8 Hot Debates to Watch This Week

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Here’s a rundown of the main issues we’ll be tracking this week throughout Orange County.

Is there something happening next week we should know about? Let us know!

1. Costa Mesa City Council Candidates to Debate

Political candidates are in for another round of rapid-fire quizzing Thursday at the third of four “Feet to the Fire” debates co-sponsored by the Daily Pilot, The Orange County Register and Voice of OC.

This time around, it’s candidates for the Costa Mesa City Council: Jay Humphrey, Mayor Jim Righeimer, Tony Capitelli, Rita Simpson, Lee Ramos, Chris Bunyan and Al Melone.

As always, the discussion is designed as a no-holds-barred session where reporters can query prospective and current elected officials on any topic.

The debate is hosted by Barbara Venezia, columnist for the Daily Pilot. Questions will be asked by Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez and Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana Jr.

The discussion kicks off Thursday at 7 p.m. at Orange Coast College (2741 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa).

Political science students from the college are slated to attend, and Venezia said the event is open to anyone who wants to see public policy in action.

For those who can’t make it, the debate will be broadcast live on KOCI-FM (101.5 FM)

The next debate will be for Newport Beach City Council candidates on Oct. 1 at the OASIS Senior Center.

2. County Supervisors to Reject Grand Jury’s Ethics Proposal

Responding to a grand jury report calling for greater ethics oversight in Orange County government, county supervisors are slated Tuesday to tell jurors they won’t implement their recommendation for a campaign reporting and ethics commission.

“The recommendation will not be implemented because it is not warranted and is not reasonable,” the supervisors’ proposed response states.

It points to its own plan to contract with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce campaign contribution limits as the best option.

“As a result, the recommended efforts are duplicative and costly as the Board has placed a measure on the November ballot to allow the FPPC to prosecute violations of the Orange County Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance pending future legislative authorization.”

In their June report, the grand jury called on the Board of Supervisors to help create a strong, independent county ethics “program” to police the conduct of county officials and lobbyists.

“Ethics bodies work effectively to deter, detect, and punish ethics violations,” said the 29-page detailed report. “Vigorous ethics monitoring and enforcement is necessary to develop and maintain trust in government.”

The supervisors’ proposed response “disagrees wholly” with this finding.

“The effectiveness of the ‘ethics bodies’ is a matter of opinion and difficult to determine. The Grand Jury’s report did not provide any metrics or analysis to explain how ‘effectiveness’ of an ethics body is defined nor did they provide any evidence or examples of said effectiveness,” the proposed response states.

The grand jury also urged supervisors to put the issue before the voters on the next available general election ballot to create an Orange County Campaign Reporting and Ethics Commission, “similar to commissions in other jurisdictions in California.”

It estimated the yearly cost of an ethics commission at about $500,000 or less than 0.01 percent of the county’s total annual budget. The report said the percentage is roughly the same as the far larger city of Los Angeles spends on its ethics commission.

“The potential cost of an ethics body is outweighed by its potential benefits, including coordinated oversight, transparency, independence, and creating an atmosphere of deterrence to law violations and corruption that could contribute to improving overall trust in local government,” the grand jury wrote.

The grand jury also said an independent ethics commission was less likely to be influenced by county supervisors than the FPPC, which would rely on the supervisors for its funding. If supervisors didn’t like what the FPPC was reporting about them, they could cut its funds.

The supervisors twice threatened similar cuts to the grand jury when board members didn’t like the grand jurors’ findings about them.

Click here to read the grand jury report, and click here to read the supervisors’ proposed response.

Tuesday’s supervisors meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. at the county Hall of Administration.

3. Opponents of I-405 Toll Lanes to Present Alternative Plan

As the debate over placing high-occupancy toll lanes on the I-405 freeway rages on, supporters of a non-toll plan are scheduled to advocate for their proposal on Monday.

A coalition of Orange County city officials who oppose state plans to put toll lanes on the I-405 freeway announced a competing proposal Thursday night that calls for adding one general-purpose and one carpool lane in each direction.

City officials called on officials and residents to advocate for the plan at Monday’s meeting of the Regional Planning and Highways Committee of the Orange County Transportation Authority or OCTA.

Caltrans officials have enthusiastically supported the toll lanes option, saying it’s the fastest way to move people and goods on the North County section of the 405. They deny they are backing the toll roads as a way to raise money.

A wide range of local officials and residents, meanwhile, argue that construction of the lanes would violate the promise to voters for Measure M2, the county’s half-percent sales tax, among other concerns.

It looks to be uphill battle for proponents of the alternative plan.

On Monday’s agenda, OCTA staff is recommending that board members direct them to continue building only one general use lane in each direction.

The meeting starts Monday at 10:30 a.m. at OCTA headquarters in Orange.

Click here for the staff report.

4. Santa Ana Steps Up Enforcement of Marijuana Ban

The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday is set to allocate an additional $500,000 toward enforcing a marijuana dispensaries ban across the city, with some of that money already used for a July 31 police raid against the businesses.

Dispensary workers and owners criticized the raid as heavy-handed, as dozens were hauled into police vehicles and cited for operating illegal businesses. Police officials said they were just enforcing the law.

The crackdown on dispensaries comes as voters decide in November whether to allow a limited number of marijuana shops in certain city zones. Two competing ordinances — one sponsored by dispensaries and another, more limited initiative backed by the city — will appear on the ballot.

Council members are also scheduled to discuss a plan to make Harbor Boulevard friendlier to high-density and mixed-use development, particularly along the bus and anticipated streetcar routes. And they will discuss authorizing a request for qualifications to develop the downtown Artists Village parking structure.

Click here to view the council agenda.

5. Body Cameras Could Be Approved For Fullerton Police

The Fullerton City Council, following right behind Anaheim, could approve a $650,000 agreement Tuesday to buy 140 body-cameras to be worn by the city’s police officers.

The agreement with Arizona-based TASER International, Inc. would cover the cost of equipment and data storage for the first year.

The proposal comes a week after the Anaheim City Council okayed $1.1 million to buy 250 cameras for its officers from the same company.

Police in the two adjacent cities have been the subject of major criticism in recent years.

Two Fullerton officers were charged but found not guilty by a jury in the 2011 beating death at the Fullerton bus station of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas.

Back-to-back lethal police shootings in Anaheim two years ago of two young Latino men sparked outrage and a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth, shattering trust between the police department and the working-class Latino community.

Both Fullerton and Anaheim changed police chiefs as a result of the police actions. In the case of Kelly Thomas, a bus station camera captured some of the police beating and digital audio recorders worn by officers provided the exchange between officers and Thomas leading up to the beating. The audio also captured Thomas screaming he couldn’t breathe while being subdued and his final words, “Dad! Dad! Dad!”

The FBI’s Civil Rights division began an investigation after the jury verdict this year. An FBI spokeswoman said Friday the investigation still is in progress.

Fullerton officers have been using digital audio recorders for more than a decade, but body-cameras are quickly becoming the new standard.

“The capture of video evidence during police-related contacts … will serve as another layer of transparency,” the Fullerton staff report states.

Studies conducted by the Rialto Police Department show use of force incidents declined by 59 percent and citizen complaints dropped by 87 percent once body cameras were introduced, according to the Orange County Register.

The Fullerton City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. Click here for the agenda. 

6. Huntington Beach to Approve Deals with Police and Fire Execs

Huntington Beach city council members Monday night are expected to approve a labor contract with the city’s police management union and amendments to contracts for the police and fire chiefs.

The two-year police management deal, which expires in March 2016, includes a 6.75 percent wage increase for sworn employees, a 9 percent pension contribution for sworn staff, and the permanent elimination of a physical training program in exchange for an increased city contribution to medical benefits and 20-hour increase to executive leave hours.

To maintain salary distinctions between lower and upper-level employees, the city is following recent increases in compensation for its police and fire unions with similar raises for its police and fire chiefs.

Police Chief Robert Handy will receive the same percentage increase in longevity pay as members of the police management union, or 5 percent this December, and an additional 6 percent increase in 2016, or an additional $10,840 during fiscal year 2014-15 and $13,008 during 2015-16.

Fire chief Patrick McIntosh will receive a 3 percent increase in executive officer pay and additional holiday pay, which amounts to a salary increase of $14,843 a year.

The city council will hold a study session Monday at 4:00 pm followed by their regular meeting at 6:00pm. To view the full agenda online, click here. 

7. Fountain Valley to Double Standby Employees’ Pay

The Fountain Valley City Council Tuesday is likely to approve an increase in standby pay for city employees from $125 to $250 a week.

Three employees of the city’s Field Services Unit are on-call for one week every two months, to provide emergency services to city facilities, public streets and public utilities. During that week, employees must be reachable by a city cell phone at all times, respond to call-outs, and report to work within 30 minutes when they are needed.

The current pay rate of $125 for standby employees has not been changed for 25 years and is nearly a third of the countywide average of $360 per week, according to a city staff report. Rather than meeting the countywide average, staff is recommending the council double the rate to $250 a week.

Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. Read the full council agenda and staff reports, which are provided as one continuous file, by clicking here.

8. Costa Mesa to OK Major Labor Deal

The Costa Mesa city council Tuesday night will hold a second public hearing before approving a long-awaited labor deal with the city employees’ union, a two-year contract which will increase employee pension contributions and outsource street sweeping services.

The $24.7 million contract, which was ratified by the Costa Mesa City Employees Union in August, needs to be heard in two public hearings before the council can discuss the item and vote on it, according to the city’s Civic Openness in Negotiations ordinance, or COIN.

The agreement includes no salary changes for current employees, a 10 percent reduction in starting salaries for new hires, and a plan for employees to pay 60 percent of yearly retirement rate increases, eliminating $507,000 in annual pension costs. It reduces the total unused vacation and sick leave hours that employees can accrue and requires them to cash out those hours on an annual basis, and eliminates participation in the Retirement Health Savings Plan (RHS).

The deal also includes the outsourcing of street sweeping services. Employees that currently provide the service will be absorbed into the Public Services department.

This latest deal has come a long way since negotiations began last August, when the city proposed a 5 percent across-the-board pay cut, 5 percent increase in pension contributions, and major reductions to paid vacation and sick hours, an offer that union leaders called “draconian.”

The city’s relationship with its employees’ union has been fraught with tension and hostility since 2011, when a newly-elected majority moved to implement a vision for financial reform driven by cutting the cost of employee compensation, pensions and outsourcing 18 city services. The situation became especially heated in March of that year, when the city issued tentative pink slips to more than 200 employees, one of whom, 29-year-old Huy Pham, jumped to his death from the roof of city hall.

Tuesday’s regular public meeting begins at 6:00 pm. Read the full agenda here.

Major Meetings This Week:

Monday

OCTA Regional Planning and Highways Committee 

Huntington Beach City Council 

• La Habra City Council

Los Alamitos City Council 

Mission Viejo City Council 

Tuesday

Orange County Board of Supervisors 

• Brea City Council 

• Costa Mesa City Council 

Dana Point City Council 

Fountain Valley City Council 

Fullerton City Council 

Garden Grove Unified School District 

Laguna Beach City Council 

Laguna Niguel City Council 

Lake Forest City Council 

La Palma City Council 

Placentia City Council 

San Clemente City Council 

San Juan Capistrano City Council 

• Santa Ana City Council 

Tustin City Council 

Yorba Linda City Council 

Wednesday

Metropolitan Water District of Orange County Board 

Orange County Water District Board 

Aliso Viejo City Council 

Laguna Woods City Council 

Thursday

OCTA Legislative and Communications Committee 

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

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