Silence Isn’t Golden.

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(Thanks to Hugh MacLeod for his insightful doodle and thought for today.)

Assuming that Council does the right thing about Koreagate, that those who screwed up are held accountable and that the door is permanently closed to that sort of shenanigans, we have plenty on our plate that deserves close attention and it’s time for the folks that call Brea home to speak up.

The 560 Fund.

bigdump_aThe 560 Fund is Brea’s payback from Orange County for keeping the Olinda Alpha landfill open through December of 2021 and these monies were to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits.”

This purposefully nebulous phrase was slipped into the contract language to ensure there was virtually no limit on the number or type of boondoggles that could be foisted on an unsuspecting public.

DumptruckTotal income is expected to exceed $30 million dollars, and to date we’ve received $10.5 million and have less than $3 million left.  The 560 Fund has evolved into an obvious slush fund to avoid having to use the General Fund money to pay for the project du jour.

Again, the 560 Fund was never meant to be a slush fund but that is precisely what it’s becoming.  So… let’s play follow the money.

No return on our energy investment.

solarStaff tricked Council into making the first bond payments for the Solar Energy project, totaling over $1.7 million dollars, using the 560 Fund.  In case you forgot, that’s the green project staff sole sourced from Chevron Energy Solutions by duping Council into believing the project would pay for itself.

Though I don’t believe it’s been conducted yet, Chevron get’s to audit themselves, which our Finance Director characterizes as a cost saving effort.  Really?  Do you think for a minute they’ll admit to cutting down the cherry tree?

Judging a book by it’s cover.

libraryThere are those that would like to tap the 560 Fund to give a gift to the County of Orange by buying and remodeling the old Tower Records building, turning it into a new library.  Without question, this library idea is a project easily in the umpteen million dollar range.

The RDA already blew the chance to build a multilevel parking structure on Super Block 1.  Does anyone really think the city would take a property the scale of the Tower Records building off of the tax roles and then give it away?

Where do you plan to be in 2030?

engagementStaff wants to dig into the 560 Fund to pay nearly $300,000 dollars to some outside consultants to create public engagement opportunities under the guise of “Envision Brea 2030.”  The ruse is to get input from Breans, across all demographics, to help guide Council and staff as they plan their Brea of tomorrow.

Were you at the Community Center for the budget workshop to help set priorities for the Budget Strategic Planning (BSP) group?  Did you attend the public meeting to give input on reorganizing Brea’s Fire Department?  Did you participate in the group asked to suggest how to develop Rails to Trails and the community building on the Birch Street Golf Course? Were you able to let the city know what we might need for affordable and senior housing in the future?  Probably not, most people weren’t

Staff has made it quite clear that, unless you’re lucky enough to be one of Good Ol’ Brea’s pet special interest groups, you can keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself.

How about starting a savings account?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set whatever is left of this 560 Fund aside, invest it, let it grow and have it available if and when we should get blindsided with some crisis?

We need to put a stop to their, “If we’ve got it, we’ve gotta spend it.” mentality.  What’s wrong with demanding that staff live within their means?  It’s what you teach your kids!

But wait… there’s more!

Under the single label of fiscal responsibility, we have an almost unending list of serious issues to keep an eye on.  In addition to Brea’s growing unfunded pension liability, now there’s rumored to be an OPEB (Other Postemployment Benefits – medical retirement) shortfall currently $17.3 million dollars and growing at nearly 30% each year. To make matters worse, Brea is totally unfunded for this liability.

We’re still trying to maintain a high functioning Fire Department with oversight by Fullerton and rebuild a Brea Only Police Department after getting dumped by Yorba Linda – neither situation having been properly reviewed by Council or a status report to the community provided.  What’s really working, and what isn’t?

You can also put CFD’s (Community Facilities Districts) on the watch list too.  Hamstrung by Prop 13’s capping property tax increases to no more than a limited inflation factor, CFD’s are a way to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue.

When is a CFD not like Mello-Roos?

housingWhen it double taxes citizens, making them pay twice for the same infrastructure (police, fire, paramedics, etc.), all without a sunset clause when the costs have been recouped.

Even though they publicly admitted having reservations about double taxation and equity issues, Council members Moore and Marick joined with Garcia and Murdock last night (05/21) to approve CFD’s for Central Park Brea and Taylor Morrison developments – without having the broad discussion promised by staff, as Council member Simonoff reminded everyone, or conducting the public hearing (slated for 06/04).

At the public hearing, only the developers, as “property owners” will add their vote of approval, largely because they’ve had their feet held to the fire and just want to get on with things.  Who speaks for the almost 600 ultimate property owners that, through their CFD fees, will be stuck paying the bill… not until everything is paid off, but forever?  Where is their vote in this matter?

Isn’t it generally understood that the creation of new taxes requires a vote of the people?Don’t use the excuse that this is a fee when it’s obviously a tax.

How much longer can we afford a silent majority?

citizenTime’s up I’m afraid.  If you think you can continue to sit idly by, keeping your opinions to yourself, and everything will work out fine in the end… you’re wrong.  We can’t avoid confrontation any longer.  It’s never been more important than right now for everyone to step up and be heard.

Remember, if you’re not part of the solution…

 

The Shifting Fiscal Landscape.

coins_cFor some time now council leadership and senior city staffers have been hesitant to bring the topic of Brea’s unfunded pension liabilities before the public, either to educate or discuss the current state of affairs.  Attempts to put the topic on the agenda were continually thwarted.

Luckily, Roy Moore remained steadfast in his belief that the people of Brea deserved to understand the situation and had a right to make their feelings, questions and suggestions known.  To that end, on Thursday, February 7th, Roy conducted an open meeting at the Brea Masonic Lodge and presented a clear picture of where Brea stood at the moment.

You can download a copy of Roy’s presentation HERE.

One small step for Roy Moore.

Roy’s dogged persistence, plus pressure from our regular cast of characters at Matters from the Audience, was sufficient to force a change of heart in those who prefer to keep things behind closed doors.  Here’s an excerpt from Roy’s Brea Net newsletter #650:

coins_b“As you know I have been very concerned about Brea’s unfunded liabilities and am interested in pension reform.  I am happy to report that the City Council will finally address the unfunded liability issue during its May 7 Study Session.  The discussion should include the extent of our unfunded liabilities, how they evolved, CalPERS recent decision on increasing the City’s contribution rate to fund employees’ pensions and the impact this may have on city services and what possible solutions are available.  This portion of the Study Session will begin about 5:00 p.m. in the Executive Conference Room.”

One giant leap for Brea citizens.

This is a breakthrough a long time in the making.  All folks with an interest in this topic, especially considering that this meeting will not be televised or adequately documented in minutes, should plan now to attend.

A handful of us, following Roy’s presentation, have stayed in touch and continued our own discussions.  Here are a few of the key questions we feel deserve to be addressed:

  • CalPERS recent actuarial policy change will require participant cities to increase their contribution to the fund by as much as 50% per year beginning in 2015.  How will Brea plan to absorb such a dramatic increase in cost?
  • Is Brea considering changing from a defined benefit retirement plan to a defined contribution retirement plan for Brea city employees?  How will the bargaining units, especially public safety unions who account for the largest unfunded pension burden on taxpayers, respond?
  • How did Brea squander it’s 42 year relationship with Yorba Linda for the contracted provision of police services?  Is there any unfunded liabilities legacy that comes with this loss?  How will the cost of rebuilding Brea’s Police Department impact our ability to keep up with unfunded liabilities?
  • Roy’s chart covering liabilities from 2001 to 2011 (download report above) indicates that Brea had a $10.8 million surplus for public safety and a $11.1 million surplus for miscellaneous – a total surplus of $21.9 million in 2001.  By 2003 that had reversed itself and become a $10.1 million total unfunded liability.  That’s a $32 million swing in just 2 years! If we skipped payments to CalPERS, where did the money go?

Please, come to the meeting and make yourself heard.

I’m sure there will be more questions than answers rising out of this meeting.  Remember that, at 7:00 p.m., the study session will adjourn to the public meeting downstairs which will be televised.

During Matters from the Audience, these and new questions generated by the study session report and discussion can be publicly put to Council and, because “Unfunded Liabilities” is on the agenda, Council and staff may reply without violating the Brown Act.

coins_aThere is also a Budget Workshop set for Tuesday, May 14 in Conference Rooms A and B (Civic Center, 2nd floor) beginning at 3:30 p.m. – not the most convenient time.  It will be staff run and the agenda/format are unclear at the moment.  As I learn more, I’ll pass it along.

Remember, it’s your city.

It’s (mostly) your money and it’s your services that are at stake.  Why would you stay home and not get involved?

 

An Elephant In The Room – Part 2

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Response to part one was almost entirely positive, supportive.  The only real question that remained was, “How will a city council as broken as ours ever successfully address the mounting fiscal concerns facing us today?”

Great question.

I’ve always subscribed to the old adage that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Conversely, if it’s broke, fix it.  Last November, voters had the opportunity to “fix it” but they didn’t.

Looking back, it seems we might have made better choices selecting who we put in the council seats and passing Measure U along with Measure T would have greatly enhanced our leverage today.

Water under the bridge. Where do we go from here?

Here’s a summary of the non-fiscal issues respondents sent to me.

  • File a complaint with the OC District Attorney regarding the possible collusion that occurred prior to and during the recent council reorganization, behavior that clearly appeared to be a Brown Act violation.
  • Review and revise the Code of Conduct (Goldenrod) which dictates how council and staff perform their duties and interact with each other. Return control to the council where it belongs.
  • Implement all aspects of Measure T without attempting to subvert the obvious will of the people and without threatening litigation.
  • Turn away from the old “check the box” mentality that was satisfied with meaningless public engagements. Begin to provide regular and convenient opportunities for the public to express their opinions and make every effort to address them in the decision making process.
  • Demand more accountability from staff, including greater detail and clarity in reports and recommendations and the elimination of bias and misdirection.
  • Demand a complete and thorough follow-up report on the reorganization of the Brea Fire Department, including it’s cooping of command staff with Fullerton and an accurate accounting of any savings generated. Has the plan fulfilled any of numerous  promises made?
  • Demand a full investigation of how Brea lost the law enforcement contract with Yorba Linda, especially the overcharging publicly acknowledged to the Yorba Linda City Council by Tim O’Donnell, including a comprehensive and intelligible explanation of how Brea will implement and afford a “Brea Only” police agency.
  • Demand a review of contracted costs and obligations to Richards, Watson & Gershon, including a return to the public posting of their rates, with the results determining whether their contract should be renewed or that RFPs be solicited from other law firms providing city attorney services.

It seems the people have spoken.

The overriding impression one gets reading these issues is that the people will no longer stand being pushed around or dismissed. There has been an awakening, at least in some circles, and the status quo has been put on notice.

garcia_sturgis_150We have a Mayor who could not articulate why he is best suited amongst his peers to hold the position, or even how he wrangled the opportunity away from the more senior council member truly deserving the position. (See BreaNet #639)

brett_150We have a Mayor Pro Tem who is no more capable of handling the job now than he was when first named MPT a year ago.  Seriously, who doesn’t see the blatant political maneuvering designed to position him as Mayor when running for reelection in 2014?

Watch the video again.

Mayor Garcia, in “nominating” Murdock, references this to such an extent that he may have been guilty of making a double motion.  Did Markman put the screws to Roy Moore and then fall asleep on this one?

ron_garcia_brea.jpgSpecifically, Garcia blurted out, “… make a motion that Brett serve as Mayor Pro Tem which would give Brett Mayor, to serve as the Mayor, in his 4 year term.”  Yeah, as usual, Garcia’s grammar and logic are all screwed up, however he appears to have nominated Murdock for Mayor Pro Tem for 2013 and as Mayor for 2014.

Just guessing, but this “metedura de pata enorme” may come back to haunt the new Alcalde.

We have a perpetuation of a three vote majority prepared to ride roughshod over their constituents as they dutifully carry out the whims and desires of the City Manager.  This is neither a myth nor conspiracy theory.  Pay attention.  Attend or watch the meetings.  Try to have a meaningful dialog with a council member.  Test the open door policy.

“The general population doesn’t know whats happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” ~ Noam Chomsky.

It is said that communities get the governance they deserve.  Brea deserves better.  Much Better.  Please try and remember that the next time you have your ballot in front of you and a pen in your hand, about to make history.

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