Brea First Follow Up – Natalia Todorov

A good friend and active local mom, Natalia Todorov, attended last night’s Brea First Forum about Measure G. Early this morning she posted her reaction to the discussion on social media and I thought it would be a great “guest blog” here.

Brea First Follow-up – Natalia Todorov

I am a Brea resident of 18 years. I am a working mom who has two children going to Brea schools. I went last night to the Measure G community discussion at the Brea Museum & Historical Society.

Why did I go? Because I am a parent who knows what good education is and what good education can do for my kids’ future. I went because, to be frank with you, as a working mom I didn’t know very much about the proposed Measure G and I honestly didn’t know if I should vote Yes or No.

I went because I wanted to hear the pros and cons of Measure G from the two top supporters of both sides (Dwight Manley – For, Glenn Vodhanel – Against) and then make a choice about the future of my family. Should we sacrifice and give part of our hard-earned money for the Brea schools?

Frankly, I was surprised to see there were not a lot of Brea parents like me there. Oh, I should not be surprised because we’re super busy and even though we do care for the future of our children, it is hard to juggle everything when it comes to raising a child (including taking them to private lessons or teaching the kids themselves on the dining table at home).

The opposition’s point-of-view.

Glenn Vodhanel, the opposing leader, expressed his opinion why I should vote NO. In short, what I gathered from his speech was that in the past such measures have never worked because the funds were usually mismanaged and the Brea Olinda Unified School District (BOUSD) should not be trusted with money. The second argument was that good education doesn’t come from nice school buildings but from good teachers.

Yes, of course, these two opinions make a lot of sense … at first glance.

Some well known facts:

  • Are Brea schools aging, especially Brea Junior High being 104? YES
  • Do Brea schools need much needed repairs and improvements? YES
  • Does the BOUSD have limited funds given to them? YES
  • Does the BOUSD pay the most competitive teacher salaries in Orange County? Sadly, NO
  • Can BOUSD do better by paying teachers more and attracting better educators for our kids? YES
  • If the Brea community helps financially to alleviate the continuous spending of BOUSD funds for just ‘bandaging’ our aging schools, will that help us to attract and hire even better teachers? YES
  • Is PROGRESS a forward movement for a better future? YES
  • Can progress be achieved by doing the same thing over and over? NO
  • Knowing that school bond initiatives have not been passed for 21 years, can that be the answer to our school’s education not progressing as it should? YES
  • Can progress in our Brea education system be achieved by passing the proposed Measure G? YES

Oh, wait! I got my answer! YES!

So the two arguments the opposing side to Measure G were what?

Buildings don’t teach students, teachers do. Yes, I agree! Measure G will bring to our BOUSD better teachers because the district will be able to provide them with better modern facilities. Build it and they will come!!!

We can’t afford to repeat the past.

School measures in the past did not work because the funds were mismanaged and we can’t trust the BOUSD. OK, I see how that can be a very big concern. In fact, yes, that is a very big concern! What history has shown is that there is no progress if we keep on doing things the same way.

If we keep on saying NO to such measures, then nothing will change! And that is unacceptable!

If the school bond initiatives keep on being the same type, like Measure K, nothing will change.

But Measure G is different!

There will be a rigorous Citizens’ Oversight Committee and there are provisions ensuring compliance with the OC Taxpayer bond guidelines.

So Measure G is different! Measure G can lead to progress and improvement of our kids’ education and the overall Brea community stability!

What do you think?

John Bickel On The Mercury Lane Project.

mercuryBrea’s “Citizen of the Year”, John Bickel was born and raised in Brea, graduated from Brea HS and for 16 years has been a member the Brea Historical Society… President for the last 6 years.

Few people in town devote as much time and energy into local activities or understand local issues better than John. That’s why I’ve ask him to share his correspondence regarding the Mercury Lane Project with the Planning Commission here as a guest blogger.

John’s Message on the Mercury Lane Project.

January 12, 2020

To: Brea Planning Commission & City Staff

Subject: Mercury Apartments Project

I have lived in Brea for my entire life, mostly in the Arovista residential tract where I live today. I have seen this city grow to where it is today. The housing elements are varied and I believe fairly well balanced between attached and detached residences.

My first few years of adulthood placed me in rental units, apartments and houses. In 1977, we were able to purchase a home a stay in Brea. This was an ideal situation for me, since I worked for Unocal in Brea. My commute was 15 minutes.

For many, many years I enjoyed riding a bicycle to and from work. I felt very fortunate to live in the same city where I worked. I had many coworkers who were making long, daily commutes, or renting with others.

The 114 Mercury Apartments will be a good addition to the rental community in Brea. This private project will target the young professional market, of which Brea has many, from firefighters and police officers, engineers, medical and office workers.

Mercury Apartments are not low-income units, they are not subsidized by government and our taxes. They are built near several businesses that have employees who can rent near work and will be very happy to eliminate their daily commute.

We have become a society of valuing time.

Commuting 2 hours a day is not a good use of time.

We’re all concerned with the number of vehicles driving to and through our city at peak times, people heading to work or home. We’ve very little control of traffic with projects in neighboring cities. We have to rely on their project E.I.R. to identify impacts to Breans.

We do have control of our projects and can identify the impacts. This project will encourage people to live here and use alternate means of getting to work. The location is in walking distance to shopping, entertainment and dining, and recreation.

Some people have expressed concerns about insufficient on-site parking. If you look around the city at other apartment complexes, they are all under parked and overflow into the streets and even an adjacent park. I believe with the proper mitigations and a parking management plan, the Mercury project can work to the benefit of all.

Over the holidays I spoke with several of my neighbors. Most knew nothing about this project. Their first reaction was no more low-income rentals. But when I explained more of the project to them, their feelings changed and they became supportive of the project.

I encourage the city staff and this Commission to continue to work with the developer and work towards agreements that make this project, in all respects, a benefit to Brea.

Sincerely.

John Bickel

What a difference when you know what you’re talking about.

I value John’s opinions, though we have differed at times. I know he has put in the work to know what he’s talking about and his deep love and concern for his hometown is without question.

If just fraction of the folks I see spouting off on Facebook and Nextdoor would take the time and interest John does before attacking their keyboards… and their neighbors… Brea would be a lot different today.

We wouldn’t be facing many of the crisis level issues we are… and I suspect we would have a whole different set of portraits hanging in the Council Chambers.

mercury

A New Decade Begins.

In city government there is no sense of reciprocity. The wealth, the benefit, the power and authority only travels in one direction — like water downhill — away from the people. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to actually go to a meeting or catch it on streaming video, will confirm… the voice of the people falls on deaf ears.

Hurry Up And Wait.

Everything centers upon the immediate, the now, the tyranny of the urgent. There is never enough time or money to do anything right the first time but always seems to be enough of both to fix things later.

And, that balanced budget they constantly brag about is proving to be little more than a myth. It is a classic example of robbing Peter to pay Paul, all wrapped up a David Copperfield sort of accounting process that makes finding the truth about anything an impossibility.

Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain!

The recent discussion over water funds is a prime example. As Council wrestled over spending another $1.2 million on some mysterious form of Cal Domestic water shares, Bill Gallardo and Cindy Russell referred to three different “water funds” with distinctly different functions within the city budget.

The problem? There is only one water fund, the 420 Water Utility Fund. Throughout Council’s “discussion”, including an awkward effort by Steve Vargas to get to the bottom of things, no one on Council seemed aware that there is only one fund.

Here is five and a half minutes of “must see teevee”.

Digging Into The Details.

I looked at the documentation in the 2019-20 Operating Budget and confirmed several things about this strongly limited fund.

Described by Gallardo, in the opening, as an “enterprise” fund that can only be spent on water improvements, water capital, water purchases. “We cannot use it for anything not related to the water system because that is an enterprise fund… it is separate and distinct.

Hogwash! I discovered that every year several millions of dollars received from the sale of water are diverted to other funds! In the Adopted 2018-19 Operating Budget, $15,261,399 was diverted (transferred out) to these funds:

  • $118,895 to the Fixed Asset Replacement Fund (182) which provides funding for the replacement of City owned infrastructure, facilities and capital assets.
  • $289,667 to the Risk Management Fund (470) used to account for the costs of operating a self-insured program for general liability, workers compensation, long-term disability and unemployment compensation.
  • $0 to the Information Technology Fund (475) used to account for the operations of the City’s Internal Information Technology Division. (Skipped this year.)
  • $14,852,837 to the Capital Improvement Fund (510) used to account for the citywide costs of constructing street improvements, parks and other public improvements.

Did you read anything about water there? Yeah, me either. Someone has some very serious explaining to do.

Public Water Utility – Not For Profit?

Governed by the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), a mutual water company is defined as any private not-for-profit corporation or association organized for the purposes of delivering water to its stockholders and members at cost, including use of works for conserving, treating and reclaiming water.

In 2019-20, the city received $24.4 million in revenue and expensed $22.5 million. That generated a “profit” of $1.8 million for the year. That’s after disbursing all transfers to other funds. Where did it go? Shouldn’t it have been refunded to rate payers? Certainly it didn’t find it’s way into offshore accounts.

Peeling the onion that is Cal Domestic Water Company and all of it’s holdings is long overdue. We’ll revisit that can of worms later.

Truth Or Consequences?

It is my very strong opinion that Council’s decisions are made with little concern for consequences other than those effecting re-elections or perpetuating those six figure public employee jobs with lavish pensions.

Facts and details are meticulously obscured to protect the perpetrators from discovery. The “insiders” have developed their own language, immortalized in policies, civil codes and laws.

The first response to any request from the public is, “No.” The NIH Factor (not invented here) is in full force. An unsupportable behavior from a staff that must always turn to expensive outside consultants to resolve even the most simple of tasks.

Until transparency and accountability become something more than campaign rhetoric, until the arc of history bends back again towards truth, justice and the American way — we will be forever trapped within the status quo.

Someone Find The Broom!

As 2019 draws to a close, there is growing rumbling about producing a sequel to Clean Sweep. The question becomes, how?

There are some who believe a combination of naturally ending terms and a recall could clear the dais and give Brea a fresh start. The problem is we have no idea who is lurking in the shadows to fill the void.

Frankly, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” has kept many an inept council member on the job for multiple terms.

Maybe there is a less severe plan that would make more sense. I’m too annoyed at the moment to think about it.

Well… Happy New Year from Brea Matters. Let’s hope that 2020 is a prophetic reference to our vision for Brea’s future.