Resident Activists Serve Vital Purpose
By Larry Gilbert
In my opinion, voters in every city can and should hold local governments accountable. The following illustrates why this is so important.
During the 2002 council election in Mission Viejo, city watchdogs succeeded in removing the mayor and mayor-pro-tem. As this shock and awe was occurring and, with no discussion or approval by the Planning Commission or City Council, members of city staff authorized Granich Construction to perform what they called clean-up of "illegal dumping" below the Curtis Park ball fields.
I discovered this when reviewing city Check Registers shortly after the election. I spotted three questionable invoices that were ready for council approval during the transition of power. These three invoices totaled $120,946. At that time Granich had an Annual Maintenance Contract limited to "Emergency response for the repair and reconstruction of streets, drainage channels, storm drains and slopes."
After questioning these charges at a Jan. 2003 council meeting, the Planning Commission met with and quizzed then-Assistant City Manager Dennis Wilberg, who admitted that the city had granted permission for some of the “illegal dumping”.
A number of us found it suspect that while staff alleged that the illegal dumping was going on for many years, they chose to perform the clean-up as newly elected council members were seated.
Council member Gail Reavis and newly-elected member Trish Kelley witnessed the “clean up” which consisted of the sifting, grading and compacting of 8,000 cubic yards of dirt spread along a two hundred yard stretch below Curtis Park. Less than 30 days later this “stealth project” was halted by the city manager who instructed Dennis to have Granich cease the clean up effort. "We will be able to restart the work and finish the clean up at some future date if council determines that funds should be expended on this activity."
The concerns I expressed during a Jan. 2003 council meeting were:
1. Bogus charges of "illegal dumping" when it was sanctioned by staff.
2. A “stealth project” that Assistant City Manager Dennis Wilberg denied existed.
3. Allowing another agency and contractors to dump debris that MV taxpayers paid to remove
4. Approval of close to $200,000 to Granich Construction that was not discussed before the fact, and which exceeded the city manager's stand-alone expense cap.
Following my public comments, Saddleback Valley News reporter Magda Liszewska reported my concerns that more was going on at the site than just a clean-up and that residents and council members were not being properly notified of the scope of the work. She quoted me as stating, "If this is the beginning of a capital improvement project,CIP, it needs to be discussed." This was followed by Dennis Wilberg’s cleverly worded response: "There is at this point no CIP and no plan for one. That would be something that City Council would have to approve."
Despite Wilberg’s denial of any "stealth" activity in this area, I had a copy of a General Fund list of non-funded Capital Improvement Projects dated Jan. 15, 2001 that proved otherwise. The list included costs of $1 million each for developments at Lower Curtis Park and Gilleran Park, with a start date in 2007-08.
By Jan. 2007, the project costs, not including annual maintenance, for these as-yet unfunded CIPs for lower Curtis and lower Gilleran parks escalated to $7 million each.
"Trust, but verify" is one of my favorite Reagan quotes. If you see something that doesn't look right question those in charge.
Larry Gilbert, a retired electronics industry executive, has lived in Mission Viejo since 1977. He is an elected board member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. Larry is also a former Board Member of South Coast Christian Assembly church and leader of their Senior Ministry.Questions? Comments? The CCS wants to hear from you! Contact Mission Viejo Contributing Editor Steve Magdziak at: (949) 441-0499.