A rebuttal on the toll lane alternative starts the topics (see MOORLACH UPDATE — HOV vs. HOT — October 28, 2013). Tomorrows Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board meeting should be a memorable one as it discusses a major public policy issue. Is the degradation study valid if the San Diego 405 Freeway was monitored while the West County Connectors project has been in full swing? Should one or two lanes be converted into full-time toll lanes? Is this solution too drastic or overdue? One thing is certain, almost everyone in my District is uncomfortable with giving up lanes that they have been paying for through sales and gas taxes (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Be Scared, Be Very Scared — October 30, 2013). The OC Register provides a pro-Alternative 3 editorial submission in the first piece below. One clarification: Alternative 3 involves adding two lanes on each side of the 405, with one lane being a high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, and also converting the existing carpool into a toll lane, thus creating two toll lanes (not one), and one new free (general purpose) lane; resulting in eliminating the free carpool lane. The author and I agree on this, Sacramento is not doing nearly enough to improve Orange Countys transportation infrastructure. But, our perspectives differ as to whether Sacramentos unilateral takeover of the free lanes is a favor or take. I see it as a take. And it is a take that has suffered from a very poor delivery in messaging to those who will be most impacted by this imposition.
The withholding to pay for the employee portion of the pension contribution was addressed on Tuesday. The OC Register and the Voice of OC cover the topic, respectively, below in the next two articles. The Countys outside counsel has been grappling with the issue of whether my starting the withholdings after July 1st would be recognized as a contribution or as a reduction of gross wages. Yesterdays vote settles the matter. I was fine with either approach. I just wanted to move with my fellow managers, with no excuses or no requirement that it be mandatory. I read my Board agendas throughout the process and I dont believe I need to direct staff if there is something new that I should be reading, but I digress. Clarification: My pension formula, as that of almost all non-safety County employees, is 2.7% @ 55 (not 2.75%).
The fourth piece below is from the Voice of OC and provides an even more detailed account of the Social Host Ordinance discussion at Tuesdays Board meeting (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Social Host Ordinance — November 6, 2013). Thank you to those who have e-mailed and called with advice and counsel on this matter.
BONUS: We now have a Linked In page. Check it out at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/john-moorlach/85/510/199.
Toll-lane option best for 1-405
By LUCY DUNN
Orange Countys population is expected to grow 7.5 percent by 2040, adding more traffic to an already stressed system. And more folks commute to Orange County from all surrounding counties than ever before.
Efficient movement of people and goods is critical to the countys economic competitiveness. The days of razing hundreds of businesses and thousands of homes along a freeway to widen and build ten new free lanes in each direction are long gone.
That is why the Orange County Transportation Authoritys recently decided to reconsider the addition of one free lane and one express lane (also known as managed lane or toll lane) to the I-405 from SR-73 to SR-22 East, for about 14 miles. No toll pricing has been suggested.
Orange County Business Council strongly supports this approach, known as Alternative 3 in OCTAs planning document.
OCTA can look to Los Angeles and the I-110 Harbor Freeway, where new approaches to traffic management, including a toll lane, have been put in place for promising news on traffic relief.
Recent data from Caltrans Express Lanes Performance Update shows that commute times have been cut and that more drivers than ever are using the I-110 since employing express lanes. By the way, I use this toll lane frequently to make L.A. meetings on time from Irvine.
In 2006, Orange County voters renewed OCTAs ability to expand and improve our freeways using a half cent sales tax, knowing that the I-405 freeway is one of the most congested freeways in California and that action was needed. But freeways are owned, controlled and funded by Sacramento.
Orange County voters could have waited and suffered until that funding showed up some day but instead took the lead to advance a local solution, local funding and local control and improve traffic for the region on a state highway.
Orange County voters not Sacramento, as some like County Supervisor John Moorlach assert want the I-405 improved.
Sacramento is out of money for infrastructure improvements.
I know. I have served for six years on the California Transportation Commission representing Orange County in approving projects and funding. Our gas taxes arent cutting it any more.
According to OCTA and Caltrans, 39 cents of tax on a gallon of gas is specifically designated for the design, construction and maintenance of freeways. But the real cost? $1.19.
State leaders are considering raising gas taxes and vehicle license fees, but lets use the other tools in the toolbox, including tolling, new technology and good planning before imposing another tax hike on everyone.
Thank goodness for smart voters, Measure M and local solutions.
The Orange County Business Council urges the OCTA board to approve Alternative 3 for the I-405.
Lucy Dunn is president and CEO, Orange County Business Council.
Voters to decide pension costs
By MIKE REICHER
Voters will decide in June whether countywide elected officials should pay their full pension share.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposed charter amendment Tuesday, along with a resolution that requires supervisors to begin paying their portion immediately. Charter amendments have to be approved by voters.
Today, some elected officials pay more into the pension system than others. Non-elected employees who arent public safety officers contribute their full pension share.
Tuesdays resolution closes a period of uncertainty for the three supervisors in the pension system John Moorlach, Todd Spitzer and Janet Nguyen. Moorlach in June started paying his share with tax deductible contributions; Spitzer and Nguyen questioned the maneuver and proposed the resolution.
Supervisors Approve Paying Into Their Pensions
The Orange County Board of Supervisors. (Nick Gerda / Voice of OC)
By NICK GERDA
Following the lead of their rank-and-file workers, managers and attorneys, county supervisors voted Tuesday to end taxpayer pick ups of their own employee share of pension costs.
The change also could be locked in place for all future supervisors, if voters approve a ballot initiative next June, which the supervisors set in motion Tuesday.
The unanimous 5-0 votes came without much fanfare, after being proposed by supervisors Todd Spitzer and Janet Nguyen.
It comes after years of criticism from labor groups that supervisors have wanted county workers to pay their full employee shares while not doing so themselves.
Theyre slapping themselves on the backs for something theyve had their employees do for years," said Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association. "If anything, we should be asking, what took you so long?
Yet supervisors didn’t discuss much about their new policy on pension contributions at all during this week’s meeting, only going through the procedural aspects of adopting the new policy.
A staff report on the item before supervisors was light on details it didnt include projected savings for taxpayers, nor what share of their pension costs the supervisors will now be paying.
For example, County Supervisor John Moorlachs pension formula is 2.75 percent of pay for each year of service and is available as early as 55 years old, with Spitzer and Nguyen at 1.62 at 65.
Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor Pat Bates aren’t in the countys pension system.
Since July 1, Moorlach has been paying his employee share to the county as a charitable contribution, said County spokeswoman Jean Pasco.
But starting with the next round of paychecks, supervisors contributions will be pre-tax deductions, like those into a 401(k) retirement plan, said Pasco.
Moorlach asked that the countys top attorney mention the states new pension reform law in the ballot measures official analysis to voters.
The law, commonly known as PEPRA, would already require the supervisors to pay their full employee share starting in a few years, Moorlach suggested.
Later in the meeting, Spitzer criticized the way that Moorlach introduced his charitable contribution approach in June in between the budgets public hearing and its adoption.
After leaning about the mechanics of Moorlach’s contributions approach, Spitzer had asserted that it doesnt seem lawful.
Spitzer said Tuesday that the June item wasnt well explained to supervisors and he was taken aback when informed later that it was actually a pension item, rather than a policy on giving to charities like the United Way.
I was put in one of those very uncomfortable situations that you do not want to be in as an elected, when you get a call about something you voted on…but because you thought it was one thing and it turned out to be another you really do look like you werent well-prepared, said Spitzer.
He ask that going forward, staff reports for the final budget approval include a special special section about items added since the public budget hearing.
I just dont want to get caught off-guard. I dont think thats good practice, said Spitzer.
One issue that supervisors didn’t address this week was whether other countywide elected officials – like Sheriff, District Attorney, Assessor, Auditor Controller, Clerk Recorder or the Treasurer-Tax Collector – would be impacted by the ballot initiative, or whether those elected officials would be spared having to pay into their own pensions.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
Supervisors Clash Over Proposed Alcohol Law
By NICK GERDA
The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday delayed voting on new criminal penalties for allowing underage drinking at home after two supervisors openly clashed over whether it would save lives or encroach on civil liberties.
The proposed social host ordinance would levy a $750 fine on people in control of a property who knowingly allow alcohol consumption by underage people at gatherings with at least three people. A second violation would be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
It would apply to Orange Countys unincorporated areas, including North Tustin, Rossmoor, Midway City, Orange Park Acres, Ladera Ranch and others, with about 120,000 residents in all.
This is another avenue by which we can address individuals who are drinking and may do harm to themselves or others," said Supervisor Todd Spitzer.
But the measure goes way too far for Chairman Shawn Nelson, whose libertarian philosophy was at odds with Spitzers activism on victims rights and drunk driving.
I have a real concern when we start making one adult responsible for the behavior of another adult," said Nelson, referring to the fact that homeowners could be fined for allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to drink.
If we think were going to stop all these tragedies by getting further and further into peoples homes and lives, youre not, Nelson said.
Spitzer shot back, recalling the case of an intoxicated driver who crashed into another car in Cypress at around 100 miles per hour, sending it flying and killing a passenger.
That changed my life, said Spitzer, adding that when people say we dont have an opportunity to affect public policy to potentially save peoples lives I think [that] is potentially underestimating the gravity of what we can do.
Nelson wasnt moved.
This unfortunately isnt a contest about who cares more about people being injured, he said, also pointing out the rare presence of television news crews.
Someone called TV cameras, and I know who. And I just got to tell you, the grandstanding for this opportunity frankly to me, its a little bit offensive.
Spitzer, meanwhile, said his effort is aimed squarely at addressing an underage drinking crisis that destroys countless lives.
The current laws are actually ensuring that people, including the police, do not have any way to address most house parties where underage drinking takes place, Spitzer said.
Supervisors ultimately pushed back the vote to Dec. 10, in order to work through civil liberties concerns by a majority of the board.
In introducing the ordinance, Spitzer pointed to the death of his former chief of staff, Steve Ambriz. who was killed in 2006 by a driver under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine.
I vowed from then on that I would focus a lot of my elective office energies into doing whatever I could to reduce drinking and driving in California, said Spitzer.
Spitzers colleagues hit the pause button after civil rights concerns were raised.
Police currently cant enter a house simply because they believe underage drinking is happening inside, officials said, while the social host ordinance would allow them to make entry into a home or backyard in such cases.
Our system is not set up to give police unbridled authority to go into peoples houses. We have civil liberties for a reason, said Nelson.
Nelson envisioned a scenario where three 20-year-old Marines return from Afghanistan and gather at a house for drinks.
And somehow the homeowners responsible? Stop those people or else? Nelson said.
Spitzer, meanwhile, said he hasnt heard of any lawsuits claiming civil liberties violations under such laws or of citizens complaining its being abused.
Plus, he pointed out, the countys own staff have signed off on the legality of his proposal.
We do believe that we would be in compliance with the civil rights laws, said Deputy County Counsel James Harman.
Supervisor Pat Bates, meanwhile, said she also has serious concerns about the civil liberties implications.
You can have three [people] in your home, and you can have two that are 22 and one that is 20-and-a-half and someone that reports them for whatever reason, said Bates.
Its too restrictive the way its written, she said.
Weve had something like this before where its righteous and emotional and maybe unconstitutional, added Supervisor John Moorlach, referring to a county ordinance banning sex offenders from parks.
Several police, health and education officials joined Spitzer in voicing their support for the ordinance Tuesday. More than 150 cities or counties nationwide and 33 states have passed social host ordinances, including several in Orange County, advocates said.
This is a movement, and its going in the right direction, said Lynn Posey, community development specialist at Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach.
In Garden Grove, Police Chief Kevin Raney said its social host law seems to be working initially.
Meanwhile, Mission Viejo Mayor Pro Tem Trish Kelley says such social host ordinances serve as a deterrent to underage drinking in homes.
When they know there is a cost and a consequence, the activity is deterrent, said Kelley, who helped introduce her citys ordinance in 2008.
The fact that weve only had to use it 12 times shows that it really has provided a deterred. The word really was on the street, she said.
That city also passed a multiple-call ordinance Monday night, levying citations if sheriffs deputies are called to a party more than once in an evening.
Irvine Deputy Police Chief Mike Hamel pointed to a recent case to emphasize the need for such ordinances.
After being called to a house party, Hamel said, Irvine police saw a 16-year-old girl who was face down on the front lawn, vomiting in a bucket, and had to be taken to a hospital for alcohol poisoning.
The officers saw that teenagers clearly had been drinking at the house, all while parents were upstairs, he said.
Hamel added that the social host law allowed Irvine police to take action.
Huntington Beach Councilman Joe Carchio, a former high school basketball coach, called alcohol a menace to society.
When it comes to youths, alcohol is causing more harm and death than all illegal drugs combined, Carchio added, pointing to a study that found nearly 3,200 deaths a year resulting from alcohol abuse by minors.
The study by the Journal of Studies on Alcohol found that alcohol abuse by minors costs $62 billion each year in damages nationwide, including traffic crashes, violence, teen pregnancies, STDs, burns, alcohol poisoning and property damage.
A representative of the Orange County superintendent of schools, Al Mijares, called underage drinking a serious public safety concern.
Given a recent surge in prescription drug abuse, Supervisor Pat Bates wondered why the ordinance doesnt also ban controlled substances, such as those at alcohol and pill parties that take place in her South Orange County district.
This is controversial enough as it is, said Spitzer. I am more than happy to address that, but I didnt want to bite off more than I can chew at this point.
And Moorlach asked whether certain unincorporated areas, such as Rossmoor in his district, could have lower or higher fines than other areas.
County Counsel Nick Chrisos replied that hed have to research the issue but believed that any criminal penalties must be uniform across the boards entire jurisdiction.
People fined under the ordinance could appeal to the county clerk of the boards office, which would hire an administrative hearing officer to make a determination.
If someone refuses to pay the fine, the county would escalate its collections effort, starting with written notices, then reporting it to credit agencies and ultimately filing suit in small claims court for wage garnishments.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The Bond Buyer announced nationally O.C. Passes Pension Reform.
The measure, authored by Supervisor John Moorlach, requires the Orange County Employee Retirement System to prepare an actuarial study of the cost of any proposed benefit increases and requires that voters approve any pension increase beyond cost-of-living adjustments.
John Canalis of the Long Beach Press-Telegram provided a post-mortem on the election with Orange County to survey costs of communities ROSSMOOR: Cityhood rejection prompts supervisor to form study on serving unincorporated areas. Five years later, the County is finally getting data that provides the costs of unincorporated areas. It was a major collaborative effort, but the data is now accessible.
In the wake of Rossmoor’s vote against cityhood, Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach said Thursday that he has ordered an examination of how much such unincorporated communities cost and contribute to county coffers.
Moorlach, whose district includes Rossmoor, said the county is installing sophisticated financial software that should be able to determine exactly what unincorporated "islands" bring in sales and property taxes and other sources of revenue versus how much they require in services.
The supervisor said he directed the county’s chief executive officer and auditor controller to find "objective, hard data" about the cost of serving Rossmoor, Sunset Beach and other areas.
"It’s starting on an agenda to look at a good plan for every unincorporated area," he said.
The estimated difference between what Rossmoor residents pay in annual taxes and what they receive in services is about $590,000, but Moorlach said he wants a more exact number.
Orange County provides law enforcement, fire protection, animal control and other services to Rossmoor while a local governing agency, the Rossmoor Community Services District, spends $1 million annually on street sweeping and lighting, parks and recreation, tree-trimming and administration.
The supervisor said he would not rule out proposing utility taxes – an idea that has been floated before – for unincorporated areas to help fund them.
Moorlach said he could not immediately think of another way for the county of find substantial funding for the areas, but said each community is different and he does not believe the tax rate should be the same in every community.
Some communities, such as Sunset Beach, provide the county with funding through a hotel bed tax, while others provide less, so each community would need to be separately reviewed, and, if necessary, taxed accordingly, he said.
Diane Rush, a member of the Rossmoor Preservation Committee Against Measure U that opposed cityhood, said that she believes Rossmoor gives more than it takes away.
"I think it’s strange that they imply that there is an inequality in what Rossmoor provides and what it is getting back in services," she said. "We have always provided more than we cost the county."
Rush said she would not dismiss a utility tax out of hand but would like to see an exact accounting of what Rossmoor really costs the county before supporting it.
"I’d be like a consumer of any kind," she said. "I’d want to know specifically what we were getting. There would have to be justification for it."
Moorlach said his overarching concern is that residents in incorporated cities may be carrying part of the load for unincorporated areas.
"I cannot allow some areas to underwrite others," Moorlach said. "I’ve got to find out how we can find some balance – what’s material, what’s immaterial, what needs to be corrected – and determine whether we can really fund county government."
Many Orange County cities, including Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, have utility taxes to help fund services. Rossmoor does not have a tax.
Cities also rely on a portion of sales and property taxes to fund government. Mostly residential Rossmoor only has a tiny retail sector on the corner of Los Alamitos Boulevard and Katella Avenue, but homes are expensive and subject to higher tax rates.
Moorlach said the financial squeeze is on countywide, however, as property taxes decline with real estate valuations, reducing funding available to government.
"Everybody, in the next year or two, is going to be looking around to do more with less," he said.
Rush, however, said it has long been argued that Rossmoor doesn’t carry its weight, but that in the past, the community was regarded as making a contribution to the county with high home values and spending in neighboring communities.
"I think that’s a red herring since they’re unwilling to substantiate it," she said.
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