It’s not too often that I make it to the "LIFE" section of the OC Register, but I did yesterday. The OC Register‘s Food Critic decided to share his thoughts on restaurant inspections (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Food Safety — April 19, 2015). It is the first piece below
The second piece is from Fox & Hounds (it also appears on The Flashreport). If you want a treatise on the influence of public employee unions and their efforts to control Sacramento, you’ll find the material most helpful.
BONUS: Last week I was appointed to the following Committees:
Senate Governance and Finance Committee
Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary, where I serve as Vice Chair
Senate Standing Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, including
Subcommittee No. 1 on Education
Consequently, my Capitol staff is focused on briefing me for the General Senate Sessions and the Committee meetings. Now my calendar in Sacramento is nonstop fun.
For your benefit, here are the members of my Capitol staff:
Chief of Staff: Tim S. Clark
Tim Clark is a twenty-year veteran of engaging public affairs and strategic communications to shape California’s public policy landscape. Founder of Clark Strategy Group LLC, and former Partner with JohnsonClark Associates, Mr. Clark has lead dozens of winning local and statewide candidate and issue campaigns, and his work has been recognized among the nation’s best by the American Association of Political Consultants. Mr. Clark also frequently leads collaborative efforts that bring business leaders, community groups, and elected officials together to craft public policy solutions. Additionally, Mr. Clark has worked extensively in Latin America’s communications environment, and he is a sought after lecturer on public policy and strategic communications. He was named one of the top ten rising stars nationally by Campaigns and Elections Magazine. Mr. Clark earned his Political Science and Business Marketing degrees from San Jose State University.
Senior Policy Advisor: Lance R. Christensen
Lance Christensen has earned a national reputation as a government budget and finance policy expert. Prior to joining Senator Moorlach’s staff, Mr. Christensen served as the Director of the Pension Reform Project for the nationally respected Reason Foundation. His budget and finance analyses have been published in multiple national and local publications, and he is a sought-after expert presenter on government finance and debt issues. Mr. Christensen also spent nearly a decade working as a legislative consultant in the California State Senate as well as a finance budget analyst at the Department of Finance. Mr. Christensen earned his English Degree from Brigham Young University and Masters of Public Policy from Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.
Legislative Director: Victoria C. Stewart
Victoria Stewart brings over ten years of California legislative policy experience and seasoned leadership to Senator Moorlach’s legislative team. Most recently, Ms. Stewart served as Associate Director of State Government Affairs for California Healthcare Institute where she gained widespread expertise on California healthcare policy while also developing outreach/education and legislative advocacy programs and strengthening coalitions with member companies, partners and affiliate organizations. Ms. Stewart previously served as Capitol Director for former Assemblyman Curt Hagman, as well as policy staff for then-Assemblyman Joel Anderson and former Senator Charles Poochigian. Ms. Stewart earned her Political Science degree from California State University, Sacramento.
Deputy Legislative Director: Patricia A. Lenkiewicz
With thirteen years of State Capitol policy experience, Patricia Lenkiewicz is a recognized expert on California budget, finance, and spending policy. Ms. Lenkiewicz formerly served on the staff of several State Senators, including then Republican Leader Dave Cox, before joining the Senate Republican Caucus Fiscal Office helping oversee the Republicans’ fiscal analyses. Ms. Lenkiewicz is an accomplished speaker and has been honored by the Toastmasters International for her expert presentation skills. She will be heading up Senator Moorlach’s budget committee activities and assisting the Senator in his role as Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Capitol Office Director: Alicia G. Belmontes
Alicia Belmontes has nearly thirty years of experience working in the State Capitol, including as Executive Assistant for former Senate Republican Leader Rob Hurtt and former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, among others. Most recently, Ms. Belmontes served as a State Senate Floor Analyses Consultant where she analyzed the Governance and Finance Committee bills that were placed on the Senate third-reading file. She also processed the third-reading amendments on the Senate Desk. In addition to serving as Senator Moorlach’s Capitol Office Director, Ms. Belmontes will use her fluency in Spanish to oversee Senator Moorlach’s outreach to Spanish language media.
TIME FOR CHANGE
REGISTER REPORT SHOWS A RESTAURANT INSPECTION SYSTEM HELPLESS TO DEAL WITH RISING TIDE OF VIOLATIONS.
BY BRAD A. JOHNSON, RESTAURANT CRITIC
Let’s try this again. Orange County’s restaurant health inspection system is broken, and we need to fix it.
In case you missed the Register’s Watchdog report on Sunday, investigative reporter Keegan Kyle obtained public records from the Orange County Health Care Agency and wrote an article about the alarming decline in the number of health inspections taking place and the recent rise in major violations. Here are some of the most eye-popping takeaways:
• The number of businesses that were forced to temporarily close due to major health violations spiked by 38 percent from 2013 to 2014.
• Recently, about half of the restaurants and other food vendors forced to close because of permit suspensions were allowed to reopen that same day.
• By refusing to allow a minor increase in inspection fees, which haven’t changed since 2008, county supervisors have diminished the health department’s capacity to carry out inspections.
• The number of major violations grew last year by 11 percent.
• Most shockingly, 1 in 3 restaurants receives a major violation on its inspection.
Violations categorized as “major” are the most serious food-handling and hygiene failures that pose immediate and dangerous health risks to consumers. If these same violations had occurred in Los Angeles or San Diego, the offending restaurants would need to display a rating of B or worse in their front windows, alerting consumers to beware. But in Orange County, nobody ever has to know. We continue to sweep it under the rug.
Ironically, as I write this, I am taking antibiotics to rid my body of a foodborne parasite that I digested some-where in Orange County this month. This is no joke.
But let’s back up for a minute to recap the struggle to adopt a better system here. In 2008, the Orange County grand jury looked at the overwhelming body of evidence and unanimously agreed that Orange County needed to adopt a better system for displaying restaurant health inspection scores. It concluded our current system is broken and recommended either a letter-grade system or a color-coded system. The supervisors flat-out voted down the idea, claiming it was too expensive, even though analysis pegged the cost of implementation at roughly $7 per restaurant.
Then again last year, the grand jury re-examined the issue and came to the same unanimous conclusion: It said it’s time for a better system and urged our supervisors to act. But the supervisors killed it yet again. They repeated their claim that a new placard system would cost too much, even though their own analysis this time around put the cost of implementation at only $3 per restaurant. They also claimed there just wasn’t enough evidence that a better system was warranted.
But they didn’t just cancel the new color-coded placards, they also ruled against a proposed fee increase that would have allowed health inspections to continue operating at status quo levels. As a result, the health department may have no choice but to reduce the number and frequency of inspections.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer apparently questioned whether two routine inspections per year were necessary. He suggested that if someone gets food poisoning, they can simply report the unsafe business by filing a complaint with the county. In other words, Spitzer thinks you should get sick first, then we can deal with the restaurant’s nasty kitchen hygiene later.
Seriously? That sort of reactive approach to foodborne illness is not simply dangerous, it’s stupid. Other counties know this and act proactively. Why are our supervisors so afraid to proactively enforce smart food-service hygiene to prevent foodborne illness in restaurants?
Spitzer previously supported a better system, saying that Orange County needed to be consistent with its neighbors in L.A. and San Diego. “It’s actually expected, and I think we’re out of step,” he said in March 2014. But by November he had a new message, claiming, “There’s no public outcry.” What could have changed his mind? The only thing that’s changed is things have gotten worse.
Meanwhile, as the watchdog report noted, “Supervisor Shawn Nelson argued at one point last year that a grading system amounted to the kind of government overregulation that pressured restaurant chains, including Carl’s Jr., to consider leaving California.”
After Nelson’s outrageous boogeyman claims, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. wrote a letter to the supervisors endorsing the proposed fee increase and color-coded grading system.
But the supervisors refused to let the facts get in the way of their obstruction. They continue to block funds needed by the health department for inspectors to do their jobs. And they continue to throw consumers under the bus, saying we should just go to the hospital and file a complaint if – rather, when – we get sick. (The only supervisor who ended up supporting change was John Moorlach, who is now gone from the board.)
I’m not ready to give up this fight. We need a better system. We need a system that inspires restaurants to avoid major violations. We need a system that takes foodborne illness seriously. We need a system that helps consumers make better decisions about where they eat based on a restaurant’s health rating. But more importantly, we need a system that will help us get to the root of the problem, which is the combination of dangerously unsafe food-handling practices and subpar restaurant hygiene.
We came close last year, but our supervisors weaseled out and reneged when they thought nobody was paying attention. I don’t understand their refusal to face facts and take an interest in public health.
The longer Orange County looks the other way, the bigger the problem gets. We proved that again this year. O.C. is out of step. We need to wake up and catch up. Our system is broken, and we need to fix it.
Contact the writer: bajohnson or on Twitter: @bradajohnson
Glazer vs. Bonilla 7th Senate District Battle Reflects New Political Split in California
By Ed Ring Executive Director, California Public Policy Center
California’s politics remain polarized, but not just via the traditional division of Republicans vs. Democrats. As reported here two months ago in the post “Issue of Government Unions Divide Candidates More Than Party Affiliation,” there were two California State Senate contests that remained unresolved after the November 2014 election. One of them, pitting Republican John Moorlach against Republican Don Wagner for the 37th Senate District, was settled on March 17th. Moorlach, who has fought to restore financial sustainability to public employee pension systems, was opposed by government unions. Wagner, also a conservative, but less outspoken than Moorlach on the issue of pension reform, was endorsed by government unions. Moorlach won.
The other race, originally pitting three Democrats against each other for the 7th Senate District, has narrowed to a contest between two candidates that will be settled on May 19th, Democrat Steve Glazer vs. Democrat Susan Bonilla.
It will be interesting to see how voters in a largely Democratic district respond in a race that is not between candidates from opposing parties. Glazer is a fiscal conservative who is progressive on virtually all of the issues important to Democrats. Bonilla offers up many similar positions, with one important exception: Glazer has stood up to government unions on critical issues, to the point where government unions do not consider him reliable. As a result, Bonilla is receiving cash and endorsements from the unions representing our public servants, all of it, of course, money that originated from taxpayers.
Here’s a list of some of Bonilla’s government union endorsements:
California Association of Highway Patrolmen
California Professional Firefighters
California State Sheriffs’ Association
California State Coalition of Probation Organizations
CALFIRE Local 2881
Peace Officers Research Association of California
Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County
Antioch Police Officer’s Association
Concord Police Officer’s Association
Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association
Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney’s Association
Brentwood Police Officers Association
Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters, Local 1974
Livermore Police Officer’s Association
Pittsburg Police Officers Association
Pleasanton Police Officers Association
Probation Peace Officers Association of Contra Costa County
San Ramon Valley Firefighters Association, Local 3546
United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230
One has to ask why so many public safety officials are endorsing Bonilla rather than Glazer, and it is fair to wonder if their endorsement has anything to do with the positions of these candidates on issues and policies relating to public safety. Take a look at this flyer from the Bonilla campaign:
As can be seen, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson and Alameda County Sheriff Greg Aher, both apparently Republicans, are touting the pro public safety record of Susan Bonilla. But would they have made these statements if Susan Bonilla was challenging their unions on fiscal issues relating to pensions and compensation?
From that perspective, candidate Steven Glazer is a threat to government unions. For ten years starting in 2004, Glazer was a councilmember, then mayor, in Orinda, one of the most fiscally responsible cities in the state. In a California Policy Center study released late last year entitled “California’s Most Financially Stressed Cities and Counties,” every city and county in California was ranked in order of its risk of insolvency. Orinda was ranked 369 out of 491, putting it in the top 25% in terms of financial health. More significantly, in a subsequent California Policy Center study entitled “California City Pension Burdens,” every city in the state was ranked according to how much pension contributions strain their budgets. Orinda wasn’t even on this list, because they are among only nine cities in California who don’t have a defined benefit plan for their employees. They use a defined contribution plan instead.
Hopefully the reader will forgive this prurient dive into personal financial data, but when public employees endorse political candidates, how much they make is relevant. Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson made $322,180 in 2013, an amount that included $111,897 in employer paid benefits. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern made $556,268 in 2013; an astonishing $266,130 of that in the form of employer paid benefits. The vast majority of these benefit payments were to cover the required employer pension contributions. These men would have to be saints to have an objective perspective on an election that could result in a fiscal conservative holding office who is conversant in pension finance and formerly presided over a town that offers defined contribution plans to their employees instead of defined benefit pensions.
To drive the point home, take a look at the salaries and benefits for Alameda County workers, the pensions for Alameda County retirees, the salaries for Contra Costa County workers, and the pensions for Contra Costa County retirees. No conflict of interest there.
In the race for California’s 7th Senate District, Government unions have already spent over $2.0 million to support Susan Bonilla and oppose Steve Glazer. Download this spreadsheet to view the latest contributions through 4-20-2015, or click on the following four links to follow the money pouring in to make sure a fiscal conservative Senator does not head to Sacramento on May 19th:
California’s Republican leadership, to the extent they tepidly claim to support pension reform while taking money from public sector unions and doing nothing, should understand as clearly as the Democratic leadership who avoid the issue entirely: It doesn’t matter what else you believe, or what you stand for, or what’s in your platform. Government unions support candidates who fight to preserve and increase the pay and benefits of unionized government employees, at the same time as they fight to minimize the accountability of unionized government employees. Across California, their demands, almost invariably fulfilled by politicians they control, have taken money away from other services, including infrastructure investment, and nearly destroyed California’s system of public education.
This is having a polarizing impact in both parties, and rendering the distinction between Democrat and Republican less important than whether or not they are willing to stand up to government unions.
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
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