MOORLACH UPDATE — Take a Hike — March 4, 2011

I’m not trying to be irreverent with today’s title, but the invitation below should clarify it.

On Wednesday evening I was the keynote speaker for the Airport Working Group.  The dinner is discussed in the first piece below from the Daily Pilot.  Let me address the very first two paragraphs of the article, the curfew is not negotiated; it is a separate Orange County ordinance.  The topic of the curfew was not discussed during my presentation or during the question and answer segment, to which I invited John Wayne Airport Director Alan Murphy (who came to the dinner on his own volition and not at my direction or request) and Newport Beach City Manager David Kiff to join me.  It was a pleasant evening of sharing my perspectives and answering any and all inquiries.  And having Alan and David there was a bonus.  Bottom line?  Negotiating the next settlement agreement will be my office’s top priority during my second term; solvency falls somewhere below this goal (dry humor).

In the second editorial in the OC Register, they pay me a kind compliment in their opening remarks.  It is the second piece below.  Barbara Venezia also throws me a nice compliment at the conclusion of her commentary in today’s issue of the OC Register’s weekly Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Current.  It is the final piece below.

Now, to my invitation to take a hike:

INVITATION:

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You are invited to join me for a spring flower day hike on March 26th on OC Parks trails in the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Area. 

We will be led by the Executive Director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Michael O’Connell (visit http://www.irconservancy.org/about/ourteam.aspx). 

We will meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Augustine Staging Area off of Santiago Canyon Road.  Please arrive a few minutes earlier, if possible.

This will be a moderate six- to eight-mile day hike.  Please wear the appropriate shoes and clothing for the weather. 

I’ll bring a case of bottled water and some granola bars.  I would recommend that you bring a daypack of some sort to carry the water and any of your own snack, first aid, sun screen, and other supplies during our 4-hour excursion. 

Please bring your camera. 

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We will have a best digital photo contest and I will announce the winners in upcoming Updates.

Here are the instructions if you wish to participate:

1.       Go to the website www.irlandmarks.org.  In the upper right-hand corner, click on “Register for Activities and Programs!” and then on “Hiking” (when it circulates by).

2.       Go down to March 26 to “Wildflower Hike with Supervisor Moorlach.”

3.       Sign up by entering the requested personal information. 

4.       The Access Code is:  OC Parks NNL (It is case sensitive and includes spaces).

5.       The directions to the Augustine Staging Area and other common sense reminders will be provided on the website after you register.

We have a limited amount of spots available.  Please sign up quickly.

If you need assistance from my staff, please contact Margaret Chang at Margaret.Chang@ocgov.com.  If you wish to obtain additional information from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, e-mail info@irconservancy.org.

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Airport group hopes to extend covenant

Moorlach addresses annual meeting and is optimistic about keeping regulations in place past 2015.

It seems like a long time from now, but by 2015 Newport Beach residents could be hearing jet noise during all hours of the night.

That would be an extreme outcome if local officials and activists fail in their negotiations to continue a flight curfew and other limits to John Wayne Airport, which expire at the end of that year.

In the meantime, officials are planning for discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration and air carriers, with the hopes of extending the 1985 agreement.

At the annual Airport Working Group meeting Wednesday, officials outlined their concerns and goals in maintaining caps on passengers and flights, and to preserve the time limits at the county-owned airport.

AWG is a party to the original agreement.

"Working on the settlement agreement will be my top priority," said County Supervisor John Moorlach, who was reelected in November to a four-year term. "We’re just going to have a goal of 10.8 [million passengers] and go from there."

Moorlach, who represents Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and other communities, was referring to the current annual passenger cap, which is higher than the current number of passengers passing through the gates. In 2010, the airport served 8.7 million passengers.

While some activists suggested the airport have a lower passenger cap to reflect the current counts, airport Director Alan Murphy said that goal was unrealistic.

"I fully expect passenger levels will go back up," he said.

The biggest pressure to loosen the limits will come from the air carriers. Last month, the FAA released a report that predicted U.S. airlines will double their business in the next 20 years.

Airlines charge a premium to fly from JWA, where more affluent travelers are able to pay, Murphy said.

Newport Councilman Steve Rosansky said that convincing airlines to accept the limits will be a major hurdle.

"There are a lot of companies that like regulation because it keeps competitors out," he said optimistically.

Fortunately for Newport, competition among Orange County cities won’t be a factor during this round of negotiations. In 2003, when the last amendments to the agreement were made, South County cities wanted to JWA to accommodate more passengers.

JWA was their alternative to an airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps air station.

This time around, the air carriers are "the true enemy," Murphy said. "The FAA is really going to look to the airlines to see if it’s a good deal or not."

The FAA is perhaps the touchiest party to the negotiations. To promote commerce, Congress passed legislation in 1990 that prohibits airports nationwide from restricting commercial aircraft operations without approval from the FAA.

But the JWA "settlement agreement" was established before then, and the FAA approved the 2003 amendments. The original agreement was a settlement from lawsuits between AWG, other activist groups, Newport Beach and the county.

Now, officials want to deal with FAA administrators carefully. Over the past year, some Newport residents have complained to the FAA that a new flight path caused more planes to fly over their homes and more noise. The FAA made a number of adjustments to the route, and plan to implement the new procedure this month.

"We have to be very careful not to irritate the FAA," Moorlach said.

Editorial: Pension tipping point

It seems as if our Editorial Board has been waving its arms about emerging pension calamities for so many years that we could be U.S. Navy semaphore signallers. Our contributing columnist Steven Greenhut even wrote a 2009 book about the policies and practices that led to systematic pension inflating among public employee unions. Other voices, such as Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach and Jack Dean of "Pension Tsunami" also have been speaking up.

For some time following the early 2000s, when the destructive policies and practices were voted or negotiated into place, many of the warnings were still warnings, and the dire predictions had yet to materialize. Now, though, the tipping point has been reached and even the government, in its own analysis of itself, is demanding drastic change:

•The nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office last month urged the government to reduce pensions for future employees throughout the public sector and recommended that lawmakers act not only on state employee pensions, but on retirement benefits for the University of California system, teachers and county government workers. "From our perspective, this seems unsustainable," Jason Sisney, director of state finance for the Legislative Analyst’s Office, told the Sacramento Bee.

•The Little Hoover Commission last week offered a detailed and brutally honest appraisal of the entire situation. It recommended broad changes to state workers’ pension benefits, including freezing the current plan and creating a more sustainable alternative. The watchdog group is made up of citizen members appointed by the governor and the Legislature, and two senators and two Assembly members.

Moreover, "truthiness" arguments are yielding to clear-eyed assessments. Register Watchdog columnist Teri Sforza on Thursday sorted the union argument that said the big pensions were being mostly earned by managers, not the rank and file. The rank-and-file salary they cited was $24,000 a year, a far cry from headline-grabbers such as $100,000-plus a year. But, Sforza wrote: "Yes, …the average CalPERS pension is less than $30,0000, but that figure includes all retirees from all past years, including those sane years before 1999." She quotes the Little Hoover Commission report: "For state workers retiring in 2008-09 with more than 30 years of service, the average pension was more than $66,000."

Some in the public sector are blaming the Great Recession for creating the problem and are hoping that a lucky break of good times and higher investment earnings will wipe unfunded liabilities from the books and criticism from the headlines. Wrong. The fundamental problem is not the economy; the fundamental problem is the nature of benefit agreements that confer too much for too many over too long a time frame. Any worker can apply the yardstick: How does your retirement pension compare? It’s just out of whack.

No one objects to a fair and reasonable pension as determined by a reasonable market measure. The objection is to the creation of what appears to be a privileged class, one that created its own privilege because … it could.

Venezia: Options for some of Newport Beach’s older facilities

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By BARBARA VENEZIA

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST

Newport Beach and Costa Mesa are trying to find solutions to their respective budget issues in different ways.

Costa Mesa’s looking to outsource every city employee function it possibly can to balance their budget. Are they dismantling their city government as some have criticized? Are they moving way too fast?

Newport, on the other hand, is starting to look at how to reorganize what it already owns. Nothing happens all too quickly in this city. I bet a year from now they’ll still be analyzing data.

Each city moves at its own pace and always has. Is one pace better than the other right now? Time will tell.

At the Feb. 22 study session, Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff asked council members to examine some under-utilized, older city-owned facilities.

Are they being used efficiently? Are they really serving residents’ needs? Should they be refurbished or sold perhaps? Newport’s looking to clean house, but in a different way than Costa Mesa.

Dave and I drove around visiting some of the lesser-known facilities on Balboa Peninsula and West Newport. I was surprised at how many properties the city owned on prime real estate. As we stopped at each and discussed them, it certainly raised questions for me. Ride along with us in this week’s Barbara’s Bits video.

On the Peninsula, we stopped at the branch library. With eight people inside, I saw no one actually reading a book! Everyone was either on a laptop or city-owned computer. The only thing missing was coffee! Should the city just start its own version of Starbucks?

Next we visited the old, but quaint community center a few blocks away. Dave explained it wasn’t well used. Could programs here be incorporated elsewhere?

And then there’s the Life Guard Station. The building’s pretty old. During the last storm in December, city vehicles were moved from the parking lot to avoid crashing waves. Could operations here be moved to another city-owned facility safeguarding vehicles from weather?

Is the West Newport Community Center – also old – obsolete?

We also visited the General Services and the Utilities Yards. They sit on about 12 acres total. Is the city getting the most efficient use from either property? Could services housed in one or the other be combined?

Is it worth refurbishing any of the facilities we visited as is in the city’s long-term plan?

In watching the study session online, council members brainstormed in an impressively constructive manner, even cautiously touching on ideas being floated as to what to do with the current City Hall property.

To watch the session, go to newportbeachca.gov and click Agendas & Minutes. Then click the Council Agendas, Minutes & Video Streaming link and then select the video for Feb. 22. When you get to the video, click on item four, West Newport Facilities.

Dave reported that consolidating some facilities and selling others could generate $24.5 million for city coffers.

Councilman Rush Hill cautioned he felt it was never a good idea for government to sell assets, rather explore long-term lease uses for properties. Rush suggested revenue from leased projects – whatever they be – would generate far more over time than $24.5 million.

I’ve heard that advice before, back in May of 2009 when Supervisor John Moorlach and I spoke about the state’s idea of selling the OC Fairgrounds.

 

Barbara Venezia’s column appears weekly. Follow Barbara’s Bits video column at ocregister.com or bvontv.com. Contact her at bvontv@earthlink.net

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