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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”