The Daily Pilot, which covers Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, and its sister publications, the Huntington Beach Independent and Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, provide the first piece on today’s top subject, fire rings and pits. As they have the coast covered, we’ll give them the top slot. The Newport Beach – Corona del Mar Patch provides the second piece on the topic. The Voice of OC has the last word in the third piece below, and they include my frustration with beach curfews.
The Voice of OC also addresses the Nevada “Greyhound” strategy of handling their mentally ill patients (see MOORLACH UPDATE — April 15th — April 15, 2013) in the fourth piece below. The final piece from the Voice of OC provides an Orange County personnel update.
A group of friends gather by a fire ring in Newport Beach. Air regulators are considering a ban on the Southern California tradition. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot / April 23, 2013)
O.C. supervisors oppose proposed ban on fire rings
Board members vote in support of allowing individual cities to develop their own beach bonfire policies.
By Jill Cowan
The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday formally opposed a call by air-quality regulators to snuff out beach bonfires in much of Southern California.
Supervisors urged the South Coast Air Quality Management District to drop a proposed ban on beach-side fire pits in Orange and Los Angeles counties and instead consider a more localized approach that considers factors in each community, such as the fires’ proximity to residents.
Citing health and environmental problems associated with burning wood, the Newport Beach City Council wants the state to let it remove fire rings in Corona del Mar and other areas. Adjacent Huntington Beach, however, wants to maintain the tradition on its shoreline. The AQMD board is expected to rule on the ban June 7.
Supervisor John Moorlach, who represents Newport Beach on the board, doesn’t want "a one-size-fits-all solution," which would ignore "geographical differences."
"I believe and [Supervisor Patricia Bates] believes it’s a local issue," Moorlach said. "I think it’s great this board is taking a policy that each city take a position that fits its community, and encouraging the AQMD not to tread further."
The vote was unanimous, with Board Chairman Shawn Nelson abstaining, because he represents Orange County on the AQMD board.
Orange County operates 11 fire rings at two beaches: Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach, which has seven fire rings, and Capistrano Beach, which has four.
The Board of Supervisors has no formal authority over city or state beaches, including those in Newport and Huntington, but the supervisors’ vote saw the board wading into a ballooning regional discussion that could eventually have implications statewide.
A staff report for this week’s meeting recommended that the board oppose the ban, and instead, support "an option that provides greater flexibility" for cities to determine whether or not wood smoke generated by the fires poses enough of a health risk to justify removing the rings on their own stretches of coast.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at first that supporting what could end up a patchwork set of open beach burning rules didn’t go far enough in protecting what he called a "sacred" part of "our American fabric, our California fabric" — one that he said conjured memories of first kisses and apple pie.
"I’m generally a local control kind of person, but in this case, it’d be like saying, ‘Locals, you don’t have to fly the flag if you want to,’" he said, adding that those who live close to the fire rings would have been aware of the proximity of the bonfires when they moved in.
Ultimately, however, Spitzer voted with the rest of the board, excluding Nelson.
While Nelson said he didn’t think it would be appropriate to vote because of his AQMD position, he noted that the proposed ban "has nothing to do with" the group’s overarching plan to bring the region into compliance with federal air quality regulations, which is the district’s primary mission.
Nevertheless, he said the AQMD staff members were working to develop a possible gas or propane beach fire pilot program for Newport Beach, which asked the California Coastal Commission to get rid of its 60 fire rings, citing negative health impacts on beach neighbors.
"What I hope will come out of this is Newport Beach will be provided some alternatives," that will be appealing, "if they’re sincere that their desire is not to get certain undesirables off the beach, but to improve air quality," Nelson said. "I think the parties are here in Orange County that can offer some creative solutions."
The AQMD took up the fire rings issue after Newport made its request to take out fire rings near the Balboa Pier and at Corona del Mar State Beach.
The proposed ban on open burning on all beaches within the district’s jurisdiction sparked a new flurry of debate — and controversy.
The city of Huntington Beach, with the support of a long line of residents, has cited the tourist dollars its roughly 500 fire rings bring and has pleaded with the district to consider a more localized rule.
That approach is one that garnered support from Newport Beach officials, who have said that each community’s situation is different.
The debate has also grabbed the attention of state legislators.
Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) has taken up the preservation of Huntington’s fire rings.
He recently submitted a resolution enshrining fire pits’ place in beach lifestyles.
"As a resident of Huntington Beach and a surfer, I am honored to commemorate California’s beaches and access to those beaches," he said in a statement. "Activities such as beach bonfires are a beloved pastime that is a safe and inexpensive recreational activity enjoyed by all the members of our community."
Allen is also hosting a community beach bonfire Sunday to shed more light on the issue, according to a news release.
Orange County legislators Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) and Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Irvine), too, have spoken out against the ban, and have questioned the validity of some in favor of enacting it.
In a letter, they called for the resignation of AQMD Chairman William Burke, saying that his simultaneous service as a coastal commissioner posed a conflict of interest.
Burke has been a vocal proponent of the ban; at a recent meeting, he drew criticism by comparing smoke from Newport Beach’s fire rings to "carpet bombing" in Vietnam.
In a surprise move, Burke resigned from the Coastal Commission and remains in place on the AQMD board.
Don’t Ban Beach Fires, OC Supes Say
Orange County officials criticize a smog agency proposal to outlaw seaside bonfires, saying the matter should be left up to individual cities.
· By City News Service
Banning beach bonfires is like outlawing mom and apple pie, Orange County supervisors said Tuesday.
On a 4-0 vote, the supervisors approved a resolution asking the South Coast Air Quality Management District to reject a proposed ban on open fires at beaches, saying such regulations should be left up to cities.
The supervisors became the latest government agency to weigh in on seaside bonfires.
In Newport Beach, complaints from residents about smoke from local fire rings prompted city officials to support a fire ban. But costal business leaders and city councils in Huntington Beach and San Clemente want the AQMD to preserve the bonfire tradition.
The AQMD has scheduled a public hearing on the issue for May 3 and may vote on the ban June 7. If approved, the measure would affect beaches throughout Orange County and most coastal areas of Los Angeles County.
On Tuesday, Supervisor Todd Spitzer urged his colleagues to support a resolution against any attempt to ban fires in approved rings or pits. (Supervisor Shawn Nelson abstained because he is an AQMD board member.)
"Outlawing fire rings is like [banning] mother and apple pie," Spitzer said. "First youth out, first kiss — there are some things that are sacred about those fire rings."
Spitzer then guffawed, adding: "Did I just confess something? OK, maybe the second kiss."
Spitzer said he is "generally a local control-type of person, but in this case it would be like saying, ‘Locals, it’s OK if you don’t fly the flag.’ "
Fires on Orange County beaches are "part of our California fabric … our California lifestyle. Our position should be opposed, period," Spitzer said.
But Supervisor John Moorlach countered, "With respect to one of my cities, Newport Beach, which does have a position, I would beg to differ from the good supervisor from District 3."
Nelson urged consideration of bonfire alternatives, such as propane-powered flames.
If Newport Beach officials are "really interested in air quality and not removing amenities," then they should consider smoke-free alternatives, Nelson said.
Last month, the California Coastal Commission dodged a decision on Newport Beach’s request to ban fire rings, deferring to the AQMD. Since then, other cities have joined the debate.
Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman, whose city has several hundred beach fire rings, sent a letter to the AQMD last month opposing a ban on fire pits, saying her town would lose more than $1 million a year in parking fees and sales and hotel taxes.
"The concept of a warm open fire evokes a sense of family and special memories for many generations," Boardman said in the letter. "A few years ago, as a way to reduce maintenance costs at the beach, the city considered removing some of the fire rings. Our residents were outraged. The proposal was dropped."
But, unlike Newport Beach, Huntington Beach has no homes situated near shoreline fire rings, Boardman said.
The Huntington Beach Chamber, Convention and Visitors Bureau and business leaders from surrounding beach cities have come out in opposition to ban as well. On Tuesday, the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce called on its members to lobby their legislators against the ban.
"Though the City of Seal Beach does not permit fire pits, we of the Chamber support local control over such items such that, if Newport Beach does not wish them, yet Huntington Beach does, then they each should be able to do so, without the interference of yet another government agency," Deb Machen, President of the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce said in a written release. "The Seal Beach Chamber wants to be clear in voicing its opposition to more arbitrary legislation and non-local control on an issue as historic and sensitive as fire rings in Huntington Beach."
In related news, state Assemblyman Travis Allen said he would hold a pro-bonfire beach blaze from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Newland and PCH in Huntington Beach, across the street from the power plant.
–– OC Patch staff contributed to this article.
Supervisors Unanimously Oppose Beach Bonfire Ban
By NICK GERDA
The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday took an official position against the highly contentious effort to ban beach bonfires in Southern California.
Supervisors voted 4-0 to oppose the ban, which will be decided on by the South Coast Air Quality Management District board June 7.
The bonfire pits are a classic part of California culture and a symbol of freedom, supervisors said.
“It’s about a lifestyle,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer, adding that “there are some things that are sacred about those fire rings,” like first outings with friends and first kisses.
He described the proposal as an effort to “strip residents and visitors of the freedom to have this on a beach.”
“I just think we’re taking all the fun out of life” if the ban goes forward, Spitzer said.
Newport Beach residents argue that the fires have become a health and safety hazard. They’ve found support from their city officials, who have been pushing for the ban.
That’s prompted a fierce counter campaign from Huntington Beach residents and city officials. The two cities have been locked in a battle over the issue ever since, with opponents suggesting the effort is aimed at discouraging working-class residents from enjoying Newport Beach.
A ban by air quality officials would shut down more than 700 beach bonfire rings in Orange County, as well as every beach pit in Los Angeles County.
Supervisor John Moorlach joined in leveling criticism at the air quality district, saying he “would encourage AQMD to not tread further on this subject.”
Moorlach also complained about beach curfews, with police at many beaches rolling up to beach-goers at 10 p.m. to shut down the partying.
“Why would I want to leave the beach at 10 o’clock?” asked Moorlach, who suggested that curfews be eliminated.
Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson abstained from voting because he also serves as a board member at South Coast AQMD. At the same time, however, he echoed concerns that the air quality proposal has popped up out of nowhere.
The fire pits “had nothing to do with” the region’s air quality plan, Nelson said.
If Newport Beach residents are so concerned about bonfire smoke, he added, the city should install gas-fired pits.
The bonfire ban is said to have been heavily advocated by former South Coast AQMD Chairman William Burke, who resigned unexpectedly last week.
Voice of OC has an ongoing Public Records Act request for all email traffic this year between Burke and South Coast AQMD staff, among other officials.
The agency has exceeded the 10-day limit under state law to state when the records will be released. It also hasn’t cited any specific Public Records Act exemptions in order to redact information.
Burke’s resignation has been attributed to his comparison of beach bonfires to “carpet bombing” in Vietnam, as well as complaints to state Attorney General Kamala Harris that Burke had a conflict of interest by also serving on the California Coastal Commission.
But local historian and activist Chris Epting has noted that Burke’s April 12 resignation letter came before Assemblyman Allan Mansoor wrote Harris about the alleged conflict.
That has Epting wondering if there’s more to Burke’s resignation than meets the eye.
“What exactly is going on here?” Epting asked Monday in the Huntington Beach Independent.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
Nevada Allegedly ‘Dumped’ Mentally Ill Patients In Orange County
By NICK GERDA
A growing scandal over Nevada’s alleged “dumping” of mentally ill patients in California is stretching into Orange County, with county officials saying this week that they’re trying to find a woman apparently sent to Anaheim without support.
Health care officials have been looking for the woman, whose first name is Monica, but haven’t had any luck, according to Mary Hale, Orange County’s behavioral health director. At least one Nevada patient has previously been found in Orange County.
“This facility in Nevada is doing Greyhound [bus] therapy,” Hale told county supervisors on Tuesday amid growing outrage over the issue statewide.
And there could be many more patients locally who have yet to be identified.
Nevada’s main psychiatric hospital sent 28 patients to Orange County in recent years, according to data collected by the Sacramento Bee. In many of the so-called “patient dumping” cases examined by the paper, Nevada officials simply sent clients on their way without ensuring they received treatment or housing.
Those sent to Orange County are among hundreds of patients that Nevada’s Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital allegedly bused to California with little-to-no resources.
Nevada state officials are under intense pressure after the issue was exposed by the Bee last week, with San Francisco’s city attorney calling it “shockingly inhumane and illegal.”
One example cited by the paper is a patient allegedly sent to Sacramento, a city he had never visited, with no more than snacks, a three-day supply of medication to treat his schizophrenia, and directions to call 911 when he arrived.
Nevada’s so-called “dumping” of mentally ill patients – which corresponds with cuts to its funding of mental health services – is prompting city attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco to consider legal action against the state.
And the issue isn’t just limited to California’s largest cities.
Figures gathered by the Bee show that since mid-2008, Nevada has sent 19 patients to Anaheim and 9 to Santa Ana.
At this week’s Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor John Moorlach brought up the issue, asking whether officials have located Monica.
Hale, of the county’s Health Care Agency, said a search by outreach and engagement staff was fruitless.
“We haven’t found her,” said Hale.
Hale also recalled that a former Nevada patient, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was found in Newport Beach “a couple of years ago” and subsequently received treatment.
Hale emphasized that Orange County officials ensure that family members are contacted and outpatient care is arranged for when patients are discharged.
It’s “extremely rare” to ever send a patient out of state without contacting family, Hale added, saying she couldn’t remember that ever happening in Orange County.
Nevada mental health officials have defended their actions, saying the vast majority of their patients are returned to families or treatment programs.
Orange County officials haven’t announced any legal inquiries into Nevada’s patient busing.
Tuesday’s discussion came as supervisors considered a two-year, $8.7 million contract for mental health inpatient services. The contract, with College Hospital Costa Mesa and Western Medical Center Anaheim, was approved unanimously.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
After Long Saga, OC Deputy CEO Is Fired
By NORBERTO SANTANA JR.
Alisa Drakodaidis, a beleaguered Orange County deputy CEO who went underground last year after sexual assault charges were filed against a top executive under her supervision, has now apparently been fired.
“All I can say is she’s no longer with the county,” said County spokesman Howard Sutter on Monday.
Drakodaidis placed herself on a stress medical leave last year just after District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed a dozen felony sex charges against county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante, who was also a Santa Ana city councilman and rising star in the local Republican Party.
As with much of the controversy that has ensued since Bustamante’s arrest — including the resignations of CEO Tom Mauk and Public Works Director Jess Carbajal — officials have kept Drakodaidis’ status largely quiet.
Just after her quiet exit from the county Hall of Administration, Drakodaidis sent a politically explosive letter to the county that resembled a legal claim. The letter leveled a series of accusations of Rackauckas and several county supervisors, including specific allegations of impropriety against Supervisor Pat Bates.
Bates said that Drakodaidis’ allegations against her were unfounded, and supervisors then hired a law firm to investigate the accusations.
After Voice of OC filed a lawsuit against the county to reveal the Drakodaidis letter, county officials released a redacted version.
The Voice of OC lawsuit — which seeks access to numerous law firm investigations and communications into alleged impropriety by top county officials — is still active, and supervisors are scheduled to discuss it Tuesday in closed session.
Since the Bustamante charges were announced, nearly a half-dozen top officials have been quietly investigated by law firms hired by the county for a variety of allegations.
While the law firm investigated her claims, county officials put Drakodaidis on paid administrative leave after her stress leave ran out in September.
On Monday, attorney Joel Baruch, who represents Drakodaidis, said she had spoken up to senior officials about a series of situations at the county and was a whistle-blower. “She was fired for retaliation,” Baruch said.
Drakodaidis “was a good employee,” and “there’s no reason for them to fire her other than her complaints,” Baruch said. He added he expects to file a claim against the county.
County Supervisor John Moorlach was the only official to speak about the Drakodaidis situation: “She was terminated. She cleaned out her office. The investigation found that what she claimed was unfounded.”
Moorlach went on to say that he had not seen the report, “but the attorney that investigated did an incredible amount of interviews, including me, and asked a whole lot of questions. We even had to increase her contract amount.”
Moorlach questioned Drakodaidis’ motive for filing a claim in the wake of the Bustamante charges. She was herself criticized in a review of Public Works.
“When someone sees that they’re in the chain of command and there were serious managerial lapses, maybe you do certain things as a strategy,” Moorlach said.
Baruch said the investigation by the law firm was not credible.
“The investigation wasn’t an independent investigation,” Baruch said. “The lawyer was paid by the county.”
Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/norbertosanana.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The Los Angeles Daily Breeze, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the Long Beach Press-Telegram picked up the City News Service piece prepared by Cathy Franklin, providing greater details on the “47 applying for O.C. sheriff’s job.” One candidate, Randy Adams, would later gain media attention as the recently hired and well-paid police chief for the city of Bell.
Forty-seven candidates, including acting sheriff Jack Anderson and Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters, met Friday’s application deadline to fill the remainder of former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona’s term.
The group includes several applicants who earlier announced their interest in filling Carona’s term, which runs until January 2011.
Carona resigned Jan. 14 in the wake of a 10-count federal grand jury indictment against him, his wife, Deborah Carona, and attorney Debra Hoffman, described in court papers as Michael Carona’s former mistress.
Candidates who earlier signaled their intent include Anderson, who was picked by Carona as his successor; former Lt. Bill Hunt and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ralph Martin, who both challenged Carona in the 2006 election, along with Robert Alcaraz, a former member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who dropped out of the 2006 race.
Other applicants include Walters, Craig Hunter, an Anaheim Police Department deputy chief, and former Assistant Sheriff Dan Martini, who retired following a shake-up of Carona’s staff earlier this year.
Consultant Bob Murray & Associations will use a pre-determined scoring system, with the goal of bringing the top six candidates to the board.
Under prior agreement, each supervisor can submit another name if they are interested in someone who did not make it.
However, Supervisor John Moorlach said, "I’m certainly not going to be rigid" about the number of finalists with such "wonderful candidates."
The supervisors will interview finalists May 27 and select the new sheriff on June 3.
"I think that, based on the input I’m getting, most people I’m talking to prefer someone from the outside," Moorlach said.
People want a "change in the culture" at the sheriff’s department, Moorlach said.
Moorlach cited some recent "embarrassments," including a grand jury criminal probe into the beating death of an inmate – at the hands of other inmates – at the Theo Lacy jail while one guard watched television and sent and received text messages.
According to the criminal probe – which ended with nine inmates charged with murder but no criminal charges against sheriff’s staff – other guards that evening falsified records to indicate they had walked the floors of the barracks during the time the beating was taking place and found no problems.
Moorlach and the other supervisors said they were shocked to learn that guards were watching a DVD.
Moorlach said he also was concerned about an investigation into the death of a cat on the Theo Lacy grounds. An inmate reported that it was killed by a deputy firing a stun gun, but that has not been confirmed.
Candidates who were or are employed in the sheriff’s department face "a little bit of a barrier," Moorlach said.
"They are going to have to convince us they are part of the answer and not part of the problem," Moorlach said.
The candidates for the job include:
Glendale Police Department Chief Randy Adams
Timothy Alexander, a lieutenant with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey
Jonathan Arnold, of Lake Forest, vice president of sales for Mobile Specialty Vehicles
Beau Babka, undersheriff for Salt Lake City
Harold Baker, retired sheriff-coroner for El Dorado County
Richard Beemer, undersheriff of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
Kevin Bellamy, a claims investigator of HUB Enterprises
Frederick Brink, special agent in charge of the FBI in Jackson, Miss.
Elwin Cooke, a member of the board of the California Police Chiefs Association
Jay Coons, a captain with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department in Houston
Michael Dettinger, a Manti, Utah, county commissioner
Roderick Fletcher of the Internal Revenue Service
Joseph Fucito, undersheriff with the Office of Sheriff in New York
Dave Galich, a district manager of Autopay Client Specialist
Greenfield (Calif.) Police Department Chief Joseph Grebmeier
Alan Hamilton, retired chief of the Duck (N.C.) Police Department
Terry Hart, retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department
Sandra Hutchens, of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
Kevin Keyes, director of International Operations, Phoenix Software International
Robert Lewis, a former social development director
Kim Brian London of France, who worked with INTERPOL
Patrick Lynch, a deputy sheriff at the Palm Beach (Fla.)<MD-,%0,%55,%70> Sheriff’s Office
Erik Mansoor, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy
Joseph McGinn, sheriff of Delaware County in Pennsylvania
Douglas McPherson, chief deputy coroner of Winnebago County, Ill.
Gerald Mines, a police procedures expert and consultant
Richard Osborne Sr., director of administration for Tallmadge, Ohio
Nicholas Paros, owner of Paros Liquors in Baltimore, Md.
Robert Peppler, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Ion Petrinca, an electrician’s assistant
Kenneth Ramsey, Mid-States Organized Crime Information Center
Timothy Ryan, director of the Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department
Whittier Police Department Chief David Singer
Stacey Smith, a Chicago Police Department sergeant
James Speros, who retired from the San Francisco Police Department
Donald Teti, a Las Vegas police officer
Arvin (Calif.) Police Department Chief Tommy Tunson
Elias Voulgaris, a Chicago Police Department captain
Kevin Walsh, sheriff of Onondaga County, New York
Kenneth Whisman, office manager, Hamilton County Superior Court in Indiana
Cyndee Fontana and Kerri Ginis of the Fresno Bee provided their perspectives on public defined benefit pension plans in “Retirement benefits weigh down Fresno County budget.” To see how this issue is impacting another California county, the article is presented in full.
In 2000, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors settled a dispute with employees by giving them some of the best retirement benefits in the state.
The county’s pension system, flush with investment earnings, was expected to have a $288 million surplus to cover the sweetened deal. But within a year, after the market soured and costs rose, the county was short about $40 million — and the employee retirement package began weighing more heavily on the county’s annual budget.
Past and present supervisors say the county still is paying for the decision. Said Supervisor Judy Case: "I think that has hurt us over the long term."
The county’s retirement system, which now consumes about 14% of the money supervisors directly control, has required extensive borrowing and ever-higher contribution rates. The county is paying an estimated $141 million this year, nearly double what it did three years ago.
Though there are exceptions — such as the city of Fresno — many local governments are sagging under the burden of pensions. The city of San Diego ended up with a shortfall in its retirement system after increasing benefits without making provisions to finance future costs. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission recently filed a civil complaint against five former city officials, alleging they committed fraud by concealing the pension deficit.
Some agencies are looking for relief from mounting pension costs, and a lawsuit filed by Orange County officials could blaze a legal path that counties like Fresno might follow.
Without help in the courtroom or at the negotiating table, public agencies have little room to maneuver over benefits.
"The retirement benefits are places you can’t cut," said Max Neiman, an associate director and senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit and nonpartisan research agency.
The problem goes back to 2000, when the board was faced with two legal challenges. Employees were suing to prevent the county from skipping pension payments by instead using excess earnings in the retirement system as its contribution.
And an unrelated court decision said benefits such as bonuses and car allowances had to be considered as part of the compensation on which pensions were based.
Supervisors were offered an apparently simple solution: Use a $288 million surplus in the pension system to cover higher benefits earned up to that point. Post-settlement costs would be drawn from any future surplus or shared by the county and employees.
Under the new deal, for example, public safety employees who retired at age 50 would receive 2.5% of their highest pay rate over 12 months, multiplied by years of service, annually — up from 2%.
The increase required approval from then-Gov. Gray Davis, who refused. Davis’ veto said the higher formula "creates bad policy precedent and is unfair to employees of other counties."
Fresno County officials got around the veto by setting up a supplemental benefit.
But within the year, the surplus sank to about $250 million, and the county also needed millions to cover attorney’s fees. An actuarial report forced the county to sharply increase its retirement contribution.
Today, former and current supervisors say the board acted on bad advice from county staff. Several say supervisors should have sought an outside opinion.
Former Supervisor Juan Arambula, now serving in the state Assembly, said he wouldn’t have supported the deal if he’d understood the consequences.
"I think fundamentally we were misled," he said. "We were told there were savings and reserves to fully pay for the settlement, and that hasn’t been the case."
A few years later, officials discovered another problem: retirees collecting more than 100% of their salaries.
The "Fresno Method" — used nowhere else in the state — let retirees use their highest pay periods to calculate benefits. Rather than the usual consecutive pay periods, retirees could pick weeks spiked by vacation cashouts, for example.
The Fresno County Retirement Board, which manages the pension fund, paid out nearly $1 million to about 250 employees before the practice was questioned. The county sued to stop the practice and eventually won in court.
The pension system also triggered the county’s first long-term debt. In 1998, prior to enriching retirement, the county borrowed nearly $185 million to cover unfunded liability — the money needed to cover accrued benefits for employees and retirees.
Four years later, the board refinanced the bonds and borrowed more. In 2004, the county incurred its largest single debt — a $400 million bailout of the pension system.
Today, the county devotes more than $41 million annually to paying off pension bonds. It is cheaper in the end, because the retirement board would charge a higher interest rate to the county for the unfunded liability in the system.
Funded at 83%, the county’s $3 billion retirement system is considered healthy by federal standards. The figure means the system has 83 cents for every $1 due in future benefits. But the ratio has declined every year since 2004 — when the county issued its last pension bond.
By contrast, one of the healthiest public retirement systems in the state is in the city of Fresno.
The city has a total of $2.1 billion in two pension systems — one for police and fire, the other for general employees. They aren’t as generous as the county system, but both have ample cash to meet the obligations of current and future retirees.
Both have been overfunded for 13 straight years, and the city hasn’t put in much because investment returns virtually cover contributions. The city’s $245 million pension bond issue in 1994 also has been paid off.
Roberto Pena, retirement administrator for the county system, said there are some key differences. The city offers a lower benefit at a lower cost. And the city’s bond proceeds were dumped into a soaring market, giving it a healthy boost.
With retirement costs soaring, some Fresno County officials are carefully watching a new lawsuit in Orange County.
There, the Board of Supervisors has sued the Orange County Employees Retirement System — hoping to save an estimated $187 million in retroactive benefits due to public safety employees such as deputy sheriffs.
The lawsuit is based on a 2001 board decision to improve benefits for law enforcement employees. Those workers went from a formula of 2% at age 50 to 3% at age 50; the higher rates applied to past years of service.
Today’s board now calls that a mistake because, aside from some small short-term contributions, public safety employees didn’t contribute any money toward the retroactive benefit.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek to recoup money already paid out, but would prevent future retirees from collecting the higher benefit for service prior to 2002, when the new rates took effect.
"I think we have a good case," said John Moorlach, chairman of the Board of Supervisors and the county’s former treasurer. "I wouldn’t do this on a lark."
Fresno County officials aren’t saying they would file a lawsuit. But Henry Perea, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said if Orange County prevails, Fresno County officials may consider renegotiating benefits: "Everything has to be left on the table."
James Bewley, president of the Fresno Deputy Sheriffs Association, said he’s worried that will happen if the lawsuit succeeds.
"You will pretty much see a domino effect throughout the state, no matter what type of retirement you have," he said.
The Costa Mesa News published my editorial submission, “Scapegoating won’t end traffic,” in its “My Turn” section. I began working in Costa Mesa in 1976 and moved into the city in 1984. At the time the major political theme was growth. The June Primary county-wide no growth ballot measure, Measure A (Citizens’ Sensible Growth and Traffic Control Initiative) would fail 56% to 44%. In November, Measure G, with the same ballot title, would be on the Costa Mesa ballot. With the battle, I saw collateral damages that did not make sense and weighed in.
I have been driving for half of my life now in the cities of Orange County. Since I obtained my driver’s license 16 years ago, I have always taken into consideration that there would be a traffic problem at certain times of the day. Therefore, common sense has dictated that I allow adequate time when planning to reach a certain destination during those times. The traffic problems I incurred then are still facing me now.
The causes for the ever increasing amount of traffic congestion could fill a book. Perhaps the solutions could, too. Problem solving on any issue requires a hard look at the causes of the problem. The classic error made in problem solving is to jump too quickly to a cause. Business managers know that assuming the wrong cause results in the making of improper decisions.
There are individuals in Costa Mesa and Orange County who seem to believe the cause of traffic is the developers of the county’s remaining open land who wish to build commercial and residential buildings. I think they have jumped to the wrong conclusion.
I have heard accusations that developers are “fat cats.” I am barraged with emotional cries of their being the cause of our traffic; our poor quality of life; of bringing in additional pollution; of bringing in additional trip-ends; and of our increased level of noise. And now they’re saying that until our traffic problems are remedied future development should be banned in the county on land that they may own. And this is to be accomplished through the ballot initiative process and through legal suits.
It seems to me that I have heard such emotional attacks towards a group of individuals before. When there are problems, find a scapegoat. Now we are seeing this approach used against the developers.
How soon we forget that the developers are the same group in our economic structure who built our homes and our places of business. But I’m led to believe by the no-growthers that developers have been too greedy. Because they are filling the supply that demand requires, they should somehow be made to suffer the consequences of this perceived greediness. They should be the target of our animosity, frustration and displeasure with the current traffic situation.
It is not only the developers in particular who are being attacked. Anyone associated with developers is considered biased, tainted, and intrinsically evil. They cannot be trusted and they must apparently be purchased shills for developers. Therefore, anyone leaning towards developers or receiving funds from developers should not be elected to public office; either to the city councils or to the County Board of Supervisors. They could never make objective decisions regarding traffic issues and should not be part of the electorate process.
It would seem that economic persecution is replacing religious persecution, and that no-growthers are converting the county to their particular convictions. Perhaps the developers should flee to other regions of our country to escape before they are financially devastated. And God be with those who may harbor them here in this county.
However, it seems to me that the core of capitalism and entrepreneurship is being attacked here. Just because someone has held onto property for a period of time without developing it does not necessarily make them the cause of the problems we are facing now. We should not make them bear the brunt of our potential future traffic congestion. This economic persecution of the developers is not only un-American and divisive but it is also an inappropriate method of traffic problem solving in this country.
Orange County is a healthy and strong economic entity that is contributing to the tax base of this state. All of the elected representatives in Sacramento should be aware of this fact. Orange County should be represented financially in the construction and expansion of roads, freeways and major arterial highways in proportion to the amount of funds that we are sending to Sacramento. This is where I think the no-growth activists should be concentrating their time, talent, energy and financial resources.
I have only seen two miles of freeway added to Orange County since receiving my driver’s license. We need to pressure Sacramento to improve our urban interstate and freeway system so that we can continue to be a growing and healthy economy and so we can continue to be a strong source of the state’s future tax revenues.
In the meantime, persecuting certain economic sectors is very dangerous. It makes me wonder who could be next. Perhaps it will be automobile dealers. After all, traffic involves cars and automobile makers are making money. Therefore, automobile dealers must also be at fault. Maybe the next ballot initiative will not permit sales of new cars in the county for a year. Why not let car dealers bear the brunt of the problem?
After the supply of housing is exhausted and rents increase, I’m sure we can count on these same activists to demand rent control. After all, the landlords will certainly be the next perceived group of fat cats deserving of their socially concerned persecution.
To carry it even further, perhaps large families will be the next perceived cause of our problems. Are we going to see the limiting of children per family to remedy traffic congestion? After all, internal growth is another major factor when considering the causes of our traffic problems.
Although I may be making light of certain potential ideas, let me not leave you with the impression that I am being flippant. An attack on capitalism, entrepreneurship, and free enterprise is something that I will not stand for. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that there is a problem with traffic in this county. But the passage of the growth initiatives and referendums facing Costa Mesa residents is not the approach for solving it. Let’s work together to find better and more appropriate responses to these problems.
It is my strong recommendation that the initiative on the June county and the November Costa Mesa ballots should not be approved. They represent an inappropriate and unnerving response to our ongoing traffic issues.
John M. W. Moorlach is a C.P.A. and Costa Mesa resident who currently serves as an officer for various civic interest groups.
One of the joys of serving on the Costa Mesa Historical Society was the formation of many wonderful friendships. Paul Clinton of the Daily Pilot announced the passing of one of them in “Costa Mesa historian dies – ‘Bud’ Anderson, a World War II veteran, had been a familiar face at the historical society for the past decade.”
World War II pilot and local historian Alvin "Bud" Anderson died Saturday at his Huntington Beach home. He was 84.
Anderson was a familiar face at the Costa Mesa Historical Society, where he volunteered three days a week for more than a decade. He died of complications from a heart attack after an extended illness.
"Bud was a real prince, a hard worker and committed to Costa Mesa’s history," said Orange County Treasurer John Moorlach, who served with Anderson on the historical society’s board. "He’ll be missed."
Since 1988, Anderson volunteered nearly 30 hours a week at the historical society. He was known as the primary expert on the Santa Ana Army Air Base, which existed on property now occupied by the Orange County Fairgrounds.
Between 1942 and 1946, Anderson was stationed at the 1,336-acre air base as an aviation cadet. The base stretched from Baker Street to Harbor Boulevard on the west and from Wilson Street to Newport Boulevard on the east. The area was not part of Costa Mesa until 1953, when the city incorporated.
For 12 weeks during World War II, Anderson was stationed as a fighter pilot in Europe. Anderson flew 24 combat missions in France as a member of the 425th Night Fighter squadron.
In his last decade, Anderson was known to regale visitors to the historical society’s museum, which is in a one-story building near Triangle Square. He also led tours of the center.
In the last few weeks, Anderson spoke out in favor of the troops fighting in Iraq.
"These are very difficult jobs to do," he said in a March 28 Daily Pilot story. "They train very hard to do this."
Anderson is survived two daughters, Jane Hipp and Lynn Adams, and three grandsons. Anderson’s wife, Monica, died April 18, 1982.
Memorial services for Anderson are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at the Dilday Mortuary in Huntington Beach. Dilday is at 17911 Beach Blvd., near Talbert Avenue. Visitation hours will be between 2 and 9 p.m. today.
With an ethics commission being proposed, it is interesting to see what I wrote in my original UPDATE on the piece written by Peggy Lowe of the OC Register, titled “Treasurer cleared in contract probe – But several county workers are disciplined after purchasing process violations.”
After you read the article you will find that this is another example of the cultural issues I’m enjoying here at the County. We have employees, not only in the jails, but elsewhere, who are comfortable with the art of obfuscation. Hopefully, we can bring honesty and integrity into every area of the County’s workforce. Being believable and credible to the public is paramount. And we cannot allow a few bad eggs to make the rest of us fall under a cloud of suspicion when we perform our official duties. Accordingly, I will continue to strive to improve the culture here at the County every day that I am in this office.
The report detailing the internal investigation had not been provided to the Board of Supervisors and we were learning about the results in the media account below. Fun life.
Treasurer-Tax Collector Chriss Street has been cleared by the county’s top administrator of tampering with a controversial contract, but several county workers have been disciplined for violating purchasing rules.
An internal investigation found that Street didn’t participate in the altering of an $18,000 contract for Ware Malcomb, but that several other county workers did, CEO Tom Mauk said Wednesday. Street wanted the Irvine architectural firm to design plans for rehabbing the front of the Hall of Finance and Records, where his office is located.
But whether Street will survive another probe into the contract is still uncertain. The district attorney is investigating Street’s role in the Ware Malcomb contract as part of a larger investigation that is ongoing.
The county’s investigation showed that several workers within the Resources and Development Management agency (since renamed OC Public Works) backdated the Ware Malcomb evaluation to falsely show that they followed the proper purchasing process, Mauk said. In fact, the county didn’t do an evaluation of Ware Malcomb before the company placed its first bid in April 2007 – despite what was reported in a June memo signed by Street and given to the Board of Supervisors.
"The investigation showed the treasurer did not participate in the date change and did not have a role in it," Mauk said.
Mauk wouldn’t name the "several" workers involved in the process, citing county personnel rules. Disciplinary action ranged from a reassignment to another job to time off without pay, he said.
"There was clearly a date change. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that," Mauk said. "It was a violation of county policies and rules."
The Register reported last September that two workers had been placed on leave pending the investigation — Clark Shen, a manager in the building and facilities department, and Antonio "Epoy" Pascual, who works in the department’s architectural-engineering division.
Their supervisor, Bob Wilson, was reassigned this week to the Health Care Agency, but that move was not related to the Ware Malcomb probe, Mauk said. Wilson, a longtime executive in the department, was moved as an extension of the county’s recent reorganization, which has also affected the upper management of OC Public Works, Mauk said.
Street didn’t return emails seeking comment.
Street has come under continued fire for a host of problems, both during his short time as treasurer and for his role as a bankruptcy trustee for a failed trucking firm. His former mentor, Supervisor John Moorlach, has called for Street to resign, as has Nick Berardino, the head of the county’s largest public workers union. Street has also survived the board’s vote to strip him of his powers over the county’s $6.2 billion portfolio and is now defending his purchase of some risky financial investments.
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