT!
And when you are having a really big EVENT, whether it’s the Olympics or the CES Show or your kids’ wedding, you may want to hire an EVENT PLANNER. And part of event planning — possibly even all of it, depending on what the contract says — falls into the category of … public relations! So, guess who has the expertise and relevant knowledge that goes into planning this signal event for the solar energy industry?
Right! It’s THE PEOPLE WHOM THE IRVINE CITY COUNCIL JUST FIRED, that’s who! The Solar Decathlon people from DOE are (or were?) supposed to be meeting with them this very week!
So, in other words, even if you think that Ford & Mollrich (and maybe Thompson, to a lesser degree) have been overpaid for a long time, firing them now is INCREDIBLY STUPID. It’s like paying a monthly retainer to a wedding planner and then firing them — without actually knowing whether they’ve been doing a good job and despite their recently having cut their fee in half– a few months before the wedding. It’s like it’s begging for a disaster.
(I have this mental image of Arthur Forde and John Mollrich floating in the Great Orange Balloon on the afternoon of October 3, seeing the event unfurling beneath them in utter chaos, clicking glasses of champagne and laughing down at whoever takes over.)
And so, this premature and ill-considered decision may ruin one of Larry Agran’s greatest legacies for the City of … hey, wait a minute.
Maybe that’s the point!
I’d been thinking, when the juxtaposition of the Solar Decathlon and the firing of the people planning management of it first struck me, that perhaps Choi and his new majority were simply being petty, blinkered, and stupid. But maybe this is all intentional!
I mean, think about it: there’s no love lost between Agran (and to a lesser extent Krom) and the Council conservatives. The new majority seems to take delight in the prospect of dismantling Agran’s legacy insofar as it can in whatever time it has available to it. This is part of that legacy — and if and when it bellyflops they’ll be able to blame Agran even if it would have been just fine except for this inopportune intervention.
And let’s bear in mind — this even is all ultimately about government support for solar power. The Republicans don’t like government supports for alternative energy. You may remember that Romney himself campaigned against it last year, slagging Anaheim-based Tesla Motors and other companies. What skin is it off of Stephen Choi’s or Jeff Lalloway’s nose if the bright-eyed and innovative Solar Decathlon bellyflops? For the fossil fuel industry, it’s a plus!
So, at a time when new data is coming in certifying the critical state of climate change …
… as evidenced by temperatures over 122 degrees Farenheit is a large portion of Australia …
… which happens to be the largest exporter of coal in the world …
… which solar power, aided by technological and commercial advances spurred by and displayed at events like the Solar Decathlon, is likely key towards supplanting …
… Republicans in Irvine may be hamstringing that event before our very eyes.
I think that the management of the Solar Decathlon bears very close watching over the next 38 weeks. If it goes less well than planned, we may be able to look back specifically to last night in Irvine and remember when the critical mistake happened — for no good reason.