“You’re here to help us, not embarass us nationally.” That’s the words from Orange County Supervisor, John Moorlach, as he lashed out at the Orange County Grand Jury for their latest missive dinging the Board of Supervisors for massive mis-management of CalOptima. Two scathing reports caused the Fair Political Practices Commission to initiate an ethics investigation into the handling of the organization by the Board.
All I can say is, it’s about time.
I can also say it is shameful the way the Board of Supervisors reacted. Although any reader of Our Town Tustin knows I have little regard for the Orange County Grand Jury, it never surprises me how the, so-called, Republican Leadership continues to deny corruption and, when denial fails them, lashes out at those who speak the truth.
PBS SoCal televised the ranting supervisors in the video above. Each supervisor took a swipe or two at the Grand Jury. But, it was Todd Spitzer, future District Attorney and, presumably the Grand Jury’s boss, who actually had the gall to infer that Orange County has no corruption. News flash, Todd, Orange County is about as corrupt as can be and no amount of denial by you or your corrupt cronies on the Board can allay the belief of the voters here in the Real OC.
Supervisor Janer Ngyuen, saying the report “demoralized” her and her family as well as “the 500 employees who work at CalOptima”, was laughable in her defense of a situation that she clearly manipulated to garner favor wtih her constituency when she was appointed as the Board’s representative to the organization. I have news for her, the 500 employees of CalOptima were probably laughing their collective asses off when they saw this video.
Grand Jury Foreman, Ray Garcia, says he stands by the reports. “The only thing I will say about the corruption thing is, you ought to read the corruption thing. It’s a chronology of four decades of malfeasance, misfeasance and downright crime.” Unlike us, Garcia says he was surprised on the backlash from the ethics commission suggestion. Of course, we’re not.
This video shows one thing: the Orange County Board of Supervisors have shamed themselves, more than any report or investigation possibly could. Instead of whining about this, as Shawn Nelson and poor, little hurt Janet Nguyen did, they should be taking an honest look at themselves and how they have acted during their tenure. From failures to identify and rout out sexually criminal behavior to how they have treated the employees in general of this county, they have led among Republican leaders in this county to hide the truth from the public. And now that they have been called on it, all they can do is scream and yell at the messenger.
The investigation will take a year or more. In truth, I don’t expect much to come of it. Ann Ravel, the chief of the FPPC is a milkweed at best. She has never outed any politician, Republican or Democrat for a substantial infraction and I don’t expect her to do much more than pay lip service to this. It is refreshing to see this out in the open, however. And it is fun to watch the worms squirm.
(We realized we made a mistake on the time of day. Sorry for the incovenience-ed.) We received this press release on the May 29th dedication of the new Peace Officer Memorial at the Sheriffs Academy in Tustin.
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.
It has been over ten years since the U.S. Marines departed Orange County, taking with them a huge part of our history and leaving huge pieces of contaminated land in its place. El Toro and Tustin, both Marine Corps Air Stations, were decommissioned in 1999 as part of the Base Closure and Realignment Act. Both were also turned over to local authorities to redevelop into housing and other uses. And, while Tustin largely lanquished for years due to the recession, Larry Agran and the city of Irvine had bigger plans for El Toro, including the Orange County Great Park. Billed as the, ” first great metropolitan park of the 21st Century”, the Great Park Corporation mission statement says it is preserving and protecting the Orange County Great Park for the benefit and enjoyment of all its visitors.
Yet, while the mission statement is laudible, the actions of the corporation and its predecessors, particularly the Irvine City Council has been questionable. Under Larry Agran, the city council quickly wrested control of the base from the Orange County Supervisors, who had originally sought the base as an industrial airport. A park board was quickly formed with the city clearly in control with a majority vote. Contracts were issued and work begun on the park… sort of. Anyone visiting the park, ten years later, may wonder where the money went.
More than $200 million dollars later, the Great Park has little to show for its efforts. An Orange helium ballon lifts visitors 400 feet above 200 or so acres of park development. A plaza of sorts plays host to a variety of events including a weekly farmers market and seasonal events for halloween and,this year, a New Years Eve bash. Yes, that is a million taxpayer dollars for every acre of park so far. The worst is, much of the development, like Hangar 244, was already there and required nothing more than refurbishment to use. And, according to the LA Times, much of the development is leased out to agriculture. The runways, left largely intact, are rented for a variety of uses, none of them parklike.
So, where did the money go?
Meet Ken Smith, architect of the OC Great Park. Hailed as a visionary, I remember seeing pictures of the flamboyant designer with huge oversized glasses and a comedic grin bursting onto the pages of the Register and the OC version of the LA Times. He was billed as part savior and part nutcase by those that either stood with him or against him. There were frequent photos of the Ken Smith entourage showing off plans or the occasional finished feature. The Great Park was the largest project he had ever worked on. His commanding price tag, that would eventually reach $42.7 million dollars, was matched only by his enthusiasm for the project. His lack of experience for a job this size was made up for by assembling an equally high priced group of designers and architects. Even the Great Park website billed him as “world renowned” even though he was probably the least qualified of the companies the Board interviewed.
Smith quickly went to work on what was to eventually be not much more than a huge publicity stunt. Plans were developed for a 1400 acre park that would encompass sports fields fit for the children of kings (or, at least Irvinites). The big Orange helium balloon was quickly put into service and you could here the oohs and aahs from miles around as it rose high above the landscape. Scarcely a week went by when the Register or the LA Times didn’t run an article or two on the “progress” of the Great Park.
The glamour has faded, though, and the reality of a state wracked in recession met the fiscal imprudence of the Great Park Board. In last year’s contentious race for the Irvine City Council, the Great Park became the football of choice for Councilmember Jeff Lalloway and what would eventually become the new majority. This month, the city council, sans Agran, voted to reduce the number of Great Park Boardmembers to the sitting city council, thereby relieving them of any further outside influence. The new, reduced, board also took immediate steps to axe the million dollar public relations firm, Forde & Mollrich as well as their lobbyist, Townsend Public Affairs. Councilwoman and former chair of the GP Board, Beth Krom, believes that is a mistake while Lalloway believes the PR and Lobbyist are unnecessary as city staff should be able to handle those tasks.
Lalloway, like many in the county, is unhappy with the progress of the Great Park. The Park was not getting much in return for the $1.1 million dollars plus expenses the two firms were charging for their services each year. “We need to stop talking about building a great park and start actually working on building the great park,” Lalloway said.
Lalloway has a lot of support throughout the county. Aside from some bloggers laughingly calling for a revival of the airport idea, most proponents simply want the city to stop talking about building a park and get on with actual construction.
During his swearing in to the OC Board of Supervisors, 5th District Supervisor Todd Spitzer who supports Lalloway’s position said, “I’ve always been 100 percent supportive of the vision of the Great Park,” Spitzer said. “However, it’s been more than a decade and $220 million in expenditures and there’s very little to show for it.” Spitzer also challenged the new city council saying, if they couldn’t do any more than the previous council, the county should look at an initiative to turn it back to county hands.
That scenario might be nice to think about but is probably undoable. After being given the reins of the Great Park years ago, the city annexed the land, making it part of the city. “It’s city of Irvine property,” Lalloway said. “The voters can’t vote to take it away from us.” Likewise, the idea of the Great Park reverting back to an industrial airport is dim since the only ones who would be able to vote on the issue would be city of Irvine residents. They, along with the residents of surrounding areas like Tustin, are not likely to warm up to that idea.
Can the park be built? Surely, with the demise of Redevelopment Agencies and the loss of over a billion dollars in funding, the task is much more difficult. It is certainly time to look at alternatives, including downsizing and obtaining partnerships from developers to build something more realistic. That doesn’t mean the Great Park can’t still be. But, whatever finished product is envisioned by Lalloway and the city council, progress needs to be made. That means feet to the floor and shovels in the ground.
What’s next? The Great Park will be host to the Department of Energy sponsored Solar Decatholon, a huge event to be held in October 2013. Agran believes the firing of the Great Park’s PR firm will harm the prospects of a successful event. Lalloway disagrees and plans continue for what is billed as one of the largest “green” events in the world, showcasing green technology in everyday construction. If the GP Board/Irvine City Council can pull it off (we think they can) it will be a big feather in their cap and, possibly, a portent of better days for the park that isn’t.