Opinion: Irvine’s Participation in OCPA in Jeopardy Following Accusations by Buena Park Board Member
“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”
With Irvine’s continued participation in Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) on the line, a Buena Park council member’s series of attacks on Irvine and one of its representatives on the Board threatens to tip the balance. Buena Park City Councilmember Jose Trinidad Castaneda, a new Director on the OCPA Board, is on a warpath with Irvine, which may be the final straw in Irvine’s departure.
This weekend, netizens witnessed a Twitter feud spin out of control between OCPA Vice Chair Dr. Kathleen Treseder, who also sits on Irvine’s City Council, and Castaneda. The subject of the clash was over Castaneda’s unrelenting critique of Treseder during OCPA public meetings. On Twitter, Treseder indicated that Irvine expects to leave OCPA in response to Castaneda’s attacks. He further alleged that Treseder “flip-flops” on OCPA and engaged in a “racially charged tirade” against him in private, concluding he “will not speak with her without a mediator or neutral witness to her abusive approach.” Treseder denies any racially charged discussion ever took place.
Netizens pushed back on Castaneda, who found few allies online. Many comments highlighted the fact that one could support community choice green energy but be against corruption and mismanagement that has plagued OCPA. In another Twitter comment, a user explained her initial positive experience with Castaneda but observed that he has repeatedly hurled insults since taking office, which undermines his credibility.
Observing past OCPA Board meetings, Castaneda launches into shouting matches, ad-hominem attacks, and conspiratorial accusations against Irvine and Treseder. In her role as Councilmember, Treseder became the deciding vote for the City to remain in the beleaguered OCPA program. Considering Irvine is the largest participating City in the clean energy program and the only city to commit millions of dollars of startup funds into the program, the City’s departure will likely sink the program.
Despite Treseder’s environmental background and vote to stay in OCPA, Castaneda escalated his criticism of her at the OCPA regular meeting on March 15. At this public meeting, he accused Irvine City Council “candidates” of going door-to-door with iPads, urging residents to opt out of OCPA. When Treseder asked who he was referring to, he said it was her. She promptly denied the accusation and asked Castaneda to show evidence. Seemingly caught off guard by the request, he merely reiterated that it was an allegation and did not provide any reason or basis for his findings. The intense exchange can be seen in its entirety here:
This explosive exchange does not come without history. For months Castaneda railed against “misinformation” from local media and residents, often singling out Irvine’s politics as the reason for lower-than-expected participation rates. At the January 17 OCPA Board meeting, Castaneda stated that “misinformation has been weaponized in the past political campaign season to really supercharge the number of withdrawals seen from the cities of Irvine and Huntington Beach.” He further stated, “moving forward, my term on this board will be defined by the need for factual information rather than hearsay or opinions that, quite frankly, have influenced the number of withdrawals.” This statement is amusing, considering he recently engaged in making unsubstantiated claims against a fellow Board member.
On February 3, Castaneda texted Treseder an image of her City Council memo agendizing discussions about OCPA reforms and Irvine’s possible departure. The text was followed by unsolicited offerings of training on best practices for good city/manager duties and ways to avoid dysfunction on boards. He followed up by stating that he hopes to connect Treseder with these resources so she can have better-informed strategies. Treseder expressed that his approach was condescending. According to Treseder, she called him after the text exchange, and he stated that her Council memo made him look bad.
The private disputes set the tone for the February 15 OCPA meeting, where Castaneda launched into a tirade over the process of weighted voting rights expressed in the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). At this public meeting, he concluded that Treseder’s actions were “creating a circus performance.” His contention was that weighted voting, according to the JPA, gave Irvine, a City population of 310,000 residents, outsized voting power over Buena Park, a city of 83,000.
Little is known about why Castaneda has set his targets on Treseder and Irvine. He graduated from Troy High School and Fullerton Community College and served on two Fullerton commissions. OCPA Chair and Fullerton Mayor, Fred Jung, appointed him to the Fullerton Planning Commission in January 2021. Castaneda quit six months later after moving to Buena Park. Some members of the Fullerton community refer to Castaneda’s move to Buena Park and immediate run for political office in that City as “carpetbagging.” He won his district in Buena Park with a grand total of 917 votes. Councilmember Tammy Kim (who also sits on the OCPA Board) hired him to work for Irvine as a Council Executive Assistant on July 29, 2021, as revealed through a public records request by an Irvine Watchdog volunteer. His close working relationship with Director Kim and Chair Jung may explain why they largely stay silent when Castaneda launches at Treseder.
During OCPA Board discussions, Castaneda regularly touts his own achievements regarding Buena Park’s residential participation levels, attributing them to his marketing and communication efforts. However, on March 14, 2023, Buena Park City Council announced a study session to be scheduled regarding the cost and procedure to potentially drop out of the OCPA. It remains to be seen if Buena Park City Council will opt to leave OCPA.
Moving forward, we shall see if Castaneda’s attacks on Treseder and Irvine go further. Will the Board finally protect Treseder and reprimand Castaneda? It’s disheartening to witness such extreme levels of dysfunction on a Board as important as OCPA. The rest of the board must step up to better protect those being abused by bullies. Otherwise, OCPA will never get out of the rut it dug for itself. However, based on the recent intense exchanges, it looks like Castenada is putting the final nail in the OCPA coffin. Whether intended or not.
Disclaimer: All opinions published by Irvine Watchdog are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Irvine Watchdog or any of our other volunteers or contributors.