Category Archives: Orange County Board of Supervisors
Shades of Tammany Hall
Yup, the smoke-filled backrooms behind bars have not faded into the distant past. At least, not here in Orange County.
Yesterday, the ever-declining-in-viable-news Orange County Register reported that shadow politics is alive and well here in the Real OC. If you’ve ever wondered how Tustin City Mayor Chuck Puckett arrives at his decision to
deny appoint a fellow councilman a seat on a meaningful political committee or board (think OCTA), he has help.
Every year in November, representatives of the various city councils meet in conference to decide who will be added to what sitting boards. These boards and committees run everything from water and sewage, to transportation (think OCTA again), to even library boards. In fact, membership on almost any oversight board that is not directly elected by the good citizens of Orange County, is likely to be filled here, (now, try not to laugh) in the murky depths of the shadow government.
And, they’re in trouble.
Apparently, this super-secret cabal met November 13th at the Hilton to see who would sit where. And, it seems the Orange County Board of Supervisors is not happy about certain alleged Brown Act violations and they have called the cities out to rectify the situation. Specifically, the BoS is unhappy with the failure to give proper notification of the meeting, as required by law. The answer, of course, is to rescind all appointments and set a new, properly noticed meeting.
The “City Selection Committee” is actually the responsibility of the Clerk of the Orange County Board. So, one would think the whole thing would be watched closely to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Unfortunately, as this political body is prone to do, they sluff off the tough jobs to others, providing little or no oversight, assuming it will run itself. And, when things fall apart or as in this case laws are violated, they do their best to blame others.
In this case, the other is the “League of California Cities” which had been coordinating the the meeting for years until Orange County left the LCC for the “more conservative” ACC-OC. You see, whenever the local government doesn’t like the way things are going, they just pick up their ball and go to another sandlot. They apparently don’t think the public cares enough about day-to-day politics to notice. After all, they’ve been getting away with it this long, haven’t they? And, in the case of starting the ACC-OC, they weren’t going to have the rest of California tell Orange County how to run their show.
The apologists at the Register tried to tone down the violations by saying that not everyone in the room was aware of the apparent transgressions. Then Tustin Mayor, Al Murray, reportedly asked if the meeting had been noticed and he received an affirmative answer. Technically speaking they were right. The meeting had been noticed – to the city council and other political bodies. It just hadn’t been notice to the general public, as required by the Brown Act. Methinks Al, being a retired cop and all, should have investigated further.
At stake here is hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends and benefits. Oh, you didn’t think that just because you all voted stipends for the city council out of existence they still didn’t get perks, did you? Don’t be silly. Of course there is still money to be made – and lots of it. All paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this county.
- Al Murray, OCTA Board of Directors – $5,900 (2013)
- John Nielsen, OC Sanitation District – $4,921 (2013)
- Chuck Puckett, Transporation Cooridor Agency – $4,829 (2013)
I’ve written about this in the past when the (of) late Jerry Amante (who also made a heck of a lot of money in stipends) was mayor.
Of course, there are plenty of non-compensated board positions to be had as well. Otherwise, where would the conservative bastion stick their liberal counterparts and enemies of the (Republican) state? Case in point: Beckie Gomez, who has a somewhat perennial seat on the library board and a few other non-prestigious and unpaid committees. Republicans like John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett are not about to go against the tide and nominate liberal members of the council to paying (and influential) positions. Never mind that Gomez refused to take benefits when offered by the city when Nielsen and his cronies continued to gobble them up.
Of course, this leads us to question our own backroom politics. Prior to attending the November meeting Murray, who was mayor then, had to have some guidance on choosing the right man….er, person… for each board assignment. He certainly didn’t do it in a vacuum. So, where on the list of meetings for the past year, is the one where committee assignments were discussed in public? Going back through the archives, there is no record of a “pre-assignment” meeting. You don’t think our own city council would have violated the Brown act (again), do you? Maybe we’ll put a call in to Chuck or Al and ask them.
As a result of the outing by the OCR, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Novak, told the Register she would be taking over the duties as the committee’s recording secretary. She also said a new meeting would be set up after the holidays to re-appoint members to the various boards. Care to bet who will not be nominated to a paid board position? A hint: she’s a she.
I never thought that is is where I’d settle down,
Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,
They gave me this plot of land,
Me and some other men,
For a job well done.
Arlington – Trace Adkins
By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.
Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.
This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.
Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.
In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.
The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.
Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.
Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.
Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.
We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.
Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.
Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.
A Flip Of The COIN
As labor talks with the county’s public safety arm have ground to a halt, the Board of Supervisors are openly debating whether negotiations should be open to the public. Supervisor John Moorlach is leading the effort to open negotiations and openly criticized Todd Spitzer for holding private sessions with the deputies union in an effort to hammer out a deal.
The county recently sought to impose their “last, best and final” offer on the deputies union. That proposal would have imposed pension and other costs on deputies without a pay raise. While sounding good on paper, it would essentially have cost deputies up to 16 percent of their salary in take home pay. The previous contract imposed a tiered and measured implementation of costs designed to soften the blow on families. The stark approach imposed by the county this time around has left members of the deputies union fighting mad. And, they took that fight to court where a superior court judge ruled the county negotiator acted in bad faith.
Now, Moorlach is touting the idea of completely open negotiations – for labor, that is. In a recent missive to his constituents, Moorlach outlined his proposal to bring Costa Mesa’s COIN ordinance to the county. Essentially, the COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations) ordinance would allow public review and input into the negotiation process, allowing everyone to see the fiscal impact of any proposals. Supervisors have already implemented several of the key points of COIN such as hiring an outside negotiator. Moorlach seeks to implement the entire ordinance.
As reported in the Voice of OC, union officials applaud the idea but say the ordinance should extend to all large contracts, including those with vendors the county does business with:
“Transparency should extend to members of the board of supervisors regarding contracts which they award to their political contributors, friends and lobbyists who bundle contributions from entities and individuals that are seeking public money,” said Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association.
“They should disclose ex-parte discussions with lobbyists, contributors and other representatives seeking public money and political contributions received from those parties,” he added.
Of course, some Supervisors disagree. Shawn Nelson laughingly said that he is more worried about his own people than the contracts negotiated in the county. In an attempt to deflect the focus from contracts in general, Nelson said the issue was labor contracts because that’s what the people have to pay for and only find out the cost after the fact.
Berardino is correct, however. Nelson may foolishly think the public is only concerned with labor costs. There is a growing advocacy for complete openness in government where all contracts and their associated costs are discussed and debated in open forum. These costs, whether it is for labor or public/private contract, need to be publicized within the context of other issues such as recruitment and retention or cost of in-house versus contracting in order to get an accurate picture.
While COIN is a good start toward open and transparent government, it is far from ideal. Side discussions and most closed session discussions would not be covered. That leaves a huge information gap and a potential for inefficiency when questions regarding motive and reason remain unanswered. The public, while not wanting to dredge through the day-to-day business of government (I just want my potholes fixed), is growing concerned over costs and would welcome a bit of sunshine on the process. To infer it is none of their business, as some city and county officials have, is disingenuous.
While the county debates the pros and cons of COIN, it is time for the Tustin City Council to do the same. In past years, their efforts toward open and transparent government have left much to be desired. The antics of former councilmembers notwithstanding, the city has been lavish with it’s compensation toward executives and upper management while giving the rank-and-file employees the short end of the fiscal stick. Then there is the so-called Strategic Plan that is supposed to be a guideline for city staffers. The plan originally was supposed to contain an ethics component that never made it into the final draft (or, if it did, it’s buried under the bodies). In formulating the plan, Management Partners, outlined some serious issues mostly centering around poor community relations. Those, too, were never taken seriously.
Tustin city planners like to think of themselves as forward thinkers, ahead of the game. An ordinance focusing on open government that would leave little to interpretation in regard to fiscal and ethical policy, would go along way toward demonstrating that trust. Open negotiations in all labor talks, whether they be for executive managers or rank-and-file employees with public notice of proposals from either side should now be an essential part of any open government mandate. Likewise for public/private contracts where tax dollars are expended. Government, particularly at the local level, should not be run under a lampshade.
Guns in the OC – Will New Rules Turn the OC into the Wild West?
By now, you have probably heard that the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the longstanding law in California concerning concealed weapons permits. A ruling of a 3 judge panel of the Court said California Counties are wrong to require concealed weapons applicants to show “good cause”. Instead, the judges agreed with the majority of states that “self defense” or “defense of the family” are good enough reasons to ask for a permit.
In the past, sheriffs and police have wielded a hug amount of power over who does and who does not get a CCW in their county. While Los Angeles has only issued a handful of permits in the past, usually to judges and celebrities, Orange County’s Sheriff Hutchens has been a bit more liberal with several hundred permits issued. Still, it was difficult for the average citizen to obtain a permit under the old rules and often required the applicant to show they have a substantial danger before a permit is issued.
The 9th Circuit Court has now changed all of that:
“The right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote for the majority.
Chuck Michel, an attorney who represented several San Diego County residents who were denied a permit and who filed a lawsuit in 2009, praised the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling.
“This decision is a very dramatic confirmation of the Supreme Court ruling,” Michel said.
O’Scannlain wrote that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s requirement that applicants must provide documentation such as a restraining order to show a “special need” for a permit “impermissibly infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms in lawful self-defense.”
The ruling reversed a lower-court decision tossing out the lawsuit and ordered the judge to rule in favor of the applicants.
San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore has a limited amount of time to appeal the decision. He can either ask an 11 member panel of the 9th Circuit Court to re-hear the case or ask the case to be heard by the Supreme Court. It was the Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment Heller Case that influenced the circuit court judges in their decision.
Of course, Gore can always choose to do nothing, let the ruling stand, and change his policy. That’s not likely considering there are mulitple and conflicting rulings from around the country.
Columnist Dan Walters recently chimed in on the gun control issue from Sacramento, wondering if California politicians zealous hatred of guns and the resulting spate of recent gun and ammunition legislation hasn’t gone too far.
Even Governor Brown pushed back on legislation to ban assault weapons. “I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights,” Brown said in his veto message.
As Walters points out, however, Brown did sign other legislation ensuring California’s position as one of the most restrictive towards gun ownership.
Perhaps – as Brown implied in his veto message – it’s going too far, piling on gun restrictions zealously with little thought to their efficacy and even less to their constitutionality.
The era’s four most gut-wrenching political issues have been capital punishment, abortion, gay marriage and gun control, and all four involve either explicit or implicit constitutional rights.
California has been expansive of rights in the first three, and a federal appellate court seems to be telling California that it cannot continue to restrict gun ownership without violating the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the right to bear arms.
Although Walters believes the Supreme Court will have the final say in how far states can go to restrict guns, it is more likely the issue will be sent back to the full 9th Circuit Court to be heard first. The only thing to push it directly to SCOTUS is the fact there are multiple and conflicting rulings from other courts and maybe it is time to make some hard decisions.
Here in Orange County, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens wasted no time in changing her policy to conform to the court ruling. Saying the Sheriff would abide by the law, sheriff spokeperson Jeff Hallock said:
“Bottom line is the sheriff is going to abide by the law,” said Lt. Jeff Hallock, a spokesman for O.C. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
“Before the court’s decision, good cause was something that was evaluated by the sheriff. What she considers good cause may not be same as Los Angeles, Riverside or San Diego as good cause. But in looking at the decision, some of the subjectiveness is taken out of it.”
Hutchens came under fire when she first took the helm of the OC Sheriffs department from disgraced sheriff, Mike Carona. Carona had issued hundreds of CCWs to residents of the county. And, even though many of those were deemed to be of political favor, it was clear that he had a liberal view of “good cause” when it came to applications.
When Hutchens took the reins, she immediately reviewed and revoked hundreds of CCW permits. Under the guise of cleaning up a political issue, it became clear that she was not going to be as loose as Carona had been with CCWs. When the Board of Supervisors called her on the carpet to see what would be done about the issue, Hutchens stood her ground, essentially saying she was not the lackey of the Board that hired her, rather she would run her office as she saw fit. That and a CCW for Supervisor Shawn Nelson pretty much put the issue to rest.
Hutchens claimed that she was approving ninety percent of applications for CCW. However, by her own numbers, her first year showed that she approved only eighty percent, or about 400, of the approximately 500 applications for a permit. And, in case you are wondering, over 3000 peace officers call Orange County home so you are more likely to meet an off duty peace officer who is carrying concealed than a private citizen.
Now, we see that Hutchens will follow the law. The Sheriff, who by consensus holds sole authority over CCWs issued in Orange County, has seen an increase in the number of inquiries into obtaining a CCW. Since the decision by the court, the sheriff’s office has received 500 applications. That is as many as the department received in all of the previous year. The rate of applications will probably drop as time goes on. However, the department is saying that, with the current number of applicants, those applying today will not likely see a permit for six months. OC Supervisors have suggested augmenting funds to allow for more interviews, the main issue with the applications at this time. And, in the end, most people are not likely to want to bother with the cost, background check and 16 hours of training.
Will all of this turn The Real OC into the Real Wild West? We think there will be a significant increase in the number of permits issued, at least in the beginning. The ruling means California joins 38 other states that either have no restrictions or shall-issue permits. And California, with it’s previously restrictive CCW law, has the same or higher murder rates as Texas and other less restrictive states. That should be an indication that, although there may be more permits issued, they do not contribute significantly to the crime rate. And, states like Arizona with open carry allowed, are not more prone to violence. This lends creedence to the saying that criminals aren’t going to bother with a permit.
What lies in store for Californians who would like to obtain a permit is unclear. If the ruling stands, it is likely the ultra-liberals in Sacramento will go into overtime to craft restrictive laws that will keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens while doing little to stop criminal activity. You can bet that Darrel Steinberg, the author of the recent assault ban attempt, and Leland Yee, a rabid anti-gun Senator, are already working hard to find ways to eliminate guns in California. Their efforts, like those of past legilsators, have done little to protect the citizens of California.
Perhaps it is time to let citizens protect themselves.