Tag Archives: Matt Harper

Poseidon’s Water Boy: Mayor/Assembly-Candidate Matt Harper Quietly Pushes Desal Scam Past Ratepayers

Commentary by Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice

Ocean desalination in Huntington Beach makes sense…if you don’t really think about it. But thinking about it requires understanding all the consequences of Poseidon Resources’ proposed project.

Take for example the unnamed city staffer who probably thought he was brokering a good deal for residents when he negotiated 3000 acre feet/year of Poseidon’s water for 5 percent below the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California imported rate–a savings of $150,000. The problem is that if Orange County Water District (OCWD) approves partnering with Poseidon, the Replenishment Rate (RA) for all of the water we pump from the aquifer will rise by at least $103/acre foot according to their estimates. Huntington Beach pumps on average 20,000 acre feet per year. That means that rate payers will pay an additional $2 million per year for water to save $150,000.

Thinking about it seems to be the last thing that Poseidon and the water agencies want us to do. OCWD recently reneged on their promise to convene a citizen’s committee. Their Board of Directors along with the redundant Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) meets in almost anonymity, their agendas often obscuring the real nature of discussions, thus thwarting public participation. They certainly don’t want people really thinking about it.

HB City Councilmember Matt Harper. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino, SCV
HB mayor Matt Harper. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino, SCV

Huntington Beach’s Mayor Matt Harper similarly impedes anyone, including other elected officials, from thinking through ocean desalination. Within a two week period recently, Harper placed items on the agenda of the obscure West Orange County Water Board (WOCWB) and the City’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee aimed at hastening agreements that were not understood by members or staff.

At the WOCWB, he invited Poseidon’s pipeline consultant (former Huntington Beach City employee Howard Johnson) to present a pipeline lease arrangement sought by Poseidon. Information was not available prior to the meeting. The item was placed on the meeting agenda as an information item rather than an action item. California’s open meeting laws preclude action on information items, but this did not stop Harper. He attempted to garner the votes to move forward on the hiring of consultants and the writing of pipeline lease agreements. Even staff was caught off guard and not prepared to give their own presentation or answer questions. Fortunately the representatives of Westminster, Seal Beach, and Garden Grove were uncomfortable with acting so hastily and the motion failed.

Undaunted by this setback, Harper moved on to the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee. He invited a representative from MWDOC to present an item that their board has been pursuing for several years, to re-categorize desalinated water as a “core” service rather than a “choice” service. Few residents are familiar with this issue and even fewer are likely to have given it much thought. If MWDOC is able to move desalination from a choice service to a core service, then Huntington Beach and other North Orange County cities will be forced to subsidize south Orange County water agencies and their plans to build a desalination project to serve south Orange County. That makes about as much sense as Orange County subsidizing San Diego County’s desalination project.

The problem with those of us who have spent time thinking about the devil in Poseidon’s details, is that it turns you into a cynic seeking a semblance of rationality in the situation.

I can come up with only one rational reason for such blatant disregard for the public’s interest and the facts–money. Money turns many self proclaimed fiscal conservatives into corporate welfare campaigners.

A glance at Matt Harper’s recent campaign donors tells the story:

Poseidon Resources, $2,540; Simon Wong Engineering, $249; Geosyntec Consultants, $250; Arcadis, $250; AKM Consulting Engineers, $250; Psomas, $540; Parsons, $250; Nossaman, $189—a total of $4,518 from donors directly or indirectly involved in promoting the ocean desalination business.

Poseidon and their brethren have spent millions to keep you and your elected officials from making sense of their uneconomic and imprudent project. In effect, there will be no thinking allowed on their watch.

Debbie Cook is a former mayor of Huntington Beach and is an advocate for greater transparency in public water management.

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Mayor, Harper, Go After Mobile Home Board Without Public Input

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: This story has been revised since its original posting. Photo: Mobile home owners attend city meeting in July to discuss possible revisions to the city’s Mobile Home Advisory Board. They were not invited to two subsequent meetings.

To the exclusion of the city’s mobile home park residents, a government review committee has worked quietly in the background to produce proposals that would either officially eliminate the city’s Mobile Home Advisory Board (MHAB) or probably cause it to die by atrophy, the Surf City Voice has learned.

The two meetings—virtually unannounced—were held by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee (IRC) which has been reviewing all city run committees recently for ways to cut costs.

HB residents interested in the fate of the other city committees may also have been excluded from those meetings.

Mayor Joe Carchio chairs the IRC. Councilmembers Matt Harper and Devin Dwyer are its other two members.

Carchio recently joined Harper to accuse the MHAB of bias against mobile home park owners, but under his watch the IRC has been biased in its own way against mobile home park residents, as shown by their exclusion from the meetings.

While Carchio, who as chairperson bears ultimate responsibility for how the IRC meetings are managed, did nothing to inform mobile home park residents of either meeting, he did have the opportunity—prior to the second of two of those consecutively unannounced IRC meetings—to speak with Vickie Talley, president of the Mobile Home Educational Trust (MHET), the lobby group that helped Carchio get elected in 2006 and contributed $10,000 as part of a $40,000 real estate industry PAC fund spent in an attempt to elect Harper—who won—and two other failed candidates in the 2010 city council race.

Based on a report given to the Voice that Carchio had called Talley by phone, Cabrillo mobile home park resident Mary Jo Baretich was “outraged” about Carchio’s alleged call to Talley and being left out of the meetings when contacted by the Voice. “It’s none of her business,” she said, noting that Talley is not a mobile home park owner, despite heading up the MHET.

Baretich is also a regional manager for the Golden State Manufactured-home Owners League (GSMOL), which lobbies for mobile home residents with but a fraction of MHET’s funds (and spent nothing on local candidates). “We have over 6,000 voters in our 18 mobile home parks,” she said, adding that, “We have a right to be informed about meetings and a right to speak.”

Those voters who live in the city’s mobile home parks should not be treated as “second class citizens,” she said, adding that “the city is already allowing many of them to be thrown out into the street,” a reference to skyrocketing, unaffordable rents and park subdivision schemes. Baretich said she will be talking with GSMOL attorneys about possible violations of state law by the city.

But when contacted by the Voice, Carchio said that he had not called Talley but had bumped into her at the last City Council meeting and asked her why mobile home park owners did not show up for MHAB meetings. “I just wanted to get her ideas because they hadn’t participated in the past,” he said.

Carchio also said he didn’t know that mobile home owners and the general public hadn’t been informed of the meetings. “If the message didn’t get out, we were wrong,” he said. “Everything we do should be transparent and if we don’t do that, shame on us.”

Mobile home owner/park residents and their advocates had attended two previous IRC meetings to say that—due to its official city status—the MHAB helps keep them informed and provides some protection that they could not hope to have otherwise. They assumed, after signing contact lists, that city staff would keep them informed of all future meetings.

But city staffer Kellee Fritzal told the Voice that notifications were not sent for its meetings held on the 9th and the 23rd of August.

California’s Brown Act requires government agencies to publicly post agendas for legislative meetings. Compliance can be as simple as posting meeting agendas on the outside wall of City Hall 72 hours before the scheduled meeting times. But few people are aware that agendas are posted on at that location and fewer still are likely to travel across town to view them.

Curiously, a check of the city’s window cases outside of City Hall Tuesday night (Aug. 23) did not reveal the IRC meeting agenda for that night or any other night. However, the next morning, Frymire e-mailed the Voice a copy of a digital photo that she took that morning which showed the IRC agenda. (This paragraph was added for clarification, Aug. 28, 2 p.m.)

Most city agendas are posted conveniently on the City’s website, but as Aug. 23 the IRC’s agenda was not. In fact, the IRC schedule and location information, without agendas, was provided only by an obscure website link and the information provided was incorrect. Informed about the problem by the Voice, Laurie Frymire, the city’s Community Relations Officer, said she would fix the problem.

The MHAB was formed to act in an advisory capacity to the city on matters of mobile home park life in the city, including rent, health and safety, and legal issues, and to assist with settling disputes between park owners and residents. Many park residents are senior citizens living on fixed incomes and hundreds have lost their homes in recent years, according to advocates for those who remain in city mobile home parks.

The MHAB currently is designed to have nine members, including three park residents, three park owners, and three at-large members. All of its appointees are nominated by City Council liaisons (Councilmembers Joe Shaw and Keith Bohr) but must be approved by the council majority.

Harper’s and Carchio’s bias claim stems from the fact that, for the most part, park owners have refused over the past several years to participate in MHAB meetings despite regular encouragement by city staff to do so.

Harper proclaims that the city would be “liberating” mobile home park residents by dissolving the MHAB and leaving them to run their own independent organization; parroting Harper, Carchio says he wants to help them “to get rid of Big Brother streaming down your neck.”

Perhaps unknown to Harper—the city’s mobile home owners already have their own Mobile Home Park Coalition, but the majority of councilmembers, including Harper and Carchio, pay no attention to it. And it’s not big city government which worries the city’s mobile home owners, but the big and well-financed corporate brother that speaks for park owners; without an official connection to City Hall, fixed-income seniors can’t compete with the MHET for the ears of their political representatives.

In previous but announced IRC meetings held in July and Aug. 2, which were well attended by mobile home park residents, the prevailing opinion, minus a stern diatribe by Harper and the inability by Carchio to state a coherent position—was that the MHAB should continue but with greater efforts made to encourage participation by owners who could appoint park managers to represent them at meetings.

During the Aug. 9 IRC meeting, unannounced for mobile home owners, the MHAB was again discussed but no further changes were suggested, according to Fritzal. Although at-large member and current MHAB chairperson Barbara Boskovich, whom Carchio favored in previous IRC meetings, was invited to the meeting by phone call, no other interested parties were contacted, Fritzal confirmed.

Fritzal told the Voice that she also did not send out notifications to mobile home park residents or the general public for the Aug. 23 IRC meeting. Carchio, Dwyer and Harper, who had a copy of Frymire’s presentation of the previous agreed upon MHAB proposal, were the only people in attendance, according to Councilmember Devin Dwyer, who told the Voice that he was surprised when he found out there was a meeting on that day.

Fritzal said in an e-mail to the Voice that she didn’t send out notices “due to just reviewing [the] power point I did not think it would be changed or discussed. My fault.”

Major Changes
But major changes to the original agreed upon proposals were discussed and adopted at that meeting, without the input of stakeholders who would be most affected by any changes adopted by the City Council. Now two recommended options will be put before the council at its Sept. 6 study session. Then a final version will go to the council on September 15 for a full vote.

One change, favored by Harper and Carchio, would dissolve the committee. The second recommended option would cut the board from 9 to 6 members by eliminating the at-large members whose current purpose is to provide a buffer between park owners and park residents and an independent look at the issues. Under this option there would also be two-year term limits instead of the current four-year terms.

Tim Geddes is one of the at-large nominees whose appointment has been held up by the IRC review process, and who Harper has singled out with particular ire, calling him a “political professional.” Actually, Geddes is a high school history teacher, but Harper has been a paid political professional since he was elected to the Huntington Beach Union High School District in 1998. He has served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen since 2007.

Geddes accused Harper and Carchio of coming up with the accusation of political bias after they realized there would be no substantial cost benefits by reducing or eliminating city committees. “The fact they are seeking to eliminate at-large positions means that they are trying to marginalize community involvement,” he said. “How dare they say it is political when they have made it that from the start.”

Dan Kalmick, the other at-large nominee, was a city council candidate in the past two elections and, like Geddes, has had his differences on city issues with the usual council majority that includes Mayor Pro Tem Don Hansen, Bohr, Dwyer and Carchio. But Bohr put aside those differences and joined Shaw to nominate both Geddes and Kalmick anyway, along with Sharon Dana, who is nominated to serve as a mobile home owner representative from Shorecliffs, a mobile home park on Beach Blvd.

Dwyer told the Voice that he doesn’t see the logic in the argument that the MHAB is too political since the process of public representation in government is by definition political. Throughout, he has favored keeping the at-large members as part of the MHAB while going forward with greater efforts to increase involvement by mobile home park owners.

Dana, who confirmed that she too had been unaware of the last two IRC meetings, called Harper’s criticism of Geddes part of a “personal vendetta” and said that the proposal to chop off at-large members from the advisory board would kill it.

Alluding to the theory that mobile home park owners have nothing to gain by legitimizing the MHAB when doing so would only dilute their political influence through campaign financing, Dana explained. “That would really eliminate the board because you will not be able to get the owners or their reps. Then they [the council] will use that as an excuse to eliminate the board.”

Note: Proposed changes to the Mobile Home Advisory Board will be discussed the board’s next meeting, Aug. 29, at City Hall, at 6 p.m.


Councilman Harper’s Plan to ‘Liberate’ Mobile Home Owners from ‘Big Brother’

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Photo, L-R: Nancy Meeks, Cindy Ackely, Mary Jo Baretich, Jane Jones. Front row: Summer Taylor. All residents of Cabrillo mobile home park in Huntington Beach.

What do you call a professional politician (besides calling him a professional politician) who tells his constituents not to get political, tries to disconnect them from their government—the government they own and that employs him—and tells them that it will make them stronger?

Do you call him a liberator?

Huntington Beach City Councilmember Matt Harper, that professional politician, says he wants to liberate the city’s mobile home owners from big government by eliminating a city-run citizen-advisory board which exists to “ensure the quality of life in mobile home parks in the city through healthy communication with park owners, manufactured home owners and the City Council” and to “act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on matters concerning the mobile home community,” according to City Ordinance NO 3332.

Harper wasn’t preaching liberation politics when he first hinted at axing the Mobile Home Advisory Board (MHAB) at the July 5 City Council meeting by holding a routine vote to replace three of a total of six vacancies on the board. But he was standing tall for the individual and corporate owners of the mobile home parks whose PACs spent over $13,000 to help get him elected in 2010.

With a “new set of eyes,” he explained in his usual pretentious style, “I always try to ask…, what is the appropriate role for a city.” The board “looks one-sided, where it could be simply an existence of a place where political footballs…could be just thrown in one direction,” he added. Continue reading Councilman Harper’s Plan to ‘Liberate’ Mobile Home Owners from ‘Big Brother’

Political Loitering: HB City Council duo proposes another sex offender law

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

On May 16 the City Council directed City Attorney Jennifer McGrath to craft an ordinance that will limit the presence in city parks and beaches of convicted sex offenders who have been released from prison.

The intended ordinance, introduced on behalf of the Orange County District Attorney by Councilmembers Matt Harper and Mayor Joe Carchio, models after a recently passed county law that bans all sex offenders from using county parks and beaches without written permission from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and offers jail time and a $500 fine for violators.

During public comments, Deputy District Attorney Brian Fitzpatrick assured that “This will go a long way to protecting children in parks” and that it was consistent with the state’s ongoing trend to increase restrictions on the movement of sex offenders who have served their time.

“We noticed that there was a hole in the law protecting our children and that was with respect to our parks,” he said.

“Just because somebody hasn’t molested a child in the past, doesn’t mean that he won’t do it in the future as a registered sex offender,” Fitzpatrick warned, lumping all sex offenders into one category while arguably implying that the presumption of innocence—which extends from the 5th, 6th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—is an obstacle to justice.

“Constitutionally, we have researched this [ordinance] and we have found that it would pass Constitutional muster,” Fitzpatrick said, trying to head off arguments that that the ordinance would lead to lawsuits as similar laws have in other locations. “It’s narrowly protected to tailoring places where children regularly gather.”

But neither Fitzpatrick nor his proxies Harper and Carchio mentioned what criteria would determine which offenders, if any, will receive permission to visit parks or how non-compliant offenders would be monitored. Nor did they say how much it would cost the city to maintain the program or upon what research, if any, it had been determined that it would produce any overall benefit.

Contrary to Fitzpatrick’s contention that the law passes Constitutional muster, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled last November in a lawsuit brought by four registered sex offenders that the portion of Jessica’s Law that restricts released sex offenders to live more than 2,000 feet of parks and schools is unconstitutional. Enforcement of that portion of the law has been suspended by the state’s Department of Corrections.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the judge also noted LA Chief of Police Charlie Beck’s finding that the living proximity of sex offenders to schools does not determine the likelihood that a sexual offense will take place and that Jessica’s Law has forced sex offenders into the streets in droves.

That “sharp rise in homelessness rates in sex offenders on active parole in Los Angeles County actually undermines public safety,” Espinoza wrote in his 10-page legal opinion, according to the Times.

Other lawsuits have popped up around the country to challenge laws that restrict released sex offenders. Legal issues include violation of the ex post facto prohibitions in Article 1, Sections 9 and 10 of the U.S. Constitution (that a person can’t be punished twice for the same crime), First Amendment rights, and the right to public access.

Outside of the courts, cost is another issue. McGrath estimated that it would cost the city about $250,000 to defend against a lawsuit in its lower court stages, not to mention taking it all the way to the State or U.S. Supreme Court.

Critical Analysis
Predictably, Carchio and Harper were short on critical analysis and not about to challenge the Republican DA’s game plan, which offers them political capital and public image enhancement in return for their enthusiastic compliance.

True to form, Carchio took that opportunity to the limit. In a blustering speech, he referenced the brutal sex-related kidnapping and murders of five-year-old Samantha Runnion in 2002 by Alejandro Avila and 12-year-old Huntington Beach resident Robin Samsoe 23 years ago by serial-killerRodney James Alcala, then promised that “I will not sit idly by, not in this city—and not at the expense of our kids and their families.”

A bit later he reached a crescendo, declaring that “I don’t want sex offenders to think that they have the run of the city. Not in Huntington Beach. Not when I’m mayor.”

Attempting a more logical approach, Harper warned that if the city didn’t pass the proposed ordinance sex offenders, who are banned now from going to Harriet Weider Regional Park located on county land, could visit Harriet Weider City Park nearby.

“Why should it be that sex offenders are allowed in one of those parks and not the other,” Harper asked. Huntington Beach should follow suit with the county and “take steps to protect children and families,” he argued.

But neither Harper nor Carchio gave any indication how their proposed ordinance would give added protection to children and their families or why it wouldn’t make problems worse considering the known history of similar laws. Boardman, however, asked Chief of Police Ken Small for the statistics on sex offenses in city parks and what he thought of the DA’s ordinance.

There were 141 reported alleged sex crimes in the entire city in 2010, according to Small, and only six of those incidents were alleged to have taken place in city parks or beaches. Not all of the six were prosecuted and all of those reports were made by private persons, he said.

“The problem is, there is such a strong emotional appeal to this type of legislation that it’s hard to speak against it without looking or sounding stupid,” Small explained, adding that “this legislation paints a very broad brush in terms of what it prohibits.”

Illustrating the potential scope of the ordinance, Small pointed out that “Members of the council have been contacted by parents who had offenses decades ago [and] who are now raising children, who would be prohibited from going to the park.”

Small also has concerns about how the ordinance would apply to city libraries and to employees who work in the city’s parks.

Small suggested adopting an ordinance like the city of Tustin did that prohibits sex offenders from loitering (being without purpose) in the parks instead of strictly following the DA’s plan.

“That’s an ordinance that would accomplish very much the same thing without the broad prohibition that the Orange County ordinance does,” he said.

That idea set well with Councilmembers Boardman, Joe Shaw and Keith Bohr. The loitering version would allow parents who are former offenders but now law abiding citizens to go to the city’s parks, beaches and libraries with their kids “because they are there with a purpose,” Boardman said. “But it would prevent sex offenders from just loitering.”

But loitering laws have also been successfully challenged in court on Constitutional grounds because they didn’t specify what types of behaviors loitering entails. Specific behaviors that might be targeted in the city’s ordinance were not discussed by the council.

Harper, with Carchio tagging along, neither acknowledged the legal issues riding with their joint proposal nor considered the Chief’s concerns. He conceded only that the ordinance could be tailored to Huntington Beach because “there are some cases in which our facilities are a little bit different than those offered by the county.”

Without explaining the relevance of those supposed differences, Harper moved as originally planned to ask the city attorney to “draft an ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from entering city parks and beaches similar to that adopted by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.”

The motion passed 7 – 0.

Shawn Roselius also contributed to this story.

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Viewpoint: Surf City Ideologues Reject Pension Savings, Opt for Fire Service Cuts Instead

Editor’s note: At a public meeting on March 31 City Manager Fred Wilson and Mayor Joe Carchio were asked about the city’s budget, contract negotiations with public employees unions and “unfunded liabilities” for employee pensions.

“Absolutely not. I think what they did wasn’t the right way to do things. I think that what we’ve done is to try to address the budget challenge more methodically. We’ve looked at outsourcing, but it’s on a very limited [basis], but trying to do it very inclusively with everybody at the same time. There’s been no one who’s said we need to do what Costa Mesa has done.”

Fred Wilson, when asked if any city councilmembers had suggested to him that Huntington Beach should take the same course as the city of Costa Mesa, i.e., to outsource and lay off half of its public employees.

“Probably, collectively, it’s over $100 million. That’s a big number. It sounds big and it is big, but just so you know, what that number is based on is what CalPers, which is a state agency, what they tell us it is.”

Fred Wilson, on the city’s “unfunded liabilities.”

“I think we’ve done a fair amount of contracting out. If you compare what we do to what Costa Mesa does, I think you’re going to see that a large number of services that we provide are contract services. We’re moving in that direction but we’re trying to do it more responsibly, more balanced, and not take that hard-line approach to say that this is the solution. And we’ve discovered that contracting isn’t the solution to every single one of the services that we provide.”

Fred Wilson, more on outsourcing.

“Part of the answer is that the pay difference between that Authority (Orange County Fire Authority) and our fire department isn’t much different. The real question about saving is what level of service do all of us want as residents. For example, we have, I think, seven fire stations. We respond in five minutes generally 90 percent of the time…So the solution to really balance the budget is to cut back on the local services that we are providing residents and nobody wants to do that.”

Fred Wilson when asked about outsourcing fire protection services.

“I would disagree with you completely. There’s no proposal to increase any taxes. I gave you one proposal for storm drain fees that the city council has to approve. And just to let you know, at the last meeting the city council considered an increase to our trash rate. And part of that increase was a 7 cent per month increase to cover our costs and they said no. But that direction that’s coming back to us is that they’re not prepared to increase fees. The point is, it’s symbolic. And they’re not prepared to increase fees and we’re looking at employee concessions and we’re looking at reductions in our budget…”

Fred Wilson, responding to a question about alleged city tax increases.

“The city’s not becoming insolvent. I think if you look at our three-year projections for the impacts of pension costs, the numbers are, I think, $5 million, $8 million and, I think, anther $4 million. But overall our budget is over $175 million. So, if you’re putting it into percentages, you’re talking anywhere between two to three to four percent we have to cut incrementally each year. If we can do that the next two to three years, I think that we can manage our budget with those pension costs. But far more, I think employees have to pick up the larger share of the pension costs. We’re working on those. And I think between the two approaches we’re nowhere near insolvency at all.”

Fred Wilson, when asked if any study had been done to determine at what point the city would become insolvent if it didn’t take drastic action on pension reform.

“Everyone of our employees knows what the situation is. They know. And they’re working really hard with us in being great partners in trying to make this work. Because they all know that we’re in a situation. They read the newspapers. They watch TV just like you do and just like I do. So, you know, they’re not playing hard ball. They’re trying hard to cooperate and we’ve found that they’ve been really decent about it…”

Mayor Joe Carchio, speaking about the city’s public employees unions.

By Gus Ayer
Analysis and commentary
Special to the Surf City Voice 

Is Huntington Beach following the Costa Mesa train to Crazy Town, opting for confrontation instead of common sense with their employees?

On Monday, May 2, the Huntington Beach City Council, in closed session, voted against a proposal that would save the city almost $1.3 million in pension costs over the next two years and would also create a second pension tier for future public safety employees.

On May 3, Councilmember Devin Dwyer told city employees that if they hadn’t been there very long they should start looking for another job. He also said that negotiations with the Huntington Beach Fire Department had broken down, but he was quickly corrected by the Huntington Beach Fire Association (HBFA) president, Darrin Witt, who expressed an interest in continuing to talk.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Orange County right-wing politics, where ambitious young pols like Don Hansen and Matt Harper seem poised to try to get some of the publicity that Jim Righeimer has been garnering in Costa Mesa. Term limits will open up one seat each for state Assembly, state Senate and Orange County Board of Supervisors, and the players want to be seen as pension fighters and union busters to appeal to the hard core of Republican primary voters.  

As Mayor Pro Tem Don Hansen said on his Facebook page during the last city council election: 

“Let’s take our city back! If you see a police car or fire truck on the mail – that’s code for ‘union owned.’ We need taxpayer advocates not union puppets now more than ever!”

Mailers supporting Hansen’s endorsed candidates echoed the attacks on public safety employees and their pensions.

After three months of bargaining, HBFA members thought they had a deal that would save Huntington Beach $640,000 a year for the next two years. The proposed side letter to their existing agreement would also change the retirement formula for new hires in order to lower pension costs in the future. After three months of negotiations with staff, Witt felt that “We had met all of the council’s goals set out in the strategic planning session at the beginning of the year.”

Instead of taking two scheduled 2 percent raises, one of which had already been postponed for 18 months, sworn fire officers would apply that money to their pensions thus increasing their pension contribution from 2.25 percent of their income to 6.75 percent of their income.

In return, the firefighters asked for guaranteed staffing levels so that they wouldn’t have to cut the number of paramedics and engine companies that were available to respond to emergencies.  

As the council kept moving the goalposts, the paramedics and fire fighters included a budget trigger which would void the guaranteed staffing levels if revenues drop, expenses rise unexpectedly or if CalPERS increases pension rates.

Monday, May 2, in closed session, the Huntington Beach City Council voted against the savings, moving instead toward further service cuts that would increase response times.

Cutting the budget could mean service cuts that might idle one of the eight paramedic engines or one of the two ladder trucks. Budget cuts could also reduce availability of one of the cross-staffed specialized engines.

Do you cut one of the paramedic engines that respond to over 12,000 (911) medical calls a year? Or do you leave partially idle one of the two ladder trucks that have the ability to put firemen at roof level and carry additional equipment like the “Jaws of Life”?

Even without more personnel cuts to HB Fire, the annexation of Sunset Beach, coupled with fewer available units for mutual aid in surrounding cities, will put pressure on response times in Huntington Beach. The HBFD has already cut six full-time employees, including a battalion Chief, after the city’s revenues dropped substantially during the Great Recession.  

In neighboring Costa Mesa, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer pushes the party line with staunch ideologue Steve Mensinger at his side and a bumbling mayor following along. Their hasty decision to issue layoffs to half the city has made Costa Mesa a laboratory for right wing political experiments in California. The result is clear: the continued exodus of police officers, firefighters and managers is crippling the city.

In Huntington Beach, it’s Mayor Pro Tem Don Hansen calling the shots, with Republican Central Committee member Matt Harper, and former Central Committee member Devin Dwyer as comrades. All three are close allies of party boss Scott Baugh, a lobbyist and perennial meddler in Huntington Beach politics.  Joe Carchio plays the role of the bumbling mayor whose deal to accept that office a year ahead of schedule has been repeatedly questioned.

Don Hansen, his Red County buddy Chip Hanlon, and their Tea Party allies were big losers in the 2010 election. Two Team-Hansen candidates who hired Hansen’s wife’s consulting business, Red Zone Strategies, lost in the 2010 election. Measure O, a ballot initiative that would have shifted money away from public safety, also lost decisively.

At the core are Hansen, Harper, and Dwyer, who have walked away from the deal that would reduce the city’s current and future pension costs, forcing service cuts instead of compromise.

Councilmember Joe Shaw, elected in 2010 without support from the fire union, refused to comment on what happened during closed session but indicated that he strongly supported the recommendations of the city’s pension consultant, John Bartel.

“We hired an expert who recommended that we work towards a second, lower pension tier for all new hires and move toward getting employees to pick up a greater share of their pensions while holding salaries down. That is exactly what the Fire Association proposed, and it could have been a model for our negotiations with all of our employees,” he said.

The public needs to see this choice debated in public, not hidden behind closed doors. Writing at Chip Hanlon’s Red County, Don Hansen seemed to agree as he expressed his love for country music. 

One effective strategy is to adopt a set of financial policies that would be debated publicly. These policies would set the parameters for labor negotiations. For example, you could adopt a policy that says “The goal of all labor negotiations will be to increase the employee’s contribution to pension costs.”  

 In Huntington Beach, the city recently gave direction to negotiate the elimination of pending salary increases by the end of February. Taking a public vote in a meeting keenly observed by many of the union leaders sends a signal that there is a solid vote for such a solution.

By setting a more transparent policy goal prior to the commencement of labor negotiations, elected officials become more accountable for the ultimate result. Further, if your community leaders are not committed to fiscally sustainable labor policy their position will be publicly vetted as well. The economic consequences of these decisions are too great to allow them to be hidden.

Because no one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

There are three simple questions for the councilmembers who rejected the fire union’s concessions:

1)      What policy are you advancing by refusing exactly the type of pension reform that your own expert recommends?

2)      When are you going to have the public debate on whether the residents and business owners in Huntington Beach want to sacrifice response times for your ideology or not?

3)      Are you looking for sustainable budget solutions or just pandering to Republican primary voters so you can get some of the attention that Jim Righeimer has been hogging?

Photo: L – R: Don Hansen, Matt Harper, Devin Dwyer. Courtesty of Calitics

Gus Ayers is a former mayor of Fountain Valley. He writes for Calitics, where this column was originally published. Huntington Beach Councilmembers Hansen, Harper and Dwyer have been invited by the Surf City Voice to respond to Ayers.

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Saving Face: Councilman Matt Harper didn’t disclose his own drunk driving conviction

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Councilmember Devin Dwyer’s proposal to post the names and photos of habitual DUI suspects on the police department’s Facebook page ignited nationwide news coverage and controversy, but it also opened a broader discussion about Surf City’s alcohol problem and what to do about it.

A study by the Huntington Beach Police Department showed that the high concentration of bars and restaurants selling alcohol downtown is linked to the city’s number one public safety threat –drunk driving (“Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown”).

But on Jan. 18 the City Council voted 4-3 to direct the Chief of Police not to use Facebook to post DUI suspects’ profiles, whether they are “habitual” offenders or not. There were council concerns that the measure wouldn’t work, that it would humiliate innocent family members, and that it would scare off tourists.

HB City Councilmember Matt Harper. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino, SCV

Matt Harper was one of three council members (with Dwyer and Don Hansen) who supported Dwyer’s proposal and who opposed restricting the police. He had opposed Dwyer’s original idea of announcing every DUI arrest on Facebook, he told the council, but favored his “more deliberative and much more vetted” revised approach of exposing only “habitual” offenders.

Harper said he was glad to have the discussion.

“I do like the dialogue,” Harper assured the council. “I do like the council members getting out onto the table what their thoughts are because I think they’re representative of a lot of the thoughts that are happening in our community.” In light of changing Internet trends, he added, the council probably should periodically revisit the idea rather than implement it permanently.

But Harper was being obtuse or perhaps evasive, despite his call for a public dialogue.

Nobody on the council, including Harper, challenged the assumption that first-time arrested drunk drivers should be let off the hook. The reason given for that in other discussions was to respect the presumption of innocence. But that presumption is already overlooked in arrest logs that the police are mandated by law to publish and that have always been available at police stations and, more recently, on regular city websites.

The so-called habitual offender is also presumed innocent when arrested, so why not expose first-time (alleged) DUI offenders on Facebook as well as the alleged habitual DUI offenders?

The first-time alleged DUI offender would also be tempted to drive on a suspended or revoked license, same as the habitual offender. If that person did drive illegally, he could be reported to police by family members, friends or public citizens who know of his driving restrictions and recognized him from Facebook; again, same as for the habitual offender.

And, perhaps, the threat of being placed on Facebook might prevent the first-time DUI suspect from becoming a repeat offender or prevent some other potential drunk driver from getting behind the wheel in the first place. In other words, the same logic applied to the habitual offender argument can be applied to all alleged DUI offenders.

Surely, making one size fit all would be more consistent with the idea that a good Facebook flogging would serve as a deterrent and alert to others and help to ensure public safety.

Harper might be excused for not addressing the full range of possibilities for using Facebook to combat the city’s alcohol problem if not for one detail that he failed to bring up at the council meeting and that has not been reported in the press until now:

On Dec. 19, 2004, at about 1:30 in the morning, Harper was arrested by the HBPD on Beach Blvd. and Bishop Street in the city of Westminster and then booked in the Huntington Beach City Jail for driving under the influence and being well over the blood alcohol concentration limit (BAC), according to court records. Harper was serving as an elected member of the board of the Huntington Beach Unified High School District at the time.

When contacted by the Voice, Harper spoke willingly about the incident and acknowledged that on the night he was arrested he had eaten but also downed seven alcoholic drinks between the hours of 6 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Put another way, Harper was arrested for binge drinking, which the Center for Disease Control says contributes to 80 percent of “impaired driving events” and which it defines  as having a BAC of 0.08 percent from a single occasion—an occasion being from 2 – 5 hours long–usually from five (for men) or more drinks.

A breath test he took at the time of arrest showed an blood alcohol concentration of .131.13, which means that he was legally drunk to a point that could significantly impair balance, judgment, memory and motor skills.

Harper admits that what he did was both “illegal” and “inappropriate” but added that “some people will have different views” about what happened. He offered his own interpretation of why he was pulled over by the police.

In Harper’s view, he fit in well among the drunk driver profile types that the police were looking for when he was arrested: a 30-year-old male driving without his car lights on, late at night, three nights before Christmas.

“There were a lot of fish to be caught and I was one of them that night,” he said.

Harper’s DUI charge (count 1 of two misdemeanor charges) was dropped and he eventually pled guilty to the second count of driving over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content.

Harper was given three years informal probation with driving restrictions for 90 days, mandatory counseling and he paid over $1,500 in fines. After successfully completing his probation he changed his plea to not guilty for the second count, which was then dismissed by the court.

Harper had no prior arrests for drunk driving and has been clean since 2004. But as he pointed out, and as an HBPD study shows, many drunk drivers aren’t caught. Full disclosure: twice in the mid 70s and once in the early 80s this reporter was one of those people who drove under the influence but did not get caught. Luckily, there were no accidents.

The Voice was aware of Harper’s drunk-driving conviction prior to the November election when he ran for his first term on the City Council but did not report the incident then because it was deemed irrelevant as a news item.

In Harper’s view, his arrest and conviction for drunk driving is still irrelevant, despite that he voted on an issue that was directly related to his own personal experience, an experience that might have given him insights that he could have shared for the public benefit at the time of the vote.

Although Harper is required by law to disclose his conviction in response to “any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency,” etc., he believes that its dismissal separated him from it forever. “It was as if I had a car and I sold the car and no longer have the car,” he explained.

 “I didn’t feel that it would contribute significantly to the discussion in the same way that others [on the council] didn’t think they should have disclosed about speeding tickets under item 13,” he said, referring to a council discussion and vote (also on Jan. 18) on an ordinance that would change speed limits on city streets.

Harper’s take on the cause of the downtown area’s huge DUI problem is that it’s the result of the city’s unique geography–backed up against the sea rather than centrally located or near a freeway that would take drunk drivers away to be arrested elsewhere–and its highly concentrated younger (18-30) demographics. The long term remedy, he says, is to increase the diversity of businesses and store fronts downtown, with mixed-use residential to create clients who can walk rather than drive to and from the bars and restaurants.

If nothing else, Harper’s arrest and conviction for drunk driving, along with the entire Facebook controversy, helps illustrate how easy it is to blame others while ignorning the effects of our own policy decisions.

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