SRO At Brea Citizen’s Fracking Forum.

fracking forum 1The Brea Citizen’s Fracking Forum, held Saturday, July 19th at Brea Congregational Church’s fellowship hall was standing room only. Not surprising considering the snubbing resident’s received from Mayor Murdock at the Council meeting a few days earlier. The audience seemed equally divided among Brea residents, residents of neighboring communities (La Habra, La Habra Heights, Fullerton, Placentia and Yorba Linda) and interested parties from elsewhere in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Thanks to The Avocado Express, you aren’t missing a thing.

George Edwardz from The Avocado Express, professionally videotaped the entire forum and, with their permission, the full video is available here as well. You’ll find the Fracking Forum to be an informal conversation with experts. Offering their expertise were Dr. Tom Williams, PhD in Geology and Zoology, UCBerkeley; Hollin Kretzmann, Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity and Alexandra Nagy, Southern California Organizer, Food & Water Watch. Their presentations were followed by an equally enlightening question and answer period.

Key questions addressed throughout the Fracking Forum:

  • What are the health risks related to fracking and waste disposal wells near homes and schools?
  • Are there connections to waste disposal wells and earthquakes?
  • Who is responsible for the regulation and oversight of fracking and other extreme extraction technologies?
  • What action can concerned citizens take?

fracking forum crowdThe Fracking Forum was co-sponsored by Citizens for “Stop Fracking Brea”, Food & Water Watch, the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and hosted by the Brea Congregational Church.

(Additional coverage of the Fracking Forum by Nick Gerda, the Voice of OC.)

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…

 

The Shifting Fiscal Landscape.

coins_cFor some time now council leadership and senior city staffers have been hesitant to bring the topic of Brea’s unfunded pension liabilities before the public, either to educate or discuss the current state of affairs.  Attempts to put the topic on the agenda were continually thwarted.

Luckily, Roy Moore remained steadfast in his belief that the people of Brea deserved to understand the situation and had a right to make their feelings, questions and suggestions known.  To that end, on Thursday, February 7th, Roy conducted an open meeting at the Brea Masonic Lodge and presented a clear picture of where Brea stood at the moment.

You can download a copy of Roy’s presentation HERE.

One small step for Roy Moore.

Roy’s dogged persistence, plus pressure from our regular cast of characters at Matters from the Audience, was sufficient to force a change of heart in those who prefer to keep things behind closed doors.  Here’s an excerpt from Roy’s Brea Net newsletter #650:

coins_b“As you know I have been very concerned about Brea’s unfunded liabilities and am interested in pension reform.  I am happy to report that the City Council will finally address the unfunded liability issue during its May 7 Study Session.  The discussion should include the extent of our unfunded liabilities, how they evolved, CalPERS recent decision on increasing the City’s contribution rate to fund employees’ pensions and the impact this may have on city services and what possible solutions are available.  This portion of the Study Session will begin about 5:00 p.m. in the Executive Conference Room.”

One giant leap for Brea citizens.

This is a breakthrough a long time in the making.  All folks with an interest in this topic, especially considering that this meeting will not be televised or adequately documented in minutes, should plan now to attend.

A handful of us, following Roy’s presentation, have stayed in touch and continued our own discussions.  Here are a few of the key questions we feel deserve to be addressed:

  • CalPERS recent actuarial policy change will require participant cities to increase their contribution to the fund by as much as 50% per year beginning in 2015.  How will Brea plan to absorb such a dramatic increase in cost?
  • Is Brea considering changing from a defined benefit retirement plan to a defined contribution retirement plan for Brea city employees?  How will the bargaining units, especially public safety unions who account for the largest unfunded pension burden on taxpayers, respond?
  • How did Brea squander it’s 42 year relationship with Yorba Linda for the contracted provision of police services?  Is there any unfunded liabilities legacy that comes with this loss?  How will the cost of rebuilding Brea’s Police Department impact our ability to keep up with unfunded liabilities?
  • Roy’s chart covering liabilities from 2001 to 2011 (download report above) indicates that Brea had a $10.8 million surplus for public safety and a $11.1 million surplus for miscellaneous – a total surplus of $21.9 million in 2001.  By 2003 that had reversed itself and become a $10.1 million total unfunded liability.  That’s a $32 million swing in just 2 years! If we skipped payments to CalPERS, where did the money go?

Please, come to the meeting and make yourself heard.

I’m sure there will be more questions than answers rising out of this meeting.  Remember that, at 7:00 p.m., the study session will adjourn to the public meeting downstairs which will be televised.

During Matters from the Audience, these and new questions generated by the study session report and discussion can be publicly put to Council and, because “Unfunded Liabilities” is on the agenda, Council and staff may reply without violating the Brown Act.

coins_aThere is also a Budget Workshop set for Tuesday, May 14 in Conference Rooms A and B (Civic Center, 2nd floor) beginning at 3:30 p.m. – not the most convenient time.  It will be staff run and the agenda/format are unclear at the moment.  As I learn more, I’ll pass it along.

Remember, it’s your city.

It’s (mostly) your money and it’s your services that are at stake.  Why would you stay home and not get involved?