2020: My Perspective

2020 and the choices are not getting easier. City Council: two seats, two incumbents, two challengers. City Treasurer: no incumbent, two candidates. School Board: three districts, two incumbents (one challenged/one unopposed) and one seat abandoned to a single unopposed candidate.

With only a couple of exceptions, I am unwilling to offer a full-throated endorsement to any candidate. You’ll easily note who the exceptions are. Here’s how it breaks down.

2020 City Council.

Neither incumbent, Marty Simonoff or Christine Marick, gets a nod from me this year. Both have become to predictably disappointing that it’s time to punch their ticket.

In 2016, as Marty launched his “Marty Bar” run for a sixth term, I ask him why. He responded that no one had ever been elected to six consecutive terms and he wanted to set the record. I told him “Twenty Is Plenty” and walked away.

Of course, he won. Except for Marty’s opposition to increasing sales tax and his support for my Kropke Public Records Request, I can’t think of a thing he has personally come up with and championed to a successful end. He rides the crest of the consensus, taking credit whenever possible. The thought of him warming a seat in the Council Chambers for a seventh term is unimaginable.

I challenged Christine Marick’s first run for Council based upon the way her credentials were presented. An exercise in creative writing, they challenged credulity.

Of course, she won. Christine was immediately gobbled up by the Schweitzer, Garcia, Beauman, Murdock Cabal. You’ll remember, this is the group that wielded three votes like Thor’s hammer and was dubbed as “totally dysfunctional” by Roy Moore (RIP) as he launched Operation Clean Sweep.

Christine avoided the 2016 swamp draining, winning a second term. She’s become the resident expert at kicking the can down the road. When CFD’s were challenged as possible double taxation (Central Park Brea) she let it ride. She partnered up with Murdock, blindsiding Council with a list of personal demands to be considered in the appeal of the Madrona Development Agreement and has allowed the fraudulent Paramedic Tax to remain hidden on the Consent Calendar (along with who knows what else) instead of putting her foot down on our behalf.

Time to go guys. Your lackluster political careers have reached their conclusion.

And the challengers.

Tyler Baugh, a well spoken, reasonably savvy forty-something ready to jump into local politics and make a difference. With very restricted funding, I don’t expect to be buried in postcards, yard signs and street banners… but, for the most part, he carried himself well at the Candidate’s Forum.

What Robyn Neufeld lacks in experience she more than makes up for with youthful exuberance. She’s obviously a diehard Brean and unafraid of digging in to learn the ropes.

Neither Council (Vargas, Hupp and Parker) or senior staff would let them make an uncorrectable blunder – and their fresh eyes on Brea’s issues would make a huge difference I believe.

So, Brea voters… especially you who are under 50… it’s time you flexed the power of your ballot and voted for someone sharing your interests and concerns. Not your grandfather or old maid aunt. Not those who seem to miss the days of sparse horse and buggy traffic, narrow streets and Craftsman cottages.

Folks with young and growing families facing life issues similar to what you face, who understand your struggles and likely share your vision of Brea’s future.

It’s time we opened the door to the ”NextGen” of Brea leadership and packed the “Old Guard” off to Golden Pond.

2020 City Treasurer

Okay, this one is a ripper! On one hand we have the classic career politician, Bev Perry, constantly drawn to the limelight.

Her track record includes launching our $250 million pension debt, perpetuating the bogus Paramedic Tax and countless other items slipped by under the Consent Calendar, signed off on the countless bond refinancing, project collecting, honey pot cash generating schemes that turned the last millennium’s Redevelopment projects into another $250 million in debt. We’ll be paying this off for the next 20 years yet Bev thinks EIFD (call it RDA 2.0) is the creative solution to financing infrastructure development in the 21st century.

On the other hand we have a career financial professional, Denise Eby, who understands the full scope of duties and responsibilities of Brea’s Treasurer and has 30 years experience and the drive to get the job done… without hidden agenda or political aspirations.

Denise manages $800 million in financial business – underwriting commercial and contract surety bonds. That’s ten times the amount of money Brea has invested at any time. She specializes in evaluating publicly traded, privately held, nonprofit and municipal creditors for third party credit guarantees. With Denise you can be certain you’re not putting the fox in the hen house!

2020 School Board

Districting has left me with no local campaign so I won’t be voting on the BOUSD. But there is one race that is critical. Gail Lyons needs to be reelected as a trustee if for no other reason than to block Keri Kropke’s hand picked surrogate, Lauren Barnes. Lauren played leadership roles in the challenge to the Fanning name and is an active leader in Brea’s social protest community.

2020 NOCCCD

And yes, you can block Keri Kropke from winning the North Orange County Community College District (Area 7) Governing Board Member seat by reelecting incumbent Ryan Bent. If you watched their League of Women Voter’s Candidate’s Forum you will have seen all you needed to see. Keri Kropke has no business fouling the waters of public education, at any level. Vote for Ryan Bent.

Make 2020 The Beginning Of A Brighter Future.

Ring out the old. Ring in the new. Push back against the status quo but remember where you came from. You are a Brean. Your vote counts. Mark your ballot wisely.

election 2018

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, An Independent Legal Review.

Thankfully, for all of us, Dwight Manley sent a copy of the massive set of documents accompanying the October 1st item to accept title of the BHGC (Brea Hills Golf Course) to his attorney for review.

Richard Montevideo is the Chair of Rutan & Tucker, LLP’s Environmental Law Practice Group since 1992.

The review that follows was provided by him and shared with members of Council and the City Manager prior to last Tuesday’s circus of a Council meeting.

 

 

Property Transfer Document Review

There is a lot to unpack with these documents, but from my initial review of the Settlement Agreement, the AS IS Indemnity Agreement, the Guarantee, the Consolidated Area Easement Agreement and the Environmental CC&Rs, I have the following big picture comments from the perspective of protecting the City’s interest:

  1. For both legal and practical/business reasons, the City should clearly be preparing a formal Phase I Environmental Assessment Report on the Property before taking title to the same. The Phase I Report would provide some legal protection to the City from future enforcement action, and equally important, would consolidate all in one report, a description of the history operations that led to the contamination, a description of the type, levels and media of contamination, the remedial work that was conducted, the residual contamination that remains, and the risks posed by the residual contamination that remains.
  2. For all contamination on the Property, except for essentially contamination caused by Union Oil and that exceeds an existing cleanup standard, the City is indemnifying the seller, including Union Oil. As such, unless this provision is changed, the City should do everything it can to make sure it fully understands the nature and extent of the contamination, meaning conducting a Phase I Report and further evaluating the risks associated with the existing contamination for onsite workers and guests/invitees.
  3. The contaminants of concern at the Property, i.e., PCBs, dioxins, furans, arsenic among others, especially the dioxins, are significant carcinogens and thus the City should have the resulting risks associated with the residual contamination evaluated by a qualified environmental consultant, and presumably a toxicologist/risk assessor. If there is a problem in the future and someone is hurt or claims they are hurt from the contamination, it would be a PR problem for the City, in addition to being a significant legal problem.
  4. Pursuant to H&S code section 25359.7, the seller of the property is required to provide written notice of the existence or potential existence of all hazardous substances it knows or believes exists on the property to the buyer. In this case, I see no evidence of any due diligence disclosures that have been made to the City. Such due diligence reports/disclosures would provide a beginning point for the City to hire an environmental consultant to conduct a Phase I Report.
  5. The protections provided to the City under the various agreements are weak.   Essentially, the City is providing a full release of any all claims under Civil Code 1542, except for among other items, contamination caused by Union Oil that is above current regulatory agency action levels. Thus, if the cleanup standards change in the future, the City is on the hook for addressing the contamination. And in fact, DTSC is currently reviewing and will soon be issuing new guidance/policy on vapor intrusion standards, which may or may not impact the Property, depending on the nature of any volatile organic compounds on the site and their location.
  6. If a problem arises in the future resulting from existing contamination found to exceed existing cleanup standards (which is the only scenario requiring additional work by Union Oil), even then there is no direct remediation covenant that extends to the City. Instead, the City only has a general indemnity to rely upon and will need to show it has suffered some Loss before the general indemnity will kick in. in short, if there is some existing contamination exceeding existing/current cleanup standards, the City will not be able to require Union Oil to clean up the contamination. Normally, in a situation like this, you would negotiate a Remediation Covenant in the Agreement triggering an automatic cleanup obligation.
  7. Stormwater runoff, including dry weather runoff, is a significant issue in California, and golf courses can be big offenders of runoff limits, especially for nitrates, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. From the documentation provided, it is unclear whether the City has hired anyone to evaluate the stormwater runoff compliance issues, but it is clear that the City will be accepting this obligation.
  8. A certain quantity of contamination was buried within the Consolidated area, which then has resulted in a recorded set of Environmental CC&R imposed on this property. The City should make sure that its current and future use of the Consolidated area will not violate these restrictions. This is where again a Phase I Report would be helpful/important.
  9. The AS IS/Indemnity Agreement the City is committing to arbitration and waiving its right to a jury trial.
  10. The “Guarantee” provided by Union Oil is NOT a separate indemnity, but nothing more than Union Oil guarantying the very limited indemnity provided in the AS IS Indemnity agreement.
  11. The Guarantee agreement contains a Confidentiality clause which is unenforceable or otherwise irrelevant in this context when it is being provided for the benefit of a public agency. Either way, it looks bad from the City’s perspective and makes no sense.

I do not know the business/financial benefits of the transaction from the City’s perspective, but from a pure legal and environmental risk perspective, there are a number of issues that the City should take a second look at.

Also note, that the above are the larger issues with the agreements as written, but there are many more. The agreements appear to me to be seller oriented.

A “Reasonable Person” Responds.

I’ve made no attempt to distill Mr. Montevideo’s observations into lay language. As lawyers are apt to say, these remarks are understandable by “any reasonable person” – no reason for me to butt in.

I’ll close by simply saying this, all concerned… Council, Staff, “we the people”, have only a fraction of the facts and information needed to make a prudent decision in this matter.

By failing to admit their error, by not putting on the brakes to give much closer scrutiny to the details and implications of a decision this huge… Council fails us miserably.