MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — December 7, 2010

It’s great to see Bill Lobdell back at the Daily Pilot.  He had an excellent pulse on the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach when he was the editor of this outstanding local paper many years ago.  Bill is one of those individuals that had a major impact on my life.  Consequently, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.  Speaking of Bill Lobdell, did I fail to mention in yesterday’s Update that December 6th was the sixteenth anniversary of the County’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection?  I digress.  Anyway, now that he’s back and pontificating, allow me to do the same.  I predict that Gary Monahan and Jim Righeimer will nominate Eric Bever to serve as Mayor of Costa Mesa tonight.  With Alan Mansoor out of the way, Bever will make the argument that Mansoor was a Mayor “hog,” always maneuvering himself into the position.  Think about it, Mansoor was always mayor.  Bever will argue that he was passed over once too many a time and seek the title.  If I’m right, then Lobdell needs a little more time to get reacquainted with Costa Mesa.  If he’s right, then I’ll buy him a quite breakfast or lunch and personally congratulate him for once again being ensconced in the thick of things.

You’ve followed the Leece/Righeimer/Lobdell/Baugh activities for the past two months, here’s another chapter in the saga.

Lobdell: Catch up with a wrap up

By William Lobdell

Some follow-ups on recent columns:

Mystery Solved?

I received an interesting e-mail from a veteran private pilot who gave one possible explanation for the single-engine plane crash in Newport Beach’s Back Bay that killed three people.

In a recent column ("Lobdell: Unsolved mysteries in Newport-Mesa," Dec. 3), I wrote that I couldn’t figure out how an experienced pilot could have run out of gas and, facing an emergency landing, chose to go down in the muddy flats of an estuary instead of a nearby street or park.

Here’s the reader’s take: First, a Musketeer Beechcraft, the type of plane that went down, with two passengers, has a range of about 550 nautical miles, not the 1,000-mile nautical range stated in several news articles and in my column.

Second, the pilot — flying from Baja to Torrance — would have gotten gas in San Felipe, stopped in Mexicali to exit Mexico and then in Calexico to enter the United States. Taking off and landing three times takes a lot of gas, as does getting over the mountains near Julian.

The distance from San Felipe to Torrance is about 500 miles, so even though the plane would have flown near the Ramona and Fallbrook airports, a decision was made to keep going.

The reader said that the fuel gauges aren’t very accurate on older planes (the Musketeer was a 1968 model), and the pilot was probably "in a hurry to get home [after] a long day in the saddle. [He] thought he could make it. The gas gauges [probably] looked OK."

As for landing in the Back Bay, the pilot likely did it "because of the wide open, smooth water with no obstacles, and it was just in front of John Wayne Airport! With retractable gear he would have made it (because he would have been able to glide longer). In the end, he ran out of altitude, time and landing choices."

Doesn’t sound so mysterious anymore, does it?

What’s Fair

Facilities Management West, the winning bidder for the 150-acre Orange County Fairgrounds property, though the sale hasn’t gone through yet and may never be completed, is trying to buy pieces of equipment and other assets, intellectual property, and a license to privately operate the fair from the Fair Board ("Lobdell: Stay vigilant on fair happenings," Dec. 5).

Before negotiations continue, the Fair Board and Newport Beach-based Facilities Management should read the state’s Food and Agriculture Code 4059, which states that if a fair wants to sell equipment and other assets, it must first offer them to other fairs. If there are no takers, then the assets must be sold to private parties through a bidding process.

This underscores my theory that the Fair Board can’t possibly sell the rights to operate the annual fair to a private company without an open bidding process.

Leece, Baugh and Me

Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece and Orange County GOP chief Scott Baugh have graciously agreed to sit down with me for a breakfast or lunch at Mimi’s Café in Costa Mesa ("Lobdell: Leece is no traitor," Dec. 19). On the agenda: to mend, or at least understand, the riff between Leece and GOP leaders over her vote just before November’s election to approve a multi-year Costa Mesa police union contract with only minor concessions.

I’m disappointed that Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, a longtime friend and ally of Leece who was harshly critical of her vote, declined the invite. He believes Leece ignored his advice, did the wrong thing, and there’s nothing left to talk about.

I’ll report on the Mimi’s summit as soon as we can make it happen.

Councilman Jim Righeimer or Darth Vader?

Jim Righeimer will be sworn in as Costa Mesa’s newest council member Tuesday. Some in the community, led by influential city blogger Geoff West, see Righeimer as a carpet-bagging opportunist who will use his intellect, hardball political instincts and Republican ties to rule the city like a Daly in Chicago.

I even joked to one longtime Righeimer acquaintance that many people are building him up to be Costa Mesa’s political Darth Vader.

"I don’t think that’s far off," he said, surprising me.

I’m not in the Righeimer-is-the-anti-Christ camp. I’ve known him for a long time, and just don’t see it. He’s a family man, experienced personal tragedy with grace, and has always volunteered to better his community.

Like all of us, he has his faults, and being in the political arena for years, he’s earned enemies. His one undeserved rap is that he’s the enemy of public safety. I don’t buy that you can’t be pro-public safety and pro-fiscal responsibility as the same time.

And he will be an immediate force in Costa Mesa politics. On the City Council, he’ll emerge quickly as the leader because a vacuum exists for several reasons. But Righeimer’s power will be checked by his colleagues, political forces and the local media.

I’m giving Righeimer a chance. And I hope that he’ll dampen skepticism about his election by voting for Wendy Leece for mayor Tuesday. Traditionally, the mayor pro tem is voted to the ceremonial post of mayor. Leece is mayor pro tem. The only barrier she faces is her controversial vote to approve the police union contract.

Fellow conservative Councilman Gary Monahan also voted for the union contract, has been mayor a bazillion times, and has his hands full running his restaurant during the Great Recession. His vote should be for Leece.

And I think Katrina Foley will vote for Leece, which should be enough (I’m sure Leece would vote for herself, providing a three-person majority).

Councilman Eric Bever, who voted against the contract, has legitimately not given his support to Leece, though I hope he is a bigger person than that.

And wouldn’t it be great if Righeimer not only voted for Leece for mayor, but made the motion to have her nominated?

That would be a worthy start to Righeimer’s tenure on the council.

WILLIAM LOBDELL is former editor of the Daily Pilot, former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor, and a Costa Mesa resident. The column runs Tuesday and Friday. His e-mail is


December 7


The lead editorial in the OC Register was titled “Coach Schumacher, county executive.”  Here are the first three paragraphs on the topic of the fourth CEO change for the OC (in six years), post-bankruptcy filing.

After the time of turmoil surrounding the county bankruptcy, the El Toro airport battle and this November’s Measure H conflict over spending the national tobacco settlement money, maybe Orange County government needs a period of calm and normalcy.  That seems to be what we’ll get from Michael Schumacher, whom the Board of Supervisors named Tuesday as county executive Officer.  He had been serving as interim CEO since June.

                “He wears a beard, so he’s got to be OK,” quipped John Moorlach, the bewhiskered county treasurer/tax collector.

More seriously, Mr. Moorlach said, “He’s certainly been good to work with as a department head.  The CEO of the county needs to be a coach, not a commandant.  He needs to facilitate the success of the department heads.  That’s what I’ve seen:  someone who’s open, affirming.  He’s also someone who’s relaxed, comfortable and dignified.”


Sometimes you find yourself in the barrel.  Just when you think everything is running on all eight cylinders, you find that certain tasks may have been overlooked or deferred by staff.  That’s what was reported in the OC Register article by Norberto Santana, Jr., titled “Cleaning up books on tax refunds—Orange County owes more than 900 businesses $1.3 million going back to 1989.”  Here are a few excerpts from the piece:

                While many people will be scrambling this week to pay their property taxes, more than 900 businesses with offices in Orange County will have a different experience.

                They’ll be getting checks – totaling $1.3 million – from County Treasurer/Tax Collector John Moorlach.  And an apology.

See, in some cases, the refunds are more than a decade old.

“We’re all kind of embarrassed about it,” Moorlach said.  “I’m not in the business of hanging onto someone else’s money.”

Periodically, adjustments are made by the county assessor that lower the amounts owed and trigger a refund.

The Treasurer/Tax Collector sends out as many as 70,000 refunds each year on secured assets like real estate.

After his office digitized the secured real-estate rolls four years ago, Moorlach said keeping up with the refunds has been a snap.

But it’s a different story for unsecured taxes.  That system hasn’t been automated.  And it’s fallen behind.

The long-overdue refund checks were found in September when a staff member was assigned to manually get the unsecured tax overpayments up to date.  And soon, the county started cutting the $1.3 million in checks.

Despite the delays, Moorlach said there’s no question that the overpayments should be repaid, with interest.

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