It’s a busy news day, as some wish to reflect back and provide new and fresh insights and the biggest commotion of the Legislative recess is shaping up the 2018 Session in a very significant way.
Let me start with the Daily Pilot column, the first piece below. Yes, good things are progressing on the Fairview Developmental Center front. I am scheduled to fly to San Antonio next month to take a tour of the Haven of Hope, a model the nation is looking at to address the critical concerns of those who are homeless, mentally ill, addicted to a substance, arrested for a DUI, or a combination of all of the above.
Orange County needs to implement better solutions and the Fairview site is one of several that may be able to assist in this regard. And, since it is the Christmas season, the Department of Housing and Community Development just informed the County of Orange that it was awarded a $150,000 technical assistance grant for the “No Place Like Home” initiative (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Governor’s 2016-17 Proposed Budget — January 8, 2016). For more, check the links in the column or go to MOORLACH UPDATE — Fairview Developmental Center — February 11, 2017.
But, the Fairview discussion was only a small sliver of the piece, which also dealt with animal shelters and local development concerns. I’ll leave the concern of whether to utilize the County’s animal shelter, a neighboring city’s shelter, outsourcing to a private institution, or building one for a city’s own use, for another time, as this is more of a budget discretion issue. It is not an issue significant enough to mount a recall campaign, which is where I want to focus my attention.
With a housing shortage, one should ask some basic questions. The first is “Why?”
The simple answer is lack of supply. “Why?”
From my perspective, because of three basic reasons.
The first is the number of foreign, all-cash buyers that have been using Orange County residential properties as a safe haven for investing their money. It has eaten up the supply, as many of these acquisitions sit empty. However, it turned out to be great investment (as prices go up when supply declines — nothing new).
The second is the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970, known by its acronym CEQA, which has been hampering the ability to increase supply.
CEQA is defined as “a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.” Governor Reagan signed the law with the intention on only considering the environmental impacts of large, government projects, not housing. Regretfully, after decades of litigation, CEQA has made building new housing extremely difficult and has added to its costs.
Despite the thorough analysis and research an environmental impact report may provide, it is still subject to litigation, which has been abused in too many cases because nearly anyone can file a lawsuit for any reason, and usually under a pseudonym (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Government Union Costs — November 8, 2017). This was something I tried to address through legislative reform in 2016, only to be opposed by trial attorneys and union representatives (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1248 — August 28, 2016).
The third reason for the shortage also has an acronym, NIMBY, for “not in my backyard.” There may be legitimate reasons for neighbors to be upset about new housing. It may mean more traffic. But, it may also mean less traffic if the purchasers are acquiring the new residences to be closer to their jobs. And, besides, retail and restaurant businesses appreciate more traffic.
A NIMBY is someone who will protest something that is proposed to be sited near his or her home, but does not raise objections when similar developments are proposed elsewhere.
Putting all these considerations together, the joys of NIMBYism have been felt in Orange County. In Newport Beach, a city council member narrowly turned back the threat of a recall because he voted for a high-rise condominium project at Fashion Island (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Cronyism — April 21, 2017). What a perfect place for it, as residents will enjoy the numerous amenities that this location provides. The project met all the city’s current code requirements. So, how does someone vote against the efforts of an investment team that followed all the current existing rules? You do if you fear vocal and aggressive NIMBYs.
The city of Lake Forest is facing a similar situation. However, the necessary number of petition signatures has been certified and the actual vote occurs on January 2nd. Again, we have a city council member who voted for a project and is feeling the reverberations of NIMBYs.
NIMBYs have also just begun the recall process for three council members in the city of San Juan Capistrano.
I certainly understand the frustrations. Traffic in Orange County is still unbearable. People want to live and work here. But, the inventory of available housing has driven prices to historical highs. So much for our younger residents who are starting out. However, if enough of them move out, then the housing shortage may just solve itself. Although that is not the answer most parents of adult children are looking for.
But, preventing the construction of new housing by threatening the good citizens that have chosen to serve their communities on their city councils seems short-sighted and displays a misguided vindictiveness. And Sacramento has had its fill of this bullying tactic.
Senate Bill 35 barely passed the Senate, but becomes law on January 1, 2018. It “creates a streamlined, ministerial approval process for infill developments in localities that have failed to meet their regional housing needs assessment (RHNA) numbers.”
The Democrats in Sacramento, and the Governor, have become impatient with NIMBYs and the pressure they put on city council members to disapprove justified and mandated development projects. This is the poison pill at the local level. One could conclude that recalls of council members simply following the law have caused the majority party to force feed certain housing construction. This means that the Governor has had enough of this intimidation and put his foot down. Consequently, this strategy has backfired.
The NIMBYs are not appreciated by Democratic Legislators and they are usurping the independence of locally elected officials. Then why is it still occurring? Maybe because local residents have lost sight of the big picture and have decided that the cities in Orange County need to provide adequate housing stock, but just not in their city.
This seems like a shallow reason for recalling council members and subjecting the local city’s budget to all of the related election costs. In Newport Beach’s case, the residents could have waited just a few short months for the general election.
The goal should not be to vent anger and frustration when it is too late in the development process. The answer is to have the proper codes in place to harmonize the building of additional housing with the desires of the city’s residents to accommodate the growth in a balanced manner. Going after council members late into their terms smacks of voter failure, not elected representative failure. Therefore, I would recommend a “no” vote on the remaining city-level recalls.
The second piece provides for new developments on the electrical wire wildfire front by KQED, one that has devastated so many homes and buildings of late. And, it did not have to be. The Governor vetoed SB 1463 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017). Expect me to refocus our Governor.
A few days of wildfires generate as much in greenhouse gases as all of the cars in California operating for an entire year. His not addressing the real root causes of “climate change” makes him look like a flimflam man. Consequently, I’ll try to help him out in his last year of office by crafting legislation that directs cap and trade tax revenues towards addressing the state’s aging and vulnerable utilities infrastructure and electrical power distribution.
With more than 40 casualties, most of them 70 years of age or older who could not flee, this state needs to get serious about reducing wildfires. Blaming climate change is embarrassing and it’s a misdirection of the most disingenuous type.
Now, to the third and final piece, on the front-page of The Sacramento Bee. Sexually abusing individuals is hideous. I was taught to love people and use things. Something is wrong and the “Harvey Weinstein-era” is bringing plenty of nonsense to light.
During the recess, the Assembly has already seen two Democrats resign. This is enough to impact the two-thirds majority that the monopoly party holds in this house.
The state Senate only needs one resignation to disrupt the two-thirds majority that the Democrats hold. And, the President pro Tem is nibbling around the edges on this front. This is not pleasant territory for a leader, when human failure comes close to home (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Carlos Bustamante — July 3, 2012).
How did I get mentioned in this piece? Because I have a recently retired partner from the renowned law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher as a donor.
The piece will give you a flavor of what is happening in Sacramento and the environment that I will be enjoying once we begin the 2018 Session the first week of next year.
2018 promises to be another interesting political year in Newport and Costa Mesa
By Barbara Venezia
Looking back at 2017, political tides drastically shifted in both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
There certainly were heroes and zeros in these scenarios, depending on where you stood on the issues.
As the 2018 election season unfolds, these stories will continue, impacting the local political landscape.
In Costa Mesa, I feel two important issues will find their level this coming year, impacting council elections.
Animals will play a starring role in one of them. With a sizable population of animal lovers in this city, what council members do with the contract for the Orange County Humane Society’s Huntington Beach animal shelter — continue with it or create their own — will be important.
As will what happens next for Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who was unceremoniously removed as mayor by a majority of her fellow council members without explanation.
Unless damning evidence as to why she was removed is revealed publicly, and soon, I predict she’ll emerge as a formidable political force and win her role back in 2018 as this city faces its first direct mayoral elections.
Councilman John Stephens is a rising star to watch in 2018 as the most vocal council member advocating for the city’s animals.
Digging deep into the controversy of the Orange County Humane Society Shelter, he’s determined to find a better solution for strays come 2018. His efforts here could be what brings this fractured council together again as it explores options. Costa Mesa voters certainly will be paying attention as to who supports the best option and who doesn’t.
Turning to Newport, 2017 saw a rather different political muscle flexing — that of dissatisfied residents. They banded together to fight high-density development and to try to recall a councilman for the first time in city history.
The political action committee Line in the Sand successfully gathered enough signatures to bring the high-density Museum House project to a referendum vote, proving it was a force to be reckoned with. It prevailed with an impressive grassroots ground game, and in the end, the council fizzled, reversing approval of the project.
But Line in the Sand didn’t get involved with the committee to recall Councilman Scott Peotter, though some members overlapped.
Line in the Sand waited in the wings to endorse a candidate if a recall election came to fruition.
I felt that without that signature-gathering support, the recall committee would have a tough go of it, since it didn’t have the same tight grassroots organization as Line in the Sand does.
The recall fell short by about 1% after signatures were validated.
We’ll have to wait for a recount to see if the recall supporters can find the 106 signatures to move the needle.
Regardless, Peotter needed a big win to regain voter confidence and be reelectable in 2018.
The stink of the recall effort will follow him through the 2018 campaign, where he’ll likely face opposition.
There’s also another thing to consider as we look to Newport’s elections.
Successful or not, the blowback of this recall effort will also impact the reelection campaigns of Peotter’s council member supporters: Diane Dixon, Kevin Muldoon and new Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield.
None stuck out their neck for Peotter as far as Duffield did with robo calls, editorials and such.
Two statewide issues will be interesting to follow in 2018 as well.
1. Carl DeMaio’s efforts to repeal the increase in the state’s gas and car licensing taxes.
Will we see this on the 2018 ballot, giving voters a say regarding these increases and changes in the manner the state can levy future taxes?
2. And what will be the repurposing solution for Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa after the state closes it?
State Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) tells me his committee of local and state leaders will continue efforts in 2018 to come up with a plan that best serves the community.
Will the state buy into it?
Questions remain about the $2 million the state proposes spending here as it sunsets this facility.
Lastly, this year we said goodbye to some beloved local heroes who passed away and will be missed.
These were the hardest columns for me to write as I personally knew Denny O’Neil, Ralph Rodheim, Charlotte Dale and Brad Long.
Heroes certainly outweighed zeros this year, and to revisit 2017 columns about these issues and more, visit bvontv.com.
As I close my first decade of reporting, I look forward to bringing forward more thought-provoking columns in the new year, starting Jan. 5.
Get ready for a wild political ride in 2018.
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1.
California Utility Regulators Approve New Fire Safety Measures
Update, Dec. 14, 2017:
The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to strengthen regulations for utilities that have facilities in areas where thick vegetation and strong winds make fires more dangerous.
Under the new rules, electric and telecommunications utilities will need to widen vegetation clearances around their lines. They’ll also have to conduct more inspections of power lines, phone lines and utility poles.
Property owners will also be responsible for giving utilities access to their land in risky areas. If they don’t, the new rules allow utilities to cut off service to those properties.
“Year-round fire is going to be the new normal in California and we need to adjust to that,” said Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen.
Utilities will have six months to make changes in the highest-risk areas, once those areas are determined by new maps that the commission is expected to approve later this winter.
Original post, Nov. 3, 2017:
The risk from wildfires in California means everyone living here should be prepared for one. Some more than others.
That obviously depends on where you live. But who’s in charge of telling us how risky any one place is?
Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission have been working for years to make maps of the highest-risk areas in California. Those maps, once finished, could be used to hold utility companies such as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to higher fire safety standards.
After last month’s deadly Northern California wildfires, some state lawmakers are saying the process of making the maps is moving too slowly, putting people’s lives at risk.
State Sen. John M. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown this week asking him for details about what exactly the agencies have been doing.
“This mapping exercise has been going on for a decade, while over the last few years, dozens of lives and hundreds of thousands of acres have been lost in wildfires resulting from fires started by utility wires,” Moorlach wrote in the letter.
The effort to create this set of maps started about a decade ago after deadly wildfires burned through Southern California.
State investigators found some of those fires were ignited by overhead power lines and, to a lesser degree, by telecommunications equipment. After that, the CPUC adopted dozens of new regulations, some of which rely on maps to designate especially hazardous areas.
The CPUC decided in 2012 to create new maps specifically to highlight areas at higher risk from power lines and other utility equipment. A team of experts, including Cal Fire specialists, is working on the maps. One risk those maps aim to highlight is places with high wind speeds, which appear to be a factor in the rapid spread of the fires last month. Another is the types of vegetation in an area.
The CPUC published an early version of the maps last summer, and the commission expects that the final maps will be released this winter. If the final maps determine that power lines or other equipment are in hazardous areas, utilities could be held to higher safety standards.
Moorlach said the whole process is taking too long.
“We’ve got bureaucrats that are doing this and they’re dragging their feet, and you’ve got utilities that know what the outcome is going to be and they’re going to delay it as much as they can,” he told KQED.
Last year, the governor vetoed SB 1463, a bill Moorlach sponsored that would have required the CPUC and Cal Fire to prioritize the maps and to work more closely with local governments and fire departments to create the maps.
Brown wrote in his veto message that the agencies were already addressing Moorlach’s concerns, saying, “This deliberative process should continue and the issues this bill seeks to address should be raised in that forum.”
CPUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said Moorlach’s bill would have actually slowed down the work.
“SB 1463 would have prolonged the safety work already going on by requiring the participation of certain entities, which was unnecessary because Cal Fire was already a party to the proceeding, and local governments and fire departments could also participate,” she wrote in an email to KQED.
Cal Fire already has hazard maps and, based on those maps, people who live in high-risk zones face tougher construction standards. Those maps were spurred by previous legislation. Fire building codes apply only to “very high-hazard” areas within city boundaries. However, in areas where Cal Fire has jurisdiction, anything in “moderate-risk” and “high-risk” areas must meet its standards.
Danielle Venton contributed to this report.
Mendoza spurns request from Senate leader to take a leave of absence
BY TARYN LUNA
California Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León asked Sen. Tony Mendoza to step away from his position in the Legislature Thursday as law firms investigate three separate misconduct allegations against the Artesia Democrat.
“I have spoken with Sen. Mendoza and I have asked him to take a leave of absence pending the outcome of that investigation,” de León said early Thursday. “Given the severity of the allegations against Sen. Mendoza, I do not believe he can perform the duties in Sacramento right now.”
A lawyer for Mendoza said later in the day that the senator refused to comply with the request.
“I was not appointed to the position I hold but was elected by the voters in my district,” Mendoza said in a statement. “The Senate owes them an opportunity to hear the truth. I assure them that I will vigorously defend myself to clear my name.”
Mendoza said he was disappointed that senators want him to resign without “giving me an opportunity to defend myself.”
De León also said law firms will investigate complaints against Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, accused this week by three female colleagues of making them uncomfortable with hugs and, in some instances, not stopping when asked. He said he would not ask Hertzberg to step down now.
De León made the comments at his first Sacramento press conference since more than 140 women signed a letter published on Oct. 17 decrying a toxic culture at the Capitol. Women in politics said they do not feel comfortable sharing their experiences for fear of retaliation, which generated widespread criticism of the Legislature’s response to allegations against lawmakers and employees.
The pro tem held the press conference to announce that the Senate hired two California law firms to investigate all future allegations of sexual abuse, assault and harassment. De León said the Senate is also working with WEAVE, a Sacramento nonprofit, to provide confidential support services for survivors. The law firms and WEAVE worked together to set up a confidential hotline for victims to report sexual harassment.
“We want to make sure that this is a place where there is equity and justice for all women, for all employees, men and women,” de León said. “This is an opportunity to really change the culture for this legislative body in many ways.”
The Senate leader pledged to change how the house investigates sexual harassment, abuse and assault allegations in November after The Bee reported stories about Mendoza involving three women who worked in his offices.
One of the stories raised questions about how employees of the Senate Rules Committee, previously responsible for investigating sexual harassment claims, handled an allegation that Mendoza invited home a 23-year-old woman seeking a job in his office.
The Senate leader said he asked Mendoza to take a temporary leave during a phone call on Thursday morning, more than a month after The Bee reported the allegations involving the fellow. Secretary of the Senate Daniel Alvarez has said Senate employees began investigating the first allegation in late September, but Mendoza said he had not been contacted as of Nov. 6, when he learned of the complaint from a reporter.
De León said Thursday the independent law firms will now handle the investigation.
Mendoza was stripped of his committee posts late last month.
De León, who shared a home with Mendoza in Sacramento until last month, said Thursday that he never witnessed any inappropriate behavior.
He did not answer a question about whether he would ask the Senate to vote to expel Mendoza if the senator declined to comply. He expects the investigation into Mendoza to conclude early next year.
Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, said he intended to introduce a resolution to permanently remove Mendoza when the Legislature returns early next month.
“Many of us have been waiting for Sen. Mendoza to do the right thing and resign, but that has not happened,” Vidak said in a statement. “The Senate Democrat leadership has failed in their responsibility to request that Mendoza resign.”
One of the firms the Senate hired is Sacramento-based Van Dermyden Maddux, which conducts workplace investigations on behalf of employers, according to its website. The other, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, is a global firm founded in Los Angeles that says it represents the majority of Fortune 100 and more than half of Fortune 500 companies.
A seven-member panel that included Democratic Sens. Toni Atkins, Connie Leyva, Holly Mitchell and Bill Monning, Republican Senate Leader Patricia Bates, Lobbyist Christy Bouma, Legislative Counsel of California Diane Boyer Vine and Alvarez interviewed and selected the law firms.
“We understand that sometimes in male dominated arenas, when men are in power, or when men perceive their power as unchecked, that harassment takes place,” Mitchell said. “Please know that we will continue to work in addition to what you’ve heard about today to prevent harassment and create a culture in which women are valued, women are perceived as equals and that employees have mutual respect of each other within the confines of the Senate family.”
Mitchell said the panel considered perceived internal or external bias, experience representing public entities, presence across the state, understanding of the culture of the Legislature and competence and expertise when weighing eight firms that were interviewed for the job.
The pro tem’s office previously said the firms “should have no prior existing professional or political relationship with the state Senate or individual Senators.”
Lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have given nearly $95,000 in contributions to California candidates, ballots measures and other committees in the last five years, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The firm’s employees have given $16,945 to Senate candidates, including contributions to sitting Sens. John Moorlach, Scott Wiener, Henry Stern, Ben Allen, Bob Wieckowski and Hertzberg.
De León said he was not aware of the contributions, but has confidence that the firms will be “fair and judicious” to victims. Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff, later said the lawyers who contributed to senators will not participate in the investigations.
The Senate leader described the house’s actions as unprecedented, calling it the “most far reaching overhaul” of sexual harassment policies for any legislative body in the country. The Senate engaged with stakeholders, including the campaign of women that crafted the letter, and is working to implement their suggested changes.
The Senate will also conduct a series of hearings to examine the state’s legal standards surrounding sexual harassment across all industries.
“As the leader of the senate, I’ve been humbled by this experience,” de Leòn said. “I’ve done my own deep self-reflection and I have wondered if I also contributed or been complicit collectively as men to this type of dynamic.”
We Said Enough, the women’s anti-harassment campaign, fired back on Twitter, saying its leaders had not spoken with the pro tem or his team.
The group said the law firm’s contributions to sitting senators created “a continued perception of a conflict of interest.”
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