MOORLACH UPDATE — Private Paramedics — February 24, 2011

Recently, my office organized a meeting with Dr. Samuel J. Stratton, the Medical Director of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division of the County’s Health Care Agency, and councilmembers from several cities, including the Mayor Pro Tem of Costa Mesa, Jim Righeimer. 

To provide a synopsis of the discussion, EMS authorizes the use of paramedics in the County.  EMS would be more than happy to accommodate changes in requirements for paramedic provision, but no one had really asked for such a change.  Consequently, the meeting was a productive one for this topic. 

Dr. Stratton issued a letter a week or two later providing the authorization.  Therefore, it is being reviewed for implementation with a number of cities as a cost savings opportunity.  Frank Mickadeit of the OC Register provides his take on the subject in his column, which is the first one below.  Frank refers to a Jon Cassidy article, which can be reviewed at http://www.ocregister.com/news/fire-289287-city-ocfa.html.  Jon Cassidy makes a profound observation in his piece:  “Costa Mesa might see its cash reserves dip to $5 million this year, the report says.”  To read how Costa Mesa has driven through $50 million in reserves in the past few years, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Waiting — October 7, 2010.  To become better acquainted with the president of the Costa Mesa firefighters union, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — October 22, 2010. 

Like I’ve said before, the winds of a recession have a way of blowing sand off of budgets and exposing areas that need a second look.  The city of Costa Mesa is fortunate to have two new city councilmembers in Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, who are figuratively putting out a house fire.  In the past few years, not only did Costa Mesa burn through its reserves, it also improved retirement benefit formulas.  It is refreshing to see Jim and Steve come to assist Eric Bever in turning the city around.  This is not easy.  One resident of the city called me yesterday frantic about losing the ABLE helicopter capabilities for the city.  I had to be blunt.  When you’re going broke what do you pawn first?  Your jewelry—the luxury items.  Eliminating helicopter services for Costa Mesa is going after low-hanging fruit.  Mutual aid agreements for air support, which are already in place countywide, will provide emergency service to the city.  However, that level of service will not equal what is currently being provided after ABLE is disabled, unless the city chooses to venture into a more affordable Joint Powers agreement with surrounding agencies.  That’s where the real story is.  What will the OC Sheriff’s, Anaheim’s, and Huntington Beach’s helicopter services have to do to pick up any slack?  Hopefully, this will be carefully reviewed by the Costa Mesa City Council as it pursues its analysis of eliminating this component of the police department.  Tough times demand tough decisions.  At least Costa Mesa has three leaders that are ready for the challenge.

As a bonus, the second article is OC180News’ take on the fun discussions revolving around Rossmoor, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach.  One observation:  “The hurdles, however, are monumental.”  Boy, do I love a difficult challenge.  If everyone pursued the proposal with the attitude displayed by Los Alamitos City Councilman Troy Edgar, this would be a fun process.  As an update, I hope to provide a thorough accounting of what the potential Super-City would look like to the respective governing bodies in the next month or two.

Costa Mesa eyes private paramedics

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By FRANK MICKADEIT

COLUMNIST

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

fmickadeit@ocregister.com

Has the political outrage over public-employee unions and the desire to cut the cost to taxpayers reached the tipping point?

Events of the last week suggest it has – at the national, state and local levels. It’s almost impossible to keep up: In Wisconsin, you have Democrats so afraid, they’re willing to winter in Illinois. In Sacramento, a flurry of bills (albeit by conservative lawmakers) would severely curtail union bargaining power in this state.

And in Orange County, if there was ever any doubt that the tip of the spear was Costa Mesa, that can be erased with this tidbit Councilman Jim Righeimer gave me on Wednesday: The city will try become the first in O.C. to bring in private paramedics and to reduce the number of medics on each call.

This comes a day after our Jon Cassidy reported that Costa Mesa firefighters paid for a study that shows fiscal justification for dissolving the city Fire Department and contracting with the Orange County Fire Authority.

Union leader Tim Vasin told me firefighters commissioned the study because the city had asked how it could cut costs and the union wanted to see how the public could best be served. Vasin was "a little surprised" that the study showed the city could save up to $3.7 million a year going to the O.C.F.A.

I asked whether the union paid for the study – after the city declined to – because it fears the City Council will play hardball when their contract expires in 2014, and would rather flee into the relatively benign arms of the Fire Authority now. Vasin said, "No, I don’t look at political issues 3½ years down the road."

The paramedic move might change his thinking.

County Emergency Medical Services currently authorizes only 13 public fire departments to provide paramedic services in O.C. Private firms can staff ambulances, but they don’t carry medics. The medics – and two must go to each call – are union firefighters and must arrive on city fire trucks and engines, which are driven by a non-medic union firefighter accompanied by at least one other non-medic firefighter.

Thus, in Costa Mesa, Righeimer says, at least four firefighters in a lumbering, expensive piece of fire apparatus, must respond to every medical call, even while private ambulance drivers are responding to the same call. It gets crazier, says John Moorlach aide Kathy Moran, who has studied this issue. Sometimes, the medics in a given city are at different stations when a call comes in. When that happens, two fire trucks and at least eight firefighters roll out.

If a victim has to be taken to the hospital, a medic then rides in the private ambulance, and colleagues in the fire engine follow and wait for the medic to complete the handoff at the E.R. "It is a huge, huge expense," Moran says. She said the city of Orange is asking the same questions as Costa Mesa.

According to the county, nothing legally prohibits cities from hiring private medics who are fully certified. It simply has never been done. The two-medic rule, however, is policy and would have to be changed by the Board of Supervisors, Moran said. Then, a medic and a less-expensive EMT could go on calls.

The public-only, two-medic practice is apparently an Orange County anomaly.

"Fifty-seven other (California) counties have figured out how to do it, and we have to find out," Righeimer said.

The current city Fire Department contract doesn’t allow the city to eliminate fire fighters who are paramedics, but if the city can get the county rule relaxed, the city could bring in some private paramedics now and have the firefighter-paramedics do other tasks.

"The point to have the private ones in now is to get them into the system," Righeimer told me.

When I told all this to Vasin on Wednesday, it was the first he’d heard of it. His immediate reaction was that Costa Mesa residents aren’t going to like it.

The city currently bills for paramedic services but if the patient doesn’t have insurance or is a hardship case, the city doesn’t try to collect. Private companies aren’t so forgiving, Vasin said.

Righeimer responded that any contract with a private company would have to include the same policy.

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Supercity – Combining Seal Beach, Rossmoor, And Los Alamitos – What Do Community Leaders Think

Dolores Barr, Editor and Publisher, OC180NEWS.com

The idea of combining Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, and Rossmoor into a “SuperCity” is not new, but there seems to be an increasing momentum around the concept. Orange County District 2 Supervisor John Moorlach is one of the powerful voices hailing the notion. His support of the idea is hardly news, but in this exclusive report, OC180NEWS reports the quick thoughts of some of the key leaders who could potentially make it happen – or prevent it from going anywhere.

First, even though it’s called a supercity, combining Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, and Rossmoor, would not exactly be super sized. Using rough numbers, Los Al and Rossmoor are about equal with around 11,000 residents each. Combining Los Al and Rossmoor, you get something that is around the size of Seal Beach at somewhere north of 24,000 people. Putting all three together would produce a city a little smaller than Cypress, which has about 50,000 residents. For comparison, Huntington Beach has a little over 190,000 locals and Anaheim comes in at about 353,000.

The under lying concept is that combining the three areas would produce some economies of scale, for example, not having two police departments, city administrative staffs, and running three social services programs. It also would allow Orange County to get rid of unincorporated Rossmoor, a long standing county goal.

The hurdles, however, are monumental. First, the various areas would actually have to agree to change something and that alone seems to be a show stopper. When the residents of Rossmoor were asked in 2008 to change their status from an unincorporated community into a city, the answer was a resounding no.

Based at least on public comments at the city council meetings, the residents of Seal Beach don’t seem to be interested in any kind of change at all. They didn’t want to annex Sunset Beach after those residents begged to be protected from a Huntington Beach take over, and even the little tiny community of Island Village, which also came begging to Seal Beach, was rejected.

“This is not a good idea. Neither one of us want to give up our identity. We’re Seal Beach – we’re the beach city,” Seal Beach Mayor Michael Levitt told OC180NEWS. “It could be a good idea, “except, who gives up the power to let another city have the power?”

When OC180NEWS talked to Levitt yesterday, he left little doubt that he is against the idea.

“When I talked to John [Supervisor Moorlach] about this the other day, I said, whose going to run the new city?” Levitt told us. “I don’t think Supervisor Moorlach has the support he would need to go any further with this.”

But, when interviewed by OC180NEWS yesterday, Los Alamitos Mayor Pro Tem Troy Edgar and Rossmoor Community Services District Board President Jeffery Rips looked more favorably on the idea. Edgar, for one, was very clear about not looking to protect is (sic) own turf.

“If it made good sense and it was a way to better deliver services to the combined community, , I know I don’t have an issue with working my way out of a job,” Edgar told OC180NEWS. “You don’t sit back and look at this as a power play. You look at it and say what’s good for the community, and if at the end of the day, if the music stops and there’s not a seat for you, but the initiative has been able to move forward and make a better way to deliver services, I think that’s a victory.”

Although they are all likely to consider it in the near future, none of the three governing bodies involved – the City Councils of Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, and the RCSD Board — have taken formal positions on the question. Nevertheless, OC180NEWS asked leaders from each area what they thought the level of support might be. Seal Beach’s Levitt and Edgar of Los Alamitos have different perspectives on the idea.

“ I think there are multiple people on the city councils that would like to explore it,” Edgar told us. “I think it’s a significant step by [Supervisor John[] Moorlach that he’s actually got people beyond just talking about it in passing and people are saying it’s a discussion we could have – let’s start looking at some of the data. I think this is the right time to talk about something like that.”

But the perspective from the beach is a bit more skeptical.


“My personal feeling is that this is not going to work and there is not enough support to make it work,” Seal Beach Mayor Levitt told OC180NEWS. “We have three distinct areas and I didn’t think they would work together as one major city.”

And, don’t forget, this is coming from the mayor of the city that was concerned that the 182 home Island village would represent an unwanted burden on the City of Seal Beach. See related article below.

Also weighing in on the topic is Jeffery Rips, President of the Rossmoor Community Services District Board. The issue is a bit more urgent for Rossmoor because it is confronted with annexation by Los Alamitos and some change is almost inevitable.

“I think that there is some merit to it when you look at economies of scale and some of the duplicative services that are happening in the different communities, it might make sense,” Rips told OC180NEWS. “It seems like it has a lot of merit to it, I just can’t foresee it happening.”

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

February 23

1996

Someone once told me that some of you best friendships can result from a confrontation.  Michael Cicchese of the Tustin Weekly circled back with George Jeffries after the 1994 campaign dust had settled in “George Jeffries – Financial expertise treasured.”  The article was a profile on George and provided his life story and accomplishments.  He would go on to serve on the Orange County Employees Retirement System Board for a few terms and continues to serve on the Treasurer’s Advisory Committee.  The beginning of the piece provides the story of our confrontation that turned into a great friendship.

                George Jeffries was honored with a City of Tustin proclamation during a City Council meeting last year.  A few minutes later, he was publicly chastised for lacking a backbone and turning into “political Jello.”

                The proclamation, now prominently displayed in his home, recognized his role in advising Tustin to pull its $4 million out of the ill-fated Orange County investment pool before the collapse.

                The “political Jello” line came from John Moorlach, who criticized Jeffries for not speaking out against Bob Citron’s investment strategy during Moorlach’s unsuccessful bid to unseat the long-time Orange County treasurer in the June 1994 election.

Although Jeffries wasn’t present, Moorlach knew his comments would get back to Jeffries.  The great unknown was how this veteran of the finance and investment business would react.  Highly regarded throughout the private and public sector, Jeffries had successfully managed a $7-billion portfolio as Los Angeles County’s chief investment officer.

Jeffries, 64, reacted by admitting he was wrong not to heed the warnings Moorlach had issued during his campaign.  Looking at the entire county portfolio would have made Jeffries aware of how close Citron was skirting with disaster.  Although Citron was known as an “aggressive investor,” Jeffries says he could never had (sic) imagined how much leveraging Citron had done with the nearly $8-billion investment fund, which ultimately lead to its demise.

Moorlach, who was appointed county treasurer by the Board of Supervisors a few months after his Tustin appearance, admits Jeffries’ reaction surprised him.

“I wish I had done a little more research before taking him on,” Moorlach says, referring to how respected Jeffries is in the industry.  “But his reaction was telling of how genuine he is and it was telling of a spirit of frankness that has been absent during this entire debacle.”

Soon after his appointment, Moorlach learned that Jeffries would be attending a special meeting during the California Association of Treasurers and Tax Collectors and suggested the two carpool to San Diego.

“When he came up to the car he said, “I wanted to bring some Jello to show there were no hard feelings,” Moorlach recalls.  “We spent two hours in the car going down there and two hours coming back.  I’m real honored to call him my friend now.”

Moorlach recently named Jeffries to his advisory committee.  He also credits Jeffries for aiding him during Moorlach’s orientation into the county treasurer business and for making the transition from bankruptcy to recovery mode smoother.

“George has been a good bridge where he could have torpedoed me,” Moorlach says.  “We’ve had some stimulating conversations discussing various concepts . . .  he‘s very respected in the industry.  I didn’t know that before I took him on.”

2001

The Bond Buyer provided an article, “Measure H Upheld” by Deborah Finestone, which vindicated my actions of the previous year.  I wrote and stumped for Measure G for two reasons:  (1) I did not believe the Board of Supervisors’ legal efforts to remove Measure H from the ballot would succeed; and (2) if Measure H would win at the polls, the Board of Supervisors’ subsequent efforts to have it over-ruled as unconstitutional would also not succeed.  From my 2010 fall UPDATES, you know that the first assumption was correct.  This article explains that my second assumption was on the money, as well.  If you are new to the MOORLACH UPDATE, the selected paragraphs below will provide you with a concise review of last year’s recollections.  

With the benefit of hindsight, had Measure G garnered more votes than Measure H, our bankruptcy debt would probably be paid off by now, resulting in some $90 million in available funding for the County.  Instead, we are doling the Tobacco Settlement Revenue funds out for health care and the Sheriff’s Department, and both still do not have enough money to meet their needs.  The Sheriff’s budget needs to be cut by some $60 million and representatives of the physicians groups and hospital associations attend our budget meetings every June to ask for more money.  Oh well, I tried.

                An Orange County court commissioner last week upheld the voter-approved measure dedicating most of the county’s $750 million in tobacco settlement revenues to health care.

                County Treasurer John Moorlach had presented an alternative measure on the November ballot to use 40% of the county’s payment from the tobacco settlement to accelerate debt service on $950 million in outstanding bankruptcy recovery bonds, but his proposal was rejected.

                The county had been using the $12 million to $15 million a year in tobacco receipts to make debt service payments on the debt incurred when the county filed for bankruptcy in 1994.  Those payments amount to about $50 million a year, Moorlach said.

                Since August, county supervisors and counsel have said Measure H was unconstitutional because it violates the state budget act by binding future boards to a particular action.

Measure H called for spending 80% of the tobacco receipts on health care and 20% on the sheriff’s department.  Moorlach’s alternative initiative, Measure G, proposed spending 40% on debt reduction, with the rest of the revenue earmarked for health care and jails.  Once the debt was paid off, all of the funding would go toward health care and jail needs, Moorlach had proposed.

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