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 Plans Rejected, City Responds.

It would seem that the email Jim Grosse sent to Council about the state college slopes meeting, no doubt aided by Ric Clough’s original meeting summary, both published here, has ruffled the right feathers to generate a response. I doubted it would come, but it has.

eric_rambles about state collegeThis morning Eric Nicoll, Community Development Director, sent the following communication in response to the email sent by Jim Grosse.

(Note: I’ve added a couple of paragraph breaks and reformatted Eric’s conclusions for easier reading.)

Tim, Council Members and Jim Grosse,

Good morning!  As Jim points out in his correspondence below, we presented the State College Slopes options to the affected residents last week and there was not any support for self funding the project even with some participation by the City through a LLMD or CFD.

We had a good turn out with 33 residents attending but the consensus was clear, if the City wants to improve this area we need to pay for it. We received some helpful input that will assist us in the future:

  1. They appreciate the traffic control and free bins the City provided and want to continue that program.
  2. They would like to see the concept landscape design (landscaping, V ditch and irrigation) as a “design guideline” for their use in planning their own improvements and requested consideration of permit fee waivers if they submit plans.
  3. The consultant work (both landscape architect and financial plan) provided concepts and real numbers for the first time and the residents can see what an improved slope looks like.

The City Council can now use this information as Envision Brea 2035 begins and the entire Brea community will participate in evaluating priorities.

Although the meeting did not result in any resident interest in moving forward on a self financed plan, it did give us their perspective and the Council can continue to explore options should the broader community see this as a priority enhancement project.

At the end of the meeting, we agreed to send a memo to the Council and the residents identifying the key points discussed in the meeting, which is forthcoming.

Regarding Jim’s specific questions below, I would like to have Bill Bowlus respond to him since he has been working with the consultants on this project and can best address those questions.

Eric

Translating government double speak.

“Not any support for self funding… even with some participation by the City” – Homeowners weren’t tricked into believing the recommendations benefitted them or that the City would seriously wade in with financial support (creating a bond) without a huge profit margin.

“We had a good turn out… 33 residents” – We thought we could duck dealing with homeowners on the south side of State College, equally problematic, or seeing the issues extrapolated citywide. Public review and reporting force us to rethink our position.

Citizen input reduced to vague remarks.

  1. First let me paint a picture of how much they love us.
  2. Design guidelines might be a place to begin once the State College corridor is identified as benefitting the entire community and alternative funding is developed that doesn’t create hardship for a majority of the homeowners whose property backs up to the thoroughfare.
  3. Residents were shocked at the astronomical costs in the consultant’s plan, particularly after ill-defined financing charges and exorbitant interest were added to the mediation costs.

Kick the State College can way down the road..

Pushing the discussion off onto the Envision Brea 2035 agenda is simply ridiculous. Envision Brea 2035 is simply ridiculous. Long range corporate planning has been a key part of my professional skills for nearly forty years. Never has a client asked to project so far into the future because they understood the unintelligent, half-baked and imprudent nature of such a wasted effort.

Envision Brea 2035, more than likely, will be attended by the same Boomers that have attended all other public forums, “discussions,” charrettes and charades conducted by the City. Don’t expect to see Gen X, Gen Y or the Millennials effectively invited or participating. They’ll quickly grasp the futility of the project.

What a shame that the very people with the greatest probability of being alive in 2035 Brea will end up having little or no influence on how Brea evolves over the next twenty years.

And please, forget that Summary Memorandum.

Eric, put your mastery of government double speak and powerpoint to good use and generate a full staff report. This time include all the details and describe them in a way that we all can understand them. If you need help from Bill Bowlus to accurately remember the specifics, you’ll get no objection.

Murdock prays about State CollegeAnd Mr. Murdock, since all of this was precipitated by your absurd original request, please do us the courtesy of bringing the final report and discussion to the Council meeting soon. As was clearly stated in the conclusion of “State College Controversy Grows” – Reviewing this in study session is a blatant rejection of reasonable transparency in government. The public should not be limited to commenting during matters from the audience, but should be afforded the opportunity of a formal public hearing. The precedents that could possibly be set here are wide ranging and likely to impact the entire community, not just the 44 homeowners selected as the target du jour.

 

State College Controversy Grows.

Last week’s public meeting regarding the State College controversy has stimulated a significant amount of chatter, comment and email. Jim Grosse, former Brea Planning Commissioner, whose home is contiguous to the State College properties, attended the meeting and was motivated to correspond with Council. With permission, I reprint it here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Honorable Mayor and City Council,

JimG_400This memo concerns the proposed “State College Slope Enhancements” and the use of CFDs. I attended the meeting on June 23, but am an unaffected homeowner. I appreciate the attendance at the meeting by staff, Eric Nicoll and Bill Bowlus. At least one council member should have attended.

There was a lot at stake for the 44 homeowners. It was explained that Option 3 was out of the question. However it was the only one that really solved the problem in a permanent fashion. Options #1 & #2 are merely band-aids. Option #2 suggested a patchwork of replacement fences. This fact was not going to be disclosed until I brought it up. Thus rewarding those with poor conditions while those with fences in good repair paying the same increased assessment. What happens the next time those folks replace their fences?

With an overlay in place will they have to bear that cost? The overlay voted for in 2005 on the 28 homes south of State College has only resulted in four conforming fences in over nine years. Problem not solved.

These suggested options will never get a 2/3’s vote. Two things were achieved; we wasted $24K on the consultant and insulted these neighbors with the suggested tax increase, in all 3 options. Option #1 – $52K, Option 2 – $170K, Option #3 – $466K. Option #3 includes another 28 homeowners which I understand will pay an equal share for a six foot fence as a neighbor with 25 foot wall. Correct?

At least four of our council members are homeowners and three own multiple properties. Would you think this something acceptable to you? These homes are valued at $500K to $700K. In the end the benefit to the home’s value is about $10K, until you consider disclosing a CFD in the above stated numbers. It might even lower value and salability.

These options should have never been placed on the table. State College needs fixing. It would be a community benefit. But it should be paid by the community as a whole or find a funding source. Any council member claiming to be a “fiscal conservative” or ran on a platform of “not raising taxes” should rethink the position. For a couple of you this is an election year.

Question? On the presentation handout there is a stated General Fund Responsibility of $14,500. The Resident Cost for Maintenance is $324, or for 44 properties is $14,256 per year. Is this the same money or co-payment so to speak?

Question? Can we define “Financing Cost?” An additional cost to the homeowner?

Question? Is there a accounting function that assures the resident this is not an income stream?  Apples to apples?

The bigger issue is CFDs as a policy. What’s next? It could be in your backyard. The recent Madrona decision there was a comment “Let the buyer beware”. That is okay as long as it is disclosed in bold print and explained. But what we are asking of the folks on Buttonwood and Candlewood is just not fair. Think about two categories, the first time buyer, struggling to make that monthly payment or the senior folks who are on a fixed income.

As a planning commissioner who voted on “Central Park Village” we certified the project and the EIR just to let the developer get started with the project. Commissioner John Koos and I insisted the council look at the suggested CFD. Although the EIR stated there was no need for additional public safety funds, it was the ramification for the CFD.

I appreciate your service and understand the fine line in decision making. Double taxation and taxes not placed in equity is not right. I welcome your response.

Best Regards,

Jim Grosse

We want answers and we want them delivered publicly.

Jim Grosse has raised at least a dozen or more key questions that demand an answer prior to Council coming to any conclusion regarding the State College corridor. It should start with having the “summary memorandum” prepared as a formal staff report, presented during the main Council meeting held in chambers.

Reviewing this in study session is a blatant rejection of reasonable transparency in government.

The public should not be limited to commenting during matters from the audience, but should be afforded the opportunity of a formal public hearing. The precedents that could possibly be set here are wide ranging and likely to impact the entire community, not just the 44 homeowners selected as the target du jour.

Grass roots mail/email campaign?

Ray Ribal wondered, in his comment on “State College Slopes Need A Facelift” would a mail/email campaign have any effect? I’m not inclined to believe so, but would love nothing more than to be proven wrong.

Lets all keep a sharp eye on this and, as necessary, be prepared to hold Council accountable for maintaining open communications with us and for promoting greater transparency in government.