How Many 800 lb Gorillas Are Needed
to Change a Light Bulb at City Hall?

By Roy L. Byrnes, MD Former Mayor, San Juan Capistrano 

The undisclosed and unfunded liability for San Juan Capistrano employee retirement/ health care remains a grinning 800 pound Gorilla lounging in a corner of City Hall.

With a population of 34,734, San Juan has an estimated pension liability of $17.3 million or $500 per resident. San Clemente, in contrast, has double our population at 63,743 residents yet San Clemente has less pension liability; $16.6 million or $262 per resident. Clearly, the difference is a reflection of the financial largess of our recent City Councils. The present Council has avoided confronting this issue of over-generous employee benefits. For years citizens have been justifiably demanding that the Council institute hiring and wage freezes and decrease payroll costs. The Council has continued to ignore the wise advice of concerned citizens but it’s time the Council ‘fessed up to the following 4 simple questions:
  • What are we obligated to pay for retirement benefits? 
  • When is this going to occur? 
  • Where do we get the money? 
  • What steps are necessary to avoid future problems? 
True, the new City Manager was hired with a less generous retirement package than her predecessors – a step in the right direction. But at the same time, the City Clerk received a raise and has a generous car allowance even though it’s unmerited since hers is a desk job. Clearly the salary increase is a step backwards. The Council still hasn’t gotten the message.

So far, this problem has been virtually ignored. The Council has been attacking Mt. Everest with a toothpick when what is needed is a stem-to-stern re-evaluation of City Hall pay and benefit packages in order to bring the compensation of our public service workers in line with comparable positions in the private sector.

Forgotten Neighborhoods & Residents

By Kim McCarthy 

Past and present City Council members have stated that their focus has mostly been on development and downtown redevelopment. They call it “Preserving the Past to Enhance the Future”. 

But in the 11 years I have lived here, instead of enhancing the future I have witnessed council members take actions that contribute to the creation of a sanctuary city for illegal aliens, criminals and welfare recipients.

The result of council actions can be seen in many of our neighborhoods. One example is a neighborhood off Del Obispo that I visited recently. My friends have lived there for decades, raising their children there when it was a new, safe, family-friendly community. They have watched the decline of their once middle-class neighborhood into a gang injunction zone littered with broken beer bottles, abandoned cars and graffiti.

How did this happen, I asked? My friends said neighbors who weren’t lucky enough to sell and get out before the complete transformation have been intimidated into silence by gang bangers threatening them if they complain about the graffiti being spray painted on garages and fences, or the drug paraphernalia left on patches of dying grass. A few of the braver residents have begged City Council members to help them, but they said council members have turned a deaf ear. I asked Mayor Sam Allevato why the city doesn’t step in to help these people. His response was along the lines of well, it’s a low-income neighborhood anyway… as if that explains the council’s unwillingness to confront the problem they helped to create.

I’ve been asked why I care. After all, my friends point out the council members don’t care; why should you? Besides the fact that it’s wrong to ignore the pleas of law abiding residents who have asked for the city’s help, neighborhoods under gang injunctions and the council’s inaction ultimately drag all of our property values down.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can help our neighbors – and ourselves – by putting pressure on the council to pass ordinances addressing blighted neighborhoods. We can work with the council to address code violations and overcrowding. We can demand that the council stop spending our tax dollars on anything but essential services we were promised, like public safety and infrastructure maintenance.

More importantly, we can vote in council members who actually listen to constituents and who will take steps toward cleaning up the mess left by previous councils. Fortunately, we have this opportunity in the 2012 election.

Mobile Home Park Bankruptcy Smells

By John Perry

Just two hours before the residents of the Capistrano Terrace Mobile Home Park were scheduled to receive an offer from an insurance company to settle a “failure to maintain” lawsuit, park owners Capistrano Terrace Ltd. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

This appears to be a move by the mobile home park owners to avoid paying residents both the damages from the “failure to maintain” lawsuit and the relocation costs to which they are entitled as mandated by state law.

When asked by a reporter about the timing of the bankruptcy filing, Richard “Rick” Julian, former general partner of Capistrano Terrace Ltd said the bankruptcy was ”just a coincidence”.

The “failure to maintain” lawsuit was filed by park residents frustrated with the lack of maintenance and repair at the mobile home park. Their claims for damages included park owners refusal to flush the sewer system resulting in sewage backing up into the streets and the units; failure to repair faulty and exposed electrical wiring resulting in blackouts, brownouts and unsafe conditions; failure to maintain slopes and banks resulting in severe erosion and endangering several units; reducing water pressure so severely that units were unable to flush toilets and fire hydrants were rendered inoperable creating a fire hazard, etc.

An OC jury agreed, finding that park owners acted with “malice, oppression or fraud”. They awarded 17 residents $1.1 million in damages. Another 100+ residents have filed and have yet to have their day in court.

Some residents believe that the bankruptcy is an attempt to avoid paying the residents for any of the damages they have suffered.

Water Billing Based on “Assumptions” is a Formula for Higher Fees

By Ian Smith 

A recent staff report to our Utilities Commission revealed over 1800 calls from residents to staffers in just one month. A look at your water bill might explain why. Our water billing system is confusing. More so when errors are made, as I recently discovered.

Each monthly water billing period falls into one of four billing “cycles” or areas, within our city. I live in “Cycle 1” which consists of an area east of the I-5, south of Ortega. My bill arrived on 7/16 for the period from 5/31 - 7/06 ; a 37-day billing cycle. It took the city 10 days to deliver this bill. The bill stated payment was due on or before 8/02 (in just 16 days) or a penalty would be applied!

I then discovered my SEWER SERVICE CHARGE had been increased on 06/01. A “Sewer Service” automatic increase had been approved by the previous city council majority starting on July 1, for the next four years. But my calculations revealed that in fact the increase had been applied to the entire billing period in error (not just from July 1st on).
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