MOORLACH UPDATE — Thankfulness — November 23, 2017

With a recent news report detailing how certain reporters are actually paid (bribed) by groups to publish biased articles, thus validly earning the "fake news" moniker, I am thankful to see the OC Register still providing editorial pieces that speak truth to power with the submission below.

The overriding theme is that certain people do not want you to know the real truth. Up until just a week or two ago, I’m sure Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra did not want you to know about his sexual harassment history in the State Capitol. In fact, his Democrat colleagues also did not want you to know about it, as they supported him over the incumbent Democrat Assemblywoman last year (so much about being the Party that supports women in elected positions). Regretfully, he was elected and is the author of Assembly Bill 1455, the focus of the editorial submission below.

The legislator who "squashed" Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) is Democrat State Senator Tony Mendoza, who also does not want to be very transparent, as recent news accounts have shown. Three women have already come forward with serious complaints, as this new "Harvey Weinstein Era" unfolds.

Not wanting transparency is the mandate of public employee unions and their purchased Democratic legislators in Sacramento. I’m not amused. So I have recently added a weekly podcast to my messaging portfolio. See "What Sacramento Doesn’t Want You To Know" a brief monologue where I hold back no punches at

For a recent tutorial on this topic, also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017.

BONUS: You are cordially invited to our Annual Christmas Open House on December 6th, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at 940 South Coast Drive, Costa Mesa, Suite 185. Also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy Thanksgiving— November 22, 2017.

To RSVP, contact Deborah Sandoval at Deborah.Sandoval or 714-662-0550. Dress is Christmas casual, which means if you wear a Reyn Spooner Christmas shirt, you’ll be provided with extra refreshments.


Secret union negotiations aren’t in the best interest of taxpayers

The Capitol building as viewed from the west side in the morning in the city of Sacramento.

By Kerry Jackson

Taxpayers, who fund public employees’ platinum-plated pensions, deserve to know what happens at the bargaining table when their elected representatives negotiate contracts with public-employee unions. What they’d hear would likely alarm them.

But the door is locked. They’re not allowed in.

Consider legislation (Assembly Bill 1455) signed into law this year that hides the records of public-employee contract negotiations even deeper behind closed doors.

Public-sector collective bargaining has been controversial for decades. Franklin Roosevelt once wrote that, “the very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations.”

In 1955, George Meany, the first president of the AFL-CIO, conceded in a New York Times Magazine essay that “it is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.”

This should be self-evident.

When private-sector unions bargain, there is opposition across the table. Management has a strong interest in not giving in to union dictates. But when public-sector unions bargain, both sides sit on the same side of the table. Too often, “negotiations” are a surrender to union demands. What’s good for the unions is good for the politicians.

Public-sector unions “carry an incredible amount of clout,” says Republican state Sen. John Moorlach of Orange County. “So, you don’t get a lot of pushback” from the elected officials who should be responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money. Politicians are frequently more interested in the money that government unions lavish on them than they are in protecting taxpayers. Both “sides” also have a common interest in increasing the size and scope of government.

These dynamics, as well as the threat of strikes by government employees whose work, such as law enforcement and firefighting, is essential to public safety, caused the uneasiness once was held about public-employee collective bargaining.

Yet, 25 years after Roosevelt’s letter, and less than a decade after Meany’s warning, federal government workers were granted collective bargaining rights in the early 1960s. Collective bargaining rights for local government workers in California were granted in the 1960s, and for state workers and school employees in the 1970s.

Though their dollars are at stake, taxpayers don’t know what goes on during public-employee union negotiations.Moorlach, though, has witnessed the “nonsensical proposals that are offered to elected officials behind closed doors.” He’s even seen public-sector union representatives “walk in and ask for 10 percent pay raises” while everyone else was sweating through the Great Recession.

Consequently, Moorlach believes “that bargaining unit negotiations” that produce “secretive and expensive union deals” should be open to public scrutiny.

As a county supervisor, Moorlach introduced the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance. Naturally, “the statewide public employee unions came in full force and squashed” it, as well as another he introduced this year in the Legislature. That bill could have curbed the reckless spending that the East Bay Times editorial board says “occurs because negotiations between elected officials and the unions that often finance their political campaigns occur behind closed doors.”

Instead of more sunshine, taxpayers got Assembly Bill 1455, which the Times called an “insidious move to block taxpayers from knowing how their money is being bargained away, and what public employees’ raises and benefit enhancements will cost.”

According to the Senate floor analysis of the bill, it exempts from the California Public Records Act any documents related to collective bargaining between local public agencies and their unions. According to the nonprofit advocacy group Californians Aware, which fights for more openness and transparency in government, the bill is a response to an Orange County case involving a request for disclosure of documents on negotiations between the deputy sheriffs union and the county by a blogger. A California Superior Court judge released the documents after finding no authority in state law to withhold them.

While taxpayers are kept in the dark with new laws like Assembly Bill 1455, the state is drowning in public-employee pension debt. Stanford’s California Pension Tracker says the state’s public employees are owed nearly $1 trillion in retirement benefits. At least $300 billion, and as much as $600 billion, of that debt has no funding. When that deficit must be closed, policymakers will turn to taxpayers. They will be obligated by others to increase their “contributions” to public-employee pensions.

That’s too much to demand of a group whose dollars are regularly negotiated out of their wallets in secret.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy Thanksgiving! — November 22, 2017

Allow me to wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with family, friends and great food.

The next few weeks will fly by as we enjoy a busy holiday schedule. May I add to your calendar?

If you reside in the city of Laguna Beach, the OC Register announces next week’s speaking engagement with the Laguna Beach Republicans in the piece below. I’ve had a packed speaking calendar during the recess, as it’s fun to share what’s happening in Sacramento. This past year has been an incredibly memorable one and there’s plenty to talk about. What the supermajority has done to this state is so disappointing. I’m thankful I survived.

P.S. You don’t have to live in Laguna Beach to attend. Come and do some Christmas shopping in this art gallery laden coastal gem. In fact, my featured 2015 artist is Wyland, and one of his pieces is now hanging in the Maddy Lounge, just off of the Senate Chambers. Please visit his studio and congratulate his staff.

If you live in the 37th Senate District, and you know who you are, please visit my District Office for our annual Christmas Open House on December 6th. We will commemorate the 23rd anniversary of the County’s filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy and the fact that the last installment of the bankruptcy-related bonds were paid off this year! Now, that is something to be truly thankful for. An invitation is provided below.

P.S. You don’t have to be a resident of the 37th Senate District to attend. Since our office is across the street from South Coast Plaza, Crystal Court and MetroPointe, enjoy some of the most amazing Christmas shopping venues in the nation.

OC Register

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Laguna Beach

The Laguna Beach Republicans will hold its monthly meeting on Nov. 30 at Mozambique, 1740 S Coast Highway. Social hour starts at 5 p.m., meeting is at 6 p.m. State Sen. John Moorlach will give an update from Sacramento on topics such as the gas tax hike, sanctuary state movement and the pension situation. RSVP to highspeed8.

Erika I. Ritchie

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

Also follow me on Facebook & Twitter @SenatorMoorlach.

MOORLACH UPDATE — CalPERS Exit Strategies — November 18, 2017

The union-majority controlled Board of the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) still doesn’t get it. And the LA Daily News and OC Register editorial piece below provides the proof.

After reading the piece, you’ll understand why I authored SB 681 this past year (see It is a two-year bill, so expect some action on January 8, 2018, the first meeting of the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee for the 2018 Session. Also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pursuing Reforms — August 11, 2017.

CalPERS is a multi-employer administrator for defined benefit pension plan sponsors. If a plan sponsor wishes to leave, the formula should be very simple. Calculate the contributions that CalPERS actuaries requested and were paid into the system, then determine the net compounded earnings of those funds placed into the plan, and subtract what has been paid out for benefits to retirees. Simple math. Give the remaining balance to the city (plan sponsor) as that city is required to run the retirement plan, which can be done with another vendor or on their own. The city is required to pay the retirement benefits and CalPERS is absolved of anymore responsibilities.

The terminating agency plan is proof that CalPERS has been committing a form of fraud by undercharging plan sponsors (see MOORLACH UPDATE — What Pension Crisis? — September 27, 2017 ).

To start the process of authoring additional pension reform bills for next year, I recently wrote two letters to two CalPERS Board members. What happened next is mentioned in the piece below and can also be found in MOORLACH UPDATE — OC’s Newest Landmark Plaque — September 20, 2017.

It’s good to see the media keeping a diligent eye on CalPERS and its suspicious and inappropriate strategies when dealing with its "customers." The CalPERS Board must be realizing that the city of Loyalton’s exit strategy could gain traction. And, like a person that is overly possessive, it can’t seem to let go of something that isn’t even theirs.

BONUS: "The Day the War Hit the Shore" Veterans Day afternoon ceremony last Saturday was an amazing time to informally discuss a tragic and little known event, which occurred in the 37th District back in 1943, with members of the surviving family present. It was held at the clubhouse of Huntington by the Sea, off Newland, just a block from the ocean.

Thanks go to Chris Epting for his outstanding historical scholarship and presentation on this unique summer Sunday afternoon when a P-38 pilot had to eject from his two-engine plane when one of the engines caught fire. The P-38 was headed for the ocean, but the second engine was still operating its propeller, so the unmanned aircraft turned back to shore near PCH and Newland Street. The plane hit a crowded beach and exploded, probably fully fueled, injured 40 Orange Countians and killed four children.

The Barrego and Silva families of Garden Grove, enjoying a picnic on the beach with their families, lost two children each that day and would never be the same.

Daughter Vera Silva did not go to the beach that day. As a 10-year-old, she stayed home to dutifully care for her blind grandmother. For her surviving brothers, who were severely burned, she would be their caretakers, too. They would die at a young age. Her parents would pass away at young ages, too, perhaps due to the tremendous grief.

Vera’s daughter, Maria Young, is a 2016 Daily Pilot Hall of Fame recipient (see When Maria wanted to hold her wedding on the beach, near the spot of the incident, Vera had to explain her reservations and finally shared the family story. It was so painful, she had kept it from Maria for some two decades.

G. Pat Macha was in attendance and provided additional information on the P-38 activity in the area during World War II. His aircraft crash site research can be found at

Chase Wickersham, my appointee to the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council, joined us. He was part of the team that established the Tierney Center for Veteran Services at Goodwill Orange County. Dolf Keller would be very proud of Chase (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Veterans Day — November 10, 2017).

Huntington Beach Mayor Barbara Delgleize also spoke and provided insights as to mounting the commemorative brass plaque in a prominent location, such as the Huntington Beach Library.

Thanks to all who attended, as we enjoyed a "Huell Howser" historical jam session.


Losing your pension?

CalPERS wants to shift blame

to cities

CalPERS headquarters at Lincoln Plaza in Sacramento.

By Steven Greenhut

The nation’s largest state pension fund, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, still is reeling from bruising publicity it received after it slashed the pensions for workers in the tiny Sierra Nevada town of Loyalton (population 862) and in the now-defunct East San Gabriel Valley Human Services Consortium.

Public employees across California understandably were spooked after reading news stories about the plight of Loyalton’s four retirees after the town exited the retirement system in 2013. And nearly 200 retirees in that San Gabriel consortium are losing as much as 63 percent of their retirement pay because the consortium, known as LA Works, closed its doors and stopped making payments.

But leave it to CalPERS to view that state of affairs as a public-relations matter rather than a CalPERS-created policy problem. At the pension fund’s recent meeting, its board proposed finding a sponsor for a state bill that would require agencies to notify their employees when they intend to exit the pension fund. The goal is to shift the blame to cities and districts that rely on CalPERS to administer their pension benefits.

The proposed legislation shows that CalPERS “would like someone else to deliver the bad news when local governments quit paying their bills and put a retiree’s pension in jeopardy,” reported the Sacramento Bee. CalPERS is capable of keeping pensioners posted, but there’s nothing wrong with giving retirees additional information given the months of uncertainty they endured.

But the CalPERS proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough. Any new law ought to include myriad other disclosures, too. Namely, retirees — and maybe taxpayers, too — ought to be informed about the size of the state’s pension debt and the frighteningly low rate at which CalPERS is funded. They ought to be told why public services are gutted and local taxes keep going up.

But the fund probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about those suggestions, just as it rejected recent efforts by Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, to force it to provide cities with more actuarial calculations. CalPERS said no even though hard-pressed city officials came to a Sacramento hearing to plead with them to provide the data.

Loyalton voted to exit CalPERS because the town couldn’t afford the payments. LA Works exited because it shut its doors in 2014. When they left, CalPERS slammed them with massive bills. Loyalton was assessed a $1.66 million “termination fee” it couldn’t possibly afford given its $1 million annual budget.

Apparently, CalPERS wants retirees to believe that it’s the local agencies’ fault for leaving the fund, without mentioning that it’s the pension fund that put them in their current bind. The issue revolves around some eyes-glaze-over accounting known as the Terminated Agency Pool, but the details say much about how CalPERS operates (hint: for the benefit of union members).

In the private sector, most employees receive 401(k) plans. The employer deducts money, sometimes makes a contribution. The money is invested in a mutual fund. If returns are good, the employee benefits and vice versa. In the public sector, employees receive a “defined benefit.” They are guaranteed a payout based on a formula, regardless of how well the pension fund’s investments may perform. The “unfunded liability” is the difference between what’s promised and the money available to pay for those promises. Taxpayers are on the hook for that shortfall.

The funds invest the dollars and predict a rate of return. Higher returns mask the size of the liabilities and enable governments to ramp up benefit levels — or at least avoid trying to trim them. The fund assumes a hefty rate of return of 7 percent (down from 7.5 percent). But when an agency wants to leave, CalPERS sticks them in a separate fund for terminated agencies, where it only predicts a rate of return of around 2 percent. Local agencies get a bill for the difference.

In other words, the union-controlled fund is bullish when taxpayers’ money is at risk. The fund assumes high rates, which keeps the gravy train chugging along. If there’s a shortfall, they increase cities’ fees or take more money from the state general fund. But when agencies leave, CalPERS no longer has a way to make up for any future losses. So when its own money is on the line, it becomes miserly and assumes a piddling rate of return.

Everything CalPERS does is carefully audited, so it knows how much a local agency has paid into the fund, how much it earned and how much it paid out. CalPERS can calculate a balance and work out a plan with the agency to pay the difference. Instead, CalPERS “negotiates” with these agencies in a way that’s more reflective of negotiations between a mugger and victim. The fund does so because it fears other agencies will head for the exits, too.

Can someone sponsor a bill that discloses those facts to retirees and the public?

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut.

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

Also follow me on Facebook & Twitter @SenatorMoorlach.

MOORLACH UPDATE — Veterans Day — November 10, 2017

When I was nearing the end of my second term as the Orange County Supervisor for the Second District in 2014, I started receiving frequent telephone calls from a concerned resident by the name of Dolf Keller. Dolf had attended a few of my speeches to financial planning professionals and we had developed a relationship.

Dolf had a real burden for the veterans in Orange County and felt that complete assistance programs were lacking and that existing organizations focused on their needs were too siloed and not working together as well as they should. Dolf wanted me to consider addressing this need after I concluded my Supervisorial roll and become an executive director of a potential new coordinating council. Well, I decided to first run for State Senate and was elected, so my potential service in this critical niche was not to be.

As Session concluded in mid-September, and I’m now in the District for a few quick weeks, along with developing legislation for next year, I’m taking tours of businesses, state parks, and nonprofits. It’s hard to fit everything in, but one visit that reminded me of Dolf Keller was a tour of the Tierney Center for Veteran Services, operated by Goodwill in the city of Tustin.

Dolf, we sadly lost you in February of last year. My wife and I enjoyed being with your friends at your memorial service. Dolf, I want you to know that your vision has been achieved. Rest in peace, my friend (

With that, I have to share the good news and the OC Register kindly published the editorial submission below. Thank you to all the veterans in Orange County who saw the need, developed a vision to meet it, succeeded in implementing it and have made it a role model for the rest of the nation. It is a good news day.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Allow me to wish you a solemn and respectful day as you raise your flags in front of your homes, attend a memorial service, wear a poppy, or find some way to give thanks for those who served our nation.

INVITATION: Please join us to listen to noted author Chris Epting as he speaks on the subject of "The Day the War Hit The Shore."

Orange County incurred civilian casualties stateside during WW II, an extremely rare occurrence. A military plane crashed at the site we will be at, which killed four Orange County residents. This tragic episode has been lost over time, but has many valuable lessons to this day. We will have a very special veteran who is related to the survivors. This will be a unique historical event. For a hint, see

Please attend your traditional Veterans Day ceremonies at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month on Saturday. If you want an afternoon break, join us at 3 p.m. We’ll meet at 21851 Newland Street in Huntington Beach. There should be some parking spaces available at the neighboring Wetlands Wildlife Center. Just put a note on your dashboard noting that you are attending the Veterans Day Ceremony.

BONUS: The photo at the bottom shows me and my wife attending one of the three Veterans Day ceremonies last November 11th that was taken by the OC Register. If you enjoy playing "finding Waldo," then stop reading now. If you need an assist, we’re at the top right and I’ve donned my coat and wearing a white business shirt.


Goodwill expands help for our local veterans


With controversies over the American flag and the national anthem still roiling our country, here’s an issue on which all of us can come together: Helping our brave veterans.

Last summer the Orange County Rescue Mission opened its Tustin Veterans Outpost, two fourplexes for housing. The nonprofit community is stepping up.

As Veterans Day is approaching, I toured the Tierney Center for Veteran Services, also in Tustin, which is run by Goodwill of Orange County. Its professional staff focus on helping veterans get the services they need, from job training and placement, to housing and help with mental health.

Our men and women returning to the private sector, many from combat assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, have fought for our freedom. They deserve not only the respect of everyone, but the best and most rapid path back to full civilian life.

I talked with three recent veterans attending the center’s 10-day orientation classes. They said it was jam-packed with help for getting them a job — and just the right length.

As of Oct. 26, so far this year the Tierney Center has placed 238 veterans in full-time jobs. The average starting wage is $25.04 an hour, double the $12.50 an hour of a year ago. The state minimum wage is currently $10.50 an hour. Placement efforts have shifted to concentrate on higher-paying jobs.

That $25.04 an hour works out to $52,000 a year. It’s a good start toward making more in high cost-of-living Orange County, where a family income of $84,450 or less puts one in the low-income category, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Promotions after that first job will bring higher salaries.

Vets also get help finding lodging, especially needed in the tight local housing market. Homeless vets are given special attention to get them off the street.

One program I noticed is a Manufacturing Technology Boot Camp that will run from Jan. 2 through Jan. 27, 2018. I long have championed keeping taxes and regulations on manufacturing firms reasonable so they stay here and continue to provide Californians with high-paying jobs. These companies make everything from specialized car parts and medical devices to the latest computer processors.

The Boot Camp teaches vets how to fabricate parts on the latest milling machines and lathes. Within a month students graduate and are quickly pulling down a paycheck. I’m pretty sure this particular Boot Camp doesn’t include a drill sergeant screaming, “Drop and give me 20 push-ups!”

I also asked about help for the veterans’ spouses and children, who also have sacrificed for our country, and often have to deal with their hero’s readjustment to civilian life and the consequences of surviving combat, such as PTSD — post-traumatic stress disorder.

The staff replied families are also helped with counseling, schooling and training. That’s one more thing that has made the Tierney Center a regional and national leader helping our vets.

Other services include a Veteran Emergency Fund and a separate Veteran Student Emergency Fund, as well as advice on where to get legal, health and other assistance. The center coordinates with the Veterans Administration and other government and private agencies.

The center is housed in a large warehouse where Goodwill processes the many thousands of donations of books, clothing, appliances and just about everything that goes on sale in their 25 retail stores throughout Orange County. Along with individual cash donations, the stores fund all of Goodwill’s charity efforts for vets and others.

By the way, the center is named for its major donors, Tom and Elizabeth Tierney. As Tom said at an Oct. 27 event for Goodwill supporters, the center “is for the invisible people that are seeking help.”

I recently watched the Ken Burns series “The Vietnam War,” which brought back memories of the years in which I grew up. The last U.S. combat troops left in 1973, when I was 17.

So I was interested in a graphic shown during the tour by OC Goodwill President and CEO Frank Talarico and his staff. It showed how the number of veterans from the era of the Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent wars has surpassed the vets from the era of the Vietnam War. The numbers include those who both served in a war and those in non-war assignments.

Assistance had been lacking for a time. But Orange County is blessed to now have the Tierney Center and the Tustin Veterans Outpost as two of many outstanding resources for our veterans.

Welcome home, troops. We are proud of you. Orange Countians are here for you as you return to civilian life.

John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents the 37th District in the California Senate.

People gather for the dedication of Heroes Hall, an old barracks building being converted in a museum at the OC Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, on Friday, November 11, 2016. (Photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG)

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Government Union Costs — November 8, 2017

The California Policy Center is back with another well written piece on the power of public employee unions, Sacramento’s "Daddy" (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017 and

You know I’ve been ferreting out the disappointing data that makes California’s Department of Transportation, Caltrans, one of the most disappointing DOTs in the nation and that reform is preferred over a new tax; that I have opposed high speed rail from the get to; that I have opposed trolleys in the OC; that I tried a CEQA reform legislative effort last year; and you know I’ve been warning you about public employee defined benefit pension plan rising costs for more than 16 years. The piece below addresses them all. And, I’ll spare you the links to my previous UPDATEs.

BONUS: The second piece is a photo from the Sacramento Bee showing me working at my front row desk during Session.

DOUBLE BONUS: Recently, I have begun my own weekly podcast, “The OC- Sacramento Connection”. On these podcasts, I have and will continue to share my thoughts on several issues including some of the ones in this update.

CLICK HERE to listen to my podcasts on ITunes free of charge.

INVITATION: My District Office has started a new Veterans Day tradition. Last year we had a simple afternoon ceremony at Crystal Cove State Beach to review the World War II history within its boundaries. Dan Worthington discussed the Fire Station, a WW II bunker that kept an eye on the California coast during the beginning of the war, pre-radar, to signal the alarm should the Japanese Fleet appear over the horizon. There is a similar location at Bolsa Chica and the west side of Catalina Island has ten such bunkers!

This year we have invited noted author Chris Epting to speak on the subject of "The Day the War Hit The Shore." Orange County incurred civilian casualties stateside during WW II, an extremely rare occurence. This tragic episode has been lost over time, but has many valuable lessons to this day.

Please attend your traditional Veterans Day ceremonies at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month on Saturday. If you want an afternoon break, join us at 3 p.m. We’ll meet at 21871 Newland Street in Huntington Beach. There should be some parking spaces at the neighboring wildlife center.

We will also have surviving family members present of those who were lost to this unique chapter in WW II local history. If you enjoy local Orange County history, this will be a relaxed setting to actually share war stories. Please RSVP with Aly Henderson at aly.john or 714-662-6050.

Without Government Unions, there Would be No Gas Tax Increase

By Ed Ring

Nobody argues that California’s roads need huge upgrades. But the solution didn’t require the $0.12 per gallon tax hike that [went] into effect [last week]. The root cause of these neglected roads – and the reason even more taxes will never be enough to fix them – is the power of public sector unions, whose agenda is consistently at odds with the public interest. Let us count the ways.

1 – CalTrans mismanagement:

CalTrans could have done a much better job of maintaining California’s roads. One of the most diligent critics (and auditors) of CalTrans is state Senator John Moorlach (R, Costa Mesa), the only CPA in California’s state legislature. Last year, Moorlachreleased a report on CalTrans which he summarized in “7-Step Fix for ‘Mismanaged’ Caltrans,” an article on his official website. Just a few highlights include the following:

  • In May 2014 the Legislative Analyst Office determined that CalTrans was overstaffed by 3,500 architects and engineers, costing over $500 million per year.
  • While to an average state transportation agency outsources over 50% of its work, CalTrans outsources only 10% of its work. Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80%.
  • 54% of CalTrans staff is at or near retirement age, so a hiring freeze would reduce staff merely through attrition, without requiring layoffs.

But Moorlach didn’t make explicit the reason CalTrans is mismanaged. It’s because the unions that run Sacramento don’t want to outsource CalTrans work. The unions don’t want to reduce CalTrans headcount, or hold CalTrans management accountable. Those actions might help Californians, but they would undermine union power.

2 – Bullet train boondoggle:

Money that could have been allocated to maintain and improve California’s roads is being squandered on a train that will do nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges. A LOT of money. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, California’s freeways can be resurfaced and have a lane added in each direction at a cost of roughly $5.0 million per mile in rural areas, about twice that in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the latest estimate for California’s “bullet train,” is $98 billion (that’s $245 million per mile), thanks to construction delays, and design challenges including nearly 50 miles of tunnels through seismically active mountains to the north and south. And hardly anyone is going to ride it. Ridership won’t even pay operating costs. But Sacramento pushes ahead with this monstrous waste when that same money could (at the urban price of $10 million per mile) resurface and add a lane in each direction to 10,000 miles of California’s freeways. Imagine smooth, unclogged roads. It’s not impossible. It’s just policy priorities.

But while bad roads destroy the chassis of millions of cars and trucks, and commuters endure stop-and-go traffic year after year, the California High Speed Rail Authority dutifully pushes on. Why?

Because that’s what the government employee unions want. They don’t want roads, with all the flexibility and autonomy that roads offer. They want to create a gigantic high-speed rail empire, with tens of thousands of new public employees to drive the trains, maintain the trains, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But all of them will be members of public sector unions.

3 – All rapid transit boondoggles:

In a handful of very dense urban areas around the U.S., fast intercity trains make economic sense. But most light rail schemes, along with laughably absurd “streetcar” schemes that actually block urban lanes sorely needed by vehicles, do not achieve levels of ridership that even begin to justify their construction when the alternative is using that money for better, wider connector roads and freeways. The impact of ride sharing apps, the advent of non-polluting cars, and the option of using buses to accomplish mass transit goals all speak to the superior versatility of roads over rail for urban transportation.

So why do California’s cities continue to poor billions into light rail and streetcars, when that money could be used to unclog the roads?

To reiterate: The public sector unions that run California want tens of thousands of new public employees to operate the trains and streetcars, maintain them, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But doing this means that public sector union membership – hence public sector union power – will increase.

4 – CEQA reform so people can live closer to the jobs:

The median home value in the United States today is $202,700. The median home value in California today is $509,600, 2.5 times as much! There is no shortage of land in California, and the alleged shortages of energy and water are self-inflicted as the result of policies enacted by California’s state legislature. But instead of reforming California’s Environmental Quality Act, SB 375, AB 32, and countless other laws that have made building homes in California nearly impossible, California’s legislature is doubling down on more government solutions – primarily to subsidize either extremely high density housing, or subsidized housing for the economically disadvantaged, or both.

None of this is necessary. Outside of California’s major urban centers, there is no reason homes cannot be profitably built and sold at a median price of $202,700, and there is no reason the people living in those homes cannot drive or ride share to work on fast, unclogged freeways.

But California’s public sector unions want more regulations on home building, and they want more subsidized public housing. Because those solutions, even though inadequate and coercive, enable them to hire vast new bureaucracies to enforce the many regulations and administer the public assets. Unleashing the private sector to build affordable homes in a competitive market would rob these unions of their opportunity to acquire more power. It’s that simple.

5 – Insatiable appetite for pension fund contributions:

According to a California Policy Center study, taking barely adequate annual employer pension contributions into account, the average unionized state/local government worker in California makes over $120,000 per year in pay and benefits. But to adequately fund their promised pension benefits, employers will need to pay at least another $20,000 per employee to the pension funds. This funding gap, which equates to over $20 billion per year, is the additional amount that is required to cover the difference between how much California’s public employee pension funds currently collect from taxpayers, and how much they need to collect to keep the promises that union controlled politicians have made to the government unions they “negotiate” with. That is a best-case scenario.

It could be much worse. A 2016 California Policy Center analysis (ref. table 2-C) estimated that under a worst-case scenario, the annual costs to fund California’s public employee pension funds could cost taxpayers nearly $70 billion more per year than they are currently paying.

And by the way, California’s pension funds are themselves almost entirely under the control of public sector unions – research the background of CalPERS and CalSTRS board directors to verify the degree of influence they have. Absent significant reform, funding California’s public employee pensions is going to continue to consume every dollar in new taxes for the next several decades. The cumulative financial impact of funding these pensions is easily triple that of the bullet train’s $100 billion fiasco, probably much more.

Let’s not mince words. Government unions control California. They collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year, and spend most of that money on either explicit political campaigning and lobbying, or soft advocacy via expensive public relations campaigns and sponsored academic studies. Their presence is felt everywhere, from local transit districts to the governor’s office. They make or break politicians at will, by outspending or outlasting their opponents. At best, California’s most powerful corporate players do not cross these unions, often they collude with them.

California’s public sector unions operate as senior partners in a coalition that includes left-wing oligarchs especially in the Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists and their powerful trial lawyer cohorts, and the Latino Legislative Caucus – usurped by leftist radicals – and their many allies in the social justice/identity politics industry. The power of this government union led coalition is nearly absolute, and the consequences to California’s private sector working class have been nothing short of devastating.

Government unions force California’s agencies to over-hire, overpay, and mismanage, because that benefits their members even as it harms the public. These unions enforce absurd policy priorities that further harm the public in order to increase their power. They are the reason California has increased its gas tax.


Pump bump: California drivers to pay 12 cents more per gallon starting Wednesday – San Jose Mercury, Oct. 31, 2017

California’s gas tax increases Wednesday – Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2017

How much you’ll REALLY pay in gasoline tax in California – San Diego Union Tribune, Apr. 23, 2017

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget – California Policy Center, Mar. 21, 2017

American Road and Transportation Builders Association – FAQs, ref. “How much does it cost to build a mile of road?

High-Speed Rail Delay More than Triples Planned Cost to San Jose – San Jose Inside, Oct. 2, 2017

A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train – Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2017

California Environmental Quality Act – Wikipedia

State Senate bills aim to make homes more affordable, but they won’t spur nearly enough construction – Los Angeles Times, Aug. 11, 2017

California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, Jan. 2017

What is the Average Pension for a Retired Government Worker in California? – California Policy Center, Mar. 2017

The Coming Public Pension Apocalypse, and What to Do About It – California Policy Center, May 2016

Senate President Pro Ten Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, during a key climate change vote on July 17, 2017. Hector Amezcua hamezcua

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017

With the super-majority party in control, the public employee unions have felt more empowered to sponsor legislation that gives them more power over management. Their emboldedness was so bad during this year’s Session, I started asking "who’s your Daddy?" with a number of these over-reaching bills (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Who’s Your Daddy? — July 1, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Devastating Legacy — October 11, 2017 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Who Do You Answer To? — October 1, 2017).

I believe that bargaining unit negotiations should be public. Then you would see the nonsensical proposals that are offered to elected officials behind closed doors. Two thoughts. While a County Supervisor I championed the adoption of COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations) (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Minting New COIN — June 25, 2014 ). And this year I proposed SB 371, which made it a conflict of interest to negotiate for wage increases and benefit improvements if the negotiator was benefiting directly or indirectly from the adoption of the bargaining unit agreement (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pursuing Reforms — August 11, 2017). The statewide public employee unions came in full force and squashed both of these efforts. They are the "Daddy" and want full control. Which is probably why California is as fiscally screwed up as it is.

But, the Capitol is not immune to union bullying. Keep an eye on the city of Santa Paula. Let’s see how long it takes before they have to raise its sales tax, again! Or, when they will be hiring a Chapter 9 bankruptcy attorney. Of course, holding the current city council accountable then is a joke. They’ll probably be long gone or serving in Sacramento, thanks to the unions funding their campaigns. It’s that sick. And the Ventura County Star seems to be getting it in the first piece below.

The Governor’s veto of SB 1463 continues to garner media attention. KQED covers the specifics of the bill in greater detail in the second piece below. The feet-dragging and excuses drive me batty, as the death toll is now up to 43 in Sonoma and Napa Counties (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017).

Ironically, Governor Brown is travelling outside of the country to continue his efforts to reduce greenhouse gases around the world. Regretfully, two-and-one-half days of California wild fires produce the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of the cars in California combined do in an entire year (see Can you say "hypocrisy?"

You’ve got to love the massive disconnect! Did you know that greenhouse gas reduction goals do not apply to wild fires? They should, especially since they happen in California and much of the strategy of the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is predicated on reducing these threats.

Rather than raising money for silly trains and political projects that will do zero to mitigate global warming, shouldn’t the Governor focus on preventing devastating fires in the future? One gets the impression that globetrotting on vacuous platitudes is more fun and fulfilling for our current state leaders. How does one lecture the world when you’re failing at home? Talk about an emperor that wears no clothes!

Behind closed doors, cities and unions strike potentially expensive deals


Minutes before Santa Paula’s elected officials approved six new contracts awarding nearly every city employee a substantial pay hike, the public first learned of the long-term costs.

“By year three, the cost of the raises is $2.2 million,” Mayor Jenny Crosswhite said at the City Council meeting Oct. 16. “That was not in the staff report.”

What was in the staff report — released four days earlier — was what each contract would cost for the roughly last eight months of the 2017-18 fiscal year. Those costs ranged from $6,291 to $224,455.

Until Crosswhite put a price tag on it, taxpayers could only guess what the three-year agreements would ultimately cost them.

Each city in California handles contract negotiations slightly differently, but most have one thing in common: The negotiations are done largely behind closed doors. Often, elected officials helping to craft the contracts are at the negotiating table with the same unions that spent time and money helping seat them.

The door to those negotiations just got shut a little tighter with a new law that adds another public records exemption to contract negotiations between local public agencies and their employees.


State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, voted against Assembly Bill 1455, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October.

“I’m a person who believes that the whole process should be public,” said Moorlach, who while on the Orange County Board of Supervisors helped develop one of the most transparent negotiating ordinances in the state. “I thought AB 1455 was sort of the Las Vegas thing. What happens in closed session stays in closed session. I believe the public has the right to know what’s really going on and what’s really being asked and what’s really being pressured.”

The way the process is set up now is the “biggest conflict of interest in government,” he said.

Assembly member Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando Valley, through his spokesperson declined to comment on why he introduced the bill and what problems it sought to fix.

Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D- Thousand Oaks, said the bill wasn’t controversial and it extended to local agencies the same set of laws that have governed state agencies for years. Disclosing strategies and other information related to employee contracts would have hurt the process, said Irwin, who served on the Thousand Oaks City Council for 10 years.

"We knew budget-wise what our bottom line was. To be giving that sort of negotiating information out to the public, to me it’s detrimental to the taxpayers," Irwin said.

Irwin said regardless of who contributed to a campaign, the council has a responsibility to balance fair treatment of employees with what the city can afford.

"If I would vote for an increase in employee benefits and the city doesn’t end up with a balanced budget I’m probably not going to get re-elected," she said.

The bill had the support of 18 unions/labor groups and one opposed, the city of West Covina.

Without the legislation, proposals and strategies were “vulnerable to mandated disclosure under current law, thus threatening the ability of local unions and public agencies to engage in candid and fully-informed collective bargaining, with potential disruptive effects,” the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees wrote.

The union referred calls to AFSCME District 36, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties. Spokesperson Erica Zeitlin said budget hearings were done out in the open. “Everybody gets to have a say,” she said.

That doesn’t include contract negotiations, and Zeitlin didn’t return questions seeking further comment on why the organization supported the bill or what the legislation sought to remedy.

West Covina City Manager Chris Freeland said the city opposed the bill because residents have been asking for more transparency in labor negotiations and the city has been trying to provide that. It’s been helpful to let the public know how it is trying to address pension reform and other concerns, he said.

“The city will continue to try and find ways to share the information with the public while meeting the requirements of the law,” Freeland said.


In 2013, Simi Valley adopted a policy aimed at allowing more public input on contract negotiations.

“It was to create more transparency in the labor negotiations but to stay consistent with the law,” City Manager Eric Levitt said.

A contract is introduced at one council meeting but not approved until the next time the council meets.

Cities and agencies use a variety of ways to let the public know what is in proposed contracts, according to the staff report prepared for Simi Valley in 2013.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District stipulates that contracts be publicized and made available at least 15 days before adoption. Fresno policy gives the public 10 days to study the terms, which should be “costed out over time.” Palo Alto states the city should have the ability to fund any compensation agreements in the short- and long-term.

According to the analysis of AB 1455, a request by an Orange County blogger exposed a shortcoming in current public records analysis. In that case, Jon Fleischman requested contract negotiations between the county and the Orange County sheriff’s deputies. After the union representing the deputies was unsuccessful in blocking it, the county released information.

That case exposed a gap in protection for local agencies. Bocanegra’s bill closed it.

Attorney Craig Alexander, who represented Fleischman in the case, said two wrongs don’t make a right. “What’s the public policy here? Is it to keep average citizens and taxpayers who have to pay for these items in the dark?”

The trouble with the standard 72-hour notice is the public has very little time to digest the information and contact their elected officials with questions, Alexander said.


On the night Santa Paula approved the new contracts, City Manager Michael Rock noted the expensive proposition before the council. The contracts included pay raises but also increased tuition reimbursement, bilingual pay and the number of vacation hours the city would "buy back," among other benefits.

“There is an overall cost to the city that is significant, and there is also significant revenue that has been generated through Measure T and other sources as well,” he said.

Measure T is a one-cent sales tax approved in November 2016 that is expected to raise $2.1 million annually. Rock said the money will also come from sources including the general fund and the newly passed gas tax, which was approved by the state Legislature to provide more money for road and bridge improvements.

Rock said that even with the raises city pay lagged that in other cities.

The two speakers on the item were from the Ventura County Taxpayers Association. One warned of the problems with using short-term money for long-term obligations, while the other questioned the lack of public input.

“When we have negotiations that are largely behind closed doors and the final approval is through a consent agenda item, and only because I believe the paper reported on it the other day are we discussing how much this is going to cost in future years, that’s not transparency,” said the association’s David Grau.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the contracts, with Crosswhite opposed.

Lawmaker: Why Is It Taking Years to Map Fire Hazards From Utilities?

By Lisa Pickoff-White and Marisa Lagos

The risk from wildfires in California means everyone living here should be prepared for one. Some more than others.

That obviously depends on where you live. But who’s in charge of telling us how risky any one place is?

Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working for years to make maps of the highest-risk areas in California. Those maps, once finished, could be used to hold utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Company to higher fire-safety standards.

After last month’s deadly Northern California wildfires, some state lawmakers are saying the process of making the maps is moving too slowly, putting people’s lives at risk.

State Senator John M. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown this week asking him for details about what exactly the agencies have been doing.

“This mapping exercise has been going on for a decade, while over the last few years, dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost in wildfires resulting from fires started by utility wires,” Moorlach wrote in the letter.

The effort to create this set of maps started about a decade ago after deadly wildfires burned through Southern California.

State investigators found some of those fires were ignited by overhead power lines and, to a lesser degree, by telecommunications equipment. After that, the CPUC adopted dozens of new regulations, some of which rely on maps to designate especially hazardous areas.

The CPUC decided in 2012 to create new maps specifically to highlight areas at higher risk from power lines and other utility equipment. A team of experts, including Cal Fire specialists, is working on the maps. One risk those maps aim to highlight is places with high wind speeds, which appear to be a factor in the rapid spread of the fires last month. Another is the types of vegetation in an area.

The CPUC published an early version of the maps last summer, and the commission expects that the final maps will be released this winter. If the final maps determine that power lines or other equipment are in hazardous areas, utilities could be held to higher safety standards.

Moorlach says the whole process is taking too long.

“We’ve got bureaucrats that are doing this and they’re dragging their feet, and you’ve got utilities that know what the outcome is going to be and and they’re going to delay it as much as they can,” he told KQED.

Last year, the governor vetoed SB 1463, a bill Moorlach sponsored that would have required the CPUC and Cal Fire to prioritize the maps and to work more closely with local governments and fire departments to create the maps.

Brown wrote in his veto message that the agencies were already addressing Moorlach’s concerns, saying, “This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.”

CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said Moorlach’s bill would have actually slowed down the work.

“SB 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because Cal Fire was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate,” she wrote in an email to KQED.

Cal Fire already has hazard maps and, based on those maps, people who live in high-risk zones face tougher construction standards. Those maps were spurred by previous legislation. Fire building codes only apply to “very high” hazard areas within city boundaries. However, in areas where Cal Fire has jurisdiction, anything in “moderate” and “high” risk areas must meet their standards.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Incentivizing Mediocrity — November 1, 2017

The Trump Bump continues! The Dow Jones Industrial Average has been rather moribund for years.

As you can see from the slide above, the DJIA was flat for some 2-1/2 years. Then Donald Trump was elected on November 8, 2016.

By June 30, 2017 the following year, the DJIA ended the year at 21,401.30. That’s up 3,451.93 points in one year! Or 19.23 percent!! It is up 3,513.02 since the Presidential election, for a 19.6 percent increase! Unheard of!

And the Dow is still going up! It closed at 23,405.70 on Halloween, October 31, 2017!

And, of course, everyone is a genius in a bull market. But, should government institutional money managers be compensated for what the market does? Maybe for what they generated above and beyond what would have been earned anyway (known as alpha). But, just for being there? The California Policy Center addresses this curious compensation component in the first piece below.

The second piece is an editorial submission to Fox & Hounds on the SB 1 Gas and Auto Tax increase that became effective today (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Scary Week Ahead — October 28, 2017).

Thanks, again, for making yet another “contribution” to the state of California and its Department of Transportation, which is one of the most poorly managed and performing DOTs in the nation. Instead of improving this union-run bureaucracy, the Democrats pursued the easier road of raising taxes over cutting bloat. It’s a good thing you’re generous and take a blind eye to simple things like running a government department as if it had competitors or something. And, just maybe, the Governor will give the management of Caltrans incentive bonuses, too.

In good times and in bad, California’s pension fund managers win fat bonuses

By Steven Greenhut

Sacramento — California’s top pension funds have suffered through a few cycles of bleak investment returns and plummeting funding ratios, so we can’t blame them for wanting to celebrate after what was, relatively speaking, a stellar financial year. But the manner in which they chose to celebrate was shocking. The funds gave their top officials massive bonuses, in part to assure that these officials don’t flee to higher-paying private-sector jobs.

The California State Teachers’ Association (CalSTRS) enjoyed a 13.4 percent return on its investments, while the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) earned returns of 11.2 percent. That’s good news, especially given that higher rates of return translate into lower pension debts ultimately borne by taxpayers.

It was especially good news for CalSTRS Chief Executive Jack Ehnes, who received a $224,682 bonus in addition to his $420,000 salary, according to a Sacramento Bee report. And it was good news, too, for CalSTRS Chief Investment Officer Christopher Ailman, who will receive a $272,678 bonus on top of his $509,000 salary. Those salaries, as you can imagine, come with great retirement plans.

The Bee noted that CalPERS’ executives did well, too, with Chief Executive Marcie Frost receiving an extra $80,190 and Chief Investment Officer Ted Eliopoulos receiving an extra $312,305 after last year’s returns were announced in September.

One might argue that it’s great to reward investment officials for bringing in banner returns that keep the pension funds and taxpayers out of hot water. But there are two problems with that argument. First, the funds gave their executives massive bonuses even when the investment returns were vastly underperforming predictions. As an example, Ehnes received a $214,500 bonus in 2015-2016 – when CalSTRS earned a piddling 1.4 percent return.

It’s yet another example of the “heads we win, tails you lose” approach to finances that CalPERS and CalSTRS have taken to an art form. Despite the seeming grotesqueness of six-figure these bonuses, they don’t mean much to taxpayers, local school agencies and school districts, or pension recipients. They are a drop in the bucket in the multibillion-dollar funds. They are illustrative mainly of the attitudes that dominate in the public-pension world.

The bigger problem is that the funds have run up massive debt that, based on more realistic rates of return, has hit $1.3 trillion dollars. Sure, the funds’ executives win huge bonuses in good years and bad ones. So do all the pension recipients. In these defined-benefit plans, California public employees are promised a pension payout based on a formula that calculates their years of service and their final three years of pay. It is guaranteed, with the only possible exception being a bankruptcy from the employing municipality.

As they work, that formula can never be reduced – even going forward. Back in 1999, when CalPERS pushed a state law that led to massive, retroactive pension increases the state, officials there promised that it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. So far, it’s cost them many billions of dollars and has helped lead to service cutbacks as cities struggle to pay rapidly increasing pension costs. The pension funds blame previous financial crises for the problems – rather than their own culpability in hiking benefit levels. Whatever the case, the pensioner can’t lose. Taxpayers are on the hook for whatever the shortfall may be thanks to a variety of court decisions.

CalPERS and CalSTRS may be giddy over the latest returns, but one year of good returns doesn’t fix the deep hole created by years of poor returns and benefit increases. Even a few years of great returns can’t make up for system’s low funding rates. CalPERS, for instance, is only about 68 percent funded even after the stellar returns. That means that it has only a bit more than two-thirds of the money it needs to make good on all its promises. As of last April, CalSTRS’ funding ratio was around 64 percent.

A recent study from Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research deals only with CalPERS. As I explained for the California Policy Center, it found “that over the past 15 years, employer pension contributions have increased an incredible 400 percent.”. Pension costs have tripled since 2002 and are eating up larger shares of city budgets, thus leading to a crowding out of vital public services. City officials attended a recent CalPERS board meeting and shared their troubling stories, with one city official even raising the specter of bankruptcy.

Yet instead of dealing with these problems, the pension funds are partying like it’s 1999, when soaring investment earnings promised to usher in decades of “cost-free” benefits for the public-employee unions who control the pension funds and the Legislature. They act as if they couldn’t have seen a downturn coming. They blame the financial crash, rather than their foolhardy financial decisions. Did any executives get dinged for those decisions?

The Legislature’s best-known pension reformer, Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, agrees that it takes incentives to hire top officials to run the nation’s largest funds. But he attributes the latest solid performance to the market rather than the magic of fund managers. “What did (CalPERS’ chief investment officer) and team provide above and beyond the average rate of return for similar institutional pension systems?” he asked. “Just because the market is up is not something to be rewarded for. What did you do to exceed the average yield from which the taxpayers can split the difference in an appropriate manner? … Just being there doesn’t cut it.”

But “just being there” is the entire foundation of the state’s public-pension system. If you’re an executive for the funds, you get a big bonus, apparently in good years or bad. If you are a public employee, you receive a large, guaranteed pension for working a set number of years, no matter what happens in the economy at large. And if you’re a taxpayer, you’ve got to pay any and all shortfalls and endure any service cutbacks because of the selfish decisions made by pension funds and legislators. It’s your fault for being here.

The bonuses are the least of taxpayers’ worries, but they are remarkably emblematic of a system that runs for the benefit of its employees and beneficiaries – and not at all for the benefit of the California residents who pay the bills.

Steven Greenhut is contributing editor for the California Policy Center. He is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut.


Stealth Gas-Tax Increase Hits Today

John Moorlach

By John Moorlach

State Senator representing the 37th Senate District

Call it the Stealth Gas-Tax Increase. Today California’s gas tax increases about 12 cents a gallon to pay for the newly budgeted $5.2 billion a year in supposed road repairs which the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed last April.

But few motorists will notice it. That’s because every Nov. 1 the state switches to what’s called the winter blend of gas, which is about 10 cents cheaper than the summer blend mandated from April 1 to Oct. 31. The summer blend costs more because it adds refinery steps to reduce pollution during the year’s hot, smoggy months.

The usual 10-cent reduction will be erased this year by the 12-cent increase, so the resulting 2-cent increase overall will hardly be on your radar. For a 15-gallon fill-up, it’s just 30 cents.

The “seeming” increase of 2 cents a gallon will appear to be a slight incline in cost for rebuilding the state’s roads, which TRIP, a national transportation research group, ranks as the worst in the nation.

But this respite from the nation’s highest gas taxes won’t last long.

The big impact will hit next April 1, when gas prices will have risen not just the 10 cents extra for the summer blend of gas, but also for the additional 12 cents for the new gas tax. Total: 22 cents per gallon. But of course, by then people for five months will have gotten used to the new, stealthy 12-cent gas tax. So they may only “feel” like gas went up 10 cents a gallon, as it always does on April 1.

Yet the new tax will be a collision to people’s wallets. Assume this for an average California family. Both spouses work. Together, they use 40 gallons a week driving to and from work, taking the kids to and from school and soccer practice and performing various errands. So the 12-cent new stealth tax totals $4.80 a week, or about $250 a year.

But what if the family, due to high housing costs, must commute long distances to work – say from Riverside to Orange County or Los Angeles. Then the cost of the stealth tax could rise to $500 or more a year.

But that’s not all. There’s also an additional Transportation Improvement Fee, which is really a tax, just to register your jalopy, bumping this annual ritual $25 to $175 a year, but averaging about $50.

All this detoured money could have gone for healthier food, schoolbooks, a college tuition savings plan, or just recreation for a family that works too long paying all the taxes that already hit them.

And there’s no guarantee the money will actually fix the roads the family drives on. The stealth taxes could be car-jacked during a recession, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did with earlier tax hikes for transportation during the 2008-10 Great Recession. With the state’s pension crisis accelerating, I predict the new taxes will be too tempting a target for a future Legislature and governor.

Indeed, even the new taxes paid at the gas pump will not fully go to fix the roads the cars ride on. According to the Legislative Analyst, $270 million will go to the transit and intercity rail program, $44 million to commuter rail and intercity rail, $100 million to bicycle and pedestrian projects and $108 million for parks and agriculture. And train and bus ridership is declining.

Although today’s tax increase is stealthy, its effect on the personal budgets of Californians will be substantial. And the state’s national reputation for fiscal irresponsibility continues out of control. It’s time to hit the brakes!

John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, is a state senator representing the 37th District.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Scary Week Ahead — October 28, 2017

Early next week, Californians will enjoy two major events. On Tuesday, they will participate in handing out candy to the children in their neighborhoods for Halloween. The next day, Sacramento will provide its own version of “trick or treat” by increasing the gas tax. It should be a scary week.

Sacramento is to blame for neglecting the roads in California. Instead of addressing the symptoms, like bad management, budgeting and hiring, the majority party focused its attention on raising taxes (again!).

I have tried to research California’s Department of Transportation since I was elected on March 17, 2015. The metrics suck. And my attempts to fix them have been voted down by the Democrats (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Boondoggles — June 28, 2017).

A gas tax increase presents a real problem to a good number of Californians. Those who are wealthy and living near the coast won’t even notice. But, the following sampling of people will:

* The 20 percent-plus of the population that are living at or below the poverty level (the highest percentage for any state in the nation–after four decades of Democrat control of the Legislature).

* Those who have lengthy commutes into Orange County because they found affordable housing in the Inland Empire. Add to this those that commute great distances to get to their jobs in Silicon Valley. (And Sacramento wonders why its roads are in disrepair.)

* Those who are spending nearly half of their disposable income on housing, thanks to increasing rents and home prices.

Expect plenty of editorials on the November 1st gas tax increase over the next few days. The Napa Valley Register provides one below.

Fill up your cars this week

As a reminder please make sure that you fill up all your gas tanks this week, before the Democrats’ new gas tax takes effect on Nov. 1.

To be clear, this 12-cent incremental tax in on top of the 18 cents that we already pay for gasoline and is paired with a 20-cent incremental increase on diesel fuel and a $25 to $175 increase on your vehicle registration. It also is set to add a $100 annual fee for zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2020.

Now, while I believe that the streets in Napa and California in general are in desperate need of attention, I have major concerns about this new regressive tax that has been levied upon the taxpayers by Governor Brown and the Democrats that control Sacramento.

Let us consider, the 2017 budget for Caltrans is over $10.9 billion. This is where the 18 cents in fuel tax you already pay is going. This budget is 4.7 times the average amount spent per mile of road in other states. (For example, for every $1 Texas spends on its highways, California spends $5.80, and the roads in Texas are great.) Not to mention the county and city budgets (taxes) that you are also already paying to service the local roads. (Don’t forget Measure T also.) California drivers have been paying some of the highest gas taxes in the country, and yet we still have the fourth worst roads.

Where is all this money going? It is obviously not being spent on the roads. If other states can manage their roads for 25 percent of the money that we are spending we have a major problem. Is the money being mismanaged in Sacramento or is it simply being spent on other things than our roads? In either case, I am not an advocate of giving them more money to waste, and I doubt you are.

In 2016, the California state auditor criticized the Department of Transportation’s approach to highway maintenance, saying Caltrans has “weak cost controls” that “create opportunities for fraud, waste and abuse.” California state Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said in a press release: “This audit reinforces the fact that our bad roads are not a result of a lack of funding. They’re a result of a lack of competence at Caltrans.” He continued: “We don’t need to raise gas taxes to fix our roads. We need to stop letting Caltrans waste the road money it already has and then lie about how that money is being used.”

Taxes like this impact not only those of us who drive, but also impact the cost of all purchased goods because of the 20-cent diesel tax. Please don’t think that this new tax is not going to show up in the cost of everything you purchase.

When so many of our citizens find the cost of living too high already and our business are moving so many jobs out of state, the state and CalTrans need to restructure their operations, not increase taxes.

If you find this disregard for your money as egregious as I do and don’t like being called a “freeloader” by Gov. Brown, please don’t resign yourself to accept this as just another insult from Sacramento. We can stop this madness by starting with the repeal of the gas and car tax hikes. You can join the grass-roots movement at and help us collect the more than 584,000 signatures to force this issue on the ballot in November 2018.

Derek Anderson, Chairman

Napa County Republican Central Committee

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017

The photo provided below with the OC Register article tells the story. And the article addresses the need to deal with high power lines on wood poles immediately adjacent to the highway. I again want to thank Laguna Beach Councilman Bob Whalen for his yeoman’s efforts to work SB 1463 through the system. He attended four committee hearings and served as one of my two witnesses; the other was Paul Smith, Senior Legislative Advocate for the Rural County Representatives of California.

It’s now becoming clear what a tragedy it is that SB 1463 was vetoed by Governor Brown (see MOORLACH UPDATE — First Veto — September 24, 2016 september 24, 2016, MOORLACH UPDATE — Thank you, Vin Scully — September 28, 2016  and MOORLACH UPDATE — Rejection/Disappointment — September 27, 2016).

Here is my September 26, 2016 press release on the veto, which now appears to be quite prophetic with the 42 lives lost in Napa and Sonoma Counties this month:

“One of the paramount responsibilities of government is to provide for public safety. The consequences of wildfires include loss of life, property damage, impacts on ecosystems, etc. Communities in my district, particularly Laguna Beach, are rightfully very concerned about fire safety.

“SB 1463 would have not only safeguarded Laguna and other high fire-risk communities in Orange County, but would have helped other vulnerable communities throughout the state that are often threatened by wildfires caused by sparks from shorted or fallen utility lines. The Governor’s veto impedes the necessity to more urgently address the California Public Utilities Commission’s focus on identifying high risk areas that should be prioritized for appropriate mitigation measures.”

For more recent UPDATEs on this topic, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017.

Updating the fire maps is taking much too long. We’re closing in on a decade for this process and it has cost dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost because mitigating these risks has not been a high priority for the state. We’ve been notified that the state is nearing the final, external independent review portion of Phase 2, but it’s not clear when the state will actually implement new fire safety regulations and compel the utilities to address their infrastructure accordingly, directing their efforts first to the the real high priority areas of the state. So, when the state lags, the locals, once again, take it upon themselves to address this critical concern.

Laguna Beach makes plans to bury power lines to prevent catastrophic fires seen in Northern California


Citing recent media reports that utility lines and poles may have been the primary cause in this month’s deadly fires in Northern California, Laguna Beach City Councilman Bob Whalen pushed for immediate action to underground utility lines and poles citywide.

“Laguna knows all too well about the devastation caused by wildfires and my heart goes out to all those whose lives were changed in an instant by the massive fires in Northern California,” Whalen said at the Tuesday, Oct. 24 council meeting, recalling Laguna’s devastating 1993 fire that destroyed 440 homes.

With urging from Whalen and the public, the City Council unanimously adopted new policy and funding solutions to underground utility infrastructure. The council established a list of solutions to reduce the threat of severe fires, which included allotting $3 million in available city funds and $4 million available in the next two fiscal years to bury power lines along the city’s evacuation routes.

The council also agreed to review funding for similar projects citywide through a ballot measure or initiative.

Whalen outlined financing plan that uses city funds to reduce the cost of burying utilities to residents by 25 to 35 percent from what neighborhoods have had to pay through previous undergrounding assessment districts.

“My goal is to place one or more ballot measures on the November 2018 ballot so voters will have the chance to vote on a citywide financing plan, Whalen said. ” It will mean raising taxes, but I am optimistic that voters will see the wisdom of such a plan and realize that it is an essential step to eliminating one source of another disastrous fire in Laguna.”

Whalen’s plan would also ensure clear evacuation routes in the event of an earthquake where utility poles and lines could fall blocking residents from exiting and emergency personnel from entering.

“The utility companies have refused to help expedite undergrounding, leaving us no choice but to ask our community to support a local funding plan,” Mayor Toni Iseman said. “We must get this done to protect lives and property.”

Motorists drive southbound along Laguna Canyon Road heading toward downtown Laguna Beach. Overhead power lines have long been a safety and aesthetic concern for Laguna Beach residents and officials. Downed power lines may have been a cause of the recent brush fire in South Laguna. (File Photo by H. Lorren Au Jr, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Excluding utilities lines along Laguna Canyon Road, which are covered in a separate master plan for the canyon, there are 128,000 feet of overhead utilities citywide, according to a staff report. About 21,000 feet of the overhead utilities are along major evacuation routes, including Bluebird Canyon Road, Park Avenue and Virginia Way. City officials say it would cost $20.4 million to underground utilities in 11 evacuation areas, at a cost of $1,000 per foot.

Also on Tuesday, the council repealed a March ordinance requiring utility companies to underground new and replacement wires and poles. That action followed a settlement agreement reached earlier this month with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

After the city passed the ordinance, the two utilities sued to stop it. Rather than fighting a legal battle, the City Council agreed to the settlement agreement on Oct. 5, which committed the utilities to work with the city to review overhead electric systems and discuss ways to reduce fire risk.

SCE agreed to develop preliminary designs to bury electric facilities along Laguna Canyon Road in 12 months instead of 24 months, and San Diego Gas & Electric agreed to advance the city initial funding for engineering and design costs for the Laguna Canyon Road projects that take place within the next five years.

The city’s concerns about burying utility lines are not new. Fires caused by downed poles occurred in Laguna in September 2007, February 2011, September 2012 and in July 2015. In 10 years, there have been more than 58 accidents that have downed utility wires and resulted in the closure of Laguna Canyon Road. The most recent occurred Oct. 16, when the road — one of only three routes in and out of the city — was closed for 17 hours, said Shohreh Dupuis, director of public works.

City officials called for citywide undergrounding of utilities following the 15-acre wildfire in July 2015 that started when trees fell into utility wires, causing a power surge that sparked flames.

The city “dodged a bullet” with that fire, thanks to favorable winds and firefighters’ efforts, Whalen said.

In 2016, he traveled to Sacramento several times to testify on behalf of Senate Bill 1463 authored by state Sen. John Moorlach. The legislation would have required the state to identify areas most at risk for wildfires and the California Public Utilities Commission and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to develop enhanced plans to prevent fires from utility and power lines. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the legislation in September 2016.

“The dangerous overhead electric utility lines which crisscross 60 percent of the city have proven to be an unacceptable hazard,” said resident Matt Lawson, who chairs the city’s Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee. “Cal Fire classifies some 90 percent of the city within the very highest risk category for brush fires. As I think our Fire Chief will confirm, very few other California cities are at such dire risk.”

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017

I’ve got bonuses for you. The first is that Newport-Mesa Unified School Board Trustee Judy Franco is being acknowledged for her long-term service. I want to wish her all the best and thank her for her dedication to the community.

Judy has been in the trenches over the decades and, when I stayed at the Hyatt San Diego several years ago for a California Republican Party Convention, she was also there for a School Trustees Conference. She has always been serious about her fiduciary role and has been a bonus to me. The Daily Pilot covers her decision to not rerun in the first piece below.

The second piece is from the Voice of OC and needs one slight clarification. The title is bogus. Of the 20 worst bills that I suggested the Governor should veto (one of the bonuses below), Senator Josh Newman (D – Fullerton) did not vote against one of them. He’s a liberal Democrat and votes with the herd. However, Sen. Steve Glazer (D – Rialto) voted against 6 of these lousy bills and is fully deserving of the moniker “centrist.” There is your inside bonus on this posturing. As always, actions speak louder than words.

The third piece shows that, although the 2017 Session has concluded, our office is still working daily on the pressing issues. My Chief of Staff, who has been a serious bonus during my tenure, was a panelist at a recent technology conference and was identified as a contributor in Government Technology.

Our efforts for transparency were thwarted last year with the introduction of SB 1251 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Upcoming SB 1251 Hearings — April 9, 2016 and MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1251 and SB 1140 — April 12, 2016). I shared this experience in my speeches last fall (also see Again, we’re trying.

Talking about trying, the San Francisco Chronicle provides the fourth piece below. Although it does not mention me by name, it does address my only vetoed bill, SB 1463, so I’m throwing it in as a bonus (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017). It provides stronger clues as to why SB 1463, which did not receive one vote in opposition when it went through the Legislature, was vetoed by the Governor. Perhaps his veto message was bogus?

Now, for two additional BONUSES. The Governor had to address the Legislature’s bills by October 15. It’s time for the results.

BONUS: Governor Jerry Brown vetoed 7 (35 percent) of the worst 20 bills of the 2017 Session (see MOORLACH UPDATE — 2017 Top 20 Veto Worthy Bills — September 22, 2017).

Although it’s not 100 percent, as these are bills written by fellow Democrats, more than two-thirds is better than his signing them all. Four of the Top 20 also made it to our “Who’s Your Daddy?” listing (noted as “WYD?” and further explained in the next BONUS). More on those results in the next UPDATE. Here are the results:

1 AB 20 (Kalra) Send Jobs, Not Investments to Dakota Signed
2 AB 168 (Eggman) Across the Board Salary Lowballing Signed
3 AB 199 (Chu) Construction Reduction Act WYD? Signed
4 AB 569 (Gonzalez- Discrimination of Church by State Vetoed
5 AB 890 (Medina) Voter Suppression Act Vetoed
6 AB 1008 (McCarty) Employment Meddling Act Signed
7 AB 1209 (Gonzalez- Women Employee Reduction Act Vetoed
8 AB 1269 (M. Stone) Mobile Home Tax Vetoed
9 AB 1274 (O’Donnell) Fee Hidden as a Tax Signed
10 AB 1455 (Bocanegra) Public Employee Bargaining WYD? Signed
Secrecy Act
11 AB 1461 (Thurmond) Food Handler Cards – Farmers Next? WYD? Vetoed
12 AB 1513 (Kalra) Union Invasion of Privacy WYD? Vetoed
13 SB 2 (Atkins) Killing Homes and Jobs for the Signed
Middle Class Act
14 SB 3 (Beall) California Legislature’s Housing Signed
Sub-Prime Act
15 SB 5 (De Leon) Park Bond Boondoggle Signed
16 SB 54 (De Leon) Sanctuary State Nonsense Signed
17 SB 63 (Jackson) Small Business Meddling Act Signed
18 SB 149 (McGuire) Do As I Say, Not As I Disclose Vetoed
19 SB 239 (Wiener) HIV Assualt Act Signed
20 SB 285 (Atkins) Bargaining Meddling Act Signed

BONUS: There is no disputing that public employee unions dominate and control the majority party in Sacramento. This year had another crop of bills at the end of Session that were so slanted to benefit unions, I decided to create a “Who’s Your Daddy?” list. It is that bad (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Who Do You Answer To? — October 1, 2017 october 1, 2017 john moorlach).

Jerry Brown would not be our Governor, but for the campaign funding he received in 2010 from public employee unions to overcome billionaire Meg Whitman’s personal financial resources. So, how did the Governor do with these 15 blatant union bills? He vetoed five of them. Killing one-third of these bad bills is commendable. Here are the results (four of them were also in the Top 20 list):

1 AB 45 (Thurmond) Teachers Pet Act – Housing Benefits Vetoed
only for unionized teachers
2 AB 55 (Thurmond) Oil Refinery “Skilled Journeyperson” Signed
3 AB 73 (Chiu) Requires higher prevailing wages for Signed
low income housing construction
4 AB 83 (Santiago) Unionizes Judicial Council Employees Signed
5 AB 168 (Eggman) Across the Board Salary Lowballing Signed
6 AB 199 (Chu) Construction Reduction Act Signed
7 AB 621 (Bocanegra) Back Door School District Pay Raises Vetoed
8 AB 670 (Thurmond) Picket Lines in the Sandbox? Unionizes Signed
Part-Time Playground Attendants
9 AB 848 (McCarty) Bans State Colleges from Outsourcing Signed
Jobs to Foreign Countries
10 AB 1320 (Bonta) Eliminates Prison Outsourcing Vetoed
11 AB 1424 (Levine) Allows UC System to Use “Best Value” Signed
Bidding Methodology
12 AB 1455 (Bocanegra) Public Employee Bargaining Signed
Secrecy Act
13 AB 1461 (Thurmond) Food Handler Cards – Farmers Next? Vetoed
14 AB 1513 (Kalra) Union Invasion of Privacy Vetoed
15 AB 1651 (Reyes) Complicates Process of Removing Bad Signed

‘She’s given her life to these schools’: Newport-Mesa trustee Judy Franco prepares to step aside after nearly 4 decades

By Priscella Vega

When Judy Franco was appointed to the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board in 1980, she didn’t imagine that 37 years later she would still be representing Area 5.

She said she had dropped hints about stepping down at the end of her current term, but when she announced Tuesday that she wouldn’t run in the 2018 election, some observers nevertheless were surprised.

Franco, 80, said she needed to clear up rumors about why the school board may have preferred one map over another in adjusting trustee zone boundaries in time for next year’s election.

In one proposal, labeled Map B, Franco and board President Karen Yelsey’s current addresses would be in the same zone, Area 5, resulting in the possibility of them running against each other in a future election.

Some critics of the other proposal, Map G, speculated it was created to help them avoid a possible faceoff. Yelsey and Franco denied that.

“I didn’t want to make the announcement, but I was sick and tired of hearing innuendo of reasons why we chose Map G,” Franco said Friday. “It made me very angry, and the blame was somehow not put on me but on Yelsey by many people, and it’s totally untrue. It irritated the devil out of me.”

Criticism aside, Franco said she had previously promised her husband that she wouldn’t run for another term so they wouldn’t have to schedule trips around school board meetings.

Franco will complete her time on the school board in December 2018.

During her tenure, Franco has seen the district close multiple elementary schools, embrace a growing number of Latino families from Costa Mesa’s Westside, and deal with controversy surrounding a Mariners Elementary School Gold Ribbon Award and the transition from the controversial Swun Math to new math materials.

Recently the district settled a lawsuit alleging that its election system, in which the seven trustees are chosen by voters throughout the district, violates the California Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit led to the district decided to change the system so trustees will be elected by voters in each zone.

Franco said her career development was an organic process, beginning as a teacher, transitioning into a PTA president at Newport Elementary School and later being appointed to a seat on the school board, though she didn’t expect to stay long. But she was elected to the seat the following year and has been there since.

“It wasn’t a dream of mine, it just sort of happened,” she said. “Every time the election was coming up, I’d get phone calls from people and so I continued to run.”

During her first year as a trustee, she went into “learning and listening mode” until she found her voice, she said.

In an interview Friday, state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) called Franco “a real trouper” for the school district and the Republican Party. He said he recalled bumping into her during a conference in San Diego where he could tell she “took her job seriously and loved it.”

Two of her passions have been establishing sailing as an official sport and program in Newport-Mesa and taking on a leadership role for Youth and Government, an independent study program.

Sean Boulton, who started working in the district in 1999 and is now principal of Newport Harbor High School, credited Franco with helping establish sailing as an official sport.

“It’s a unique feature in Newport-Mesa because of her,” he said. “It takes hoops and steps to establish a sport like that, and she gave us the clarity to make it official.

“She’s given her life to these schools.”

In 2001, Franco was diagnosed with breast cancer but remained active in the district. She said she has missed about 12 meetings throughout her time on the board.

Trustee Martha Fluor, a board member since 1991, described her colleague as a mentor and a “true dedicated warrior” with an “immense amount of knowledge.”

“One of her strongest assets is that she’s truly [a] committed board member,” Fluor said. “There were times she was going through cancer treatments early on when she’d come to board meetings even in the midst of chemo and radiation.”

During her tenure, Franco said, she learned to resist criticism as long as she remained dedicated to her philosophy of making sure that programs, resolutions and motions were for the good of students.

When she finishes her final term next year, the board will be in good hands, Franco said.

“It’s a good balance with a breadth of knowledge,” she said.


Twitter: @vegapriscella


Reiff: Recall Target State Sen. Josh Newman Says He’s ‘Not a Politician, Not a Lefty, a Centrist’


Recall target Josh Newman of Fullerton says he’s “probably the least ideological Democrat in the state Senate” and dismisses as “hyperbole” attempts to portray him as a “crazy lefty” who is out of step with his traditionally Republican-leaning district.

“The irony is I’m the guy who’s targeted … I’d argue that as an Army vet, former business guy, I’m actually quite reflective of my district, which is a politically centrist district,” Newman said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show.

Newman voted along with 25 of his fellow Democrats and just one Republican to increase gas taxes and vehicle license fees, a measure that passed with the bare-minimum 27 votes. And that has triggered a GOP-led recall campaign; those wanting to undo the Democrats’ two-thirds super-majority in the Legislature see Newman, a freshman lawmaker with less than a year in office, as the weakest link.

“The tax is an opportunity to try to overturn the result of the last election, mine,” Newman said. “It’s really about changing the balance of power in the Legislature.”

Recall backers have validated more than enough signatures for a recall, but are now in court challenging a new law that gives petition signers time to rescind their names. Newman said he supports the Democratic counter-measure because it is “clear” that “a very large, indeterminate number of people” were deceived into thinking the recall petition was actually a petition to repeal the gas tax.

Nonetheless, Newman said the Democratic moves will merely delay the Republicans. He said there will be a recall election sometime next year and “I accept the recall process.”

Newman strongly defended his vote for the gas tax: “We have a real problem. Our roads and bridges are in sub-standard condition due to 20 years of neglect.”

“I thoroughly appreciate those are precious dollars that are an additional burden to voters, motorists.” Newman said. He said he is open to ideas for spending transportation dollars more wisely, including from his Senate Republican colleague and fierce Caltrans critic John Moorlach.

But “you don’t solve one problem by ignoring another,” Newman said of his gas-tax vote.

Newman recounted his underdog campaign last year. A political novice, he out-polled favored Democrat Sukhee Kang, former Irvine mayor, in the top-two primary to advance to the general election, where he edged favored Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang.

Newman trailed Chang after election night, but prevailed over the next three weeks as votes continued to be counted from his far-flung district, which takes in parts of three counties — Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

“I was down and then sort of dumbstruck and then elated,” he said.

His unorthodox campaign included a bear mascot, which was Newman himself – he said he didn’t want to subject anyone else to heatstroke from wearing the heavy costume. And his campaign signs – a “Hello” name tag signed “Newman,” a cheeky reference to “Hello, Newman” from the TV show “Seinfeld” – won the national political consulting Pollie Award for best yard sign.

“I’m not a politician,” Newman said. “I didn’t have the relationships or the endorsements or the access to funds.” Especially in the primary, before sizable Democratic donations became available, “I had to figure out how to run a creative, low-dollar campaign.”

Newman said he decided to run for public office after testifying before a state legislative committee on the issue of veteran employment. He was perturbed that many lawmakers were checking their cell phones instead of listening to him:

“I came home and my wife admits, although she’s regretted it since, she said, ‘Hey, if you really want to make a difference you should think about running.’”

The show aired this week on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox, and can be viewed on You Tube.

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

California Open Data and Transparency Efforts Continue Progressing Despite Challenges

Speakers at the Data Coalition’s annual Data Demo Day say tech improvements and culture changes are coming, but much room for progress remains.


SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The Data Coalition, an advocacy group for widespread standardization and publication of government data, hosted its annual California Data Demo Day on Thursday, Oct. 19, featuring panels of experts who work for and with the state’s legislative and executive branches of government.

Lance Christensen, chief of staff for California Sen. John Moorlach, sat on the legislative panel and showed up with a whole bunch of paperwork: a couple of thick blue binders, some weighty reports, another book of rules that barely fit in a pocket. He plunked it all down on the table and told the civic tech vendors, lawmakers and policy wonks in attendance that the stacks contained important public info about California’s budget info only available in outdated paper formats kept at the capitol in Sacramento. Essentially Christensen brought the props to show that despite California’s progressive values and booming tech industry, gov tech at the state level still has much room for improvement.

“If I were to say go find the budget, outside of a Google search, could you really find it?” Christensen asked the room.

He went on to note that if business owners, thought leaders or any other residents of California wanted certain budget info, “You have to drive to the capitol and spend a day picking this up.” He lifted a bulky binder to illustrate.

Indeed, a duality emerged throughout the event. Everyone in attendance — from government employees to politicians to technologists to lobbyists — voiced support for open data practices, while at the same time acknowledging that California could do a better job of execution.

That’s not to say no progress has been made in recent years. There was a sense of optimism in the discussions, a sense that state leadership is committed to doing its best to improve but is, of course, limited by challenges. The event’s keynote speaker California Sen. Richard Pan described how the failure of SB 573, which would have required the state to support open data and hire a chief data officer, had to do with politics but ultimately led to discussions that resulted in most of what the bill was asking for coming to pass, including the hiring of a chief data officer.

Pan also emphasized that the power of open data lies in not just transparency but also in its potential to improve efficiency within government.

“Through open data, we want to empower government to make decisions and see what the results of those decisions are on the public,” Pan said.

He said the best way to ensure that open data culture becomes entrenched in California is to develop better tools that the public will want to use to engage with government. Christensen, the chief of staff who brought all the papers, called for the public to show up at hearings, ask questions about why certain open data isn’t readily available and put videos of politicians answering on Facebook or other platforms where they can be shared.

Jan Ross, California’s deputy treasurer for technology and innovation, had the clearest examples of how open data practices in California are steadily improving, pointing to many of the open data and transparency efforts taking place within her department under the leadership of Treasurer John Chiang. Those efforts include the DebtWatch portal, which provides detailed information about $1.5 trillion of debt issued by state and local governments over the past 30 years.

It’s dry information, to be sure, but Ross talked about how citizens concerned with the government loaning taxpayer money in service of infrastructure and other projects could use the portal to see exactly where in their communities the money had gone, how it had made things better.

“You can see where this impacts your community and why you should care about it,” Ross said.

The challenges discussed included finances — especially for cities that did not generate as much revenue as major metros like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Another hurdle, experts said, is the sheer mass of data government collects, which can be cumbersome — as can finding ways for dozens of disparate public agencies to funnel that much data into a unified format.

“If the government chooses to publish its data, to standardize its data,” said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Coalition, “the tech community can do amazing things with it.”

Arguably, the best indicator for open data’s bright future in California was the seemingly total acceptance that more gov tech companies are popping up with simpler ways to use tech to further open data uses.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Failure to adequately regulate utilities helped fuel wildfires

By Jamie Court




Corruption can kill.

The fires that laid waste to California’s Wine Country and at least 42 lives were not merely the product of a changing climate and extra-heated winds.

Early reports suggest the failure of Gov. Jerry Brown and his appointees to adequately regulate our public utilities to prevent such fires also fueled the fast-moving flames.

Investigators are examining downed power wires and exploding transformers from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which were reported on multiple 911 calls, by PG&E workers and by witnesses as the immediate cause of many blazes.

Reports from fire responders, residents and PG&E itself also point to the flames spreading so quickly because of overgrown trees too close to the utility’s power lines.

The Butte Fire in 2015, which destroyed more than 500 homes and killed two people in Calaveras County, was caused by PG&E’s failure to cut back a pine tree that hit a power line and sparked the fire.

PG&E’s negligence to identify the weakened trees led to bipartisan legislation in 2016, passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature, to reduce the risks of wildfire from overhead utility lines by clearing out dead trees. The bill required the Public Utilities Commission to identify and map high-risk wildfire hotspots due to overhead utility lines, taking into consideration local governments’ concerns, so that utilities would have to step up their mitigation efforts in those areas.

Unfortunately, Gov. Brown shockingly vetoed that fire prevention legislation, claiming that the state Public Utilities Commission and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had a process in place. The furious spread of fires along trees in the path of power lines last week lays naked that claim.

PG&E itself put the blame on “hurricane-strength winds” and “millions of trees weakened by years of drought,” contributing “to some trees, branches and debris impacting our electric lines.”

In fact, winds were only half the level of hurricane force, peaking at 30 miles per hour when the Tubbs Fire started, according to the Bay Area News Group, but overgrown trees as fuel for the fire were all too real. Attorney Frank Pitre, who sued PG&E over the Butte Fire, said it’s “the utility’s very responsibility to identify a weakened tree and remove it before it strikes a power line.”

Unfortunately, cronyism in the Brown administration has allowed a long-standing culture of neglect at PG&E to continue undeterred because PG&E and its brethren fear no real consequences.

PG&E has long been the darling of the Brown administration, supplying his top aide, Nancy McFadden, from its executive ranks, as well as his former Cabinet secretary. It’s little wonder the unanimous fire cleanup bill was vetoed when McFadden, Brown’s top legislative adviser, was a former senior vice president at PG&E who left the company with a $1 million payout.

The veto came despite the fact that explosive electric power equipment is among the top three causes of California wildfires.

Brown has also stacked his Public Utilities Commission with PG&E and utility partisans in the wake of corruption scandals that should have shaken the commission to its core.

PG&E’s former lobbyist was caught in a pay-to-play scheme with former PUC President Michael Peevey, but Brown did all he could to support Peevey and keep the pro-utility commission pro-utility. “He gets things done,” Brown said of Peevey, after the scandal broke, calling him “a very effective leader.”

We often think of public corruption as an academic, antiseptic issue. In this case, it has real-world consequences. Brown’s refusal to get tough on PG&E and other utilities has led to repeated safety issues that endanger lives.

Consider the San Bruno explosion in 2010 that claimed eight lives and leveled neighborhoods. PG&E neglected gas pipelines and kept shoddy maintenance records. It even took ratepayer money intended for gas pipeline repairs and used it for executive bonuses and shareholder dividends. Emails showed PG&E’s lobbyist worked surreptitiously with PUC commissioners to pick its own PUC judge to hear the case. It took a federal conviction this year to reveal PG&E was a criminal.

City officials in San Bruno still wonder why no one at the company was ever punished. Under PUC President Michael Picker, a top former aide of Brown’s, the commission continues to stonewall the release of documents related to the blast.

Of course, PG&E has been generous to Brown and his causes as well, shelling out six-figure contributions over his term.

The irony is Brown has made combatting climate change his signature issue, but his hostility to regulation has made California more vulnerable than ever to its ravages.

That’s a lesson the next governor should learn as prerequisite for the job.

Jamie Court is the president of the nonprofit nonpartisan group Consumer Watchdog. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at

This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

Also follow me on Facebook & Twitter @SenatorMoorlach.