Vargas: Liar Liar… Pants On Fire!

On Tuesday, September 5, Council finally had an opportunity to address the Constitutional Due Process issues in the Brea Municipal Code but, thanks to inadequate staff input and a major distraction from Council member Vargas, they were thwarted.

After a year of sidestepping the issue, City Manager Gallardo and City Attorney Markman continued trying to wriggling out of honestly facing the music by submitting conflicting statements to launch Council’s discussion.

Gallardo said he believed the Brea Municipal Code and Code of Conduct were in conflict (not the root issue), Markman disagreed completely… denying that any contradiction existed and doubling down on his assertion that there was no threat of Constitutional violation because termination of Commissioners and Committee members is made without cause.

The greatest roadblock to Council having an intelligent discussion was the almost incoherent ranting by Council member Vargas. He not only derailed the discussion, he added to his list of “causes” for dismissal which crushed Markman’s position. In addition, claims made by Vargas were fabrications… figments of his imagination.

Everyone in the room must have recognized that, especially Vargas. Assuming he hadn’t forgotten the truth, he must have known just how far he stretched it.

Ultimately, thanks to Council’s unwillingness to be intimidated and the Mayor’s taking control of the discussion, the decision was to continue the item until staff could provide additional information. Hopefully staff will also make some attempt to get on the same page with each other.

I’ll leave follow-up on the real issues until they hit Council’s agenda again and turn my attention now to poking holes in the spurious allegations and remarks being tossed about by Mr. Vargas.

The Letter of Dismissal

I’ll work my way through the “causes” cited by Vargas in the letter.

  1. “… our initial agreement was a two year assignment” – No such agreement was ever made. No member of Council has the authority to make such an agreement and, if they were authorized, the BMC would state so and the “deal” would obviously have to be disclosed when the nomination is made. Never happened.
  2. “… allow you some closure from past experiences as a Commissioner, unfortunately I am not in a position to continue the redemption any further” – A complete non sequitur. My seven year history as a Cultural Arts Commissioner, as Chair of this Commission and it’s representative on Art in Public Places and the Senior Citizen Advisory Board is extolled at length in the commendation I received from Mayor Roy Moore in 2011. I needed redemption for nothing.
  3. “… (for) 3 months, I have attempted to communicate with you on numerous occasions via text and phone calls” – Hogwash. Once or twice a month Vargas would call me as he headed home from work at Port Hueneme and we would talk about various matters until he typically said, “Well Clark, you got me home safe and sound again.”

The last time we spoke we discussed his plans to put Term Limits on the ballot as a proposition. He refused to consider discussing his plans with Council. I told him it was a stupid idea, that it was an obvious attack aimed solely at Council member Simonoff. Finally, he agreed to drop the idea and the discussion ended.

Four days later the City Council meeting erupted in heated, angry exchanges with Vargas when he announced his intention to collect signatures via a third party contractor for a ballot initiative on Term Limits. When Vargas called me after the meeting I was too angry to take the call and let it go to voicemail. I did the same with the other half dozen attempts Vargas made over the next hour or so.

He texted me once the next day asking why I was dodging his calls. I texted back that I hated getting lied to and would need a few days to let my anger subside. I never heard from him again until I received the letter of dismissal… 36 hours after almost everyone in Brea seemed to get it. Must have been a massive BCC list.

  1. “…your reluctance to keep me informed of pending issues does not allow me to provide effective service as a council member.” – So, Breans have been under represented for almost a year now. Good to know. Don’t cross your fingers for the Mayor Pro Tem’s seat and we all know what to do when the 2018 elections come around.

During the first year of Vargas’ current term, as I would come across articles online relevant to current or impending city matters, I would email a link to Vargas… who seemed to have neither the time nor skills to do his own research. I did this maybe once or twice a week. I was surprised to hear he was unable to “provide effective service” without my help.

Fast Forward Almost a Year.

I mentioned the rants Vargas inflicted on everyone at last week’s study session, that they were laced with the same sort of groundless statements as are found in the dismissal letter.

  1. Only after repeated badgering by members of Council and City Staff did he feel forced to dismiss me. – Vargas was immediately challenged on this by the Mayor as being complete nonsense. Never happened.
  2. Vargas claimed to have “cleared it with” Gallardo and Markman before he sent the dismissal letter… a weak attempt to imply their approval. Gallardo and Markman preserved their “plausible deniability” by answering Vargas’ email inquiry by phone. A common practice down at city hall. However, Gallardo told me later that he attempted to talk Vargas out of the dismissal but failed and that Markman merely confirmed the appropriate BMC reference.
  3. Vargas said he discussed health issues with me, asking me to resign, and was compelled to terminate me because I would not resign. A year ago my health was not an issue, we never had such a conversation. This is total b*llsh*t.
  4. Vargas stated that he appointed me because of my experience with affordable housing while working for Quaker City Bank. (No Steve, that was Ron Garcia, your first appointment to the Planning Commission in 1998.) We never discussed housing of any type prior to or following my appointment to the Planning Commission. I have never worked for Quaker City Bank, or any bank, but did handle branding and advertising for Landmark Bank in La Habra when it launched in 1979… 38 years ago.
  5. Vargas protested my use of the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to obtain information leading to my “due process” probe and aggressively demanded “cost accounting” from the City Clerk, City Manager, City Attorney and Director of Development for the staff time required to respond to my inquiries. He was summarily put in his place by Council member Simonoff who reminded him that it was wrong to chastise the public for the cost of complying with a public records request.
  6. Vargas accused Council of wasting time on an issue that only a “blogger” cared about. Really? Council’s oath of office swears to uphold State and Federal Constitutions! If there is even the slightest possibility that the BMC is in conflict they are bound to investigate regardless of where the challenge came from.

Council does what’s right.

Given all that occurred last Tuesday, Council did what was right. I trusted that they would and they didn’t let me down. They continued the item and tasked staff with bringing them additional relevant information.

This is far from over folks and no loose canon is going to dissuade me from pursuing the truth or bully Council into sweeping this under the rug.

vargas liar

Brea Envisions: Tour de Farce.

EnvisionsBrea Envisions will be holding a joint “working session” with City Council this evening, Thursday, June 22 at 6:30 in Community Rooms A & B on the second floor of the Civic Center. When the news broke yesterday (no one saw any public notice) there was widespread confusion.

First of all, what the heck is a “working session” and after over two years, why is this such a rush? How much work is left to be done? The project is seven or eight months behind schedule and now there’s a panic to wrap it up?

Council information packet.

If you have the energy, you can download the attachments (126 pages) that are in Council’s information packet here: ENVISIONS or, let me share with you what I found when I went through everything, page by page, last night and early this morning.

Here’s what you’ll find.

Appendix A – Phase 1 Open Ended Data Tables: A 25 page disjointed document that tries to capture the anecdotal comments in the original online survey. Remember, it was available in one form or another for over two years.

Originally budgeted/funded in December 2014, the online Envisions website survey ran from early 2015 through May 26, 2017… almost 26 months. The Envisions website survey collected 716 participants. They were presented with 20 multiple choice questions and a variety of anecdotal opportunities.

The average response to the multiple choice questions was 307, or roughly 43%. Over half of those taking the survey, 57%, chose not to answer many of the questions! Consequently, with a response well below any credible statistically projectable number, Envisions makes no effort to tabulate or analyze them.

Appendix A’s fractured, unwieldy design renders it virtually impossible to review or understand the anecdotal half of the survey. Suffice it to say Appendix A is neither data nor is it particularly useful. No wonder the consultant budgeted at $200,000 was dismissed, replaced by other staff driven alternatives.

Remember those Envisions workshops?

It seemed that at every other Council meeting there was some strange “progress report” from Envisions, not that any progress was actually being made. They always ended with an invitation to drop by their next exciting open house to “join the conversation.”

Appendix B – Think Out Loud and Open House Results: 28 pages of brief comments collected at nine table-top events. On two occasions the number of participants were reported as 10 and 6 respectively, no tally was provided for any other events. Here’s the list of exciting workshops.

  • Think Out Loud Thursday (July 28, 2016) – 10 Respondents
  • National Night Out Data (August 2, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Think Out Loud Thursday (August 4, 2016) – 6 Respondents
  • Open Houses at Community Center (August 4 and 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Open Houses at Sports Park (August 11, 2016) and City Hall Plaza (August 25, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • Brea Fest (August 19, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.
  • National Night Out Data (October 14, 2016) – Number of Respondents not Identified.

Again, not data but a collection of bullet points captured on post-it notes under a wide range of topical questions. As with Appendix A, the information is not presented in a manner that makes it easy to absorb or understand.

Batting cleanup: True North Research.

Early last month an email from City Manager Bill Gallardo circulated to random Brea residents. It ask recipients to go to an online website and complete a new survey. Envisions was not mentioned at all, which is strange considering how they plastered the city with their stuff.

Here’s the almost funny part. The project, done with True North Research, was a Planning Department effort and they never ask for the City Manager’s review or approval. When ask about it, the City Manager had no clue what I was talking about. (Some ears are burnin’ down at city hall right about now.)

Envisions

2011 O’Donnell Survey

You’ll remember True North from those glowing report cards Tim O’Donnell sent to himself every time he wanted to lean on Council for another raise.

The similarities between the 2011 Report Card and the 2017 Envisions Summary Report borders upon plagiarism except True North is copying themselves.

They did all the hard work years ago and now just do a “save as” and plug in new numbers. A couple hours of creative editing and voila! A whole new report! I hope we got a huge discount on their fees.

Appendix C – Top Line Results: A breakdown of 730 survey responses gathered by True North Research using two methods, 1) Online survey promoted with email from City Manager and 2) random telephone surveys. I’m sure they had to add the phone surveys because the web survey drew such minimal response.

Envisions

2017 Envisions Survey

Information gathered covered Basic Demographics, Quality of Life, Strategic Civic Issues, Land Use and City Communications.

For each question responses are tabulated using a percentage of responses format for which there is no guide for extrapolating relevance.

Anyone attempting to review the report would only be able to speculate what the responses meant.

The ever popular strategic plan.

Brea Envisions Community Strategic Plan (Draft June 22, 2017): This is the only document mentioning the Brea Envisions Committee (page 27), 16 members of the community tasked by City Council to oversee the execution of the information gathering process and production of a final strategic plan.

As has been noted from the beginning, the Envisions process was orchestrated by the Planning Department with occasional review and approval by the committee. Brea Envision was, without question, a Planning Department project with limited committee input.

If the committee were actually carrying out Council’s mandate, they would have selected a chairperson, kept minutes and reported more regularly to Council. Didn’t happen.

They were discouraged from taking full responsibility because Planning was reluctant to give up control.

The document is anything but a strategic plan. Most of the first half of the document is devoted to validating the project and it’s execution.

The balance is founded on perpetuating Envisions information gathering in perpetuity. Defined as an “outreach culture facilitating the continuous flow of information among all parts of the community” they want to stick us with the Envisions concept forever.

While a wide variety of broad guidelines and recommendations are provided in this document, there is no resemblance to any strategic plan I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the “who cares” part.

If the level of response Envisions has attracted over the last two years is any indication, the only folks who give a rip about this sort of fool’s errand are the handful that drank the Kool-Aid on day one and those of you that have read this far down the page.

Envisions has been classic GIGO, garbage in, garbage out, project. The good news is we probably spent a lot less than the $200,000 originally estimated. The bad news is we’ve put off updating the General Plan and several other truly strategic operating policies for two years.

Whether it’s job security, resume or pension padding, overtime, busywork, inefficiency, inexperience or incompetence… this sort of thing needs to stop. We can’t afford to direct funds away from critical human services and pubic safety just to do happy projects and focus groups.

Envisions

Televised, broadcast, archived?

While Council chambers underwent remodeling, meetings were held in Community Rooms A & B… where tonight’s meeting will be held. I can think of no reason or excuse why the meeting will not be on cable and streaming live tonight. This may be a “special” meeting but it certainly isn’t an emergency.

Hines: A Tale Of Two Cities.

HinesIt was the worst of times… period. We’re fighting a war on two fronts and threatened with losing both. On one side Breans are going head-to-head with Hines Properties, a megacorp hell bent on building a hulking monstrosity on St. College north of Birch. On the other we have a runaway Planning department who seems to consider themselves above the law, repeatedly overreaching their authority.

Neither situation bodes well for the people of Brea. The fact that both are connected makes the threat exponentially larger. As the policy and procedural issues can only be addressed by City Council I’ll leave that for another blog and focus on the development issues that need to be solved by the Planning Commission.

Reining in Hines.

At their April meeting, under the less than subtle steering of Chairman McGrade, the Planning Commission ended up desperately trying to patch one small element of the Brea Place project and calling it done.

Commissioner Schlotterbeck made the observation that the project fell short, by about 20%, of complying with our 14 year old General Plan’s maximum density guideline. Next thing you know the much larger southern building and the hotel were tucked aside, seemingly approved and focus was turned to the northern building… Building B.

In a miraculous demonstration of redesigning-on-the-fly, the Hines architect made most of the fourth floor disappear and reduced the building’s density by almost 20%. That’s 22 apartments for those who nitpick numbers. Commissioner Schlotterbeck was quick to point out that the disappearing act also removed parking for 38 units, throwing the building into noncompliance with the 1.78 spaces per unit parking requirement.

Maximum vs. minimum standards.

So, the push seems to be to stay within maximum allowed density while meeting a minimum parking standard. Ok, I’ll say what you’re thinking. What the hell? This is like getting open heart surgery done on a low bid basis.

Why do these city planners think the best policy is to always operate at the fringes of acceptability? Why is building as close as possible to the maximum allowable density the best idea? Why are parking conditions always targeting the fewest number of spaces that might accommodate the demand?

How about building comfortably below the maximum density and designing a parking plan that would actually meet peak demand? What a novel damned idea.

Speaking of minimum standards.

While we’re on the subject, it’s this same unsupportable mentality that led to adopting an addendum to a 14 year old General Plan EIR as the best way to comply with CEQA. Again, operating at the very fringe.

Going with the addendum is the weakest, least defensible means of minimizing or mitigating environmental impact. Hell, the addendum claims there isn’t sufficient environmental impact to warrant doing a new EIR. Circular logic. Inexcusable.

Once again staff dances on the edge of rational choices. Why? To cut public comment out of the conversation? To fast track the project and save Hines the $1.5 million cost of an EIR so staff could extort it later to help defray the cost of some politician’s pipe dream or rock garden?

Drawing a line in the sand.

HinesHey… Commissioners, Planners and Mr. Ninty-Five Billion Dollar Out-of-town Developer… we’re putting you on notice. Nothing less than a blanket 20% reduction in density across the entire project is acceptable. Nada. Nothing.

And that’s the starting line… not the finish line. We still need to talk traffic, parking, building mass and setbacks, in lieu fees and retail that won’t cannibalize local business.

You walked out of the April meeting fist bumping and trading high fives. Listen carefully, you never count your money when sitting’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

Markman & Flower