Example of how Mission Viejo staff deceive total project cost to the public

They are smooth. You have to give Mission Viejo City staff credit for always pulling the wool over the taxpayers eyes. Forget about the expansion of the community center. That’s old news. No, I am talking about another MV recreation center project. Whenever we have a Capital Improvement Project, CIP, they typically low ball the proposal to avoid taxpayer criticism on the proposed expenditure.  The Murray Center expansion surely confirmed that fact.

Another recreation center, Montanoso, is about to enter the same slippery slope of CIP expenditures.
Mission Viejo issues a quarterly magazine called “City Outlook.” In the Spring 2003 edition the front page headline reads “Montanoso Recreation Center to be Renovated.” As you read the front page it states that the “$1.4 million project has been approved.” It stated that “as additional information about this renovation project, the construction schedule, and plans to limit the disruption to our members will soon be available.”

At this time I can’t find the final cost of this project but I have spoken to someone who follows the recreation center projects in the city who believes the final cost was just at, or over, $2 million.

Fast forward to the June 30th Revised Budget, Mid-Cycle, review meeting in which the city is requesting $110,000 for design plus $675,000 to rehab the Montanoso Rec Center locker room. In discussing this CIP, Dennis Wilberg, City Manager said, and I quote: “The Montanoso locker room rehabilitation, umm, that frankly, was something we that should have done when the Montanoso rehabilitation was done, but that was a project that we kept, to a certain budget, and so this was part of a project that was done–so we are coming back and doing it after the fact.”

A nice admission by our city manager of withholding the “total” CIP cost from the public before we agree to the original renovation.

You can see and hear the budget review as item 5 on the June 30th council meeting on the city web site.


Let me digress for a moment to comments by current Councilman Lance Mac Lean and Frank Ury who said we should not delay some of the proposed CIP’s in that the delay would entail inflation related increases. Lance pointed out that the cost of material and labor, over the past 12 months, increased by 8.8 percent while we are only getting four percent on our investments. Based on our current reserves, they are correct.

But where was that candid thought process by the city back in 2002 and 2003?

Why didn’t the staff give us the entire “wish list” of the renovation instead of putting off this work for a few years simply to make sure we approved the original CIP? This is another illustration of how to deceive the public in order to claim that you stayed under or near budget.

Sounds great. “Let’s limit the disruption to our members.” So now we will be inconvenienced a second time. And we write checks for another $800,000 that was never part of any earlier public hearings.

You really need to be careful when your city council meetings are televised live or rebroadcast later. Anyone with access to a TV set (or computer, anywhere in the world,) can tune in and watch you in action.

About Larry Gilbert