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Despite the Threat of Bankruptcy, Stanton Is Spending Millions to Build One Park

CHAPTER 1: PIGS (ala Portugal, Italy, Greece & Spain)
In March 2011, facing a $4 million deficit, panicked Stanton City Council members met in special session and voted unanimously, dramatically to declare a fiscal emergency.

It was the sort of thing we’d been hearing from Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain for months—a government’s tax revenues falling so disastrously short of its spending that what comes next is slaughterhouse ugly. By the standard of the PIGS, what followed immediately in Stanton might strike you as banal: Having declared a fiscal emergency, the council agreed to ask voters to approve a 50 percent hike in the city utility tax, from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.

At that meeting, David Shawver—then a 23-year council veteran and self-proclaimed “ultra-conservative football coach Republican”—said he and his colleagues had no choice but to raise taxes. As with the PIGS of Europe, the Great Recession had slammed Stanton, Shawver said. The city was pinched between the rising cost of its public workers and falling property- and sales-tax revenues. Conservative George W. Bush bailed out the nation’s largest banks in 2008; David Shawver begged for a new tax in 2011.

“We had to come up with some type of system or some type of program to generate more revenue to keep the city going,” Shawver told a Garden Grove reporter at the time.

That same night, leaning on the podium reserved for public comments, a retiree named Charles Rell asked Shawver and the others a question that seems just as pertinent today: “How much more can we afford to pay?”

Shawver’s response could have been that neither Rell’s personal finances nor even arithmetic figured into the city’s calculations. Because long before that night, Shawver and his council colleagues had embarked on a great adventure, a free-spending circus in one of the county’s poorest and smallest cities: the creation of a $6 million park that would supernova into a $24 million project that will cost the city millions more over time.

Whether Rell and others like him can afford that park is irrelevant. Thanks to Shawver, they’ll have to.

It’s not too late to christen it Central Pork.

“What’s that old saying about the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole—stop digging?” —Steven Greenhut Brian Feinzimer

“What’s that old saying about the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole—stop digging?” —Steven Greenhut
Brian Feinzimer

CHAPTER 2: GO-GO, STANTON!
To understand how truly weird it is to blow $24 million after you’ve declared a fiscal emergency and begged the public to raise taxes, it’s best to start in 2010. In September of that year, about the time of the Great Recession’s second, deepest roller-coaster plunge, the city announced it would spend $12.5 million to purchase land from the Savanna School District. Two months later, at a formal signing ceremony, buyer and seller cock-a-doodled their delight. Stanton City Council member Al Ethans said the purchase “enhances our facilities for parks beyond our fondest expectation.”

Looking back from the lofty promontory of 2016, hearing a guy say that his real-estate deal is “beyond our fondest expectation” sounds like the sort of go-man-go, mad-money hyperbole that was on almost every overmortgaged American’s lips—right up to the moment the housing crisis burned down the entire planetary economy in 2008.

Stanton’s $12.5 million land acquisition was followed just four months later by the self-declared fiscal emergency and the call for a bump in the utility tax.

Finances grew shakier. Stanton voters rejected the council’s pitch for a tax hike on utilities. And in June 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown announced that he and state lawmakers had decided to kill the state’s scandal-plagued redevelopment process. For years, city officials, including those in Stanton, had used the state’s redevelopment law as a revenue booster. In return for declaring property “blighted,” city officials were allowed to freeze the assessed value of that property and therefore the property-tax revenue for everybody else. School districts all over the state went into the red as their expenses climbed but their share of property-tax revenue remained frozen by the city. Redevelopment in Stanton meant that schools were on fixed incomes while the city captured 100 percent of the tax on the increase in the value of the land over time—what geeks call the “tax increment.”

Officials were not unique in having claimed their entire city was blighted, and therefore subject to the pickpocket-light touch of the city tax collector. State lawmakers excused the accounting trick as necessary to improvements—by which they meant the replacement of rundown properties with high-income, tax-generating commercial and residential projects.

When the band stopped playing—when Sacramento officials shut down the redevelopment dance hall—Shawver threatened legal action. In a statement that reveals his very liberal reading of a program that was supposed to build new buildings and clear away the wreckage of his city’s past, Shawver told the Orange County Register, “We were using that money for a lot of our city services.”

Brown’s decision ended Stanton’s future casino-style real-estate investments—but would not apply retroactively to the 2010 announcement to buy school property, though no cash would change hands until 2013.

Throughout much of that period, a Los Angeles Times reporter noted, the digital sign outside the Stanton City Hall blinked the ominous, verb-free reminder: “STANTON FISCAL CRISIS.” In June 2012, just before voters killed the utility-tax hike, City Manager Carol Jacobs warned residents the city was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Tallying up the toll of the financial crisis in Stanton in 2012, Times reporter Christine Mai-Duc wrote, “In the last two years, after-school programs have been cut, city staffers have been laid off and even the lone police station in town has closed to the public, a sign on the door offering residents a number to call if they need assistance. The city has even elected to stop paying dues to the League of California Cities, an organization that lobbies on behalf of local governments. It’s not required by law, says City Manager Carol Jacobs, and Stanton just can’t afford it.”

“We’ve never really had much fat in this city,” Shawver told the Times. “We’re getting to a point here where there’s not much left to cut.”

CHAPTER 3: DON’T MENTION THE PORK
To recap: a self-declared “fiscal emergency,” the threat of bankruptcy so catastrophic that the city had shuttered its police station, the end of redevelopment and the death of a tax hike at the polls. During all of this, in October 2011, the council voted to spend $6 million to build Central Park on land it bought from the school district for $12.5 million.

That would be $18.5 million. But the cost to build Stanton Central Park is now at least $24 million—the cost of the school property, plus the city’s upwardly revised $11.5 million construction estimate.

Still, the city spends. And as if to answer Rell, the fixed-income retiree raising uncomfortable questions at that 2011 emergency council meeting, city officials asked residents to pay still more. But they don’t mention Stanton Central Pork.

Shawver: Father of Stanton’s $24 million park

Shawver: Father of Stanton’s $24 million park

In 2014, city council members, many of them present for the unanimous declaration of financial emergency three years before, backed a 1 percent local sales tax. Their reason: Without the sales-tax increase, they told voters, the city would lose vital public-safety services. Of course, it wasn’t presented that way in the city’s full-color, ALL-CAPS messaging. In that campaign, opposing the city sales tax meant you supported house fires and gangsters—and, what’s maybe worse, that you hated cops and firefighters.

Faced this second time with a tax hike or the apocalypse, voters approved the tax.

Shawver has tried to downplay the impact of the now-1-year-old tax hike on residents—and is working to kill a November 2016 ballot measure to repeal the tax.

The self-described conservative and member of the Orange County Republican Party’s central committee told a March community gathering that the increased sales tax is great—because it’s pretty much a tax on outsiders and it pays for sheriff’s deputies and firefighters.

“It’s a tax on people who drive through our community,” Shawver said at that meeting. “They drive up and down Beach Boulevard, stop to get gas, and we get one penny. One penny! And thanks to that one little penny, we’ve been able to restore critical public-safety assets.”

It also hits anyone who shops in Stanton, of course, though not (the officials stayed carefully on message) grocery and pharmaceuticals shoppers.

But it’s all for a good cause, Shawver said: public safety.

Stanton has a well-earned reputation for violence—it’s among the toughest towns in a county more famous for catfights among wealthy housewives than gunfights, gangs and prostitution. So public safety is no abstract line item. But even Shawver admits the county sheriff’s deputies, firefighters and paramedics who patrol Stanton are a major cost center.

“I’m not going to fool you,” Shawver told the community gathering. “Public safety is expensive, but I am concerned with maintaining the level of service that you demand.”

Already expensive, public safety is getting pricier. This year, the city will pay an additional $1.1 million for public safety, most of that for the escalating pay and benefits of its $220,000-per-year firefighters and $187,000-per-year sheriff’s deputies. Those are extraordinary pay packages, even in relatively affluent Orange County. And they stand out especially in Stanton, where the median yearly household income is $46,000 and 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. They were negotiated with the county by the powerful firefighters’ and deputies’ unions—the same public-employee unions that back Shawver and who carried almost the entire cost of the 2014 campaign to raise the sales tax.

CHAPTER 4: ‘STOP DIGGING’
If it weren’t for a few lousy public investments—such as the park—the city might be able to pay its sheriffs and firefighters even at that stratospheric level, without a tax hike of any kind. But park spending never made even a cameo appearance in the muffled 2014 debate over the tax increase. There has been only limited dissent inside City Hall. Stanton businessman Rick Muth was an early critic of the park, and that was when he was outside City Hall. Muth says he became more alarmed when he got inside, after Republican state Senator (and former Orange County treasurer and county supervisor) John Moorlach appointed him to the oversight board responsible for winding down Stanton’s redevelopment agency. That put Muth directly in contact with Shawver and Shawver’s Great Pork.

 

Building the narrative: Estimated costs for Central Park have quadrupled

Building the narrative: Estimated costs for Central Park have quadrupled

 

Muth’s connection to Stanton runs through Orco Block Co., the company that Muth’s father, grandfather and a family friend created in 1946—a full decade before Stanton became a city. The Big Bang in Southern California building that followed shortly after Orco’s founding continues to this day, and it helped make the company one of the largest building-materials suppliers in the region.

 Orco is still in Stanton, and Rick Muth runs it. Like Shawver, Muth is a self-declared conservative. Unlike Shawver, he clearly expects the city’s finances to be handled as a business like Orco might manage them.

Citing the city’s financial emergency and a general lack of transparency where city spending is concerned, Muth opposed park funding. He says he battled city staff “even to get minutes from meetings” and was repeatedly denied itemized park expenses. When he asked council members how a city in a financial death spiral could afford to build and maintain the park, Muth says Shawver told him that all construction and operations costs would be funded through the sale of “excess city land around the park” once the real-estate market ticked up.

Muth says shortly after that conversation, he was touring the proposed park site with another council member. He asked the council member to point out the excess park land Shawver had said would be sold to cover operating expenses. Muth says the council member looked at him “with this really puzzled look on his face” and told Muth there was no excess park land to sell.

Now it was Muth’s turn to look puzzled. But the council member said any budget gap would be easy to fill: The city would cut down on park costs by closing the Central Park occasionally. Muth is still incredulous as he recounts the conversation and those that followed. “No one could tell me how you close a park for a few days every week,” he says.

“The last straw for me,” Muth recalls, “was when the city refused to give another oversight board member the true, full cost of the park”—unless she dropped her demand to explain how the park had jumped from $6 million to $8 million, then to $11.5 million. In March 2015, he resigned from the board.

Shawver did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

His City Council campaign site lists accomplishments that will outnumber mine if I live to be 400. He’s a credentialed teacher; a softball, wrestling and football coach at Millikan High School in Long Beach for 42 years; he’s got certificates for first aid, CPR and lifeguarding. He’s taught religion in his Catholic parish. He coached Pop Warner football and was his Neighborhood Watch director. He volunteered for the Stanton Haunted House, the Christmas pageant, the Easter egg hunt and the Drug Busters youth program. The list of activities that Shawver recites—afternoon teas, soccer, fiestas, civic clubs, pancake breakfasts and charity luncheons—suggests not just boundless commitment, but also capacious memory of his own remarkable contribution. It’s unlikely he’s forgotten anything.

But if these good deeds indicate feverish social activity, they do not really capture something else about the man: After 28 years on the Stanton City Council, he says, “my work is not finished.” Looking back over the past many years of financial drama, the city’s residents may wish that it was—finished, I mean.

The man’s energy may also explain his Rooseveltian (Franklin, not Teddy) sense that government can and should do anything, including build a massive park in a time of financial crisis. “Quality of life is very important, but if a city is in such financial crisis that it has to go out and raise taxes, well, you just have to go back to basics, to do what you’re absolutely responsible for,” says former city of Orange mayor Carolyn Cavecche, who is CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association.

Building a park is nice, Cavecche says, “because everybody loves parks, including me.” But paying for public safety? “That’s just basic.”

Steven Greenhut laughed when told about the city’s decision to build Central Park in the midst of financial crises. “What’s that old saying about the first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole? Stop digging?” says Greenhut, a formerRegister editorial writer who’s now western region director for the free-market R Street Institute. “Cities that cry ‘poverty’ and ‘public safety’ to convince their residents to pay higher taxes have no business spending big bucks on new parks.”

CHAPTER 5: THE PAPER TRAIL
City officials say not to worry. The city budget declares, “The project’s design, construction and construction management are funded from a Redevelopment Agency Bond, a State Grant and Park-In-Lieu Fees and has no impact on the City’s General Fund.”

Translation: State taxpayers (who generously funded the public-parks-friendly Proposition 84, but who don’t count because, like drivers who stop in Stanton to buy gas, most of them live elsewhere) and hypothetical future real-estate developers (who will pay fees on construction) will fund most of the park. On page 126, deep in the Stanton budget, there’s also the promise that city staff will “successfully procure sponsors and additional revenue programs for the new Stanton Central Park.” In public meetings, officials have offered the example of revenue from participants in a community softball league.

RickMuth

But by far the biggest source of cash will come from $28 million in bonds hurriedly issued by the Stanton Redevelopment Agency just as Brown raised his sword over the program.

The city’s assertion that paying for the Central Park will have “no impact on the City’s General Fund” is hard to square with reality. My colleague, the bond analyst Marc Joffe, found Stanton’s bonds cost city taxpayers nearly $400,000 to issue. Interest payments—totaling $42 million over 30 years—will continue to put a multimillion-dollar ding in the city’s budgets.

There are other significant park costs that Stanton officials never mention in their estimates but which appear scattered throughout city financial documents. There’s lost revenue from the golf course that closed when the city took over the school property. The city’s park-maintenance budget will jump dramatically, on average about $150,000 in each of the next two years. The budget for parks staff will go up “by $202,810, or 43 percent in FY [fiscal year] 2015-16. The increase primarily relate [sic] to salaries for the new Stanton Central Park,” the budget reports. A new, six-figure community-development director will spend part of her time managing the park.

“Saddling the people of Stanton with a $24 million park and all the other associated costs—a park that was sold to them as $6 million—is unconscionable,” says Sal Sapien, the city’s former mayor and still a member of the county Democratic Party’s central committee. Sapien is also a longtime Shawver adversary. Recalling that he and other council members voted to censure Shawver in the early 1990s “for his antics,” he says, “The council should censure him again.”

CHAPTER 6: THE GOLDEN SHOVEL
Spiraling costs weren’t on the official brain at last summer’s Central Park groundbreaking, though. That June, with golden shovels held over their hard-hatted heads in triumph, city officials were talking about the future, about coming together, about the generosity of government, the noblesse oblige of City Hall.

“This is a gift to Stanton residents,” declared Allan Rigg, the public works director. “I’m excited. It’s an exciting time in Stanton.”

But as Register reporter Chris Haire deftly observed in his account of the groundbreaking, “Not everyone is thrilled about the impending [park] construction.”

Haire talked with leaders of three churches renting space on the old school grounds. In a little-remembered footnote to the city’s $24 million Central Park, the churches are gone now.

“The churches received 45-day eviction notices. Because of their size—California Christ Community Church has 50 to 60 members—and lack of money, the churches are having trouble finding new locations,” Haire reported.

“It was kind of a shock for us,” Daniel Park, pastor of California Christ Community Church, told Haire. “I don’t even know if the city knew we were here.”

About The Author: Will Swaim is vice president of communications for the California Policy Center and founding editor and former publisher of OC Weekly. Additionally, Swaim was editor of Watchdog.org, a national network of state-based investigative reporters, and vice president of journalism at Watchdog’s nonprofit parent, the Washington, D.C.-based Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

Citizens Group Objecting to Solar Power in Kern County Is Union Front Group

Construction trade unions in California remain distressed about how solar power is harming the environment. Their latest worry is the 150-megawatt Willow Springs Solar Project proposed for Kern County, in Antelope Valley at the Los Angeles County border.

March 8 2016 Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar LetterAn energy company called First Solar has been planning this project since 2010. In February 2015 Kern County released a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the solar project. Substantial objections to this project then emerged from an unincorporated association called “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar,” represented by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo in South San Francisco.

This group claims the county isn’t complying with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in its evaluation of the environmental impact of the solar power plant. Although the county has tried to modify subsequent versions of its Environmental Impact Report to address these objections, the association’s law firm continues to insist that the report is inadequate.

This process became absurd. At one point a change made by the county to mollify Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar even triggered a new objection – from the East Kern Air Pollution Control District!

Finally, the Kern County Planning Commission had enough and scheduled a hearing on March 10, 2016 to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report. On that morning, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a new set of objections. Later that day, a lawyer representing “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar” warned the Planning Commission that Kern County had failed to properly evaluate the environmental impact of the solar project. Also at the meeting to speak out against the project were the head of the Kern-Inyo-Mono Building and Construction Trades Council and the head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 428 in Bakersfield.

What’s the true identity of “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar?” Construction trade unions, working under another unincorporated front group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). A Kern County official bluntly revealed the true agenda of this fake organization at the subsequent April 12, 2016 meeting of the Kern County Board of Supervisors:

“The primary opposition to this project has been from law firms representing labor unions who have requested First Solar sign a Project Labor Agreement.”

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended county approval of the project despite the newly-submitted union objections. After postponing a Board of Supervisors hearing originally scheduled for March 15, county staff refined the Environmental Impact Report to address the new set of objections. The Kern County Board of Supervisors considered final approval of the Willow Springs Solar Project on April 12.

For Kern County officials, the morning of April 12 began as expected, with 31 pages of fresh objections from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo. But this time there was blowback: as reported later that day to the Board of Supervisors, “a variety of entities” had also submitted letters “taking issue” with how unions use the California Environmental Quality Act as leverage to squeeze Project Labor Agreements out of solar energy developers.  The letters documenting the practice can be read via the links below:

April 11, 2016 Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

April 11, 2016 Western Electrical Contractors Association et al to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

April 11, 2016 California Construction Advancement Group to Kern County Board of Supervisors – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Objections to Willow Springs Solar Project

These letters did not shame Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar. A lawyer for Adams Broadwell Joseph and Cardozo spoke at the Board of Supervisors on their behalf and objected to alleged failures of the Final Environmental Impact Report to “disclose” things.

Of course, the REAL lack of disclosure was the true identity of “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar” and its ulterior motives. But everyone knew what was happening. A representative of First Solar openly told the Board of Supervisors that it had not concluded negotiations on a Project Labor Agreement.

Following that statement, an official with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 428 in Bakersfield claimed that since 2013 the union had signed Project Labor Agreements with First Solar, 8minuteenergy, Recurrent Energy, SunPower, and Sun Edison for construction of solar photovoltaic power plants in Kern County. Apparently he suspected that the surging unemployment of Kern County construction workers (caused by cutbacks in the petrochemical industry) was encouraging solar companies to be bolder about resisting union demands for Project Labor Agreements.

April 12 2016 Kern County Board of Supervisors Vote on Willow Springs Solar ProjectIn the end, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the Willow Springs Solar Project. Unions now have the opportunity to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to challenge the board’s decision in court.

Solutions?

How can the State of California protect the environment while discouraging parties from brazenly abusing environmental laws to extract economic concessions from public and private developers? State Senator John Moorlach has a solution based on the concepts of openness and transparency. He has introduced Senate Bill 1248, which would require a plaintiff or petitioner in a CEQA action to disclose information about parties that provide more than $100 to fund the action. It would also require the plaintiff or petitioner to disclose the financial or business interest in the project for those parties that provide more than $100 to fund the action. See Senate Bill 1248.

With Senate Bill 1248 enacted as law, Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar, community champions of the environment, would acquire a new identity: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, demanding a Project Labor Agreement.

Sources

April 13, 2015 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Draft EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Letter

March 9, 2016 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Final EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Letter

April 12, 2016 Adams Broadwell Joseph Cardozo Final EIR Comments on behalf of Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar – Willow Springs Solar – First Solar – Kern County – Staff Report & Response

Video of April 12, 2016 Kern County Board of Supervisors Meeting – Item 4 – Request from Willow Springs Solar, LLC by First Solar: allow construction of a 150-MW solar facility


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

A Challenge to Moorlach and Glazer – Build A Radical Center

On March 22, 2015, John Moorlach was officially sworn in as state senator for California’s 37th District. On May 28, 2015, Steve Glazer took the oath of office as state senator for the 7th District. Moorlach is a Republican serving mostly conservative constituents in Orange County. Steve Glazer is a Democrat serving mostly liberal constituents in Contra Costa County.

Different parties. Different constituents. You wouldn’t think these two men had much in common. But you’d be wrong.

John Moorlach and Steve Glazer have both distinguished themselves as politicians and candidates by doing something that transcends their political party identity or conventional ideologies. They challenged the agenda of government unions. As a consequence, both of them faced opponents who were members of their own party who accepted money and endorsements from government unions.

It wasn’t easy to challenge government unions. Using taxpayers money that is automatically deducted from government employee paychecks, government unions in California collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. These unions spent heavily to attack Moorlach and Glazer, accusing – among other things – Moorlach of being soft on child molesters, and accusing – among other things – Glazer of being a puppet of “big tobacco.”

This time, however, the lavishly funded torrent of union slime didn’t stick. Voters are waking up to the fact that the agenda of government unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Can Moorlach and Glazer transform this rising awareness into momentum for reform in California’s state legislature?

Despite sharing in common the courage to confront California’s most powerful and most unchecked special interest, Moorlach and Glazer belong to opposing parties whose mutual enmity is only matched by their fear of these unions. With rare exceptions, California’s Democratic politicians are owned by government unions. Fewer of California’s Republican politicians are under their absolute control, but fewer still wish to stick their necks out and be especially targeted by them.

The good news is that bipartisan, centrist reform is something whose time has come. Democrats and Republicans alike have realized that California’s system of public education cannot improve until they stand up to the teachers unions. Similarly, with the financial demands of California’s government pension systems just one more market downturn away from completely crippling local governments, bipartisan support for dramatic pension reform is inevitable.

There are other issues where voters and politicians alike realize current policy solutions are inadequate at best, but consensus solutions require intense dialog and good faith negotiations. An obvious example of this is water policy, where the current political consensus is to decrease demand through misanthropic, punitive rationing, when multiple solutions make better financial and humanitarian sense. Supply oriented solutions include upgrading sewage treatment plants to reuse wastewater, building desalination plants, building more dams, increasing cloud seeding efforts, and allowing some farmers to sell their allocations to urban areas.

Imagine a centrist coalition of politicians, led by reformers such as Moorlach and Glazer, implementing policies that are decisive departures from the tepid incrementalism and creeping authoritarianism that has defined California’s politics ever since the government unions took control. How radical would that be?

Ultimately, forming a radical center in California requires more than the gathering urgency for reforms in the areas of education, government compensation and pensions, and, hopefully, infrastructure investment. Beyond recognizing the inevitable crises that will result from inaction, and beyond finding the courage to stand up to government unions, Moorlach and Glazer, and those who join them, will have to manifest and pass on to their colleagues an empathy for the beliefs and ideologies of their opponents.

Ideological polarities – environmentalism vs. pro-development, social liberal vs. social conservative, libertarian vs. progressive – generate animosity that emotionalizes and trivializes debate on unrelated topics where action might otherwise be possible. The only solution is empathy. The extremes of libertarian philosophy are as absurd as those of the progressives. The extremes of social liberalism can be as oppressive as an authoritarian theocracy. Economic development without reasonable environmentalist checks is as undesirable as the stagnant plutocracy that is the unwitting consequence of extreme environmentalism. And while government unions should be outlawed, well regulated private sector unions play a vital role in an era of automation, globalization, and financial corruption.

Despite being inundated with a torrent of slime by their opponents, John Moorlach and Steve Glazer took the high road in their campaigns. They are worthy candidates to nurture the guttering remnants of empathy that flicker yet in Sacramento, and turn them into a roaring, radical centrist fire.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Issue of Government Unions Divide Candidates More Than Party Affiliation

“Agent Keen, in this world there are no sides, only players.”
–  Raymond Reddington, played by actor James Spader, NBC’s “Blacklist,” February 12, 2015

To exemplify the intensifying battle of players regardless of sides, look no further than California’s two competitive State Senate special elections set for this March. In Orange County’s Senate District 37, Republican John Moorlach is running against Republican Don Wagner. In Contra Costa County’s Senate District 7, three Democrats are competing for the open seat, Steve Glazer, Susan Bonilla, and Joan Buchanan.

What differentiates these candidates? It certainly isn’t their party affiliation.

In Contra Costa County the reason these candidates differ is very clear. Steve Glazer has taken positions that are hated by the unions, and the other candidates have not. In particular, Glazer was critical of the 2013 BART strike, and he has been outspoken for years on the need for pension reform. The city of Orinda, where Glazer has served as a councilmember and currently serves as mayor, offers a defined contribution plan to city workers. This solution terrifies the government unions, and the union’s allies in the financial community, but it spares that city of crippling financial challenges in the form of pension obligation bonds and payments on the inevitable unfunded pension liabilities.

When Glazer ran for state assembly last year, the unions reported over $2.0 million in campaign spending to defeat him. They spent an estimated additional unreported $2.0 million on “internal member communications,” i.e., mailers and other campaign communications to the households of any of the thousands of members of any of the unions that actively opposed his candidacy.

Glazer has been endorsed this time by Democrat Chuck Reed, the San Jose mayor who had the temerity to question the financial viability of paying public safety employees retirement pension and benefit packages that average well over $100,000 per year after 25 years of full time work. Glazer has also been endorsed by Republican Michaela Hertle, who, prior to dropping out of contention, had been the only Republican in the race.

As Chuck Reed once said, there are union democrats and there are progressive democrats. Or as Glazer has put it, if you believe government should provide services, you have to have accountability and efficiency. But the unions who oppose Glazer haven’t fought him on the issues. Instead, last year they successfully smeared him as being a puppet of billionaires, because he worked for a few months as a consultant to the California Chamber of Commerce – and since that group receives some of its support from tobacco and oil companies, apparently Glazer is a puppet of those companies.

These tactics rely on ludicrous distortions. But they work. Take a look at the attack ads used against Glazer. “The Facts About Steve Glazer and Big Tobacco,” a photo of Glazer in a pile of cigarette butts, a photo of Glazer standing beside a pool of spilled crude oil. And right now, some political consulting firm is testing new attack ads to use on Glazer. His offense? He is a centrist Democrat who has firm principles and isn’t afraid support policies opposed by government unions.

In Orange County’s District 37 two Republicans are squaring off, former Orange County county supervisor and long-time pension reform advocate John Moorlach, vs. 68th district Assemblyman John Wagner. These are both strong candidates, but Moorlach probably scares the unions more. As a certified public accountant and successful public servant, Moorlach both understands the intricacies of pension finance and – if elected – possesses the ability to communicate the challenges with pensions to his colleagues in the state legislature.

Wagner, by contrast, while having a voting record as a politician that has earned him credibility with voters in conservative Orange County, has incensed union reform advocates by recently accepting a donation to his campaign of $8,500 from the Peace Officers Research Association of California. Reached for comment earlier this week, Wagner acknowledged that around 2011 he had probably signed a pledge to the Orange County Lincoln Club to not accept union money, but noted that it was during a previous election. Wagner also said he adhered to the so-called “Baugh Manifesto,” authored by former Orange County GOP chairman Scott Baugh, which prohibited GOP candidates from accepting government union contributions, but stated the Baugh Manifesto only applies to local races, not races for state office.

More to the point, when asked whether or not he would feel compelled to vote in accordance with a government union since he took their money, Wagner paraphrased Ronald Reagan, who famously said “when somebody gives me money, that doesn’t mean I am buying their agenda, it means they are buying my agenda.” Hopefully Wagner, if elected, will resist the government union agenda. And hopefully he will not, like many conservatives do, exclude public safety unions from being impacted by reforms designed to improve accountability and efficiency in government. A bankrupt police state is no more desirable than a bankrupt welfare state. The government union agenda impels California and the nation towards both of those undesirable outcomes.

California’s conventional political sides – Republican and Democrat – are blurring. Two big issues facing Californians that are both urgent and utterly bipartisan are (1) quality education, and (2) fiscal responsibility. On both of these issues, government unions oppose reforms. Any voter who cares about these two issues, regardless of their party affiliation, should ask themselves just one question: Which player do the government unions fear more?

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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Reinventing America’s Unions for the 21st Century, September 2, 2014

The Looming Bipartisan Backlash Against Unionized Government, August 26, 2014

Two Tales of a City – How Detroit Transcended Ideology to Reform Pensions, July 22, 2014

Government Employee Unions – The Root Cause of California’s Challenges, June 3, 2014

A “Left-Right Alliance” Against Public Sector Unions?, May 20, 2014

Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions, May 13, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2014

Public Pension Solvency Requires Asset Bubbles, April 29, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 11, 2014  (The Kelly Thomas Story)

Pension Funds and the “Asset” Economy, February 18, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

How Public Sector Unions Skew America’s Public Safety and National Security Agenda, June 18, 2013

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Civic Openness in Negotiations Ordinances Hold Elected Officials Accountable

Eight years ago, then Orange County Register reporter Norberto Santana opened his piece, “The Art of the O.C. Deal (Orange County Register, August 6, 2006),” with the following observation: “When people see the board of supervisors vote on a labor deal, what they don’t know is that most often, an agreement has already been reached in private. And it’s perfectly legal.”

The root cause of fiscal distress for many municipalities is the negotiated bargaining unit agreements. The promise of future benefits could not be feasibly be paid. And most would have told you so if they were asked about the sustainability of the deal points. But when the public is not aware of the contract details until after they are agreed to, it is too late. Shouldn’t the experience of this obvious flaw in the process give those who come after a strong reason to open the negotiation process? Yes, it should.

Can you imagine a private sector business allowing a third-party to negotiate contracts on its behalf with no say in the process? Of course not. Yet, when dealing with labor negotiations, the general public, whose tax money is being spent, allows their elected officials to negotiate without any real say in the process.

As a county supervisor, one of the most serious responsibilities that I have been entrusted with is negotiating with employee organizations representing more than 17,000 county employees. To put this in context, salary and employee benefits represents 35.2 percent of the County’s $5.4 billion budget.

These negotiations, which happen behind closed doors, are shrouded in secrecy, with the general public only being able to give input after a deal is already agreed upon. For this reason, I have introduced the Civic Openness in Negotiations (COIN) ordinance for consideration by the Orange County Board of Supervisors at its June 17, 2014, meeting. The idea is not new. It was first adopted by the city of Costa Mesa.

The ordinance has five main components:

  1. Independent Negotiator – As is current policy, the County will hire an independent negotiator that is not impacted by any outcome in the negotiation process. Past practice had county staff, who were subject to the same provisions as the bargaining unit they were negotiating with, negotiate on behalf of the Board of Supervisors. Independent negotiators remove this conflict.
  2. Cost of Contracts – Current practice has the county budget office analyze the costs of any contract proposal. Under COIN, the independently elected Auditor-Controller will take on this responsibility. This ensures an equal playing ground for both labor organizations and the county as both will be given the ability to comment about the analysis.
  3. Offers and Counteroffers – This ordinance would require that all offers and counteroffers be disclosed to the public within 24 hours.
  4. Board Disclosure – Each member of the Board of Supervisors will be required to disclose any and all verbal, written, or electronic communications they have had with an official representative of a recognized employee organization.
  5. Contract Approval – This ordinance will require that, before the final proposed contract is placed on the Board agenda, the Memorandum of Understanding will be posted to the County website.

This ordinance is intended to not only make the negotiation process more transparent, but to allow the public to hold elected officials accountable for the actions they take in regard to taxpayer funds.

We universally agree on transparency and scrutiny. By implementing COIN, the negotiation process will improve for all the impacted parties.

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About the Author: John M. W. Moorlach is a Republican member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and represents the Second District on the board. He serves on the Orange County Transportation Authority, OC LAFCO, CalOptima, and Southern California Regional Airport Authority boards. Moorlach has the distinction of having predicted the largest municipal bond portfolio loss and bankruptcy in U.S. history while campaigning for the office of Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector against incumbent Democrat Robert Citron in 1994. Citron resigned later that year. In 1995 Moorlach was appointed to fill the vacancy, was elected by the voters in 1996 to complete the unexpired term, and re-elected in 1998 and 2002, serving nearly twelve years. In 2006, he opted not to run for re-election as Treasurer-Tax Collector and instead ran for Orange County Supervisor, winning 70% of the vote. He is recognized as a leading expert on municipal bankruptcies.