MOORLACH UPDATE — Yesterday and Tomorrow — May 11, 2013

Allow me to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day! Tomorrow I will be enjoying the day with three generations of mothers. It will be the first year to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mother, wife, daughter, and my first grandchild.

My granddaughter, Jordi, and her mother recently visited a farm animal petting zoo and this is one of the photos of the event

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I am very impressed with the improvements and expansion that the OC Register has been making. However, its search engine still needs an overhaul. There were two articles in Friday’s edition (yesterday) that came up in national search engines today. It probably works out for the best, as yesterday’s UPDATE was large enough.

The first OC Register piece deals with a dirty little secret impacting the County’s (and every California county’s) carpool lanes. It is addressed at the conclusion of the article. Federal law requires draconian changes to carpool lanes if, and only if, the state of California allows solo drivers in electric cars and low-emission vehicles to use these lanes. Here is the related transcript in the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) minutes for the Board meeting of April 22, which will be approved at Monday’s Board meeting:

Director Moorlach asked for clarification that if Orange County had not allowed energy-efficient vehicles in the HOV lanes, would it not be subject to the study.

Ryan Chamberlain, Caltrans District 12 Director, responded that under Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP 21), that is correct.

One of the conditions when the State is required to do a degradation study is the use of inherent low-emission vehicles in the HOV lanes. The other condition is that when single-occupancy vehicles are allowed to buy into the managed lanes network, via HOT lanes.

Director Moorlach asked that if Orange County discontinued allowing energy-efficient vehicles in the carpool lanes, then would Orange County not be subject to the degradation study?

Director Chamberlain stated Orange County would not be subject to the study, however, that doesn’t get Orange County out of taking a look at how its managed lanes are operating and trying to bring them to a better operating condition.

He further stated Orange County would not be required to submit the degradation study to the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA).

Director Ury stated that Orange County is mandated, and cannot opt out of the study. He commented that staff is looking to see if this is a quasi-unfunded State mandate that has put Orange County in this position.

The OCTA approach to address freeway performance concerns has been to assess the situation, solicit public input, determine priorities, identify solutions, and balance solutions with resources. In a recent presentation to the OCTA Board, Caltrans presented their study on the entire Orange County freeway network and determined that it is 100% degraded during peak travel times. The Caltrans map provided for the OC Register article shows variations in levels of degradation. It looks like we have a wide range of impacts and some are worse than others. Logically, one would start with solutions that are likely to benefit the greatest number of drivers and go from there, as resources permit. Orange County has taxed itself in order to have the funds to pay for freeway improvements. Now California and our county are faced with a dilemma imposed by the Federal Highway Administration to raise carpool requirements and/or impose tolls or be sanctioned by losing funding and/or approval for future projects. This forceful tactic does not recognize the work that has been done in Orange County or the considerable planning efforts that have been underway for decades. We are told that we will have 180 days to bring our freeways into compliance. Usually with a carrot-and-stick approach, there are incentives to encourage compliance and sanctions for failure to comply, but so far only the stick has been offered. There will be no funding to accompany this edict and it looks like we are being told to use taxpayer money in ways that they did not approve.

Someone in Sacramento decided that we should allow certain vehicles with only one passenger to have access to the carpool lanes, if they have the appropriate sticker on their vehicle. That decision is requiring OCTA to make dramatic changes to the carpool lanes within 180 days. Preposterous! That’s why I lamented that after we have encouraged OC residents to double-up in their cars, we are now punishing them for doing so. This is dysfunctional. And it is another good reason, among many (especially this past week), to secede from the state of California.

The second OC Register article is rather random. To better understand this story, if you are not familiar with Steve Rocco, then go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=nS6RJHXIRiA. It is a clip from a 24-minute video about Steve Rocco. The documentary was produced by Fred Smoller, then an associate professor of political science at Chapman University. It was made to show the importance of informed participation in local elections and the need for a more "user friendly" democracy. The video became the basis for a PBS television program, “Rocco the Vote,” aired on then KOCE, a PBS station formerly in Huntington Beach, California, see http://www.pbssocal.org/rocco. I will admit that I obtained some of this information from Wikipedia, which you may also want to visit at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Rocco_(politician). Other than that, I disavow any knowledge of this recall and am in no form or fashion involved with it.

O.C. may see 3-person carpools, tolls

By DOUG IRVING

Caltrans is considering changing the rules for some California carpool lanes – requiring three people or a toll to get in, for example – in part because of what happens most evenings on a brake-lit stretch of the southbound 405.

Federal rules say that traffic in the carpool lanes should always be moving at a 45-mph clip, even in the thick of rush hour. But as evening traffic plods along the south 405 from Costa Mesa to Irvine, the carpool lanes miss that mark more than 90 percent of the time, traffic studies have found.

The problem is the same on freeways across Orange County and California, and Caltrans is now under a federal mandate to fix it. The agency has not said what it plans to do, but it has released a list of what it considers the best options.

Those include raising the carpool threshold to three people in a car and charging tolls for anyone else who wants to use the lanes. Orange County leaders have already begun to protest those ideas; County Supervisor John Moorlach even joked at a recent meeting that the county should just secede from the state.

"We encouraged people to do a certain thing, and now we’re going to punish them for being successful," he said.

Drivers will get a better sense of what the future holds for California’s carpool lanes later this month or early next, when Caltrans plans to release its final report and plan. "There’s not necessarily going to be a one-size-fits-all approach," Caltrans spokesman David Richardson said.

INCREASING PATROLS

Caltrans officials have said all options are still on the table, from increasing police patrols to weed out single-occupancy trespassers to paving entirely new lanes, which they consider the best long-term solution. But with time short and money tight, the agency has also said a three-person occupancy requirement and a switch to so-called "HOT" lanes would be the most effective short-term fix.

A HOT lane would charge cars with fewer than three people a sliding toll, with higher rates when traffic is bad and lower rates when conditions are clear. That could worsen congestion in the free lanes, so the "ideal" solution would add an extra free lane at the same time, according to a recent Caltrans presentation to Orange County transportation officials.

The traffic studies that Caltrans is using show that, in Orange County, the freeways in the urban center have the most reliably congested carpool lanes – making them candidates for the heaviest intervention. Parts of I-5, I-405 and the 55 freeway failed the 45 mph rule nine days out of 10 during the peak of the morning or evening rush hour, the studies show.

Traffic eases in the wider-open north and south parts of the county. But even there, few freeway segments have traffic speeding along in the carpool lanes with the consistency required by the federal rules.

STATE HAS FINAL SAY

Caltrans oversees those freeways, and the state has the final say over any changes to the carpool lanes. But Orange County helped pay for some of those carpool lanes with its half-cent sales tax for transportation projects and has money earmarked for future carpool-lane improvements on I-5.

Board members at the Orange County Transportation Authority have told Caltrans that the voters who agreed to tax themselves to pay for those projects didn’t anticipate that the carpool lanes would become toll lanes. "There will be serious questions raised, and rightfully so, regarding tolling," County Supervisor Pat Bates said.

OCTA board member Frank Ury also questioned whether the federal government’s across-the-board 45 mph rule was fair to begin with. "I have a feeling that the traffic flow in my native Kansas has a lot less strain on it than the traffic flow in Orange County," he said.

California must fix any carpool-lane segments that fail the 45 mph test or face sanctions, because of a small provision in state law. That provision allows electric cars and other super-low-emission vehicles to use the carpool lanes regardless of how many people they have inside.

Those super-low-emission vehicles account for only 1 or 2 percent of the traffic in the carpool lanes, and Caltrans officials have said there’s no move to kick them out. In fact, bills moving through the California Legislature would push back the expiration date for their special-access stickers.

In federal law, those low-emission vehicles are one of the triggers that require a state to study its carpool lanes and identify any that aren’t keeping up with the traffic demands. States must start working to bring any underperforming lanes into compliance within 180 days.

When Caltrans submits its final report in the next several weeks, it will start that clock.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving

Recall launched against mayor

By Ron Gonzales

Steve Rocco, a former school trustee known for conspiracy theories and repeated campaigns for public office, has gotten the go-ahead to collect signatures to recall Mayor Miguel Pulido.

Rocco’s petition for recall is more a jumble of words and names than it is a document spelling out reasons to oust the mayor, including words and phrases such as "intubation" and "criminal partnership" and "Little Saigon Riots" – as well as "Ketchup Case." Rocco was accused four years ago of stealing a half-full bottle of ketchup from the Chapman University cafeteria. Among the names in the petition are those of District Attorney Anthony Rackauckas and county Supervisor John Moorlach .

"I think it’s unfortunate that he’s chosen to do this," the mayor said. "If people read his statement, it speaks for itself. I’m hopeful they don’t get the signatures. If they do, I will fight it very hard."

City records indicate that a recall election would be the first in at least 80 years.

Rocco couldn’t be reached for comment, and the door went unanswered at his home in Santa Ana, where chicken wire screens in the front porch.

Rocco in March filed a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition. He needed 20 signatures of registered voters to begin circulating it. He turned in 25, 21 of which were valid.

Rocco served on the Orange Unified School District board from 2004 to 2008 and ran unsuccessfully for Santa Ana mayor in 2000, and for the Ward 3 council seat in 2008 and 2012. Pulido was elected in November to a 10th two-year term.

Santa Ana City Clerk Maria Huizar, the city’s election officer, said that as of Tuesday, Rocco was authorized to circulate his petition for signatures. To force a recall vote, he must file by Oct. 14 a minimum of 13,101 valid signatures, which represents 15 percent of registered voters.

Memo: 714-796-6999 or rgonzales@ocregister.com

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

May 11

2008

Jason Pesick of the San Bernardino County Sun provided the inconceivable news that a city council improved pension benefits in “Rialto’s pension plan OK increases city obligations.” Here is the story in full:

One thing is for sure: Bringing the city’s public safety workers’ pensions in line with their colleagues’ across the county is going to create more debt.

But members of the City Council who voted for the pension say they aren’t worried because their budget is in good shape, the reserves are ample and new development is on the way.

Early last week, the council voted 3-2 to give the police officers union a "3 at 50" pension plan, meaning an officer who retires at age 50 will receive 3 percent of his or her highest annual salary multiplied by the number of years served.

Firefighters have begun negotiations on their new contract and expect to get the same plan.

The contract with the city’s general employees expires in 2009, and they’re looking for a modest bump to 2.5 at 55. Altogether, the new pension plans would cost the city $3.3 million a year – more than 5 percent of the pool of $57 million in its general fund.

"I think it’s one of the major concerns for municipalities going forward," Amy Doppelt, managing director at Fitch Ratings, said of pension costs.

The council members who support the pension plan say it is an essential part of rebuilding the Police Department and retaining high-quality officers.

"This is sort of that slippery slope where once one agency did it, everyone else has to do it," said John Moorlach, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Moorlach, who says he’s the "Antichrist" to public employee unions, led a unanimous board effort to file a lawsuit to reduce some of the county’s pension obligations to sheriff’s deputies.

Moorlach, who forecast troubles in Orange County’s finances more than a dozen years ago, before its bankruptcy, has become a self-anointed spokesman for conservative pension management in the public sector.

The problem, as he sees it, is the amount of debt created when governments provide the benefit retroactively to boost current employees’ pensions. Rialto officers and firefighters have a 2-at-50 pension, meaning they’ll see a 50 percent boost.

"It may be necessary to provide this benefit along with the salary payments or levels to attract people to be a police officer," said Steven Frates, senior fellow at the Rose Institute for state and local government at Claremont McKenna College. "What the market tells us is that’s not necessary to attract firefighters."

The $3 million a year needed to pay for sweeter pensions in Rialto could rise if the retirement plan doesn’t get high enough returns.

Exactly how much debt Rialto took on to provide the increased pension is not clear. Representatives of the city’s finance department were not available for comment, and City Administrator Henry Garcia did not return calls for comment.

Officers in Rialto won’t have money deducted from their paychecks to fund the pension, but they will give up two floating holidays a year, said Councilman Ed Scott, who voted for the new plan.

The city is preparing plans for balanced budgets for the next two years, and new revenue sources, like a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Super Target, will help the city pay for the benefit, he maintained.

According to a report ordered by the governor on public employees’ retirement benefits in 2006, the state’s collective public retirement systems had $63.5 billion in unfunded liabilities.

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