Council Meeting Triggers Rant.

Like a growing number of folks I watched last night’s Council meeting from the comfort of my easy chair. As I watched I slid ever closer to the edge of my seat and the comments I was barking at the TV got louder and louder. Okay, forewarned is forearmed. This is a rant and you can bail out now and we’ll still be friends.

What is Council really approving?

Council is elected to make decisions in the best interest of those they serve… the ones who voted for them and those that didn’t. So why do so many issues become so politicized?

Why doesn’t staff provide all the pros and cons, including verified factual information, allowing Council to come to their own conclusions? Why do I constantly hear, “I move to approve, as presented…” – and boom! Another rubber stamp on the status quo.

council rubberstamp

Between the medical marijuana zoning ordinance and the rather contentious conclusion to jacking up our tiered water rates, I’ve never heard so much convoluted legalese and city speak tossed about. And why?

To herd Council down a trail leading to an unedited approval of staff’s grand plan.

When is the law not the law?

When it doesn’t suit the desired results sought by Planning and the City Attorney. Case in point, the medical marijuana matter was concluded based, in part, on 65 year old unsubstantiated Reefer Madness propaganda masquerading as fact.

Worse yet, though clearly pointed out by Council member Vargas, the vote for final approval included approving language stating Council verified and attested that the “facts” in the ordinance are true and correct!

Either remove the un-vetted opinion from the “Recitals” or delete the statement putting Council on the hook as validating the true and factual nature of statements. They have no means of proving anything.

“NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Brea ordains as follows: The City Council find that the facts set forth in the Recitals, Part A, of this Ordinance are true and correct.”

One or the other has to go or it is arguable that Council is lying. I don’t care which part is nuked, just pick one and delete it… now and forever.

Also, what is all this nonsense about interim vs. permanent ordinances? Clearly, according to one City Attorney, the only real difference is an interim ordinance is a short term solution and the other is permanent (subject to amendments, remember).

The conflicting opinion is that a permanent ordinance is more defensible because it is created based upon fact and not upon urgent circumstance. Fact? Really? Go back and read my last point.

How did this get through the Planning Commission?

By the slimmest of margins following a passionate plea from the public, lengthy discussion of purpose and process by three Commissioners (two Commissioners didn’t join the discussion) and a series of three separate motions.

But did Council have the Commission’s minutes in their information packet? No. Were Commissioners contacted by Council to discuss the issues? Not that I’m aware of.

Council was told by the City Attorney that having the Planning Commission minutes would be unhelpful, offering only a bare minimum of information. Further he recommended Council listen to the streaming audio recording of the Planning Commission meeting as a better resource.

If the Commission’s minutes are unhelpful, why do them?

Council and Planning Commission minutes are created to provide a meaningful account of the business conducted – they are the official public record of the meeting. Years from now, anyone should be able to access and review these minutes and should be able to reconstruct a reasonable account of what transpired.

I have been attempting to drive this point home for two years, with two City Clerks, two City Managers and three Council members.

Action minutes, for Council and Planning Commission, where city policy and law are created, fall miserably short of fulfilling their purpose as written public record.

Don’t use the excuse that we have streaming video we can refer to, who the hell does that? Provide a reasonable summary in writing. That’s really not too much to ask. If the summary leaves me with additional questions I can turn to the video for details, but let it be my choice.

Back on topic.

Having listened to the streaming audio file for the January 26 Planning Commission meeting, it is abundantly clear that the audio quality is intermittent at best with much content being unintelligible.

I’m told this is attributable to two things. One – Commission members need additional instruction on how to properly use the new equipment, and two – as is common practice with Council meetings, Communications Department staff should be present to monitor recording quality.

Okay, so the Planning Commission audio file is virtually useless to Council.

Last night’s rush to judgment ran roughshod over common sense for the sake of kicking the can down the road and clearing the agenda. In the future I wish Council would leave the politics out and make a more concerted effort to get it right the first time. Its damn poor policy to keep falling back on the excuse that it’s easy to amend stuff later should circumstances change.

Really, when has that ever happened?

Again, case in point, since the Central Park Village Brea project was approved, has Council revisited the CFD and Mello-Roos issues that were swept under the rug? No.

How many other open ended issues have disappeared into the fog of history? We can’t even go back and review past minutes to answer that question. Per City Attorney Markman, “The law only requires action minutes and record of the vote.”

What about the spirit of the law Mr. Markman? What will it take to shift “transparency” from being a campaign buzzword to how this city conducts it’s business? What will it take to institute a level of accountability into how this city conducts it’s business that will help Breans to begin to trust local government again?

One final thought.

When a motion dies for lack of a second it’s a slap in the face to the one making the motion. I’ll refrain from suggesting what epithet accompanies the assault, but you might as well raise middle fingers in unison as you sit there mute.

Roy Moore once said that he often seconded motions with which he was in opposition if for no other reason than to demonstrate respect for his peers and afford them the opportunity to have their ideas discussed. Amen Roy.

For all Council’s continued yammering about respect and professional courtesy, letting a motion die for lack of a second belays all that. It is unconscionable. It is unacceptable.

council rubberstamp

Silence Isn’t Golden.

matter

(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…