O.C. Power Authority’s CEO ousted as board addresses transparency issues
Good morning. It’s Wednesday, April 26. We are Carol Cormaci and Vince Nguyen bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter. Together we’ve aggregated the latest local news and events for you.
It’s been a somewhat brief, brutal run for Brian Probolsky, the embattled chief executive of the Orange County Power Authority who was given his walking papers by OCPA’s board of directors during a closed session last week, according to this Daily Pilot story by our colleague Eric Licas.
Probolsky, who will formally leave his position at the end of May, had been under fire from county and local officials after audits revealed a lack of transparency coming from the fledgling agency, which was established as a community choice option for electricity and was embraced early on in its existence by a small handful of O.C. cities.
It was no secret some area leaders wanted the CEO replaced, according to earlier reporting in the Pilot by our colleague Matt Szabo. On Feb. 7, a letter from a coalition of more than 20 organizations dedicated to climate and social justice urged Probolsky‘s removal. State Sen. Dave Min, whose district includes much of coastal Orange County and Irvine, had also publicly called for Probolsky to step down or be fired. But his forced departure is just one step the OCPA board will have to take to set things right for at least one prominent area leader.
“I wish I could say I am pleased to see the Orange County Power Authority Board is finally beginning the necessary process to address the longstanding concerns of this agency, but there is much structural reform needed as outlined in our Internal Audit report,” Supervisor Katrina Foley wrote in a statement issued after the board fired Probolsky.
For those not familiar with the program, OCPA is charged with providing residential and business power users another option besides Southern California Edison. OCPA began supplying power to residents in Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park in October 2022, about six months after launching its commercial and municipal service. According to its website, the goal for setting up the authority was “to be part of California’s growing renewable movement providing millions of users the opportunity to embrace a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable future.”
OCPA was expected to serve 95% of the people in the neighborhoods it covers, and initial projections described a rate of 80% or below as a worst case scenario. But a separate state audit conducted in February found as few as 77% of residents in communities participating in the program were getting their power from the utility; the rest had opted out and returned to SCE.
The same audit revealed Probolsky had approved several contracts without going through a standard bidding process or proper oversight. About $1.27-million worth of work paid to three contractors had been split into smaller work orders that were able to fly under the radar of the agency’s board.
In addition to the four original cities that joined OCPA, unincorporated communities were poised to begin receiving its service this year, but the county Board of Supervisors in December voted 3-2 to pull those areas out of the contract after the grand jury report accused the agency of a lack of transparency. Joining Foley in that vote were Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee. Supervisors Don Wagner (who also serves on the OCPA board) and Andrew Do voted to stay in.
Last week, Wagner, who cast the lone dissenting OCPA board vote against Probolsky’s firing, told the Daily Pilot “I don’t think this will fix anything. I think this will create further instability in the future of the OCPA and green energy in Orange County.”
Probolsky issued the following statement after news of his firing was announced: “In the past 24 months, I helped Orange County Power Authority grow from an idea into one of California’s largest and greenest retail energy providers. This includes creating the brand, raising $42 million in credit facilities and building a renewable energy portfolio worth more than $1 billion. As CEO, I hired a team of professionals as we launched this highly regulated $300 million revenue energy provider with more than 250,000 customers to fulfill the promise of bringing renewable energy to Orange County at cheaper rates than Southern California Edison.”
The OCPA board hopes to appoint an interim chief executive by June 1.
— A major lawsuit against Amplify Energy has come to a close. A federal judge in Santa Ana this week gave final approval to a settlement of a class-action lawsuit involving the pipeline oil leak that gushed thousands of gallons of crude into the ocean off Huntington Beach in 2021. Of the $50 million Amplify Energy will pay to settle the lawsuit, $34 million will go to a class of fishers, $9 million to property owners and about $7 million to the tourism industry, such as whale-watching companies.
— As developers mapped out a new medical center at UC Irvine in 2019, the team behind it had already decided they wanted to make the structure run entirely on electric energy. The hospital and the ambulatory care center will be powered by an Essential Utilities plant that does not rely on carbon combustion or natural gas. UCI Health officials say the 144-bed hospital will have diesel generators as back-ups in case of a power failure, but the goal is for day-to-day operations to be completely electric. The 350,000-square-foot center, which broke ground in November 2021 and is part of a $1.3-billion medical complex for the university, is expected to begin operations in 2025.
— The Fountain Valley City Council approved a motion to create a separate reserve for Measure HH funds in an effort to keep the public informed about how money generated by the ballot initiative is spent. Voters passed the measure, a 1% transaction tax, in 2016 for a 20-year term. The city began collecting Measure HH revenue in 2017, and the tax produced $71.1 million in additional revenue for the city through fiscal year 2021-22. About $30.2 million has been spent on essential city services, capital improvement projects and pension payments.
— At the same meeting, Fountain Valley city officials moved ahead with plans for a new fire station, approving an $8.125-million purchase to acquire a parcel for a new facility. The current Fire Station No. 1, located at 17737 Bushard St., was built on a 0.6-acre lot in 1958. Fire Chief Bill McQuaid says the current facility does not meet the modern needs of a fire department. With the council’s action, the city will enter into an agreement to acquire a 2.86-acre property at 17101 Bushard St.
— Laguna Beach has entered into a partnership with Be Well Orange County for mobile mental health services. Be Well OC also has contracted services operating in Anaheim, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach. The program is expected to lighten the load on law enforcement and emergency medical service members, providing support when matters don’t require emergency personnel to handle a call for service. By a unanimous vote, the Laguna Beach City Council agreed to an initial two-year term with Be Well OC for services through fiscal year 2024-25, and the mobile response team will begin serving the community in July.
— Certain fire effects at Disney properties will be temporarily suspended after an animatronic dragon used in Disneyland’s “Fantasmic” show burst into flames Saturday, startling the audience and prompting evacuations. Disney officials say similar fire effects will be temporarily suspended at company theme parks around the world, except for Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida. It capped an eventful week for the Magic Kingdom, which experienced an outage on its ticketing system on Thursday, leaving hundreds of guests stuck waiting in the center promenade between the entrances to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as they awaited entry.
— Former Newport Beach Councilwoman Jean Watt has passed away at the age of 96. A longtime activist, Watt was a founding member of a number of Newport Beach organizations, such as the Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, Stop Polluting Our Newport, now known as Still Protecting Our Newport, and the Newport Beach Housing Trust. Watt served on the City Council from 1988 to 1996. No immediate plans have been set for a memorial service, but Tuesday’s council meeting was adjourned in Watt’s memory.
— Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials have decided not to reopen the Cloud Campus for the 2023-24 academic year after declining enrollment numbers and parent interest. The program, a 100% virtual learning option offered to students in grades TK through 12, started during the 2020-21 school year to provide distance learning during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It was a preferred option for children at risk of exposure to the coronavirus and students who struggled in a traditional school setting. Cloud students were given three options — return to their original schools, request a transfer to another NMUSD school or pursue independent study through the district’s Monte Vista campus.
— Costa Mesa officials announced Alma Reyes has been promoted to serve in the new position of deputy city manager. Reyes came to Costa Mesa in 2011 as a public works management analyst and worked across departments before becoming an assistant to City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison in 2019. Reyes will assist with the day-to-day management of city affairs in her new role.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND COURTS
— Dr. Anthony Hao Dinh, of Newport Coast, is facing federal charges in healthcare fraud cases involving COVID-19 funds. The 63-year-old physician allegedly submitted fraudulent claims for treatment of patients who were insured, billed for services that were not rendered and services that were not medically necessary.
— After a nearly yearlong investigation, a 47-year-old Cudahy man was arrested on April 14 in Los Angeles County on suspicion of a hit-and-run that took place late in Newport Beach in July 2022. Nery Lopez pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one felony count of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causing bodily injury and one felony count of failing to stop at a hit-and-run that caused injury.
— The trial has begun for a man accused of killing a man and wounding four others in an alleged road rage incident last Thanksgiving. Prosecutors alleged during opening statements Thursday that Lee Q. Walker, 42, of Santa Ana, became enraged when the truck the victims were riding in grazed his side view mirror in Costa Mesa. Walker faces charges of first degree murder and attempted murder.
— Laguna Beach police have arrested Charles Thomas Kelley IV, a suspect they had been searching for in connection with an attempted murder investigation. According to a news release issued April 19, Kelley, 31, allegedly burglarized a home in Laguna Beach, then returned to the residence hours later and committed an act of violence against his ex-girlfriend. Kelley was taken into custody Friday at a hospital, according to authorities. He had been transported there after he was reportedly injured in an unrelated incident.
— A man and a woman were found dead in their Fountain Valley bedroom after police received reports of the two arguing. Officers had been called to their home multiple times over the years in response to verbal arguments, according to Fountain Valley police. The man was engaged to the woman, and the two had been in a romantic relationship with each other for at least three years, authorities said.
— Officials for Knott’s Berry Farm decided to bring back its chaperone policy due to “increasing incidents of unruly and inappropriate behavior” plaguing the theme park industry. Under the policy, visitors 15 and younger are required to be accompanied in the park by an adult who is at least 21 in order to enter or stay at the park after 4 p.m. Anyone 15 and younger who is found in the park without a chaperone will be thrown out.
— Financing for a mixed-use condominium development in Huntington Beach will come through Concord Summit Capital LLC. The agency has closed $32.6-million of total construction financing for ShoreHouse, which will be the first new project to be developed on Main Street in over two decades. The project will offer 20 large one- and two-bedroom condos with outdoor terraces. The structure, developed through Newport Beach-based C3 Development, will be within walking distance to major shopping and dining destinations and the coast.
LIFE & LEISURE
— Racers from all over the country are expected to compete Friday at the 75th Newport to Ensenada race. Roughly 140 entrants will set off from Balboa Pier to travel on one of two tracts: the 125-mile trip between the pier and Ensenada and the 90-mile sprint to San Diego. According to officials at the Newport Ocean Sailing Assn., 55 of this year’s entrants did not race in 2022, and 24 are first-time entrants who have not participated as an owner or a skipper.
— Colorful T-shirts with somber messages have hung on clotheslines across many Orange County college campuses. The T-shirts are part of an impactful installation hosted by the nonprofit Waymakers for sexual assault awareness month, recognized in April. The Orange County Clothesline Project began in 2001 as part of Waymaker’s mission to build safer communities. Now in its 22nd year, the Clothesline Project, which began with eight T-shirts, displays over 1,200 multicolored T-shirts, each resembling a different crime. For example, red, pink and orange garments signify rape, while green and blue indicate child sexual abuse.
— Twenty emergency responders will be honored at the Trauma Intervention Program of Orange County’s Heroes with Heart awards on Thursday in Irvine. The ceremony recognizes their works of compassion amid crisis. This year is the first time TIP of O.C. will recognize a canine emergency responder at its gala. More information about the April 27 Heroes with Heart dinner and fundraiser can be found at tiporangecounty.org.
— In just its fourth season, the Vanguard men’s volleyball team won its first national title on April 15. The Lions completed a reverse sweep, 20-25, 23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 15-11 win over Benedictine Mesa of Arizona in the NAIA National Championship match in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s also the fourth NAIA team championship for the university overall, joining the 2008 women’s basketball team, 2014 men’s basketball team and 2021 STUNT team.
— Angels rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe is expected to be sidelined for four to six months after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder against the New York Yankees on April 20. He was told over the weekend that he would need surgery to repair it. After O’Hoppe, the Angels’ catching depth includes veteran Chad Wallach and Matt Thaiss. The rookie has scored five runs, logged 15 hits, including four home runs and two doubles, walked four times and contributed 13 RBIs in 16 games this season. “It’s a tough pill to swallow,” O’Hoppe said.
— Costa Mesa is offering a free pet event with adoptions at TeWinkle Park, 970 Arlington Drive on Saturday, April 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dog-training demonstrations, local pet licensing and microchipping will be featured along with a blanket and towel donation drive. Pet owners or those looking for their next best friends can talk to local pet vendors, watch a balloon animal artist and caricaturist at work, get an airbrush tattoo or grab a bite from food trucks at the park. Children ages 3 to 12 can adopt a plush puppy or kitten and take home an adoption certificate. Those who donate blankets or towels at the city’s booth will receive a raffle ticket to win a special pet prize. Pets may attend the event, but dogs must be on a nonretractable leash no longer than 5 feet in length while in the event area.
— Orange County’s contemporary dance company Backhausdance will be performing a site-specific contemporary dance work inspired by a monthlong residency in Sherman Gardens. Two ticketed performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 29 and Sunday, April 30. A limited number of tickets are available. For more information and tickets, visit thesherman.org or call (949) 673-2261.
— The 15th annual Día de los Libros celebration will take place Saturday, April 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Santa Ana Main Library, 26 Civic Center Plaza. The event celebrates the importance of children, literacy and families with a special concert full of interactive songs, stories and movement by best-selling author of the original Pete the Cat books, Eric Litwin. The festivities will also include a book giveaway for children, a meet-and-greet and more.
KEEP IN TOUCH
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