Final Thoughts For 2017.

In the summer of 2011, then City Manager Tim O’Donnell told me that his favorite definition of leadership was, “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.” The implication was heinous and has proven to be the underlying rationale of countless decisions made by Council over the seven years I’ve written this blog. Here are a few of the most obvious:

  • Raising Council’s stipend and flex benefits.
  • Burying key decisions and large capital expenditures in the Consent Calendar.
  • Commission and Committee appointees are predominantly political payback.
  • Now defunct Redevelopment Agency created over $200 million in bond debt, most building or refurbishing city property for which there is no property tax which pays off the bond debt.
  • Brett Murdock tacitly appointed to lead opposition to The Brea Open Governance Act and The Brea Accountability Act. Murdock failed to disclose his leadership of the Breans Against Measures T & U PAC and was fined $2,000 by the FPPC.
  • City Clerk, under direction from City Manager and City Attorney violates election law resulting in litigation that was lost on appeal and cost taxpayers almost $1 million dollars.
  • Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem and City Manager take an ill-advised two week junket to Korea and Japan, sticking Brea taxpayers with the bill (Koreagate).
  • Mount a weak attempt to retain the Police Services contract with Yorba Linda.
  • Reorganize Brea FD rather than seriously entertaining the possibility that contracting out the services could save Brea taxpayers a bundle.
  • “Green Brea 2012” was a disaster but continues to be touted by city propagandists as a success. “Greenwashing” at it’s finest.
  • Staff recommends Council pay annual pension obligation at less than 100%, adding to the mounting debt. Brea had a surplus of $21.9 million in 2001, what happened?
  • 560 Fund (OC Landfill) earmarked to mitigate the traffic, noise, road damage and provide other “community benefits” is tapped twice to pay for the solar project – several million dollars. Remember, the one that would pay for itself.
  • Create Landscape, Lighting & Maintenance Districts (LL&MD) and Community Facilities Districts (CFD) to dodge Prop 13 and generate uncapped revenue. Promises made to “revisit” these for possible double taxation and to add sunset clauses has never found it’s way to the agenda.
  • Implement and repeat use of tiered water rates as a means of social engineering (deemed illegal in Capistrano Taxpayers Association, Inc. v. City of San Juan Capistrano – 2015).
  • Cal Domestic. Need I say more? If the FPPC, State DOJ and/or OCDA would get off their asses maybe we would finally get to the truth.
  • The perpetual appearance of collusion, backroom dealings and Brown Act violations every time Council reorganizes – never challenged, never proven but always questioned.
  • Madrona. Self-explanatory.
  • A “Civic & Cultural Center Demonstration Garden” proposed as a means of defraying costs of routine maintenance of Civic Center parking structure. Resoundingly rejected by residents.
  • City budget deemed to be balanced for the last 17 years yet Pension and OPEB debt soars to over $100 million.
  • Brea Envisions. Self-explanatory.
  • Originally proposed in January 1999, the just completed downtown parking structure could have been built for $5 million dollars with Redevelopment money without disruption to existing businesses.
  • Apprised of Constitutional due process issues buried within the Brea Municipal Code, triggered by the unilateral dismissal provision in Section 2.16.050, Council dawdles for 16 months without resolution. Will show up on agenda again soon.
  • $73,069,750 spent since 1977 for a “mobile intensive care” Paramedic Program appears to be nothing more than a subsidy for the Brea FD. (This will likely add fuel to the fiscal fires in 2018 as the truth becomes known.)

How the hell does this happen?

It’s become increasingly clear, as I read dozens upon dozens of staff reports that, more often than not, we’re getting only a fraction of the truth. Having reached the conclusion that Council, Commission and Committee members and the voting public in general lack the vision and intelligence to manage their community — staff has gradually hijacked all authority.

At best, only one or two senior city staff actually live in Brea. They have no local roots, no family history, no personal investment or emotional ties to the community. They are here to achieve their personal professional best, as dictated purely by academia and tweaked in a never ending array of seminars and symposiums. That their “product” ever actually benefits Brea is purely serendipitous.

They are here to put in their time, to receive salary and benefits well beyond that offered for comparable work in the private sector and to retire with six figure pensions.

From time to time they make mistakes, we all do. These blunders are the product of bad judgment, ignorance or inattention. These gaffes are committed with our money and are often magnitudes greater than the day-to-day mistakes we make.

Our city’s cancerous corporate culture.

To preserve their lucrative but fragile existence they are inclined to cover up the truth rather than admitting to failure. A corporate culture develops around them that renders them incapable of providing the whole truth. Staff seems to operate in a perpetual state of circling the wagons.

It is an endemic condition that can only be overcome by stripping them of the authority they have stolen and return it to those we elected to do the job in the first place.

And here’s the problem. As this bureaucratic shadow management culture has grown, their influence and power have as well and this creates a vacuum that eventually sucks in our elected representatives and blinds them to their complicity in the improprieties going on right under their noses.

Where do we take our city from here?

Revive “Clean Sweep” and put strong willed candidates into office who will not bow to the corporate mentality infesting those managing city business.

Candidates must give you a true sense of trust and confidence that accountability and transparency are not simply campaign rhetoric, that they will set aside any and all personal agendas (and bloated egos) – keeping a single focus upon what truly serves the people of Brea. Otherwise, they have not earned your vote.

city culture

Tiered Water Rates – Part 1.

For almost two weeks before Brea Council’s August 20 meeting, I had been trying to find out if the San Juan Capistrano suit regarding tiered water rates and their non-compliance with Proposition 218 would impact Brea. I even emailed City Attorney Markman, who cut his teeth on water issues and enjoys quite a reputation in that area, for his opinion… and got no response.

Instead, at the end of last Tuesday’s meeting (when most people had been bored to tears and turned channel 3 off), Markman casually tossed out this “opinion” in an effort to wave off any possible inquiry from residents.

Capistrano Taxpayers challenge the city’s tiered water rates.

Markman, did acknowledge a “significant lawsuit” potentially effecting Brea and many California cities who have implemented tiered water rates. On Friday July 29, 2013 the Capistrano Taxpayers Association (CTA) and the City of San Juan Capistrano faced-off in Superior Court to decide whether the City of San Juan Capistrano was out of compliance with the restrictions imposed by Proposition 218 (passed in 1996).

As with most laws, Proposition 218 is mired down in legalese and, especially for the layman, is difficult to whittle down to the basic facts. Suffice it to say, Prop 218 was an effort to curtail bureaucrats looking for ways to raise revenues while avoiding Proposition 13’s restrictions. Shut off one faucet and the bureaucrats find another one to open… in this case tiered water rates.

Using conservation as an excuse to impose another tax.

jmarkman_bMarkman suggests that it was Brea’s intention to increase the per unit cost of water in an attempt to discourage users from squandering water. Prop 218 prohibits this, requiring rates to be tied directly to the cost of delivery.

His hinting at the silly notion of having to create 15,000 individual rates and the possible loss of Lifeline and Senior Citizen subsidies is worse than a smokescreen. It struck me as wholly unfounded gibberish designed to scare Brean’s away from sticking around to hear the truth when it finally emerges.

In 2006, Brea’s initial two tiered rate structure was concocted by a consultant; in 2009 Brea adopted a three tiered rate structure, again dreamed up by a consultant.

I’m still trying to determine if we’re talking about one or two consultant firms here. I have a somewhat complex CPRA request submitted, hoping to pull a few facts out from under the rug at city hall. Do stay tuned.

A few serious questions from the policy wonk in me.

In 2006, 10 years after Prop 218 became law, how many of those involved in implementing Brea’s non-complying water rates understood they were breaking the law?

Did the City Attorney, who’s professional resume is likely unequaled in the state when it comes to water issues, forget to mention to Council that their vote for tiered water rates may come back to haunt them one day?

Did the consulting firms accidentally or conveniently exclude any mention of Prop 218 in their recommendations to staff and Council? If so, would this lift the “intellectual property” protection on their calculations and other work property making them available through the California Public Records Act?

Did staff have knowledge of Prop 218 and it’s limitations? Were their reports remiss in giving Council a full and complete set of facts upon which to make their decision?

Wouldn’t be the first time. Remember when Council accidentally gave themselves raises only having to rescind them later due to public pressure? Remember, just a couple of weeks ago, when Council had to retroactively approve a $3.4 million purchase of water rights made by staff without proper authorization?

Will the swallows come back to Capistrano?

I’ve made inquiry to the Capistrano Taxpayers Association for their assessment of whatever appellate actions may still be in process. Their own communications indicate taking a wait-and-see attitude, though their spirits seem quite high. They believe that, sooner or later, the Appellate Court will uphold their claims.

Tonto_1Still, I would like to get to the bottom of Markman’s rather cryptic comment, “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

What do you mean “we” Kemosabe?

Are you including Council? The consultants? Who has known that this could blow up in our faces and for how long?

Was there really a conscious disregard for the law or are Brea taxpayers, once again, witnessing wholesale corporate stupidity in action?