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Daily Pilot: Backers of a New Sustainability Decathlon See O.C. fairgrounds as an Epicenter for Innovation

Daily Pilot: Backers of a New Sustainability Decathlon See O.C. fairgrounds as an Epicenter for Innovation

June 24, 2022
By Sara Cardine
State Sen. Dave Min shares his support for the inaugural Orange County Sustainability Decathlon.

A recent effort to brand Orange County as a kind of Green Silicon Valley — where students, businesses and innovators collaborate on sustainability projects with the potential to reverse the impacts of climate change — has found an epicenter in Costa Mesa.

State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) and two Chapman University professors who oversee an annual survey on county residents’ public policy views, joined with officials from the Orange County Fair & Event Center in a news conference Friday to announce a brand-new Sustainability Decathlon would be coming to the O.C. fairgrounds in 2023.

Modeled after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, the biennial event will feature 18 teams of collegiate and postsecondary researchers, architects, builders and innovators from all over the world designing and building sustainable housing models that can be easily replicated and reproduced.

“We’ve set some ambitious mandates when it comes to zero-emissions housing, but we’re not going to reach those without some extensive innovations,” said Min, who secured $5 million in 2021-22 budget allocations for the decathlon. “We’re hopeful this will help reverse the impacts of climate change and help provide affordable green housing here in California.”

Organizers explained the O.C. fairgrounds presented an ideal location for the event, anticipated to attract up to 150,000 people during its 11-day run, from Oct. 5 to 15.

Fred Smoller, an associate professor of political science for Chapman University, described test rides of the latest zero-emissions vehicles, electric motorcycle races in the fairgrounds’ Action Sports Arena and a drone show, among other attractions to be offered at the event.

The idea, he said, is to educate and engage audiences in sustainable practices and advancements, so they can see what’s possible.

“One [objective] is to help California reach its goal of 100% clean energy future,” Smoller said. “A second goal…is to make Orange County the sustainability capital of the world. That’s a heavy lift, and we’re going to need everyone’s help to do it.”

Although it is still unknown how much revenue the decathlon could generate, Min said it was sure to offset any income losses sustained by the OC Fair & Event Center from the recent banning of gun shows on the state-owned property, due to the passage of a bill authored by the Irvine senator last year.

SB 264 was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year and took effect Jan. 1. Intended as a wholesale ban of gun and ammo sales on all state properties, it was narrowed in scope at the 11th hour to apply only to the Costa Mesa fairgrounds.

“One of the complaints that was made when we ended gun shows at the O.C. fairgrounds was that they would lose revenue,” he said, citing an annual average estimated at $800,000. “This is going to be much more than five to 10 years of revenue from the gun shows.”

Min has since written another piece of legislation, SB 915, that aims once more for a statewide ban. It recently passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee and will go before a vote of the full Assembly.

OCFEC Chief Executive Michele Richards acknowledged the Decathlon fits the center’s mission to provide access to unique educational and entertaining experiences.

“All eyes will be on Costa Mesa, right here at the OC Fair & Event Center, as we host an event that will draw widespread attention to the importance of sustainability,” she said. “We’re excited to be moving forward with this new business partnership.”

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