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Streetlight repair times uneven across L.A.

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Streetlight repair interactive map

Streetlight repair interactive map

How long does it take a city electrician to replace a light bulb? It’s not a trick question. The answer: It depends on where you live.

City repair records indicate that residents in some Los Angeles neighborhoods waited an average of eight days to have their lights repaired, while some waited just two.

Repairs lagged both in the city’s wealthiest and poorest districts. With such a wide region to cover, officials struggled to provide even-handed service. Spots of darkness annoyed and unnerved residents across town. Now, the Bureau of Street Lighting may soon ask residents to pay more for maintenance — a proposition that could meet some resistance.

“They’re already paying for those services, and they deserve them,” said Councilman Curren Price Jr., whose South Los Angeles district is among the slowest. “They should have the lights on.”

Bureau of Street Lighting officials blame the delays on equipment, geography, copper theft and budget cuts. Some neighborhoods have 90-year-old systems and the bureau doesn’t stock replacement parts; crews have to wait for orders. And they say it simply takes longer to drive to Brentwood from East Hollywood, where the central maintenance yard is located.

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Officials get cash for concerts, funerals, parties

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register

Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register

Orange County Register

On Thursday evenings during the summer, the elected directors of the Midway City Sanitary District enjoy the Westminster Concerts in the Park and some charge trash and sewer ratepayers for a “day of service” – $207.

All five of the sewage directors attended the 2012 series, which featured a local bagpipe group. Midway City board members Frank Cobo and Allan Krippner claimed meeting pay, according to public records, for four shows total.

It’s about “interacting with the people whom we serve,” Krippner said. “Believe me. You don’t get rich on this little job.”

The bagpipe concerts are one example of how directors are compensated at 15 Orange County special districts, small independent agencies responsible for water, sewer or trash removal.

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While fees climbed, pension earnings lagged

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)

orangecountyOrange County’s public pension system poured money into hedge funds, private equity and other so-called alternative investments during the past six years, but the returns have proven mediocre despite costing millions in fees.

This year alone, the fund is expecting to pay $54.5 million to alternative-investment managers, according to a budget briefing document obtained by the Orange County Register.

But in financial reports through the first half of the year, the pension system disclosed none of those fees. Officials said they are following standard government reporting practices.

Indeed, the Orange County Employees Retirement System is not alone.

As pension funds nationwide struggle to make up large unfunded liabilities, public officials have shifted billions of dollars to risky investments like hedge funds instead of traditional stocks and bonds. Fund leaders say it’s a way to diversify their portfolios, and they argue for patience with new investments.

But experts say the results, in most cases, have been lackluster earnings for public pension funds and a boon for Wall Street money managers.

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Could supervisor’s votes be conflicts?

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Jebb Harris, Orange County Register

Orange County Register

It was a cozy affair – a gathering of high-powered Orange County hospital leaders paying tribute to county Supervisor Janet Nguyen.

About 15 executives huddled with Nguyen on Feb. 28, 2012, in the Lemon Heights home of Dan Brothman, CEO of Western Medical Center Santa Ana and senior vice president of operations for Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc. They noshed on meatballs in Brothman’s family room and inked $5,000 worth of checks for Nguyen’s summer re-election.

Brothman would later describe the fundraiser as a “meet and greet” with Nguyen.

Two days later, Nguyen voted as a trustee for Orange County’s health network for the poor – Cal-Optima – to pay $750,000 to IHHI-owned hospitals to settle a lawsuit over unpaid bills. A unanimous vote March 1, 2012, by five members of CalOptima’s board of directors was held in closed session and has still not been disclosed by CalOptima.

The 2009 breach-of-contract lawsuit by IHHI alleged CalOptima failed to pay Integrated Healthcare hospitals for $2 million worth of services to Medi-Cal patients covered by CalOptima. Court records show it is one of a number of similar suits filed by hospitals against the agency.

The Orange County Register confirmed the vote and the settlement through court documents and interviews with officials involved in the case.

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Water officials’ meals, travel top $170,000

Posted on 31 March 2014 (0)
Michael Kitada, for the Register

Michael Kitada, for the Register

Orange County Register

They ordered a $50 bone-in aged rib-eye steak and crème brulee at The Falls Prime Steakhouse in Palm Springs. At a dinner for two, the Mesa Water District board members charged $144 to a district credit card.

It was the eve of last year’s Urban Water Institute conference, which featured such topics as “explaining to constituents why water rates are going up while water use is down.”

The dinner was a small portion of what top Mesa Water managers and directors spend on conferences, food and travel. Credit card statements and other expense documents obtained by the Register show that five directors and eight staff members rang up more than $170,000 in expenses over 2011 and 2012.

Spending ranged widely among the 13 – one individual spent less than $2,000, the general manager more than $30,000.

During the two years, they charged $45,500 for in-town meals, at least $36,000 at hotels and $21,000 in airfare.

All the directors rode in jets, three rode in chauffeured town cars and one rented a Cadillac sedan for $409. Four of them also dined at Ruth’s Chris Steak House and several at the Balboa Bay Club.

Four directors also collected $207 stipends for a “general manager meeting” on the same days they dined with the district’s chief executive at local restaurants, with the tab picked up by the district.

“The reason all this is happening is nobody is paying attention to them,” said Robert Stern, an attorney who helped write the state’s Political Reform Act. “Nobody’s watching.”

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Vaccination divide holds along class lines

Posted on 31 October 2013 (0)
Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register

Ed Crisostomo, Orange County Register

Orange County Register

The doctor with a soothing voice assured her it was safe.

Connie Kraus and her infant son sat down for a “shot talk” in the Capistrano Beach office of famous alternative medicine pediatrician, Dr. Bob Sears. He told her risks of some childhood vaccines outweigh the benefits, said Kraus, who elected for a few immunizations but decided to hold off on measles, mumps and rubella shots.

Years later, Kraus’s friend lectured her about developing infertility from the diseases. Swayed, she vaccinated Munroe at age 8.

“I’m not willing to completely ignore public health concerns,” Kraus said Monday, at Journey School in Aliso Viejo, where her son attends second grade. “I try to take in both sides.”

She’s not alone. As more parents choose to skip or delay vaccinations for their school children, Orange County has developed a health divide. A county report released last week shows that affluent and mostly white communities, especially in South Orange County, have the lowest kindergarten vaccination rates, while lower-income areas are nearly fully immunized.

“Highly educated people are using other sources to question the reasoning behind recommendations for their children,” said Dr. David Nunez, the family health medical director at Orange County Health Care Agency. “People in these areas are exposed to more information and more misinformation.”

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Lifeguards’ Pensions Under Scrutiny in State

Posted on 04 May 2012 (0)

lifeguards

Los Angeles Times

As lifeguards begin their busy summer season, the bronzed guardians of California’s beaches find themselves at the unlikely center of the battle over costly public pensions.

The six-figure salaries of some full-time municipal lifeguards have fueled talk radio segments and blog comments in recent weeks, with some commentators expressing surprise at the pay for those who patrol the beaches.

For local government, the larger concern is over the pensions that lifeguards receive when they retire. Most full-time lifeguards get the most generous public retirement plan — the same “public safety” pensions received by police officers and firefighters. Lifeguards argue that they deserve the benefits because they put their lives at risk, not just from rescuing beachgoers but because of an elevated risk of skin cancer from years under the sun.

But a growing number of cities — including Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and San Diego — are demanding that lifeguards cut their pensions. Solana Beach has already taken action, eliminating the most generous plan, which made lifeguards eligible for a pension worth up to 90% of their largest paycheck at age 50. Pensions for new hires top out at about one-third less.

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Costa Mesa: A City Divided

Posted on 03 May 2012 (0)
Scott Smeltzer, Daily Pilot)

(Scott Smeltzer, Daily Pilot)

Daily Pilot

City fight pits ideology against fiscal realities
First in a series about Costa Mesa’s political battle

The Ruhls are a throwback to simpler times.

The sweet smell of fresh-baked coffee cake drifts out their front door. Their tidy Mission Viejo townhome’s bathroom is stocked with wholesome magazines like Good Housekeeping.

Megan can stay at home with their two young children because her husband, Costa Mesa firefighter Mike Ruhl, makes enough to support them. His base salary is $74,000, and overtime brought him to about $115,000 in 2011.

“It’s all about being a dad and a husband,” said Mike Ruhl, 26.

The city compensates Ruhl for risking his life while fighting fires, but the pay and benefits that allow him to provide for his family are illustrative of a different kind of blaze — a political one — engulfing Costa Mesa.

Public employees like Ruhl say the compensation they receive affords them middle-class lifestyles, while the reform-minded City Council majority sees those employees’ salaries, benefits and retirement plans as impediments to the city’s long-term fiscal stability.

Outsource as many government functions as possible, they say, and the city will save on employment costs accumulated over the past decade.

But organized labor supporters argue the city can efficiently serve residents and businesses, while maintaining job security for loyal public workers. Employees are joined by members of a grass-roots community group and the lone dissenter on the council. Many say the council majority exaggerated the fiscal crisis and may have even concocted a political ruse.

When a maintenance worker, faced with a layoff notice, committed suicide about a year and a half ago, the political fight clearly intensified. But the conflict’s causes date back more than a decade, according to an extensive review of past budgets and interviews conducted by the Daily Pilot. Previous council decisions, a change in council leadership and the recession have brought Costa Mesa to an unprecedented political precipice that could reshape its local government.

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Eelgrass: Boon to the Ecology, Bane to Boaters

Posted on 03 December 2011 (0)
(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

(Don Leach, Daily Pilot)

Los Angeles Times

To some swimmers and boaters it’s a messy, gunk-filled weed, but to the federal government, this ribbon-like plant is crucial to the ecology of coastal bays.

Eelgrass, a protected species of marine life, provides sea creatures with food and protection. Yet many Newport Harbor-area residents and boat owners consider the plant a major headache. They say stringent federal protections instituted 10 years ago make it too expensive to dredge beneath their docks. They say so much silt has accumulated underwater that the keels of sailboats are scraping bottom.

“Boats are hard to use when they’re on the sand,” said home and dock owner Seymour Beek.

The city of Newport Beach is requesting an exemption from federal regulations, saying that an experimental technology used in the Bay Area is one of several new strategies that can help preserve eelgrass at a fraction of the current expense.

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Special Report: Pol’s Address in Doubt

Posted on 03 December 2011 (0)
Mike Reicher, Daily Pilot

Mike Reicher, Daily Pilot

Daily Pilot

A candidate for state office may not have lived in the district he seeks to represent at the time he registered to vote, when he submitted his nomination papers, and when he voted there during the primary election, according to campaign finance and voter registration records and accounts from several neighbors.

Businessman Phu Nguyen, the Democratic candidate for the Costa Mesa-area 68th Assembly District, grew up in a home within the district and stated during an interview that he moved back in before he registered to vote, but neighbors and public records indicate that he did not.

If that is the case, election law experts say, he may have committed perjury on his voting affidavit and on his nomination papers, and may have voted fraudulently. Officials and legal experts cite the California election code, which says an Assembly candidate must be qualified to vote, and therefore have his or her “domicile” in the district.

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