MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Vote on Tuesday — March 15, 2015

The election is Tuesday, March 17th, and the media is ramping up for the big day.

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The Daily Pilot provides a letter to the editor from Gene Hutchins in the first piece below. Gene does not comment often, but when he does, he is usually right (see MOORLACH UPDATE — LOOK BACKS — May 10, 2010). The letter also made it to the OC Register‘s Commentary section. The second piece is also from the Daily Pilot and it announces Tuesday’s election. The OC Register has its perspective on the race and it is provided in the third piece below.

The OC Register also has a review of inspections done by County personnel in the fourth and final piece. I want to remind you that I have not raised any of your taxes (see MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Missed the Mark — March 2, 2015). However, I have voted for raising certain fees (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Restuarant Inspections — November 26, 2014). This responsibility comes with an executive position. Holding to a strident opposition to raising fees can lead a municipality into willful neglect, such as failing to adequately monitor restaurants for potential food borne diseases.

So, by doing right in protecting your personal safety, I am being attacked by my opponent for raising fees. Let’s hope that the voters have enough discernment and good judgment to see that my fiscal stewardship at the County of Orange was focused on doing the right thing and not focused on avoiding "hit pieces."

BONUS: I want to invite all of our campaign volunteers and donors to the headquarters Tuesday night at 8 p.m. to watch the vote results. The absentee ballot results will be provided by the Registrar of Votes at 8:05 p.m. Let me thank you, once again, for all of your hard work. I am most grateful.

DOUBLE BONUS: Your polling place may not be at the usual location for this Tuesday’s Special Election, as the ballot only contains one item. Consequently, the Registrar of Voters is not providing as many polling locations.

How can you find your polling place?

1) Look on your Sample Ballot. It is on the front of your booklet.

Don’t have your Sample Ballot?

2) Go to

http://www.ocvote.com/voting/polling-place-and-sample-ballot-finder/find-your-polling-place/

Type in your street number and then the street name (do NOT include Circle, Street, Drive, etc.) and click "Submit." Click on the address that matches yours and your polling location will be provided.

You may also hand deliver your completed Absentee Ballot to any polling place in the 37th Senate District.

It is critical that you vote. Thank you.

Daily Pilot

Why are unions spending on Wagner?

Why are public employee unions spending hundreds of thousands trying to elect Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) to the California Senate? Because one of his opponents, former Supervisor John Moorlach, is a certified public accountant who fully understands how major increases in public employee pensions have created huge unfunded liabilities for California and all Orange County cities. Increases as much as 50% have allowed pensions to be higher than regular pay. These liabilities will be paid by current and future generations over the next 30 years.

Laws promoted by public employee union money created this pension mess, and legislation is now needed to limit the damage to California and our cities. Unions do not want Moorlach’s financial expertise and voice in the state Senate, and that is why they are funding Wagner’s campaign.

Gene Hutchins

Costa Mesa

The writer is a member of the Costa Mesa Pension Oversight Committee.

Special election set for Tuesday

A special election to fill the vacant seat for the 37th state Senate district is being held Tuesday.

Throughout the district — a wide swath of Orange County from Laguna Beach to Anaheim Hills — nearly 1,000 poll workers are scheduled to man 189 polling stations, according to county registrar data.

Voters will have four candidates to choose from: state Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine); former county Supervisor John Moorlach, a Republican from Costa Mesa; Naz Namazi, a Republican congressional aide from Irvine; and Democratic write-in candidate Louise Stewardson, a nurse from Huntington Beach.

The winner will take the seat vacated by Mimi Walters, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last fall. The term lasts through December 2016.

The district is made up of nearly 500,000 registered voters, about 42% of them Republicans and 28.6% Democrats.

As of Friday, registrar officials said they’ve received 56,388 mail-in ballots, an 11.45% turnout so far.

The 37th state Senate district includes Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine and portions of Anaheim and Huntington Beach.

For more information on finding polling places and candidates, visit ocvote.com.

—Bradley Zint

OC Register Logo

IDEALISM VS. PRAGMATISM IN STATE SENATE RACE

District 37 seen as being down to John ‍Moorlach, Don Wagner.

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JEBB HARRIS, FILE PHOTO

The biggest difference between Don Wagner and John ‍Moorlach, the top candidates in Tuesday’s special election for state Senate, can’t be found in the campaign mailers and automated phone calls besieging voters in recent weeks.

Despite back-and-forth attacks regarding unions, public pensions and immigration, the veteran conservatives have virtually identical positions on those – and most other – issues.

But ‍Moorlach, a former county supervisor and treasurer, and Wagner, an assemblyman, approach their work in the political arena in ways that offer voters a distinct choice.

“‍Moorlach is more of an idealist,” said Fred Smoller, a Chapman University political scientist. “He doesn’t do the political calculations – he does what he believes. He certainly will be more independent. He goes after big, important issues even if he loses.

“Wagner is a better politician. He networks. He is more pragmatic. He would rather win on less critical issues than fight the good fight with no real accomplishment.”

Wagner, 54, and ‍Moor‍‍lach, 59, are joined by two other candidates vying to represent Senate District 37, which reaches from Anaheim Hills to Laguna Beach. The seat was vacated by Republican Mimi Walters after she was elected to Congress in November.

Garnering less attention is first-time candidate Naz Namazi, an Irvine Republican and aide to GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher – though Rohrabacher has endorsed Wagner. The sole Democrat running is registered nurse Louise Stewardson, a write-in hopeful from Huntington Beach facing Republicans’ daunting 13-point edge in voter registration.

Neither Namazi, 47, nor Stewardson, 60, are expected to be strong challengers. But they could draw enough votes to keep the leading candidates from winning more than 50 percent. Without that majority, the top two finishers advance to a May 19 runoff.

‘CHICKEN LITTLE’

Moorlach‍’‍s independent streak landed him in the public spotlight in 1994, when the accountant and candidate for county treasurer trumpeted his belief that the county was on the brink of bankruptcy. He was ridiculed, called Chicken Little. Then came the bankruptcy, his appointment as treasurer, and a vanity plate for his Impala SS that read “SKYFELL.”

Moorlach went on to serve on the Board of Supervisors from 2006 to 2014, when he stepped down because of term limits. While on the board, he attracted headlines for efforts to roll back public employee union pensions. He was largely unsuccessful, but became a leading champion of the cause. Those efforts have earned him the enmity of public employee unions in the county and across the state. Those unions have spent more than $100,000 in independent expenditures to defeat him.

Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper, whose district is nestled within Senate District 37, concurs with Smoller’s assessment of the two candidates, noting ‍Moorlach‍’‍s idealism and Wagner’s superior efforts at helping the GOP in local races. Wagner’s district reaches from Anaheim to Mission Viejo.

“Wagner’s also very much a team player up here in Sacramento,” said Harper, who had not decided who he was voting for when interviewed last week.

Wagner’s ability to build bridges with Sacramento Democrats as well as Republicans and his willingness to labor over low-profile issues has resulted in successful bills that don’t get much press but are important to those affected. One such effort by the Irvine attorney helped ease the mandated dissolution of Lake Forest’s redevelopment district. Another helps victims of real estate title scams regain clear possession of their property.

‍Moorlach, who lives in Costa Mesa, didn’t dispute the characterizations of Harper and Smoller.

“I’m not the one who goes out all the time and schmoozes,” he said. “I’d rather go home and spend time with my family.”

UNION TAINT

Moorlach‍’‍s relatively prominent local profile allowed him to start the race as the better known candidate. But Wagner’s ambitious networking and early entry into the contest have helped him gain a huge edge in fundraising and endorsements.

As of the most recent filing period, he’d raised $371,000 to ‍Moorlach‍’‍s $118,000 and Namazi’s $11,000. Stewardson did not report raising money. Wagner’s endorsements include the county sheriff and district attorney, three local members of Congress and 23 state legislators.

Of ‍Moorlach‍’‍s former colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, three are backing Wagner and one is supporting ‍Moorlach.

Public employee unions’ support of Wagner has left him vulnerable to attacks that he’s a union candidate – a political pejorative in the predominantly GOP district.

But the union spending is more aimed at defeating ‍Moorlach than helping Wagner, who shares ‍Moor‍‍lach‍’‍s support of a proposed statewide ballot measure that would allow local governments to negotiate reduced pension benefits for unions.

The two also share an advocacy for smaller government and lower taxes, and both oppose the state’s high-speed rail project.

Wagner generally agrees with the characterizations of Smoller and Harper, but he disagrees that he doesn’t tackle big issues. He points to bills seeking tort and regulatory reform he’s sponsored. “What ends up happening is they die,” he said. “But they help keep the issue alive.”

Harper says he’ll be satisfied with either man in office.

“Both would represent Orange County well,” he said.

CONTACT THE WRITER: mwisckol  

O.C. consumer inspections come up short

BY KEEGAN KYLE

Above a chilled tray of pork chorizo, Seth Birenbaum set another cast iron weight on a grocery scale and scrutinized its digital control panel. The weights equaled precisely 15 pounds but the panel showed nearly an ounce less.

“That’s out of tolerance,” Birenbaum said, walking to the nearest store clerk. “This one, it’s weighing light so you’re losing money on it. You need to get it re-calibrated.”

The difference, tiny to the untrained eye, meant the scale failed to meet industry standards and the store was getting shorted in each sale. Patrons unknowingly saved pennies per sausage and quarters on artisan meats and cheeses.

The clerk thanked Birenbaum, a county-paid inspector whose job is like a sports referee in the marketplace. He calls out when consumers and businesses are being short-changed with false advertising or incorrect measurements.

But only nine inspectors check gas station pumps, retail barcode scanners, grocery scales and other devices in Orange County. That’s the same number as 26 years ago, despite the area’s explosive growth. Routine inspections often go ignored here because the local office receives little funding compared with other counties.

“We’re busy,” Birenbaum said. “We’re always busy.”

The grocery store didn’t ask Birenbaum to check the honesty of its scale. His visit was an unannounced routine check, which happens far less here than much of the state. Many of the county’s 145,000 registered measuring devices get overlooked each year because of budget and staffing levels.

The Register reached those findings by analyzing four years of county-level inspection and spending data from the state Department of Food and Agriculture. The department oversees the inspections of measuring devices and compiles data from counties for statutorily required reports. The Register’s analysis and interviews showed:

• On average, Orange County inspects about 26 percent of businesses using price scanners – a rate below the county’s internal goals and below the rates of most large counties. About 63 percent of businesses statewide are inspected annually for price accuracy.

• Gas station pumps are inspected for accuracy less often in Orange County than elsewhere. While Orange County typically checks about half of its 700 stations annually, inspectors in other large counties check every station once and some stations multiple times.

• Orange County inspects taxi, ambulance and other vehicle meters more often than other large counties, because local regulatory agencies require annual inspections. Orange County lags in many other device categories where inspection frequency is more discretionary.

• Money drives the differences. Orange County spends far less per capita to inspect its machines than any other county in the state. About $16,000 per 10,000 residents funds the inspections here compared to about $42,000 per capita statewide.

Officials have historically justified inspecting gas pumps, grocery scales and other machines less often here because the county receives few consumer complaints and finds good compliance rates. Despite fewer inspections the vast majority of devices are still found to meet industry standards – about 19 in every 20.

It’s unknown how much those few bad devices are costing consumers and businesses each year. County officials don’t track that level of detail.

Consumers get hit

What is clear, though, is that consumers are far more likely to be on the losing side. In four years of price check inspections reviewed by the Register, the county logged about 1,400 cases where consumers were charged differently than the advertised amount – and 75 percent of those cases were overcharges.

The Register’s analysis found at least one indicator of broad problems, too. Among the state’s 10 largest counties, Orange County inspectors have logged the highest rate of violations at gas stations for false advertising, improper labeling or poor gas quality. For every five inspections, about two notices of violation were written.

Given that information, county officials and business advocates said it may be time to revisit how often Orange County monitors the accuracy of devices that consumers trust to be honest and competitive businesses rely on to be fair. Consumer advocates also urged greater oversight.

Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, was stunned to learn of the gaps between Orange County and the rest of the state. He urged state lawmakers to investigate and county officials to reevaluate their budget priorities.

Laissez-faire reputation

The county has historically set aside less than $1.6 million of its $3 billion annual operating budget for weights and measures inspections, not including overhead costs.

“Orange County has a reputation for being laissez-faire but this is an egregious abuse of the duty that the public has entrusted them with,” Court said. “Cheaters have a way of knowing when there are no cops on the beat.”

Court and business advocates disagree whether doing more inspections would result in a fairer marketplace. Lucy Dunn, head of the Orange County Business Council, said over-enforcement would risk impeding economic growth and job creation.

“Just because you increase the inspections does not necessarily mean you increase the number of catches,” she said. “The whole system shouldn’t be revamped because of one alleged hole in the dyke.”

Some neglected devices have cost Orange County businesses thousands though. Birenbaum said he once found a gas station pump that spit out a gallon and a half more than was shown on the meter. The station’s owners knew they were losing money but weren’t sure why.

“They thought someone was stealing from them,” Birenbaum said. “They were giving it away.”

Uphill climb

The county’s inspections are overseen by Mike Bennett, agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures. Bennett said he would like to boost staffing levels, the number of inspections and stagnant inspector wages, but it would be hard to convince the elected Board of Supervisors.

“It’s a borderline nightmare scenario,” said Bennett, who the supervisors appointed last year. “I’ve seen other people go in without their ducks in a row and get their heads chopped off.”

Bennett said expanding the program would require hiking fees paid by business owners or drawing more funds from the county’s operational budget – both of which the supervisors have been reluctant to entertain following the economic recession and budget cuts.

In November last year, the county’s health department requested more funding so it could continue inspecting restaurants and other food establishments at least twice a year. The supervisors rejected the proposal 4-1, downplaying concerns about greater risk to consumer safety.

“They really don’t want people over-regulating local businesses,” Bennett said. “We have been operating at this very basic level of minimum standards for decades, and I would like to see it increase, but in order to increase our presence we’d have to get the funding.”

Still, Bennett added, “Maybe at some point it’s my job to lobby for that.”

‘Good luck’

The Register requested interviews with the county’s five supervisors for this story but none responded. Two former supervisors, Pat Bates and John Moorlach, said the board has historically resisted increasing fees or inspections without evidence to back up the greater scrutiny.

Moorlach, the sole supporter last year to increase fees for restaurant inspections, said he once advised Bennett to prepare a data-driven case if he wanted to propose more inspections, but the idea never gained traction.

“I don’t think I told him to pound sand. I think I told him good luck with getting the other two votes,” Moorlach said. “It’s up to Mr. Bennett to make that argument.”

A preliminary proposal to increase weights and measure fees landed on the board’s agenda in November at the same time as the restaurant vote. But it was tabled for three months and then withdrawn, minutes show. A staff memo said fees were last updated in 2007 and the number of registered devices in the county has grown by 46 percent in the past decade.

Nick Berardino, head of the employee union that represents the county’s inspectors, said he would support boosting annual device registration fees that business owners pay. Orange County’s fees are currently some of the lowest in the state, weights and measures officials said.

Aging software

The county keeps track of its inspections with a computer program that can help pinpoint a pattern of violations and allow supervisors to quickly answer a business owner’s questions while inspectors are in the field.

But Jeff Croy, a supervisor in the weights and measures office, said the program was designed in-house to cut costs and is now due for a major upgrade. It can’t perform some basic tasks, such as print a to-do list of inspections and share data with other programs, or complete more sophisticated tasks like track overall performance. The office does not routinely track its compliance with internal goals and state laws.

Croy said he believes the office operates efficiently but even minor changes in staffing – vacations, retirements and vacant positions – can significantly disrupt its ability to conduct inspections. In recent weeks, for example, part of Birenbaum’s time has been devoted to training a newly hired inspector.

“Literally, one employee leaves and we’re hurting,” Croy said. “It’s amazing what these inspectors do and I’m very proud of them.”

Familiar faces

Croy said he started working in the weights and measures office in 1989. Though Orange County’s population has grown by 25 percent since then, Croy said the number of inspectors has stayed the same.

Birenbaum said the number of inspectors makes it difficult for the county to investigate possible cheats through undercover operations as well. Business owners know each of the nine inspectors’ faces since they split routine check-up duties.

“Priorities shift very quickly when there’s only nine inspectors,” Birenbaum said. “I inspect recyclers once a year. Or I should say, I try to inspect them once a year.”

Contact the writer: kkyle or on Twitter @keegankyle

This e-mail was sent by the Moorlach for Senate campaign — www.MoorlachforSenate.com

Those willing to assist financially can go to www.MoorlachforSenate.com, call Phyllis Schneider at 714-368-0260, or mail a check made out to Moorlach for Senate 2015, and mail it to 360 E. 1st Street, #736, Tustin, CA, 92780.

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