Monday, June 06, 2011

A Bigger Magnifying Glass And Losing ABLE

Today Costa Mesa's Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell, sent out another press release announcing the most attempt to provide greater transparency to the budget process. Here's the text of his announcement:

City of Costa Mesa launches ‘Behind the Budget Numbers’ website page

COSTA MESA, CALIF.—The City of Costa Mesa launched a “Behind the Budget Numbers” page on its website today that offers citizens easy-to-access information on the proposed 2011-2012 budget.

The page features videos, memos, PowerPoint presentations, and spreadsheets on expenditures, revenues, cash reserves, pension and retirement health care costs, and equipment replacement funds for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

“Behind the Budget Numbers” will be updated as new information on the City’s proposed budget becomes public, including an organizational restructuring plan for the Costa Mesa Police Department and CEO Tom Hatch’s final recommendations for the 2011-2012 budget (both scheduled to be presented at the June 14 Council study session).

sonally, I think this is another good move on the City's part to make it easier for those folks who are actually interested to find relevant information on the budget process. We've only got four weeks left before the City Council must come up with a balanced budget and City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch has promised it will be done without the use of Fund Balance.


On the agenda of tomorrow's City Council meeting there will be an item that addresses alternatives to grounding the ABLE helicopter program. You can read the staff report HERE that recommends some alternatives - none of which include extending ABLE for another year using the surplus funds available in their accounts. Apparently Police Chief Steve Staveley suggested extending the program until October to provide more time to flesh-out alternatives, but Newport Beach was not interested. This should make for some very interesting discussion tomorrow night.

In case you're
interested, councilwoman Wendy Leece, on her OC Public Square blog, tells you just how she feels about this plan. You can read that entry HERE.

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Blogger Bruce Krochman said...


One side benefit of this level of communications from the city is that it will be harder in future budgets not to provide this information.

This could have a long standing transparency dividend for the community. The council should be congratulated for that and encouraged to keep this as a policy in as many areas as possible in the future.

6/06/2011 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Bruce, I'm with you 100% on this. Once you create this kind of visibility and openness any change to dim that light will become obvious - and will likely result in some pretty darn unhappy folks.

The trick, now, is to actually get people to use the information - to become informed - and participate in the process.

6/06/2011 02:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

ABLE should be paid for by the car dealerships on Harbor. They are the ones getting the most benefit from the helicopter.

If the dealerships don't feel that ABLE is worth paying for, then neither do I. ABLE has never been of any benefit to me.

6/06/2011 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Jim, here's the problem... you DON'T KNOW whether ABLE has been of service to you directly. Just because it doesn't hover over your house several times a week doesn't mean it hasn't been instrumental in catching burglars in your area, or stopping a car chase that might have resulted in an accident that damaged you or your property.

EVERY credible law enforcement official, when asked, responds that a helicopter program enhances law enforcement - it's a "force multiplier" in their efforts.

6/06/2011 02:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Up in the air over ABLE said...

It did not help that a chopper was just used to catch tip jar thieves. Someone at the PD made a really bad call.

6/06/2011 03:27:00 PM  
Blogger valan2 said...

Jim, just because you haven't needed them, yet, doesn't mean we should do away with them. The Paramedics have "never been of any benefit to me" either. But, I'd sure like to have them around if I ever have a heart attack, auto accident, or similar rare - but urgent - need. I haven't had a fire, either, but please don't take the fire hydrant off my street just because it hasn't been used, yet.

Also, it's not just about "me." Just because they didn't catch a crook in your backyard doesn't mean they weren't instrumental in protecting someone else from an escaping felon. Let's try seeing past the end of our noses!

6/06/2011 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Original Max said...

Jim, I understand that narcissistic people that only think of themselves very rarely see the benefit of protecting anyone else but themselves. However, the less crime we have, the more valuable our city becomes. We all win when criminals think twice about committing crimes in our city. A helicopter with more police officers will make criminals think twice. Righeimer's welcome sign to criminals won't.

Maybe Righeimer thinks spending money we don't have on our roads which are in better shape than most cities will make crime go away? It's hard to tell what that guy thinks. He's a master of double speak.

6/06/2011 05:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Wyatt Earp said...

Please view this video and tell us if the helicopter is a "force multiplier" (Warning: graphic). Please pay particular attention to the audio portion.

Does anyone think having this crook running through their backyard is a good thing? Anyone think the chopper directly or indirectly helped the citizens in that neighborhood? Imagine if he had not done what he chose to do, anyone think the chopper would have still been a major asset to take this guy into custody before he broke into someone's house? The answers are obvious.

6/06/2011 05:51:00 PM  
Anonymous almostdone said...

'Up in the air'... ABLE didn't chase tip theives. They responded to suspects evading officers on the ground. That is one of the things they do that provides safety and efficiency for the officers chasing the crooks that could looking to make your yard or house a refuge. If you can't understand the difference then there's no help for your lack of common sense.

6/06/2011 05:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

Regarding city hall's “Behind the Budget Numbers” website page ...

It's true that slicing and dicing the already available info into an organized fashion might be helpful. But could it be a Trojan Horse?

After all, look at the final entry in Lobdell's web page. It lists the inflammatory words, "Unfunded Liabilities" as if that were something notable. And he's made sure to use the L word, Liability, three times in the three lines.

Perhaps he's just being factual? Well, of course he is, just as I'm being factual if I say, "I don't know if Bill Lobdell is a homicidal, lying, cheating child molester." I'm not saying that, of course, because I don't believe it to be true. But look at the feelings it triggered in you. Words have consequences, folks. And Mr. Lobdell is a certified spinmeister.

Also, we've learned over the past few weeks that the city's unfunded liabilities actually are no more dangerous than the unfunded liability you have on your house, assuming you have a mortgage. Yes, you owe a whole bunch of money to the bank, but you are paying it off over time, just as the city is doing with its pension and retirement health care commitments.

So why does city hall keep on strumming that broken-stringed banjo? May I remind you that the four pillars of effective propaganda are
1. simplicity
2. certainty
3. repetition
4. a grain of truth

The way they are putting forth "unfunded liability" meets every one of those hallmarks.

6/06/2011 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Wyatt Earp,
Thanks for that video clip.. powerful stuff! FLIR mounted on a stable platform is a fantastic tool. Tell me... did that canine defecate next to the perp in the back yard? Sure looked like it.

6/06/2011 07:32:00 PM  
Anonymous cain and able said...

Fairview park,the river, the bluffs are all patrolled by able. When the criminals find out they cannot be persued by air. they will surely make mesa verde a target area with retreat and hiding through non patrolled areas easy. remember, the park rangers are gone too.

6/06/2011 10:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Duck,Duck,Goose said...

With the large percentage of city revenue coming from sales tax,maybe harbor blvd of cars would like to specify where their share is spent. As I see they are paying for it. South coast plaza and Harbor Blvd of cars are the golden goose in the budget and we should consider their needs for security. Able provides security for the goose

6/06/2011 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

One more sally on city hall's "Behind the budget numbers" website page:

The old saying, "Figures will not lie, but liars will figure," has been around for a long time because it succinctly fingers a weakness we humans have.

People generally trust the persuaders who can marshall lots of facts, data, and what "experts" say.

Remember the old cigarette ads with the headline "More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” over a photo of a supposed doctor in a white exam coat? We now know to ask, So what, and How do you know?

Trouble is, unless the scales are balanced with an equal and opposite persuader, we are wired to be attracted to the most prominent arguments. Unfortunately, I've seen no equal and opposite persuaders to balance out city hall's claims.

But there is something any of us can do to test the truth. It doesn't involve numbers, so we won't be snowed by an avalanche of numbers, or facts, or expert opinions.

The secret is to see if the assumptions are reasonable and make sense. Assumptions are the foundation on which everything else is built, so if they're biased, the rest of the argument can only be biased.

One of the first examples of faulty assumptions is when Bobby Young, the city's acting CFO at the time, projected huge deficits into the future. They were huge mainly because he assumed that employee associations would not contribute anything to payments to CalPERS for pensions when current contracts expired.

He "justified" this incredible assumption (incredible because the associations have been very cooperative in recent negotiations) by stating he couldn't say what they would agree to.

Well, sure, who can really predict the future? But how could he then make ANY projections if he couldn't predict what they would do? We must ask, why did he make the assumption that employees wouldn't pitch in to help the balance sheet?

(BTW, I don't blame Mr. Young, an accomplished finance guy, for this outrageous assumption. I don't even blame the guy he works for, City Manager Tom Hatch, as we all know he needs to count to at least three (councilmen) to keep his job.)

I've seen other bogus assumptions undergirding the well publicized "crisis" we supposedly have, enough to convince me that this is an entirely manufactured crisis.

Oddly enough, this dust-up is beginning to be fun now; things begin to make sense when I skeptically view the numbers, facts, and expert opinions pouring out of city hall. It's not an undecipherable maelstrom any more.

6/06/2011 10:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim Dicky said...

Up in the air...Those tip jar thieves were actually arrested for FELONY burglary, FELONY evading & FELONY possession of a stolen vehicle. Sounds like a good catch to me!

6/06/2011 11:09:00 PM  
Anonymous if u only knew said...

Last time I checked, the "tip thieves" were in a stolen car. Also, the last time I checked that is a felony. Finally, last time I checked the people of Costa Mesa have no clue as to what the actual crime level in this city is, and let me clue you in, Costa Mesa is no Irvine.

6/06/2011 11:35:00 PM  
Anonymous unionquiltersforleece said...

Tom Egan a "man of few words"

6/07/2011 06:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

To unionquilt.....

You are right. Ever since I wrote that I am a man of few words, I've written a ton of them about the loss of local control in CM. The Bubbling Cauldron, the Daily Pilot, LA Times, and a couple of papers back east have seen my now not-few words.

I really am a man of few words, but I find that when I'm provoked, really provoked, the governor on my throttle turns off.

In my defense I will say that I try to be concise, write infrequently on any one blog/article, and, of course, sign my real name. I assure you that the latter standard really limits the number of words I put out publicly.

6/07/2011 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Question said...

Mr. Egan, I question whether you are a Costa Mesa homeowner.

Do you have a few words on that subject?

6/07/2011 04:43:00 PM  
Anonymous unionquiltersforleece said...

Tom, sorry I ribbed you about the few words label. I pretty much disagree with you on everything except that it is unfortunate to make cuts. I believe it is necessary and we are in an unsustainable position. Even if revenues come roaring back I think 200K total cost for cops and firemen is ridiculous. I think you're a good man, I just think you are wrong and that's what makes the world an interesting place at times.

6/07/2011 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Wyatt Earp said...

unionquiltersforleece, we know you think the misleading figures of $200k for cops and ff is too much (and thanks again for throwing out the misleading numbers as it gives me another chance to point out they are misleading....did I say they are intentionally misleading? Well, that is another story). Put your money where your mouth is, what should cops and ff's be paid? What is the service worth to you? Bear in mind your city has never paid them more than the average to upper average for the county meaning you get the same service for less than approximately 1/3 to 1/3 half of the county. Come on, let us hear what you want to pay for that. We are all ears.

As for unsustainable, unsustainable compared to what? If the city had simply kept pace with revenue streams such as the TOT and reasonable increases in business license fees much of this would have been avoided. I know facts are troubling, but they are what they are.

6/08/2011 07:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Wild Bill said...

Brea POA President commenting on their agreements to roll back pensions:

"We needed to do everything that we could to make sure nobody missed a mortgage payment because they were laid off," Neel said. "It will sound corny, but if you can forgo a raise and allow somebody else to maintain employment – to me that is a no brainer."

A no brainer for sure. If the CM associations thought the same way, 139 CM employees might still have jobs and be able to make their mortgage payments.

6/08/2011 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Why not? said...

Go with Robinsons for ABLE?

6/08/2011 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous unionquiltersforleece said...

Mr. Earp, my answer to your question: cops 60K to start with medical benefits of 1200/mo. max, no cash out unused medical. Pension 2 @ 60. Cops to pay all employee share. Top out at 150K total pay and benfits except chief who could be paid 75 per cent more.
Firemen, same thing less 10 per cent.
And yes it seems to be a fact that there is total comp with benefits of over 200k for a lot of cops and firemen but I am going by city's published list. If you think that is a phony list they must be in violation of some statute so go get em for lying. Otherwise I will believe their list over your broad denial since I do not know who you are and so much bad info has been spread aroung by union side that I KNOW is wrong, that is, personally known and verified. I will not list because too long a list. Basically see repair costa mesa ads for false info. snd read Ms. Muir releases. And I don't want all money going for pay/benefits, I want other programs and capital improvements

6/08/2011 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous 10-YEAR-COP said...

1. "60K for start" - Per the website, a police recruit makes $27.89 an hour. That is about $59K a year before taxes.

2. "Medical benefits of $1,200/mo"- I wish I received anything close to that. In fact, I get $631 a month for benefits and pay another $600 out of pocket to the city for my families' HMO.

3. "2% @ 60" - Fair enough…90% of cops now don't start until they are 25 or older and will need to wait about that long even on the current system. I'm not too excited about fighting armed teenage gang bangers when I'm 60, but I expect my knees or back will give out long before then.

4. "Cops to pay all of the employee retirement share"- We voluntarily gave 5% and suspect the association would be willing to give the full 9% if council hadn't gone the direction they had.

5. "Top out at 150K total pay" Top step officer makes 71K-91K. It took me 8 years to top out. The only people making close to 150K are Lieutenants & Captains. There are only 9 of these position within the department and most officers would agree that they are over paid.

Dont believe the propaganda. The truth is that Costa Mesa Police Officers and Firefighters are not getting rich and are not over paid. I'm educated, I work hard and my job involves risk. If Costa Mesa doesn't want to pay me a fair wage, I will have no issues finding a city that will. We have already lost approximately 6 officers and suspect we will lose many more including myself.

6/08/2011 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Wyatt Earp said...

unionquiltersforleece, Thanks for this opportunity to once again correct yours and their misleading misinformation about salaries and benefits. Lets take the top step officer at I believe someone said 91K a year. Officers also receive sick, vacation, and holiday hours as leave only. These hours cannot be used as cash. So, whether an officer uses all of these hours in a given year or none of these hours in a given year, their salary stays at 91K. How does it work? Thanks for asking.

Officers work 40 hour work weeks for their salaries. Let us say an officer works 3 ten hour days and takes one day of vacation leave for 10 hours. They code their timecard with 3 ten hour work days and 1 ten hour vacation day. The city deducts 10 hours from the appropriate bank, in this case the vacation hours bank, and pays the officer 30 hours of regular pay and 10 hours of vacation pay. The unused 10 hours of regular pay for the week in our example is returned to the general fund at the end of the year as unused regular pay funds. The salary for the week is the same. In other words, the officer does not get paid twice for the same amount of work,

Further, these banks have no cash value to the officer. The officer cannot "cash out" unused hours from any leave bank for any reason. They either use the hours or they lose them.

You and your people counted the leave banks as a cash value for the officers when you put together those salary and benefit charts thereby inflating the numbers and causing citizens to believe officers actually earn 150K or 200K per year. As I have just shown you it is a complete farce and one I will debunk every chance I get.

As for your pay and benefit suggestions, I want to thank you for showing us what you believe we are worth. At least you had the guts to put your money where your mouth is. First, a $1,200 per month health benefit would be an almost $600 per month increase over what the city currently gives us. I easily pay over $700 per month out of my own pocket for health insurance over and above what the city provides. I am glad to do it and I believe it is fair.

Be careful what you wish for and check your math on a pension such as 2% @60. You may be paying less per month, but you would pay it for a longer period time and I believe you may not achieve the savings you think you would. Further, cops working the streets at 53,55, 57, etc, would use more time off and be prone to more injuries causing overtime costs to skyrocket, very likely eating into any savings.

As for 60K per year, good luck. Police work has been described as hours and hours of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror. Having been through many moments of sheer terror for myself, my partners and the public, I can tell you 60K a year wouldn't cut it and you would not like the type of officer such a salary would attract.

Please, call me Wyatt. I see Mr. Earp and I look for my old man!

6/08/2011 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Original Max said...

Why Not, Robinson makes a great helicopter but they are twice as loud as the current helicopter. Most people don't want a loud helicopter.

6/08/2011 11:48:00 PM  

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