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I don’t write much about politics in my hometown of Brea. Partly this is because Fullerton, 1/3 of a mile south of my home, is really really interesting. But partially it’s because political writing derives largely from dissatisfaction — and I’m mostly a very satisfied resident. I really like our schools, our natural beauty, our civic culture, and the fact that our stylish Mall sucks up money from communities up and down the 57 and across the 91.
Brea is one of those Orange County communities — the most extreme of them, along with Anaheim and Garden Grove, although Yorba Linda, Huntington Beach, Westminster, and maybe even Newport can lay claim to belonging in the category — that are so stretched out horizontally that they hardly seem to be a single entity. Western Brea feels like La Habra; central and southern Brea (where I live) feels a lot like a Downtown Disney version of Fullerton, and norther and eastern Brea, stretching into the foothills, feels like the uppermost extension within the county of the well-manicured (and often highly flammable) Orange foothills /Tustin foothills/Anaheim Hills/Yorba Linda ethos that begins east of the 55 and stretches to the Chino and Puente Hills. Brea is not split between electoral districts, but if I were drawing new lines it probably would be, somewhere around Rose Ave., up to Valencia. East of that, starting no later than Olinda Ranch, is our “Anaheim Hills.”
As a Democrat in Brea, I’m highly outnumbered. I’m not outnumbered as I’d be in Yorba Linda, of course, with two Democrats for every five Republicans. In Brea, like Placentia, we have three Democrats for every five Republicans. (Moving westward, Fullerton has four for every five, and La Habra has five for five. Now you understand North Orange County.) I have no trouble admitting that the people who run the city seem to do a pretty good job. Former Mayor Ron Garcia, who does indeed look like the actor who plays “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” is a moderate Republican — he endorsed Sharon Quirk-Silva for Assembly — and if the rest of the council spends its time railing against government itself, it doesn’t seem to make the papers. I can live with non-ideological competence.
This year, though, the civic pot is being stirred by a guy named Tim O’Donnell, for whom the initiative system seems to be a great way to pursue a grudge. I’m not used to agreeing with Orange County Register editorials, but this time they’re right on. They say that they support government accountability and openness, but they oppose Measure T, which essentially is written to reduce the salary of the City Manager, limiting to twice the city’s median income. (This, by the way, is why I just spent so long writing about how Brea appears to be a well-run city. Someone seems to be doing something right!) This next part I’ll quote directly:
While the argument can be made that the city manager is overpaid for a city of roughly 41,000 residents, it is troubling that one of the main sponsors of Measure T is a former contractor with the city whose contract was terminated by the current city manager, Tim O’Donnell.
That the contractor is using Measure T to settle a score with the city manager is evidenced by the fact that the measure exempts Brea’s public safety personnel, including fire, police and emergency services.
The Register also opposes Measure U, which would do the following (here quoting Ballotpedia.org):
- Establish deadlines for City responses to certain records requests made under the Public Records Act on an accelerated timeline. Specifically, each such request and response would be required to be acknowledged by email within one business day. A reasonable effort would be required to be made to make documents available within two business days. This is more rapidly than is required by state law which grants ten days for the initial response to a request.
- Require that information concerning issued checks and certain contracts to be published on the Internet.
- Require that certain inactive contracts would be required to be made available in electronic form upon request or as time is available.
- Provide that responsive documents in electronic form be made available via email at no charge, or in paper form upon payment of the reproduction costs, plus postage, up to a stated limit.
- Require that specific records request information be published in the City’s budget document.
- Require the city clerk to report any improper hindrance to responses to records requests.
- Establish that actions of improperly hindering records requests be deemed punishable as misdemeanors.
- Prohibit the city from offering inducements to discourage certain persons or parties from discussing or revealing information not otherwise prohibited from disclosure.
- Modify provisions of the Open Meeting Law by prohibiting discussion of city manager goals or performance in closed session.
- Require that public discussion must be allowed prior to the Council taking a final vote on a proposed settlement discussed in closed session.
- Require that city audio-visual equipment be made available for use of meeting attendees.
- Require City Council Study Sessions to be recorded for internet publication.
- Prohibit any City official from interrupting or censoring any speaker during the “Matters from the Audience” segment of council meetings.
- Prohibit any general tax increase ballot measure from specifying specific purposes.
- Create a 3-person commission, comprised of persons who have never been, and whose immediate family members have never been, city employees. This commission would periodically report to the City Council concerning compliance with the overall provisions of Measure U. It would have the authority to impose fines for noncompliance.
As the opponents note, the parts of this that are worthwhile are already required by state law. The parts that aren’t required by state law mostly seem like another effort to gum up the work of governance so that critics can say that government isn’t working — except for a few goodies like preventing any City official from interrupting any speaker (as with, for example “your time is up”?) and from specifying purposes for tax increases on ballot measures. That is just trying to stack the deck.
The “V” stands for “Steve Vargas,” who is the OC GOP endorsed candidate for City Council and who seems to want to roil the waters even more. I’m voting for the other two candidates, one of whom will integrate the all-male council.