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

 

It’s Not About Water Rights.

Recent OCR articles by both Chris Haire and Terri Daxon have addressed Brea’s recent acquisition of Cal Domestic water rights. The question regarding who has the authority to spend Brea’s money and what the real issue is in acquiring water rights seems to have gotten overlooked in the swarm of facts and figures.

The acquisition of water rights and preferred stock, from Cal Domestic and the Metropolitan Water District, has long appeared to be complicated, if for no other reason than to dissuade the public from taking a closer look at the process. While both writers got the essentials correct, here’s an executive summary.

Water rights – distilled.

December 2011 – Council approves an $8.1 million purchase of rights for 665 acre feet of water. Pay once, get the water every year in perpetuity. Cost for water is locked in, cost to deliver can and does rise annually.

This purchase is made by transferring $5.6 million from Brea’s General and Risk Management Funds to the Water Fund. This is called a “loan” – at an interest rate of 2.17% for seven years. So far we’ve paid back about $1 million. I don’t know why it’s called a loan. The balance, $2.5 million, was already available in the Water Fund.

bill_gallardoJune 2013 – Jim Byerumm, Cal Domestic’s General Manager alerts Charlie View and Bill Gallardo of the availability of rights for an additional 225 acre feet.

Internal discussions ensue, excluding Council. Brea’s bid of $3.4 million, made without Council authorization, by Charlie View and Bill Gallardo is accepted by Cal Domestic.

Believing that there were still Water Funds available from the original transfer (loan) and approval given in 2011, View and Gallardo completed the transaction without giving Council so much as a courtesy heads-up.

After their oversight was discovered, the Cal Domestic invoice was ultimately paid using a $1.2 million credit from Cal Domestic’s terminated Capital Improvement Fund (accrued because we’d overpaid for almost 18 months) and $2.2 million from the Water Fund.

The error on the parts of View and Gallardo, in memory and judgement, involves $3.4 million, not $2.2 million as reported. Also, the fact that we paid Cal Domestic’s Capital Improvement Fund $70 thousand a month for a year and a half after they terminated the fund deserves some discussion, too. How many errors like this are going on? Why aren’t audits catching this sort of blunder?

The whole affair was discovered by Council member Simonoff, who set in motion the process that brought the matter into Council study session. Apparently Garcia and Murdock believe that being in the room is sufficient to allow them partial credit.

I disagree, but that’s another blog.

Now having retroactively covered their assets and having called in independent auditors to review both purchases to ensure there are no further problems, plus doubling the staff required to closely oversee transactions of this sort in the future, Gallardo suggests that Brea is pretty much out of the woods.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that.

No data trail, the real problem.

According to Bill Gallardo, none of this process is documented in any fashion prior to Cal Domestic submitting their invoice!

Not the notification of availability. Not the confirmation of interest. Not the details of negotiation, i.e. bids, counter bids, stipulations and contracts. Nothing. Not who was involved. Not how business was transacted. Nothing.

No other purchase or financial commitment made by the city, to the best of my knowledge, is conducted in such an unacceptable, loosey goosey manner. You know why? Because we’re in charge! We make the rules.

CA_SealWhen it comes to water rights apparently there are no rules. We can’t even demand a paper trail from Cal Domestic because we have no authority over them. Only the State of California does.

Instead of sending a representative to Washington to wade in on immigration issues, instead of sending an entourage half way around the world to watch a folkloric event and do a lot of sightseeing, maybe we should send someone to Sacramento to rattle Governor Brown’s cage on this.

falls_640tim_2aIf Brea is really a corporation, how about asking our “CEO” to start acting like he’s running a corporation.

After all, every glitch in this whole water rights matter circles right back to his office.

Where was he in this process? On vacation… again?