MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Epilogue — October 4, 2018

With Senate Bill 656 being only the second bill I have had vetoed over my entire public service career, it provides an opportunity to share that I do not react well to vetoes. By this, I mean that I may come back with a different or improved iteration in a subsequent Session. I hint at it in my release on SB 656’s veto, which is provided by the Orange County Breeze in the second piece below.

Allow me to further explain what I mean. I authored Senate Bill 1463 in 2016. It is the first bill of mine that Governor Brown vetoed. It tried to prevent wildfires caused by disrupted or broken electric power lines. Tragically, in the two subsequent years after the Governor’s veto, numerous innocent and mostly elderly people have died as a result of wildfires from electric transformers and lines sparking in high gust weather conditions.

SB 1463 (2016) would have, at the minimum, accelerated the fire prevention efforts at the California Public Utilities Commission and CalFire so the electric utilities could have had the validation to expedite their processes of hardening the infrastructure that causes fires.

Sadly, the Governor’s veto message essentially said, “The bureaucrats are doing their jobs and I prefer to look the other way and let them finish . . . sometime . . . someday . . . in the future.”

Not that SB 1463 would have stopped all of the fires we’ve seen. But, can you imagine what may have transpired if Gov. Brown had taken this bill seriously? Perhaps there could have been one or two fewer fires. Some mitigation efforts to strengthen lines or transistors could have been easily done.

When Sen. Bill Dodd (D – Napa) introduced SB 901, I immediately asked to be a coauthor. I do not coauthor many bills. But, it was focused in the same vein as my redux of SB 1463 in 2018. I used the same bill number as two years prior, but added the use of Cap and Trade revenues to fund hardening the utility lines around the state. That funding would have brought upwards of $600 million annually to address California’s problematic and ostensibly, reduce GHGs caused by wildfires. My bill was killed in the first Senate committee hearing. This bill had no formal opposition. I can only assume the Committee members who voted against it were more concerned about their pet AB 32 projects than about actually reducing GHG emissions. But, SB 901 became the vehicle for a massive wildfire reform package.

For my Senate colleagues in the impacted areas, it created a Conference Committee near the conclusion of this year’s Session to address dealing with utility caused wildfires. And, why not? I stood up on the Senate Floor on many occasions to point out the massive loophole in AB 32’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases because it did not include those generated by wildfires. So much so, that a few days of wildfires generate more GHGs than all of California’s cars driving for an entire year!

When asked by the Sonoma Valley Sun, for the first piece below, why I voted for a bill that would cost PG&E ratepayers a lot of money, I had two responses. The first is that I have very few PG&E ratepayers in my District. A calloused answer, I know. But, if you live in areas with a higher fire danger, there is an increased cost for addressing this risk.

The second answer was that SB 901 took my recommendation to use Cap and Trade revenues, to the tune of $200 million per year over five years. This is an appropriate use of this unique tax in addressing the generation of GHGs by reducing wildfires.

Not all of my bills will be signed by the Governor. But, when a core piece from one of my bills shows up in another bill, thereby having my fingerprints, then I just may be on board. I even stated the same in behalf of SB 901 on the Senate Floor during the waning hours of this year’s Session (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rEQ9uM7P-o).

For additional history on this matter, here is the journey I’ve had on this topic:

Introduction of SB 1463 in 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 — March 25, 2016

After numerous committee hearings and three Floor votes, SB 1463 headed to Governor’s Desk

MOORLACH UPDATE — Moving Down the Line — August 31, 2016

Strong editorial in support of reducing wildfires

MOORLACH UPDATE — First Veto — September 24, 2016

Governor’s Veto

MOORLACH UPDATE — First Veto — September 24, 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — Rejection/Disappointment — September 27, 2016

MOORLACH UPDATE — Thank you, Vin Scully — September 28, 2016

After the Santa Rosa fire, the media noticed my previous efforts

MOORLACH UPDATE — Conflagration Legacy — October 12, 2017

MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017

MOORLACH UPDATE — Burning Year End Issues — December 15, 2017

Bay Area disappointment in Brown’s veto and the tragic fire

MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017

Local frustrations over vetoed bill

MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017

RCRC acknowledgement

MOORLACH UPDATE — Haven for Hope — January 19, 2018

SB 1463 Redux, with Cap and Trade funding introduced

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Redux — March 30, 2018

Second SB 1463 killed in committee with my reactions

MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1297 – COO — April 19, 2018

My editorial submission to use Cap and Trade

MOORLACH UPDATE — Reducing Wildfires — July 31, 2018

Efforts to use Cap and Trade funding acknowledged as a potential solution

MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Tornado Funding — August 2, 2018

Other commentators lamenting the lost opportunities with both SB 1463s

MOORLACH UPDATE — Spewing Carbon Into The Air — August 8, 2018

All to show that my office is providing a full portfolio on critical issues facing California, besides pension liabilities and unrestricted net positions. There is so much to do. And, sometimes, the Legislature picks up on an idea that, I believe, makes sense.

How the state — and you —will help PG&E pay for the fires

PGE_WildFire-Work_ENRready

By Dan de la Torre

http://sonomasun.com/2018/10/04/how-the-state-and-you-will-help-pge-pay-for-the-fires/

At the one-year anniversary of the fires which burned nearly 200,000 acres and claimed the lives of over 40 people in Sonoma and Napa counties, the cost of rebuilding is beginning to take shape — as is PG&E’s ultimate responsibility to pay for it.

The bills are still coming in, and lawsuits against the utility pending. But State Senator Bill Dodd, whose district was ravaged by the fires, thinks the figure is about $10 billion. His SB 901, signed into law by Jerry Brown, authorizes that much in bonds.

To back those bonds, every PG&E ratepayer, even those outside the fire area, will now see $50 added to the monthly bill — for at least 20 years. The other $5 billion will come from PG&E itself.

In the immediate aftermath of the fires, blame seemed to be focused solely on PG&E, and the company began a defense on multiple fronts. Because of a legal doctrine known as Inverse Condemnation, PG&E knew that it couldn’t fight any legal battles in court because of the way the language is structured in that particular law.

The law in essence says that even if PG&E did everything it was supposed to regarding maintenance and equipment, as mandated by the state-run California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), it would be liable — no matter what.

With this in mind PG&E began a media campaign to improve its image. It ran ads profiling how the company interacts with the community. It also ran commercials on how much money it spends on overall maintenance, its equipment, and its program to trim tree branches from around power lines. PG&E said it spends $1 billion annually cutting down dead trees and dry brush.

wildfire_powerline

PG&E also blamed climate change as one of the main factors in last year’s fires, something that Governor Jerry Brown has also strongly advocated.

In Sacramento, PG&E lobbied legislators to find a compromise that would allow the company to continue without facing bankruptcy. The legislature and the governor went back and forth with a number or proposals before settling on SB 901. The chief architect of this bill was state Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa).

The Sun recently interviewed both Dodd and Senator John Moorlach (R- Orange County) to get an overview of the bill.

According to both Senators, the 100-plus-page bill addresses the issue on several fronts. A) It makes it easier for PG&E to engage in forest management including tree cutting and disposal of dead wood and dry brush caused by the recent drought. B) Working alongside the CPUC, PG&E will begin the preliminary process of designing underground power lines. C) A financial “stress test” will be conducted to determine how much PG&E can pay without causing it to go into bankruptcy and cause its stockholders, many which are elderly and depend on a limited return from these stocks, to continue to invest.

Senator Dodd suggested that SB 901 will allocate approximately $10 billion in the form of bonds that will immediately be available to plaintiffs suing PG&E. For their part, ratepayers will be assessed that $50 monthly surcharge.

With over 200 individual lawsuits and virtually every city, county and municipality affected by the fires engaging in their own lawsuits, the assumption from Senator Dodd is that $10 billion will be enough to cover all costs.

But it does not address overruns, and it is far from exact.

One of the cities suing PG&E is Santa Rosa. “Honesty I don’t know, as the city is still assessing how much damage the fires caused so at this point there is no price tag,” Assistant City Attorney Adam Abel told The Sun.

To complicate state budget matters, SB 901 does not address claims in connection with lasts year’s devastating fires in Southern California. Or more recent fires in Redding and beyond.

As noted, all PG&E customers will chip in with that monthly $50 fee — no matter where they live.

Diana and Doug Gill, visiting Sonoma from Livermore recently, say the situation is frustrating. They understand that someone has to pay for the overall costs but are demanding more answers. Diana questioned not just the cost of the fire but the cause, as she doesn’t believe that a fire could have spread as rapidly as it did. Like many, she questions if there is a missing element that hasn’t been made public.

SB 901 was signed into law on Friday, September 21. Brown, whose term is ending this year, has said that long, epic fire seasons will be the new normal in California. How to pay for them remains the question.

A plausible possibility is a bill that didn’t pass, but could come back in the next session. AB 33, introduced by East Bay Assemblyman Dr. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), would have also issued a series of bonds to expedite payments, but had no ceiling price cap. The bill would authorize as many bonds as needed — $50 billion or more was a number mentioned by Quirk’s office.

That figure may have been too high for an election year, but the 2019 legislature might reconsider such an option when the costs of fighting more recent fire disasters come due.

 

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Governor Brown vetoes Moorlach Judicial Pension Reform SB 656

http://www.oc-breeze.com/2018/10/01/128123_governor-brown-vetoes-moorlach-judicial-pension-reform-sb-656/

I am disappointed that Gov. Jerry Brown today vetoed Senate Bill 656, which I authored. At a minimal cost, it would have made key changes to the retirement system of the pensions of California judges, encouraging our best lawyers to seek these positions, and our best judges to stay in them. More than 800 California Superior Court Judges signed on in support of SB 656, as comparable retirement incentives for all state employees was a fair and just modification to make. And providing the appropriate benefits ensures judicial quality and integrity, which are essential to our democracy.

Specifically, SB 656 would have authorized a judge, who is not otherwise eligible to retire with a monthly allowance, to retire and receive the annuity at a later date upon reaching the prescribed retirement age. It would have permitted those judges who face difficult personal circumstances in their later years, such as caring for an ailing spouse, to leave office with the promise of later taking the retirement they worked so hard to achieve.

That means the current system is retained. Under it, if a judge must leave office early, he or she must take a lump sum payment instead of retirement annuity, a reduction in benefits that discourages the best from seeking and accepting these posts.

I want to thank my staff, who worked on this bill for two years, for all of their hard work. I also want to thank the staff at the California Public Employees Retirement System for their assistance in drafting the language. Most importantly, I want to thank the majority of California’s Superior Court judges who took the time to encourage us in this endeavor.

This year Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law two of my three bills that reached his desk. I want to thank him for those he signed. But, I believe that SB 656 is so critical to the morale of our judicial colleagues, that I am considering reintroducing this necessary solution again next year under the next governor.

This article was released by the Office of Senator John Moorlach.

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Government Union Costs — November 8, 2017

The California Policy Center is back with another well written piece on the power of public employee unions, Sacramento’s “Daddy” (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017 and http://www.capoliticalreview.com/capoliticalnewsandviews/moorlach-update-secretive-and-expensive-union-deals/).

You know I’ve been ferreting out the disappointing data that makes California’s Department of Transportation, Caltrans, one of the most disappointing DOTs in the nation and that reform is preferred over a new tax; that I have opposed high speed rail from the get to; that I have opposed trolleys in the OC; that I tried a CEQA reform legislative effort last year; and you know I’ve been warning you about public employee defined benefit pension plan rising costs for more than 16 years. The piece below addresses them all. And, I’ll spare you the links to my previous UPDATEs.

BONUS: The second piece is a photo from the Sacramento Bee showing me working at my front row desk during Session.

DOUBLE BONUS: Recently, I have begun my own weekly podcast, “The OC- Sacramento Connection”. On these podcasts, I have and will continue to share my thoughts on several issues including some of the ones in this update.

CLICK HERE to listen to my podcasts on ITunes free of charge.

INVITATION: My District Office has started a new Veterans Day tradition. Last year we had a simple afternoon ceremony at Crystal Cove State Beach to review the World War II history within its boundaries. Dan Worthington discussed the Fire Station, a WW II bunker that kept an eye on the California coast during the beginning of the war, pre-radar, to signal the alarm should the Japanese Fleet appear over the horizon. There is a similar location at Bolsa Chica and the west side of Catalina Island has ten such bunkers!

This year we have invited noted author Chris Epting to speak on the subject of “The Day the War Hit The Shore.” Orange County incurred civilian casualties stateside during WW II, an extremely rare occurence. This tragic episode has been lost over time, but has many valuable lessons to this day.

Please attend your traditional Veterans Day ceremonies at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month on Saturday. If you want an afternoon break, join us at 3 p.m. We’ll meet at 21871 Newland Street in Huntington Beach. There should be some parking spaces at the neighboring wildlife center.

We will also have surviving family members present of those who were lost to this unique chapter in WW II local history. If you enjoy local Orange County history, this will be a relaxed setting to actually share war stories. Please RSVP with Aly Henderson at aly.john or 714-662-6050.

Without Government Unions, there Would be No Gas Tax Increase

By Ed Ring
http://californiapolicycenter.org/without-government-unions-no-gas-tax-increase/

Nobody argues that California’s roads need huge upgrades. But the solution didn’t require the $0.12 per gallon tax hike that [went] into effect [last week]. The root cause of these neglected roads – and the reason even more taxes will never be enough to fix them – is the power of public sector unions, whose agenda is consistently at odds with the public interest. Let us count the ways.

1 – CalTrans mismanagement:

CalTrans could have done a much better job of maintaining California’s roads. One of the most diligent critics (and auditors) of CalTrans is state Senator John Moorlach (R, Costa Mesa), the only CPA in California’s state legislature. Last year, Moorlachreleased a report on CalTrans which he summarized in “7-Step Fix for ‘Mismanaged’ Caltrans,” an article on his official website. Just a few highlights include the following:

  • In May 2014 the Legislative Analyst Office determined that CalTrans was overstaffed by 3,500 architects and engineers, costing over $500 million per year.
  • While to an average state transportation agency outsources over 50% of its work, CalTrans outsources only 10% of its work. Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80%.
  • 54% of CalTrans staff is at or near retirement age, so a hiring freeze would reduce staff merely through attrition, without requiring layoffs.

But Moorlach didn’t make explicit the reason CalTrans is mismanaged. It’s because the unions that run Sacramento don’t want to outsource CalTrans work. The unions don’t want to reduce CalTrans headcount, or hold CalTrans management accountable. Those actions might help Californians, but they would undermine union power.

2 – Bullet train boondoggle:

Money that could have been allocated to maintain and improve California’s roads is being squandered on a train that will do nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges. A LOT of money. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, California’s freeways can be resurfaced and have a lane added in each direction at a cost of roughly $5.0 million per mile in rural areas, about twice that in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the latest estimate for California’s “bullet train,” is $98 billion (that’s $245 million per mile), thanks to construction delays, and design challenges including nearly 50 miles of tunnels through seismically active mountains to the north and south. And hardly anyone is going to ride it. Ridership won’t even pay operating costs. But Sacramento pushes ahead with this monstrous waste when that same money could (at the urban price of $10 million per mile) resurface and add a lane in each direction to 10,000 miles of California’s freeways. Imagine smooth, unclogged roads. It’s not impossible. It’s just policy priorities.

But while bad roads destroy the chassis of millions of cars and trucks, and commuters endure stop-and-go traffic year after year, the California High Speed Rail Authority dutifully pushes on. Why?

Because that’s what the government employee unions want. They don’t want roads, with all the flexibility and autonomy that roads offer. They want to create a gigantic high-speed rail empire, with tens of thousands of new public employees to drive the trains, maintain the trains, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But all of them will be members of public sector unions.

3 – All rapid transit boondoggles:

In a handful of very dense urban areas around the U.S., fast intercity trains make economic sense. But most light rail schemes, along with laughably absurd “streetcar” schemes that actually block urban lanes sorely needed by vehicles, do not achieve levels of ridership that even begin to justify their construction when the alternative is using that money for better, wider connector roads and freeways. The impact of ride sharing apps, the advent of non-polluting cars, and the option of using buses to accomplish mass transit goals all speak to the superior versatility of roads over rail for urban transportation.

So why do California’s cities continue to poor billions into light rail and streetcars, when that money could be used to unclog the roads?

To reiterate: The public sector unions that run California want tens of thousands of new public employees to operate the trains and streetcars, maintain them, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But doing this means that public sector union membership – hence public sector union power – will increase.

4 – CEQA reform so people can live closer to the jobs:

The median home value in the United States today is $202,700. The median home value in California today is $509,600, 2.5 times as much! There is no shortage of land in California, and the alleged shortages of energy and water are self-inflicted as the result of policies enacted by California’s state legislature. But instead of reforming California’s Environmental Quality Act, SB 375, AB 32, and countless other laws that have made building homes in California nearly impossible, California’s legislature is doubling down on more government solutions – primarily to subsidize either extremely high density housing, or subsidized housing for the economically disadvantaged, or both.

None of this is necessary. Outside of California’s major urban centers, there is no reason homes cannot be profitably built and sold at a median price of $202,700, and there is no reason the people living in those homes cannot drive or ride share to work on fast, unclogged freeways.

But California’s public sector unions want more regulations on home building, and they want more subsidized public housing. Because those solutions, even though inadequate and coercive, enable them to hire vast new bureaucracies to enforce the many regulations and administer the public assets. Unleashing the private sector to build affordable homes in a competitive market would rob these unions of their opportunity to acquire more power. It’s that simple.

5 – Insatiable appetite for pension fund contributions:

According to a California Policy Center study, taking barely adequate annual employer pension contributions into account, the average unionized state/local government worker in California makes over $120,000 per year in pay and benefits. But to adequately fund their promised pension benefits, employers will need to pay at least another $20,000 per employee to the pension funds. This funding gap, which equates to over $20 billion per year, is the additional amount that is required to cover the difference between how much California’s public employee pension funds currently collect from taxpayers, and how much they need to collect to keep the promises that union controlled politicians have made to the government unions they “negotiate” with. That is a best-case scenario.

It could be much worse. A 2016 California Policy Center analysis (ref. table 2-C) estimated that under a worst-case scenario, the annual costs to fund California’s public employee pension funds could cost taxpayers nearly $70 billion more per year than they are currently paying.

And by the way, California’s pension funds are themselves almost entirely under the control of public sector unions – research the background of CalPERS and CalSTRS board directors to verify the degree of influence they have. Absent significant reform, funding California’s public employee pensions is going to continue to consume every dollar in new taxes for the next several decades. The cumulative financial impact of funding these pensions is easily triple that of the bullet train’s $100 billion fiasco, probably much more.

Let’s not mince words. Government unions control California. They collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year, and spend most of that money on either explicit political campaigning and lobbying, or soft advocacy via expensive public relations campaigns and sponsored academic studies. Their presence is felt everywhere, from local transit districts to the governor’s office. They make or break politicians at will, by outspending or outlasting their opponents. At best, California’s most powerful corporate players do not cross these unions, often they collude with them.

California’s public sector unions operate as senior partners in a coalition that includes left-wing oligarchs especially in the Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists and their powerful trial lawyer cohorts, and the Latino Legislative Caucus – usurped by leftist radicals – and their many allies in the social justice/identity politics industry. The power of this government union led coalition is nearly absolute, and the consequences to California’s private sector working class have been nothing short of devastating.

Government unions force California’s agencies to over-hire, overpay, and mismanage, because that benefits their members even as it harms the public. These unions enforce absurd policy priorities that further harm the public in order to increase their power. They are the reason California has increased its gas tax.

REFERENCES

Pump bump: California drivers to pay 12 cents more per gallon starting Wednesday – San Jose Mercury, Oct. 31, 2017
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/31/pump-bump-california-drivers-to-pay-12-cents-more-per-gallon-starting-wednesday/

California’s gas tax increases Wednesday – Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-gas-tax-increase-political-battle-20171031-story.html

How much you’ll REALLY pay in gasoline tax in California – San Diego Union Tribune, Apr. 23, 2017
http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-california-gastax-20170413-story.html

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget – California Policy Center, Mar. 21, 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-californians-could-build-using-the-64-billion-bullet-train-budget/

American Road and Transportation Builders Association – FAQs, ref. “How much does it cost to build a mile of road?
https://www.artba.org/about/faq/

High-Speed Rail Delay More than Triples Planned Cost to San Jose – San Jose Inside, Oct. 2, 2017
http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2017/10/02/high-speed-rail-delay-more-than-triples-planned-cost-to-san-jose/

A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train – Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-bullet-train-tunnel-20171021-story.html

California Environmental Quality Act – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Environmental_Quality_Act

State Senate bills aim to make homes more affordable, but they won’t spur nearly enough construction – Los Angeles Times, Aug. 11, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-state-housing-deal-effects-20170811-htmlstory.html

California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, Jan. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/californias-public-sector-compensation-trends/

What is the Average Pension for a Retired Government Worker in California? – California Policy Center, Mar. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-is-the-average-pension-for-a-retired-government-worker-in-california/

The Coming Public Pension Apocalypse, and What to Do About It – California Policy Center, May 2016
http://californiapolicycenter.org/the-coming-public-pension-apocalypse/

Senate President Pro Ten Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, during a key climate change vote on July 17, 2017. Hector Amezcua hamezcua

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article178559596.html?#emlnl=Alerts_Newsletter&id=am9obm1vb3JsYWNoQGdtYWlsLmNvbQ==

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MOORLACH UPDATE — Secretive and Expensive Union Deals — November 3, 2017

With the super-majority party in control, the public employee unions have felt more empowered to sponsor legislation that gives them more power over management. Their emboldedness was so bad during this year’s Session, I started asking “who’s your Daddy?” with a number of these over-reaching bills (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Who’s Your Daddy? — July 1, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Bonuses and Bogusness — October 21, 2017 , MOORLACH UPDATE — Devastating Legacy — October 11, 2017 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Who Do You Answer To? — October 1, 2017).

I believe that bargaining unit negotiations should be public. Then you would see the nonsensical proposals that are offered to elected officials behind closed doors. Two thoughts. While a County Supervisor I championed the adoption of COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations) (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Minting New COIN — June 25, 2014 ). And this year I proposed SB 371, which made it a conflict of interest to negotiate for wage increases and benefit improvements if the negotiator was benefiting directly or indirectly from the adoption of the bargaining unit agreement (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pursuing Reforms — August 11, 2017). The statewide public employee unions came in full force and squashed both of these efforts. They are the “Daddy” and want full control. Which is probably why California is as fiscally screwed up as it is.

But, the Capitol is not immune to union bullying. Keep an eye on the city of Santa Paula. Let’s see how long it takes before they have to raise its sales tax, again! Or, when they will be hiring a Chapter 9 bankruptcy attorney. Of course, holding the current city council accountable then is a joke. They’ll probably be long gone or serving in Sacramento, thanks to the unions funding their campaigns. It’s that sick. And the Ventura County Star seems to be getting it in the first piece below.

The Governor’s veto of SB 1463 continues to garner media attention. KQED covers the specifics of the bill in greater detail in the second piece below. The feet-dragging and excuses drive me batty, as the death toll is now up to 43 in Sonoma and Napa Counties (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns — October 27, 2017).

Ironically, Governor Brown is travelling outside of the country to continue his efforts to reduce greenhouse gases around the world. Regretfully, two-and-one-half days of California wild fires produce the same amount of greenhouse gases as all of the cars in California combined do in an entire year (see https://www.livescience.com/1981-wildfires-release-cars.html). Can you say “hypocrisy?”

You’ve got to love the massive disconnect! Did you know that greenhouse gas reduction goals do not apply to wild fires? They should, especially since they happen in California and much of the strategy of the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 is predicated on reducing these threats.

Rather than raising money for silly trains and political projects that will do zero to mitigate global warming, shouldn’t the Governor focus on preventing devastating fires in the future? One gets the impression that globetrotting on vacuous platitudes is more fun and fulfilling for our current state leaders. How does one lecture the world when you’re failing at home? Talk about an emperor that wears no clothes!

Behind closed doors, cities and unions strike potentially expensive deals

amartinez

http://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/communities/santa-paula/2017/11/03/behind-closed-doors-cities-and-unions-strike-potentially-expensive-deals/819497001/

Minutes before Santa Paula’s elected officials approved six new contracts awarding nearly every city employee a substantial pay hike, the public first learned of the long-term costs.

“By year three, the cost of the raises is $2.2 million,” Mayor Jenny Crosswhite said at the City Council meeting Oct. 16. “That was not in the staff report.”

What was in the staff report — released four days earlier — was what each contract would cost for the roughly last eight months of the 2017-18 fiscal year. Those costs ranged from $6,291 to $224,455.

Until Crosswhite put a price tag on it, taxpayers could only guess what the three-year agreements would ultimately cost them.

Each city in California handles contract negotiations slightly differently, but most have one thing in common: The negotiations are done largely behind closed doors. Often, elected officials helping to craft the contracts are at the negotiating table with the same unions that spent time and money helping seat them.

The door to those negotiations just got shut a little tighter with a new law that adds another public records exemption to contract negotiations between local public agencies and their employees.

LITTLE PUBLIC SCRUTINY

State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, voted against Assembly Bill 1455, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October.

“I’m a person who believes that the whole process should be public,” said Moorlach, who while on the Orange County Board of Supervisors helped develop one of the most transparent negotiating ordinances in the state. “I thought AB 1455 was sort of the Las Vegas thing. What happens in closed session stays in closed session. I believe the public has the right to know what’s really going on and what’s really being asked and what’s really being pressured.”

The way the process is set up now is the “biggest conflict of interest in government,” he said.

Assembly member Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando Valley, through his spokesperson declined to comment on why he introduced the bill and what problems it sought to fix.

Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D- Thousand Oaks, said the bill wasn’t controversial and it extended to local agencies the same set of laws that have governed state agencies for years. Disclosing strategies and other information related to employee contracts would have hurt the process, said Irwin, who served on the Thousand Oaks City Council for 10 years.

“We knew budget-wise what our bottom line was. To be giving that sort of negotiating information out to the public, to me it’s detrimental to the taxpayers,” Irwin said.

Irwin said regardless of who contributed to a campaign, the council has a responsibility to balance fair treatment of employees with what the city can afford.

“If I would vote for an increase in employee benefits and the city doesn’t end up with a balanced budget I’m probably not going to get re-elected,” she said.

The bill had the support of 18 unions/labor groups and one opposed, the city of West Covina.

Without the legislation, proposals and strategies were “vulnerable to mandated disclosure under current law, thus threatening the ability of local unions and public agencies to engage in candid and fully-informed collective bargaining, with potential disruptive effects,” the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees wrote.

The union referred calls to AFSCME District 36, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties. Spokesperson Erica Zeitlin said budget hearings were done out in the open. “Everybody gets to have a say,” she said.

That doesn’t include contract negotiations, and Zeitlin didn’t return questions seeking further comment on why the organization supported the bill or what the legislation sought to remedy.

West Covina City Manager Chris Freeland said the city opposed the bill because residents have been asking for more transparency in labor negotiations and the city has been trying to provide that. It’s been helpful to let the public know how it is trying to address pension reform and other concerns, he said.

“The city will continue to try and find ways to share the information with the public while meeting the requirements of the law,” Freeland said.

OPENING UP THE PROCESS

In 2013, Simi Valley adopted a policy aimed at allowing more public input on contract negotiations.

“It was to create more transparency in the labor negotiations but to stay consistent with the law,” City Manager Eric Levitt said.

A contract is introduced at one council meeting but not approved until the next time the council meets.

Cities and agencies use a variety of ways to let the public know what is in proposed contracts, according to the staff report prepared for Simi Valley in 2013.

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District stipulates that contracts be publicized and made available at least 15 days before adoption. Fresno policy gives the public 10 days to study the terms, which should be “costed out over time.” Palo Alto states the city should have the ability to fund any compensation agreements in the short- and long-term.

According to the analysis of AB 1455, a request by an Orange County blogger exposed a shortcoming in current public records analysis. In that case, Jon Fleischman requested contract negotiations between the county and the Orange County sheriff’s deputies. After the union representing the deputies was unsuccessful in blocking it, the county released information.

That case exposed a gap in protection for local agencies. Bocanegra’s bill closed it.

Attorney Craig Alexander, who represented Fleischman in the case, said two wrongs don’t make a right. “What’s the public policy here? Is it to keep average citizens and taxpayers who have to pay for these items in the dark?”

The trouble with the standard 72-hour notice is the public has very little time to digest the information and contact their elected officials with questions, Alexander said.

A LAST-MINUTE REVEAL IN SANTA PAULA

On the night Santa Paula approved the new contracts, City Manager Michael Rock noted the expensive proposition before the council. The contracts included pay raises but also increased tuition reimbursement, bilingual pay and the number of vacation hours the city would “buy back,” among other benefits.

“There is an overall cost to the city that is significant, and there is also significant revenue that has been generated through Measure T and other sources as well,” he said.

Measure T is a one-cent sales tax approved in November 2016 that is expected to raise $2.1 million annually. Rock said the money will also come from sources including the general fund and the newly passed gas tax, which was approved by the state Legislature to provide more money for road and bridge improvements.

Rock said that even with the raises city pay lagged that in other cities.

The two speakers on the item were from the Ventura County Taxpayers Association. One warned of the problems with using short-term money for long-term obligations, while the other questioned the lack of public input.

“When we have negotiations that are largely behind closed doors and the final approval is through a consent agenda item, and only because I believe the paper reported on it the other day are we discussing how much this is going to cost in future years, that’s not transparency,” said the association’s David Grau.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the contracts, with Crosswhite opposed.

Lawmaker: Why Is It Taking Years to Map Fire Hazards From Utilities?

By Lisa Pickoff-White and Marisa Lagos

https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2017/11/03/lawmaker-why-is-it-taking-years-to-map-fire-hazards-from-utilities/

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 Company 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 Senator 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 says 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 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 only apply to “very high” hazard areas within city boundaries. However, in areas where Cal Fire has jurisdiction, anything in “moderate” and “high” risk areas must meet their standards.

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