Author Archives: Greg Sebourn

Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee Calls On Council to Rescind Water Tax

Last night the Water Rate Study Ad Hoc Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the Fullerton City Council that the “in-lieu” franchise fee, or “water tax” as it has become known as, should be suspended indefinitely.

Another motion was made to recommend an audit of the Water Fund. The motion failed 5-5.

Some members stated they had enough reports and felt spending more money would not provide any answers. One member even said that no matter what is discovered in the audit, it would not be enough for some.

Others, like myself, feel it is a disservice to the public to not account for the misappropriated funds. As we look to answer the question of how much was overcharged to ratepayers, we realize we cannot arrive at a fact-based answer. Instead, the city’s staff will have the Ad Hoc Committee look at what could or perhaps should be charged to the Water Fund. That may be an appropriate step going forward but without an audit we will never know where our money went.

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Why Didn’t Norby Speak Up On Fullerton’s Water Tax? He Did.

Back on May 6, 1997 a resident named Tom O’Neill told the City Council that he opposed the practice of transferring money from the Water Fund to the General Fund.  O’Neill said it’s deceptive and builds mistrust in elected officials.  Then Mayor Chris Norby noted that the City attorney was reviewing this issue and would report on it at a future meeting.

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Then, in September of 1997, the Water Fund issue rises again as the priorities for Hill Crest Park were being considered.  The Water Fund and Redevelopment Fund were being eyed as the primary funding source.

The City’s consultant tried to explain why these funds could be used.  His logic?  If a new waterline and reservoir were to be installed, many of the other park improvements could be logically tied to the water work.

Marie Whaling and Barbara Marr asked questions about the use of Redevelopment Funds and Water Funds for the park.

Mayor Norby explained that Redevelopment Funds were to be used for alleviating blight.  He went on to say that the concerns expressed regarding funding sources are legitimate and that Water Fund monies are for water purposes and expenditures must be related to water and its delivery.

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Water Main Breaks In Front of Water Reformer’s House

The irony, astonishing.  The coincidence, unnerving.  The big picture, never clearer.

If you could choose a place to break a water line, would this be at the top or bottom of the list? It’s in front of my house this morning…again!

This is just around the corner from the house that exploded yesterday and has many questioning the water systems integrity and capability when taxed with fire services. Did the sudden demand on the system place too much stress on the water lines? One would think so but I have not been able to speak with the Water System Manager, Dave Schickling, or the City Engineer, Don Hoppe, to ask.

After you and I have contributed $27-million through the water tax since 1996 to the City’s General Fund, you would think the City would have this under control.

A City of Fullerton representative contacted my wife to tell her that, because the leak is slow, they’ll be out TOMORROW, on a Saturday, to fix the line. Can you say OVERTIME? Seriously.

If the City was ever going to try to demonstrate water efficiency and commonsense responsible water management, you would think they might want to expedite a water main break. I wonder how many other breaks occurred since yesterday…

Day 2

$6,000 Bonuses Part of Fullerton Water Rate Hike

As the Fullerton City Council prepares to hike water rates as “pass-through increases” I thought it would be good to share the sweet deal MWD employees get on April 1, 2012 (no, its not a joke) and see just what is being passed through to us.

Come April 1st the employees of MWD get a $6,000 bonus as part of their contract.

9.3 Effective the first day of the pay period that includes April 1, 2012, each employee in the bargaining unit shall receive a one-time only payment of $6,000 which shall not be considered part of the employee‘s regular pay.

If that wasn’t bad enough, July 1, 2013 MWD employees will get a 0.25% raise.  And if you think 0.25% isn’t much of a raise, consider what else gets slipped in.  How about creating “higher steps” for employees who have hit the salary ceiling and giving them raises as well?

9.4 Effective the first day of the pay period that includes July 1, 2013, there shall be an across-the-board salary increase of 0.25%. In addition, all bargaining unit classifications shall be moved two (2) salary grades higher (approximately 2.75% for each grade), and placed at the equivalent salary step in the new grade (e.g. an employee at step 11 on June 30, 2013 would be placed at step 9 of his new salary grade).

All bargaining unit employees will be place on the same evaluation date, and will receive a performance evaluation for the period ending July 1, 2013. Employees will be eligible for a merit increase pursuant to ARTICLE 65—MERIT INCREASES.

These generous employee benefits are being passed along to Fullerton water customers in the form of “pass-through” rate increases.  When the City Council pushes for a rate hike this year, be sure to speak up in opposition.  The City Council will be happy to pass the buck so long as we sit quietly and let them.

You can read the MWD employee agreement here.

Fullerton’s Water Rep to Step Down

Amid Fullerton’s water rate debacle the City’s representative on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced Tuesday that he is stepping down.  After representing the City of Fullerton for 24 years on the MWD Board of Directors, Jim Blake says he is done.

Jim Blake

It is rumored that Fullerton’s retired city manager Chris Meyer is looking to be appointed as Blake’s replacement but that will require a majority vote by the Fullerton City Council.   Since City Council Members Bankhead and Jones appointed Meyer as City Manager in 2002, there is little doubt that they wouldn’t give him the MWD nod as well.

However, with Fullerton’s water rates under scrutiny and an illegal tax being batted about City Hall for justification, you have to wonder how much of the water mess can be attributed to Meyer- not to mention the rest of the City’s countless woes.

An appointment of Meyer to the MWD Board might bring further outcry to City Hall, something the new Mayor might wish to avoid. Since August the Council members have been cussed at, cursed at, sworn up and down, and yelled at.  They are now being held accountable for their general lack of leadership by a campaign to recall three members, Mayor Pro Tem Pat McKinley, and members Don Bankhead and F. Dick Jones.

Many believe that the appointment should be filled by a current council member so that they can be held responsible by Fullerton voters for their actions on the Board.  Currently, Blake is answerable only to the Fullerton City Council.

If the appointment is to be held by a non-council member, then the process should be open to ALL candidates equally like any other council appointment to a commission or committee.

Whoever is appointed will be tasked with a massive budgetary shortfall that rivals Sacramento’s. The appointee will be asked for double-digit rate hikes and even more spending.  They need to know the water industry and even more about public policy and long-term investment solutions.  They need to know Fullerton and not just through the myopic eyes of service clubs.

Fullerton deserves an accountable and credible representative on the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Bankhead Considers Using Public Funds to Bail Out the Civic Light Opera

Here’s an eye-opening story from last winter by Greg Sebourn about one of the most hare-brained Redevelopment boondoggles ever proposed. The fact that it was suggested by Don Bankhead a mere six weeks after his umpteenth re-election is ample evidence that either 1) his mental gears have slipped completely; or 2) he really never had any judgment in the first place. You decide if you really want this king-sized boob in office any more.

– Joe Sipowicz

Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead seeks to use Redevelopment Agency funds, originally set aside for combating blight and providing low-income housing, to prop up the Fullerton Civic Light Opera (FCLO).

We're off to see the wizard...

In an article penned by Eric Marchese of FullertonStories.com, Bankhead indicated he is “…investigating the use of Redevelopment Agency funding to assist the Duncans and FCLO.”

What would prompt this Republican and self-proclaimed conservative council member with more than 22 years of elected service under his belt to conclude a necessity for a taxpayer bailout of the FCLO?

Bankhead was quoted as saying, “It would be a blow, a terrible loss, to the city if [the Duncans] can’t figure out some way of saving [the company].”

And therefore taxpayers must somehow bailout this private endeavor??

Infrastructure lying in ruin from continuous neglect.

What about the public employees who have taken significant cuts in pay (and service hours) to help shore up the financial debacle created by a city council with their collective heads in the sand? Should the Redevelopment Agency also bail out these other departments and public employees?

The short answer: NO! Before the Redevelopment Agency existed taxpayer funds were meant to go toward all of our public services from engineering and education to public safety. But after the Redevelopment Agency was created and expanded, taxpayer funds were redirected to combat blight and fund low-income housing. Meanwhile, our infrastructure lays in ruin from continuous neglect and habitual misappropriation of public funds.

I like the flying monkeys.

If we use Redevelopment Agency funds to bail out the FCLO we will have effectively robbed all of our public agencies so that a select few can be entertained.

I cannot think of a more egregious abuse of public funds except perhaps spending $6-million to move a McDonald’s restaurant 200 feet or borrowing $29-million to evict low-income families.

Does the recall effort begin now or do taxpayers wait for further damage to be done at their expense?

A Forthcoming Apology

It is not often that you find an apology in the Regular Business of the City Council’s Agenda. I have a bad feeling this is just the first of many apologies to come.

We apologise for any inconvenience you may have experienced.

The Council’s Agenda for Tomorrow’s meeting includes a staff recommendation that the Fullerton Police Department publicly apologizes and acknowledge that the department’s narcotics unit mistakenly raided the wrong home (read the FFFF backstory).

“On October 20, 2010 Fullerton PD Narcotics Unit detectives were attempting to conduct a probation search on a male adult subject living at 219 S. Ventura Place, in Fullerton. Armed Fullerton PD detectives mistakenly entered the Nordel family residence at 223 S. Ventura Placefrom the rear alley, and ultimately through the back door, believing it to be 219 S. Ventura Place.”

It has taken the City nearly a year to issue the Nordell Family an official apology and devise a process to prevent future unlawful entries by our Fullerton Police Department.

I am concerned that had the Nordell family not brought this to the City Council on several occasions, this public acknowledgment and apology would not be forthcoming.

There are a few lessons we can learn from the illegal raid:

First, people make mistakes. Officers are people and are not infallible.

Second, police officers must understand that blindly following their fellow officers into a fight can have deadly consequences. Although it might not always be practical, officers know the circumstances of the fight first. Had officers entered a different wrong house, it is reasonable to conclude officers would have been met by a gun wielding home-owner whose door was being kicked in by a gang of masked thugs all yelling.

The third lesson is that the Nordells have successfully managed to have the Police Department review their actions, recognize the Department’s mistake, and develop a policy for conducting future raids. The Nordell family did not have to sue over the raid though they certainly had the right to. Instead, they sought to make their community safer. In the end, the Nordells may have saved many lives by being vocal and active in the administration of their City’s police services.

Fourth, the Fullerton Police Department has listened to the public and made changes that will protect officers and the public. This shows that the Department is willing to look at new ways of serving the community.

I commend the Nordells for coming forward publicly and holding the Police Department and City Council responsible.

Reasons to Oppose Fullerton’s Water Rate Hike

Tuesday night’s City Council agenda is set and among the many items for consideration by council members is a water rate increase.

The increase would raise water revenue by 7.8% but it is not clear how that increase would be spread among different rate classes. Some will feel the increase more than others. This cloud is just one of the many reasons I oppose this rate increase.

Other reasons include the hidden water tax, economic timing, city management’s long-standing philosophy on infrastructure, the likely law suits due to improper notice by the City, shortsighted conservation efforts, and the general feeling of distrust by consumers.

10% of every water bill gets diverted or skimmed from the water fund and transferred into the City’s General Fund. 80% of the General Fund goes to cover public safety employee benefits. Outside of City Hall only a handful of people know about this tax. In my opinion, it gives the appearance that the unions are embezzling public funds. The General Fund does not contribute any funds back into the water system. Removing this hidden tax would allow the water system to retain about $2.5-million for pipe replacement.

Fullerton residents and businesses are struggling to survive. The elderly and disabled have never had this magnitude of cuts in services and funding now on the table and being debated in Washington. There are other measures yet to be instituted which could provide a financial buffer for the next year or two. City management must exhaust all avenues before resorting to a rate hike in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

For decades, city management has turned a blind eye to the infrastructure. Unless the repairs or replacement was in a redevelopment district, the City would put off any work. Instead, the city sought to spend $6-million on moving a McDonalds 200 feet, $30-million* in bonds for housing (*will amount to more than $50-million when paid off), and more than $12-million to revamp the Lions Field athletic complex. Meanwhile, our water lines are failing, our roads are crumbling, our streetlights broken, and who knows what else is in disrepair. The proven ability of city officials, from council members to department heads, to go along with whatever hot new trend presented itself despite the obvious deficiencies in our infrastructure is unforgiveable. While some were getting bronze plaques with their names on it, the rest of us are left to foot the bill. Enough already!

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has indicated that the Proposition 218 rate increase notification received by some water customers last month does not comply with the requirements of the law. Fullerton’s notice is insufficient according to Timothy Bittle, Director of Legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “[T]hey can’t tell anyone yet what the new amount of their fee will be. That’s not compliance with 218!” says Bittle.

A recent survey of 122 public agencies by the Sierra Club shows Fullerton’s water conservation efforts sadly on par with the infamous city of Bell. The survey gives Fullerton 8 points out of 20. Out of the 122 agencies surveyed, only 16 scored worse.

Finally, people have lost a great deal of trust in their government at all levels and why wouldn’t they lose trust once they realize the City has been charging them with a hidden tax that does not benefit the water system. Most people who do not deal with City Hall regularly get frustrated at the run around they receive. One person tells them to do one thing and someone else tells them to do something different. Many are simply discouraged by driving on Fullerton’s poorly maintained streets. Others, like me, have watched the same section of water line replaced three or four times in just 24 months.

For these reasons and more, I strongly oppose this water rate increase and believe that our city can and should do better to serve the public before considering any rate hikes.

Water Rate Update

Thursday evening the Water Rate Ad Hoc Committee voted and made some recommendations.

First, the Committee rescinded our May 23rd recommendation to the City Council to use Alternative A which would have raised ALL rates 7.8% or more. All would feel the pain evenly.

 

Second, the committee voted to recommend “Alternative B”. The Committee briefing describes Alternative B as an “Alternative rate structure using 1983 Rate Study meter equivalents for all fixed charges, increasing fixed charge revenue from 12% to 18% and adjustments to commodity charges to better reflect cost of service.”

I voted NO and Mr. Jack Dean abstained from recommending Alternative B. Regardless, Alternative B was passed.

Third, I moved to recommend that the City Council exempt from the water franchise tax all new revenue generated from this new rate structure to ensure that ALL new revenue goes strictly back into the water system. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously. There appeared to be too much opposition for recommending that the council abolish the hidden tax.

Speaking to the THREE members of the public who came to the meeting, I explained that 10%-11% (depends on who you talk to and which document they look at) of the money we pay for our water bill does not go into the water system and that the money, $2.5 million FY2010, goes into the General Fund. The General Fund does not contribute any money to the Capital Improvement Program (infrastructure) but does pay for things like parks, fire, police, special club memberships for the city, and other oddities. Similarly, the Paramedic Fee does not go exclusively to paramedics- it goes into the General Fund.

The end results of the Water Rate Ad Hoc Committee work are recommendations to the City Council. Whether or not they agree with our recommendations, we will see on July 19th at the Public Hearing.

How would you spend $193 million?

The City of Fullerton’s Proposed Budget is out and tonight your elected Council will vote to approve it.

$172.6 million represents the “total appropriations” planned for FY2011-12 for the City of Fullerton and the balance, $20.4 million, is what the Redevelopment Agency plans to spend for the same period.


The biennial budget also includes a rough budget for FY2012-13 with $183.2 million in projected additional spending.

If the City had the money to spend, I could see a favorable vote by Council members, however, the 2-year budget falls $8 million short of being balanced.

Unfortunately, this budget is based on the premise that city employees will negotiate and accept a cut in benefits in order to help balance the revenue short-fall or over-extended expenditures depending on your point of view.

5 Council members elected by you to control $193,000,000 and in the end, we get about $4,043,000 to repave our streets and $1,600,000 to fix our water system…

With only 3% of our budget being invested in our streets and water system, its no wonder our water rates will be going up.