MOORLACH UPDATE — Intriguing Dredging — February 25, 2013

Sunday’s Daily Pilot had a nice shout out by Newport Beach Councilwoman Leslie Daigle.  There are so many fun projects that Supervisors get to participate in that usually go unnoticed.  It was nice of Councilwoman Daigle to spread the praise.  I would like to join her and offer my congratulations to everyone who helped make this important project a success.  It is the first piece below.

LA Times “Capitol Journal” columnist George Skelton makes a mention of me in his column.  It’s not the first time that I’ve had the honor to be in one of his pieces.  For a liberal commentator, he sure delivers some accurate body blows to the solar plexus of the California Republican Party.  I would certainly agree with George that credibility and a proven track record are critical attributes for a GOP standard bearer, and therein lies my opportunity.  Thank you, George, for the moniker of “fiscal watchdog” and for noting that I am “intriguing.”  The definition of “intriguing” is “to arouse the curiosity or interest of.”   My sources tell me that George is not the only representative of the other party that is “intrigued” by my potential candidacy.  Although the California Republican Party has certainly taken some punches, its message of proper fiscal stewardship stands strong in the face of rising taxes and fees.  The “intrigue” begins in the second piece below.

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Commentary: Feds, city came together on dredging project

Re. "Newport completes lower-bay dredging," Feb. 15:

An article by reporter Jill Cowan in the Daily Pilot highlights the completion of the Lower Bay (Newport Harbor) dredging.

As I stated in the article, it was a "long, hard road to complete the big dredge." The assistance of our federal and state partners helped achieve a breakthrough.

There are few ways state and federal government dollars come directly back into our community. The Upper Newport Bay restoration project received $50 million in federal and state funds for completion prior to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considering work on the Lower Bay. City Manager Dave Kiff and I went to Washington, D.C., to make the case for completion of the Upper Bay project.

The $17.3 million in federal funds so noted by Cowan came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The Upper Bay project was already an authorized and signed federal project whose work was performed by a private-sector contractor contributing to state and local job creation and tax revenues. Had the project not received ARRA funds, the federal government was prepared to pull the plug on the project and deem it "partially complete." The County of Orange, under the leadership of our local supervisor, John Moorlach, did an outstanding job as lead agency on the Upper Bay project.

Following completion of the Upper Bay project, the idea was to shift momentum to the Lower Bay. Easier said than done.

For more than 50 years, the dredging of Newport Harbor languished. The project failed to advance beyond the redline for funding. To begin this project, both political support (elected representatives) and agency support is necessary.

The federal government thinks about wars, Social Security, major national issues. Newport Beach is not on its radar screen, but fortunately we are a community of self-starters. A major reason for our historical failure was the absence of a convincing case to the Feds. I worked to develop a message that would help lift this project up the federal priority list. Kiff and I made several trips to Washington, D.C., and shared with U.S. representatives and brass at the Corps of Engineers, why this project had merit:

1.) Have a U.S. Coast Guard station.

2.) Gateway to the Pacific Ocean.

3.) Part of a state system of harbors.

4.) Balances regional recreational load.

5.) An environmental clean up.

6.) It’s a federal and local partnership. The City Council unanimously supported investment in this economic, environmental and recreation asset. Cost-sharing required a certain openness and flexibility on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ part.

Members of the congressional delegation consistently supportive of Newport Bay include Sen.Dianne Feinstein, and Reps. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), Ken Calvert (R-Corona) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove). The project made it above the cutline into the president’s budget. This allowed the project to begin. City funds kept the project going to completion.

During the implementation phase, the project encountered issues that required the intervention of a congressional representative. The office of Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) stepped up and applied heavy pressure to keep federal agencies moving on the project. Of special note, is the work done by Danica Dawson of his staff. Thank you to our U.S. representatives for making Newport Harbor a better-functioning resource.

The steady hand of the Corps of Engineers, the private-sector company performing the work, and the city’s Public Works Department Harbor Resources Division’s daily coordination of the contractors’ work with local harbor activities is appreciated.

The magnitude of funding necessary to meet Newport Bay’s future needs is substantial. We will continue to work with our state and federal partners. We must also work to better position ourselves to meet future maintenance needs of the bay. To that end, Councilman Mike Henn offered his leadership to form a fund that sets aside city dollars for bay projects.

The glorious bay defines what is extraordinary and special about Newport Beach. In the midst of budget cuts and political upheaval where people may feel uncertain about their future, as a community we can engage in conversation about the funding of future bay maintenance as it connects us as a society for the common good.

In light of this accomplishment, this a good time to reflect not only on our short falls, but on the gains in bay maintenance that we have made — repairing docks, habitat restoration — and also to recognize the work, with the help of those like our Orange County congressional delegation, that still needs to be done — fortifying walls and bulkheads — both as individuals and as a community.

LESLIE DAIGLE is a Newport Beach city councilwoman.

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California GOP faces steep road back

The party has no obvious contenders to challenge Gov. Brown, but the eventual standard-bearer should at least be credible.

By George Skelton

SACRAMENTO — The Republican Party has become so pathetic in California that it can’t even find a candidate to run for governor next year.

Correct that. It isn’t even looking. Wouldn’t know where to begin.

The party’s in no position to recruit anyway. It has little to offer. Certainly not a brand name, not in a state where the GOP steadily has been losing market share. Definitely not money. The party’s deep in debt.

Actually, neither major party historically has had to recruit top-of-ticket candidates. They’re usually lined up begging, jockeying for position to win the party’s nomination.

Republicans will hold a state convention next weekend in Sacramento. Normally, there’d be a parade of gubernatorial wannabes fighting for the mike and opening up hospitality suites during the silly hours. But not this time.

This convention apparently will have all the excitement of a Saturday at the dump. The big event will be the election of a former Republican legislative leader, Jim Brulte, as the new state chairman.

Brulte wants to rebuild the party from the ground up. That includes recruiting local candidates and building a farm system for major office.

But no one can name a Republican who would have a snowball’s chance of beating Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown next year — at least someone who might run.

The name of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice always is tossed out. But everyone concedes that’s fantasy. She’s committed to education reform, a Brown vulnerability. She loves her life in academia at Stanford, however, and shuns smelly state politics.

Another name is U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the Republican whip. As a former Assembly GOP leader, he understands Sacramento and perhaps could make it work. But he’s not going to surrender his No. 3 party leadership post in Congress.

One big red flag for any Republican is Brown’s remarkable strength. He seems practically unbeatable in his expected quest for a record fourth term as governor. (In October, he’ll surpass Gov. Earl Warren’s record for years served in the office.)

A Field Poll last week showed that Brown’s job approval rating among voters has risen to an eye-popping 57%. Moreover, 61% said he "can be trusted to do what is right." And 56% thought he "deserves credit for turning around the state’s finances."

But — pointing to some weakness — 57% also said that Brown "advocates too many big-government projects that the state cannot afford" (bullet train). And 47% said he "favors organized labor too much" (public pensions).

So there are some sores for opponents to peck away at. And, after all, he will be 76.

Brown probably can’t be bounced from office, however. So forget about trying to find a Republican winner. Just settle for a credible candidate who can pass the laugh test.

Ideally, the candidate would be someone relatively young who runs on the high road — avoiding the gutter — and finishes in position to wage a successful encore race when Brown gets booted by term limits in 2018.

Being a Latino could be a plus, attracting voters from a growing ethnic group that has been repulsed by what it perceives as GOP immigrant bashing.

But who? Remember we’re not looking for electability. What’s needed is credibility — to carry the colors without embarrassing the party.

That excludes one legislator who has expressed interest, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of San Bernardino County. He’s a former Minuteman who rails against illegal immigration and was placed on probation for trying to bring a loaded firearm onto an airplane. He called it an "honest mistake."

"He’d be a really horrible candidate, worse than no candidate," says Republican analyst Tony Quinn.

There’s an obscure non-politician weighing a run for governor as a Republican. He’s Neel Kashkari, who oversaw the federal government’s bank bailout program and most recently has been an executive at Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co.

Kashkari is just the sort of chap who should be running for a lower office before trying to become governor of the nation’s most complicated state.

But one credible candidate — young and Latino — would be Abel Maldonado, 45, of Santa Maria, a former mayor, legislator and lieutenant governor. He’s the son of immigrant parents who built a ranching empire, living the American dream.

Maldonado is a moderate who had the courage to vote in the state Senate for a tax increase, angering party activists. He was appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, filling a vacancy, then lost to Democrat Gavin Newsom in the 2010 election. Last November, he lost a congressional race to Democratic Rep. Lois Capps.

I’m guessing he’d run for governor with a little encouragement. But he’d need to answer questions about a $4-million family tax dispute with the IRS.

Another potential candidate some talk about is former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, 62. He also was a police chief and has a saleable record in public office. But he’ll soon become head of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and has told people he’s retired from politics.

Three other names out there: San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Michael A. Ramos, 55, (more likely an attorney general contender); Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, 40, (she’s fighting to avoid city bankruptcy); and Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach, 57, (a fiscal watchdog and intriguing).

"What the heck good is a party if it doesn’t have a candidate?" Quinn asks. "You can’t resurrect a party without a candidate at the top of the ticket arguing serious issues and motivating people to vote."

There are 5.4 million Californians who still call themselves Republicans. Surely one is a respectable party flag bearer.

george.skelton@latimes.com

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

2008

February 24

The lead story in the OC Register was titled “The ABC’s of restaurant ratings.”  It was by Gwendolyn Driscoll.  This would be a topic that would be before the Board shortly thereafter, but I was asked why the County of Orange had not implemented this approach.  My response is provided near the conclusion of the piece.  When the issue finally came before our Board, I had done a significant amount of research and had a different perspective when it was time to vote. 

In 2007, Mariscos Moncho El Pescador on South Main Street in Santa Ana had one rodent and four cockroach infestations. It had a total of 25 major violations and a record 115 minor violations. It was closed by the health department six times.

In the same year, The Arches Restaurant on 29th Street in Newport Beach had no violations – major or minor.

For a consumer, there is no way to know the difference. Orange County, in contrast to all neighboring counties, mandates only that restaurants post a seal that indicates the restaurant meets a minimum standard of food safety – without defining, as other counties do, a range of excellence.

The result, critics say, is a food safety information system that – in failing to publicly distinguish between restaurants with high rates or serious kinds of violations and those without – is friendlier to restaurants than the diners who patronize them.

Those critics point to surrounding counties, including Los Angeles and San Diego, which employ an "ABC" food safety rating system that restaurant owners must prominently display on their doors or windows.

That system summarizes degrees of food safety, from those with few major or minor violations – the "A" restaurants – to those with more.

With its threat of both public shame and loss of business for restaurants that do not garner the coveted "A," it also compels restaurant owners to practice better hygiene, according to Terrance Powell, director of environmental health for Los Angeles County.

Reports are available

Powell said that the "ABC" rating system increased the percentage of Los Angeles restaurants with an "A" rating from 57 percent 10 years ago to more than 80 percent today.

Orange County Health Care Agency experts say it is not their place to define the degrees of difference between Mariscos Moncho El Pescador’s 25 major violations and The Arches’ zero.

"We give the consumer the (inspection reports) and let them make up their mind," said Richard Sanchez, director of environmental health for the Health Care Agency.

Food inspection reports are publicly available on the Health Care Agency’s Web site, but it is up to the consumers to decide for themselves if one, two – or 34 – major violations at a restaurant are significant.

According to state law, restaurants must provide inspection reports to consumers on request, but few diners know to ask for such records.

The reports themselves are not always easy to understand. Why, for example, did La Pizza Loca on West McFadden Ave. receive the county’s highest award – the "Award of Excellence" – when it also received 24 minor violations?

Minor violations, experts say, are easy to get and consequently of less importance to food inspectors than major violations.

"A light that is out in the walk-in refrigerator is a minor violation," said Mike Haller, program manager for the county Health Care Agency. "That’s how easy it could be."

Nor does a cumulative total of violations matter to food safety inspectors. Instead, they examine restaurant hygiene on a per-inspection basis, giving their Award of Excellence to those venues that have an average of no more than six minor violations per inspection over the course of a calendar year.

The logic, inspectors said, is that inspectors will almost always find violations on any given day. The more inspections conducted, the more violations will be reaped. A more accurate snapshot of whether food safety problems are increasing is the number and severity of violations found per individual inspection.

By this logic, a rat found in a kitchen once – although a major violation – is less serious than one found in multiple inspections because, Sanchez said, it demonstrates a one-time-only accident, rather than a repeated pattern of noncompliance with the California food code.

Penalizing the innocent

Consumers, of course, might be troubled that a rat could be found even once in their favorite bistro, or that more minor violations – such as food scraps on the floor or lack of hand soap for restaurant staff – could occur.

"That’s completely understandable," Sanchez said. "What the public doesn’t understand (is) there’s stuff flying everywhere, that’s the nature of a (commercial) kitchen. If we see an accumulation, if they’re not cleaning it every day, or for weeks … then that becomes a problem."

Sanchez said that if restaurants were graded by degrees of cleanliness – as in Los Angeles – it might penalize those whose food safety problems are not of their making.

A restaurant, for example, that was cited for a sewage blockage might have an extenuating circumstance – like an unresponsive landlord, Sanchez said. Should they be penalized with a "B" rating – and suffer a drop in customers – for something that is not in their control?

Such a scenario occurred at the Flame Broiler TRBK in Mission Viejo, according to management assistant Diana Charez.

Charez said the restaurant’s permit was suspended four times in 2007 because a neighboring restaurant’s sewage overflowed onto the Flame Broiler’s property.

"The inspectors saw the problem wasn’t our fault, but they figured if they closed the place down, it would put pressure on management to solve the problem," Charez said.

Charez said the neighboring restaurant has since installed a new sewage system.

Defenders of the ABC system, such as Powell, said despite concerns about the "overly harsh" nature of letter grading, the number of restaurants has steadily risen in Los Angeles.

"When we started the program, the critics said the public wasn’t savvy enough to understand, the system is too harsh, or the system … is only a snapshot," Powell said. "Having done this for 10 years, we’ve captured a lot of data that refutes each and every one of those arguments."

Powell said a visible rating system was less an economic issue than a political one because it would compel county health officials and politicians to take on a potentially recalcitrant restaurant industry.

"It comes down to what is the political will to put that into place," Powell said. "What industry that you know would welcome putting their laundry out on the line every time they were inspected or regulated in some way? This form of disclosure is … a hard bargain between the decision makers and industry."

Is Orange County’s rating system more business-friendly than consumer-friendly?

"Our board is a little less inclined to be a nanny state," said John Moorlach, chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. "We’d prefer to work with business, get things cleaned up, instead of having long-term admonishments that are publicized. Maybe it’s more of a grown-up approach."

The idea of a letter-grading system in Orange County was broached in the late 1990s to "significant resistance," according to Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, then a member of the Board of Supervisors.

"But now Orange County does stand out as an aberration – why don’t we have what all these other counties have?" Spitzer asked. "I think it’s a legitimate question for the board to revisit."

In the meantime, diners such as Eric Billingsley say they are left in the dark.

Billingsley recently dined at Luc Dinh Ky restaurant in Westminster, Orange County’s top violator in terms of sheer numbers of major violations.

"It made my stomach turn a little bit," Billingsley said when told of the restaurant’s food safety record. Such knowledge "would definitely influence my decision whether I would eat here again."

February 25

Speaking of columnists, the OC Register’s Frank Mickadeit did one titled The real awards show was in O.C. – Forget that mannequin show at the Kodak. Try some real fun at the annual dinner for the American Society of Civil Engineers.”  As coincidence would have it, the awards theme for this past weekend matches Frank’s approach.

Big awards weekend. There was that little grin-and-grab deal up at the Kodak, but as the in crowd would tell you, the event to be at was the American Society of Civil Engineers annual dinner and awards ceremony at the Costa Mesa Hilton.

Too cool to be publicized in the Hollywood Reporter, you’d have be an ardent reader of the Engineering News Record to know about this event. Or an ardent reader of this correspondent.  A correspondent not only personally invited by a real civil engineer, but who sat at a front table full of civil engineers (and a giant snickering CPA named John Moorlach) and, get this, received an award.

It was like I’d been invited to the Oscars awards by Julia Roberts, was given the Irving Thalberg statuette and got to sit in the front row between Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese, who spent the evening touching my sleeve saying, “I told you, just call me ‘Marty’ … And did I ever tell you about the time Bobby DeNiro and I were up scouting locations near Lompoc, just got ’faced on pinot and decided to look up your old address?”

So I arrived at the Hilton as a light rain was falling Friday evening, tipped the limo driver a couple c-notes, threaded my way through the paparazzi and stepped onto the red carpet. I didn’t want to do Joan – because, let’s face it, she’s tedious – and instead decided to submit to the only interviewer I can really stand, myself.

Frank: “You look fabulous! Who are you wearing?” 

Frank: “Sir Wicket’s.”

Frank: “And where’d you get those divine pumps?” 

Frank: “This interview’s over, pal.”

Back to reality. I was seated at an excellent table with licensed civil engineers (hereinafter L.C.E.’s) Ziad Mazboudi, Ken Rosenfield, Yazdan Emrani, Kathereen Shinkai, Roger Yoh and Denis Bilodeau, and C.P.A. Moorlach, who never got up to speak and whose sole function, it seemed, was to harass me when it was my turn.

It was Bilodeau, who presented me with my first award, a packet of three plastic pocket protectors. I immediately put one on my jacket pocket, one on my shirt pocket and offered the third to Moorlach – all of the L.C.E.s already having their own.

“I don’t have pockets,” Moorlach said, opening his coat to show me, indeed, his pocketless blue oxford shirt. “I order my shirts custom without them.”

See, that’s the kind of personal detail only a great journalist can drag out of a major public official and is precisely the talent for which I was being honored. Specifically, I was being recognized for grabbing old plat maps and a steel engineer’s tape and doing an ad hoc land survey of beachfront homes in Newport. Licensed surveyors (hereafter, L.S.’s) later confirmed it: dozens of yards encroached on the public’s beach.

The evening’s big awards went to real engineers, among them Fred Meier (Lifetime Achievement), Michael Markus (Government Engineer of the Year) and Ignacio Ochoa (Engineer of the Year).

Ochoa, director of county public works, came from Mexico as a child, one of ten. His father was a laborer who worked two jobs. Ignacio didn’t speak English well but he was very good at the international language of mathematics. His teachers encouraged him to be an engineer.