Can We Please Get a Procedure?

First, it was Letitica Clark’s first official meeting of the city council as Mayor or Tustin. I think she did, and will continue to do, a fine job as Mayor for the coming year. I will say that she needs to take more command of the “room”, however. This isn’t her first rodeo and she knows how to lead. She just needs to do it a bit more decisively. Don’t let these guys intimidate you. You are in charge (ceremonially, of course).

That said, one item on the council agenda took up the most time and I’m left wondering why. You see it turns out that, what I thought was a regular procedure, was really just the good old boys on the council doing what they do best. And, there really is no regular procedure at all.

If you watched the city council meeting the other night, you know that I am talking about the selection process for upcoming vacancies for our various city commissions. In years past, I remember the council selecting an ad hoc committee to winnow the applicant pool to a realistic few and then presenting their recommendations to the full council. I just assumed it was a procedure set in stone. It isn’t.

So, for 30 minutes (of a 53 minute meeting), the city council wallowed around on Zoom kicking back and forth several suggestions from a staff report on how to proceed. In contrast, it took the 2018 city council, under Mayor Chuck Puckett, a little over 2 minutes to decide this process. In that time, Puckett also appointed two members to the ad hoc committee who would eventually present their findings to the council.

I realize that then Mayor Puckett has over 25 years of experience to guide him in how to handle what should be a routine matter. But the fact is, three of the current city council members -including the mayor- were on the council back then. Maybe they should’ve taken notes. Councilman Cooper’s desire to establish a participation trophy for all the applicants aside, the discussion took entirely too long.

No, no one wants their feelings hurt when they don’t get selected. Yes, everyone gets stressed over the interview and selection process. But, if you can’t handle the stress of an interview, then you certainly shouldn’t be handling city business. And all the millennial jokes aside, most of us can handle disappointment. We don’t need a feel good pat on the back for trying. So, what’s the problem? Why do we need to have a 30 minute discussion on how to proceed?

This is a process that should have been codified long ago. And it is certainly overdue now. Even back in 2017, then city councilman Al Murray called the ad hoc committee process, “the system we have in place.” As long as I have been writing this blog, the city has used the same process. And, while I may have had some trepidation in the past about how “the system” worked, it is a good system. As Councilman Lumbard remarked, interviewing 30 people is time consuming and stressful for everyone. Having a sub-committee to thin the applicant pool is the best method to deal with that.

It would seem the city council eventually agreed as the ad hoc committee (members of which Clark failed to nominate at the time) process will be used….again.

So, maybe the mayor, as one of her goals, could use this to have the process codified rather than having to have this debate every other year? I’m sure she could make use of our city attorney to write a properly worded citation to adopt.

More of the Same?

A few short weeks ago, I was pondering the election numbers of local races. It was interesting to see the “Blue Wave” of the midterms had more or less petered out and conservatives had moved back into some of their old haunts. All in all, not much had changed on the political landscape.

Of course, one conservative that did not fare well was State Senator John Moorlach. Moorlach was ousted by Democrat Dave Min who garnered a 12,000 vote lead in what had previously been considered a Republican stronghold.

Moorlach won a special election in 2015 to elevate from 2nd District OC Supervisor to 37th California Senate District. He won the regular election the following year and, since then, has served without distinction. Of the several bills he has authored or sponsored, most were inconsequential. Of the few that did pass most, if not all, were cosponsored by Democrats.

So, what’s an out of work, former state senator to do?

In Moorlach’s case it’s come home to roost. It just so happens 2nd District OC Supervisor, Michelle Steele, is actually going places (far, far away we hope) as she handily won the election against incumbent Harley Rouda. Steele’s departure has initiated a special election to fill her place. Hmm….

This may not be a walk in the park for Moorlach. For one thing, he has some opposition and, like him, it is mostly Republican. Newport Beach City Councilman, Kevin Muldoon and Huntington Beach Councilman, Mike Posey have both officially announced their candidacy. And, while I thought no Democrat would bother with this clearly Republican District (they hold a 5 point lead and NPPs are almost a third of the vote), one actually has.

Katrina Foley, who is the first directly elected Mayor of Costa Mesa, has wasted no time in throwing her hat in the ring. The ink was hardly dry on her certification papers when she apparently saw greener pastures in the Board of Supervisors. That alone, of course, should cause suspicion that Foley is just another wannabe career politician looking for a foothold to higher office.

Moorlach has come out strong with endorsements from the anti-taxers and the ultra conservatives. Will it be enough to win the election? “That’s my former seat. You don’t have to send a novice in,” said Moorlach recently. I’m sure there was that self-assured smirk on his face as he said it, too. But, if that self-assurance is enough, why did he feel it necessary to bully other potential candidates into dropping out?

I would like to say it would be because he is aware of his not-so-stellar record with the BoS. His constant haranguing of union officials, even calling them thugs on occasion, his refusal to shake hands with those same union officials and his near fanatical hatred of the public employee pension system did not make him a friend around the 5th floor of 333 West Santa Ana Blvd. or the public employee union headquarters just down the street.

Yes, he hated pensions….all while drawing one himself along with all the other perks of being a county supervisor. So, it turns out Moorlach only hates pensions for other public employees but thinks he deserves his own.

So, Moorlach clearly has a problem and it’s not Katrina Foley, per se. Well, in a way it is. Prior to her announcement as a candidate, Moorlach only had to fend off Muldoon and Posey. Democrats still vote. And, if they can’t vote for one of their own, they may vote for someone they think at least leans their way so they can at least feel they did their part. This being a supposedly non-partisan race, voters not seeing a candidate of their persuasion will vote for whoever has the shiniest yard sign. Moorlach might have had some of those votes. Now he won’t and he will be splitting the rest of the vote with Muldoon and Posey.

The OCGOP clearly loves Moorlach and has urged Posey and Muldoon to drop out of the race and throw their support behind Moorlach. Both have stated that they have strong support from constituents. “Right now I’m in it all the way,” Posey said in an interview with the Voice of OC. Both said they had been campaigning for months and were not going to drop out.

The good ol’ boys at the OCGOP understand the real issue. If, by some chance, Muldoon and Posey have a big enough support base, they could actually split enough votes away from Moorlach to allow Katrina Foley to win. And that would mean that, for the first time anyone can remember, there would be a second liberal vote on the Board of Supervisors.

Moorlach would like to believe he is the best candidate for the position (don’t all candidates think that?). But, is he? Yes, he is a CPA. Yes, he foretold the 1994 bankruptcy. No, he did not save the county afterwards. In fact, he was just another political lackey when the bankruptcy hit. But, it was enough to propel him to his original seat on the OC Board of Supervisors and later on to the California State Senate.

But, the county is a different animal these days, facing a different set of problems that don’t really require the expertise of a John Moorlach. Like the rest of the state and country, Orange County is trying to wade through the mess caused by the governor’s poor handling of the Covid crisis. Hard decision will have to be made and the citizens of the 2nd District may not feel he is the best candidate for the job, especially if they have several qualified candidates to choose from. There is also the fact that Moorlach lost his current Senate seat by a wide margin to a Democrat. Much of the 2nd District lies within the same territory has his senate district.

This is a special election and there are two years left on Steele’s term that Moorlach and the rest will be vying for. Whoever wins will have to run for re-election in 2022 and, because of the timing, they will also be allowed to run for another term in 2026. That’s a long time to be saddled with the smug Mr. Moorlach who also likes to surround himself with other eccentrics to help him run his office. Think long and hard before you pull the switch for him. The times they are a changing…. and, so is the county.

So Long, Farewell

Tuesday night’s Tustin City Council meeting left us a little teary eyed as councilmembers Chuck Puckett and Alan Bernstein were bid goodbye in typical Tustin style. Accolades flowed for Chuck and Alan….at least until the glitch in software overcame the technical expertise of staff and the video came to a crashing halt. For those of you that did not get to see the video, you can find it here in it’s entirety. Chuck spent more than 20 years in service to our community. I don’t think he will sit still for very long (Alan either, for that matter).

The final act of a short agenda was the swearing in of three “new” councilmembers: Newbie Ryan Gallagher, veteran Beckie Gomez and, returning lame duck Letitia Clark. Immediately after the obligatory swearing in ceremonies, Clark was named Mayor for the 2021 year. It could have been another first for Tustin, had Gomez accepted the pro tem position but she graciously side-stepped the honor and it was given to Austin Lumbard. Lumbard was elected to the city council in 2018 and deserves the position, ceremonial as it is. Still, it might have been nice to shatter the image of the “good ol’ boys” club with an all-female lead cast.

The makeup of the new council is diverse. Healthcare professional, engineer, public affairs and yes, even a lawyer. That, hopefully, will work in their favor as they have a lot to tackle this coming year. Covid-19, if you haven’t heard, is not going away anytime soon. Just today, Governor Newsom made good on his promise to effectively shutdown California again. Saying that cases have spiked and hospitals throughout the state will be overwhelmed before Christmas, Newsom split the state up into five regions and stated that any region with less than 15% available ICU beds will be shutdown.

Orange County is well below that number with only about 66% of its ICU and 69% of hospital beds in use (as of November 30th). Unfortunately, the Southern California Region that Orange County is lumped in with includes Los Angeles, San Diego and extending up the easter side of the state to Mono County. It’s a sure bet that at least some of those counties are overwhelmed as this is written. Enjoy this weekend (even with a shutdown notice, we have two days). It will likely be your last for awhile.

Back to Tustin….

I noticed most of our city councilmembers place a high priority on public safety. It was the most often cited plank in candidates’ platforms, probably because it resonates well with most people. Tustin, however, is considered a “safe” city ranking 76 on the Safewise blog. Of course, our neighbor to the south is either #1 or #12, depending on which list your use. And, gosh, a total of 11 Orange County cities ranked in the top 50. Add to that, crime is down all over the country (at least until the September riots). And, have you seen our police department? Accredited, well-rounded training, top notch professionals, both civilian and sworn staff. Chief Stu Greenberg inherited one of the best police departments in the state.

All of this is to ask, do we really need a focus on public safety?

What we really need, and this city council has the combined expertise to make happen, is development of the Legacy property. Yes, we’ve been plugging along, improving piece by piece. But, we’ve had that land in our possession for 20 years. And less than half the old base has been developed. Of course, we are lucky that former city manager, Jeff Parker, was astute enough to see that our so-called “master developer” was jerking the city around and took the reins from them oh so many years ago. Since then, the city has seen development occur ever so slowly.

The District was a brilliant idea and might have been a hit save for the fact it opened in 2007, right around the time of the Great Recession. All of a sudden, the housing bubble burst and the last thing people were looking at were overpriced housing on suspect contaminated land in the middle of Orange County. So, there the base sat….and sat……and sat…..

Well, things did finally pick up but it seems the pace has been a bit slack. This city council needs to take the lead and get development rolling again. Housing is at a premium in the state and, especially, in Orange County. The city should be focusing on both housing and business development of the base property and leave Chief Greenberg to do what he does best.

And, Here We Go

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. Watching today’s Newsom News update on the pandemic, I realized something that I should have known all along… no matter how bad things get, it is always (and I mean always) possible for things to get worse.

Last week, reeling from the revelation that he is not above the law, Governor Newsom made a public apology for his faux pas at the Blanchisserie Française restaurant in Yountville (do I still need to tell you where that is?). I remarked that the smirk on his face belied his attempt to look honestly apologetic.

This week, while disseminating even more bad news, he looked honestly humble and worried. The hour long newscast basically came down to this: the numbers are rising faster than they did over the summer and we don’t know what to do about it. Two weeks ago, during his covid update, Newsom just barely mentioned how the numbers were rising in many counties and how the state may have to take action to reverse the trend. The next day, 40 counties were demoted back to the purple tier. This week, all but one county returned to purple tier.

Today, Newsom talked about how the numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate. Somewhere in his discussion he mentioned how the state might have to shut down again as they did in March. He quickly added that the shutdown would be with “modifications”. So, don’t be surprised if tomorrow you are hit with a big fat stay-at-home order. This seems to be part of the Newsom plan so he can claim that he warned everyone.

To defer an immediate attack by the press, Newsom quickly moved on to how the state was going to help the little businesses by deferring sales tax payments and offering SBA loans. Loans based on employee strength were also mentioned. That’s great, really great…except, most businesses won’t have to worry about deferring sales tax as they aren’t selling anything. And although Newsom spoke of easy to get business loans, they won’t do much good when the loan can’t be paid back due to lack of business. So, these promises he makes about helping the economy are just as shallow as his scientific knowledge of viruses.

Clearly, Newsom has botched this for the beginning. He is not alone. Much of the leadership across the country has taken the same tack – shut down the economy, bring everything to a standstill and wait it out. The hope was, if we wait long enough, the virus will just pass us by. Any scientist worth their salt knows that is not how it works. By shutting the economy down at the beginning of the year, the government simply put off the inevitable spread to a later time. That time seems to be now.

Yeah, yeah, I know. We should have had a vaccine by now. And, honestly, I was surprised we got one as quickly as we did. But supply chains and the government bureaucracy being what they are, one had to know it would not come quickly. So, of course, we are still awaiting distribution. And, who gets is first? I can tell you it won’t be you or me. (Rightfully) It will be the healthcare and frontline workers first. You and I will have to wait until at least the second quarter of next year. I can pretty much bet that Gavin, as an essential worker, will be at the head of the line.

So, do we continue to shutter our economy? At this point, it may not matter, the damage is done. It will take years to recover from what we have lost. Many local businesses will never recover; many are gone already. Of course, that doesn’t include Gavin Newsom and the elite who run the country. It doesn’t include Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. It could include you and me, along with our 401k’s and IRA’s that will surely suffer a hit by the time this is done. When and if this is ever over, I hope we all think it was worth it.