Democrats may hold every statewide electoral office in California and control both houses of the Legislature, but that doesn’t mean Republicans can’t have significant influence at the regional level.
Last week, the balance of power on the 13-member board of the South Coast Regional Air Quality Management District (AQMD) apparently shifted in favor of the GOP when Orange County cities selected Republican Lake Forest Councilman Dwight Robinson to replace Democratic Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a green energy advocate, as their representative. Pulido was on the board for more than a decade.
“This is definitely reason to celebrate,” Orange County GOP Chairman Fred Whitaker told the Orange County Register. He complained about AQMD treatment of gas stations and the prospect of regulations governing trucks carrying goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Councilman Robinson is vice president and general manager of Los Angeles Harbor Grain Terminal.
The AQMD is ostensibly a nonpartisan body that oversees smog control for Orange County and urban portions of Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County and Riverside County. The region is among the smoggiest in the nation and the AQMD has played a key role the past 30 years in cleaning it up.
The federal Clean Air Act of 1975 requires local agencies to develop State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to meet federal air pollution goals and implement transportation control measures, like employee ridesharing rules. Its influence extends from fire rings at the beach to urban oil fields and beyond.
The AQMD issues permits for 28,400 businesses and is responsible for inspecting them. One of the current hot topics at the agency is regulation of oil fracking, the toxic drilling technique which has only recently received the attention of state and local authorities.
The conservative website OC Political was so excited at the prospect of AQMD control shifting to Republicans it live blogged the vote of the City Selection Committee meeting, where 34 OC mayors or their representatives picked who would sit on various regional boards. The votes are weighted by the populations of the cities they represent and the Register said if Irvine, the county’s third-largest city, had voted for the Democrat it would have been a tie.
Irvine’s representative had been Republican Councilman Jeff Lalloway until a few days before the vote. He told the Register state GOP Chairman Jim Brulte asked him on October 29 to commit to a vote for Robinson. Lalloway didn’t do that and Irvine Mayor Steven Choi e-mailed him four hours later that he had been replaced by another Republican, Christina Shea.
She did the right thing. OC Political called it “a coup.”
It flips the board, assuming everyone else on it retains their seats. After the vote, Robinson said, “Many of the things AQMD has been doing over the last decade have driven companies, jobs and the middle class out of Southern California.” He promised to balance “sensible environmental stewardship with middle class job retention.”
And that’s how decisions about the air quality of more than 16.8 million Californians get made.