MOORLACH UPDATE — Begets a New Vote — June 25, 2012

Yesterday was packed. The morning was spent at the twice-monthly Orange County Transportation Authority Board meeting. The major topic was deliberation over the recommendation to concur with the city of Anaheim’s locally preferred alternative, approved by its city council on a 3-2 vote, to use fixed-rail streetcars to move passengers from the train station, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), to the resort area. After lengthy review, I could not justify pursuing a technology that is 210 years old. (According to Wikipedia, the first public railway was the Surrey Iron Railway in London in 1803; it too was environmentally sensitive, as it was horse-drawn.) The Voice of OC was at the meeting and covers the topic in the first piece below.

I went from OCTA to the 12:30 p.m. Board of Supervisors meeting to vote on the County’s Fiscal Year 2013-14 Budget. The Voice of OC was also present and provides its take in the second piece below. The major topic would beget another OC Register editorial, which is the third piece below.

OCTA Directors Still Wary of Anaheim Streetcar Price Tag

By ADAM ELMAHREK

Anaheim has proposed a $319-million streetcar project, similar to a system in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: inhabitat.com)

The Orange County Transportation Authority board of directors Monday postponed for two weeks action that would have provided Anaheim with access to OCTA funds for the city’s streetcar project because several directors remain uncomfortable with the transit system’s $100-million per mile price tag.

Although the board had previously allocated funds for the environmental study and conceptual engineering work, directors are struggling with the wording of an agreement between OCTA and the city that calls for the board to “concur” with the city’s selection of the streetcar before city officials can access the funds.

Proponents of the planned 3.2-mile public transit project — which will connect a planned train station with key destinations such as the Disneyland Resort, the GardenWalk outdoor mall and the Anaheim convention center — said that the project will support city growth and increase the county’s economic activity.

“We believe it’s an enhancement to all the people of Orange County,” said Dennis Kuhl, chairman of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

But in recent months, some OCTA directors have challenged the cost of the planned streetcar system, questioning the financial sense of casting aside a bus alternative, which is projected to be $263.4 million cheaper to construct. That debate continued at Monday’s board meeting, as directors Todd Spitzer, Jeff Lalloway and John Moorlach scoffed at the streetcar’s projected $319-million total cost.

OCTA officials conducted a cost comparison among 11 streetcar projects across the country and found that Anaheim’s planned system was by far the most expensive. The streetcar project in neighboring Santa Ana is estimated at $110 million less than Anaheim’s, despite Santa Ana’s project having a planned route nearly a mile longer.

“It is a stark contrast, when you look at Santa Ana,” said Spitzer, a county supervisor. A vote to endorse the project’s price tag doesn’t make sense, he said. “I don’t know how you could explain that vote to anybody.”

There are several reasons that any California construction project can be more expensive than similar projects in places like Portland, Cincinnati and Tampa, including California’s high labor costs and environmental regulations.

But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that another reason for the steep price are demands placed upon it by Disneyland and the rest of the city’s resort district.

Among the factors that Anaheim officials acknowledge have driven up the cost include: a power system that eliminates overhead electrical wires in certain areas so they won’t harm the aesthetics of the resort; a higher number of train cars so the system can deliver tourists to Disneyland; and higher infrastructure costs because of increased traffic in the resort district.

And while Santa Ana would be purchasing little, if any, right of way, Anaheim would be spending millions of dollars on right of way, some of which will be expensive because it is in the resort area.

There is no doubt that Disneyland would benefit greatly from a streetcar system. Disney-backed Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray said as much at an OCTA board workshop in March. Murray acknowledged during the meeting that the streetcar would be essential in taking cars off the road, thus giving Disney the ability to expand the resort and open a third gate.

And while critics like Spitzer lauded Disneyland and other key destinations in Anaheim, such as the Honda Center and Angel Stadium, for producing billions of dollars in economic activity and thousands of jobs, they questioned the wisdom of using taxpayer funds to subsidize Anaheim’s tourist industry at such a high cost.

Lalloway, a Republican Irvine city councilman, noted that most of the board members are Republican elected officials who almost certainly ran on platforms of fiscal responsibility. That they would support the expensive project when the cheaper buses are an option betrays Republican principles, he said.

“I just have to ask the question, when does the spending ever end?” Lalloway said, adding that federal money for the project would likely be borrowed money that future generations would have to repay or be printed from the Federal Reserve. “When do we look our kids in the eye and say, you know what, that’s enough, we can do with buses.”

Among other things, Lalloway has issues with the number of additional riders that a streetcar project would attract over an enhanced bus system. While estimates state that a streetcar system would eventually attract 1,000 more boardings a day than a bus system, Lalloway asserted that it would only amount to 600 more people.

He questioned whether those 600 extra people are worth spending an additional $263.4 million, which amounts to $439,000 per additional daily rider.

Moorlach, also a county supervisor, challenged arguments from proponents that a streetcar will increase property values. Values in a tourism-heavy area would rise regardless of a streetcar, he said.

“Who cares? We don’t own the land,” Moorlach said. “If it were my own money for streetcars, I’m out,” he added, quoting the network television show Shark Tank.

Lalloway and Moorlach were the only directors to vote against the continuance, presumably because they are against the project altogether.

Meanwhile, board Chairman Greg Winterbottom was upset with the prospect of a delay in approval for the project. "I’m really at a loss. … I’m trying to understand where we are in this cabal," he said. "Is another review going to help us any?"

Anaheim Public Works Director Natalie Meeks said city officials are looking at ways to pare down the cost of the project.

One big cost factor that will likely diminish is the more than 30-percent unexpected contingencies budget that the Federal Transit Authority requires of such projects, Meeks said. City officials hope the FTA will fund 50 percent of the project through a highly competitive federal grant program called New Starts. A typical city project would have a 20-percent contingencies budget, she said.

Officials would also look at ways to cut costs on the streetcar stations, right-of-way acquisition and relocation of utilities, according to an OCTA staff presentation given to the board.

Despite resistance from some directors, it remains unclear where the majority of the 17-member board stand on the project. Of the board’s transit committee, Lori Donchak, Gail Eastman, Steve Jones, Janet Nguyen and Tim Shaw approved a concurrence action earlier this month. Other transit committee members were absent from that meeting.

Director Al Murray, a Tustin city councilman, expressed some concern about the cost and asked for briefings by staff. Other board directors offered little comment or were silent on the issue.

In the end, the board directed staff to return with an action that would allow Anaheim access to the funding but will not imply approval of the project’s cost. City officials said the funds are necessary for a study to answer directors’ questions.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

Supervisors Cede to Brown’s Demand and Cut Office Budgets

By NICK GERDA

Bowing to pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown, Orange County supervisors on Monday unanimously reversed an earlier vote to exempt itself from an across-the-board cut to county departments.

The 5-percent reduction countywide, which county management said will have no major impacts on services, was finalized Monday as part of approving a new $5.3-billion total budget.

The cut, which Brown’s office demanded supervisors subject themselves to after reading a Voice of OC article, comes amid county efforts to resolve a $147-million property tax dispute with the state.

In the earlier straw vote, Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach had voted to include their offices in the cuts, while supervisors Janet Nguyen, Pat Bates and Todd Spitzer voted to exempt themselves.

“Chairman [Nelson] and I went to Sacramento and were confronted with this in the governor’s office,” Spitzer said.

The meeting made Spitzer realize that the board shouldn’t leave observers “somehow thinking that we’re not playing by the same rules,” he said Monday.

County government and labor leaders have been scrambling to react to a major financial blow from losing $73-million per year in property taxes the county had been directing its way.

The loss constitutes 11 percent of the county’s discretionary spending, officials said, prompting supervisors and labor unions to lobby Brown and state legislative leaders for funding.

Ultimately, supervisors voted unanimously to trim their office budgets by 5 percent below the current-year levels.

The move would trim around $240,000 altogether, with an average of around $48,000 per supervisor, based on the county’s budget records.

The approach of using the current-year adopted budget as a baseline was put forward by Bates, who said her office was set to receive a major boost under staff’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.

“I’m actually getting more money than I had and that I need,” said Bates, saying a 5-percent cut would have still put her budget higher than the current year funding level.

Supervisors also reversed course on an earlier move to no longer have the county pay for premium health benefits for Superior Court judges.

The backtracking came after the prospect was raised that some judges may resign if required to pay for the benefits, which the county pays in addition to benefits the judges already receive through the state’s health plan.

“I think you have made the promise to the people who are sitting judges right now that this is what you can expect,” Presiding Judge Thomas Borris told supervisors, adding that he believes “some of the judges probably would leave office” if the county moves forward with the cuts.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim said staff had proposed cutting the plan due to a broad board directive to examine “costs incurred by the county that aren’t specific to a county-mandated responsibility.” California’s superior courts fall under the state government.

Supervisors decided to reconsider the issue during budget discussions a year from now.

The current-year original adopted budgets for supervisors’ offices, according to county records, (page 358 onwards) are:

· $985,000 for Supervisor Janet Nguyen (District 1);

· $940,000 for Supervisor John Moorlach (District 2);

· $899,000 for Supervisor Todd Spitzer (District 3);

· $985,000 for Chairman Shawn Nelson (District 4); and

· $948,000 for Vice Chair Pat Bates (District 5).

That comes to a little under $5 million overall for supervisor budgets, as originally adopted.

In total, county spending this coming year is scheduled to be down $314 million or 6 percent from the current year, to $5.31 billion.

Kim said the budget reductions were largely accomplished through reducing capital projects and information technology program spending. The cuts include laying off three management employees in the auditor-controller’s officewithin the Comprehensive Asset Protection Solutions Program office.

The county’s new budget includes:

· $656 million for the main Health Care Agency budget – up 0.5 percent from current year’s adopted budget,

· $530 million for the main sheriff-coroner budget – up 3 percent,

· $484 million for the main Social Services Agency budget – up 7 percent,

· $201 million for the John Wayne Airport operating enterprise budget – up 70 percent and

· $180 million for the Orange County Housing Authority – up 13 percent.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

Welcome belt-tightening

Supervisors agree to trim office budgets.

We were pleased that the Board of Supervisors voted Monday to change its stance and amend the county budget to add a 5 percent budget reduction for their offices. But, we were even more pleased when Fifth District Supervisor Patricia Bates moved to close a loophole that would have made the cut purely symbolic.

The vote proved a reversal of a previous nonbinding decision to exempt supervisor offices from a mandatory, staff proposed, across-the-board budget cut to cover the county’s $147 million legal defeat by the state over contested property taxes.

At the time, we implored the supervisors to rethink the decision, believing that they had missed a crucial leadership opportunity that could come back to haunt them when more difficult decisions on pensions and allocation of county services come to a vote.

The supervisors appeared to have listened, but Ms. Bates took it a step further when she noted that a 5 percent reduction would not even bring some offices down to the previous year’s spending level because of a scheduled increase in this year’s budget.

“I’m not opposed to it but what has been confusing is that we got a raise,” Ms. Bates said.

That boost in office budgets resulted in sizable increases in office funding for the Second and Fifth Districts, which usually request the least, to bring them more in line with the budgets of the other three supervisors, an attempt to spread funds more evenly.

“Five percent doesn’t even bring me down to what I spend,” Ms. Bates said. “It is disingenuous. I’m getting more than I need.”

A good catch by Ms. Bates, as not undoing the budgeted office increase would have made the whole point moot and, when noticed, would have left many feeling like the supervisors had played a game of bait and switch.

Instead, Ms. Bates suggested that the budgets be returned to the previous year’s level and reexamined at the first financial quarter. The move was supported by Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who noted that her office was the only one not to see an increase in this year’s budget.

Supervisors John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson, who initially proposed the in-kind cut, said while supportive of Ms. Bates’ motion, still felt a 5 percent reduction was important as not all offices would otherwise see a comparable reduction.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer echoed their sentiments, saying that the people could not be left thinking that the board operated on a different standard. We agree.

Much to our pleasure, a motion to reduce office budgets to yearago levels, along with the 5 percent reduction from that amount, was approved unanimously.

We commend all the supervisors for showing leadership and supporting the move, especially Mr. Moorlach and Mr. Nelson for initiating the reduction, and Ms. Bates for giving the cut meaning that it would not have otherwise had.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

June 23

2008

John Canalis of the Long Beach Press-Telegram provided the background on upcoming November ballot measures with “Cutting Rossmoor Loose – County hopes to save money by getting upscale residents to agree to form a city.”

It may be landlocked, but Orange County considers Rossmoor an "island."

That is because the 50-year-old subdivision of ribboned roads, rambling ranch houses and enviable schools is not a city, but an unincorporated area that receives core services from the county seat in Santa Ana and a tiny on-site agency with a few employees.

County politicians want to get out of delivering many day-to-day services to Rossmoor and areas like it to reduce costs and focus on regional government instead.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is expected to place a measure on the Nov. 4 election ballot that will ask Rossmoor’s 7,000 or so registered voters if they want to form a city.

"I doubt there will be any discussion," Supervisor John Moorlach, whose territory includes Rossmoor, said of the meeting. "This is ministerial."

The ballot measure has stated support from a board majority.

Moorlach and two other supervisors serve on the Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which on May 22 agreed to push the issue toward the voters after a study suggested that a Rossmoor city is financially viable with a utility tax of 7 or 9 percent, a share of vehicle license fees from the state and a sliver of sales tax revenue from a tiny retail base on the corner of Los Alamitos Boulevard and Katella Avenue.

"I am seeing that the majority support the idea," Moorlach said of Rossmoor residents. "There is a vocal minority that are longtime residents, so the need for change is not apparent to them. It’s always been this way. The argument is, `If it isn’t broke, why fix it?"’

Longtime resident Jim Alexander has made that very argument.

"You’ve been over here," Alexander said. "You drive around. Do you find this place in a shambles? It’s great."

Some prefer status quo

His grass-roots campaign against incorporating boils down to this: "If you’re not displeased with what we have, then vote no."

Alexander suggests that the county is abandoning a commitment to Rossmoor, an upscale tract of 1.5 square miles wedged between Los Alamitos, Long Beach and Seal Beach.

"This is a foster parent who does not want that stepchild around them," he said.

Though the move to get out of providing services to unincorporated areas began in earnest after the Orange County bankruptcy in 1994, an expected shortfall in property taxes caused by the decline in real estate valuations is putting more pressure on the county.

"They’ve been making money off us for a long time," Alexander said. "Until the bankruptcy came around, they were reaping about a $500,000 benefit off of our taxpayers. Now they’re saying, `It’s costing us money to do things for you.’ "

Moorlach said he must deal with the present state of Orange County government, one that needs to shrink, and eliminating county islands is one way to achieve that goal.

"The problem is somebody’s been subsidizing them, and they’ve been saying, `We enjoy this entitlement, why give it up?"’ Moorlach said. "If you’re going to be subsidized, I am not doing my fiduciary duty for the other taxpayers in the county."

Rossmoor, by most measures, is a wealthy community. The median home price – a moving target these days – is about $900,000 and the median income is a hair under $100,000 and double the statewide average.

The difference between what Rossmoor residents pay in taxes and what they receive back in services is about $590,000, said Henry Taboada, the Rossmoor Community Services District’s general manager.

"There is certainly a mandate from the county to get itself out of municipal services," said Taboada, who runs Rossmoor as an independent contractor.

Taboada, who previously served as city manager in Long Beach and interim city manager in Los Alamitos, said the incorporation drive gained momentum when a consultant determined it was financially possible for Rossmoor to become a city if residents were willing to tax themselves.

Projections were made 10 years out, Taboada said, and it looked like a Rossmoor city could make it even when applying conservative forecasting.

Utilizing available revenue, such as a portion of property and sales taxes, car fees and a utility tax, would give Rossmoor projected revenues of $4.9 million its first year against expenses of nearly $4.5 million, Taboada said.

The difference between the two utility tax proposals, 7 percent or 9 percent, would mean about $226,000.

"That doesn’t really effect the outcome," Taboada said.

The Rossmoor Community Services District spends $1million in an annual budget that covers street sweeping and lighting, parks and recreation and tree-trimming.

County services provided to Rossmoor include animal control, law and code enforcement and building permits.

There are the equivalent of about four or five full-time positions in the district now. It would take about 10 or 11 full-time employees, as well as independent contractors and consultants, such as municipal attorneys and engineers, to run a city.

A new City Council, which would be chosen on the same ballot with incorporation and the utility tax, would decide on contracting for city services, including law enforcement, which is currently handled by the Sheriff’s Department, and animal control.

The Orange County Fire Department – Rossmoor is in an established fire district – would continue providing protection.

Though Rossmoor only has about 10,000 residents living in about 3,500 homes and a smattering of condominiums, there is precedence in Orange County to form cities that size with limited sources of income, such as sales taxes. Villa Park, a hamlet of 6,500, is the county’s smallest city and, one of its wealthiest, and manages to survive with few revenue sources.

In Los Angeles County, tiny La Habra Heights, near La Mirada and Whittier, is in a similar situation.

Other Rossmoor options

Polling in Rossmoor found that after 50 years of relative independence, residents preferred remaining unincorporated or cityhood to annexation with Seal Beach or Los Alamitos.

Eric Christenesen, a member of the Rossmoor Homeowners Association who supports cityhood, said there is a pressing need because county services, particularly code enforcement, have declined to unsatisfactory levels.

"They’re planning to cut services if we don’t incorporate, so it’s going to get worse," he said.

Other residents have complained about response times of about eight minutes – once 11 minutes – from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which must also patrol Sunset Beach but travel over a freeway overpass and down Seal Beach Boulevard to get to Rossmoor.

A Rossmoor city could mean one dedicated patrol car at all times for the community, Taboada said.

Manager would retire

If the ballot measures pass in November, Rossmoor would incorporate Jan. 1.

The new City Council "would determine who would be their city manager, and could be their interim city manager," Taboada said.

Taboada, 68, said he could stay on an interim basis through about July 1, if necessary.

Under the conditions of Taboada’s pension from the city of Long Beach, he cannot take a full-time job and work more than six months in a year, so he would prefer to retire.

That is not to say he hasn’t enjoyed his second act running small communities.

"When you work in a city like Long Beach, it is so large you don’t get to roll up your sleeves a lot," he said. "Here, it’s hands-on. You get to … do a bit of everything."

June 24

1998

David Parrish of the OC Register provided a personnel update with an interesting twist in “Largest pay raises start at top in O.C. government – LABOR: Spitzer says the increases could be ‘pension spiking’.” Here are the opening and a few other selected paragraphs:

Most of the 15,400 county employees were voted a pay raise Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, with the biggest bucks going to high-level executives and elected officials.

The average county employee will receive a 6.5 percent raise and a 2 percent bonus, both equally split between this July and July 1999. Supervisors approved a 12 percent increase to their paychecks, also split equally between this year and 1999.

Other elected officials in county government also were voted a pay raise, with the exception of Assessor Brad Jacobs.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer suggested this could be viewed as “pension spiking” – the practice by public employees of increasing their pay in the last year of employment in order to boost their pensions.

District Attorney Mike Capizzi’s 2 percent raise will mean that when he retires at the end of the year, his pension will increase by about $945 annually.

Here are the raises and new salaries for top county officials: Auditor-Controller Steve Lewis – 2 percent, to $106,683. (David Sundstrom, elected this month, will receive this salary when he takes office next year.) Clerk-Recorder Gary Granville – 6 percent, to $88,067.

District Attorney Mike Capizzi – 2 percent, to $128,731. (New DA Anthony Rackauckas will receive this salary next year.) Sheriff Brad Gates – 4 percent, to $131,268. (New Sheriff Mike Carona’s pay next year.) Treasurer John Moorlach – 4 percent, to $108,534.

2003

The OC Register corrected the error that I mentioned in their June 18 Board of Supervisors meeting vote analysis (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Voice of OC — June 18, 2013).

Orange County supervisor on a 3-2 vote June 17 refused to allow cities and other local agencies to temporarily enter the investment pools managed by Treasurer-Tax Collector John Moorlach between June and August. Because of a reporter’s error, the supervisors’ action was misstated in a chart in the Local section of the June 18 edition of the Register.

2008

David Reyes of the LA Times addressed a topic that is just now being pursued, although I observed that the OCTA is fully capable of self-funding, with “Interest rates push OCTA to consider refinancing.” The first sentence will indicate that there has been plenty of activity investment banking industry in the last five years. Another change has been the definition used. The 91 Express Lanes are now considered managed lanes, not toll lanes. Toll lanes would infer some closure to the cost and the freeing up of the lanes for the general public. Managed lanes means that they will be there in perpetuity, charging tolls that will regulate the flow of traffic in order to provide the toll payer a expedited trip through the lanes. Consequently, the underlying costs have no impact on the toll payers and any refinancing for a lower interest rate does not mean a hill of beans to the users and there are no savings to pass along.

Transportation planners today approved an agreement with Lehman Bros. and others to evaluate whether the bond debt for the 91 Freeway toll lanes in Orange County needs to be refinanced.

The action was prompted after the bond insurer for the 91 Express Lanes debt was downgraded by several credit agencies. As a result, the interest rates on the bonds have increased and are now costing the Orange County Transportation Authority, which operates the toll lanes, $30,000 a week, an OCTA official said.

About $100 million in variable-rate bonds are insured by Ambac Assurance Corp., which was downgraded by Fitch Inc. and placed on negative credit watch by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, said Kirk Avila, OCTA’s Express Lanes manager.

In addition to Lehman, the underwriting team includes Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Securities Inc. and Merrill Lynch. The team will assess OCTA’s options and recommend to the OCTA board in November whether restructuring is called for, Avila said.

John Moorlach, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and an OCTA board member, said Ambac lost its AAA credit rating because it insured sub-prime loans and was hit, "like so many others," by the mortgage crunch.

"Big issues like this are affecting municipalities around the country," he said. "We’re dealing with the cost of doing business."

OCTA bought the 10-mile Express Lanes in 2003 for $207.5 million from California Private Transportation Co., a consortium of companies. As part of the deal, OCTA took responsibility for the former owner’s $135-million bond debt and quickly refinanced to take advantage of interest rates below 5%, almost 3 percentage points lower than the original rate.

Splitting the debt into fixed and variable-rate bonds combined with a lower interest helped save the Express Lanes an estimated $500,000 a year, Avila said.

"We’ve saved the 91 customers about $2 million in the last four years with the structure we put in place," he said. "Unfortunately, now it has gone the other way."

June 25

2008

The big day had arrived and Peggy Lowe of the OC Register trumpeted the news with “Sandra Hutchens publicly sworn in as sheriff – Some 2,000 watch as first female sheriff is sworn in at Old Courthouse in Santa Ana.”

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was publicly sworn in as Orange County’s first female top officer today in a large public ceremony held under sunny skies with calls for an end of "dark days."

More than 2,000 people filled the grounds of the Old County Courthouse to watch Hutchens, dressed in her new uniform and wearing a side arm, swear on a Bible held by her husband, Larry.

Supervisor Bill Campbell said it had been 163 days since the federal indictment of former Sheriff Mike Carona on public corruption charges, which he recalled as "dark days."

"Today is a sunny day, both in the sky and for Orange County law enforcement," Campbell said.

Hutchens, too, refused to look back and said she is focused on building on the promise of the trained and dedicated men and women of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Describing herself again as a "change agent," Hutchens said she will take the "long view" and will be "seeking truth."

"The willingness to look at what works and ask how it can be made even better is in and of itself, change," she said. "It is only by leading the department, doing an analysis of all the things we do right, that we can have the solid foundation to identify what we do wrong and fix it."

Hutchens was sworn in by Orange County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kirkwood. Hutchens’ mother, Marilyn Mitchell, and brother, Keith Jones, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, were in the second row.

Appointed by the Board of Supervisors on June 10, Hutchens was sworn in last Thursday during a small, private ceremony by Supervisor John Moorlach.

Colleene Preciado, head of the county’s Probation Department, downplayed the significance of Hutchens’ gender and said she will join a host of other women in the county’s law enforcement and justice agencies.

"It’s really not a gender thing to me," Preciado said. "People get here on their own merits, their own hard work."

Hutchens, 53, was chosen over Santa Ana Police Chief Paul Walters and 46 other candidates to replace Carona, who resigned in January to focus on his trial, which is set for August. She is the third woman in California to serve as sheriff, joining female officers in Fresno and Santa Clara counties.

A Dana Point resident, Hutchens worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for 27 years, working her way up through the ranks after starting as a secretary in 1976. She retired in March 2007 as a division chief.

She promised supervisors to do an exhaustive audit of the department and report back to the board within 120 days. She has already hired a consultant to study Orange County’s jails and is considering hiring a consultant group made up of former members of the state corrections board.

Hutchens, who said she will run for election when her term expires in 2010, will earn $208,000 a year.

UPDATE: Sandra Hutchens publicly sworn in as sheriff
WELCOME: John Moorlach, chairman of the board of supervisors, delivered the welcome at Tuesday’s oath of office ceremony. The board chose Sheriff Sandra Hutchens by a 3-2 vote.

Jebb Harris, The Orange County Register

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Christian Berthelsen of the LA Times provided a piece on an Orange County Employees Retirement System appointed board member swap out that I did as Chair, titled “Pension suit led to firing, official says – O.C. pension board veteran says the supervisors who sacked him are playing politics over the issue.” The assumed reason for the swap was not correct, but it made for a fun time for a speculative and errant reporter.

Tensions between the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the panel that manages the county’s pensions spilled into public view Tuesday, when a longtime pension board member who was abruptly replaced accused supervisors of political meddling.

The dust-up comes in the middle of a legal fight between supervisors and the pension board over the county’s effort to slash retirement payments to sheriff’s deputies.

In January, supervisors unanimously voted to sue the Orange County Public Employee Retirement System, alleging that a retroactive spike in deputies’ retirement pay — which was agreed to as part of the union’s 2001 labor contract — was illegal and created a $187-million shortfall in the retirement fund.

Overall, the county’s pension fund is estimated to have $2.3 billion less than it needs to pay for benefits in the coming decades.

Union leaders suspected that the county named the pension board as a defendant because it expected little resistance. Instead, the retirement system, which has a legal obligation to defend employee benefits, has fought the case aggressively and has won the early rounds in court, including getting the case moved out of Orange County to more neutral ground in Los Angeles.

Thomas Lightvoet, the outgoing pension board member who served for 18 years, said Board of Supervisors Chairman John M.W. Moorlach, whom Lightvoet accused of forcing his removal, had "expressed consternation" that the pension system was fighting the case.

During the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, Lightvoet read a letter signed by six members of the pension board saying they feared his removal was "politically motivated," and noted the state Legislature has said that pension boards "must be free from political meddling and intimidation."

In a brittle exchange, Moorlach cut Lightvoet off after his allotted time had elapsed, preventing him from reading the full text of the letter. "I just want to thank you for your 18 years of service," he said.

Lightvoet retorted: "Interesting way to dismiss me." Moorlach then told Lightvoet: "It is an appointment, not an entitlement."

Pension board Chairman Reed Royalty also spoke in support of Lightvoet. Of the four supervisors present Tuesday, only one, Janet Nguyen, expressed concern about the appointment process, saying she wanted to be more involved in such decisions in the future "to make sure the motivation behind this is the qualifications of the individual rather than the political."

Lightvoet’s removal from the board is unusual because he had just begun a new term. His previous term lapsed at the end of 2007 and the board made no effort to remove him then.

Four of the pension board’s 10 members are appointed by supervisors and serve two-year terms.

Once their terms expire, they can be replaced, renominated or simply allowed to continue serving in the position until the supervisors appoint someone new.

That was the case with Lightvoet and two other board members, Royalty and George Jeffries, appointed by supervisors.

The supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to replace him with Patti Gorczyca, a former county employee for 19 years who served on the staffs of two current supervisors and in the county executive office.

Gorczyca has a long history of experience in public finance. She said in an interview Tuesday that she was not asked about her position on public pensions before being offered the appointment. She declined to comment on the charged atmosphere she is stepping into.

In the budget adopted Tuesday for the coming year, the county set aside $2.75 million to pay for legal battles, including the pension litigation. As of the last public accounting produced at the end of November, the county had already spent more than $500,000 on the case.

Wayne Quint, the president of the Assn. of Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said the board’s removal of Lightvoet smacked of politicizing the pension system, and said the supervisors’ strategy in the pension case amounted to "looking for the path of least resistance, which they thought was going to be the retirement board. Clearly, removing people who didn’t go along with that strategy speaks volumes."

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