Every time I think of the OC Board of Supervisors, I’m reminded of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”. No, not the campfire scene, although I can understand why you would go there. I’m talking about the scene where Governor William J. Le Petomane is meeting with his advisors and insists everyone be as incensed as he is over the corruption in fictional Rock Ridge. Everyone around the table starts saying “harumph, harumph…”. That’s the reaction of the Supervisors as they received the bad news that most everyone else in Orange County already knew.
Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Moss ruled against the county saying they illegally withheld more than $73 million in property taxes from the state. To make matters worse, the figure now looms at $140 million by the time this fiscal year is over. The Voice of OC did a pretty good job of outlining the problem in layman’s terms.
When the county financed its billion-dollar bankruptcy in 1995, state officials allowed them to send a portion of their vehicle license fees directly to bond holders. But in 2007, when the county refinanced its debt, the legislative authorization for the special license fees was not included.
Despite warnings that the authorization should be quickly reestablished, county legislative leaders, lobbyists or staff did not act. The intercept, as its known, was not addressed in any subsequent county legislative platform or by the county’s main lobbyist, Platinum Advisors.
In 2011, Brown’s budget staff discovered the omission and took back the money, prompting an intense reaction from county leaders. Assemblyman Jose Solorio sponsored last-minute legislation to fix the situation for the county, but it failed to make it through both houses of the Legislature.
You read right. The county ignored the problem even when the gaff was first discovered and then, when the state demanded the money to balance their own budget, county Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio tried to fix it with last-minute legislation. But, Sacramento Democrats took the opportunity to beat down one of the few Republican strongholds by refusing to pass the legislation in time. Without the legislation, loss of the money was a sure thing.
Nonetheless, the Board of Supervisors convinced Auditor David Sundstrom to withhold payment of property taxes from the state. The state promptly sued the county and the writing was on the wall. As with previous pension lawsuits involving the deputy sheriffs union and the retirement system, the Gang of Five ignored the obvious and argued that the intent to keep the status quo had always been there and so, they must be right (right about now, I am hearing John Moorlach jumping up and down while screaming epithets at Jerry Brown).
From the outset, nearly everyone in the county has warned them the court battle would be uphill. In reality, I don’t think anyone wanted to tell the county it had a zero chance but, in truth, that is what they had.
In a video briefing to public union employees, Orange County Employees Association General Manager, Nick Berardino, said, “It was, once again, county executives falling asleep at the switch,as they did during the bankruptcy, when they forgot to include the $73 million dollars state subsidy when they refinanced the bankruptcy funds.” Berardino did agree that the state is treating the county unfairly by requiring the repayment but also said the county did not do its job in protecting the funds to begin with. Berardino lamented that Supervisors are already ringing the layoff bell and laying the responsibility on the backs of the public employees to balance the budget. “The county did the same thing when it declared bankruptcy in 1994.”
Berardino is not the only one to publicly admonish the county for its lack of diligence. In an Orange County Register article published May 9th, Andrew Galvin alleges the local community colleges pleaded with the county in 2011 not to withhold the funds from the state. The money grab, according to them, would result in a serious shortfall of funds going to community colleges in the area. When the county continued the grab, the community colleges joined the state in the lawsuit.
So, when will the county ever get it right? If this were a trust owned by a private family, they would have fired their lawyers for giving them bad advice long ago. In the case of the Board of Supervisors, they have been led astray time after time and not only by county counsel, but attorney-come-chief-of-staff Mario Mainero as well as a plethora of hired gun law offices who, oftentimes while giving good advice, have been unsuccessful in turning the opinion of the Gang of Five.
I have no idea how much money has been spent, so far, by the Board of Supervisors on this debacle. Any amount, however, is too much when one considers how tight the budget is now. Unfortunately for the citizens of Orange County, the Gang of Five may be planning another play as they appeal the ruling to a higher court. In the best case scenario for them, the judge would delay the transfer of funds until the appeals court sides with the trial court. That would be a temporary fix at best. Eventually, the money would have to be repaid. What the Supervisors might want to look at is negotiating a payment schedule. Given the animosity the OC GOP has garnered in recent years in Sacramento, our Democrat governor may turn a deaf ear. Better get that checkbook out, John.
There is only one item on the Planning Commission Agenda and it is barely worth meeting over. Except for timeline requirements, they probably could have postponed and save the taxpayer a few thousand dollars in stipends and staff salaries. That being the case, we are reporting on an item that is truly of some importance to Tustin and particularly the surrounding unincorporated area.
Oh, So Close
The Orange County Board of Supervisors were saved further embarrassment on the hiring of a new CEO candidate at their March 19th meeting. As reported on the Voice of OC last week, CEO candidate, Chandra Wallar demanded an up or down vote on her taking the top county job. The BoS obliged her by voting unanimously to hire her but public discussions on salary and benefits went sideways. Wallar had earlier demanded a salary that was commensurate with other southern California counties. The BoS was adamant they wouldn’t be blackmailed.
According to the VOC, the real sticking point has been on pensions. While Supervisors have demanded that every employee pay into their own pensions, Wallar demanded she not be held to the same standard. If this is starting to sound like a Tom Mauck rerun, you are right. Except this time 5th District Supervisor, Todd Spitzer, was joined by ultra-conservatives, Moorlach and Nelson in refusing to pay more than what Wallar’s predecessor was paying. “She made it clear to me that if there isn’t interest in moving up from $254,000, she’s not interested,” said Spitzer.
Wallar, who now mus return to her Santa Barbara CEO post and try to mend fences ( I smell a lawsuit coming on), criticized the board for changing the terms originally offered in closed session negotiations. But, as the VOC points out, new state law requires that top officials salaries be discussed in public. They also say that any approvals required the full consent of the board and not just the subcommittee consisting of Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates both of whom rolled over and supported a higher salary and perks.
From the VOC:
Bates and Nguyen initially supported Wallar’s demands. Last week, however, they insisted they were only presenting Wallar’s salary demands.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who supported Wallar’s appointment but not her salary demands, lamented the situation, saying board members had erred by not having a public discussion about salary earlier.
Spitzer said that the board “should have been much clearer and had the discussion about compensation out in open when they designed the recruitment flyer.”
Given the debate in public over her salary, Spitzer acknowledged that “I can’t blame her for being offended.”
The public debate also revealed an important downside to Wallar.[sic] Spitzer said that, when Wallar wouldn’t agree to a compromise salary of $270,000, it became clear that “she wouldn’t be a good fit for Orange County.”
We agree, of course. It is fortunate the BoS decided to follow state law and common sense in making salary discussions public. Even if OCEA’s Nick Berardino and other public employee union officials had not said anything, the idea of publicizing the county’s intent forced boardmembers to consider public backlash in hiring new employees at exorbitant salaries. Spitzer, who has championed the cause of reining in employee costs, said the county will not have a separate policy for high ranking officials that differs from the rank and file.
Now, if we could just do something about those pesky supervisors paying their own way in regards to pensions. John Moorlach, who has made a career lamenting the fact that many employees in the county did not pay into their pensions, refuses to discuss his own pension issues. Shawn Nelson and Pat Bates are the only sitting supervisors who have declined pension participation outright. The other three remain in the county pension system known as OCERS. Nelson has also voiced support for a law that would force elected officials to swap social security for pensions. That would take them out of the game and allow a more balanced discussion of pension issues.
For now, the residents of the county will have to be content with the more than adequate job the temp CEO, Bob Franz, has been doing since Tom Mauck’s departure. So, why don’t they hire Bob permanently? We could ask Todd. We suspect Bob’s just not that stupid.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the purchase of a building, on Tuesday, to be used as a year round shelter for the county’s homeless. The $3 million dollar purchase is located in a commercial section of Fullerton on State College Boulevard. More than a dozen advocates and opponents spoke before the board to express their support and concern for the project, which will replace the use of the Fullerton Armory.
The new shelter will have police, school, church and social agency presence to assist the homeless who utilize the facility. Supervisor Shawn Nelson, an adamant supporter of the facility, said that wherever a shelter is proposed, the response is the same -not in my backyard. Nelson heads a committee that works on homeless issues and found this particular building through a friend in the business. Yes, that friend is likely to receive some benefit from the purchase via commissions but, as Nelson pointed out, that will be between him and the seller’s broker.
What is important here is the impact a facility like this will have on homeless in the county and, in particular, our town Tustin. We have been blessed with the presence of the Orange County Rescue Mission, headed by former councilmember Jim Palmer. Some years ago, OCRM found a new home on the MCAS Base where it created the Village of Hope. The facility houses the headquarters of the Rescue Mission as well as transitional housing and training operations. In the Tustin 2010-2015 Five Year Consolidated Plan, the city says it does not have a significant population of homeless persons or homeless families with children (we would say that any homeless family living in Tustin is significant) and that those who live here on our streets are assisted on an as-needed basis by “making appropriate referrals to organizations or agencies…”. Those oranizations include the Orange Coast Interfaith, Families Forward and Human Options, none of which are located in Tustin itself. Tustin also tends to lump the homeless issue with domestic violence in its response. The report goes on to say that Tustin does recognize that homelessness is a regional issue.
We agree, of course, and this new facility in Fullerton could help those who want help.
The real significance of the proposed facility is that it will be open year around and, although no numbers have been put out, it is assumed that it will handle a considerably higher number of clients than the armory has in the past. The assumption from an Orange County Register article is that those who use the facility will not necessarilly be kicked out in the early morning as is the practice now at both the Fullerton and the closer Santa Ana Armory. But, is it close enough that it will be utilized by Tustin’s small homeless population?
Certainly, a facility closer to the city would have a better chance. Over the past year, much has been made over the use of the former transportation center in Santa Ana. Discussions for the use of that facility wilted in stiff opposition by the city. John Moorlach, who bristles at the thought of having to view the sea of homeless humanity that inhabits the grounds around the Hall of Administration, championed the use of the transit center, saying it was a safe facility for the local homeless population. Santa Ana officials blew off the proposal and, aside from opening the restroom facilities, have only responded with vague counter-offers to “find” a suitable location for the “homeless problem” in an unnamed building in an industrial area. Again, the NIMBY approach to the issue at hand. To date, other than private charities such as Catholic Worker’s Isaiah House, no other facilities have been proposed to replace or augment the Santa Ana Armory.
Has Tustin done it’s part? Certainly, the Orange County Rescue Mission’s decision to obtain base housing when MCAS Tustin closed was a wise one. They have made excellent use of the property and are a regional center for assisting homeless and at-risk families (we tried, but couldn’t reach Jim Palmer for comment). Many of the homeless that I speak to on our streets tell me they prefer to live on the street although many of them use transitional facilities to clean up and for other services. But, I have to wonder if we couldn’t do just a bit more to help those who live in our community. It would be nice to believe the facility planned for Fullerton is just a start. Perhaps the next one will be a little closer to home.
With little fanfare and no discussion, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, Tuesday, to take the next step toward building a regional park at one of the blimp hangars on the old Tustin MCAS base. When the base closed, most of the land, including one of the Hangars, was handed over to the city of Tustin for redevelopment. The cost-free acquisition of the land was a hallmark of then mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen and the city wasted no time getting to work on plans for the eventual development of the property. That development, it turned out, did not include the south hangar retained by the city.
The other hangar was handed over to the County of Orange. Rather than cast it aside, they set about finding ways they could centerpiece the hangar and surrounding land as a venue or park. Earlier this year, OC Parks Department unveiled a concept for a new park using the hangar as a multi-venue facility. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to go forward with the plan. Until now, little more has been said about it, although it was clear OC Parks personnel were working on the project.
It was apparent for some time the County wanted to save the north hangar for some type of use. They entered into an agreement previously with another development group that also had plans for multiple uses or tenants for the hangar. That deal expired without any real work being performed on the concept. This latest move by the county to select LPA, Inc. as the primary and MIG, Inc. as the alternate general development companies for the project is a significant step forward. It is unclear how far LPA has gone with plans for the hangar. The only attachments to the agenda item on the county website were scoring sheets for the various companies that showed how well the companies performed in comparison of capabilities.
We have written several times about the reuse of the hangars and even briefly defended the city’s stance based on what we thought was diligent work on their part to find reuse. We have since changed our position and believe the city has erred in not developing a use for the hangar. And, we aren’t the only ones who think the city is making a big mistake. Aside from the residents, who overwhelmingly wish to see the hangars remain intact, the city hired a firm called Management Partners who conducted research on strategic planning for the city. One of their findings was that the city was missing a huge opportunity by not pursuing reuse of the south hangar. The only thing saving the south hangar so far has been the fact that title is retained by the U.S. Navy. We hope they will leave the hangar as is until cooler heads in the city come to the dais, perhaps with a joint plan with the county for reuse as a larger park facility.
Regardless of the final fate of the south hangar, the north hangar, and a signficant piece of history, will be preserved through the actions of the OC Board of Supervisors. Although this is a first step and there is much work to be done, it looks like the hangar is here to stay.
One thing, Supervisor Moorlach, my wife would like you to include a central market. Nothing fancy. You could use LA’s Grand Central Market as an outline. Just a thought.