San Juan Capistrano

UPDATE: Nonprofit free speech advocacy group First Amendment Project joins newspaper ban fight.




CITY FILES “ANTI-SLAPP” MOTION AGAINST CCS 
           
          By Kim Lefner

The saga of the newspaper ban continues. The most recent action came when the City, led by Mayor Sam Allevato, hired (with your tax dollars) one of the most expensive law firms in the state to argue before a judge that the majority of the council has a First Amendment right to essentially, ban the First Amendment right to free speech on city property.

On January 21, the council majority filed what is called an “anti-SLAPP motion” against the Community Common Sense (CCS). “SLAPP” stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, described by the non-profit organization First Amendment Project as follows; “The United States and California constitutions grant every person the right to participate in government and civic affairs, speak freely on public issues, and petition government officials for redress of grievances. Yet, individuals and community groups are often sued for exercising these constitutional rights. These suits are known as "SLAPPs," or "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation."

By filing their “anti-SLAAP” motion, the council majority is arguing that the residents behind CCS are violating Councilmen Allevato, Kramer and Taylor’s right to free speech, under the theory that the council majority has a First Amendment right to violate the Brown Act by (illegally) voting on an item that was (illegally) identified on the agenda, and then (illegally) failed to report the vote in open session.

Mission Viejo

ETHICS MATTER

By Joe Holtzman

Occasionally, voters get a glimpse of a council candidate’s ethics. Mission Viejo residents should note the record of Wendy Bucknum, who serves on the city’s Community Services Commission and who has announced her intention to run for City Council.

On December 2, the Mission Viejo City Council reviewed recommendations of the Community Service Funding program. Mayor Rhonda Reardon attempted to prevent citizens from making Public Comments about the agenda item but as the mayor began to move on to the next item, I objected from the audience, and the city attorney advised the council of my right to speak.

I informed the council that one of the Community Service Commissioners, Wendy Bucknum, had not recused herself on a vote, Item 24, where she has/had an involvement with a group requesting money from the taxpayer-funded program. I pointed out that this action was an unacceptable conflict of interest, and that the Chairman of that Commission, Bob Breton, who is an attorney, had inappropriately provided “cover” for Bucknum by citing his own participation in similar decisions.

San Juan Capistrano Guest Column


                              BIG BUCKS IN A SMALL TOWN ELECTION

                                                 By John Perry

It’s a well known fact that if you have access to a lot of money, your chances of winning an election is enhanced. Just ask political lobbyist David Ellis, nicknamed “The Fixer” by the OC Register, who bragged that if you gave him $20,000 he could get you elected to any City Council in Orange County.


Money is certainly playing a critical role in the current recall of long time city councilman Sam Allevato. His benefactors have spent an estimated $40,000 on two Florida-based opinion polls, five professionally created full color flyers and attack mailers, four full-page advertisements in the Dispatch, and development of a web site. Allevato is also paying for the services of lobbyist Dave Ellis and political consultant Eileen Padberg.

The big question is; who is behind the funding of Allevato’s expensive campaign to stop the recall from gathering the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot? None of the mailers and hit pieces that have been sent out list a registered political action committee (PAC) as required by law, so no donation disclosure forms will be available for public scrutiny. Why are the people and/or organizations that are funding Allevato trying so hard to keep him in office, and in such a secretive manner? Is he a reliable vote for the special interests, including the Ranch, developers and lobbyists? We will never know for sure but logic dictates that wise businessmen don’t spend money without expecting a return on their investment.

San Juan Capistrano

                   
            LETTER TO THE EDITOR

                          Unspinning the Spin

I recently received in my mailbox a “newsletter” from the City entitled “City News and Notes”. I was astounded at some of the claims in this newsletter which read more like a Public Relations fluff piece than a City update. I wanted to highlight some of the issues that the city is putting its "spin" on of late:

City spin #1: "The 18-acre Reata Park & Visitors Center, made possible by the volunteerism of the Open Space Foundation”. 

Un-spin:  Last I checked, I am being charged about $300 a year to pay for this “open space” property that the Open Space Foundation negotiated for with my tax dollars behind closed doors and to which they, not I, have been given exclusive access. Meanwhile, my family and I (along with every other average taxpaying citizen) are prohibited from setting foot on it. So, we taxpayers pay the mortgage and upkeep, the private foundation gets to put their permanent sign on it, they get access to it and we’re supposed to thank them for their “volunteerism”?

San Juan Capistrano

     
          LETTER TO THE EDITOR

   City Newsletter; "News” or Editorial?

As a San Juan Capistrano resident, I received an insert in my water bill this month, depicting how the Ground Water Recovery Plant is allegedly cost-effective and “reliable”.

As someone trained in statistical presentations I am both appalled and embarrassed for the city by this insert.
From a legal standpoint, the city cannot send out inserts at resident’s expense to (attempt to) explain a fact that would defend a councilmember currently legally involved in a recall process. I have never seen a similar insert in the 18 years I’ve been a resident, so this clearly isn’t a common practice. In my opinion, this opens up the city and that individual to personal liability.

Equally importantly, from a statistical viewpoint the insert is presented as fact when in its current format it is completely editorial. Here are just a few of the flaws:

San Juan Capistrano


            Letter to the Editor

Councilman Larry Kramer Responds 
            to Water Questions

Melissa Kaffen wrote in the January CCS that she came away from the Water Forum with more questions than answers. Space does not allow me to answer all of her questions, but luckily there is another water forum scheduled for February wherein she may get more answers to her questions. I will attempt to answer just a couple of her questions here.
1. Why is the city adding chloramine to the GWRP water?

Chloramines are disinfectants used to treat drinking water. Water that contains chloramines and meets EPA regulatory standards is safe to use for drinking, cooking, bathing and other household uses. The California Department of Public Health (DPH) requires that we disinfect water served to the public.
The purpose of chloramines is to provide longer-lasting water treatment as the water moves through pipes to consumers. Chloramines have been used by water utilities for almost 90 years. More than one in five Americans uses drinking water treated with chloramines.  The water that Metropolitan Water District (MET) provides to the City is disinfected using chloramines.  There has been no link to any deteriation of water pipes or pinholes in pipes or equipment in research conducted by the EPA and AWWA (American Water Works Association). Chloramines are used in place of chlorine because of its less aggressive nature and longevity in a water system. (This information was obtained from the EPA website and officials at the City of San Juan Capistrano.)

Mission Viejo

ITF TOURNAMENT COSTS 
RAISE QUESTIONS

Staff Writer

How many people would sign a 28-page contract if their copy had only 11 pages? During the July 1, 2013 city council meeting, council members approved a contract to host a for-profit International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournament for professional wheelchair tennis players. The concept may be noble however, the council approved this without knowing the cost to taxpayers.

The council approved budgeting $55,000 for the event after staff members indicated the money would be repaid. Without further approval however, the city manager spent at least $239,350 and costs are still mounting for the event held in November 2013.

The following list illustrates the problem with the apparent unwillingness to account for how taxpayer funds are spent:

Mission Viejo

THE COST OF BIG GOVERNMENT STARTS AT HOME

by Ed Sachs

One lesson we are learning with the implementation of Obamacare is that government cannot deliver better services than the private sector. Of greater concern is the amount of tax payer dollars wasted by big government today. In 2012, the Cato Institute reported that the average total wages, pension and healthcare per federal civilian employee was $114,976. The same total compensation for a private-sector employee was an average of $65,917.

In Mission Viejo, 41 of our 273 city employees earn over $100,000 in wages alone. Seventy-five employees are paid over $75,000 in wages alone. In Mission Viejo 27% of its city employees are earning 71% of wages paid. The cost of pension and healthcare in 2012 to the residents of Mission Viejo was $3.3 million dollars. Mission Viejo has 82 employees whose total compensation (with pension and benefits) is greater than $100,000. Private companies cannot afford this kind of earnings imbalance. Government does not compete nor is it required to make a profit. It just spends more of your money.

San Juan Capistrano

COUNCIL CONSIDERING RE-ZONE OF VERMEULEN AGRICULTURAL PROPERTY TO 
“VERY HIGH DENSITY” 

Continuing Life Communities LLC (“CLC”) is proposing to develop a “very high-density” retirement community with 420 units in 3-story buildings plus a 120-bed long-term care medical facility on the Vermeulen property where Armstrong’s Nursery “growing grounds” currently reside. Armstrongs is moving to Ventura.

Mission Viejo

TRUST BUT VERIFY CITY’S CLAIMS 
OF PROGRAM SUCCESS - Part I

By Larry Gilbert

I often reference President Reagan's "Trust, but verify" advice. Too many elected officials make claims that go unchallenged. The focus of this Part One report addresses the topic of relinquishing around $470,000 of Mission Viejo (MV) permit fees when it may not have been necessary.

From January, 2012 through July, 2012 the city of MV created a program led by councilman Frank Ury titled "Improve, Don't Move." IDM. During this time frame, roughly 1,700 applications from residential and commercial properties were processed. MV waived 100% of residential fees and 25% of commercial fees.

Analysis confirms that our IDM program did not achieve the great success touted by councilman Ury. Let's not overlook the fact that we compensated the independent contractor firm of Charles Abbott Associates (CAA) for "Building Plan Check and Inspection Services" in which they were paid between 55-59% based on the monthly fees collected. During the 2012 IDM program we paid CAA around $550,000 for their services. Analysis of the six months following the discount program time frame confirms that at $610,000 we actually paid CAA 10% more for the same services. Following are specific facts:
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