MOORLACH UPDATE — Discovery Cube — September 20, 2014

Thursday’s Vector Control District Board meeting concluded after the news deadline, so the OC Register’s perspectives are reported today in their article below. When we last covered this topic (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Vector Control District — September 18, 2014), the Discovery Cube Orange County (DCOC) (see http://www.discoverycube.org/) agenda item was as follows:

Staff recommends that the Board authorize the opening of discussions and development of a contract to secure DCOC exhibit space for a term of 10 years and identify available funding options to be presented at the October 16, 2014 Board Meeting. Staff further recommends that a mechanism for replacing funds depleted by this project be replenished by a benefit assessment increase in FY 15/16.

The Vector Control’s Budget and Finance Committee, on which I serve, approved the first sentence of the staff recommendation, which was supported by the full Board. Now staff will negotiate the terms of the arrangement, including financing, and present the proposed contract at next month’s Board meeting.

To be concise on this topic, here is one paragraph from the briefing materials the Vector Control Board was provided with:

The initial interest in the Discovery Cube Orange County proposal was to address an area of community education that the District felt it needed to improve upon; more specifically, development of a youth education program on vectors and vector-borne diseases. DCOC is the premiere children’s science education destination in Southern California and provides science education to hundreds of thousands of students and residents at the Center, and in-class elementary education through their network of professional educators every year.

I have taken my children to science and children’s museums around the state and nation. Those in San Francisco, Denver, and St. Louis come quickly to mind. I think they’re great. The most recent visit was with my two-year-old granddaughter to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum in Milwaukee (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Mil-Walkie — July 7, 2014). But there is a difference between a “want” and a “need.” So, in the next four weeks I’d like you to do the following:

· Visit the Discovery Cube Orange County (the Discovery Science Center has just changed its name as a Discovery Cube Los Angeles is in the process of opening). The OC Cube is along the north side of the Santa Ana I-5 Freeway, off at Main or Broadway, in Santa Ana (see http://www.discoverycube.org/oc/).

· While at the Discovery Cube, take the County’s Eco Challenge (see http://www.discoverycube.org/oc/exhibits/eco-challenge/). In my MOORLACH UPDATE — Child Protection Services — June 19, 2014, I announced the 2014 Eco Challenge Poster Contest. Last week I enjoyed an Angels pre-game ceremony recognizing this year’s winners, including District Two’s Merrin Joseph of Buena Park. It was a joy to visit with Merrin’s parents and siblings, including her baby brother. (Also a big congratulations to our Angels of Anaheim for winning their division!!)

· Become familiar with the West Nile virus (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Los Coyotes — August 29, 2014 and MOORLACH UPDATE — No-Bid Contracts — September 5, 2014).

· Share your thoughts with me. The UPDATE was designed to solicit feedback. My last UPDATE on this subject found most of the responses very favorable to the job that the Vector Control is doing, but unfavorable to the Cube proposal. Take a break and visit the Cube. Let me know what you think of the Eco Challenge interactive display. And let me know how a similar display on mosquitos and other vectors would be appreciated by the County’s youth.

Watchdog: Vector museum gets thumbs up

Exhibit will be paid for with district reserves, not property assessment hikes (for now).

By TERI SFORZA

In the midst of the worst West Nile virus season ever, there was much excitement about extending the gospel of vector control via a cool new $1million exhibit at the Discovery Cube science center.

The giant board of the Orange County Vector Control District – with a rep from each of O.C.’s 34 cities, as well as the county of Orange – told staff Thursday to draw up a contract with the science center, which will go to a vote on Oct. 16.

Gone, however, is the plan to replenish that spending with a $1-per-parcel hike in property assessments. Instead, the exhibit will be paid for from the district’s reserves .

But O.C. may not be off the hook on a property assessment hike. Depending on how the rest of West Nile virus season goes, an increase may be necessary, officials said.

The vector board also formally voted on the controversial mosquito-spraying plan slated for Santa Ana’s hardest-hit neighborhoods – authority it already had, but formalized with a vote. It was approved, with three cities voting no: Santa Ana, Westminster and Los Alamitos.

West Nile virus can be a devastating illness and is spread to humans by mosquitoes. It has infected 136 people in Orange County, resulting in three deaths, according to figures from the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Santa Ana has been hardest hit, with 51 cases. Anaheim is next with 23 cases.

The Discovery Cube exhibit will be about 700 square feet, featuring a cast of animatronic characters who guide visitors through “who-done-it missions in a laboratory environment.”

It’s intended to help kids understand that a vector, in this instance, is not “a quantity (such as velocity) that has size and direction,” but “an insect, animal, etc., that carries germs that cause disease” (thanks, Merriam-Webster).

The county of Orange has blazed the path of spreading the gospel through the science museum. In 2009, Orange County Waste and Recycling sponsored a $3.6 million Eco-Shopping Store and Waste Identification Game at the Discovery science center, designed to teach environmental stewardship and reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills. That money came from grants and a surcharge on folks who haul their own trash to the county landfills.

Vector Control’s exhibit is greatly scaled back from an original vision, which would have cost some $10 million.

Although $1 million is a lot of money, it averages out to $100,000 a year – 1 percent of the district’s annual budget – and “represents a conservative cost to educate hundreds of thousands of museum visitors yearly,” General Manager Mike Hearst said.

Decisions about whether to hike the property assessment will depend on how the demands of the remaining West Nile virus season go, he said.

Skeptics will be watching.

“If you’re going to raise a tax, get ready to have people like myself oppose it,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, who represents the county on the Vector Control board.

Contact the writer: tsforzaTwitter: @ocwatchdog

Vector Control by the numbers

$9.4 million: spent fiscal 2013

$11.4 million: revenue from tax and benefit assessments

$6.5 million: "unrestricted net assets," what some call "mad money." Statement: "Staff believes it prudent to keep this balance at approximately 50 percent of annual expenditures."

– Vector Control audited financial statements, agenda reports

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