Paramedic Tax Snowballs Into An Avalanche Of Deceit.

It’s taken over two weeks to fully digest what was immediately apparent to me as I watched the November 6 Council meeting – my inquiry into what it really cost’s to support and maintain a paramedic service uncovered issues of much greater significance, and staff couldn’t be less pleased.

The snowball downhill became an avalanche of deceit.

I have hunted down and received, via public records requests to the City of Brea and the OC Auditor-Controller, over 200 pages of data, accounting, meeting agendas, staff reports and minutes… and invested over 1,000 hours since mid-November to review and understand them. I have more to come, one question answered always seems to lead to more questions to ask.

Here’s the really short version of what I discovered:

  • The 1978 ballot initiative creating the Paramedic Tax appears to be a fraud. Not a word is mentioned in any minutes, resolutions or the ballot measure language itself that so much as a penny of the taxes collected would be spent on anything other than to create and maintain a mobile intensive care paramedic program.
  • Since the RDA was dissolved in 2011, over 44% of the Paramedic Taxes collected have been used to meet RDA/Successor Agency admin costs, pass through commitments and bond obligations.
  • In FY2016-17 Paramedic Taxes collected was $3.84 million. The total actually reaching the General Fund was only $2.30 million. The budget for paramedic services was $5.05 million. So, what does it really cost to have paramedic services and where did the city come up with the missing $2.75 million to cover the budget?
  • Digging into the whole RDA – Successor Agency – Oversight Committee thing takes us into a completely different discussion. Trust me, we will have that discussion. There is such an egregious lack of a paper trail that we will never know the names of all the guilty parties or the full extent of their complicity.
  • From what little data is available, redevelopment in Brea may have created as much as $300+ million in tax increment financed debt for which we’re still on the hook for $196 million that we’ll be paying off from now to 2036.

Back to the Paramedic Tax.

paramedic taxAt the November 6 meeting, as Administrative Services Director Cindy Russell began to share staff’s budget update, Council member Hupp interjected a simple question to City Manager Gallardo, “Bill, I know you and staff had a meeting with some concerned citizens in regards to the Paramedic Tax… would you just briefly tell those in the audience listening what you’re doing based upon what happened in that meeting.”

Gallardo responded, “We had a meeting, a very cordial meeting, with some residents interested in finding out the history of the Paramedic Tax and what was approved. The Paramedic Tax was approved in 1978 by over 80% of the Brea voters and this tax goes towards the operational needs of the fire department…”

No, historically, an average of 44% of the Paramedic Tax collected from within the RDA areas was siphoned off to meet redevelopment obligations.

paramedic tax“One of the things from that meeting was how can we better account for… how can we better track the Paramedic Tax? Right now it goes into the General Fund in a lump sum through payments we get from the county then we account for the expenses through the General Fund.”

No, only the tax collected from non-RDA areas has been apportioned to the General Fund by the OC Auditor-Controller. There has never been a Special Revenue Fund created to track and manage revenue from the Paramedic Tax – we have no true record of how these monies were spent.

“At the beginning of the fiscal year we’ll establish a Special Revenue Fund to track inflow of the Paramedic Tax and also track the expenses directly to the Paramedic Program and do that on a go forward basis.”

Because we have no way to audit what we’ve done in the past since we failed to keep adequate records. It will remain a mystery.

“It’s probably appropriate to put something on our website that identifies what its use is, its purpose what its intent is. 80% of calls are medical, basic life support or advanced life support.”

Adding to the mountain of propaganda on a website that precious few Breans access on a regular basis is not an answer. How about we elect a City Treasurer who actually has the skills to act as an advocate on our part and audit the city’s finances?

And yes, 80% of calls are medical in nature… but what portion of the total workload addresses these calls? How much time, effort and equipment fulfills the Fire Departments activities including administration, building and apparatus maintenance, emergency (disaster) preparedness, fire suppression operations, fire prevention activities, regular fire ordinance compliance inspections?

Tossing out impressive sound bites, out of context and without substantiation, is a common method of distracting us from the real truth.

Councilman Simonoff joins the fray.

paramedic taxCouncilman Simonoff asked the City Manager, “One of the subjects that came up, and maybe Jim (Markman) you’re a better resource for this question… with regards to how payments are made to the Redevelopment Agency… can that be better explained?”

Thank you Marty for immediately spotting what I did… that the City Manager tried to duck out of answering Council member Hupp’s question.

Gallardo replied, “Let me give it a shot then Markman can clean it up if I don’t say it correctly. A portion of the Paramedic Taxes along with all other taxes paid by anybody that has a property ownership in the Redevelopment Agency project area a portion of those taxes went to the RDA. By operation of law, any taxes paid in the RDA area automatically went to the RDA. That has occurred since 1978.”

Boom! There it is. “By operation of law” means, from the very beginning, revenues generated from tax increment were required by the state to pass through the RDA obligating a portion to meet RDA expenses. This is the genesis of the hoax perpetrated upon Brea’s unwitting voters, 80% of them, in 1978.

Gallardo continues, “The good thing is that the RDA’s were dissolved by the state in 2011 so they don’t exist any more. As we pay down any bond obligations in those project areas, little by little that RDA revenue, I’m sorry, that General Fund revenue lost to the city and also the Paramedic Tax that went to the RDA are slowly but surely coming back to our city for our paramedic services.”

Inside that unfortunate word salad are a truth, dissolution of the RDA was a good thing; a Freudian slip “that RDA revenue, I’m sorry, that General Fund revenue…”; and a complete smokescreen, “slowly but surely coming back to our city…” not until 2036 and we have no guarantee where the “lost revenue” will be spent.

Not to be overlooked, Council member Marick weighs in.

paramedic taxCouncil member Marick then directed a question to City Attorney Jim Markman, “Did the city have any opportunity or any say into whether the Paramedic Tax revenue went to the RDA or is that how the law was set up?” (Asked and answered… as they say).

Brace yourself, here is how Mr. Markman replied, “There are some misconceptions because no one has been here long enough to remember this other than Wayne Wedin, Rex Gaede and me.

Basically, in ’78, this was put on the ballot for two reasons. One, Brea had two redevelopment project areas and whatever property tax that was there was going to be allocated elsewhere and they were facing Prop 13 which most people thought would pass which was going to freeze property taxes in place so there were a number of problems facing the city at the time funding redevelopment where the source of income, which was going to grow, got frozen at the 1% tax rate and that took away projected tax allocation money.

Also, and The City Council knew that the Paramedic (Tax), which they proposed and was passed by 80%, was sized as to what the rate was as a special tax so they would generate enough revenues to fund the paramedics and account for the fact that money generated in the redevelopment project areas was not going to be there for that purpose unless and until essentially redevelopment went away several years later which is exactly what happened.”

Boom! There it is. That sounds like a confession if I ever heard one! And, if any interested prosecutor is reading this, the case for proving intent seems like a slam dunk as well.

paramedic tax“So, if anyone doesn’t believe that discussions occurred, that they had those numbers figured out… they issued bonds, numerous bonds, for the Redevelopment Agency that clearly state and show you the allocation of what would have been a Paramedic Tax if its in the project area going to redevelopment.

So nobody was ever fooled or surprised by that and they sized it because Brea wanted paramedics in 1978. And, they wanted to fund the paramedic program so they had to set a tax rate that accounted for redevelopment allocation.”

Okay, having already made his confession, what does this tell us? Only that the size of the gang, those poor unwitting co-conspirators, was bigger than we thought. Seems the gang included virtually every member of City Council holding office since 1977.

Again… Mr. Markman continues, “And that’s what’s happened ever since, except for two things that happened. Once we reached the cap on how much redevelopment money could be allocated… money over that cap that’s generated by that Paramedic Tax goes to the paramedics and the redevelopment allocations are now way reduced because all they’re doing is paying debt on our Last and Final ROPS which essentially, for the most part, are bond issuances that are being paid off over the years and, as they are paid off, that money would be reallocated to paramedics remembering, however, that there is a lot more people here than the 17 or 18 thousand that were here in 1978 when the Paramedic Tax was enacted.

That Council knew that that number would grow, the city would grow, that was the whole idea of redevelopment and when that was all over the allocation would go back to the Paramedic Tax so none of this was stumbled into or a surprise to anybody.”

If the City Manager’s responses were a word salad, this is a banquet of b*llsh*t. If anyone can extract a single cogent fact or convincing statement within this medley of malarkey please share it in the comments section.

Well, let’s wrap this up.

You can view the meeting’s streaming video on the city website HERE to verify that my transcriptions are faithful.

The specious responses from the City Manager and Attorney underscore the callow and indefensible decisions made by them and their predecessors. They have raised the exclusion of the public to a level of pure artistry.

Issues over the last couple of years have escalated from petty small town personality politics to clearly criminal enterprises that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to either line someone’s pockets, inflate someone’s pension or fulfill some small mind’s notion of what Brea should be.

Whatcha gonna do?

 

Vargas Being Vargas… Gives Brea A Black Eye.

vargas_300Leave it to Steve Vargas to completely botch something as simple as initiating a personnel change.

Wednesday, September 28 started like any other day, then I received a simple text, “Condolences.”

When I responded, “Why?” a friend sent me a copy of a letter from Steve Vargas firing me from the Planning Commission.

By the end of the day I’d received calls or emails from dozens of well wishers, had two lengthy phone conversations with City Manager Bill Gallardo… but no “official” copy of the letter from Mr. Vargas which didn’t arrive until the next morning. So much for common courtesy.

markman_300_dThe next 48 hours were a blizzard of texts, phone calls and emails. The City Attorney, Jim Markman weighed in citing city code and taking the obligatory neutral position. Can’t blame him really, he has five bosses and one just put him in a most untenable position.

After the dust had settled, I sent a summary email to the City Manager, and felt Brea Matters readers deserved to get this side of the story.

To the City Manager…

Bill…

This is in response to your text message to me following your meetings with Jim Markman and Steve Vargas on Thursday afternoon.

In short, here is a synopsis for context. “After much discussion, Steve Vargas has, per the code, the ability to remove his appointment. He does not need a reason or cause… Tuesday night, on the [study session] agenda, Council will discuss the timeline to fill the unscheduled vacancy.”

Steve’s unilateral decision to dismiss me from the Planning Commission may be done without cause, however he chose to include a statement of cause in his notification letter. He thus opens the door to rebuttal.

There is not a word of truth in what he says are the reasons he’s firing me. None. No two year agreement. No failure to respond. No obligation to keep him informed. The notion that he is incapable of doing his job as member of Council without my input is ludicrous.

As I’ve expressed to you previously, in detail, many who’ve become aware of this sad and regrettable moment in Brea history, including current and former members of Council, Commissioners and Committee members, share a common opinion. My dismissal is nothing more than retribution.

Retribution for what?

  • For filing a complaint with the FPPC regarding the $25,000 donation to Steve’s campaign committee by Brea businessman Druva Hardas without filing the required “Major Donor” information.
  • For asking the Building Department [code enforcement] if the Vet’s Club was permitted for the construction in progress which, it turns out, they weren’t. The project was shut down and plans have yet to make it through plan check.
  • For asking the Planning Department if the Vet’s Club’s original entitlement for an ABC license, as a private club, is still valid. The Vet’s Club no longer owns the building. Use of the facilities (bar) has been opened up to a broader customer group than what was originally specified. I ask if the Vet’s Club should apply to the Planning Commission for a CUP to perpetuate the liquor license entitlement.
  • For publishing the preemptive guest blog on term limits, forcing the discussion into the public forum, by John Koos in Brea Matters.
  • For publishing the reaction to Steve’s unilateral attempt to put a draconian term limits initiative on the November ballot guest blog by Brea resident Christie Russell.

Pick one, pick them all. More than enough to trigger retaliation from an obviously tormented mind.

When we first spoke about all of this last Wednesday, when half of Brea had received a copy of the dismissal letter and I had not, I told you, “The GPS on my phone indicates that I am in the absolute center of I don’t give a damn.”

I haven’t moved. Unlike too many in public service, I am not defined by the titles I’ve held or the positions I’ve filled. I am pleased to have been able to give back to Brea in various capacities for over 15 years. I will continue to do so through my blog Brea Matters.

Brea First.

Rick Clark

A world of support.

gallardo_a_300Let me interject that I have received the most helpful and supportive treatment from Bill Gallardo, other members of Council and friends in the community.

This support is deeply appreciated when blindsided by an irresponsible person, hell bent on self destruction, with little regard for the community he was elected to serve.

Final thoughts on Mr. Vargas.

loose_canonWell, there you have it, a dark day for Brea. I could find no Commissioner or Committee member in the 99 year history of Brea that has received such callous treatment at the hands of a member of Council.

I’ve heard Vargas referred to as a “loose cannon” many times. A rather apt metaphor to be sure.

Once again Vargas proves how unworthy he is to hold the office of Council member. On a brighter note, he has single handedly guaranteed that he will be clean swept in 2018… here or wherever his ego puts him on the ballot.

If you, like me, have had just about enough of Mr. Vargas… please, for the love of Brea, do not vote for his surrogate Christopher Parkin for Council or his wingman Rick Rios for Treasurer. Thanks!

cannonballs

True Or False, Council Understands Fracking?

False.

At Tuesday’s study session, Council member Simonoff asked for the Linn Energy presentation to be pulled from the agenda because equal time had not been extended to the resident’s group to put their counterpoint and concerns on the table. Simonoff’s request was dismissed.

Alejandra CrespoDuring Matters from the Audience, Brea resident Alejandra Crespo chastised the Mayor reminding him of his campaign promises and his failure to deliver upon them.

She reminded the Mayor of the promise made by City Manager Tim O’Donnell over a month earlier, to put fracking on the agenda so she and her citizens group could present their position to Council.

She added, “This likely impedes our First Amendment rights… our right to have equal time.” To read Alejandra’s full comments, click here.

anthony_xA dozen other speakers added their personal apprehensions about the increasing fracking in Brea. The only speaker in support of fracking was, Anthony Thomas, Director of Government Affairs for the California Petroleum Industry Association (CIPA).

This is a trade association of crude oil and natural gas producers, royalty members (Brea maybe? We received $350,000 in oil royalties last year), service and supply companies. Who invited Mr. Thomas, an oil lobbyist splitting his time between Los Angeles and Sacramento, and how much credence should we give his remarks?

Setting the stage.

mario_xMario Maldenado, the newly hired assistant to the City Manager, was handed the thankless task of opening the presentation. Charactering the presentation as a “fact finding endeavor” turned out to be a stretch given how few facts were actually shared.

Of the five oil companies operating in Brea (Linn Energy, LLC, Aera Energy, Breitburn Energy PartnersCooper & Brain, and Thompson Energy) all but Linn denied fracking locally. 

jennifer_xJennifer Hefner, also a Brean, well aware of the history of catastrophic accidents and pollution costs associated with energy production, joined many of her neighbors concerned about the effects of increased fracking in Brea and sat through last Tuesday’s presentation to Council by Linn Energy. Here is her firsthand reaction.

“Mayor Murdock, admitting he knew little about fracking, decided to use Tuesday’s meeting (07/15/14) to let Linn Energy representatives offer the oil and gas industry’s spin on the growing debate over health, safety, environmental and possible seismic risks.

I sat watching this disgusting display wondering why the Mayor does not care about the citizens of the community. After all, isn’t he part of this community? Murdock got elected mostly because our children, mine included, received swim lessons under his watch.

brett_xWe’re at another sink or swim moment. Do I dare put my children’s safety in his hands again? Absolutely not.

The Mayor, admittedly ignorant on the subject of fracking, turned his back on those of us who have invested countless hours studying this issue in great detail.

Instead he gave Linn Energy the opportunity to spin the issues in their favor. Linn’s objective was clearly to lull Council and Breans into a false sense of security.

I emailed Murdock and the other Council members three months ago, just after the earthquake, asked them about these issues. Not one even had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my email… let alone respond. Murdock has done a great disservice to those he was elected to represent and, quite possibly, infringed on our rights in the process.”

The cast of characters.

trent_xTrent R. Rosenleib, is a petroleum engineer and Assett Manager, Linn Engineering. He has a lengthy background in the Oil and Gas industry. He came to Linn from Berry Petroleum Company via Linn’s acquisition in December of last year and operates from Linn’s Bakersfield office.

Juan Chacon, Linn Engineering petroleum engineer.

dave_xDave Quast, California Director of Energy in Depth, a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the California Independent Petroleum Association (likely the connection to Anthony Thomas).

Mr. Rosenleib and Mr. Quast share a common objective, to promote, propagandize, defend and protect the oil and gas industry from all who would impede it’s progress. Their presentations were laced with well parsed language designed to dodge direct questions, mask facts in language purposed to confuse the uninitiated and invent new language to hide the real risks of fracking.

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

christine_xWhen asked, point blank, about wells being fracked up to twenty times, the response was, “It is only done once.” However he admitted that, routinely, a high pressure injection of large amounts of acidized water are reinjected back into wells to unplug blockages and revive wells back into full production.

They like to call that routine maintenance but it’s fracking… pure and simple. They also admitted that this is usually done every 2 to 3 years for the life of the well.

council_xIf fracking is defined as a single fracture of deep shale, that would put the question to bed.

But when highly toxic fluid is repeatedly injected under high pressure, retrieved and recycled year after year, under the guise of routine maintenance, their answer is false.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… it’s a duck! Wells can be fracked up to 20 times during their lifespan. Own it!

And this begs the subsequent questions, how is this toxic hazardous waste handled between fracks? How is it moved? Where is it stored?

And, what’s really getting pumped in?

brett-christineAgain, to give us a false sense of comfort, we were shown a few household cleaning products as examples of fracking fluid ingredients.

Truth? Fracking fluid, mostly what they refer to as brackish produced water, is adulterated with variety of chemicals—among them methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. Yeah, I’ll wager you don’t have any of that stuff hanging around under your sink.

Rosenleib said if you want to know what chemicals are being used, go to the new website FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry. Now we can get the info we want! False. The site is only populated with data for Kern County and there is no indication when Orange County data will be added.

Did the well Stearn 168 spring a leak?

Stearn 168 (API No. 04-059-06923), on Monday, February 10, 2014, experienced a drop in pressure and upon investigation it was reported that there was a hole in the casing. When your blood pressure suddenly drops there is a distinct possibility you’re bleeding out. What really happened at Stearn 168? Was there any contamination? Where can we go to get answers to these questions. DOGGR? False. Try it for yourself.

If your curiosity is peaked, here’s more.

garcia_xHere are five articles that, if you’re serious about understanding this “risk resistant” side of the discussion… click away.

We’re all interesting in seeing the US become energy independent, but at what cost?

Fracking on the fringes of Orange County, with little oversight.

(08/29/13) – California Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal (DOGGR) spokesman Don Drysdale, told the OC Weekly that while fracking regulations are currently being crafted in California, there is little oversight of the practice.

Fracking waste is contaminating California aquifers.

(07/18/14) – In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California’s injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state’s authority could be revoked. California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials.

Pennsylvania appeals court affirms city rights.

(07/17/14) – A Pennsylvania appeals court issued a split decision on the state’‍s oil and gas law, affirming the rights of municipalities to regulate the location of oil and gas development.

One million gallons of fracking brine spill near reservation water supply.

(07/11/14) – Fracking brine is the much toxic unwanted byproduct of the fracking process, the sludge left after the job’s done, and it’s laced with mystery toxins the public is not allowed to know anything about.

Groundwater Contamination Due To Fracking Flowback.

(06/26/14) – Research has shown 10 to 40 percent of the water and chemical solution mixture injected at high pressure into deep rock strata, surges back to the surface during well development.

markman_xThis is a risk v. reward situation and as the article about city rights above suggests, Brea does have options. City Attorney Markman even went so far, in response to a question from Roy Moore, to say that given proof of injury the City could say no to fracking.

To make an intelligent decision, we all need to understand the full extent of the risks produced by fracking. We should not let the oil and gas industry, like big tobacco, like big banking, like big pharma, get away with virtually zero effective oversight and disclosure.