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.

A Garden In Four Acts.

Act One: The Development Committee.

money-barrel_c“Cal Domestic is offering $10,000 grants (i.e. your money) for educational projects on water conservation. Any ideas?”

“A drought tolerant garden at the civic center would be cool but we’ll need more than ten grand.”

“What about MWDOC’s turf removal subsidy, we could call that a grant (i.e. your money) and add $17,000 to the pot.”

“Yeah, and if we add $8,500 out of the Water Fund (i.e. your money) and call it matching… that might be enough to get started… you know, hire a consultant or something.”

“Okay, let’s get some estimates and see how far $35,500 will take us.”

Act Two: The Finance Committee.

“Next item, an 8,500 square foot educational garden demonstrating drought tolerant landscaping on the slope under the flag poles at the Civic Center. Cost, $215,000 dollars.”

“A what? To do what? For how much? Are you kidding?”

“They got three estimates, this is the lowest. Mostly grants from the water companies and nothing from the General Fund… well, not exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“$188,000 comes from the Water Fund and the Urban Runoff Fund (i.e. your money).”

“Is that even legal?”

“I don’t know, let’s kick it upstairs and let Council decide.”

Act Three: Behind closed doors.

murdock_inbox“I can’t make Study Session next week, I need to hit the Arovista back-to-school night. You’ll have to cover for me.”

“What! I don’t want to explain that you’re out campaigning instead of doing your job. No!”

“No worries you two, we’ll just cancel Study Session and bump your garden downstairs for a vote.”

“Can we do that?”

“Sure. We have three votes in our pocket, with only two days prior notice how much discussion could there possibly be? It will be a slam dunk.”

Intermission.

  • BreaNet leaks the news to 500+ involved Brea citizens.
  • News breaks on nextdoor.com and the public is outraged.
  • The story is picked up on the Brea Matters blog and registers the highest reader response in over three years.
  • Angry and disappointed comments abound, from a former Mayor, high visibility residents and members of the silent majority.
  • Council email inboxes are flooded with admonitions to reject the project, postpone discussion to allow for public comment and with alternatives infinitely smarter and markedly less expensive.

Act Four: The Council Meeting.

“Item 10: Civic & Cultural Center Educational Garden. Any discussion?

“I think this isn’t an urgent matter. We need to open this up for public discussion… besides, I’m getting huge input about other, potentially better sites. I move to postpone.”

Dead silence.

“Motion dies for lack of a second. Any further discussion?”

“This garden blah blah blah drought tolerant blah blah blah educate residents blah blah blah grants available blah blah blah need to conserve water blah blah blah renovation blah blah blah draw a lot of visitors blah blah blah public amenity blah blah blah.”

“Don’t forget the memorial. I love memorials. I’ve spent half my life in combat. There’s a gravel path around the memorial with bees and butterflies.”

“I’m always the cheapskate on stuff like this. I’m sure we could do this for less.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll get three bids and besides… it’s almost free.”

“All in favor say aye.” (Murdock, Marick, Garcia)

“All opposed?” (Moore, Simonoff)

Lights dim. Curtain drops. Bring up the house lights.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

This can and should be reversed. There is no legitimate reason to bury this much pork on the Civic Center lawn. Grant sources are uncommitted and can be refused. Public monies are not allocated for this type of expenditure and should be denied. The Water Fund and Urban Runoff Fund are not slush funds.

Keep writing Council members. Keep writing letters to the editor. Keep talking to your neighbors. Shake off your fears and come speak to Council during Matters From The Audience. Keith loves a parade and deserves your support.

Make your voice heard. Make your opinions count.

cleansweepAnd, for heaven’s sake, whether you vote by mail or make the trek to the ballot box, do not vote for any incumbents… for any office. Not this year. Not in 2016.

It will take a clean sweep to get local government rebooted. Do you want your voice, the voices of your friends and neighbors, to be heard?

Click Restart.

NoBrett

 

$215K Garden Is A Boondoggle!

boondoggle bucksCity Council’s agenda next Tuesday includes a boondoggle item to spend $215,000 to put in a drought tolerant garden at the Civic Center using unnamed grants and something called the Urban Runoff Fund.

The drought is hugely critical. As a friend pointed out to me, Many years of snowfall in the Sierras are needed more than just rainfall. Lake Mead water level is so critical that the hydroelectric power production from Hoover Dam is threatened. This is more serious than most people realize or understand.

This boondoggle has all the earmarks of a look-what-I-did campaign trick. Unacceptable. There are numerous locations around Brea that are excellent examples of drought sensitive landscaping.

No such thing as free money!

The fact that grants are available is not a selling point. Far too many tax payer dollars get wasted under the guise of grants passed from one level of government to another. The money in the “Urban Runoff Fund” came from somewhere (you), it isn’t free.

Please email or call Council members and demand a no vote on this useless and foolish expense.

 

cleanupUpdate 1:

Response to this blog and a similar comment string on the Nextdoor website indicate widespread objection to this project.

One neighbor posted on Nextdoor, That must be some garden the City has in mind; can’t wait to see it. We’re planning to rip out our front lawn and go with a drought-tolerant planting, and have already had exchanges with a licensed, experienced firm that does just that.

They do commercial and government buildings as well and, in fact, recently finished one job that included several acres, complete with subsurface watering, etc. That whole job came to about $40,000.

I don’t know how many acres are being ‘improved’ down at the Civic Center, but maybe there are other aspects of this that the City plans to surprise us with. How many bids did they get, anyway?”

Multiple bids confirmed.

I’m told that three bids were made on the project. And $215,000 is the low bid? We’re talking something around 8,500 square feet. An acre is 43,560 square feet. The project mentioned above, at several acres, was completed for $40,000. Something is really wrong with the math here.

Roy Moore always gets ribbed for being such a “cheapskate” because he questions every expense that seems slightly out of line. I can only imagine the field day he will have over this price tag.

Matters from the audience.

I hope the lineup at the podium Tuesday evening, behind Mr. Fullington, wraps all the way around the room and that Council gets the full brunt of resident anger and disappointment. There is no world where passing this would be the right thing to do.

Update 2:

After a failed attempt by Simonoff to table the item for discussion of other sites, which died for a lack of a second, the real whitewashing of the boondoggle swung into full speed. Turns out this item came from the Development Committee, which is Marick’s little playground.

The “Civic & Cultural Center Demonstration Garden” did pass through the Finance Committee on it’s way to the agenda, which is where Moore and Simonoff should have buried it forever. They didn’t. Big mistake.

In the end, Murdock tried to imply that the Finance Committee’s request to put this on the agenda was a recommendation for approval. Hogwash. Murdock was just trying to create plausible deniability that he bore some of the blame. Moore and Simonoff should have roasted him on the spot!

In all fairness, Simonoff did correct the Mayor regarding approvals and mentioned how it would have helped not to cancel the study session when so many details needed ironing out. Too bad the antiquated sound system kept most from hearing his comments.

No Study Session? Why?

Several calls and emails from parents, surprised to see Hizzoner The Pool Boy out campaigning at the Arovista back-to-school night, certainly shed a little light on where Murdock’s priorities lie. It would appear the silly season is more important to him than some stupid garden… hence the yes vote without having added two words of intelligent comment on the subject.

There is no reason why Mayor Pro Tem Marick could not have conducted the Study Session if the Mayor was unable to attend. That is her job, right? Study Sessions are an important part of the process, if for no other reason than to clarify agenda items or any council reports.

A reasonable theory might be that if Marick conducted the Study Session she would be required to explain where the Mayor was should the question have come up… and it would have, I guarantee.

So, by canceling the Study Session the question could not be asked nor a response provided. I was also of the impression that neither the Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem have the authority to make such a unilateral decision.

This was small town politics at it’s worst.

The boondoggle steamrolls itself to victory.

The presentation, after a lot of nonsense about grants and funds, pointed out that current irrigation for the area in question is 285,000 gallons a year. The garden would reduce that to 93,000 gallons a year… a savings of 192,000 gallons. Sounds good, right?

The city pays 3 cents a gallon! Annual savings after spending $215,000 in tax payer funds, $5.760 per year! It will take over 30 years to recoup the expense from water savings.

I won’t even address the inappropriate and unrequested interjection from City Attorney Markman, Brea’s Water Czar, the man you can thank for tiered water rates (which will likely be proven to be illegal).

Moore, in the end, raised the questions that uncovered the astounding savings. He also tried to pin down staff on the appropriateness of using the Urban Runoff Fund for this expense, a fund built on households paying a $2.10 a month tax on their water bill for like… forever!

Final vote:

Murdock, Marick and Garcia – Yes — Moore and Simonoff – No.

Like this comes as a big surprise. I’m reminded again of Tim O’Donnell’s favorite definition of leadership, “Leadership is disappointing your constituents in increments they can absorb.”

Once again, public outcry is ignored and, as usual, we’ll unfortunately forget about it before election time. Or will we?

Multi-Ethnic Group Of People Holding 11 Empty Placards

Finally, the OCR weighs in.

Well, sort of… in their hit-the-high-points-avoid-anything-that-remotely-suggests controversy style. Friday’s article, painfully absent any serious consideration of the public outcry expressed here and on the Nextdoor website, leaves the rapidly declining OCR readership with little to go on.

I’d give you a link to the OCR itself, but most of you no longer have subscriptions and are unable to get beyond their paywall.

Without continued and accelerated public outcry, which was stymied by the cancellation of the study session and inadequate announcement of the matter to the public, don’t expect to see any follow-up coverage from the OCR. Hopefully there will be continued interest from their editorial department.