9 Hot Debates to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main issues to track this week throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening in your city we should know about? Let us know!

1. Mystery Surrounds Mental Health and Transportation Contractor

With questions raised recently surrounding a secret report, it’s unclear if county supervisors will move forward and renew contracts this week with a mental health and transportation vendor.

At last week’s supervisors’ meeting, board members were vague about their concerns, but they apparently center on issues being looked at by the Orange County Transportation Authority or OCTA.

The transit agency has been preparing a report on the contractor, Orange-based Horizon Cross Cultural Center, which transports seniors to medical appointments and provides peer mentoring services for people living with mental illness.

The supervisors apparently are considering changing the new contract to a month-to-month agreement for now.

County leaders are making sure they’re “not jeopardizing the service to this population,” said Supervisor Todd Spitzer at last week’s meeting.

“We’re not privy to discuss” that information publicly, he added, describing public discussion of the issue as “very awkward.”

“I’m not having this conversation in this way. It’s not appropriate, for a whole variety of reasons,” said Spitzer, asking that the talks be taken into closed session for this week’s meeting.

The agreement is now back for a vote on Tuesday, with a closed session item listed for “anticipated litigation” and another for “initiation of litigation” against unspecified parties.

Despite concerns about the firm being expressed publicly by supervisors, this week’s county staff report makes no mention of the OCTA inquiry.

Representatives of OCTA and Horizon couldn’t be reached for comment over the weekend.

Horizon was formed in 1976, a year after the fall of the South Vietnamese government and at a time thousands of refugees were fleeing the country and seeking safety in the U.S. The organization, according to its IRS filings, provided English classes and instruction on how to become a U.S. citizen.

According to the transportation agency, Horizon has received funding through Federal Transit Administration grants, OCTA’s Senior Mobility Program, and adult day health care transportation.

Under their current contract, Horizon serves people across the county who are living with long-term mental illnesses and either have been hospitalized for psychiatric issues, or are at risk of such hospitalization.

The goal is to help people transition from the hospital to living in the community, with services like counseling, help with acquiring food, clothing, transportation and assistance with getting to medical appointments.

The new $1.1 million one-year contract would have Horizon serve about 660 people, according to county officials.

The new contract first showed up on the county agenda in early May and has been delayed three times.

In May, Horizon presented OCTA with a Cultural Diversity Award, “in acknowledgement of OCTA’s funding and support for Horizon programs and services.”

The contract is scheduled for a vote at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m.

2. Brea Leaders Accused of Violating Open Meetings Law

Brea city council members will hold a special meeting Monday to decide how to handle a complaint that they violated California’s open meetings law when they approved a controversial housing development.

According to a staff report, nearby resident Stephen Blagden asked the city to set aside its June 3 approval of the so-called Madrona Project. He said opponents weren’t given a chance to respond at that meeting and prior meetings when new information was presented by the developer but was not available to the public.

“The public is entitled to the same information provided to the City Council,” according to the June 10 letter sent by Blagden to the city council. “Meaningful public comments are dependent upon being informed with the same information available to the City Council.”

Blagden is a resident of neighboring Hacienda Heights. The Madrona Project is a 162-unit housing development planned for 367 acres of currently undeveloped hillsides.

Opponents have raised concerns about the property being overrun by wildfires, which they say has happened several times in recent decades.

If the open meeting law, commonly known as the Brown Act, was violated, the city council could correct the issue by rescinding its action and voting again on the issue. But city management argues there was no violation.

The Brea council meetings starts Monday at 10 a.m. Click here to view the agenda.

3. County Decides on Opening Labor Talks

Following two delays, county supervisors are finally slated to vote Tuesday on opening up labor talks to the public.

Under the Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, also known as COIN, county supervisors would be required to publicly report any offers and counteroffers discussed in closed session. Supervisors and their staff would also have to report any communication with employee representatives.

When a labor contract is proposed, the county Auditor-Controller would estimate the financial impact of its terms as well as the current contract’s terms, which would then be open to comment from labor groups and the public.

And proposed labor contracts, known as memorandums of understanding, would be posted to the county website at least seven days before they appear on the supervisors’ agenda.

The effort, led by County Supervisor John Moorlach, has drawn intense protests from union leaders who argue that transparency in negotiations shouldn’t just be reserved for labor talks but should apply to all government contracting — including multi-million dollar computer contracts, development deals and land purchases.

The supervisors’ meeting starts Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

4. Great Park Investigation Sparks Budget Change

Irvine council members are set to consider a budget change for the Great Park forensic investigation, but officials aren’t saying how much it is.

The Republican council majority ordered the audit last year — and then increased it to a full blown investigation in January — after campaigning on a promise to bring fiscal accountability to the 1,300-acre park, which has little to show for the more than $200 million that has been spent on it.

Republican Councilwoman Christina Shea’s letter regarding the budget adjustment, which was attached to the meeting agenda, did not include a dollar amount.

Meanwhile, Democratic Councilwoman Beth Krom has also requested an update on the audit’s progress.

The council meeting starts Tuesday at 4 p.m.

5. Sheriff’s Services for 630,000 Residents Up for Approval

Deals to provide county sheriff services to 13 cities are all up for approval by county supervisors Tuesday.

Cities are offered a menu of services to purchase or not purchase, such as extra traffic-enforcement deputies.

The sheriff contracts range from $91 per resident in Laguna Woods and $135 in Yorba Linda to $231 per resident in Laguna Hills and $297 in Dana Point.

(Click here to see per-capita costs of the sheriff’s contracts by city.)

The round of contract approvals covers the cities of Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Yorba Linda, San Clemente, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Stanton, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods and Villa Park.

In all, the cities are home to about 630,000 people, and the contracts are worth $113 million.

For the largest city covered by sheriff’s deputies, Mission Viejo, the sheriff’s cost is increasing by $1.3 million, or 8 percent, over the current year.

The agreements are up for approval by county supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m.

6. All-Mail Special Elections Proposed for County Supervisors

Citing about $200,000 in potential cost savings, county officials could ask voters to approve changes that would allow an all-mail special election to replace a county supervisor who leaves office in the last year of their term.

The proposed ballot measure goes to county supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m..

Click here to read the staff report and proposed text.

7. Ban Proposed on Campaign Signatures from County Employees at Work

Amid a district attorney inquiry into how Assessor Webster Guillory obtained nomination signatures from subordinates during work hours, a county supervisor is asking his colleagues to ban the practice.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s proposed ordinance states that “no person may solicit for the nomination paper for any local, state, or federal office the signature of any County employee at his or her workplace.”

It comes as DA investigators look into Guillory’s recent election nomination signatures.

Laws at both the state and federal levels, as well as case law, have all established the general principle that the resources provided by taxpayers should not be used to support candidates for election or a position on a ballot measure.

Guillory, who had been rumored to be mulling retirement this year after several terms as county assessor, left his political opponents guessing until the March 7 filing deadline, picking up his filing papers that Friday afternoon, according to several sources.

He returned his petitions to the Registrar of Voters later that same day, stipulating with his signature that he himself had witnessed circulation of the nomination papers. According to filing documents, his second-in-command, Shaw Lin, also stipulated that he also circulated nomination papers for his boss.

Guillory has said his employees’ signatures were gathered outside the assessor’s civic center offices that day while on employee breaks.

It’s unclear how nearly two-dozen employees communicated about supporting their boss for re-election that Friday and coordinated their breaks so they could sign the nomination papers.

8. Buena Park, Garden Grove and Villa Park to Adopt Budgets

The Buena Park, Garden Grove and Villa Park city councils are scheduled to give final approval to their 2014-2015 city budgets when they meet Tuesday.

Buena Park is discussing a two-year plan that includes budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1 as well as financial proposals for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

“The two year budget process provides a basis for longer term planning and accountability,” according to the Buena Park staff summary. “In addition, it saves staff resources during the second year of the budget process since the only items addressed will be by exception for those items that are new, changed, or unanticipated.”

Officials in other cities, such as Newport Beach, have argued that two-year budgets don’t necessarily save much time, because a new budget is put together and approved each year anyway.

The Buena Park public meeting begins Tuesday at 5 p.m. To view the agenda, click here

Garden Grove’s city council begins its public meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Click here to view the agenda. 

Villa Park holds its once-a-month city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. To view the agenda, click here

9. County Emergency Plan Gets Updated

County staff have proposed updates to the countywide Emergency Operations Plan, which covers how the county should respond to various potential public safety threats.

Among the threats identified in the plan: plane crashes, rioting, disease outbreaks, earthquakes, floods, power outages, oil spills, terrorist attacks, tsunamis and wildfires.

(Click here to read the new proposed plan.)

The updated plan is up for approval at Tuesday’s meeting, which starts at 9:30 a.m.

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

Orange County Transportation Authority Board 

Brea City Council 

Cypress City Council 

San Juan Capistrano City Council 

Seal Beach City Council 

Westminster City Council 

Yorba Linda City Council 

Tuesday

Orange County Board of Supervisors 

Buena Park City Council 

Irvine City Council 

Laguna Hills City Council 

Newport Beach City Council 

Stanton City Council 

Villa Park City Council 

Wednesday

Laguna Woods City Council 

Rancho Santa Margarita City Council 

Thursday

Orange County Fire Authority Board 

Orange County Fire Authority Executive Committee 

Orange County Housing and Community Development Commission 

Friday

Metrolink Board (Special Meeting on New Budget) 

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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