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

Follow The Money!

Brea Matters has been purposefully silent since the new Council was seated. Operation Clean Sweep left many exhausted and in need of a little peace and quiet for a change. Now that Council is settling in… I’ve turned my attention to money matters, our largest and most threatening issues.

debt_400Unfunded Pension Liabilities was a widely used campaign buzzword. Though some attempts have been made to rein in it’s almost exponential rate of growth, Brea remains strangled by debt.

I made a list of financial topics to investigate and my initial inquires uncovered a maze of interrelated issues.

Revenue Over Expense, a smoking gun?

Forever I guess, Brea’s P&L (Profit and Loss) statement has concluded with Revenue Over Expense… which has been treated like free money. Honestly, I’d never noticed it before. I am familiar with the myth of free money however.

Every year, Council and staff announce, with much back patting and fanfare, that a balanced budget has been reached. However, try as I might, I can’t remember ever hearing mention of these leftovers.

Typically, I’m told, this money has been put into FARP (Fixed Asset RePlacement Fund). How much has gone into the fund, how FARP spent the money and how big this Revenue Over Expenses might be is still a mystery. I’ll keep digging, we deserve to better understand how our money is being managed.

Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 dollars.

MrMonoplyAt an upcoming Council meeting (I’ll give you a heads-up) staff will, for the first time, suggest splitting the reallocation of Revenue Over Expenses. The plan, I’m told, would reduce the FARP allocation to 90% and 10% would go to Fund 150.

Also known as the OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) Fund, OPEB pays for retired employee medical coverage (previously unfunded) plus current employee premiums. The unfunded debt is $16 million. This is the mystery component not generally mentioned in discussions on Unfunded Pension Liability which is now an additional $70 million. Don’t look for a calculator, that’s $86 million and growing.

Roy Moore, in his independent analysis and public presentation on our Unfunded Pension problem a couple of years ago, did include OPEB in his audit and projections. Sadly, neither Council or staff at the time allowed Roy’s efforts to gain any traction.

Bank error in your favor, collect $200 dollars.

wormsWell, if we can fold OPEB into the mix, what about Unfunded Pension Debt? What about repaying the 560 Fund the $1.4 million borrowed to make solar payments? Could we tap Revenue Over Expense for a little money to put drought tolerant landscaping at the Civic Center?

Opening this can of worms opens a lot of questions. I’m confident Council, especially if they seek answers publicly, where we can wade in with our comments and suggestions, will make the sort of policy changes needed.

Doubling up payments to CalPERS makes perfect sense, why hasn’t this been done already? The 560 Fund should never have been tapped to pay for a solar project that was sold, in part, on the basis that it would pay for itself. Why has there never been an audit of this project, framed in terms that all could easily understand?

Defining, once and for all, the proper use of the 560 Fund, conducting audits of O’Donnell’s Fire Department reorganizations and accurately calculating the ROI on the solar energy project have been systematically kept off calendar and away from public input. Why? What are they trying to hide?

Drought garden planted the seeds of public distrust.

FB_palmtree_300The original drought garden, jammed through at the last minute and without considering public input, was a poorly designed masquerade to avoid spending proper funds on a public works project. The story leaked to the public, objections and outrage could be heard from all sides, the Mayor was counseled to postpone discussion and refused.

Today’s Council has a win-win opportunity to bring the “Rock” Garden back for further discussion. Here’s a chance to reverse a major blunder of it’s predecessors, to be honest with the public and clear the air, once and for all.

First, admit that repairing the leak in the Civic Center parking structure and avoiding spending Building Maintenance funds on it was the real objective. Put a standalone item on the agenda for a Public Works project to fix the leak. Pay for it with the Building Maintenance fund.

Put  a second item on the agenda to put drought tolerant landscape on the effected area once repairs have been completed. Tap MWDOC for their sod removal subsidy and Cal Domestic for the promised grant. That’s $17,500 in the bank. Allocate another $17,500 from Revenue Over Expenses. Boom! The budget is now only $35 thousand dollars, not the quarter million as originally stated. Invite CSUF grad students to do the design.

Please, it’s a business, not a board game.

govt_money_400The City Manager has often characterized himself as the CEO of a large corporation as justification for his salary package — twice that of California’s Governor.

Okay, it’s time to start running this city like a real business instead of a board game.

Start trapping all expenses against all projects and programs. No More soft costs. No more robbing Peter to pay Paul. No more hiding special interest projects by calling them something they’re not.

Every time accounting principles are pushed to their limits the door is opened to slip the difference into Revenue Over Expense.

The ball’s in your court now.

Thanks to Operation Clean Sweep and a voting population interested in rebooting City Council, we now have five Council members with open door policies, offering greater transparency and accountability in government and dedicated to fostering meaningful community engagement. Let’s not waste it.

The time to stand up and be counted is now.

Send your thoughts via email to:

Of course you can always come share your thoughts at Council meetings during Matters From The Audience. Check the Council’s agenda on the city’s website so you know what’s coming up. You’re not limited to commenting only on agenda items. Something bugging you? Speak up. Don’t be afraid to ask Council to pull an item from the Consent Calendar for discussion or to move a discussion item from the Study Session to the formal meeting in Council Chambers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t encourage you to send positive vibes their way too. Council is a big commitment. It’s hard work. It shouldn’t be a thankless job. We have a winning team now, there’s nothing wrong with showing a little team spirit and cheering them on.

Oh, and in the unlikely event you’re one of those who didn’t vote… never mind.


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…