$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.

26 thoughts on “$215K Garden Is A Boondoggle!

  1. This is incredibly wasteful. It is the old adage “it’s going to be spent somewhere it might as well be in my City.”

    The truth is these are taxpayer funds and should be spent helping taxpayers. How about increasing the bribe for homeowners to swap out water thirsty landscaping?

    No… we’ll just pretty up City Hall under the guise of “educating the public”.

    The Counil had better be careful of this crazy spending lest there be no funds left for trips to Sister Cities to learn the National Dance!

    It does no good to email this Council! POOL SWEEP BREA!

    • Kevin… You’re right on every point! This is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Council needs to spend more time educating themselves than the public. We get it. We’re tired of it.

      The city’s perpetual stalking of grants and other public funds, over the years, has destroyed any concept of the value of a buck they might have once had. Grantsmanship is a game for the indigent or the ignorant.

      Thanks for chiming in Kevin!

  2. For years City of Brea has touted how beautiful our City Hall is, as well as the Art in Public Places program. Now they are touting putting a low-water desert style garden right on the outside floor of this City Hall.

    Sounds to me more like the City Council and City of Brea leaders are bored and don’t know where to spend (waste) our money and its probably a last stand for many of them with the election of all new council members (Clean Sweep- as Roy Moore is calling for).

    If this their last hurrah; what a legacy to leave behind.

    • David… There seems to be a growing number of folks who share your opinion! All we can hope for is that there are at least three Council members with enough common sense to listen to the people and just say no.

      As a former member of the Cultural Arts Commission, I am a fan and supporter of the Curtis Theater, Brea Gallery and the widely recognized Art In Public Places program. All were created with specific cost recovery requirements which, to my knowledge, they have more than met.

      This cactus garden is an abominable waste of our money. How about hitting up the Schweitzer family to cover the costs of replacing that rose garden down at City Hall Park? Make that family memorial a drought tolerant display instead! At least it would have half a chance of being seen.

  3. I am on vacation, but when I received Roy’s recent newsletter, I immediately thought, I have to reply to him. I was, and am afraid that staff is not thinking outside the box and Council will rubber stamp this item like they do so often. So, I replied to Roy with very close to the same words I am printing here to share on the blog.

    This drought is many years in the making, and will continue until many years of sufficient snowfall brings the Colorado River system back to the levels of ten years ago. Rain is one thing, but will not be a drop in the bucket compared to the importance of the Sierra’s snowpack. We need many years of heavy, quality snow fall to recover from this drought condition.

    I am 62 years old and I am seriously hoping to see the drought turn around in my lifetime. The State, County, and City need to lead the way, and they have all been negligent. Buying water shares in Cal Domestic to shore up the City’s supply is fine, but that hole could dry up too in no time. Northern California is seeing the underground aquifers drying up. It can happen here too. Then what do you have? You have shares in a dry hole that cost you millions and will take many years to recover. That’s another blog story.

    There are several new housing projects going on in Brea. Being familiar with and working on one that has had to comply with ALL of the current laws on using drought tolerant plantings and efficient irrigation systems, I thought why not refer residents to those projects instead of spending and wasting 215 grand on plantings at the civic center that very few people will take the time to drive to, take the time to try to park in a full parking structure, and then walk to see.

    The City has an MWD rebate program in place and the city should have a list of residents who have applied for and received funds and rebates, when removing turf grass and installing drought tolerant plants and efficient irrigation systems. Publish these addresses and as residents drive around town, they can cruise by and take a look. An example of a beautifully designed and efficient landscape that I am familiar with in my neighborhood is at 500 Briarwood Dr. These folks have done an outstanding job creating a beautiful landscape.

    Then, drive down east Birch Street, Kraemer, between Birch and Imperial, and Imperial and Valencia. All of the median work in those streets are now drought tolerant plantings and efficient irrigation systems. But, some of that median landscape is NEW additions to the City water system that you and I pay for, that staff forced developers to install!

    Low water use or not, should these medians have been planted at all at this time? Not setting a very good example city staff. Anyway, they are examples of drought tolerant plantings and efficient irrigation systems.

    The common areas of the La Floresta Project, Shea in the hill areas, are also drought tolerant plantings. So, with these projects setting the example, and using the residents who have redesigned their landscaping using the City’s rebate program, plenty of examples are already out there. To spend 215 grand ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF STAFF is foolish.

    The decision here by council should be obvious to them. They should scold staff for not being more involved. We will see what the incumbents have to say next week. This is an election year and the frying pan is getting heated up.

    A lot more needs to be done on the part of staff to make residents aware of how serious the issues of water and electricity really are. A monthly report of how the City and residents are reducing water usage would be one. Posting a thermometer type goal on main streets with water reports showing monthly usage and goal to reduce water use is another.

    A recent O.C. Register story about Lake Mead reports that if the drought continues on, that before mid 2015, hydroelectric power production from Hoover Dam will be shut down due to insufficient Lake Mead water supplying the head pressure to keep the turbines running. AND Las Vegas is already installing a new water supply line lower in the dam. That has a big impact on all of ‘Vegas and us in the O.C.

    You as residents really need to do your part if you want to continue enjoying your swimming pools and, like me, taking a shower for good hygiene. It’s up to you to get more involved. Vote Clean Sweep too, when going to the polls in November.

    John Bickel
    Lifelong Resident

    • John… whew, thanks. I appreciate your taking the time to add your thoughts and hope Council will do the right thing Tuesday night.

    • By the way, John… best, concise explanation of the long-term drought I’ve seen! Water is a subject my nonprofit works on so I read a lot of articles, but you did a masterful job of summing it up. You should send this into the Register or Times as an op-ed piece!

  4. Let’s take a look at this, 215k for a drought tolerant garden showcase? To get a good look at drought tolerant plants take a drive by the new Olinda School on Birch St, or the fire station on the corner of Kramer and Lambert. I hope the council makes the right choice tonight and does not waste the tax dollars of Brea citizens.

    • Randy… your examples, and others mentioned by John Bickel, should certainly be sufficient to get the public’s attention.

      I’ll be blunt (big surprise). This is stupid. A bad idea. It should be yanked from the agenda tonight and never brought up again. There is no amount of discussion, review or modification that could ever make this anything but a bad idea.

      If we’ve received money from Cal Domestic, send it back. If we’ve received money from the Metropolitan Water District, send it back. If we’re taking money out of the 560 Fund, don’t, it isn’t a slush fund! And as many have pointed out, use the Runoff Fund for what it was originally designed, “to maintain runoff, or drainage facilities within the City!”

      This is stupid. A bad idea.

      Whomever allowed this to go on the agenda should be required to pay the city back for the vacation he took to South Korea and Japan and should not be elected to a second term.

      That would be stupid, a bad idea.

  5. I wonder if anyone on the Brea City Council realizes that within two miles, I’ll stretch it to three, is a place known as The Fullerton Arboretum. Perhaps they should visit and meander through the acres of drought tolerant plants which are nicely labeled for purchase after the tour. They may even get lucky and meet an expert to answer any questions and as an added bonus, perhaps they will be given the opportunity to view their sprinkler system.

    Now if they really wish to splurge, I will allow my tax dollars to be used towards the purchase of a membership so they can attend composting classes and more, and to be extra generous, how about that customized seat/bench.

    As for the butterfly garden, my milkweed is overflowing with seeds which I am willing to donate to the city of Brea for free in an effort to save costs, as those plants can cost up to 6.99 each. However, I am very upset that they did not address the bees. Bees work very hard to support their colonies while the butterflies flutter around aimlessly sucking nectar.

    Oh. Now I understand the symbolic nature of the butterfly garden. Clever idea.

    Nice to know my monthly forever until I move or die $2.10 urban runoff fee is going towards such a good cause otherwise I would have never known we were experiencing a drought.

    • Susan… I couldn’t have said it better. Seriously. You’ve just given voice to what so many of your friends and neighbors are thinking.

  6. FYI – From Mesa, AZ city page, “Estimates for a Xeriscape conversion typically range from $1.50 – $2.50 per square foot.”

    If we use the approved 8,500 sq. ft. x $2.50 = $21,250… even tripling for prevailing wages… it’s still less than $64,000. That bloated estimate is a third of what Council just signed off on, almost ten times a reasonable price.

    Are they using gold dust as a replacement for grass?

    Steve Vargas

    • Steve… likely a couple of them have been tokin’ the drought tolerant ganja. Little else makes sense. Your numbers are both true and alarming. There must be a way to reverse this.

  7. Another resource for drought-tolerant (xeriscape) plantings in the Theordore Payne Foundation in the SFV. Given that Cal State has the Arboretum, is there a horticulture curriculum at Cal State? City could buy the plants (for same price public does!) and the horticulture students (including landscaping design emphasis participants) could do the layout and planting for meals and course credit. Another option is Fullerton College, which does have a horticulture program.

    And, BTW what did Murdock mean by “renovations” to the Council Chambers in an off-the-cuff remark he made during the meeting? Where will the money come from? What do they consist of? Were they on an earlier Council agenda?

    • Boadicia… First, all costs and funding is provided within the blog. Please look there for the numbers.

      Your suggestions are excellent and probably beyond the creative aptitude of staff. They make too much sense, seem easily doable and obviously more affordable than staff’s quarter million dollar solution.

      This has been run through both the Development Committee, where I’m guessing it was Marick’s brainchild (maybe she saw something on Pinterest or in one of Martha Stewart’s library of gardening books) and the Finance Committee.

      If the Finance Committee had said No to the project it would have come to Council anyway. The Development Committee had already reviewed the item and per, as I understand it, both Marick and Garcia were onboard with it. Without Finance approval staff would have brought the item to Council anyway, typically to a study session.

      There was no Study Session to iron out the issues, especially the fact that no one in the community supported such a waste of tax money, because Murdock felt his time would be better spent campaigning at Arovista’s back-to-school night. Wait till the parents find out about this half-baked harebrained idea.

      Regarding renovations, I rewatched the meeting again to catch Murdock’s comment… a painful proposition at best.

      These renovations have been in the budget and are related in large part to compliance with ADA requirements. Access for disabled persons to Council Chambers is very limited and the renovations are designed to address much of this. There are going to be seating changes that will help create wheel chair access. There will be further renovations in bringing the audio and video up to date and other technology improvements.

  8. So, personal agendas more important than halting something where it is painfully obvious that the fund’s being approved are not cost effective in the long run. Thirty year return? Oh yeah, I would invest in that!

    They are brainless.

    So let’s see, an approving vote says let’s stick with the status quo, ignore new information, and satisfy a selfish, personal agenda. One piece of new information, again, is there are current projects around town with drought tolerant plantings and latest irrigation methods. AND secondly, city staff has a list of residents who have taken advantage of the MWD rebate program.

    Did anyone from staff acknowledge these facts at the meeting? Does anyone know what our council and staff have done with their landscapes at home to save water and set a good example?

    I would be embarrassed if I was one of the group of three voting for the project. How will you explain your vote on this item when the public debates begin?

    New candidates, please take notice and pay attention. How many more of these types of votes are coming up during the course of the year that will give you fuel for your fire? Don’t drink the Kool Aid.

    • John… again, points well made. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest this profligate pair in the catbird’s seats feel they can do and spend as their little heart’s desire with no concern for consequence. And it’s growing more apparent each meeting that Garcia is too short to care.

      Staff is too busy swapping jobs with each other to dodge the limitations imposed by Measure T to put together a half decent staff report or to take a stand against an idea, pipe dream really, that pours a quarter million of our tax dollars down a rat hole.

      Roy Moore painted a clear picture of the disastrous condition of our City Council. Murdock has earned a first class ticket into political obscurity and Marick would be wise to start packing. She’s on the next train out.

  9. A resident of the Brea/State College neighborhood posted this on Nextdoor. It deserved additional exposure.

    I understand the premise of educating citizens of Brea in how to use less water in their gardens and yards and still maintain an attractive area. I am all for that and someday my front yard grass may be gravel, a pretty salmon color would go well with my home. I have not had grass in my back yard for 30 years and haven’t missed it a bit.

    Saying all that, if the city staff and Council members had thought this through a little better, they might have taken Marty’s suggestion at getting public input for this. Why not invite nurseries to plant demonstration gardens. If they can’t plant on city property due to insurance and liability restrictions, they could advertise to plant sample gardens at some private homes. I’m sure they could round up a few homeowners who would be happy to have their landscaping improved or changed to drought tolerant status.

    The city is clever enough to also figure out a way to reimburse the homeowner for the effort. Then they could advertise the homes and we could have several different landscapes to look at.

  10. Sounds like a lot of us sent our requests to Roy and Marty to turn it down… wonder why we didn’t send it to the other 3? Oh, that’s right… they don’t listen and/or don’t care.

    I suggested that if you just had to do this, at least put it somewhere like The Tracks that would need to be landscaped anyway and where it would be seen, or, better yet, spend no money and let this be an Eagle Scout project! Bottom line…great idea to help educate folks, wrong delivery system and waste of taxpayer dollars.

    What got me even more riled up was the fact that his other colleagues wouldn’t give Marty’s request the time of day when he asked for more time to gather information and input from the community who had expressed an interest in this matter. Where was the emergency that made this a “must pass” item on the agenda? This is not the “Brea way”.

    And where was the Study Session before the meeting where this could’ve been talked about? Oh, that’s right…the Mayor wanted to be seen at a back-to-school night so they cancelled Study Session (can’t recall that ever happening) so that he could do some electioneering. And, of course, the Mayor Pro Tem couldn’t just preside over the Study Session because then there would be questions about why the Mayor wasn’t there. Better to cancel it by saying there was nothing to discuss. Really?!!

    • Bev… Delighted you’ve joined the conversation and trust this will be the first of many comments you share with Brea Matters readers.

      The lack of a second on Marty’s motion is an unquestionable symptom of the affliction that’s kept Council from being productive for several years.

      Your suggestions, like those of John Bickel and others, show a depth of thinking well beyond what staff put into this. If any of us, Council included, had enjoyed more than a couple of days notice or had the opportunity to dig into this at a study session, I would hope the results would have been more aligned with the prevailing public opinion.

      Your comment regarding the cancelled study session mirrors mine. Who cancelled it and under what authority? Was it, as I surmised, a tactic to mask Murdock’s pathological inability to perform the job to which he was elected?

  11. Another email. another anonymous comment: “As I was driving home this afternoon I passed [Don] Schweitzer’s house and a sprinkler was watering the front grass at 2:15pm. I thought we were not supposed to water between 10am to 6pm.

    The city spends $215,000 to “educate” while a former mayor doesn’t follow the existing rules.

    Ah, Don Schweitzer. founder of “Green Brea 2012” a total failure and dubious recipient of Edison’s “Cool Planet” award where we first discovered that the Solar Project wasn’t paying for itself as promised. Brea has a carbon footprint the size of a Sasquatch on steroids.

  12. I think a shout-out to all Brea residents to attend the next City Council meeting on October 7th is in order. This decision is not final. I believe the Council can change directions. Three people do not get to shove this project down our throats without the proper discussion (Study Session). We have a voice and a large one at that. Let’s use it on October 7th and tell Brett, Christine and Ron what we think of their decision.

    • Connie… Precisely. I’m making the same plea here, on Nextdoor.com and any venue where the conversation turns to this boondoggle. I’m framing a new post I hope to put up in the next couple of days. It will go point-for-point with the form letter Murdock is using to respond to the growing number of disappointed, angry Breans chastizing him. Just the fact that he is unable to address each person one-on-one with a personal response speaks to our need to deny him a second term.

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