Tag Archive | "Surf City"

Surf City’s Mayor Will Take Heavenly Flight


 

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Surf City’s number one pilot, the Honorable Mayor Joe Carchio, who has been dubbed by the Voice as “the best mayor Surf City has ever had,” may very well reach the peak of his political career on Nov. 2 at 4 p.m. when he jumps into the city’s police helicopter, HB1, and is carried to the heavens for a two-hour fact finding and brainstorming tour.

Carchio requested the lift so that he can discuss the city’s helicopter outsourcing contracts with Newport Beach and Costa Mesa and to be updated on the copter program, according to an e-mail from Chief of Police Kenneth Small that was passed on to the Voice.

Tours have also been offered to all the other members of the City Council.

The Voice was alarmed at first. After all, when you factor in costs for gas and staff time, helicopter rides are expensive—about $675 per hour in this case, according to Small.

But Surf City’s taxpayers may rest assured that not a single penny of their money will be wasted by our mayor—whose spend-thrift ways with their money are well known.

That’s because, this time, Joe Carchio—our mayor and pilot—has his feet planted firmly upon solid ground.

“He’s going up during one of our normal patrol flights,” the Chief explained in an e-mail to the Voice. “There’s no special flight arranged for him, so there is no real cost associated with it.”

That’s a relief; unless, of course, somebody decides to give the mayor the controls to the copter for even a second, in which case Surf City’s citizens should be no more or less amused than when he is piloting their city council meetings.

One has to wonder how the mayor, even with his known communications skills, will be able to have a meaningful discussion about important city matters in a noisy copter cabin, where even if you shout you aren’t likely to be heard.

On the bright side, however, the mayor can apply the skills he has acquired after almost a year of running city council meetings without listening to or understanding what others are saying to him or being able to make sense of his own words. Based on that experience, all he has to do is say, as loud as he can, “That’s not going to happen while I’m the mayor of this city,” and everything will be fine.

At the next meeting of the City Council, after the mayor returns to earth, it will be a pleasure, as always, to hear him share his unique insights.

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Surf City’s Stimulus Plan (Get Tourists Drunk) Captured on Film


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Surf City’s now infamous reputation for drunk driving and rowdiness, most of it stemming from its bar infested downtown, is usually expressed in statistics and as a necessary side effect of the city’s plan to stimulate economic development through tourism.

An HBPD study released last year clearly implicated the high concentration of combined restaurant/bars in the downtown area as a major cause of the problem.

Huntington Beach has the highest number of DUIs for any California city in its population range, is ranked third for DUIs of any California city and is ranked seven in the state, regardless of population, for drunk driver collisions as of a year ago. Last year five people died in drunken driving crashes in the city.

Downtown late night scene

Police tend to a downtown visitor who seems to have had too much to drink. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

“Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety problem we have in Huntington Beach,” HBPD Chief Kenneth Small told the City Council last January.

Mayor Joe Carchio recently gained headlines for “cracking down” on downtown bars. Critics say his plan is a good first step but much more needs to be done to deal with the problem.

At a recent meeting of the California Coastal Commission when the city was seeking permits under the Coastal Act for its revised Downtown Specific Plan, Councilmember Keith Bohr said that the downtown area was a victim of the city’s successful program to attract tourists to its 8.5 miles of beaches and to its downtown attractions.

“We’re a very popular area,” he told the commission. “We have lots of folks come and our police force does a great job of enforcing our DUI [laws], hence our numbers are higher than others probably because we take advantage of the grants and enforce that and it makes people comply with our laws.”

Even accepting Bohr’s unlikely scenario—that other California cities don’t also take advantage of grants and try their best to enforce DUI laws—for downtown area residents the problem with drunks goes beyond statistics and affects their quality of life.

Richardson Gray, a downtown resident, complained to the commission about drunks overrunning downtown and waking up residents while walking back to their cars after the 2 a.m. closing time for bars. Other residents have long complained about late-night wandering drunks having sex in their front yard bushes and urinating, defecating and fighting on their lawns, or recklessly driving through their streets at high speeds while drunk.

“We have to live with the headaches of too many drunks on our streets and crime in our neighborhood,” Gray complained.

Surf City tourist nearly passed out on the ground.

Surf City tourist looks skyward. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

A recent late night tour of downtown Main Street conducted by the HBPD for members of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association, Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby and Councilmembers Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman helped illustrate – literally – those headaches.

Photographer Paul Edward captured the essence of the problem with video and in 24 photographs taken in less than an hour on what Bixby described as a “slow night” starting at about 1:30 a.m. Some of Edward’s photographs are within this article. The entire batch and the video can be viewed at http://pauledward.smugmug.com/Street-Scenes/HBDRA/.

But Bixby’s tour notes help give the context for Edward’s photographic essay. “It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he wrote. In his own words, this is what he witnessed just before and after the final call for alcohol downtown:

  • Males fighting and being arrested, with one being taken away in an ambulance;
  • Females having a loud altercation on the verge of fighting;
  • People staggering around under the influence;
  • At least one establishment allowing people to finish their drinks after the posted closing time;
  • People making out in dark shadows;
  • A guy being arrested after passing out;
  • Code-required sidewalk clear passage area being used for entrance queuing at Sharkey’s/Killarney’s (sic);
  • Definite uptick in altercations at the 2 am witching hour;
  • An inebriated guy standing in the middle of Main throwing fist-fulls of hard candy into the ari landing with a scatter onto the asphalt and subsequently crunched with a “pop pop pop” as a police cruiser slowly drove by;
  • A guy helping his near-unconscious buddy into the DRIVER’S Seat (!) of their vehicle;
  • And all of this was on a relatively “slow” night.

Although tax revenues establish the fact that downtown Surf City’s bars and alcohol serving restaurants help bring in the money for their owners as well as the city, no study has been done yet to study the costs to taxpayers of the kind of law enforcement Bohr touts but that is—as Edward’s photos show—woefully inadequate, no matter how valiant, for the task. Perhaps even more important to the residents of downtown and the rest of the city is the human cost of the city’s habit of only measuring success in dollars and cents.

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Mayor Sets New Rules for Downtown Bars and Restaurants


By Joe Carchio
Mayor of Huntington Beach

Editor: The following letter was sent by Mayor Joe Carchio to all restaurant/bars with entertainment licenses in downtown Huntington Beach.

One of my primary goals during my term as Mayor of the City of Huntington Beach is to enhance and improve public safety for our residents and visitors. Information released by the California Office of Traffic Safety revealed that there were 195 fatal an injury related traffic accidents in our city involving driving under the influence in 2009. That number resulted in Huntington Beach being ranked number one out of fifty-six cities our size in California. It is my hope that through a combination of enforcement and education, we will be able to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on our roadways, and thereby reduce the number of fatal and injury related traffic accidents, in future years.

I have been advised by the Chief of Police, and data maintained by the police department supports, that may people arrested for driving under the influence have been drinking in downtown establishment that offer entertainment prior to their arrest. As the owner, or manager, of a downtown restaurant that serves alcohol and offers entertainment, I request that you strongly consider adopting the following policies. I believe implementation of these policies by all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment would help to achieve my goal of enhancing and improving public safety for our residents and visitors.

Proposed Policies:

  • No new customers allowed 30 minutes before closing.
  • “Last Call” at least 15 minutes before closing.
  • Only single sized drinks, and no multiple drinks after midnight.
  • Signage, posters and advertising “Do Not Drink and Drive.”
  • Mandatory “Responsibly Beverage Service (RBS)” training and certification for new employees within 90 days and existing employees every 12 months. The training shall be provided by an ABC approved RBS training provider.
  • Installation of a high quality video surveillance system that is available at all times to the police department.
  • Provide taxi vouchers through the night and to customers leaving at the end of the night.

It is my hope that all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment will voluntarily implement these policies. IN my meeting with Chief of Police, I formally asked him to impose these policies on any establishment where the Police Department has determined there is a problem related to intoxicated customers. If these conditions are imposed by the Chief of Police, it will occur at the time your Entertainment Permit is renewed.

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Court Issues Tentative Decision For Surf City on Downtown Lawsuit


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary ruling against all counts of a lawsuit challenging the city’s revisions to its Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP) approved in late 2009 and early 2010 and its environmental review of those revisions.

The lawsuit was brought by Huntington Beach Neighbors, a 2,000 member citizens’ group concerned with living conditions in the downtown area. The case had its day in court last March.

The area in question covers a patchwork of about 336 acres of downtown land extending outward from the intersection of Goldenwest Street and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at its north end to Beach Boulevard and PCH on the south, including the Main Street and Pier area.

In an eight page ruling filed on May 5, Judge Nancy Wieben Stock noted that “In a shotgun approach to litigation, and leaving no stone unturned, Petitioners argue that in approximately 33 categories of environmental review, the EIR process was wholly deficient.”

Neighbors had a difficult task because from the start the court assumed that “a public agency’s decision to certify the EIR is correct,” as Stock explained, and it was up to the plaintiffs to prove otherwise.

Stock ruled that the plaintiffs did not show that they first exhausted administrative remedies—part of the burden of proof; in other words, their issues were not brought up during the public hearing process.

“In not one instance in its Opening Brief has Petitioner met its burden here,” Stock wrote.

Stock eliminated some challenges forthwith, for the most part without further explanation, including the assertion that the EIR did not study the cumulative effects of other nearby projects or the DTSP’s effect on downtown aesthetics, noise, public service and land use.

The lawsuit claims that the EIR “does not review the entire action that is contemplated” and thus violated CEQA by “piecemealing” its environmental analysis.

Stock agreed with the city that specific projects that could bloom from the DTSP may require separate EIRs in the future, but that a conceptual or “program” EIR is sufficient for now.

Disputed Development Area
From Nov. 2009 through Jan. 2010 the City Council passed revisions to the DTSP that allowed increased densities downtown, resulting in a potential for more than 1.3 million additional square feet of commercial development in the area.

Those revisions were in addition to Pacific City, a moth balled mixed-use project south of Atlanta Avenue on PCH that covers 31.5 acres and, at its inception in 2004, included 512 luxury condos and a 165 room hotel/spa.

Pacific City combined with the DTSP revisions increases the amount of allowed downtown development by 375 percent over former plans, the lawsuit claims.

Finding that the previous DTSP had been maxed out, the 2006 City Council decided to super-size it, calling into question the purpose of development planning in the first place: what good is it if city councils can drastically change their master plans on nothing more than a political whim?

But those changes required public hearings and environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city was required to study the environmental affects of the Downtown Specific Plan modifications and publish the results.

CEQA guidelines require a “sufficient degree of analysis to provide decision makers with information which enables them to make a decision which intelligently takes account of the environmental consequences,” according to guidelines published on the state website.

CEQA also requires decision makers, in this case the city staff, to answer concerns that are part of the administrative (public) record.

The city violated that process broadly, according to HB Neighbors, without providing reasons for its lack of environmental review. Nor did it respond to complaints that were part of the public record—despite attempts by Neighbors “to achieve reasonable, resident-friendly modifications to the DTSP.”

The lawsuit asks the court to revoke certification of the final EIR for the DTSP and all its updated project approvals.

Some key assertions of the lawsuit are:

1. The city’s EIR did not show that it examined traffic impacts for summer weekends when visitor numbers are highest;

2. Solid waste impact projections considered residential but not commercial impacts;

3. In an illegal “11th hour amendment” the city council passed a measure increasing downtown density;

4. Parking impacts were not properly considered;

5. The EIR did not adequately consider the cumulative effects of nearby projects, including Pacific City.

6. Impacts on cultural resources, including the Main Street Library, were not properly considered in the EIR.

Main Street Library
Stock’s ruling largely bypassed the most controversial downtown issue of all – what will become of the historical Main Street Library located in Triangle Park.

In that case, the lawsuit contends, the Main Street Library qualifies as an “historically significant” resource under CEQA, but the EIR does not list it as such. Nor were the impacts of the DTSP revisions upon the library examined as required.

The city’s EIR states that “specific development proposals are not contemplated for the project, including development on the library site.”

But the first revised plans allowed for replacing the library with a combination cultural arts center and tourist attraction that includes a gift shop, restaurant, and event rentals and would attract up to 400,000 visitors each year.

In response to thousands of complaints, the city revised the DTSP to provide for a “community oriented cultural activity area that encourages preservation and enhancement of the Main Street Library” rather than replacing it.

But that plan still allows a 24,660 square foot structure, three stories and 35 feet tall, for an additional 14,700 square feet that could hold a gift shop, small cafe and other retail uses – still in conflict with the city’s General Plan – changes that the lawsuit claims should have undergone environmental review.

Lacking that review, the public and city council were denied information vital to the decision making process; therefore, the EIR must be revoked, the lawsuit contends.

But Judge Stock made short work of those arguments. Regarding cumulative effects, they “were not raised at the administrative level by any person.” In any case, she added, the DTSP doesn’t propose any projects yet and any future projects will face environmental review.

Traffic Problems Dismissed
The lawsuit contends that the city’s traffic studies were methodologically flawed and that it made sure to “drastically” understate traffic impacts in its EIR.

The EIR failed to demonstrate that it had analyzed weekend traffic conditions during summer, despite acknowledging the “at-capacity conditions occurring during peak summer days, particularly on weekends.” Nor did the EIR consider the added traffic congestion from tourist buses, the lawsuit alleges.

But Judge Stock called the city’s traffic study exhaustive, encompassing 1,000 pages, and said that the plaintiffs failed to offer expert counter-analysis.

Furthermore, it is not the role of the Court to attempt scientific analysis of the city’s traffic study, Stock said.

Nor is it important “whether the studies are irrefutable or whether they could have been better, she explained. “The relevant issue is only whether the studies are sufficiently credible to be considered.”

Despite the EIR’s alleged failure to demonstrate a specific analysis of peak traffic periods, and without citing specifics herself, Stock concluded that the city’s analysis showed a “full appreciation of the summer and beach-proximity issues.”

Eleventh Hour Changes
If Stock’s traffic ruling doesn’t stretch credulity, her ruling on Plaintiff’s claim of a CEQA violation by “11th hour amendment” illuminates the thick line that often separates legality from morality.

At its Nov. 16, 2009, meeting the city council voted to reconsider revised density standards for one section of the downtown that it had approved at its Nov. 2 meeting.

The issue was placed on the Jan. 19, 2010 council agenda for discussion and a vote, but a slight of hand by Councilmember Don Hansen changed the purpose of the meeting.

Instead of considering a reduction in density, which was the intent of putting the issue on the agenda in the first place, Hansen made a surprise motion.

Previously in District 1 a site area of 25,000 square feet or greater was needed to build a 45 foot high, four-story building. Any lot less than 25,000 square feet was allowed a maximum building height of 35 feet and three stories, according to the Jan. 19 staff report.

Hansen’s motion shrunk the required square footage to 8,000 square feet, creating a huge increase in density. The council passed the motion, but nothing like his proposal was in the staff’s usual list of recommended actions or in the rest of its public report.

Nor was Hansen’s proposal based on information in the EIR, the lawsuit claims, despite having significantly changed the DTSP. And it violated the city’s General Plan. Therefore, Hansen’s DTSP revision must be denied, Plaintiffs argued.

Stock issued a harsh rebuke. The possibility of a four-story building on a 25,000 square foot “or less” lot had already been discussed in the Draft EIR, as well as in numerous staff reports, she wrote.

The same thing for building height. “[T]he EIR process was designed to reveal the outcomes of any amendments to the General Plan in this area,” she added.

Reactions
Councilmember Joe Shaw called portions of the DTSP “severely flawed,” despite the court’s tentative ruling. “I think the residents of our downtown neighborhoods have spoken clearly about the plan and they’re not happy with it.”

The revised density, building heights and neighborhood uses are “out of sync and out of character” for the downtown neighborhoods, he said. “I hope that this city council or the next will address some of these issues.”

Councilmember Keith Bohr had a different view.

Citing numerous stakeholder interviews, community workshops, study sessions and public hearings held in the five years since the city council directed staff to update the DTSP, Bohr told the Voice that he is “pleased that we are finally nearing the finish line for this much needed update to our Downtown Specific Plan.”

Just how close the city is to that finish line remains to be seen. HB Neighbors spokesperson Angela Rainsberger told the Voice that her group will file objections with the court next Monday. If Stock rejects those objections the group will have 30 additional days to appeal, according to City Attorney Jennifer McGrath.

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EXCLUSIVE: Bill Clinton Visits Downtown Surf City


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Former United States of America president Bill Clinton was in town yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on PCH for a meeting of unknown content and purpose. Clinton was spotted by the hotel’s hard working staff—one of whom confided in the Voice—as he walked by in the lobby. Clinton exchanged greetings with the workers by mutual hand waving. It is not known at this time if the former two-time (and two-timing) president spent the night at the hotel or what room he would have slept in if he actually did spend the night, but it probably would have been the presidential suite. Nor is it known which nearby downtown restaurant/bar the former president went to, if indeed he did go to a downtown restaurant/bar (this writer’s guess is that he would have gone to Sharkee’s and the cup cake store, but I’m not sure in what order) or if he walked on the pier or if he just skipped the downtown altogether and went to Newport Beach. Nor is it known if Clinton went for a walk on the beach or went surfing along the side of the pier—or if he did go surfing by the pier if he by chance bumped into Dana Dude and if they got into a fight after that happened, that is, if it did happen. The Voice will continue to keep its readers updated as new information flows in, but about all that we can confirm at this time is that former president Bill Clinton did indeed appear at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Photo: Stolen from Orange Juice blog which probably stole it from somewhere else.

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Joe Shaw: gay, but not the ‘gay councilman’


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

After being sworn in last Monday for his first term on the Huntington Beach City Council, Joe Shaw, who is openly gay, said he wasn’t surprised that he was elected.

“When I first came to Huntington Beach with my then partner eight years ago,” he reminisced in his acceptance speech , “we opened a business downtown and at once we were warmly embraced by the people of downtown, our customers and people from all over the city.”

Shaw says he and his partner were accepted “unconditionally and without judgment” and that “I looked at this beautiful city and its wonderful people and knew I had found a new home.”

Surf City does offer domestic partner benefits for city employees, but its citizens also reelected Dana Rohrabacher, one of the most homophobic representatives in Congress, by overwhelming vote margins for the past several decades.

Rohrabacher opposes marriage, adoption and military enlistment rights for openly gay or lesbian adults and he favors amending to the Constitution to define marriage as an act to occur between men and women only.

Rohrabacher’s anti-gay views might not be openly shared by most of his Surf City constituents, but they still hold sway in Orange County Republican politics and, at least indirectly, in Surf City politics.

One of the main reasons that the Orange County GOP didn’t endorse Barbara Delgleize—who lost fourth place in the city council election to Shaw by a handful of votes—is that she supports the right to same-sex marriage, according to reports in the Republican blog Red County, including one written by OCGOP Chairman Scott Baugh.

Robert Gentry, who served on the Laguna Beach City Council 1982 – 1992, was the first openly gay elected official in Orange County, but Shaw is the only one currently holding office in the county.

Shaw will concentrate on being the “best councilman I can be,” not the “gay city councilman,” he said. But he believes that his victory should provide hope to others.

“I must acknowledge it,” he said, “because it will make a difference in many peoples’ lives to know that this is possible in Huntington Beach and Orange County. It does get better.”

Lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered people want the same things in life that everyone else does, Shaw said, explaining the broader significance of his victory. “We want good schools, safe and well maintained streets, clean water and air, and abundant open space,” he said.

For his first-term priorities, Shaw hopes to tackle the city’s tough financial problems. “First, we have challenging financial conditions ahead of us. We have made some difficult cuts and will likely have to negotiate more. I intend to be fiscally prudent without harming our ability to provide our essential services,” he declared.

Not harming “essential services” is the obligatory mantra of even the most hawkish fiscal reformers on the city council, and those services are usually defined as police, fire and infrastructure, which includes just about everything a city government provides.

Protecting those services won’t be easy under the ongoing recession—likely to be exacerbated by plans to cut a $25 billion state budget deficit and federal tax cuts for the rich proposed by Obama and the new Congress—with little hope for state or federal bailout money for cities across the country.

Shaw’s goals for Surf City’s future are optimistic, however, including a proposed 25-year mobility plan designed to accommodate future development with alternative modes of transportation, “including buses, trollies, trains and bike ways.”

Shaw seeks to develop a more sustainable city by encouraging projects like the Community Garden set to open soon in the southeast portion of the city and he will try to encourage new business creation through deregulation, making sure that “all of our citizens are treated as valuable customers by the city.”

Shaw also announced that he will reappoint Blair Farley to the Planning Commission. Farley, who narrowly trailed Delgleize in the election, campaigned with Shaw and co-victor Connie Boardman as part of Team Huntington Beach.

Photo: Arturo Tolenttino for the SCV

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Not So ‘Wise Guy’ Jersey Joe Takes City $, Threatens 9-11 War When Caught


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Sunday, Sept. 26, was a hot day in Surf City.

For me, however, most of the heat came from a chance encounter on a street corner with a local politician, not from the late blooming summer sun.

That politician, Joseph John Carchio, a.k.a. Jersey Joe, possible former owner of Jersey Joe’s Italian Eatery at 424 Olive Street, would insult my integrity as a person and a journalist multiple times; no problem there, that goes with the territory.

But I was shocked—and nerve racked for the rest of the day—when Carchio, an otherwise congenial member of the Huntington Beach City Council since 2006, and with whom I had enjoyed a professional but cordial acquaintance the past four years, lashed out. In a fit of intense anger, expressed with squinted eyes, a tightly stretched face and deliberately pronounced words, Jersey Joe, everybody’s friend, threatened me with dire warnings of “war” and “9-11.”

Was the threat just a bluff of hot air from a reelection candidate, who is desperately trying to hold on to his seat on the council, amid embarrassing revelations by the Surf City Voice that he could have to pay back thousands of dollars to the taxpayers for health benefits that he had kept his ex-wife signed up for even after their divorce, a divorce which he had not revealed to the city or the public while maintaining on his two Facebook web sites that he is married and has eight children?

No doubt, with the emergence of Measure O—the city ballot infrastructure proposition that is partly aimed at the alleged excesses of the city’s public employees—in a time of great economic hardship and budget cutbacks for the city, the otherwise unemployed city councilperson has landed in the worst crisis of his political life. Read the full story

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Not So ‘Wise Guy’ Jersey Joe Carchio Takes City $, Threatens ‘9-11′ War When Caught


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Sunday, Sept. 26, was a hot day in Surf City.

For me, however, most of the heat came from a chance encounter on a street corner with a local politician, not from the late blooming summer sun.

That politician, Joseph John Carchio, a.k.a. Jersey Joe, possible former owner of Jersey Joe’s Italian Eatery at 424 Olive Street, would insult my integrity as a person and a journalist multiple times; no problem there, that goes with the territory.

But I was shocked—and nerve racked for the rest of the day—when Carchio, an otherwise congenial member of the Huntington Beach City Council since 2006, and with whom I had enjoyed a professional but cordial acquaintance the past four years, lashed out. In a fit of intense anger, expressed with squinted eyes, a tightly stretched face and deliberately pronounced words, Jersey Joe, everybody’s friend, threatened me with dire warnings of “war” and “9-11.”

Was the threat just a bluff of hot air from a reelection candidate, who is desperately trying to hold on to his seat on the council, amid embarrassing revelations by the Surf City Voice that he could have to pay back thousands of dollars to the taxpayers for health benefits that he had kept his ex-wife signed up for even after their divorce,  a divorce which he had not revealed to the city or the public while maintaining on his two Facebook web sites that he is married and has eight children?

No doubt, with the emergence of Measure O—the city ballot infrastructure proposition that is partly aimed at the alleged excesses of the city’s public employees—in a time of great economic hardship and budget cutbacks for the city, the otherwise unemployed city councilperson has landed in the worst crisis of his political life. Read the full story

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The Cost of Emergency Care in Surf City: Is America’s system the best?


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

“America has the best health care system in the world.”

That’s what we’re often told by the faithful followers of the “free market” economy whenever health care reform advocates call for a single payer health care system in America like the one that exists in Canada or a government run “socialized” system like Norway has.

My recently turned 90-year-old father has been in good health for most of his life. Although he became more fragile in recent years, he still walks around the block almost every day. He also pushes the shopping cart when we go shopping at the local grocery store where he is famous for buying more tapioca pudding than any other customer.

But things can happen at any age and the resulting medical costs could give you a stroke if you had to pay them out of your own pocket all at once. Of course, health care insurance premiums for you and your family may also cost thousands of dollars per year.

A lot of your month premiums goes to pay for treatment at the hospitals that health insurance companies own. Those “managed care facilities” are  part of a complex corporate maze of privately owned “non-profit” and for profit businesses that earn huge bonus paychecks for the CEOs who run the so-called best health care system in the world ($10 million in 2008 for Tenet CEO Trevor Fetter, for example).

On several occasions in recent years I had a close look at those hospital costs first hand when my father had health emergencies and went to the Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley for treatment.

In July, in one case, I found him unable to keep his balance and had to help him sit back down in his chair.

I called 911 and the city’s Fire-Med paramedics took him to the emergency room. A cat scan revealed that my father suffered no brain damage from what may have been a “mini” stroke. The doctor said to watch him and call 911 if it happened again. We went home and he has been fine since then.

My father’s insurance deductable (with supplemental insurance) was $50 for the hospital visit and $50 for the paramedics who picked him up. We also pay $60 a year to be in the city’s Fire-Med program insurance program, which pays paramedic costs for members of the household if they don’t have insurance or their insurance won’t.

Here are the actual costs of my father’s treatment that day:

Emergency Services (paramedics): $2,983
CT Scan: $398
EKG/ECG: $942.00
Laboratory: $970
Medical/surgical supplies: $85
Radiology – Diagnostic $391
Total charges: $5,769

An article by U.S. News & World Report says that the typical American couple (my father is single) 65 and over—without chronic medical problems—will need $197,000 (with Medicare and without supplemental insurance) just to pay out of pocket medical costs, including premiums, for the remainder of their lives.

Another study cited in the article estimates medical costs after retirement at $240,000. Another cited study says that couples over 65 (in 2009) “will need $210,000 to have a 50% chance of affording their retirement health expenses and $338,000 to have a 90% chance of being able to pay all their medical expenses.”

At a time when the entire world is in economic crisis, the United States spends far more per capita on health care than any other country and has far less to show for it than other countries, including Canada, with real or so-called socialized medicine.

According to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as of 2008, the U.S. spent $7,538 per capita in private and public funds combined, compared to 5,003 for Norway (which, unlike Canada, actually does have socialized health care), and $4079 for Canada (which has a single-payer health care system), $4,063 for the Netherlands, $3,696 for France and $3,129 for Great Britain.

Altogether, “Americans spend more than twice as much as relatively rich European countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom,” the report says.

America and 32 other countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America were examined for health care costs and quality.

The report found that most of those countries paid for the majority of their health care costs through taxes or social security payments—though private insurance often played a “significant but secondary role.” Only in Mexico and America did government play a smaller health care role than the private sector, the study found, at 46.5 percent compared to an average of 72.8 percent in the other countries.

Despite spending much more, Americans get much less for their money, the study showed, including on average fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer hospital beds, greater infant mortality and a shorter life span.

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What is Organic Food and Is It Worth It?


By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Special to the Surf City Voice

Presented with two equal-priced apples or cheeses – one organic and the other produced with conventional methods – which would you choose?  Does upping the cost of the organic product by 10 percent change your mind?  How about 40 percent?

Such decisions have become routine for even mainstream shoppers who’ve never set foot in a specialty health food store, now that Wal-Mart and major supermarket chains are competing with their own organic product lines and corporate giants, such as General Mills and Kraft, have jumped into the organic market under different brand names like Cascadian Farms and Boca.

Slaughterhouse workers hoisting a dead cow. Photo: PETA

What consumers believe about the differences between organic and conventional foods, and the value they place on those differences, will obviously drive their choices.  However, most people probably have only a rough idea of what an organic label signifies and even sketchier knowledge of how conventional foods are produced, leaving them ill-equipped to make an informed choice.

USDA Certified Organic
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets national standards for the production and handling of agricultural products earning the USDA Organic Seal. Only when all ingredients are organically produced can an item be labeled “100 percent organic.”  Foods made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients may only claim to be “organic,” whereas those with at minimum 70 percent organic ingredients are restricted to labeling as “contains organic ingredients” and are also denied the USDA Organic Seal.

Plant Products
Organic produce relies on traditional farming methods established prior to the 20th century, like crop rotation and use of composted animal manure, to maintain biodiversity and soil fertility.  Genetic modification, where genes from another species are inserted into DNA, is not allowed, and crops must be grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers made from synthetic ingredients for greater than three years.  Application of sewage sludge to farmland is prohibited as is ionizing irradiation to kill pathogens. Read the full story

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