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.

 

Paramedic Tax Snowballs Into An Avalanche Of Deceit.

It’s taken over two weeks to fully digest what was immediately apparent to me as I watched the November 6 Council meeting – my inquiry into what it really cost’s to support and maintain a paramedic service uncovered issues of much greater significance, and staff couldn’t be less pleased.

The snowball downhill became an avalanche of deceit.

I have hunted down and received, via public records requests to the City of Brea and the OC Auditor-Controller, over 200 pages of data, accounting, meeting agendas, staff reports and minutes… and invested over 1,000 hours since mid-November to review and understand them. I have more to come, one question answered always seems to lead to more questions to ask.

Here’s the really short version of what I discovered:

  • The 1978 ballot initiative creating the Paramedic Tax appears to be a fraud. Not a word is mentioned in any minutes, resolutions or the ballot measure language itself that so much as a penny of the taxes collected would be spent on anything other than to create and maintain a mobile intensive care paramedic program.
  • Since the RDA was dissolved in 2011, over 44% of the Paramedic Taxes collected have been used to meet RDA/Successor Agency admin costs, pass through commitments and bond obligations.
  • In FY2016-17 Paramedic Taxes collected was $3.84 million. The total actually reaching the General Fund was only $2.30 million. The budget for paramedic services was $5.05 million. So, what does it really cost to have paramedic services and where did the city come up with the missing $2.75 million to cover the budget?
  • Digging into the whole RDA – Successor Agency – Oversight Committee thing takes us into a completely different discussion. Trust me, we will have that discussion. There is such an egregious lack of a paper trail that we will never know the names of all the guilty parties or the full extent of their complicity.
  • From what little data is available, redevelopment in Brea may have created as much as $300+ million in tax increment financed debt for which we’re still on the hook for $196 million that we’ll be paying off from now to 2036.

Back to the Paramedic Tax.

paramedic taxAt the November 6 meeting, as Administrative Services Director Cindy Russell began to share staff’s budget update, Council member Hupp interjected a simple question to City Manager Gallardo, “Bill, I know you and staff had a meeting with some concerned citizens in regards to the Paramedic Tax… would you just briefly tell those in the audience listening what you’re doing based upon what happened in that meeting.”

Gallardo responded, “We had a meeting, a very cordial meeting, with some residents interested in finding out the history of the Paramedic Tax and what was approved. The Paramedic Tax was approved in 1978 by over 80% of the Brea voters and this tax goes towards the operational needs of the fire department…”

No, historically, an average of 44% of the Paramedic Tax collected from within the RDA areas was siphoned off to meet redevelopment obligations.

paramedic tax“One of the things from that meeting was how can we better account for… how can we better track the Paramedic Tax? Right now it goes into the General Fund in a lump sum through payments we get from the county then we account for the expenses through the General Fund.”

No, only the tax collected from non-RDA areas has been apportioned to the General Fund by the OC Auditor-Controller. There has never been a Special Revenue Fund created to track and manage revenue from the Paramedic Tax – we have no true record of how these monies were spent.

“At the beginning of the fiscal year we’ll establish a Special Revenue Fund to track inflow of the Paramedic Tax and also track the expenses directly to the Paramedic Program and do that on a go forward basis.”

Because we have no way to audit what we’ve done in the past since we failed to keep adequate records. It will remain a mystery.

“It’s probably appropriate to put something on our website that identifies what its use is, its purpose what its intent is. 80% of calls are medical, basic life support or advanced life support.”

Adding to the mountain of propaganda on a website that precious few Breans access on a regular basis is not an answer. How about we elect a City Treasurer who actually has the skills to act as an advocate on our part and audit the city’s finances?

And yes, 80% of calls are medical in nature… but what portion of the total workload addresses these calls? How much time, effort and equipment fulfills the Fire Departments activities including administration, building and apparatus maintenance, emergency (disaster) preparedness, fire suppression operations, fire prevention activities, regular fire ordinance compliance inspections?

Tossing out impressive sound bites, out of context and without substantiation, is a common method of distracting us from the real truth.

Councilman Simonoff joins the fray.

paramedic taxCouncilman Simonoff asked the City Manager, “One of the subjects that came up, and maybe Jim (Markman) you’re a better resource for this question… with regards to how payments are made to the Redevelopment Agency… can that be better explained?”

Thank you Marty for immediately spotting what I did… that the City Manager tried to duck out of answering Council member Hupp’s question.

Gallardo replied, “Let me give it a shot then Markman can clean it up if I don’t say it correctly. A portion of the Paramedic Taxes along with all other taxes paid by anybody that has a property ownership in the Redevelopment Agency project area a portion of those taxes went to the RDA. By operation of law, any taxes paid in the RDA area automatically went to the RDA. That has occurred since 1978.”

Boom! There it is. “By operation of law” means, from the very beginning, revenues generated from tax increment were required by the state to pass through the RDA obligating a portion to meet RDA expenses. This is the genesis of the hoax perpetrated upon Brea’s unwitting voters, 80% of them, in 1978.

Gallardo continues, “The good thing is that the RDA’s were dissolved by the state in 2011 so they don’t exist any more. As we pay down any bond obligations in those project areas, little by little that RDA revenue, I’m sorry, that General Fund revenue lost to the city and also the Paramedic Tax that went to the RDA are slowly but surely coming back to our city for our paramedic services.”

Inside that unfortunate word salad are a truth, dissolution of the RDA was a good thing; a Freudian slip “that RDA revenue, I’m sorry, that General Fund revenue…”; and a complete smokescreen, “slowly but surely coming back to our city…” not until 2036 and we have no guarantee where the “lost revenue” will be spent.

Not to be overlooked, Council member Marick weighs in.

paramedic taxCouncil member Marick then directed a question to City Attorney Jim Markman, “Did the city have any opportunity or any say into whether the Paramedic Tax revenue went to the RDA or is that how the law was set up?” (Asked and answered… as they say).

Brace yourself, here is how Mr. Markman replied, “There are some misconceptions because no one has been here long enough to remember this other than Wayne Wedin, Rex Gaede and me.

Basically, in ’78, this was put on the ballot for two reasons. One, Brea had two redevelopment project areas and whatever property tax that was there was going to be allocated elsewhere and they were facing Prop 13 which most people thought would pass which was going to freeze property taxes in place so there were a number of problems facing the city at the time funding redevelopment where the source of income, which was going to grow, got frozen at the 1% tax rate and that took away projected tax allocation money.

Also, and The City Council knew that the Paramedic (Tax), which they proposed and was passed by 80%, was sized as to what the rate was as a special tax so they would generate enough revenues to fund the paramedics and account for the fact that money generated in the redevelopment project areas was not going to be there for that purpose unless and until essentially redevelopment went away several years later which is exactly what happened.”

Boom! There it is. That sounds like a confession if I ever heard one! And, if any interested prosecutor is reading this, the case for proving intent seems like a slam dunk as well.

paramedic tax“So, if anyone doesn’t believe that discussions occurred, that they had those numbers figured out… they issued bonds, numerous bonds, for the Redevelopment Agency that clearly state and show you the allocation of what would have been a Paramedic Tax if its in the project area going to redevelopment.

So nobody was ever fooled or surprised by that and they sized it because Brea wanted paramedics in 1978. And, they wanted to fund the paramedic program so they had to set a tax rate that accounted for redevelopment allocation.”

Okay, having already made his confession, what does this tell us? Only that the size of the gang, those poor unwitting co-conspirators, was bigger than we thought. Seems the gang included virtually every member of City Council holding office since 1977.

Again… Mr. Markman continues, “And that’s what’s happened ever since, except for two things that happened. Once we reached the cap on how much redevelopment money could be allocated… money over that cap that’s generated by that Paramedic Tax goes to the paramedics and the redevelopment allocations are now way reduced because all they’re doing is paying debt on our Last and Final ROPS which essentially, for the most part, are bond issuances that are being paid off over the years and, as they are paid off, that money would be reallocated to paramedics remembering, however, that there is a lot more people here than the 17 or 18 thousand that were here in 1978 when the Paramedic Tax was enacted.

That Council knew that that number would grow, the city would grow, that was the whole idea of redevelopment and when that was all over the allocation would go back to the Paramedic Tax so none of this was stumbled into or a surprise to anybody.”

If the City Manager’s responses were a word salad, this is a banquet of b*llsh*t. If anyone can extract a single cogent fact or convincing statement within this medley of malarkey please share it in the comments section.

Well, let’s wrap this up.

You can view the meeting’s streaming video on the city website HERE to verify that my transcriptions are faithful.

The specious responses from the City Manager and Attorney underscore the callow and indefensible decisions made by them and their predecessors. They have raised the exclusion of the public to a level of pure artistry.

Issues over the last couple of years have escalated from petty small town personality politics to clearly criminal enterprises that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to either line someone’s pockets, inflate someone’s pension or fulfill some small mind’s notion of what Brea should be.

Whatcha gonna do?