Enough Excuses, this Recall is Newman’s Own Fault

The Tax Bear Cometh

Here’s a thought experiment for you.

Let’s say you bought a house in Fullerton at the peak of the housing market. The market has mostly recovered but the house is only worth what you originally paid. However, when you receive your tax bill, the Franchise Tax Board assesses it higher, so there is more than a $1,000 difference in what you think you should pay and what you are actually charged. So you send a letter to the Franchise Tax Board disputing the charge and explaining why you believe your bill should be lower.

According to our State Senator Josh Newman, what you just did was costly and unnecessary. You see, that letter disputing the $1000+ charge cost 49 cents to mail, and the letter isn’t guaranteed to get you that refund you want.

That’s pretty much the takeaway from this recent editorial from Mr. Newman, which ran on Page 2 of our local Fullerton Observer Newspaper. Senator Newman’s response to the anger over his vote to raise taxes by over $52 billion over ten years in an already overtaxed state is pure misdirection, asking his supporters to instead ask recall proponents “why they’d waste $2.5 million on a recall petition rather than put 34 more teachers in our schools, 16 more firefighters in our communities, or 13 more cops on our streets.”

Of course the answer is really simple: Because $52 billion is more money than $2.5 million. About $51.9975 billion more.

Don’t think about the $1000 tax you shouldn’t have to pay. Think about the two bubble gum balls you could buy with this money instead.

Elsewhere in the editorial, Senator Newman does get around to justifying his vote and that the increased spending on roads was necessary due to the poor condition they are in. Nobody in Fullerton would dispute that, but the reason for the problem is grossly out of whack spending priorities, not a lack of revenue.

Take the examples Newman cites himself. He bemoans the fact that the alleged $2.5 million recall cost could put 13 more cops on our street and not the fact that, by his own admission, putting a single police officer on our streets costs over $192,000 per year in the first place due to the grossly unsustainable public employee benefits we dole out. He bemoans the horrible condition of our roads and not the fact that the 18 cent per gallon tax we already pay has been diverted into the fiscal vortex that is high speed rail – and even when Caltrans does spend money on roads, overpayment and delays have come to be accepted as inevitable.

This is why your constituents are angry, Senator Newman, and this is why they are listening to (as you put it) “shock jocks” and signing the recall petition in droves. We are tired of excuses and we are tired of politicians who choose to represent the interest in Sacramento that want to keep this unsustainable benefit machine chugging along at the taxpayers’ expense.

In the event you are reading this yourself, Senator, I don’t say any of this with rancor and I still like you personally, but you are working against my interests and those of hundreds of thousands of your constituents in Sacramento and it has to stop. And babbling about millions while your policies are costing tens of billions isn’t going to save you.

Maintenance of our City’s Parks is a Bridge Too Far

Parks and Recreation has been spending a considerable amount of energy lately, between their big PR push to justify their last costly mistake (Hillcrest Park’s poorly constructed and unneeded stairs) and obtaining approval for the next one (Hillcrest Park’s unneeded bridge across the creek).

Do you know what Parks & Recreation have been paying less attention to? Their parks.

Residents have been complaining for several months about the condition of Rolling Hills Park’s playground and equipment. The issues run from routine maintenance like unpainted benches to hazards like this:

And this:

Hey, kids! This is what our City Manager’s car looked like after he totaled it!

Phone calls and letters to Parks & Recreation were ignored for months until residents went over Hugo Curiel’s head and appealed to the Commissioners directly, at which time they finally saw results.

Well, sort of. The benches have been repainted, but that rickety play truck is unchanged. Meanwhile, the broken spinner was simply been removed, along with an unsafe climber that had split in two. Before removing the climber outright, however, this was Parks & Recreation’s solution:

Which worked out about as well as anyone who’s ever had a five year old could have told them it would.

This right here is the hidden cost of our wasteful policies at  City Hall: we get stairs and bridges we didn’t ask for or want, but we do not get well maintained parks or working playground equipment (aka recreation) for our children that we expect. Our government in a nutshell.

College Town – Still Not Ready for Prime Time

 

An appropriate mascot

It’s back! Thanks to our tireless activist Joshua Ferguson, who snapped this picture up during a recent visit to City Hall this morning:


College Town originally came up before the Planning Commission on February 10, 2016.  Opposition was so strong to the plan the opposition’s “Our Town Not College Town” signs started springing up faster than mushrooms and the Planning Commission meeting was packed with angry residents opposed to the proposal (full disclosure: I played a significant part in organizing the opposition to that plan). In the end, five members of the Planning Commission agreed that adding 10,000 residents while diverting even more traffic to Chapman by closing a portion of Nutwood was a ridiculously ill conceived the idea and the proposal was tabled.

So what is the new and presumably improved plan for College Town? Your guess is as good as mine, but the early picture isn’t encouraging.

See that website on the picture? The one that says www.collegetownfullerton.com? Go ahead and click the link. Here’s a screen capture of what you found when you checked as of todays’ date:

All of your Nutwoods are belonging to us

According to Google’s English/ Japanese translator the phrase above translates to “Chat lady’s job contents and rewards.” Your guess is as good as mine what that actually means, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean “so tell us what you think about College Town.”

So how did this happen? Apparently, the City registered collegetownfullerton.com back in 2011, but they apparently allowed the domain name to lapse, allowing Chat lady here to swoop in an take over the domain around September 15, 2016.

Everybody supports College Town! Pay raises for everyone!!

A little personal anecdote: back in the 2012-2013 timeframe, the City complied with the notice requirement by sending out notice for around a dozen meetings with a smaller number of invitees (just 2 or so blocks at a time would be notified of each meeting) rather than inviting everyone in the affected area to one single meeting. The “informational” meetings would then be set up in the Chapman Park clubhouse, and they would set up for a full house, even though only a few people would actually show up, which the City used to create the impression that opposition to the concept was non-existent.

As infuriating as that strategy was, I had to at least admire its ingenuity. Personally I would have preferred that the City and Cal State Fullerton actually listened to residents before trying to shove their little sandwich down our throats a second time, but it is at least comforting to see that the Ernst Blofeld-level strategist behind the original campaign has been replaced by Dr. Evil. Off to a heck of a start.

Who Says Fitzgerald Doesn’t Know how to Balance a Budget?

Fullerton City Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald deserves all the criticism she gets for her primrose path approach to budgetary issues, the extravagant public employee pay raises she approved, and her false claim during her re-election campaign that Fullerton’s budget is balanced!,among other issues.

As balanced as our City Manager was when he reviewed it.

Still, it’s important to note that Fitzgerald does understand the concept of a balanced budget, when it is important to her.

As an example, here is a screen capture from her 2012 campaign statement. As you can see, she contributed $350 of her own money to that initial campaign:

And here is another screen capture of the same campaign statement showing how much of her campaign funds she directed towards her own company (C7 Communications) during that election:

$2,100.02 is a heck of a lot more than $350, meaning her campaign basically turned a profit for her personally of $1,750.02. Whatever else you may think of Fitzgerald, she takes care to make sure her personal finances are balanced. Fullerton’s? Not so much.

How Fitzcal Irresponsibility Drove Us Over the Cliff

“Hey, it was balanced for a few seconds!” Jennifer Fitzgerald, probably

Now that the City of Fullerton is finally admitting that our budget is not balanced!, contrary to Jennifer Fitzgerald’s campaign claims, this would be a good time to revisit how we got here in the first place.

The City of Fullerton website includes links for the minutes and agenda for the last four years of city council meetings and beyond and can be found here.  You’ll find that on October 20, 2015, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Municipal Employees Federation 1200 (resolution 2015-52), which provided increased costs of $5,595,576 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on November 3, 2015. The resolution passed 3-2.

But that’s not all, not by a long shot.

On November 3, 2015, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Police Officers’ Association – Safety and Dispatcher Units (resolution 2015-59), which provided increased costs of $9,502,904 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on November 17, 2015. The resolution passed 3-2.

Fitzcal responsibility.

On February 16, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Firefighters’ Association (resolution 2016-16), which provided increased costs to the city of $1,959,821 over the next two years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on March 1, 2016. The resolution passed 3-2.

On April 5, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Management Association (resolution 2016-23), which increased costs to the city of $1,175,030 over the next four years, and then voted for the contract at the second reading on April 19, 2016. The resolution passed 3-2.

Also on April 5, and again on April 19, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for a revised resolution providing for raises to confidential non-represented employees (resolution 2016-24), which increased costs to the city of $391,857 over the next four years. The resolution passed 3-2.

And on December 6, 2016, Fitzgerald voted for the Memorandum of Agreement with the Fullerton Police Management Association, which increased costs to the city of $882,492 over the next four years. The resolution passed 3-2. Oh, and if you’re interested, this was the meeting where outgoing councilmember Jan Flory berated Josh Ferguson for having the temerity to claim our budget wasn’t balanced and we were exhausting our reserves (starting at around 1:21:00).

Over the course of her first term in office (the December 6 hearing was a lame duck session), Jennifer Fitzgerald voted for pay increases totaling nineteen million five hundred and seven thousand nine hundred and fifty three dollars ($19,507,953) over a four year span – or almost five million dollars per year. And Fitzgerald’s vote was crucial for the passage of each and every one of these pay increases.

And let’s not forget the numerous “side letters” Fitzgerald approved over the years as well – including one for $500,000 on November 5, 2013, for $450,000 on March 4, 2014, for $60,000 per year on April 15, 2014 (to “adjust” Fullerton Fire Management’s pay to bring it into parity with Brea’s), and for $202,00 on November 14, 2014, plus several other agreements for less than $100,000. Oh, and let’s not also forget the $4.9 million settlement of Ron Thomas’s lawsuit which Fitzgerald also voted to authorize, which will be indirectly paid for by the city through increased insurance premiums for decades to come.

So Jennifer Fitzerald didn’t just mislead voters about our supposedly balanced! budget. – she was one of the architect of our current fiscal mess in the first place.

And the Award for Most Ridiculous Awards Show Goes to…

While there is much in government to bemoan and criticize there is apparently much to celebrate as well, at least according to the Association of California Cities – Orange County, who are soliciting nominations for the Sixth Annual Golden Hub of Innovation Awards.


Yes, that’s right. The Government has an award show.

The ACC-OC is giving out awards in multiple categories, including Elected Leader of the Year, City Manager Leader of the Year, Innovator of the year and Public Private Partnerships of the year.
Last year’s winner for Innovator of the Year was the Anaheim Fire Chief who approved an ambulance system to respond to non-urgent medical requests, an “innovation” about fifty years behind almost every emergency response system outside out Orange County. Not to be outdone, 2014’s winner of the Innovator of the Year award was this guy:

A toast to all my good ideas…

The ACC-OC is a lobbying organization, ostensibly created to lobby on behalf of its member Cities in Sacramento, and prevent the passage of legislation harmful to municipalities, but their actual priority seems to be lobbying Cities to implement the kind of statist, crony, public-private partnerships the organization itself prefers. For example, in one seminar sponsored in July 2015, ACC-OC advocated both streetcars and the Poseidon desalination plant in a seminar hosted by no less than Curt Pringle himself. ACC-OC also was one of the driving forces behind the HERO program, which facilitated construction of solar panels by converting the construction costs into high interest tax liens on residences (specifically, eight percent a year high, for a senior lien). So, not only does ACC-OC lobby Fullerton for bad legislation but we PAY them to do so with our own tax dollars.

That aside, in the spirit of this press release, can FFFF come up with its own nominees or, better yet, its own categories for the “Golden Hub of Innovation?” Maybe award Hugo Curiel Procrastinator of the Year for his failure to report the water loss at Laguna Lake until the statute of limitations against the civil engineer that performed the work had run? Perhaps a doublespeak award is in order for the fine folks at the NOCCCD for their efforts to claim that the football stadium they are trying to build with Measure J money isn’t going to be built with Measure J money. ACC-OC also needs a White Elephant of the Year award to honor tireless efforts of some staffers to push expensive and unnecessary infrastructure projects like streetcars, ARTIC or the “Great Park” in Irvine. Truly, the possibilities are endless.

Don’t Just Complain – Do Something

We’ve covered the Red Oak development before – a four story, 295 unit development at 600 Commonwealth which does not have adequate parking and would create serious traffic concerns as residents block traffic on the West side of Commonwealth to turn into the project during rush hour.

Behold… it’s coming.

On January 16, the City Council on a 4-1 vote largely approved the Project, leaving the door just barely cracked for minor revisions to the proposal. I have spoken with the developer of the project, who has discussed potentially alleviating the parking issue by adding a level to the proposed parking lot, and while this would admittedly help the parking issue if they followed through, the traffic problems would remain. Think about it – just how exactly will the Westbound side of Commonwealth be traversable during rush hour if the left lane is being blocked every five minutes by a tenant looking to turn into their home?

So what’s different about this vote? Someone decided to do something about it.

The group Friends for a Livable Fullerton has decided to not take the vote lying down and have been circulating a petition. If they are able to collect the 6,800 required signatures it will qualify for a public vote of the voters of the City of Fullerton to overturn the Council’s resolution.

Pictured: Activism

So here’s the deal: Friends for a Liveable Fullerton need signatures and even more important they need people to circulate those signatures. So if you agree that it’s time to take our City back then help the volunteers at FLF. They can be reached through their facebook page at  or via email at  and help them get the signatures they need.

Ready for Another Water Rate Increase?

Probably the biggest vote at tomorrow’s City Council meeting is the Red Oak development . Josh Ferguson has already discussed that issue in his excellent article here so there’s no need for me to pile on (just read it if you haven’t already).

What I do want to do is draw attention to another vote on the City Council. Agenda Item #8 includes the appointment of Fullerton’s representative to the Fullerton Water Board.

This is our current representative.

Now, while Jan Flory has come under a lot of deserved criticism from this blog over the years, and in fact supported three separate water rate increases in a single year while on the City Council, it is only fair to mention that she has been appropriately skeptical on the Poseidon development, which if approved will raise our water rates even further – although it is also only fair to point out that she has recently signaled she would be willing to support the project to maintain her position on the board.

Poseidon Water is a desalination developer that who wants to build a $1 billion desalination plant in Huntington Beach, and wants the Orange County Water District to help guaranty construction of the project AND agree to purchase 56,000 acre feet (eighteen billion gallons) for more money than the County currently pays to import water, for the next fifty years.

How much more? The specific amount has been something of a moving target, but this appears to be the current plan:

(Blue represents what we currently pay to MDW, red, green and purple represent the crony capitalism surtax)

Keep in mind that while (per their own admission) Poseidon is about twice as expensive as MWD water, water purchased from MWD is itself far more expensive than the groundwater which Poseidon would displace, which is, essentially, free, minus the cost associated with pumping and/or replacing the groundwater. Also, Poseidon is angling for a “Take or Pay” contract with OCWD, meaning the ratepayers buy their water first, even if we don’t need it, regardless of whether we have an abundance of free ground water, water in Lake Mead or water we will have to flush to the ocean because our capacity is full.

So who will the Council appoint? Bruce Whitaker (a Poseidon critic) was the City’s appointee from 2013-2014, until he was deposed for voting against the interests of a client of Curt Pringle & Associates, and Doug Chaffee sought the appointment in 2012, so he may seek it again. Flory wants it as well, despite no longer being on the council and no obvious base of support, so it seems to be between Whitaker and Chaffee. With opposition to the Poseidon plant growing at the county level this could be an important vote for the future of this project – and your future water rates.

All citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others (Part 2)

Since almost the beginning of this blog there has been a recognition that our current system of investigation of complaints of misconduct of law enforcement officers is completely broken, and while there has been some disagreement over the best solution there does appear to be a genuine desire to implement the most effective reform available to us under the law.

This brings me to the Civilian Oversight Ordinance.

They never said it would be easy.

Independent Civilian Oversight, as many have noted, can be completely toothless in cases where no subpoena power is given and when the Chief is free to ignore the recommendations of the Commission. That is why POPSI actually drafted a proposed ordinance and specifically addressed those concerns in the ordinance submitted to the City Council.

Pursuant to section (d) “The Civilian Law Enforcement Oversight Commission shall have the power to subpoena and require attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers pertinent to its investigations and to administer oaths.”

(more…)

All citizens are equal, but some citizens are more equal than others (Part 1)

I have a thought experiment for those of you who work in the private sector.
Let’s suppose you are accused of some misdeed by your employer. It could something minor like rudeness to a customer, or something potentially criminal such as embezzlement, assault or even potentially murder or manslaughter.

Hypothetically

Let’s further suppose your employer comes to you and asks you about certain accusations. What do you suppose would happen if you refused to answer any questions about that incident unless you had an attorney present? And if you did speak to speak to your employer what are the chances they would agree to not use your statement against you in a criminal action? Could you refuse a polygraph test under any circumstance? And could you insist your employer never disclose the results of their investigation upon pain of criminal prosecution?

The answer in the private sector is clear cut: while you have constitutional rights in criminal proceedings (including the right to have an attorney present and against self incrimination) if you refuse to cooperate with an employer you can be fired on the spot.

Not so for many of our public employees. Thanks to the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights (Government Code §3300-3311) many of the rights afforded to all of us in criminal prosecutions are also afforded to officers in administrative actions. For example, pursuant to Government Code §3303(f), statements made under duress, coercion “or threats of punitive action” are inadmissible in civil proceedings as well as criminal. Thanks to the decision in Lybarger v. City of Los Angeles (1985) 40 Cal.3d 822, an officer can be disciplined for refusing to answer questions in an administrative hearing, but only if they are first told that the statements cannot be used against him in any criminal matter. An officer also has a right to have council present during any administrative proceedings relating to their conduct. And if there is a violation of any of these or other rights, there is no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies first (like the rest of us have to); the officer can immediately sue in Superior Court.

The combination of the protections in POBAR and the Supreme Court decision in Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court (39 Cal.4th 1272) have combined to essentially make our public safety employees above the law. Copley guarantees that any complaints against officers that are handled through the police department will be investigated at the sole discretion of that department, since the public is typically not told how the department ruled or why. Or even whether they looked into the matter at all. Remember, Chief Dan Hughes once admitted that many complaints against officers were simply tossed into the wastepaper basket, since there was no ramification for the department for doing so.

“After careful deliberation, we have concluded that no evidence exists to warrant disciplinary action. At least, not anymore.”

This does not mean that there are no good officers in Fullerton, but it does mean that there are no meaningful external check on the conduct of officers that are a problem, so long as the conduct is not so shocking it winds up becoming a national story. And even then, the protections afforded by POBAR makes firing for even the most shocking crime difficult. See for example Kenton Hampton, who is still employed by the Fullerton Police Department (and pulling in $175,958.90 in total pay and benefits as of 2015, according to Transparent California) despite his involvement in the beating death of Kelly Thomas and the beating/ false imprisonment of Veth Mam (video here) and the fact that even Joseph Wolfe may actually be reinstated despite his role in Thomas’s death.

Since we cannot rely on transparency (state law prohibits it), and we cannot rely on officers within the department to come forward (don’t forget, Copley makes disclosure of internal personnel records a criminal offense, and as Paul Irish has recently learned, even mild, non-specific criticism of department policy can get you in more trouble with your employer than standing around doing nothing while your fellow officers beat a man to death), I concluded several years ago that an effective independent Civilian Oversight Commission was the best method of placing some check on our public employees. Rather than simply advocate for the civilian oversight, those of us who were advocating it decided to prepare their own proposed ordinance, which Matt Leslie has been hosting on his Fullerton Rag blog ever since (it can be found here, although the transfer does appear to have altered the subsections in a way that makes it a bit confusing).

The specifics of and the benefits of the proposed ordinance, and the means in which this City Council could implement it, will be discussed in Part 2.