Voters Sweep Brea Clean!

Operation Clean SweepA week ago today, Brea voters and Operation Clean Sweep succeeded in rebooting City Council! Welcome and congratulations to Cecilia Hupp, Steve Vargas and Glenn Parker. Your convincing win confirms that Brea voters, eager to turn around a floundering Council, see something in you they like.

To whom much is given, much is expected. Simply put, privilege brings responsibility and that responsibility entails accountability. Now is the time to set aside personality conflicts and petty grievances. Too many serious issues are tucked into your information packets and need your undivided attention.

Brea Matters (Voters) Wade In.

While waiting for the dust to settle and the provisional votes to be tallied, I invited Brea Matters readers (voters) to tell me how they see the issues stacking up. Thanks to all who took the time to share their thoughts. Here are the top three issues.

Unfunded Pension Liability.

The small contribution now required of new hires, bolstered by similar changes in state regulation, have slowed the rate of debt increase… slightly. The escalation of unfunded debt has neither been reversed nor solved.

The problem is still our largest fiscal nightmare. You will not be able to nudge pension reform into existence. Nothing less than sweeping change, with the full participation of the beneficiaries, will address this issue.

Water, The Currency Of Tomorrow.

The drought is real. This chronic shortage is effecting more than shorelines. It is the catalyst behind Brown’s Measures 1 and 2. The real effects of their passage will likely come as a shock to voters who cast their ballot in favor.

Our tiered water rates, still on the back burner awaiting the San Juan Capistrano decision, will be pulled to the front burner when the state’s budget based water rates enter the discussion. Brea is already giving the state detailed monthly water consumption data.

Once the camel’s head is in the tent it’s ass is soon to follow. The state will insert itself into the water business and it won’t make more water available or lower your rates.

With Silver Bells And Cockle Shells.

On a semi-related note, the drought tolerant demonstration garden rushed to approval a few weeks ago enjoys zero public support. None. Nada.

Beyond a small consulting contract, no other handcuffs exist. No RFQ has been drafted or circulated. No bids have been submitted, reviewed or approved.

Put the garden back on the agenda. Recognize it for what it is, a boondoggle. A complete waste of a quarter million dollars. Reverse the original decision. Terminate the project. Fix the leak in the subterranean parking using the Building Maintenance Fund.

Fracking, A Black Hole Of Deception.

The most significant missing component in fracking’s risk/reward equation is truth.

Truth about water, how it is combined with which chemicals or acids, where it comes from in the first place, how it is handled during the process and where it goes when disposed of. Truth about noxious fumes. How much methane and other hazardous gases are really escaping from wells, how far might they travel in the air, what are the risks of exposure or inhalation?

Truth about potential failure of equipment or of human error. Truth in documentation, willingness to be subject to regulation, oversight and enforcement of noncompliance or infraction.

Council may be comfortable, for whatever reasons, peeking through the wool pulled over their eyes… but a significant number of Breans do not share their complacency. They’ve read about thousands of incidents, from unfortunate to catastrophic, where people’s health and safety was put at risk, where the environment was put at risk, where seismic concerns grew exponentially over just a few years.

What we don’t know could kill us. That is not Chicken Little screaming, “The sky is falling!” That is not some conspiracy theorist’s attempt at scare tactics. That is the unvarnished truth. Until we know more, until oil companies are more forthcoming, until regulatory agencies are able to oversee the industry without having their hands tied by state and federal intervention… the smart thing to do is put a moratorium in place.

A Laundry List Continually Overlooked.

These “lesser” more procedural issues will sound familiar. Why? Because they’ve been at the center of campaign promises, half-hearted studies by overpaid consultants and counterfeit community conversations for years. They are in no particular order.

  • Inattention to public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Disregard of public comment during Matters From The Audience.
  • Growing abandonment of meaningful public hearings.
  • General lack of transparency and accountability.
  • Too much business conducted in study session.
  • Too many items buried on the Consent Calendar.
  • Failure to faithfully implement Measure T.
  • Runaway senior staff salaries and the ten city survey.
  • Satisfactory resolution of former RDA projects.
  • Consistent and equitable support of the business community.
  • Traffic congestion.
  • Open discussion of possible public safety JPA’s.
  • Declining senior services.
  • Street sweeping citations.
  • Decline of Lagos de Moreno Park.

A Show Of Good Faith.

Pass an ordinance limiting political/campaign signage to a maximum of 500 square inches and a display period, on public and private property, no more than 90 days prior to the election. Pass a resolution limiting campaign expenditures to no more than $10,000, campaign mailing pieces to no more than two. Pass a resolution limiting Council seats to no more than two terms.

Do the right thing. Without your honorable preemptive resolution of these issues, please believe that the public is willing and able to gather the necessary signatures and put them on the ballot.

In Conclusion…

Arguably the most disconnected, delusional, Council member in recent history was held accountable for his lack of performance and overwhelmingly denied reelection to a second term.

Members of Council, this is meant as a reminder, not a threat. Brea voters have extended to Council members, new and old, the privilege of representing their best interests. Expect to be held accountable.

 

$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.

Asbestos Issue May Only Be A Smokescreen.

asbestos_1

Is the asbestos issue shaking up the city?

Eager to hear the details of the earthquake damage and asbestos exposure at two Brea schools, parents, students and teachers of Fanning Elementary School convinced reporters to show up at the BOUSD “emergency” meeting on April 23 but it was all for naught. Skip Rowland’s explanation was bereft of any information that clarified the extent of damage or comforted those concerned.

skip_asbestosAt the school board meeting of May 5th Skip shared a 10 page powerpoint presentation, “BOUSD Damage Update” from the March 28-29 earthquakes. It is a blizzard of disconnected facts and figures, thrown together the Friday before the meeting giving board members no time to digest or challenge it’s contents.

Stuck with more questions than answers, I posed five simple questions to Skip via email. He answered quickly, but his answers left a lot to be desired and begged for rebuttal. Here are the questions, answers and my rebuttals. I’m using this public forum to encourage others with strong opinions to weigh in. Skip, you’re more than welcome to post your comments as well.

Q: Is the district uninsured against earthquake damage?

A: The District does not carry earthquake insurance.

Why, in a historically seismic area, would the district take such monumental risk? The minor recent quake caused minimal damage but caused, according to the district, almost $3 million in necessary repairs.

What might be the financial threat of a major quake? Why wouldn’t the district want to guard itself against such an inevitability? It’s incomprehensible.

Q: Why is there no reserve for asbestos removal/mitigation?

A: Reductions in State funding over the past seven years have depleted all but required operational reserves.  Developer Fees are expressly restricted from being used for asbestos abatement.

Reductions in State funding did not make withdrawals from district reserves or prevent the district from exercising good management practices by maintaining reserves.

How long has the district known of it’s vulnerability to this sort of expense and why haven’t steps been taken to be better prepared? Why is the district running to City Council crying poverty and begging for a handout?

Skip, developer’s fees are irrelevant. Why would you even bring them up? Adding to the smokescreen perhaps?

Q: Will the district be required to obtain multiple bids for asbestos mitigation and renovation of Fanning?

A: Emergency approvals allow the District to proceed with contracts without the formal bid process.  Wherever and whenever practical, the District is receiving competitive quotes from known and respected contractors and selecting the lowest cost, most dependable contractors.

Oh please, what emergency? The quakes were on March 28/29. The first “emergency” meeting held by the district was April 23. Almost another month has passed with little or nothing accomplished beyond a feeble attempt to weave into the project elective construction under the guise of earthquake and asbestos mitigation.

No one has successfully explained the connection between the structural repairs, the asbestos removal and the unwarranted interior remodeling that’s simply all about facelift and little else.

Obtuse references have been made to AB 300 (October 1999) and the ensuing addition of Section 17317 to the California Education Code. Neither mention asbestos, both deal in great detail with seismic/structural issues, a statewide assessment of K-12 facilities to estimate potential cost liabilities.

Wherever and whenever practical? It is always preferred, always practical, always appropriate to seek competitive bids on projects of this magnitude. Please drop the bureaucratic rhetoric and do what is right.

You can start by being more forthcoming regarding exactly how much earthquake damage really occurred. Are you replacing carpets because of a massive water leak, a dusting of asbestos throughout the facility or are you just circumventing your loss on Measure E? Will you provide a detailed breakdown of the scope of work for the “PLUS” stuff you mention in your report? The stuff that has nothing to do with asbestos or the earthquake.

Q: Why doesn’t the district consider razing Fanning and selling the property?

A: The long range enrollment projections for the District indicate a need for six elementary schools.  Razing Fanning and selling the Fanning site would require significant realignment of school attendance boundaries and construction of new facilities at numerous locations to accommodate elementary student enrollment that would be far in excess of the costs to repair and reopen Fanning.

Long range enrollment projections? Can you be more specific? Need for six elementary schools – at what rate of utilization? Realigning boundaries is administrative work, for which you and your staff are well paid. Just do it.

Construction of new facilities or is it more like moving a few portable classrooms around? Could you possibly be any more nebulous?

And what percentage of Brea’s elementary schools are currently underutilized? You were able to quickly and easily move Fanning students, teachers and administrators into Laurel School. How many empty classrooms did you have over there?

Pulling the wool over Council’s eyes.

Council, with an emergency item on a non-emergency matter, without a staff report or even a copy of Skip’s notorious report was railroaded into tapping the 560 Fund for a million bucks. Have they paid back the solar energy loan yet? This misuse of the 560 Fund has to stop.

In about fifteen minutes, much less than they spent arguing about Sister City travel budgets, Council was goaded into loaning BOUSD half of what they hoped to spend on Fanning. No one offered any idea what the scope of work might be, whats required or whats really elective surgery.

Legally, BOUSD must pay the $1 million back within 12 months. Gotcha. What are the terms? What are the payments? Are they charging minimal interest to cover administrative expenses?

For the first time in a long time we witnessed an unanimous decision by Council with little discussion or typical squabbling. I’m concerned that this is due, in large part, to Council’s total lack of information on the matter.

Council was fooled into believing there was an emergency, that little kids would be irreparably damaged in the process, that they needed to rush to judgement and fork out a million bucks without a shred of documentation.

Sorry, but this sounds to me like a big boondoggle (noun: a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage) and BOUSD has just made wags out of the entire Brea City Council.