It doesn’t get more frustrating than to have a reporter put something in front of you that is exceedingly difficult to explain or defend. And yet when you only have one side of the story, it’s tough to reach any final conclusions. But, there is no denying that the Voice of OC story below is an awkward one and will most likely bubble up during tomorrow’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Jordan Brandman’s $24,000 Wiki-Report
By ADAM ELMAHREK
An entire section of a government draft report prepared by Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman while he was campaigning for his council seat last year appears to largely have been copied from the Wikipedia entry on Orange County, a Voice of OC review of the report has found.
The revelation about the copy-and-paste job in the the report prepared for the county clerk-recorder’s office – for which Brandman has so far been paid $24,000 – adds to growing questions about his consulting contract and work-product, with two county supervisors alleging last week that the councilman was inappropriately compensated for work he didn’t finish.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said that Brandman should not have been paid a dime for draft work. And Supervisor John Moorlach said the report could have been done in a few hours. In Moorlach’s estimation, the county has already paid 24 times what the report is actually worth.
After learning about the Wikipedia entry in Brandman’s report, Moorlach questioned whether the councilman’s contract to prepare the report – which was awarded by former Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly – was merely a guise by his mentor to financially support Brandman with county funds while he campaigned for office.
“It puts into question the authenticity of the request” to prepare the report, Moorlach said, adding that a refund demand from Brandman is “certainly on the table,” along with new rules on county contracting.
However, Moorlach stopped short of directly accusing Brandman and Daly of impropriety, saying that “everyone has their day in court” and that he would hold off on such conclusions until after a “thorough investigation.”
Meanwhile, interim clerk-recorder Renee Ramirez wrote in memos to supervisors late last week her explanation of the contract arrangement, laying most of the responsibility on Daly and arguing that the payments adhered to county policies.
Her defense notwithstanding, Ramirez also indicated in a March 15 memo that she is hunting for other questionable contract arrangements.
Moorlach and Spitzer said they are not satisfied with Ramirez’s explanation and her attempts to blame Daly, with Spitzer saying “the lack of documentation is troubling.”
Ramirez is jockeying for the permanent clerk-recorder spot along with 10 other candidates. Her deflection reflects badly on her chances at the appointment,” Spitzer said.
Brandman received payments for submitting sections of the report in $4,800 installments while he was campaigning for his City Council seat last year. Payments from the county clerk-recorder’s office to his consulting firm, Jordan Brandman Consulting, were among the only sources of income the councilman had declared on a public statement of economic interests, which covers most of last year and part of December 2011.
Brandman did not disclose any other income collected during the time he was campaigning — except for a salary-position at the clerk-recorder’s office that ended before Brandman received his consulting contract on Jan. 31, 2012.
The “context” section of the report – which is supposed to be a study about whether Western Orange County needs a clerk-recorder’s branch office — consists of six paragraphs and bears striking resemblance to the Wikipedia entry.
Here are the paragraphs in the “context” section of Brandman’s report:
Orange County is the third largest county in California, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties being the first and second, respectively. It is the sixth most populous county in the United States and is larger than twenty-one states in the union. The county is known for its tourism, particularly Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as several beaches along its more than 40 mile coastline.
Unlike most population centers with a major city as its identifier, there is no defined urban center in Orange County. It is quintessentially suburban, except for some traditionally urban areas at the centers of the older cities of Anaheim, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Orange, San Juan Capistrano, and Santa Ana.
The city of Santa Ana is the county seat where the County government operation, including OCCR’s central office, is located. The County is comprised of thirty-four incorporated cities; the newest Aliso Viejo, incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city incorporated in Orange County, in 1870.
According to the 2010 United States Census, Orange County has a population of 3,010,232. The racial makeup of Orange County is 1,830,758 (60.8%) White (44% non-Hispanic white), 67,708 (2.2%) African American, 18,132 (0.6%) Native American, 537,804 (17.9%) Asian, 9,354 (0.3%) Pacific Islander, 435,641 (14.5%) from other races, and 127,799 (4.2%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,012,973 persons.
The County has experienced significant ethnic change from generation to generation. As of 2009, nearly 45 percent of the residents spoke a language other than English at home. Whites now comprise 45 percent of the population, while the numbers of Hispanics grow steadily, along with Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese families. The percentage of foreign-born residents has risen to 30 percent in 2008 from 6 percent in 1970. The age demography of the population is: 27.0% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 33.2% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 9.9% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there were 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.
The median income for a household in the county is $61,899, and the median income for a family is $75,700. Males have a median income of $45,059 versus $34,026 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,826. Abut 7.0% of females and 10.3% of the population are below the poverty line, including 13.2% under age 18 and 6.2% age 65 or older.
And here is the corresponding Wikipedia text:
As of the 2010 census, its population was 3,010,232, making it the third most populous county in California, behind Los Angeles County and San Diego County and the second most populous in the Greater Los Angeles Area after Los Angeles County. It is the sixth most populous county in the United States as of 2009 while at the same time is the smallest area-wise county in Southern California, being roughly half the size of the next smallest county, Ventura. The county is famous for its tourism, as the home of such attractions as Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, as well as several beaches along its more than 40 miles (64 km) of coastline.
Whereas most population centers in the United States tend to be identified by a major city, there is no defined urban center in Orange County. It is mostly suburban, except for some traditionally urban areas at the centers of the older cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange, Huntington Beach, and Fullerton.
The city of Santa Ana serves as the governmental center of the county, or county seat, Anaheim as its main tourist destination, and Irvine as its major business and financial hub. All of these three Orange County cities have populations exceeding 200,000. Thirty-four incorporated cities are located in Orange County; the newest is Aliso Viejo, which was incorporated in 2001. Anaheim was the first city incorporated in Orange County, in 1870 when the region was still part of neighboring Los Angeles County.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Orange County had a population of 3,010,232. The racial makeup of Orange County was 1,830,758 (60.8%) White (44.0% non-Hispanic white), 50,744 (1.7%) African American, 18,132 (0.6%) Native American, 537,804 (17.9%) Asian, 9,354 (0.3%) Pacific Islander, 435,641 (14.5%) from other races, and 127,799 (4.2%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1,012,973 persons (33.7%).
Ethnic change has been transforming the population. By 2009, nearly 45 percent of the residents spoke a language other than English at home. Whites now comprise only 45 percent of the population, while the numbers of Hispanics grow steadily, along with Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese families. The percentage of foreign-born residents jumped to 30 percent in 2008 from 6 percent in 1970.
The population is diverse age-wise, with 27.0% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 33.2% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 9.9% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there were 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $61,899, and the median income for a family was $75,700 (these figures had risen to $71,601 and $81,260 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males had a median income of $45,059 versus $34,026 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,826. About 7.0% of families and 10.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.2% of those under age 18 and 6.2% of those age 65 or over.
The report and Wikipedia entry also had the same population error. A mistake about the number of African-Americans, present in Brandman’s report and in a previous version of the Wikipedia entry, was later corrected in Wikipedia. The error remains in Brandman’s report.
Wikipedia’s entries are authored by its millions of viewers. But it is unlikely that Brandman wrote portions of the Wikipedia entry, Voice of OC determined after reviewing the entry’s database of edits.
The authors of the Wikipedia text that resemble Brandman’s report are mostly regular Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia users with the pen-names Ram-man – who identifies himself in a bio as Derek Ramsey – Mr. Whipple, Monterey Bay, Dthx1138 and Carlossuarez46 wrote the Wikipedia text over a period of several years.
Brandman’s report contains no attribution to Wikipedia. The only indication that the information came from elsewhere is a footnote in the section that says “some information incorporated from outside multimedia sources.”
Spitzer said that Brandman has “an obligation” to answer growing questions about the contract and work-product. “He’s a public figure,” Sptizer said.
Brandman and Daly haven’t returned phone calls for comment since Voice of OC first began reporting the story.
Meanwhile, Moorlach and Spitzer say they are unsatisfied with how Ramirez has handled the controversy surrounding Brandman’s contract and work-product since Voice of OC revealed the payments and draft report last week.
After supervisors raised questions about the arrangement, Ramirez wrote a pair of memos that explains little but places most of the responsibility on Daly, who vacated the clerk-recorder position when he won his election to the state Assembly last year.
According to the memos, dated March 14 and 15, Daly had crafted the scope of work and payment terms. Daly also directed that the contract – which at first gave Brandman a July 31, 2012 deadline to submit the completed report – be extended twice, including a $1,500 compensation increase, according to the memos.
Ramirez wrote that the payments followed policies “proscribed by the Auditor-Controller and based upon the County’s 2012 Contract Policy Manual.”
Daly had also insisted that the report remain in draft form until all 13 sections of the report were finalized, one of her memos states. With the report designated as draft during the Daly and Brandman election campaigns, it allowed the county to withhold its release under an exemption in the California Public Records Act.
County counsel determined after a Voice of OC article about county officials’ refusal to turn over the report that it could be released “in the interest of transparency,” Ramirez wrote in an email.
Ramirez also wrote in a memo that she insisted in a March 12 conversation with Brandman that “he make finalizing the report his top priority,” and that Brandman has agreed to a March 22 deadline to complete the report.
Under the contract, Brandman is still entitled to another $2,400 payment for submitting the final “conclusions of Analysis/Recommendations” section of the report.
Brandman has also been asked to beef up sections of the submitted draft. “Additional information and details, which were not included in the document released to the public have been requested,” Ramirez wrote in a memo.
Also, Ramirez indicated that she is looking for other questionable contract arrangements. “I’m in the process of reviewing all open contracts. Upon completion, I will share my findings with you,” she wrote in a memo.
Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The Times-Herald, which serves the Vallejo, Bencia and American Canyon area (North Bay), provided a reflective piece, titled “What can be learned from Vallejo’$ woe$,” with a play on the letter “S.” It was a compilation of what others were writing about the city of Vallejo and its now public fiscal battles. Four years later, San Jose would be a major center for pension reform. And the OC Register’s conclusion still applies today.
The Times-Herald continues its look at what other newspapers’ editorials are saying about Vallejo’s financial mess:
• San Jose Mercury News, March 16 San Jose is no Vallejo, the Solano County city that narrowly averted bankruptcy this month because of out-of-control spending. But like other cities, San Jose does face daunting deficits and a long-term challenge of relying on revenue sources that aren’t keeping up with costs.
Personnel expenses – health care, pensions, salaries – are the primary escalator of costs; contracts with public safety employees have been the driver.
Contracts with the city’s fire and police unions are set to expire this year and next. Now is the time to tamp down expectations and deal realistically with demands. The city should consider the total cost of benefits, including a huge unfunded liability for retiree health care. It should stop automatically matching benefits that a union gained through arbitration.
The city cannot continue to grant raises at a rate that outstrips revenues. The alternative is more of the same: gouging budgets for libraries, recreation and neighborhood programs that residents want.
The police union is up first; its contract expires June 30. But don’t look for many concessions this year.
The city is behind the eight ball because it gambled – and lost – with the firefighters union in the last go-round. An arbitrator awarded firefighters a 3.75 percent raise for next year, the last of the contract.
The police will expect the same, as will the city’s largest union, the Municipal Employees’ Federation. So the city is looking to 2009 as a blank slate. With a projected deficit of $137 million over four years, it should grant no raises next year.
Since 2000, the average total compensation of a full-time city employee has risen 53 percent – 38 percent in salary and 110 percent in benefits, mainly health costs – from $74,000 to $112,000. From 1997 to last year, police wages alone increased 48 percent. A top-of-the-scale officer earns $105,000, about the same that an experienced firefighter earns, though firefighters tend to rack up more in overtime.
This year, the police also will demand a pension benefit that the arbitrator gave the firefighters. Currently, both firefighters and police officers who turn 50 and have worked 30 years can retire with 90 percent of their pay. But the police had agreed to accept a smaller payout for early retirement.
Following the firefighters’ logic, the police union will argue the city needs the higher benefit to compete in hiring. But pension benefits are less important for a 21-year-old rookie – and the higher payout may encourage officers to retire early.
Actuaries estimate giving this benefit to police would cost $4 million a year. That’s equal to a 2 percent pay increase for police officers, so the union should ask: Which is more important?
Recruiting is a challenge. Over the next five years, an many as one-third of city workers may retire. All local governments in the Bay Area will face the same pressures, heightening competition.
But San Jose is competitive. In the latest round of police hiring, in January, 178 people out of 1,565 applicants met the stiff education and screening criteria for 36 jobs. That’s a ratio of five qualified applicants for every hire, a comfortable margin.
Two years ago, when the fire department had 30 openings, 937 people qualified out of 3,055 who applied – a ratio of 31 qualified applicants to 1.
The city should listen to the market: San Jose is a magnet, especially for fire department work; it pays well and can be selective. The city should drive a hard bargain and regain control of its finances. Cities that don’t may well end up like Vallejo.
• Orange County Register, March 2 The East Bay city of Vallejo apparently has struck a deal to keep the city from declaring bankruptcy, but it will take a determined effort by city officials to solve its fiscal problems. Officials there largely blame the real estate downturn for a budget deficit expected to soon hit $21 million, but the real problem is that city officials have long given the muscular police and firefighter unions everything they wanted.
Typically, California cities spend about 50 percent of their budgets on police and fire services – a high number that has escalated after city governments approved "3 percent at 50" pensions that let police and firefighters retire at age 50 with 90 percent or more of their final year’s pay after 30 years of work. But in union-dominated Vallejo, that number is 80 percent. There’s not much money left to maintain infrastructure, pay for libraries, parks and other services.
"The firefighters union in particular has become a lightning rod for blame among bitter local residents, particularly after news hit that 10 different fire department employees received salaries topping $200,000," according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. One past effort by a city manager to rein in escalating and outrageous salaries and benefits for police and fire led unions to rent an airplane and fly it around town for several days with a banner that read: "Fire the city manager."
Vallejo is not the first city to reach the fiscal brink because of profligate spending on public safety. The Northern California city of Richmond and the city of San Diego have been mired in similar problems. Keep that in mind as the current Orange County Board of Supervisors pursues various policies to clean up the mess left behind by a previous board that approved a retroactive pension spike for deputies as a reward for past service.
This board also reformed the retiree medical care benefit for county employees. Board Chairman John Moorlach told us the county’s liability for medical care is down to $153 per person after recently passed reforms, whereas in Contra Costa County the figure is $2,536 and in San Francisco it’s $5,645. Clearly, the county’s efforts – despite objections by public-safety unions are yielding tangible benefits. "Vallejo has been a labor town," said Mr. Moorlach. "The unions run that city, and voila!" His lesson for O.C. and elsewhere: "People have to get in front of this puppy."
And they’ve got to do so even over the howls, barks and squeals of self-interested public-safety unions.
David Reyes of the LA Times provides a little history with “In land-use dispute, Newport Beach has a foot in the door – Years ago, it annexed a 12-inch-wide strip of Banning Ranch, which now trumps Costa Mesa’s annexation bid.” It would be nice if this project discussion could conclude before my term does.
An Orange County land battle going back half a century has resurfaced, and as is always the case when it’s real estate with a Newport Beach ZIP Code, things get thorny.
At stake is a privately owned, undeveloped 402-acre parcel known as Banning Ranch.
Costa Mesa, which flanks the property on the north, has had its sights on annexing the land, arguing that the city would be most affected if it gets developed.
But Newport Beach’s General Plan already includes the ranch and calls for 1,375 homes, 75,000 square feet of stores and a small inn. In addition, the property owner prefers building in Newport rather than Costa Mesa.
Sound like a garden-variety zoning dispute? The twist is that more than 50 years ago, Newport Beach claimed jurisdiction when it attached to its city limits a foot-wide strip that rims the ranch on three sides.
"It’s really bizarre — that 12-inch strip precedes the incorporation of the city of Costa Mesa," said John Moorlach, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. And that means that Newport Beach’s claim takes precedence, even though the parcel is more closely aligned with Costa Mesa.
Banning Ranch is near the mouth of the Santa Ana River. It includes wetlands, an oil production field and a bluff top that could provide home sites with spectacular ocean views. Annexing a property with such potential would be desirable for any city, which could reap millions in developer fees and improvements.
"Newport put that land under its sphere of influence before there was anything like an annexation agency or spheres of influence," Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludeau said proudly.
Today, the property is one of the county’s last undeveloped coastal areas. Its owners and Newport Beach don’t know the parcel’s actual value, a problem, because the city’s preference is to buy the land and leave it as open space and parkland.
Some experts estimate it’s worth more than $400 million; others say that is conservative.
Costa Mesa argues that, the 1-foot strip aside, it shares a 4,800-foot boundary with Banning Ranch and that should take precedence, according to the city’s application to put the ranch into its sphere of influence, a precursor to annexation.
Traffic, regional resources and city services favor Costa Mesa, Mayor Allan R. Mansoor said in its application. Costa Mesa believes Newport’s 1-foot strip "created an artificial and arbitrary barrier" that blocks any comprehensive planning.
In January, a local land-use agency rejected Costa Mesa’s bid, saying the city was not contiguous with the property and could never annex it. The ranch was part of several unincorporated areas included in annexation talks between the cities.
The owner, Newport Banning Ranch LLC — comprising Aera Energy, Brooks Street and Cherokee Investment Partners — said about 40 acres had always been in Newport Beach and that it preferred Newport because the location would add value.
"Because it’s in Newport Beach, the premium on the land is worth at least 25% greater, perhaps more" than if it were annexed by Costa Mesa, said Stephen Sutherlen, manager of Coldwell Banker’s Newport Beach office. "Though it’s not oceanfront, I’ve been up on the bluffs and they have an exceptional view all the way to Palos Verdes and Catalina."
Mike Mohler, managing director for Newport Banning Ranch LLC, said the firm had begun a property appraisal. Newport’s 2006 General Plan, its latest, severely reduces the more than 2,700 residential units and 465,000 square feet of nonresidential development allowed under an older plan.
Under the new plan, half of the ranch would remain open space and Newport has the option to buy that land.
Banning Ranch Park and Preserve Task Force, a private group linked to the Sierra Club, would like to save the entire property from development.
Mohler said the company planned to assist the city and environmental groups find funding and buy the property, provided it could be bought for fair market value.
"Nobody at this point has put a value on the land," said Newport Beach Councilwoman Nancy Gardner. "The city would like to do a feasibility study and say, ‘Look guys. Let’s get real and find out what the value is, and what are our chances for getting funds to buy it.’ "
In the interim, the owners will move ahead with development plans. One of the obstacles is that the ranch has more than 500 oil wells. About 100 still operate, and those most likely would be consolidated into a 20-acre area, Mohler said.
Terry Welsh, a Costa Mesa resident who chairs the environmental task force, lamented the number of coastal areas lost to development in recent years, including Marblehead in San Clemente, the Dana Point Headlands and the Bolsa Chica bluffs.
"This is the last one," he said. "Is it going to be developed or are we going to buy it?"
One thing is for sure: Costa Mesa will keep a close watch on put any proposed Banning Ranch project. under a microscope
"We’ll be monitoring everything from transportation to circulation access . . . everything," said Kimberly Grant, a Costa Mesa planner.
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