MOORLACH UPDATE — The Current — May 20, 2013

OC Register’s “The Current” columnist, Jack Wu, provides some excellent advice for those seeking to pursue a local elected position in the future. For those interested in serving on a County Board, Commission or Committee, even if you’re not interested in running for office someday, let me know. When a position becomes available, it would be great to have your resume available in our files for consideration.

Careers in politics start on city’s commissions

By JACK WU

It’s never too early to start preparing if you want to run for office.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach terms out of office next year, and there is already one officially announced candidate (California Board of Equalization Member Michelle Steel), two potential candidates (Assemblyman Allan Mansoor and Huntington Beach Councilman Joe Carchio), and a couple were-going-to-run-but-already-changed-their minds.

If Mansoor pulls the trigger and decides to go all-in, then his Assembly seat would open up to a gaggle of potential candidates, most likely some council members from Newport Beach, some more council members from Huntington Beach and even, potentially, Moorlach too.

And all this reminds me of what my friend and mentor, Tom Fuentes, once told me about how each city council member looks in the mirror every day and sees an Assembly member, every Assembly member sees a state senator’s reflection, and state senators see U.S. representatives looking back at them.

The quest to be an "Honorable" usually begins with being a city commissioner, and in Newport Beach the deadline to apply was Wednesday, meaning that by the time you read this, it will be too late. Next year!

From my own personal experience as a habitual applier to the Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission, the City Council assigns three of its members to a subcommittee to go through the applications, select some applicants for interviews, and then choose finalists for the entire City Council to vote on to fill the vacancies.

B.C. (before columns), I was honored to be a finalist a couple of times for the PB&R Commission.

A.C. (after columns), I don’t even get interviewed anymore.

So when temporary Deputy City Clerk Eva Solis sent me an email asking if I was still interested in applying, I couldn’t help but chuckle and then silently question the long-term thinking of the council members.

If I was honored to get selected to be a commissioner, then I technically wouldn’t be able to write about certain aspects of Newport Beach government in my columns anymore, right?

Hint, hint?

But I digress.

So if you want to eventually run for Newport Beach City Council, it would help to be appointed first to a commission.

Before getting elected, Councilman Mike Henn was a planning commissioner, as were council members Ed Selich and Leslie Daigle. Mayor Keith Curry was on the Facilities Finance Review Committee; Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill was the founder of the Economic Development Committee; and Councilwoman Nancy Gardner was the co-chairwoman of the General Plan Advisory Committee, among others.

The bottom line is, if you want to run, you have to start somewhere. And in Newport Beach, that means watching the appointment process carefully to see who might run for City Council in the future.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

May 19

1993

During Costa Mesa’s fortieth year, I served on the Board of Directors of the Costa Mesa Historical Society. I submitted an announcement regarding an historical venue that is one of the city’s most revered annual events, titled “Fish Fry conceived to develop community spirit in city,” which the Daily Pilot kindly printed. Les Miller was a wonderful member of our educational community and annual Les Miller Outstanding Student awards are still being provided to this day (see the Daily Pilot’s recent two-page spread, “Les Miller Outstanding Student Awards Costa Mesa’s Top 5%,” at http://www.dailypilot.com/media/acrobat/2013-05/157568400-17083005.pdf.

The Fish Fry was initiated to grow community spirit and raise funds for community improvement projects. Since the first Fish Fry in 1946, the Lions Club has been successful at doing both.

The Wednesday following this year’s event, the Costa Mesa Historical Society will be featuring Les Miller as its guest speaker. Les has actively participated in every Fish Fry and will share tales about his 47 years of involvement.

Residents of Costa Mesa are invited to attend and learn about this outstanding annual tradition and its impact on our community.

The meeting will be held June 9 at 7:30 p.m., at the Costa Mesa Historical Society, located at 1870 Anaheim, adjacent to Lion’s Park.

For more information please call the Costa Mesa Historical Society at 631-5918.

1998

I had a “The Orange Grove” editorial submission in the OC Register, titled “County should restore its debt-payment plan.” The piece had the following explanation: “THE ISSUE: Orange County’s stratgegic financial plan is excellent, but supervisors should insist on paying off debt as fast as possible.” Here are a few paragraphs which reflect my strong position on reducing and eliminating debt (a lifelong passion).

Last week the Board of Supervisors made dramatic changes to its policies on early debt retirement, or debt defeasance. It did so by adopting the county’s proposed Strategic Financial Plan.

I believe the five-year Strategic Plan is excellent; one would be hard-pressed to find another municipal government with a similar long-term document. And while I agree with the purpose of the plan and the majority of its recommendations, I take issue with the Board’s lack of resolve in staying on its course toward early debt retirement.

Last Tuesday the Board voted to transfer some 60 percent, more than $30 million, from . . . [the early debt retirement] fund . . . to make regularly scheduled payments.

The Board also voted to reduce its current annual funding commitment to the early debt retirement fund by as much as 50 percent, from $15 million per year to an average of $7 million.

Orange County’s department heads . . . rallied around the battle cry of reducing the debt. Certainly, the thought of reducing debt, which reduces interest costs, which then allows more funds in the budget for other needs and necessities, is not lost on individuals managing their personal finances. It should not be lost on elected and government officials, either. After all, reducing costs presents the ability to reduce taxes. Therefore, if we are not serious about reducing our debts, then we are not serious about reducing our costs.

I believe the Board needs to stick to the debt reduction course that it established two years ago. The citizens of theis county want to get this bankruptcy chapter behind us as quickly as possible. They want the county to pay for what it is responsible for, and that includes expeditiously paying off the bankruptcy related bonds.

2008

Christian Berthelsen of the LA Times provided a profile on one of the Sheriff candidates with “Anderson plays down Carona ties – The acting sheriff, a finalist for top job, is taking steps to distance himself from scandals of his predecessor.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

In the wake of Orange County’s sheriff resigning to fight federal corruption charges and after embarrassing revelations about jail deputies’ conduct, the man now running the department has pledged to be a reformer who will restore integrity.

But as he seeks approval from county supervisors to complete Michael S. Carona’s term, acting Sheriff Jack Anderson faces a major obstacle: his ties to Carona.

Anderson is a 21-year department veteran promoted by Carona from captain to assistant sheriff, making him part of the former sheriff’s command staff. When Carona resigned in January, he made a series of eleventh-hour personnel moves that enabled Anderson to assume the top job.

The acting sheriff also serves on the Central and Executive Committees of the Orange County Republican Party, a powerful force in local politics, and is close to some of the same political consultants who advised Carona.

Since taking over, Anderson has won praise from supervisors for dealing forcefully with deputies and senior department brass who lied during a grand jury inquiry into the death of a jail inmate.

He launched an aggressive campaign to identify and fix department problems, including asking the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations. He supported the creation of an office to review civilian complaints against the department and pledged the department’s cooperation in crime-fighting initiatives that his predecessor had resisted.

Supervisor John Moorlach said Anderson was "exceeding expectations."

Still, he added: "There is sort of a guiding principle that if you need to change a culture, you need to bring in somebody from the outside. It’s very difficult for someone from the inside."

May 20

2003

The lead editorial in the OC Register was titled “Overspending a plague not just at state level,” and addressed a recent Grand Jury report on Orange County public employee benefit enhancements. The report would be prescient. So would be the editorial. Here are the last few paragraphs of the editorial:

Public-sector employees receive their pay from taxpayers, who have no choice to pay the salaries and benefits negotiated by local, county and state officials. The grand jury report is aptly titled, “Who Represents Orange County Taxpayers?” That is the problem in Orange County and Sacramento. The pressures are great to give privileges to organized interest groups – organized labor is one of the most powerful interest groups in California – and small to consider the effects on those people who pay the bills.

Clearly, county staff and supervisors didn’t oversee the process carefully enough. “No one takes the long-term perspective,” county Treasurer John Moorlach told us. California officials are too busy endearing themselves to unions so that they can get the financial support necessary to win higher office, he explained.

Yet the bill is coming due. As the grand jury reported, “Orange County has recently established a pattern of ever-expanding and increasing payroll and related benefits spending. The pattern is counter to the model of cost-cutting in private industry and is vitally significant during periods of uncertain or diminished economic outlook.”

Unless the economy recovers quickly, this can spell trouble.

2008

John Caulfield of Builder Magazine would recognize the recent policy change in the OC, with “California Towns Postpone Impact Fees,” (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Awarding and Assuming — May 15, 2013). Here is the full article:

A push for local governments to defer the collection of impact fees gained steam in California last week when elected officials in Orange County, Calif., agreed to postpone collecting fees for housing construction projects until those projects are finished. The county, which wants to provide temporary relief to the ailing housing industry, will defer collections for a year and then revisit the issue in light of existing business conditions.

Orange County’s decision came only weeks after the city council of Anaheim, Calif., voted unanimously to delay impact fee collections as part of a stimulus package that includes green-building and affordable-housing incentives. The deferrals in Anaheim will extend to 2010. In the city of Orange, Calif., the fee collection deferrals are now permanent, according to Kristine Thalman, chief executive of the BIA of Southern California–Orange County chapter. The city of Victorville, Calif., went one step farther when it voted to freeze impact fees for parks and facilities for six months, which would reduce fees per house that had been $11,327 by 62 percent to $4,937, according to that city’s Daily Press.

“Deferred payments will put money back in the pockets of builders and developers and could help keep people employed,” she told BUILDER in an interview yesterday. The county’s decision has also given her leverage when approaching other cities about doing the same thing; she said that in the past few days she had visited with officials in several cities, including Huntington Beach, Irvine, and Santa Ana. “Jurisdictions like to see who goes first before they act themselves,” she said.

Impact fees, which are assessed on new homeowners to help pay for a neighborhood’s infrastructure and services, have long been the bane of builders and developers and have become a political hot potato in some markets. Three of the four candidates running for seats on the city council of Kingman, Ariz., have made their opposition to impact fees part a campaign issue, according to the Kingman Daily Miner. The Fort Worth Business Press reported yesterday on that city approving a $2,000 transportation fee on every single-family residential unit.

A bill that would have mandated fee collection deferrals throughout California ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from the League of Cities and other interest groups. “The political climate, particularly in northern California, just wouldn’t accept that,” says Bob Rivinius, the state BIA’s executive director. So his group is supporting a bill, expected to emerge from the state legislature next month, that would require local governments to meet with local building groups “to see if something can’t be worked out” on impact fees, Rivinius says.

Orange County generates 80 percent of its general funds from property taxes, “so when we’re that dependent on what happens to real estate, anything we can do to help is worth it,” says John Moorlach, chairman of the county’s board of supervisors. Moorlach points that many of the condo and high-rise projects in his county (which has 3 million people in just 800 square miles) have been struggling during the downturn in buyer demand and the credit crunch. While he concedes that the fee deferments would probably have “minimal impact” on moving projects along, he says that he “saw this as more of partnership, where we’re saying to [builders] that we are willing to modify some things during tough times.”

Some cities have been postponing their impact fees collections since the 1990s. “But what’s new is the skill that we’re getting fees deferred up and down the state,” says Borre Winckel, executive director of Southern California’s BIA chapter in Riverside County, which last summer agreed to defer all impact fees until a project is completed. Riverside had always deferred some fees, but it had also been adding fees for things like transportation and parks that weren’t deferred, Winckel explains.

Riverside County’s decision affects unincorporated land where about 40 percent of the county’s annual permits are issued. In the mid 2000s, the county issued up to 34,000 permits a year. In 2007, that permit number fell to 15,000; in the first quarter of 2008, only 1,000 permits were issued. Winckel says that the fee-postponement, in Riverside and elsewhere, “is designed to move projects forward.” The builder doesn’t have to borrow money to pay the fees upfront, and the saving in interest-rate costs can be used for construction and maintaining employment.

Neither Thalman, Winckel, nor Rivinius sees any evidence that postponing collections is delaying the placement of infrastructure. And Winckel says that one problem, where certificates of ownership to homebuyers were delayed when builders were late on paying fees, has been resolved by statute.

Winckel estimates that builders and developers in western Riverside County pay, on average, $65,000 per house in impact fees. At least about one-fifth of that $12,500, though, is assessed by school districts that, which are collecting more than $4 per square foot. Winckel says the districts are his group’s next target for deferrals. "The big mistake we’ve made in the past has been to bargain with the [school] facilities’ builders, who complain that they wouldn’t get paid for 6 to 8 months." But he argues that with school enrollment dropping, the fees being assessed by school districts, and when they are collected, should be adjusted.

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