The Voice of OC provides two pieces on current events below. The first is an update on the County’s effort to obtain and open its first year-round shelter. California Senate Bill 2 (SB 2) addresses Government Code Section 65583(a)(4), which requires the identification of “a zone or zones where emergency shelters are allowed as a permitted use without a conditional use or other discretionary permit.” Fulfilling this SB 2 requirement is a difficult task for Orange County’s cities. Assisting cities in this regard is one of the many efforts that the Commission to End Homelessness has been focused on. Here is some additional information from the State’s website:
The identified zone or zones must include sufficient capacity to accommodate the need for emergency shelter as identified in the housing element, EXCEPT that all local governments must identify a zone or zones to accommodate at least one year-round shelter. Adequate sites/zones can include existing facilities that can be converted to accommodate the need for emergency shelters.
An excellent site has been identified in the city of Fullerton (and the city of Santa Ana, as well) and the County is assisting in its acquisition. The debate is not about whether to provide a year-round shelter, but whether or not the selected location is appropriate. The Voice of OC story covers the activity, which came up during the Public Comments section of Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
The second story deals with one example of activities entered into by the Clerk-Recorder’s office over these past many years. The position is an elected one, so obtaining cooperation and transparency can be difficult at times. This department generates more in fee revenues than it incurs in actual expenses. It is not required to charge actual costs, but is assigned fee schedules from the California Legislature. Consequently, it has excess funds that can be spent on projects to, theoretically, improve the efficiency of the Department. The Internal Audit Department has been reviewing the matter of how the surplus funds are spent, as the result of a request that I made quite some time ago, and should be releasing its report(s) soon. In the meantime, we are trying to get our arms around this recent revelation.
Residents Complain, but Supervisors Still Back Fullerton Homeless Shelter
By DAVID WASHBURN
A handful of Fullerton residents armed with statistics, charts and what they described as their own good sense, appeared Tuesday at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting to deliver the following message: Don’t put a homeless shelter in my back yard.
The message was targeted mainly at Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who represents Fullerton and was the driving force behind the board’s decision in January to purchase property in the southeastern part of the city and convert it to a year-round homeless shelter.
The supervisors agreed to pay $3.1 million for a 29,000-square-foot building on two acres on South State College Boulevard. The purchase is an important one, because Orange County remains one of the few large metropolitan areas in the nation that does not have a year-round emergency homeless shelter, instead relying on two National Guard armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton that serve as temporary shelters from December to April.
There is further significance that a property in Fullerton is the proposed site of the shelter, because it was at the Fullerton bus depot in the summer of 2011 that police beat to death Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man. Thomas’ death has served as a rallying cry for better treatment of both homeless people and those who suffer from mental illness.
But the residents who appeared before the board Tuesday had no interest in making history.
"The target [of the project] would be homeless families, severely mentally ill men and drug and alcohol abusers," said former City Councilman Conrad DeWitt during the board’s public comment period. "A permanent project would be inappropriate for any of those three customer targets."
DeWitt and four others who spoke said their main concern was the safety of children who live and play nearby.
The supervisors, however, gave no indication of being swayed by the residents’ statements. Nelson said the argument is used by people everywhere when facilities like homeless shelters and halfway houses are proposed in their neighborhoods and doesn’t hold water.
"Every site is going to have the same issue," Nelson said. "The current armory [where a temporary shelter is located] is across the street from a school. Santa Ana’s [temporary] shelter shares a fence with a school and a park."
In fact, Nelson said, for 10 years he lived "three doors down" from the Fullerton armory and never had any issues.
Persuading individual cities to buy into a regional approach to solving homelessness has been a particularly vexing issue for leaders countywide. For example, Supervisor John Moorlach, who is chairman of the Orange County Commission to End Homelessness, has not been able to persuade Santa Ana leaders to open the city’s vacant bus station to homeless people.
On Tuesday, Moorlach praised Nelson for his efforts in Fullerton.
"I just want to affirm you and your bravery and your leadership," Moorlach said to Nelson. "I am very impressed with your seeing the need, finding the location and now dealing with the reaction publicly."
Nelson, who also faced criticism at last week’s Fullerton City Council meeting, concluded the discussion by making it clear that he will be standing firm on the issue.
"Of all the critics that have come forward, not one has said this is a mistake because I have a better answer," Nelson said. "When I hear ‘I’m for solving the problem but not this way,’ I get it. But after 26 years of talking, it’s time to do."
Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn.
Good Enough For Government Work?
By ADAM ELMAHREK
Orange County’s Clerk-Recorder paid Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman $24,000 for an incomplete report while he was campaigning for office last year, raising questions from two county supervisors about whether the county inappropriately compensated Brandman for a draft report he hasn’t finished.
“You can’t pay a consultant for work that’s in draft form,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer Tuesday after reviewing Brandman’s contract and report. “None of these payments should have been made.”
Brandman has not returned phone calls for comment on his consulting contract.
He first arrived at the Clerk Recorder’s office in 2011 as an “external relations manager,” although it’s largely unclear what he actually did. Clerk recorder officials deleted Brandman’s public calendar. And most of Brandman’s work-related email traffic released by the office in response to a public records request by Voice of OC only shows that he was often out of the office at offsite meetings.
He resigned that position just as his city council campaign was gearing up and later secured the consulting arrangement.
Most of his facilities report – which is a study about whether the clerk-recorder needs a branch office in West Orange County – rehashes publicly available data from the U.S. Census, the state Department of Finance, the clerk-recorder’s office and other “multimedia” sources, according to a draft obtained by Voice of OC.
According to contract documents, Brandman got the first installment payment of $4,800 on his consulting arrangement without delivering anything.
His second invoice for the next $4,800 installment only required him to complete a three-page draft, with much of the first page devoted to listing the purpose of the report.
Brandman has yet to finish the report.
And despite being originally due more than seven months ago, Brandman has received two contract extensions and a $1,500 increase in his contract.
County Clerk Recorder officials have since paid three more $4,800 invoices from Brandman for a total of $24,000.
Brandman still owes the county one more section of the facilities report, for which he is to be paid another $2,400.
Interim Clerk-Recorder Renee Ramirez last week refused to release the report, citing an exemption in the California Public Records Act that allows public agencies to withhold draft documents.
However, Voice of OC obtained a copy of the report after it was distributed to county supervisors late Tuesday. Ramirez said in an email that county counsel decided it could be released “in the interest of transparency.”
After reviewing Brandman’s draft report, Supervisor John Moorlach estimated it could have been prepared in approximately five hours. At a going-rate of $200 per-hour, the work submitted so far should not have cost more than $1,000, Moorlach said.
In his view, the county has paid 24 times what the draft is actually worth.
Given that $200 hourly rate for a top-end consultant, Brandman should have spent 125 hours on the report given how much he’s billed the county, Moorlach said.
“I don’t know if that’s reflected in this work product,” he said.
Moorlach says he wants to see Brandman’s billable hours.
However, the invoices Brandman submitted, per his contract, are only for the work-product, not for hours spent.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer questions whether Brandman should have been paid at all.
With the exception of one initial $4,800 payment, the contract, Spitzer notes, only allows Brandman to collect payments – in $4,800 installments – after “completion” of sections of the report.
However, Brandman was paid for – according to emails he sent – “completion” of incomplete drafts.
“As data is further collected and finalized, these sections will become fuller in breadth. Really appreciate your support and look forward to seeing you sometime this month,” Brandman wrote in a March 5, 2012 email to Ramirez that included his second invoice.
Brandman’s requests for more compensation and time extensions, Spitzer said, were also a “red flag.”
Spitzer questioned why it’s taken so long to complete the report.
Ramirez said she didn’t know the answer to that question.
“Jordan asked for additional time, which was granted by then Clerk-Recorder [Tom] Daly. We don’t have specifics,” she said.
Daly, now a state Assemblyman, has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
Ramirez did say that the clerk-recorder’s office explored the viability of opening a west Orange County branch office because of the success of two other branches in North and South County.
“Providing services closer to home has proven popular. More than 11,000 couples have been married at the South County office, with 31,000 marriage licenses issued and more than 183,000 copies of birth, death and marriage records processed there. Customers appreciate being able to avoid a drive to the Civic Center and having to pay for parking,” Ramirez wrote in a Wednesday email to Voice of OC.
Ramirez is one of 11 candidates jockeying for the permanent clerk-recorder job left open when Daly won election to the 69th State Assembly District last November. Supervisors this week approved the eleven finalists. They are expected to make a final selection within the month.
Both Moorlach and Spitzer said they would be questioning Ramirez about Brandman’s contract and work-product.
“I have a call into Renee Ramirez and I haven’t heard back from her,” Spitzer said. “I want to know the answers to these questions.”
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
Matt Coker of the OC WEEKLY, in his “A Clockwork Orange” column, had fun at my expense over my brief male modeling career with the Auto Club (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Seal Beach Sun — March 1, 2013 – Westways). I’m just sorry that the OC WEEKLY’s archives do not include the photos that accompanied the short piece, as my head was inserted onto the body of a tanned body-builder in the muscle-flexing position. There was one cute typographical in the piece, titled “The Adventures of John Moorlach,” that gave me an entry point to do a follow-up letter to the editor (stay tuned).
Ahoy, Orange County! ‘Tis I—your beloved county Treasurer John Moorlach, Esq.—ready to lead you out of disaster. After predicting the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, I was swept into office. As we face another financial crisis—one that will leave us $90 million to $100 million short—I’ve devised a new way to offset looming losses: I am offering my services as a hunky advertising model. Perhaps you saw my ad (above, right) in Southern California Automobile Club’s Westways magazine. Next, I auditioned to be the new Marlboro Man, since I’d lobbied to have the county’s tobacco settlement go toward debt reduction instead of health care. Sadly, Mason Reese got the part. But I left such an impression that I’m now much in demand as an underwear model (below, right). We shall be saved—one pair of skimpy man thongs at a time.
Jorge Barrientos of the OC Register provided the joys of dealing with an unincorporated area in “Tree disputes take root in Rossmoor – Residents, county and district officials try to answer who is responsible for paying for damages caused by trees in the ‘urban forest.’” Here is the beginning of the piece:
If a tree branch falls in Rossmoor, and nobody is around to hear it … who pays for the damage it causes?
Residents in the 50-year-old unincorporated area, community services district officials and county officials for years have been trying to figure out who should pay for damages caused by trees in the "urban forest," which have clogged sewer pipes and damaged property.
The answer might soon become clearer if Rossmoor becomes a city, but some residents want answers now.
So who is responsible? The county’s (sic) says Rossmoor. The Rossmoor Community Services District says the county or the homeowner is responsible. And some residents say anyone but themselves.
"It’s completely unfair to us," said Eddie Cecilio, a Rossmoor resident who’s asking for reimbursement for more than $50,000 in repairs from damage to his plumbing caused by trees.
Cecilio, 51, lives near the main entrance to Rossmoor on Rossmoor Way, which welcomes visitors and residents with a canopy of trees. The deep roots from the trees damaged his plumbing, causing his house to flood, he said. He is seeking reimbursement from the county or district but has gotten nowhere, he said.
In 1988, the district took on the responsibility for tree maintenance, said Rick Francis, deputy chief of staff for county Supervisor John Moorlach. But the county must address the issues that present hazards. If a branch is in danger of falling, for example, the county must remove it. Root damage is trickier, he said.
In damage claims related to trees, judges have been inconsistent, Francis said. In one recent incident, a Rossmoor resident filed a claim against the county and district and a judge had to determine who was responsible. The county owned the tree, but the district was responsible for maintenance. But, state law said the homeowner was responsible.
"It was a complicated mess," Francis said.
The judge ultimately said the district had to pay for damages for reasons specific to the case.
The Local Agency Formation Commission of Orange County will vote June 18 on whether to allow voters to decide if Rossmoor becomes a city. If Rossmoor incorporates, officials will sit down and decide how to address future tree issues, said Henry Taboada, general manager of the Rossmoor Community Services District.
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