Lake Forest Looks into Providing Its Own Utility Services

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

The City of Lake Forest is considering developing its own utilities program after bowing out of Orange County Joint Power Authority’s (OCPA) contentious community choice aggregation (CCA) energy plan.

Lake Forest city council voted 4–1 during its March 2 meeting to withdraw from the public utility agreement spearheaded by Irvine, and look into options to start its own utility provider.

“We need to be prudent,” said Councilmember Neeki Moatazedi. “I certainly didn’t like the governance structure of the [CCA]. … There’s plenty of other cities that were approached by the OCPA and they did not join because it’s a weird governance structure—it’s bizarre, and it’s unfair, and it’s one sided.”

Councilmembers initially opted into the OCPA last December, but in February abandoned the program, saying the decision process felt too rushed.

Irvine, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, and Buena Park have opted into the program.

Irvine has proposed paying $2.7 million in initial costs and taking out a loan for an additional $8 million to $17 million for startup costs. Until Irvine is repaid in full (estimated by January 2027), it will receive two votes on the OCPA , while every other party will receive one vote.

Lake Forest would have been unfairly outnumbered under such an agreement, said Councilmember Mark Tettemer.

“If you told people, ‘Would you rather join with an organization where you can be outvoted by two cities, or if you want us to represent your interests,’” he said.

“In my opinion, I think most people would say, ‘I can vote for you. I want you to make those decisions for us, and not allow another organization to do it.”

Since the city previously adopted an ordinance to join the OCPA, it had to adopt an ordinance rescinding the original ordinance. During Lake Forest’s most recent council meeting, the withdrawal went through its first reading, and the council voted in favor of rescinding the board’s decision to join the OCPA.

Mayor Scott Voigts said that delaying the process would be expensive, and that it would be risky for the city to create its own program.

“At the risk of our investment capital—it’s going to be over $6 million … plus $1 million of annual administration to start our own [program] here in the city of Lake Forest,” Voigts said. “We have an alternative here that [has] less tax time, no investment of the city. The [Community Choice Authority] of Lake Forest would be general fund obligated,” he said.

“Every year that goes by that we don’t do this—costs our city, our residents, our churches, and our businesses extra money.”

Councilmember Moatazedi fired back at the mayor.

“None of us are trying to make decisions that are at the detriment to any of our businesses or residents, by any means,” she said.

“I’m sure that there will be other cities … that would be eager and interested in participating and joining with us, perhaps, for a power authority that has a more straightforward governance structure that isn’t trying to create alternative voting systems, if you will. It’s just a straight provider of alternative energy sources; I don’t think we would be lacking in a partnership with any other city.”

Councilmember Doug Cirbo said the issue with the OCPA was a lack of “cooperation” to amend the plan so that each city received an equal number of votes.

“It would be irresponsible of us to jump into something without knowing and having a response to some of these things,” Cirbo said. “[I’m] still open to consider a CCA agreement. I like the idea. Of course, other people are doing it, but it’s got to be right for us. We’re going to look at some alternatives, and that’s where I come from.”

City staff will come back with a recommended process to find alternative options for their own CCA in April.