Larry Kramer: A Good Man with a Bad Habit

Open Letter to San Juan Capistrano from Roy L Byrnes, M. D. former Mayor

Larry Kramer and I have been friends. Nevertheless, when Larry asked for my vote in the City Council election, I had to think about it. Here’s what I know about Larry. 

Kramer’s election pamphlet says: ”Time for a Change”, but he’s been the instigator of the very things requiring change. Larry wants you to think he’s a “Reforming Outsider” -- but in truth, for years he’s been a member of San Juan's inside power-elite whose terrible decisions have messed-up our City.

Illustrations of the Need for Change of Leadership

City Council Meetings...

Kim Lefner

-Water rate increase
: City CFO Cindy Russell had asked water consultants hired by the City for recommendations to raise revenue (despite already increasing our water rates by 40% this year). One recommendation was an "MtBE surcharge". Fortunately the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association weighed in that such a “surcharge” would violate Prop 218. The council subsequently abandoned the proposed tax, using Chevron’s agreement to settle the MTBE contamination issue as the reason. That claim is suspect however, given the City’s quest to generate revenue and the HJTA's question about the legality of the “surcharge”. One resident remarked that the City appears to be using water fees as a piggy bank to bail out their bad decisions.

- Trash fee increase: City staff twisted themselves into pretzels defending a trash fee hike during a time period prohibited by CR&R’s contract. When resident Clint Worthington questioned the apparent breach in contract, City Engineer Ziad Mahboudi didn’t deny it. Instead, he attempted to explain it away by saying that it was actually better for us customers, as if that makes breaching a legal contract OK.

Unintended Costs of a Council

Ian Smith, CCS Reader

In recent weeks we’ve learned about issues of pay and perks in the City of Bell but only recently have we learned of analogous issues in San Juan Capistrano.. The Orange County Register has published a list of the salaries of our city staff. Yes, it also includes the perks received by our own city council members.

Many of us are learning of these issues for the first time. Frankly, I am shocked how little we knew before reading this alarming article. I suggest you go to the OC Register web site and click on cities and then San Juan Capistrano issue 10-01 and 09-30 all currently available to view.

You will see that our city council has paid the City Manager one of the highest annual salaries in the county, $325,000 even though we are not nearly as large as the average size city. Please observe that we have five (5) employees who are in the high salary levels above $200,000 per year. There are the additional costs of their healthcare (including dental and vision care), pensions, sick pay and other benefits. There is also one omission from the OC Register list; the additional high salaried staff running the Water Department that inexplicably is not listed! Please note we reimburse city staffers for certain sick leave even if they are not sick. Wow some perk! If the private sector behaved like this you could not count the bankruptcies! We all know that the State of California has severe fiscal problems but we must all realize this problem is rooted in our home city as well. Please say your peace to our leaders!

The Boondoggle that Won't Go Away?

A Halloween Trick...

Wow! It seems like just a few months ago that our city fathers professed their absolute need for a new City Hall. We heard justifications ranging from IT-problems, ADA problems, leaking roof, staff complaints and even mold! Mark Nielsen even tried to imply that the city would lose out on unspecified "grant opportunities" because the building was not ADA-compliant. We were told that "millions of dollars" were at stake!

Obviously, Nielsen and the others were just kidding. While our good old City Hall chugs along, this City Council has presided over the loss of $9.3 million in court to a local property owner who was able to convince a jury that his Constitutional Rights had been violated by our City Fathers. It had nothing to do with the ADA and it wasn't a very difficult argument. Now, despite the fact that our City is on the verge of bankruptcy with no money or insurance to satisfy the court judgement and meet our basic needs, our dissonant City Fathers continue to debate in secret closed-door sessions about the acquisition of Serra Plaza as a new City Hall!

Will the wonders and willfulness of government never cease? It matters not to, Uso, Hribar, Allevato and Freese, that our little municipality is on the verge of insolvency (they are, in part, responsible for this). These council members won't be around when the bills come due. But the future of our town depends on dealing with our new reality now. The city must be made to fit within our existing City Hall and our drastically reduced budget.

Our Take on the San Juan Capistrano City Election

The present Council is badly flawed and arguably the most deceptive in City history. A major housecleaning is needed to rid City Hall of “good ol' boy” cronies Mark Nielsen, Lon Uso and Larry Kramer.

As we see it, incumbents Nielsen, Uso and Kramer (a member of the Traffic Commission and infamous “Open Space Committee”) must be removed. While candidate John Taylor seems to be a nice guy, he is supported (some say hand-picked) by the “good ol' boys club”. If the status quo is what you want, then John Taylor, Mark Nielsen and Larry Kramer are your men.
Reform is necessary for a number of reasons. Take for example the council's unwise actions recently which caused a $6.8 million adverse court judgment that we citizens must pay. With interest accruing at roughly $1780 per day, the judgment is now up to $9.4 million with attorney's fees. This one judgment will pretty much whip out our General Fund and there isn't enough in reserves to cover it. So where will our council get the money to pay it? They are prohibited from taking it from the redevelopment agency funds. However, the don't seem to mind taxing the residents more, so another water rate increase is one possible scenario.
Our message is clear: Nielsen, Uso and Kramer are all closely associated with the above malfunctions; they should not be returned or elected to office. We need strong, principled independent leadership to restore stability, accountability, and transparency to our city government. We urge voters to support the team of Derek Reeve, Jim Reardon and Clint Worthington.

A Matter of Trust

Derek Reeve, CCS Reader

At a recent city council meeting, Mayor Uso insisted that the people of San Juan Capistrano should trust their city council. It embarrassingly came across like a used car salesman trying to sell the city a lemon. The people do not trust the current city council because collectively they make maddening contradictory arguments on policy and spending. Furthermore, each has betrayed their campaign pledge for transparency in city government. You remember transparency? It is that popular yet often abused phrase that has been tarred and feathered, and locked away in a secret vault in the council’s political purgatory.

The people of San Juan do not trust the city council because many of their arguments are simply and blatantly illogical. Take the issues of revenue and spending. The city council is poised to approve the Distrito-La Novia Meadows project for the primary stated reason of increasing much needed revenue for the city. However, while the council approves transformative development projects to raise alleged needed revenues, they in turn spend money like it is going out of style. They are in secret negotiations to buy an unneeded new city hall, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollar on unwanted consultants, and they continue to acquire millions of dollars of unconscionable grants that require city matching funds. The city council however will never explain where all this money is coming from.

The most recent matching fund grant came from OCTA totaling 1.5 million dollars in order to plant native plants in the northwest corridor. This is Orange County tax payer dollars plus, according to our records, almost four hundred thousand dollars of San Juan tax payer dollars to garden our open space. Yet when it was discovered that residents in San Juan were being overcharged for trash services and an audit was needed, the city council expressed concern that the audit might be too expensive. Our city council acts schizophrenic as to whether we have money to burn or whether we need to pinch our pennies.

The hesitation to audit the trash service also has everything to do with keeping that abused transparency from peeking out of its vault. The city council does not want this embarrassing issue to become known before the upcoming historic election. So much of what the city council does is designed to keep the people in the dark. The city council agenda is often packed with non essential items while placing the more important substantive issues placed at the end of the agenda after everyone has left and gone to sleep. Take for example the issue of double tracking in San Juan Capistrano. This is an issue every current city council member campaigned against. Yet at 11:40 pm on September 21, 2010, after even the local journalists had gone home, the city council all but approved double tracking through town.

The willingness by the city council to overtly avoid transparency has legal consequences as well. All substantive council decisions must be properly noticed in the council agenda and allow for public debate. The double tracking issue was clearly not listed in the agenda. It was hidden in the agenda as a “status report” for an ad hoc open space sub-committee. It was impossible for the public to know that the double tracking issue was on the agenda and no public debate was allowed. This is not new for our city council. Remember that unneeded city hall that the council is negotiating to purchase? That likewise was not properly identified on the agenda. It is consequently not surprising that Mark Nielsen and the rest of the city council were investigated by the Orange County District Attorney for violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. Unfortunately the investigation will not be completed until after the election.

It is no wonder the people of San Juan do not trust our city council. The council has spent tax payer funds and purposed development projects illogically. Furthermore, the council has taken every step imaginable to keep the people in the dark. I am sorry Mayor Uso, but trust is earned.
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