Placentia & Caltrans

Remember to thank a Veteran today.

Now, to the article.

It’s a little aggravating when:

1.       Someone requests a bailout loan at the very last minute;

2.       A process of vetting financial matters is usually reviewed first by the OCTA Finance & Administrative Committee, but was eliminated (even though there was time to go through the normal process);

3.       The State of California, through its Caltrans agency, is unwilling to be more accommodating to a city in structuring a debt payment plan—especially when that state is taking 8 percent of said city’s annual property tax revenues; and

4.       Staff recommends that we use funds held in a reserve account that could (and maybe should) also be used to assist in our bus service reduction transition.

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m a “one-for-all-and-all-for-one” person when it comes to lending a helping hand to other municipalities during this time of economic stress.  And, I’m very appreciative of the job that Mayor Scott Nelson is doing (while maintaining an enviable tan).  But, being provided one alternative, when others were available, is aggravating.

I argued that the loan to the fine City of Placentia should be a portion of OCTA’s investment portfolio and not a reduction of available cash funds to assist in the bus downsizing efforts. 

Prediction:  This is probably what will happen in the future once an OCTA Board member says, “Why don’t we tap into this reserve account as it has $10 million in it.”  Someone will forget that $4 million of it is a note receivable and cut a check for the entire $10 million.

Consequently, I voted to oppose.

Below is an invitation for your Thanksgiving weekend and a Look Back on a fun column ten years ago.

OCTA helps Placentia in Caltrans bureaucrat brawl

By ADAM TOWNSEND and DOUG IRVING

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

The city of Placentia is on the cusp of settling on a payment of $5.5 million to the California Department of Transportation, a sum that the Orange County Transportation Authority will front for the city.

The approaching settlement ends a nearly three-year-old bureaucratic struggle over state grant money spent on Placentia’s failed road-rail separation project.

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Placentia and Caltrans have agreed to settle a longstanding dispute over grant money spent on a failed effort to seperate road and rail crossings in the city.

BRUCE CHAMBERS, FILE PHOTO, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

“We scored a victory with the OCTA yesterday advancin g $4 million to the city out of our future Measure M funds toward the balance,” Placentia City Manager Troy Butzlaff said Tuesday.

Additionally, OCTA will pay Caltrans $1.5 million directly. The county will get a return on that $1.5 million in the form of some improvement project of equal value to state thoroughfares in the county. The county and state agencies have not yet agreed on a specific project Butzlaff said.

“This is a city under distress,” said OCTA Board Vice-Chairman Jerry Amante Monday. He said he didn’t want to leave Placentia “out in the wind.”

The vote was 11-2 with John Moorlach and Cathy Green opposed.

Butzlaff said he expects all the paperwork for the agreement to be finished by Dec. 1, which will make the agreement between CalTrans and the city official.

Then Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, pressed for the audit after a citizens group started questioning OnTrac expenditures. In the audit, made public in January of 2008, Caltrans initially demanded $36 million in grant money back from the city.

“I think a lot of the political rhetoric that was involved in this audit – because it was politically motivated – has died down,” Butzlaff said. “People have moved on.”

Placentia Mayor Scott Nelson told the OCTA board Monday, “We are under new management.”

INVITATION – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28 – LIMITED CAPACITY

Our Fairview Park and Tustin Blimp Hangar outings were a blast.  Our next outing is on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  We’re taking a morning hike.

The hike date and description are now up on the Irvine Ranch Conservancy website to view. 

Saturday, November 28th at 9:00 a.m. for 3 hours. 

We’ll hike 6 miles round trip from Limestone Canyon to Dripping Springs, with 475 feet of elevation change, and is described as a nice, leisurely stroll.

Because this schedule is viewable by the general public, the hike currently shows as FULL, so that random people won’t try and sign up.  It’s not full. 

If you wish to sign up for the hike, please contact the Irvine Conservancy directly by phone and ask for Meghan Sherburn, at 714-508-4767, and give her your information.

They will enter your reservation into their computer.  This is how they do it with hikes that are open to select groups only. 

The website will then generate a confirmation to you by email that will allow you to verify your information and be reminded of the hike.  It will also generate an e-mail if our hike needs to be cancelled due to weather conditions (Santa Ana winds or rain).

It will also pre-print the liability waiver, with all the names on it, so on the morning of the hike all you have to do is sign it and we’re off!  

As soon as we hit our capacity we may have to close registration.  Consequently, only register if you are really going to join us.

The web address for the description of the hike is:  http://www.irvineranchwildlands.org/activities/index.asp?col=&srt=&area=&pn=6&month=11&year=2009.

Mike O’Connell, Executive Director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy will be leading our group.

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Michael O’Connell
Executive Director
Irvine Ranch Conservancy
moconnell@irconservancy.org
Phone 714.508.4750 • Fax 714.508.4770
4727 Portola Parkway • Irvine, CA • 92620-1914

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

November 8

1999

The OC Register’s Martin Wisckol did a fun profile on me in “County treasurer puts his mouth where the money is—Profile:  John Moorlach has taken flak for voicing his opinions, but even his critics applaud the job he’s done.”

I can still remember someone driving up to me at a stop light on the way to the office.  We both had our windows open.  He yells, “are you the town crier?”  “Yes,” I responded.  “Keep it up!”  And he sped off.  Very surreal.

John M.W. Moorlach has been out ringing his doggone bell again.

The county’s treasurer and tax collector first made headlines in 1994, proclaiming the risky investments of then-Treasurer Robert L. “Bob” Citron a serious hazard to the county. Of course, county bankruptcy soon followed.

 In the past month, Moorlach has made headlines for criticizing county plans for $750 million of tobacco-settlement money and for rating three proposed school bonds. Both of those issues are outside the strict purview of his office

  As in 1994, some people wish he would just shut up and mind his own business.

 “He sees himself not only as county treasurer but as town crier,” said government watchdog Bill Mitchell. “That can be good for the county – but not always.”

 Moorlach, an amiable, bearded, 6-foot-5 tower, says his interest is the well-being of taxpayers – not in bringing attention to himself.

 “I had no agenda to mouth off,” said Moorlach. “I didn’t have a press conference on the tobacco settlement. I didn’t get into the school bonds until constituents came to me.”

 But when you’re that tall, people are going to look at you. When you drive, as Moorlach does, a 1990 Avanti touring sedan and a rare 1974 Bricklin sports car, fellow commuters are going to notice.

 And when you’re county treasurer overseeing up to $3.5 billion in investments, your opinion on public finances is going to make headlines.

 HE WASN’T CRYING WOLF

 Moorlach’s views haven’t always commanded that kind of attention. When he ran unsuccessfully against Citron in 1994, he tried to point the spotlight on the treasurer’s investment practices and $1.2 billion Citron had already lost.

 “I honestly thought he’d resign before the vote,” said Moorlach, 43.

 Instead, Moorlach was dismissed as crying wolf. After all, he had been recruited to run by then-Assemblyman Mickey Conroy. Conroy and several other influential Republicans were hoping to punish Citron, a Democrat who had endorsed a Democrat for an Assembly seat.

 But the county political establishment, including then-Sheriff Brad Gates and most county supervisors, was firmly behind Citron.

 And voters weren’t ready for change. Moorlach was trounced.

 A week later, county supervisors borrowed $700 million to add to Citron’s investment pool. Six months later, the county filed for bankruptcy. Three months after that, Moorlach was appointed county treasurer. He has been elected to the office twice since, without opposition.

 Not that skepticism didn’t follow him into office. Some still worried that Moorlach, long a GOP volunteer, was a lackey. Some said Moorlach, then a partner in the Costa Mesa accounting firm of Balser, Horowitz, Frank and Wakeling, didn’t have the investment skills needed.

 Others, like Pumas County Treasurer Barbara Coates, said the county didn’t need an inexperienced outsider.

 “At the time, it seemed that it might be better to have somebody with a government background,” said Coates, who was then president of the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors. “Now, it seems that everything is working out very well.”

 Indeed, Moorlach has returned the county’s bond rating to investment grade. His investment pool, while being praised for being conservative, is outperforming Standard & Poor’s Local Government Investment Index.

“I was suspicious of his motives initially,” said Mitchell. “But he’s done a good job managing the investments. I find him to be one of the most down-to-earth and least political officials in Orange County. He’s candid, and I think he’s genuinely concerned with fiscal responsibility. And I think he’s one of the smartest guys in the county.”

According to Coates, Moorlach is also very active in the state treasurer and tax collector association. And at a time when Republicans complain about the difficulty of passing bills in Sacramento, Moorlach got Assemblyman Bill Campbell, R-Villa Park, to carry a bill that was signed by Gov. Gray Davis in July. The measure loosens some restrictions on county investments.

JUMPING INTO THE FRAY

Not that Moorlach isn’t periodically the target of verbal darts.

There was back-room griping earlier this month when he criticized county Chief Financial Officer Gary Burton’s plan for the county’s tobacco-settlement money.

Burton proposed using the money to take out bonds that could be used to pay off bankruptcy debt, build jails and increase public-health funding. Moorlach said there was too much uncertainty regarding the tobacco-settlement money to rush into such a deal.

It turned out to be more smoke than fire, as Burton’s fleshed-out plan calls for waiting for three to four years of tobacco income before moving forward with the bonds.

“Gary and I have met, and the plan addressed my concerns … by waiting a few years,” said Moorlach, who had written about the issue for a community newspaper and made headlines after a Register reporter asked him about the matter. “I’ve always looked for consensus-building and dialogue. I don’t think I’ve been ballistic or improper.”

Moorlach also caught flak for his decision to rate the three school bonds – two of which passed this week. The third will be voted on Tuesday.

“That’s not his job,” said south-county activist Tom Rogers.

“Brad Gates was the perfect example of that, public officials supporting new taxes. No volunteer likes a public official to insert themself on a peripheral issue.”

Rogers’ criticism was echoed by Mitchell, Capistrano Unified school board Chairwoman Marlene Draper, and Tricia Harrigan, the League of Women Voters’ longtime county-government watchdog.

Moorlach said he was simply trying to provide a public service – additional information for voters to weigh before going to the polls, while not endorsing any of the measures.

Another concern has been Moorlach’s eager rebuilding of the investment pool, which is again open to local governments in the county.

“We shouldn’t be in that business,” said county Supervisor Charles Smith, who saw Moorlach endorse his opponent in the 1996 election. “The county business should not be competing with Wall Street.”

Moorlach, who is a certified financial planner, counters, “We don’t have the expense ratios of Wall Street. I see it as a conservative approach to keeping our costs down.”

`AN OUTSTANDING JOB’

But, when all is said and done, even critics are happy to have Moorlach in charge of the county’s treasury.

“He gets an A grade on his performance,” said Smith. “He’s trying very hard to be open and aboveboard, and he’s done an outstanding job of watching our money.”

Said Harrigan: “I don’t necessarily agree with all his positions, but I certainly think he can be trusted with the county’s money.”

Ask Moorlach about his future in politics and he mentions his interest in Jewish immigrants to the Western United States.

While the dove carved into Moorlach’s wedding ring reflects his deep Christrian beliefs, he is quick to praise these immigrants and list three of their primary dictums: get a job, raise a family and give back to the community.

“I’m having fun giving back, and it fits in the parameters of what I think is a good citizen,” said Moorlach, who considered runs for the Assembly in 1994 and state treasurer in 1998.

“I don’t see myself as county treasurer for 30 years. (As for other offices), we’ll have to see how the stars line up. Right now, I’m here and I’m having fun.”

PROFILE

John M.W. Moorlach County treasurer and tax collector, appointed in 1995, elected in 1996, re-elected in 1998

Salary: $108,534 a year

Age: 43

Country of birth: Netherlands. Emigrated with his parents to Southern California in 1960. His birth certificate reads, “Johannes Meindert Willem Moorlach.”

Residence: Costa Mesa Family: married 19 years to Trina. Children are Sarah, 17; CJ, 15; and Daniel, 8.

Education: California State University, Long Beach; bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Community involvement: extensive, including recent fund-raising for the Costa Mesa Senior Center and Concordia University; serving as a founding director of the California Sesquicentennial Foundation; hosting the cable-access program, “The Orange County Conservative Report.” He also has an extensive history of activism in GOP politics.

Hobbies: reading, backpacking, Western U.S. Jewish history, California historical landmarks.

November 9

2004

The OC Register’s Mary Ann Milbourn invited me to respond to a question for their Business Section’s “Ask The Experts” column.  The title was “Why you received that extra tax bill.”  The question was “I bought a house in the last year and just got my property tax bill, but I also received two supplemental tax bills.  What’s going on?”

Thanks to the housing boom of that time, plenty of Register readers were flipping homes and receiving multiple property tax bills.  If you need a copy of the article, let me know.

November 12

1999

Sometimes there are letters to the editor that are embarrassing, but you sort of like the feel of it (somehow, deep down inside).  The letter that appeared in the OC Register on this day had that type of impact.  In fact, at the time I wrote that I hoped it was complimentary.

We have a rising-star alpha in John Moorlach.

Alpha males are healthy, brilliant, amiable, “men’s men” and natural leaders.  Let’s find alpha males like Moorlach and then place them in national leadership.

E. M. Ott, Costa Mesa

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