fluff, v.t. = to arouse a pornographic actor for a sexual scene.
– Urban Dictionary.
How far hath the O.C. Weekly‘s star journalist R. Scott Moxley – bane of B-1 Bob Dornan, nemesis of Crazy Dana Rohrabacher, the man who helped bring down “Little Sheriff” Mike Carona, a one-time role model for all of us aspiring Orange County bloggers, investigative journalists, and muckrakers – FALLEN.
In his latest opus Scott describes a group of union officials leaving Costa Mesa Council alpha dog Jim Righeimer‘s office with “forced smiles.” Next, it was Scott’s turn to go in, and when HE was done he came out smiling even bigger than the union guys… and then went on to pen a paean which Riggy has most certainly already mailed to all his friends and enemies, after saving out a copy to frame and hang on his wall.
In Scott’s enamored telling, James Martin Righeimer is “a gentleman” who is “detail-oriented, willing to question all spending, and fearless,” as well as a “proud Reaganite” determined to “confront budget woes head on,” and a “Christian conservative” to boot. (Why always the necessity to mention a politician’s religion, anyway?)
I never dreamed I’d be in a position to remind Scott Moxley of this well-known fact, but apparently I am now: Scott, not everything a politician tells you is the gospel truth.
“Don’t look at the carpet:
I drew something awful on it.
– Bowie, Breaking Glass.
One of the first fallacies that jumps out at you in Scott’s piece is the poisonous description of dissenting conservative Republican Costa Mesa councilwoman Wendy Leece, a description still glistening with the unmistakable spittle of that red-faced reprobate Riggy:
“Councilwoman Wendy Leece, a recipient of generous union financial support, is alone in arguing that taxpayers can’t pay police and fire employees enough.”
“Can’t pay them enough?” Okay, FIRST OF ALL, Wendy spent two grueling years negotiating with police and firefighters on wage cuts and benefit contributions to save the city money, and eventually came up with a deal that will save strapped Costa Mesa $3.6 million a year. Pay cuts AND added employee contributions to their benefits and pensions. So the portrait of Wendy dying to pay cops and firefighters as much as possible is a malicious and mendacious caricature. Also: this deal was approved by not only Wendy and her then-colleague Katrina Foley, but also current Mayor Gary Monahan, the slippery leprechaun who somehow stays immune to all Republican criticism. Then-candidate Righeimer tried everything he could to derail this deal, wanting to be able to re-negotiate everything from scratch once he got onto the Council, which would have cost the city half a million or so just to start with. Thank God he and his OC GOP pals (Baugh, Fleischman, Mansoor, Bever, Bucher) failed.
It’s also inaccurate to say she “received generous union financial support.” First of all, not to split hairs, but the police and firefighters in Costa Mesa are not represented by unions but by “associations” in which membership and dues are voluntary. And Wendy’s campaign never directly received any support from them, she never solicited any support from them, and she was unaware of the fact that in the final days of the campaign these associations donated to a PAC named “Costa Mesa First,” which, formed to combat outsider meddling in the town, quickly put up some last minute yard signs and mailers for both Wendy and Chris McEvoy. (An action which was more anti-Righeimer than anything else.) So it’s at the very least deceptive to paint Wendy as a paid-for union shill. But that is what Riggy wanted Moxley to write.
There’s silly stuff here too – I see Jim is still peddling his ridiculous story about police “intimidating” his volunteers, “trailing and photographing” them? We looked at that incident back when it happened – remember, that absurd press conference on Newport Boulevard, filmed by Barbara Venezia, which popularized the phrase “the Costa Mesa STINK-EYE?” Maybe Scott missed all that. Just to fill him in, a couple of Riggy’s friends (one of whom was Councilman Bever) were up on a hill, on private property, attaching big signs to a fence. A couple of cops, not sure if these men had permission to do that, snapped a photo, standard practice when a possible violation (trespassing or littering) is occurring. They then called their boss, Chief Shawkey, “There’s a couple of guys up there putting signs on private property and we think one of them’s a Councilman,” and the Chief said not to worry about them. But Bever and his friend put on a real clown show for the press a few days later, whining about “intimidation” and the cops giving them “stink-eye” (which must have required a lot of imagination given the cops’ standard dark glasses.)
This was a few weeks after a peeved Planning Commissioner Riggy, already behaving like he ran the city, pulled over at a police DUI checkpoint and berated the officers for conducting an operation he found inconvenient. For Scott to call this fellow a “gentleman,” – indeed, this entire sober statesman profile – is somewhat comical to those of us who’ve watched Riggy in action over the years. His effort to derail the October police-&-firefighter agreement so that he could be the one running the process later was identical to what he’d done earlier with the Fairgrounds Swindle, threatening both Katrina Foley and the Pot Stirrer that if he couldn’t be on the negotiating committee he would somehow “Blow the deal up.” (Right around the time that he accidentally called The Voice of OC’s Norberto Santana and left a message intended for someone else, illegally sharing “confidential” information about the Fairgrounds negotiations.)
More serious False Assumptions
More basically, there are some real false assumptions which allow Scott to swallow Riggy’s nonsense whole. If you read the whole article, you’ll get the impression, as you’re intended to, that Costa Mesa’s budget is disastrously in the red, that this is largely due to the swollen pay and benefits of those greedy public employees, and that Riggy & gang’s efforts to bring those bastards to heel are both appropriate and necessary. Well…
City officials, who’d gone on a spending spree for more than a decade, found themselves staring at a $16 million deficit at the beginning of this fiscal year, even after having already depleted $35 million in reserves.
First of all, “spending spree?” What rock has Moxley been hiding under? Costa Mesa’s revenue fell off a cliff after the bankster-induced financial crisis led to the Great Recession, and revenue fell far more steeply and far faster than it had in any previous recession. Every revenue stream dropped, with sales tax hit hardest. Costa Mesa’s revenue dropped like an anchor.
And so, step by step, year by year, Costa Mesa cut its services, cutting over $30 million a year from its budget, and relied partially on its “rainy-day” reserve as it also pared employees and reduced services – exactly what a reserve is intended for.
And as our plucky town faced a grim budget picture, it found that its over-reliance on sales tax, without a balanced revenue stream, had been a mistake. Neighboring cities had broadened their tax base, with utility taxes, increases in busisness license taxes, and hotel taxes.
Costa Mesa had relied on its auto dealers and South Coast Plaza. And as we noted last year, the city’s hotel fee had for years been an absurdly low 6% – compared to other OC towns’ 10% – until voters raised it in November. Similarly, CM’s insanely low business licensing fees range from $50 to a high of $200 – the result being that South Coast Plaza’s Nordstrom – the most profitable Nordstrom in the world – pays only $200 a year to the city (in contrast with the Mainplace Nordstrom’s which pays Santa Ana $50,000 and gets along just fine.)
Well, like I said, last year Costa Mesa residents passed Measure L, raising their hotel fees to 8%. (This measure was specifically presented to them as an option to avoid losing services – a fact to which Riggy’s crowd turns a conveniently deaf ear.) Right now, with hotel tax, sales tax and property tax revenues ALL INCREASING, Costa Mesa’s budget is ESSENTIALLY BALANCED… and the city STILL has over $40 million in reserve. The “Budget Crisis” is phony – a phony excuse to do what these politicians have been wanting to do for decades. Another use of the “shock doctrine” on the working class.
Also alarming to Righeimer is this projection: In five years, one-fourth of the city’s budget will be devoted to retired-employee pensions, some of which top $250,000 or more annually.
“This projection?” Projection from where, from whom? Interesting ellipsis, Scott. It’s from city staff obedient to Riggy and gang, about as trustworthy as the Iraq intel made to order for Cheney and Bush. Fact: This “Pension Crisis” is phony – the money Costa Mesa will have to pay on pensions is actually going to DECREASE over the next couple years, since CALPers (where the contributions are invested) has already recovered $50 BILLION in value after being hit bad by the Bush Recession.
Yes, the pliant City Staff presented a PowerPoint that shows rapidly escalating costs beginning 2012-3, but they can’t come up with any correspondence from CALPers actuaries that confirm their over-the-top projections. As we sometimes say, there are three types of lies – Lies, Damn Lies, and PowerPoints.
Outsourcing – Panacea or Magical Thinking?
So, as we’ve learned, OUTSOURCING city jobs is the weapon of choice for Riggy and gang in their war against city workers. This month, in a typical ready-fire-aim maneuver, hundreds of workers were given pink slips, allowing the city to get rid of all or some of them in six months, during which time they will study whether it’s feasible to outsource these jobs to out-of-town private contractors. (During this period, many fine workers with such an uncertain future ahead of them will no doubt look for other work.)
This outsourcing is at best a mixed bag. Wendy Leece points me to government code dictating that city jobs can’t be outsourced just to save money: it must also be shown that the private contractors can do the jobs MORE EFFICIENTLY. Ignoring this language will open the city up to lawsuits; but the Council, apparently egged on by wingnut attorney Mark Bucher (who is also Riggy’s inseparable brother-in-law) doesn’t seem to be concerned about that possibility. These folks love lawsuits – as much as they whine about the budget, they’re always eager to spend public money on friendly lawyers, bringing more publicity to their ideological crusades, and building bigger name recognition for their own political careers.
By the way, Costa Mesa already outsources many services where it makes sense. If the City, for example, is doing large projects like road repairs, specialized jobs like traffic signal maintenance, or once-a-year jobs like tree trimming, it can get a better value with competitive bidding and outside contractors.
But distinguished OC progressive and former Fountain Valley Mayor Gus Ayer tells me there’s a fundamental rule in outsourcing decisions: “If you don’t know how to manage your own operations, you don’t know how to contract them out. And your vendor will be waiting to profit from your ignorance.” There are plenty of examples of failures in government outsourcing recently and locally, whether it’s landscape contractors for the County at Mile Square Park hiring illegal immigrants, contractors for Tewinkle Lake failing to perform and leaving us to clean up filtration problems, or the over-budget “design-build” contract for the 22 Freeway that was far from complete at the grand opening.
Gus adds, “There’s nothing in the background of any of the Costa Mesa Council members that indicates they have any clue how to manage complex government operations. Two of them, Righeimer and Mensinger, have been on the Council only a few months.”
And that brings up an essential difference between the demonized Wendy Leece and the white knight Riggy: Wendy’s lived in Costa Mesa forty years, knows all the workers, and is motivated solely by love for her city and its people; whereas chronic carpetbagger Righeimer, having finally found a town that would elect him, has only been here a little over four years and seems to want to use Costa Mesa for two things – scoring ideological points, and hopscotching to higher political office.
Costa Mesa – Wisconsin Writ Small?
That was a title I was going to work with a couple weeks ago. There are a lot of parallels between what the cross-eyed celebrity Governor Walker is doing in Wisconsin with what Riggy’s trying in Costa Mesa, and I’m sure Riggy would cream his jeans at the comparison.
There’s the sudden no-holds-barred all-out assault on public workers, right out of the gate of the new administration. There’s the justifying that assault with purposely-created revenue shortages. There’s the campaign of lies and deceptions, as we saw above. There’s this: both blitzkriegs are directed by outsiders with a larger battleground in mind: Wisconsin as part one of the Koch Brothers’ plot to kneecap workers in all fifty states; Costa Mesa as Scott Baugh’s petri dish for trying out what he’d like to do to all OC cities. (It’s said Riggy’s Newport office adjoining Baugh’s has a private door connecting them so the two ideologues can mingle that much more freely and undisturbed.)
I see a couple of differences though, which actually reflect better on Riggy than on Walker. For one thing, Riggy is pretty much doing what he promised he would do throughout his campaign, whereas Scott Walker nefariously concealed his agenda of eviscerating workers’ bargaining rights. Also, Riggy at least has the balls to go after the higher-paid police and firemen, while Walker sought to divide and conquer the workforce by exempting those guys and focusing on less-powerful, more Democrat-supporting teachers and janitors.
Most notably, in stark contrast to Wisconsin’s amazing, energizing display of support for workers, in Costa Mesa there is virtually no pushback visible from workers and their allies. Obviously, Wisconsin is a state with a vibrant labor-friendly culture and history, while in Costa Mesa many of the demoralized workers actually have a history of voting Republican and drinking the anti-worker Koolaid. And the OCEA, which “represents” most of the city workers that are not police or fire, is not exactly rising to the occasion. Very disheartening.
Eulogy for Moxley.
I’m not one of those guys who picks some established journalist to throw darts at, just to make myself a name, like a certain young guy we all know does, comically, with Gustavo. No, I type this with sadness: R. Scott Moxley’s metamorphosis into a reactionary apologist for Orange County’s establishment has been as unmistakable as it’s been slow and inexorable.
During the Davis recall, when Moxley endorsed rightwing nut Tom McClintock for governor, we all rolled our eyes and figured he was being provocative and eccentric. He assured us that he was just a fan of McClintock’s fiscal conservatism, and that we could count on the Dem legislature to take the edge off Tom’s Talibani social positions. That passed…
Last year when Rackauckas and the Schroeders fired reformist firebrand Todd Spitzer for obviously petty and nepotistic cause, the first reaction of most of us progressives was to back Spitzer against the sclerotic, incestuous and corrupt establishment forces arrayed against him; Moxley surprised us all by heaping ridicule and criticism on Todd while doting fondly on the foibles of T-Rack and S-Kang.
And in recent years, as local Republicans attempted the greatest land heist in the county’s history (the Fairgrounds Swindle,) and as Republican darling John S Williams wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in his Public Administrator fiefdom while preying on bereaved citizens to patch up his dwindling budget… Moxley aimed all his fire at modestly hinky Irvine Democrat Larry Agran and his no-bid consulting contracts, refusing to even mention Larry’s name without the word “slimy” attached.
And so, this latest worshipful James Righeimer stenography clinches it: R. Scott Moxley is officially one of them now. But we will never forget the old R. Scott Moxley, who set a standard to which all shitkicking OC scribblers could repair: Long live THAT one!