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

State College Slopes Need Facelift.

murdock on state collegeAbout the time that Hizonner The Pool Boy was handed the gavel he suggested the City purchase the slopes on State College and give the strip a facelift. The idea was instantly rejected by his peers and staff.

What came next is no surprise to anyone keeping an eye on city hall, our highly paid extremely qualified city staff hired a consultant. Here’s the rest of the story from someone who was there… a witness to the whole affair.

State College Slope Enhancement Meeting Summary.

By Ric Clough, Brea Planning Commissioner 2006-2010

clough on state collegeFor years, State College from Lambert to Brea Boulevard has been in major disrepair. For over 30 plus years, residents in this area have dealt with increased traffic, vehicles racing through the area and major accidents.

This stretch of State College has been ignored by the City.

Approximately 10 years ago, the City spent millions to build the wall and place landscaping along the north side of Lambert, but chose to ignore this bordering stretch of roadway.

Another consultant, another set of plans.

Last year Council directed staff to hire a consultant to review issues in this area. According to City staff, the consultant took $24,000.00 out of the General Fund. The consultant’s review proposed 3 different “design options”. The Council rejected the third option and directed staff to meet with residents to present the two options they approved.

(Editor’s Note: Plan 3, the only plan to actually address all of the issues, was dismissed due to cost, though no creative financing options were explored, and because like Lambert, maintenance became the responsibility of the City. Here are the details of Plan 3:

  • Install new wall like Lambert / 100% uniform streetscape.
  • Tall enough to hide slope issues.
  • Landscaping in front like Lambert.
  • Backfilled behind increasing resident’s usable space.
  • Matches existing streetscape on Lambert.
  • Duplicate 6 foot sitewall on south side for existing fences.
  • Keeps infrastructure off of private property.)

During Monday’s meeting (6/23/14), residents of the area north of State College were presented the remaining two options. Residents south of State College, though easily within the impact area, were not notified of the meeting.

Though the original direction to hold the meeting came from City Council, no Council members were present to hear feedback from the residents.

City tries pushing cost onto homeowners.

Both options presented create either a Landscape Lighting Maintenance District (LLMD) or a Community Facilities District (CFD). Similar to the recent failed effort by the City to convert the already existing Landscape Lighting Maintenance Districts, the choice between options, or to participate at all, would be up to a resident vote.

The LLMD option.

The LLMD option would create a permanent addition to homeowner’s property tax bills to fund the costs of the project and the continued maintenance, freeing the City from any future responsibility. The initial project includes building lower retaining walls and landscaping the hillsides in a uniform way.

Option One (LLMD) would cost approximately $1 million to complete. The forty-four homeowners effected would bear the expense and financing costs by having $1,744.00 added to their current property tax for 30 years. That’s $52,320 per homeowner, a total final payback of $2.3 million on the original $1 million investment. Who benefits from the $1.3 million profit?

The CFD option.

Option Two (CFD) would cost approximately $1.53 million to complete. The payback of these funds would subject the residents to an additional $5,662.00 in their property tax for 30 years. That’s a whopping $169,860.00 per homeowner! For the 44 homes involved, the payback on $1.53 million, over 30 years, would be $7.5 million. Almost $6 million in interest expense and profit generated here.

Additionally, residents would still be perpetually charged maintenance fees of $324.00 per year under the LLMD plan and $480.00 per year under the CFD plan. This perpetual fee could increase over the years as costs to maintain the area increases.

Always read the small print.

During the presentation, City staff stated the funding proposed for the initial projects did not include financing costs. No financing percentage number was provided to justify the reason for the payback amounts. Residents rejected the entire idea of paying such extreme amounts to the City for the projects.

Staff had no response to resident inquiries on other possible of funding mechanisms for the project. Residents discussed Measure M transportation funds, since State College is an arterial roadway and alternate to the 57 freeway commuters using Brea Canyon.

There was also no staff response to questions raised regarding the use of landfill funds (560 fund) that are always so available at City Hall for other projects, like making payments on a solar energy project that was supposed to pay for itself.

Staff did say traffic impact mitigation fees that are paid by developers on projects are not available. $8 million of those funds have already been dedicated to the improvement of the 57/Lambert off ramp project with Cal-Trans and OCTA.

Residents were informed that City staff will be providing the meeting’s results to Council in a summary memorandum, not during a study session or council meeting.

Time for me to wade back in. What are the extended liabilities?

This report from Ric Clough is clear and easily understood. But stop for a moment and consider the larger, unspoken issues lurking just under the surface.

tim_2aI’ll remind you again of Tim O’Donnell’s favorite definition of leadership…

“Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.”

What does this mean in simple language?

If we can successfully screw forty-four Brea homeowners out of millions of bucks while avoiding any responsibility to spend City money in the future, we can eventually screw the other 39,956 residents as well.

Once the camel’s head is in the tent, his ass is soon to follow. If you’re not interested in having your property tax doubled, or tripled, it’s time to stop the camel in his tracks.

A summary memorandum is grossly insufficient!

This is staff thumbing it’s collective nose at the idea of transparency in government and no one on Council should stand for it. This topic needs to be agendized, not for a study session, but for a regular meeting in Council Chambers.

The other side of the street.

As this stretch of State College is a true corridor and entrance to Brea from the west and the north… Brea Mall, 57 freeway alternative, CSUF, Target center, City Hall, etc., both sides of State College should be simultaneously addressed. A simple, clean design relying on drought tolerant native plants and replacing the melange of mismatched fences is what we need.

Refund the solar project payment(s) and turn to the 560 Fund and Measure M monies to pay for the project. Then, like the Lambert Project, the City can take on the maintenance obligations.

Silence Isn’t Golden.


(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…