Tag Archives: Surf City Voice

Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Note: My father will turn 94 on July 7.

May 16, 2013, was the last time that I published a self-written article for my investigative water-news blog, the Surf City Voice. As I prepare to reboot the Voice, I would first like to explain what happened, not just to excuse any absence, but also because many of you can relate to my story.

Five years ago my then 88-year-old father started to suffer from extreme back pain and was diagnosed with kidney failure, congestive heart failure and the slow onset of dementia. His health had always seemed as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, but now it was frighteningly obvious that he was entering the final phases of his life, something that I had always almost thought would never happen.

My father's B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.
My father’s B-29 after a crash landing shortly after take off.

Prior to that day, my father took daily two-mile-long walks around our beach-side neighborhood, an activity that he took pride in as a symbol of his good health and exceptional longevity. Wearing his signature outfit—a straw hat and off-white coat—he would walk in short but brisk steps without a cane. And he always brought his snacks: a slice of whole-wheat bread held in his hand and several carefully cut cubes of Hershey’s milk-chocolate bar stuffed into his coat pocket.

Easy to recognize and always eager to talk to anyone, my father made lots of friends along his exercise route, some of whom regularly stopped by our house over the years to check up on him and to drop off cookies or baked bread. Continue reading Caring for My 94-Year-Old Father as the Surf City Voice Resumes

Mesa Water Vs. the Media: 13 Possible Reasons Why

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

On March 14, 2013, Mesa Water District’s board of directors passed 5 – 0 a press credentialing policy. That policy is designed to tightly control media access to public functions, like the recent VIP private $50,000 party that the agency threw for itself at ratepayers’ expense. In my public speech to the board on that evening, I speculated as to the reasons for Mesa Water’s new obsession with creating a draconian press control policy. To supplement my views expressed that night, I offer the following 13 additional, specific, possible reasons for that obsession.

  1. New Mesa Water Press Credential Policy Weeds Out Journalists and Terrorists
  2. Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense
  3. Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even
  4. Huntington Beach Mayor Proposes Coastal Commission Reject of Poseidon Desalination Permit
  6. Bad Branding: Mesa Water District’s Marketing Scheme Backfires
  7. ‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters
  8. Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?
  9. Commentary: Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up the Tab
  10. Get Desal Permits Quickly by Coordinating Early & Designing a Good Project, State Panelists Say
  11. Election Sob Story: Mesa Water Directors Plot to Remove Trudy Ohlig-Hall from Office
  12. Does Mesa Water Take Your Comments Seriously? Yes, to Your Face – No, Behind Your Back
  13. Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

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Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Mesa Water District spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars preparing its general manager and communications manager for a thirty minute interview with this reporter and researching my background, according to invoices obtained by the Surf City Voice under the Public Records Act.

The invoices are only four from a total of 30 received by Mesa Water from the consulting firm of Laer Pearce Associates between October, 2008 and December, 2012 for “branding” and general public relations and marketing assistance. But they help show the District’s obsession with its public image ever since Paul Shoenberger became its general manager in 2009 and hired Stacy Taylor as its communications manager in 2010.

That obsession became a costly exercise in vanity paid for by Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice report
Laer Pearce Associates invoice report. Click once or twice to enlarge.

In chronological order, the first invoice (7976), for billing period Dec. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011, under “Media Relations”, states, “Attended 12/9 meeting with Paul and Stacy to discuss Surf City Voice interview request; drafted responses to questions submitted by reporter; worked with Taylor to help coordinate interview.”

Also under Media Relations:

  • Briefed Stacy on potential upcoming KOCE interview request; discussed strategy.
  • Prepared District messaging regarding ocean desalination.
  • Drafted quote and identified photos for Water Operator magazine inquiry.
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Other categories were Collateral, Event Support, Branding, Community Outreach (no billings), and Website.

True to form for most of the LPA invoices, Invoice #7976 bills $4,500.00 on Media Relations of the $5,630.20 bill total, but does not show a detailed hourly breakdown for each subcategory of work, so there is no way of knowing how much time was spent researching the Surf City Voice or other news services or how much it cost per hour (when asked to explain the incomplete billing procedures, Taylor did not respond).

Likewise, Invoice #7982 (Jan. 1 – Jan. 31, 2012) lists $3,610.00 billed for Media Relations of a total bill of $8,162.00:

  • Attended 1/4 meeting with Paul and Stacy to prepare for Surf City Voice Interview; drafted bullet-point messages for Paul’s use during the interview; prepared press release following the interview recapping the discussion.
  • Drafted memo on potential social media opportunities
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Invoice #8009 April 1 – April 30, 2012), however, is more detailed. It bills $318.00 for Media Relations out of a total bill of $8,842.90 and breaks it down in detail:

  • Meeting with Stacy at WACO to discuss Surf City Voice: 0.50hrs/$265/hr for $132.00
  • Researched reporters and contact info for Stacy: 0.70 hrs $265/hr for $185.50
  • For professional services rendered: 1.20 hrs/total $318.00

Invoice #8027 (June 1 – June 30, 2012) lists $220.00 spent on Media Relations, $132.50 for reviewing a Surf City Voice interview with Paul Shoenberger (here) and $87.00 (at $350/hr) for only reading a commentary by Director Fred Bockmiller published in the OC Register.

The Surf City Voice interview (here) that LPA helped Shoenberger and Taylor prepare for was conducted in January of 2012 and subsequently published in May, 2012, and apparently raised a lot of concern before and after it was published, as a series of emails reveal (see sidebar).

The invoices represent but a fraction of the total $290,141.40 that the district paid LPA for an ongoing contract that ended in December, but they illustrate the type of services provided that, arguably, were unnecessary or could have been provided at far less cost by Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, whose $194,000 salary is already relatively high, according to a recent story in the OC Register.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice reportHourly pay rates charged to Mesa Water by LPA ranged from $265 per hour for work by LPA associate Ben Boyce to $350 for LPA president Laer Pearce.  Assuming – only to simplify calculations – that LPA charged the lower rate, LPA did a total of 1095 hours of work or 27 weeks of work at 40 hours per week.

That would come out to a rate of $508,000 per year for the same work that Taylor, who has over 20 years experience as a senior-level communications professional, could do or that her new assistant, Ann Moreno, could do in a salary range between $70,000 to $96,000.

Pearce objects to that comparison. By email, he wrote, “I couldn’t disagree more with your conclusion that there is any validity at all in the way you manipulated our billing rate,” he wrote. “To test it, ask yourself that if we billed someone $500 for a small task, would you say we could have billed them $400,000, based on our billing rate, if it had been a really big task? It illuminates nothing because it’s not based in reality.”

Recent news stories in the Voice of OC, the Register, Daily Pilot and the Surf City Voice, have questioned Mesa Water’s increased cash reserves and public relations spending budget in particular.

Starting Friday, the Surf City Voice will periodically publish LPA’s paid invoices to the Mesa Water District in full as well as other documents related to the Mesa Water District’s Strategic Communications Plan, so that ratepayers and the general public might better determine how their public water agency is being managed.

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Revisions in Progress: Surf City Voice resumes regular publication July 23, announces Cal Water News debut

By John Earl

The Surf City Voice is taking a working vacation in order to make revisions that are necessary to improve our coverage of water management issues in Orange County and southern California. On July 23 we will resume regular publication with updated coverage of previous stories and brand new stories. Rest assured, this is not down time: we will continue gathering news in the no-nonsense investigative fashion that thousands of readers have grown accustomed to since our start two years ago. In fact, when we resume publication we will be expanding our coverage of water news statewide with the opening of our companion news portal, Cal Water News (www.calwaternews.org). Cal Water News will address, in part, the problem of news blackouts by mainstream media, non-profit, and corporate news services of stories related to transparency and misconduct by water management officials. It will also actively encourage and assist public citizens to become more involved in the management of the water that they own.

Editorial: Advertorial Journalism by the Times and Register is Bad for Surf City

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

It’s an election year. You need information to help you vote and most of the local election news you get will come from local newspapers.

So, why are the OC Register (publisher of the weekly Huntington Beach Wave) and the Los Angeles Times (publisher of the weekly Huntington Beach Independent) giving their readers (you) pabulum instead of real reporting on local issues? Why is a small news blog with a budget of under $1,000 a year kicking the pants off of corporate media giants with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and huge staffs?

We understand that the editors of the Times and Register are embarrassed about being consistently out reported by the Surf City Voice since we started it last April as the online successor to the former print edition of the OC Voice.

So we don’t expect local corporate news media editors to link to or mention our stories about misuse of public funds and lying by public officials, or how city council candidates can parlay shady past business experience into “pro business” resumes that qualify them to hold public office and manage your tax dollars, or how a candidate for the office of City Attorney is arguably legally unqualified to run for office, or how your city council has been voting to help a water profiteer suck up hundreds of millions of tax dollars for a white-elephant project you don’t need while telling you, falsely, that it is a “privately funded project that poses no risk to the taxpayers.”

But, come on, with their huge budgets and supposed news-gathering expertise, can’t the (not) Independent and Wave even do some basic, well-researched, not to mention investigative, reporting for the benefit of their subscribers and the consumers who keep them profitable despite the ineptitude of their corporate parents?

How much more circulation and advertising will the “mainstream” media have to lose before their CEOs realize that “dumbed down” or “advertorial” journalism will not save them from themselves?

Can’t their reporters be encouraged to ask a few thoughtful questions of our elected representatives or the people who want to become our elected representatives?

Before the Independent reported that council candidate Fred Speaker wanted to use his business experience of balancing budgets to help the city through its financial crisis, did its editors bother to look into his known record of bankruptcy or a court case in which he was found responsible for passing fraudulent car loans to a bank? The answer is no. Only the Surf City Voice reported thoroughly on Speaker’s actual business background.

And, so far, not a peep in the Independent or the Register about the arguably ineligible city attorney opposition candidate or incumbent council candidate Joe Carchio’s misuse of taxpayers’ money (and his failure to pay it back until months later and only after he knew the Voice was on to him) or his history of huge tax liens levied against him by county, state and federal agencies.

The Voice has reported on lots of 2010 election related issues that have been totally ignored by the Wave and the Independent. You can click the links provided below to review all of those stories.

Apparently the Independent and Wave can’t keep up.

Maybe their owners think that they are the only games in town, so who cares what the readers think?

Well, if anybody thinks that you don’t have other choices, they’re wrong.

You do have another choice and it has been offering you the kind of local news reporting that is vital to maintaining effective, democratic government. That choice is the Surf City Voice at www.surfcityvoice.com . It offers real reporting—that requires hours, days, weeks or even months of research and hard work to produce—instead of stories that are little more than rewritten corporate or government press releases.

If you share our concerns about local journalism and democracy, we ask you to support the Surf City Voice as an alternative source for vital news of our community left unreported by the competition. We ask you to give that support in any way you can; first, by reading our articles and by linking your neighbors and friends to us; second, by donating what you can by clicking the PayPal link at the end of each article or on the side column on every page of our web site. You can find that link at the end of this editorial.

But we’re not selfishly telling readers to abandon the Independent or the Register. In fact, we would welcome the competition—if only it existed. Competition is good for journalism and good for democracy—there are plenty of potential scoops for us all and the Voice, even with its tiny but enterprising staff of under or never paid volunteers can’t do it all.

So far, we aren’t the least bit worried about being “scooped” by our main competitors because they really aren’t trying to do the job that their readers would like to expect from them.

Maybe those editors just need a little free-market incentive from their neglected readers, perhaps in the form of phone calls and e-mails to the editors of the Wave and the Independent. So, why don’t you, as readers, contact them yourselves and ask them to do their fair share of the work.

Here’s the contact info that you need:


Michael Miller – Editor: (714) 966-4616; e-mail – Michael.miller@latimes.com

Angela Potter – Editor: (714) 796-2254; e-mail – apotter@ocregister.com

In the meantime, here are some, but not all, of the stories exclusively published by the Surf City Voice on important topics that have been ignored by the Register/Wave and the Times/Independent.

Joe Carchio, incumbent city council candidate:





Fred Speaker, planning commissioner and city council candidate:


City Attorney race:




Poseidon Resources, Inc. (desalination plant proposal for Huntington Beach):





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Carchio to Surf City Voice: ‘Shame on you!’

Huntington Beach Councilmember Joe Carchio lashed back at the Surf City Voice today for a commentary that criticized him, three other city council members and one HB planning commissioner for sitting at a table with Poseidon CEOs at a recent water summit that depicted environmentalists as villains and desalination as one solution to the water management crisis in the state of California.

The OC Water Summit, held May 14 at Disneyland’s Grand Californian hotel, which is currently in the middle of a major labor struggle with members of a hotel union, was organized by two Orange County water districts but was sponsored by various corporations, including Poseidon Resources Inc., which has a water privatization and desalination plant proposal currently before the Municipal Water District of Orange County and the city of Huntington Beach.

Carchio sent the SCV an e-mail or text message which stated, “John hard to believe you did learn something about the state of emergency our water system is in did you not listen to Jose and Laura explaning (sic) our situation shame on you for critizing (sic) officials for trying to learn more and solutions no matter where you sit Thanks Joe Carchio.”

Later, at a meeting at city hall, Carchio recounted a childhood experience as a metaphor for his meeting with Poseidon officials. “Just because I had lunch with Ted Williams of the Red Sox doesn’t mean that I am a Red Sox fan.”

Carchio, who clearly supported the proposed desalination plant as early as 2004 when he ran and lost for city council, stated that he is open minded about the desalination plant. “I have not decided how I’m going to vote yet,” he said, referring to the Environmental Impact Report and franchise agreement that will come to the city council for a vote.

Carchio said that he will meet with Merle Moshiri, president of Residents For Responsible Desalination, a Huntington Beach residents group that is opposed to the desalination plant, and said he wants to find out more about various other desalination plants as well, including one slated for Dana Point, which is considered much more environmentally friendly than the plant proposed by Poseidon.

Regardless of whether he ends up supporting Poseidon or not, Carchio said, the instability of the Delta levees creates the need for some type of desalination program in the future.

Joe Carchio
Joe Carchio at the OC Water Summit. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino for the SCV.
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