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.

 

RDA 2.0 – A Really Bad Idea!

On Friday morning, August 2nd, the Development Committee met with only one real item on their agenda. “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts (EFIDs) with presentation by Staff and Larry Kosmont, Kosmont Companies. The presentation from Kosmont, centered around “How do you capture vitality and quality of life in a digital economy?” However a good dose of “state mandates fear” formed the foundation upon which the presentation was built.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter.

There appears to be a growing interest in rejuvenating an old idea, redevelopment. This new… call it RDA 2.0… is a rebirth of tax increment financing for local/regional projects.

Managed by Brea’s Public Financing Authority, new redevelopment districts would be created, property taxes frozen and new “redevelopment” bonds issued to finance some sort of infrastructure projects.

No public vote is required to create these new “enhanced infrastructure financing” districts!

The mantra “no new taxes” is repeated over and over as if that will lull us into a false sense of trust and comfort.

Look, when the property values are reassessed and the taxes unfrozen, the properties will be paying at a much higher rate and the difference will be used to retire the bond debt.

What about this suggests no new taxes?

So, where are these new EIFDs?

The report listed: Central Park Village, Brea Place (Hines), Aera Energy Brea 265, 2830 East Orbiter (adjacent property owned by firm of Planning Commissioner James McGrade), Embassy Retail Court, Brea Mall, Brea Plaza, Former Improv, Gaslight Square, Regal Theatres, Mercury Lane Residential, Downtown hotel, Brea Community Center, Brea Library, and Suzuki Motor of America.

To me, 90% of these properties are either doing quite well as is or they’re in various stages of development… not even yet completed. And the United States Bankruptcy Court confirmed American Suzuki’s plan of liquidation (Chapter 11) on February 28, 2013.

The first city/county EIFD tax increment partnership is the Placentia Old Town district. Over 300 acres with taxes frozen at $365 million and anticipated to be unfrozen at $460 million. For what?

Kosmont lists the following: $22M net fiscal impact to City; $15M to County; 1,600+ housing units; 3,900+ construction jobs; $800M+ construction period economic output; 1,150+ permanent jobs; $164M+ in annual ongoing economic output.

Prove it.

Here is what Kosmont proposes to do in Brea: Kosmont to evaluate: Project and land use review; EIFD boundary alternatives; infrastructure improvements required; Tax increment funding capacity / complementary sources; Orange County cooperation; Implementation strategy and roadmap.

Kosmont proposed timing: Feasibility evaluation – 2 to 3 months; District formation activities – 6 to 12 months.

Stop the madness!

Not a whisper about seeking public review or approval.

In December 2011, the California Supreme Court upheld the complete elimination of redevelopment agencies and TIF along with it. The legal wrangling that followed is complicated and not worth going into detail here.

Suffice it to say Redevelopment was terminated for good reasons. Why, just 8 years later, has it suddenly become a good idea again?

Nothing in life is free.

They try and seduce us with parks and community projects. But where’s the money come from? From schools and our pockets!

From the mid-seventies through 2011 Brea built a boatload of RDA projects. Some were on private land and made reasonable use of the tax increment. Many, like the Civic Center, Community Center, Senior Center, Sports Park and Rails-to-Trails were on public land for which no tax increment existed!

District borders were repeatedly expanded, bonds were repeatedly refinanced and cash was created at every opportunity. Hell, they even tricked us into passing the Paramedic’s Tax, almost half of which never paid for a single thing related to emergency medical services.

No one in city hall can give you an accurate price for one single project. The web of financing hijinks was so complicated they’ve lost all comprehension of what they pulled off for over 40 years. Millions upon millions.

You know what really hurts? We still owe $193,871,104 million dollars which we’ll be paying off all the way through June 2036.

Revenue is down, expenses are ever on the increase, we’re hovering on the edge of unbalanced budgets for several years to come.

Now is not the time to start some fiscal boondoggle, proven to be a failure years ago. Especially if it does little more than provide job security to a handful of city planners having a tough time justifying their jobs anymore.

Tax increment financing (TIF) is no way to defray the cost of urban revitalization… assuming that’s what we want to do in the first place.

Gateway Center: Kiss Your Assets Goodbye.

In October 1991 the Gateway Center at Brea Blvd. and Imperial was launched as one of Brea’s first RDA projects. On March 7, 2017 the City Council, acting as the Successor Agency, terminated 100% of the city’s interests in the center in exchange for a check in the amount of $7.8 million dollars.

But wait… there’s more. Brea had to pass this revenue on to the Orange County Auditor-Controller to pay off all taxing entities (other agencies having a right to a portion of the proceeds). The City netted only $1.2 million. I’ll explain later where it went.

Not such a good deal.

In simple terms, staff provided Council with their recommendations, backed by just a 5 page Memorandum by Keyser-Marston, extolling what a great deal this was.

Since 2012 we’ve received an average of $354K annually from rental income (subject to the same pay off to all taxing entities). This one time payout would generate around 3.5 years income.

Instead, why didn’t we opt to continue collecting annual rent? Our participation agreement ran another 30 years… until 2048. Rents would have more than doubled by then but Keyser-Marston left that out.

What staff and Keyser-Marston also failed to disclose to Council was that we had a 25% equity stake in the Gateway Center. It would be triggered by either a refinancing or a sale (full or partial) of the property.

In 2005 Watt-Craig Associates Limited Partnership, per the timeline provided by staff, “sold majority stake in ownership to AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust (AFL-CIO) but continues to retain a small portion of the partnership interest.”

Staff’s claim, when pressed on the matter, is that only a 100% sale would trigger a payout to the city. Watt-Craig retained a 1% stake in Gateway. Who was the rocket scientist that thought this was okay and that we should walk away from around $16.2 million?

Conservatively, the Gateway Center is worth about $80 million… you do the math. Termination of the city’s interest robbed us of $20 million if the property sold today.

Who knows how much our equity would be worth if we simply let it ride?

You can fool some of the people…

Did no one on Council see these red flags? No, because they assumed staff had provided the full scoop. The deception of Council was anchored in their belief that the property owner, Watt-Craig Associates LP, had opened the discussion of a termination agreement.

Not so, even though the staff report, the Keyser-Marston memorandum, the fancy always to be trusted PowerPoint presentation and the Successor Agency Resolution SA 2017-02 all stated otherwise, “The Owner is proposing the buyout of the Successor Agency’s interest…”

It was disclosed, early last week, that this process was initiated by our Director of Development, David Crabtree, presumably at the suggestion of City Manager Bill Gallardo. It was also disclosed that protracted negotiations followed which lead to staff’s recommendations.

From where I sit, this smacks of premeditation and reinforces the notion that this was all fabricated to generate the revenue needed to balance an otherwise upside-down budget (see below).

I’ve made a series of thorough CPRA requests for all communications and documents relating to the termination of our participation in the Gateway Center project. The City’s initial response last week overlooked numerous responsive documents and the City Clerk, Lillian Harris-Neal, has promised to provide them as quickly as she can.

gatewayFollow the money.

You can’t. As is the custom, the revenue was dumped into the General fund where it vanished into thin air. Well, sort of.

It had been determined that the FY2016-17 budget, thanks to declining sales tax revenue, was coming up short somewhere between $800K and $1M – an alarming dilemma for a city that had “always” balanced it’s budget.

Subsequently, unanticipated revenue miraculously offset the shortfall and… voila, the budget was balanced after all. I can’t help but wonder how many preceding “balanced” budgets benefitted from similar fiscal skullduggery.

A couple more scary thoughts.

Not one of Brea’s commissions or committees has a resident member with expertise in commercial real estate or the taxing authorities.

Staff has been careful to keep City Treasurer Rios, Planning Commissioners McGrade and Ullrich (both with deep experience in commercial real estate and the taxing authorities) as much in the dark as they have Council.

We own Embassy Suites and lease land. Staff is contemplating to sell off another “legacy “ asset!

Where does this leave us today?

In deep shite. We have a new budget about to be proposed in the face of continued revenue decline.

Cuts have been made, without clear validation as to how and where considering that the city’s “soft cost” approach to accounting fails to consider labor as a cost.

Many fees have been increased thanks to the city’s ability to calculate labor and overhead down to an hourly rate.

Hang on… am I the only one who sees the contradiction? The city needs to convert to a true cost accounting system and to stop trying to solve the reduced income situation by handing is off to taxpayers to pony up even more.

Time to put on the brakes!

A FY2018-19 operating budget would go into effect in about 47 days. I’ve seen no report from that new fancy special strategic budget oversight committee.

The City Treasurer, Rick Rios, who has leveraged California statutes governing the authority and scope of responsibilities of an elected City Treasurer to reconstitute the office’s role as fiscal watchdog, has yet to see a single page of a proposed budget.

It’s time to put a halt to City Staff’s Ready-Fire-Aim approach to managing city business.

I suggest that Council approves a 30 day emergency stay by employing the proposed operating budget for the month of June only.

This breathing room will allow for Council to give staff more finite instruction, for the Budget Oversight Committee to actually do some oversight and give the City Treasurer the time and opportunity to do the job we elected him to do.

rock the boat