MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — Measure P — October 22, 2018

My 2016 effort with SB 1463 gets a mention in the OC Register piece below (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Epilogue — October 4, 2018).

My 2018 effort with SB 1463, a similar bill with the same number (intentionally), morphed into a strategy inclusion in SB 901 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Epilogue — October 4, 2018). Consequently, with a potential funding source for the city of Laguna Beach for undergrounding electric lines, which materialized after Measure P was put on the November ballot, it may not need to assess a larger sales tax at this time.

As the OC Register electronic piece had a photo of Councilman Bob Whalen, I’m including it. In the 2016 version of SB 1463, he was the mover and shaker as the bill’s sponsor and I was the author (a technical correction to the piece) when we presented the bill before various Legislative committees. We were able to get the bill to Gov. Brown’s desk without one vote in opposition, but he then vetoed it.

For my position on the 23 city and school district measures on Orange County’s various ballots, go to MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — OC Ballot Measures — October 17, 2018).

Laguna Beach voters to decide on 1% sales tax to pay for undergrounding of power lines along city’s key evacuation routes

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE

https://www.ocregister.com/2018/10/22/laguna-beach-voters-to-decide-on-1-sales-tax-to-pay-for-undergrounding-of-power-lines-along-citys-key-evacuation-routes/

Laguna Beach city councilman Bob Whalen is backdropped by power lines on Thalia Street and Temple Hills. He wants the city to bury the lines to prevent fires like the recent ones in Northern California.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A plan by city officials to make the town safer in the event of a fire or natural disaster by burying power lines under major evacuation routes will go before voters on Nov. 6.

Measure P asks Laguna Beach residents to vote yes to authorize the city to enact a 1 percent sales tax for 25 years to fund emergency response services and fire safety measures, including moving overhead wires underground on Laguna Canyon Road and along evacuation routes. The tax is expected to raise approximately $5.6 million annually. A no vote opposes the sales tax.

A supermajority, or 66.67 percent, is required for the measure to pass.

At present, the city’s sales tax is 7.75 percent. If the measure is adopted, the sales tax rate would increase to 8.75 percent.

A 2016 study by Visit Laguna Beach shows that visitors paid more than $3.8 million in sales tax, representing 67 percent of the sales tax collected by the city that year. City officials estimate that 6.5 million visitors come to the city each year and would bear the brunt of the the added sales tax.

Measure P is endorsed by Laguna Beach police Chief Laura Farinella and Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mike Garcia. Opponents include Carolyn Cavecche, CEO/president of the Orange County Taxpayers Association and David Rubel, president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association.

In February, the City Council voted to move forward with efforts to bury the power lines following a community survey that showed support for the effort. The survey also showed almost all residents understand the threat of wildfire and the associated dangers of overhead power lines. The City Council, at that time, reviewed three options.

About 70 percent of survey respondents favored a one-cent increase in the city’s sales tax, 56 percent stated they would approve a bond measure and 58 percent preferred a general purpose sales tax.

City officials say it will cost at least $90 million to bury lines along Laguna Canyon Road, one of the city’s three entrance and exit points, and $45 million on 11 evacuation routes identified throughout the town, at a cost of $1,000 per foot. Citywide, there are 128,000 feet of overhead utilities, and about 21,000 feet are along the evacuation routes.

The city is already spending $2.5 million from existing city revenues to bury the utilities but that only covers a third of the cost, said City Councilman Bob Whalen, who in 2016 spearheaded efforts with state lawmakers to try to get the utility companies to step up with funding.

When the city had no success with the utilities, Whalen and others from the city, including then-Fire Chief Jeff LaTenderesse, took the issue to Sacramento. Senate Bill 1463 sponsored by Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, was later vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2016.

Efforts to bury the overhead lines and transponders have been a focus in recent years. Overhead utility lines have fallen during natural disasters and have blocked roadways, preventing emergency crews access to neighborhoods and hindering evacuations.

Downed poles caused fires in Laguna Beach in September 2007, February 2011, September 2012 and in July 2015. In 10 years, there have been more than 58 auto accidents that have downed utility wires and resulted in the closure of Laguna Canyon Road. The most recent occurred Oct. 16, when the road was closed for 17 hours.

Proponents and opponents of the tax have voiced their positions.

“We are reminded almost daily of public safety threats from utility lines and poles,” Whalen said. “Last Friday night (Oct. 12) Laguna Canyon Road was closed again, this time for almost six hours due to a car knocking over a power pole. I’m hearing every day from residents that they are voting yes on Measure P because they understand the risks that above ground power lines present.”

Jennifer Zeiter, a Laguna Beach attorney who heads up STOP (Stop Taxing Our Property), a grassroots group that opposes what it deems unnecessary taxation, calls the city’s effort to push Measure P “fearmongering.”

Random undergrounding won’t guarantee safety, she says, pointing to an already increased number of firefighters and improved technology to keep the town safe.

There are new larger water tanks, fuel modification, weed abatement, tree trimming, goats and defensible space requirements around all homes. The city also recently became the county’s first to issue its own wireless alerts and earlier this year activated the police department’s drone force that regularly monitors the city’s open space and wild land area for illegal warming fires and campsites.

“The city is running a false “fear and fire” campaign, using emotions to convince residents they will be trapped or doomed if we don’t underground utilities,” Zeiter said. “It’s disingenuous and its a money grab. The biggest fires in Laguna (in 1993 and most recently this past summer) have both been caused by humans (arson and negligence, respectively), not overhead utility poles.”

Zeiter counters the city’s claim of fire risks by saying that of the 394 fires over the past 10 years, only six were caused by utilities, and none of them major.

“That’s a 1.52 percent historical risk of fire by utilities, less than 2 percent,” she said. “It’s incredibly financially irresponsible to increase the sales tax by an effective 12.9 percent for the next 25 years and put our city in its greatest debt ever by issuing bonds in the hundreds of millions of dollars for a less than 2 percent historical risk.”

Instead of agreeing to the 1 percent sales tax increase, Zeiter and STOP say the city should pay as it goes and incentivize undergrounding in neighborhoods as has been done in the past.

MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — OC Ballot Measures — October 17, 2018

This should be the final episode of the Orange County Voter Guide for the November General Election. The edition below focuses on the various ballot measures around the county for school bonds and city election formats, tax increases, and other proposals.

The days that I’ve been warning about are here. The big open secret is that tax increases through local ballot measures are not for public safety or whatever else sounds manipulatively good enough to garner votes from naive residents. These tax increase requests are to fund overly generous public employee defined benefit pension plans.

I warned this day was coming (see just one of many examples at MOORLACH UPDATE — Pension Boosts are a Bad Bargain). The link includes public quotes of mine from 14 years ago!

Allow me to provide ten general rules and observations, which will hopefully explain my positions.

One: Vote against bonds. For school bonds, increasing property taxes will hurt homeowners and renters, especially new homeowners who have purchased at recent all-time real estate market highs. (Note: Lowell Joint School District is headquartered in Los Angeles County and was not included in my school district Voter Guides.) We’ve shown you that Santa Ana Unified School District is in such terrible shape, the worst by far in the OC, that throwing more money at this mismanaged district would be a huge mistake (see MOORLACH UPDATE — LAUSD vs. OC School Districts — September 18, 2018). Proposition 39 (2000) lowered the 2/3 voter threshold to only requiring 55% of the vote when the school bond measure is on a ballot for a regularly scheduled election.

Two: Vote against imposing term limits. The reason for establishing term limits — with Proposition 140 in 1990 — was to get rid of then-Speaker of the Assembly Willie Brown. But, I’ve seen how it has negatively impacted Sacramento and the OC Board of Supervisors. Term limits are not an appropriate solution to deal with incompetent, overly opportunistic or clinging-to-a-position office holders. In Sacramento, term limits took power and influence away from elected officials and gave it to unelected bureaucrats, staffers and lobbyists.

Three: Vote against corporate cronyism that enriches developers and stresses the existing infrastructure. Opposing Anaheim’s two developmental agreements are easy votes.

Four: Vote against minimum wage increases. The Anaheim measure is a brilliant, but diabolical union money grab that will hurt more than it will help.

Five: Vote against sales tax increases. Poor management decisions from the past should not be your future personal financial burden. The amount of revenues generated could be equaled by the employees of the cities taking a small salary reduction. If this is too difficult for them, the private sector job market is on fire and they can easily find a new job there. They may realize, however, how good their total compensation and benefit package really is and how unfair it is for the taxpayers to underwrite these costs. Special tax increases still requires a 2/3 voter approval to be implemented.

Although Laguna Beach has honorably dedicated their proposed 1% sales tax towards the undergrounding of electric lines, I just voted for, and the Governor signed, SB 901 to provide Cap and Trade funding for this particular infrastructure improvement (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1463 Epilogue — October 4, 2018).

Six: With cities being coerced into establishing districts from which council candidates must arise, why should those candidates have to run citywide? I do not agree with splitting municipalities into districts for many reasons. But, if it is being forced on the electorate, then focusing a candidate’s campaign just on the voters in that district is the fairer approach to pursue.

Seven: If a city wishes to pursue financing that skirts obtaining voter approval, why not require it anyway in the charter?

Eight: Should a city have a separate tax on cannabis? Why set this precedent? What product comes next? All to make the annual pension plan contribution?

Nine: Although taxing tourists is an easy thing to do, should you disadvantage your accommodation providers just to make the annual pension plan contribution?

Ten: Should you approve one massive charter amendment, when some components are questionable? Or should the various components have been provided in separate ballot measures?

School District Measures
Los Alamitos USD
G Los Alamitos USD – Los Alamitos Unified School District  NO
Bond Measure

Lowell Joint School District

LL Lowell Joint SD – Lowell Joint School District NO
Newport-Mesa USD
H Newport-Mesa USD – Newport-Mesa Unified School District  NO
Trustee Term Limits

Santa Ana USD

I Santa Ana USD – Santa Ana Unified School District  NO
Bond Measure

City Measures

Anaheim
J City of Anaheim – Referendum Measure Approving  NO
Development Agreement No. 2016-00001
K City of Anaheim – Referendum Measure Approving  NO
Development Agreement No. 2016-00002
L City of Anaheim – Initiative Ordinance to Increase Minimum  NO
Wage Payable by Certain Hospitality Industry Employers
Cypress
M City of Cypress – Rezones 3.86 Acres Located at 5081 Orange  YES
Avenue from PS-1A Public/Semi-Public to PC Planning
Community (PC-14) in Compliance with Measure D
Garden Grove (1% Sales Tax Increase)
O City of Garden Grove – Garden Grove Public Safety/9-1-1 and  NO
Vital City Services Measure
Laguna Beach (1% Sales Tax Increase)
P City of Laguna Beach – Laguna Beach Utility Undergrounding  NO
and Fire Safety Measure
Lake Forest
Q City of Lake Forest – Advisory Vote Only: Convert from  NO
By-District to At-Large Council Elections
R City of Lake Forest – At-Large City Council Elections Ordinance NO
S City of Lake Forest – City Council Term Limit Ordinance NO
Newport Beach
T City of Newport Beach – Require Voter Approval Prior to  YES
Issuing or Incurring Certain Debt Obligations
Placentia (1% Sales Tax Increase)
U City of Placentia – 911/Essential Services Measure NO
San Clemente
V City of San Clemente – San Clemente, Initiative for Election of YES
City Council Members by District
Santa Ana (1.5% Sales Tax Increase & Cannabis Tax)
X City of Santa Ana – General Sales Tax Measure NO
Y City of Santa Ana – Commercial Cannabis Business License Tax NO
Z City of Santa Ana – Charter Amendment Measure NO
AA City of Santa Ana – By-Ward Elections YES
Seal Beach (1% Sales Tax Increase)
BB City of Seal Beach – Seal Beach Transaction and Use Tax NO
Tustin (3% Transient Occupancy Tax Increase)
CC City of Tustin – Increase Transient Occupancy Tax NO

 

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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