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”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=/LpP4TUE1Ecg

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.

 

Birch Hills Golf Course, A Toxic Blunder.

Title to the Birch Hills Golf course, owned by Union Oil/Chevron since it was built in 1972, was to be transferred to the City of Brea in exchange for being released from the obligation of paying a Parks in Lieu Fee. Who knew what a total nightmare this seemingly simple matter would become?

The pissing contest between Chevron and the City of Brea has consumed over three years in closed sessions, allowed the once popular course to be dramatically reduced in size and to fall into a horrible state of disrepair and finally, last Tuesday, it showed up on Council’s agenda as Consent Item 21.

Consent Item! Bull Sugar!

Consent Calendars are reserved for routine, non-controversial, housekeeping items, or matters the Council has achieved consensus on after previous discussion. Generally, topics that have not been previously discussed by Council should not be put on the consent agenda.

Since the early ‘90’s Staff and Council have been burying critical items on the Consent Calendar to avoid conflicting public opinion. It’s a practice I’ve been fighting for years.

The moment agendas are posted late Friday afternoon, I immediately check the Consent Calendar to see what is getting swept under the rug at the next meeting. I find dubious items virtually every time, the Birch Hills matter is a prime example.

Why Pull The Item For Discussion? 

Three years in the making and this multi-million dollar city asset was being acquired like a thief in the night, with no provision for discussion. Again, bull sugar.

Well over a hundred pages of complicated legal documents, with 14 attachments, were handed off to Council Friday evening and they… we all… had 97 hours to digest and research or corroborate it all.

Thankfully there were several folks willing to attempt the task.

What they found was a grossly incomplete set of documents that saddled Brea, forever, with a toxic, barely profitable piece of property with virtually no means of turning it around without spending a fortune.

How toxic? How costly to mitigate? What options for repurposing some or all of the land to a more safe and profitable use? Nothing in the documents offered even a hint at answers.

Birch Hills Toxicity Is Serious Issue.

Chevron’s field assistant to the project manager on the La Floresta and the senior boots on the ground as the biohazards on the golf course and Rails-to-Trails segment were mitigated, John Bickel, pleaded with Council at their study session to pull the item from the Consent Calendar and table it until they had a better idea of what they were really accepting.

John provided a detailed account of burying countless yards of contaminated soil under the parking lot and the additional mitigation required to bring the property up to residential standards.

John concluded his remarks with the admonition that we just don’t know enough… there are still too many unknowns. There’s a lot more explaining to do before we saddle ourselves with this monster.

Addendum – John Bickel: I think it’s important to add some clarity on exactly what is buried there, why there is more remediation to do.We (Chevron) cleaned up to meet golf course spec not residential. There really is no danger in playing golf, the lake is not contaminated. The soil beneath MAY be, no one knows for sure, it has liner underneath it is why it wasn’t sampled. The unknowns and talk of toxics could damage the income of the course.

Erin Brockovich ring a bell?

Let me add that converting this land to residential use has been a part of the General Plan since 2003. It’s on the city website. The map on page 40 shows this property as low density residential.

The city planners knew it. Unocal/Chevron knew it. Yet the documents to effect the transfer of title provide little or no clear answers how the city might proceed in that direction in the future.

Another Voice Of Reason.

During Matters From The Audience, Dwight Manley chastised Council for putting such an important matter on Consent Calendar and to table the item until the many blanks could be filled in. Clearly Council could not proceed with any certainty based upon the information available.

Here are Dwight’s comments to Council. Please listen carefully. Would you have proceeded blindly to conclude this transaction knowing how little you really knew?

Vargas Exits, Council Dives In.

Forced by legal counsel to recuse himself, Council member Vargas left the meeting. Having voiced his serious concerns since early in the weekend about the Birch Hills issues, Mr. Vargas appeared to be the only real voice of reason.

Many people, believing that Council had clearly heard the public’s position on the matter, left the meeting as well. Thinking it was tabled… they were in for the shock of their lives.

A Comedy Of Errors.

I was watching from home and hung in there. The thirty minutes of bungling and incompetence that followed was gut-wrenching.

In response to half-baked questions from an obviously uninformed Council, staff pulled off an exhibition of world class sugarcoating, deflection, outright misinformation including the “$80 a cubic yard” lie.

If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the streaming video on the city website.

I texted Dwight, warning him that it appeared Council was being drug down a path towards approving the transfer of the Birch Hills Golf Course and direct the Mayor to execute all documents necessary to close escrow.

That’s exactly what they did. They saddled us with a toxic horror and no means to dealing with it lest we spend millions upon millions of dollars ($300 million?) and beg, with fingers crossed, that Chevron and the EPA would approve our request to clean up and repurpose the property.

Unbelievable! Inconceivable!

Brea resident, Thomas Kwan, turned off his TV and emailed Council after listening to Dwight’s detailed and heartfelt plea. A copy of it reached me on Friday. Here I’ve paraphrased a few excerpts.

The last document of the set of exhibits setting forth the request for approval of the Birch Hills Golf Course Ownership Transfer Documents is the Covenants, Conditions, and Environmental Restrictions…which contains the Soil Mediation Plans for the different parts of the property.

There remains on the southern portion of the property toxic chemicals including among others, PCB’s polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins/furans, relatively stable compounds toxic chemicals that will be there for a long time.

Who in their right mind would want to accept the Draconian responsibilities and liabilities associated with that property and the associated acquisition agreement?

Keep in mind not all of the soil has been tested. There may be areas of contamination that have not been found, have been buried without record or carried by the elements elsewhere to an untested area.

As far as I am concerned the owner (Chevron) should keep Birch Hills, build a sarcophagus over the site and fence it with skull and crossbones signs around the property.

If Brea wants to take over compliance with the EPA and OCHCA restrictions and share the responsibilities and liabilities, then Chevron should fund a multimillion dollar trust for such.

So What’s The Damned Rush?

There are no critical deadlines, threatening penalties or life and death issues here. No real urgency at all. Hell, we’ve screwed around with this for three to four years. Can’t we take a few more weeks… months… to make sure we do this right?

There are legally acceptable ways to delay the final execution of escrow while we connect all the dots. Why wouldn’t Council use every means at their disposal to do this right?

 

Voice of OC Exposes Cal Domestic!

A lengthy investigation by City Treasurer Rick Rios has uncovered inconsistencies regarding the purchase of Cal Domestic water shares and could well be the smoking gun to numerous other questionable business practices.

As Dwight Manley so aptly said at a recent meeting of Brea’s City Council, “Every time a Brea residents drinks from a faucet or flushes a toilet, they’re getting ripped off.”

Bill Gallardo, City Manager, say all is well and nothing to worry about. Lynda Noriega, Cal Domestic CEO, refuses to answer an question.

The probability that this will lead to a much deeper investigation and likely litigation runs high.

See full article here:  https://bit.ly/2H0QKbp

Weigh in with your full opinion here if the Nextdoor guidelines seem to hamper you or you have that nagging fear of getting excommunicated if you say what you really feel.