Valentine Day Massacre for the OC Power Authority?

At tonight’s Council meeting, at the request of impatient reformer Dr. Kathleen Treseder, the Irvine Council will decide whether or not to withdraw from Orange County’s Community Choice Aggregation (known at the OC Power Authority.) Coming on the heels of the County’s departure, this move by Irvine COULD spell the death-knell for the agency.

Well, after a first couple years of such incompetence and corruption, can the Agency still be salvaged? Or should we watch it burn, and dance? As people write on their social-media relationship stati, “It’s complicated.” Let’s look at this from some different angles…

New Board Trini, Dr T, Tammy, Chairman Jung, & Casey.
(Objectionably, Don Wagner is still voting too.)

Recently, when thinking about the situation of the OCPA, my thoughts have drifted back to the doomed California High Speed Rail. It sure would be nice for our county to have an environmentally responsible, cost-effective, transparent and accountable Power Authority. And it sure would’ve been nice to have, by this point, High Speed Rail connecting northern and southern California.

These sorts of dream projects highlight three sorts of people or players:

  • IDEALISTS who dream of the beautiful and urgent things an honest government could achieve;
  • CONSERVATIVES who believe from temperament combined with experience that the government can’t do anything right;
  • and, inevitably, the KLEPTOCRATS or PARASITES – the ones who tend to ruin every well-intentioned government project. These folks can smell a gravy train from many many miles away – a chance to amass more power and money for themselves and their friends through no-bid contracts and other shady methods. Derailing High-Speed Rail we had our own Curt Pringle and dozens like him statewide; corrupting the OCPA we had Brian Probolsky, Ryan Baron, and Melahat Rafiei and her disciples.

Then of course the conservatives say “See? We told you so!” while the idealists try their best to clean up and right the ship. We’re going through all that right now. But first… what IS the purpose of Community Choice Aggregates and the OCPA specifically, can they fulfill that purpose and should OJ readers care?

Why Community Choice? lists the “advantages of community choice aggregation” as:

  • Potential retail electric rate reduction.
  • Enables rapid shift to greener power resources.
  • Local control of electricity generation, which can be responsive to local economic and environmental goals.
  • Expands consumer choices.
  • Can spur local jobs and renewable energy development.

Those all sound like worthwhile goals, but has the OCPA been achieving them? And if not, could it be made to, and how? The four (mostly new) members of the six-member Board who do believe in the OCPA’s mission emphasize the “green power resources” and climate goals, as well as the goal of “expanding consumer choices” – Board Chairman and Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung, a conservative Democrat, is especially keen on giving customers a choice besides the monopoly of SC Edison.

Fred is still “cautiously optimistic – and emphasize the word CAUTIOUSLY” – that the OCPA’s business model is still viable, under better leadership – “Check back with me in two months,” he says. He hopes Irvine does not vote to leave the agency before then, a move he sees as destructive and premature. Irvine’s Tammy Kim, as well, is not ready to give up on the agency – it is way too early to give up on the necessary reforms, and she feels leaving this early and abruptly violates her fiduciary duties to Irvine ratepayers.

The OCPA’s greatest true believer is Buena Park’s new member Jose “Trini” Castaneda. He was fighting to make the OCPA a reality for nearly a decade, before Irvine took the plunge. He sees the move to green energy as a worldwide and existential imperative, and he fears that if it fails in Orange County, as it has in a FEW other places, the dream could die altogether. What he says he wants to bring to the agency above all is “transparency and accountability” and I believe him. That’s what it’s been lacking most under “current leadership,” “current leadership” being a euphemism for CEO Brian Probolsky, along with attorney Ryan Baron, who recruited Probolsky and protected him until suddenly resigning last week (knowing that his termination was imminent.)

The hapless and utterly unqualified CEO Probolsky, who refuses to quit, has become a lightning rod – a sort of Moby Dick to Dr. Kathleen Treseder‘s Ahab, the fiery climate scientist who has sworn up and down that if and when she is ever able to, she will remove him. Apparently she may not realize that the majority of the Board agrees with her, but wants to accomplish this more deliberatively which may take, yes, a couple more months. You never hear Jung, Tammy or Trini talk about “Probolsky,” they talk about “staffing issues,” because Brian is a rumbling volcano of legal threats. But everyone knows that Probolsky is the mother of all staffing issues.

(The only ally Probolsky has on the Board, the only director left who’s happy with the status quo, is kleptocrat Supervisor Don Wagner – Wagner who plays a conservative on TV but was placed on the Board of Supervisors by uber-klepto Curt Pringle. And new Huntington Beach member Casey McKeon reportedly doesn’t say much at meetings, but is apparently an honest-enough conservative Republican appointed by a Republican-majority council who doesn’t think their town should be in the agency, but there is no reason he should have any affection for a wasteful klepto like Probolsky.)

Irvine Should Not Leave the OCPA Tonight.

I’m running out of time, but I want to say that I hope Kathleen pulls her item tonight (or that it doesn’t pass.) A lot can go wrong if Irvine pulls out now – it could cost the city $7 million, it’ll cost Irvine ratepayers the fees to get back with Edison, it’ll cause hardships for the other three member cities of Fullerton, Buena Park and HB, and it’ll do more to make the whole idea of Community Choice look like a loser. Sure, Irvine will still be stuck in the agency till the summer of ’24, and can change their mind up till then, but HOW FLAKY WILL THAT LOOK? And this is not a good time to look flaky.

I believe my friend Kathleen is being too impatient – I was impatient with HER last month when she voted to STAY in the agency – I reminded her that she’d been “elected as a heat-seeking missile against corruption” and maybe that was true – but I was being impatient and hot-headed myself. She reminds me of one of my favorite Jesus quotes:

The reforms Dr T wants WILL happen, under this new Board, just not quite as quick as she would like. PATIENCE, we can do this!

Vern out. For now. I’ll be back tonight to update on the Irvine desmadre.

Update 7pm

Well, Dr. T. continued her item to Feb 28, because Mike Carroll was absent and she wanted everyone to be there. Public commenters were pretty evenly divided between those who want Irvine to leave because OCPA won’t reform, and those who want Irvine to stay and reform OCPA. Pretty much nobody (in the public at least) claims that OCPA doesn’t need reform. Oh, and I got to hear Eric. Twice!

Okay now on to my piece on “Is Anaheim’s Campaign Finance Reform Unconstitutional Under Citizens United?” [Spoiler alert – NOT!]

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.