Million Dollar Baby - Part 2

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

Yesterday we looked at the major flaw in the City’s latest report. This report is on the advisability of starting a traffic committee. I've called it the "Million Dollar Baby" because the three people who gave birth to the report are paid more than $ 1,000,000 a year for their services. Today we'll look at some more major flaws in this study.


Not only did the Million Dollar authors fail to tell us what the benefits of the committees are, the only piece of data that the staff bothered to collect was “staff time”. We have some staff that are getting paid the equivalent of $200 per hour or more, and others who are getting $20 per hour. Well it doesn’t take a genius to realize that 30 hours per month of a Department Head @ $200 per hour is some serious change, but 30 hours per month of administrative assistance @ $20 per hour is pretty reasonable. Of course it’s likely that servicing a committee takes some time from people at all levels of the bureaucracy, but it is critical to not only talk about time in a gross sense, but the cost of that time. So, the one piece of data we have, staff time, isn’t really useful at all.



Though not as crippling as the failure to measure the true dependent variable (what a traffic committee can accomplish), or to calculate the true cost of staff time, another major flaw in this report is that it does not attempt to analyze the data. The study examines 34 cities but never tries to attempt to determine if there are any identifiable characteristics of those cities which determines whether or not a committee exists. Surely traffic committees do not merely spring up of their own accord, and there must be some underlying dimension that causes a city to create one. But the city staffers who did this research never bothered to look, thus denying the Council the benefit of any connections that might exist.

I decided to do the research that the staff should have done, at least in a small way. I looked at three variables I thought might impact a city’s decision to establish a traffic committee, and then looked to see if these conditions were present in Lake Forest. The three variables I chose were: population, size in square miles, and population density.

Interestingly enough, population size is the major determinant of whether or not a city has a Commission or Committee, but it’s not what you think. The smaller a city, the more likely it is to have a Commission or Committee. Thus, most of our larger cities like Santa Ana (324,528), Irvine (215,529), Huntington Beach (189,992), Fullerton (135,161) and Costa Mesa (109,960) have neither a Commission nor a Committee. Of the 8 cities with populations in excess of 100,000, only 2 (Garden Grove, Orange) have a Commission. On the other hand, most of our smaller cities like Los Alamitos (11,449), La Palma (15,568), Laguna Beach (22,723), Laguna Hills (30,344) and Brea (39,282) have either a commission or a committee. Seventy-five percent of the cities with less than 20,000 residents have a committee or commission, as do 71% under 30,000 and 64% of those under 40,000. Using the average county-wide population of 82,525, the smaller group of cities account for 64% of the Commissions and 100% of the committees.

With only 77,268 people, Lake Forest has less than the average number for the County and falls into the group more likely to have a commission or committee, based on the major discriminating factor of population size.

Looked at from another perspective, the three cities most similar to Lake Forest with respect to population, size, and density are Laguna Niguel, San Clemente and Mission Viejo. Both Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo have commissions and San Clemente handles “some issues” through the Planning Commission. Among the cities that are most unlike Lake Forest with respect to these three factors (Santa Ana, Irvine, Stanton), none of them have a commission or a committee.

One could conclude therefore, that from a structural point of view, Lake Forest belongs to that group of cities that do in fact have a commission or a committee. Of course this isn’t anywhere as useful as knowing what a committee can accomplish, or what a committee truly costs, but it is some useful information nonetheless. And staff never bothered to figure it out.



One of the things I have been stressing in my sponsorship of a  traffic committee is that there are a large number of willing and able people who want to serve the City, and having more committees is a great way to get people involved in City activities. From a committee we might get a commission member. From a commission we might get a council member. Indeed, former Mayor Mark Tettemer began his career with the City as a Parade Committee member, moved up to being a Planning Commissioner, and then got elected to the Council.

It would have been good if the staffers who did the report had inquired whether or not committees were a good supply of future talent for their cities.

You can only take so much at one time, so I’ll stop here and tomorrow we’ll continue our analysis of this report.



This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tom Cagley December 27, 2013 at 01:51 PM
Jim: I posted this on your Part #1 blog, but it fits here as well: Jim: I'm curious as to the reluctance to add a commission. Is it because of the cost, not just staff time, but the pittance paid to commissions. LF pays Parks & Recreation Commissioners a maximum of $118 per month, or $1466 per year. The Planning Commissioners are 'high rolers' by comparison, they can get up to $238 per month, or $2856 per year. If they created a commission, and if they are required by law to offer a stipend, for a five-member commission it would be a maximum of $14,280 or a minimum of $7080 per year. Heck, we pay each council member more than $7080 a year, plus health benefits. I doubt that commioners get any benefits, just the stipend for participating in meetings. Or, the option of course, is that it could be conceived as sharing of power, and we know how loath elected officials are to that thought.
Merijoe Axe December 27, 2013 at 10:52 PM
CC, from my understanding, doesn't get health or any other bene-just a small stipend, here's my thoughts, because I've been watching/listening to these LF city/govt folk and I've dealt with different personalities in the years I've been working...I think alot of the problem with the "dragging of feet syndrome" could be because the city manager has a giant ego (you don't have to be an overt jackass to have one either) and is discouraging any competition because he feels he can do everything and actually likes the constant bowing and scraping of alot of people, the CC is in awe over the great oz and may feel whatever tumbles out of his mouth has to be right, Just my 2 cents.
Jim Gardner December 28, 2013 at 10:37 AM
Merijoe. Sad but true. The City never hesitates to "blow smoke" or puff themselves up, even when they have to stretch the truth, but the second you bring up something that isn't flattering, even if it's true, they brand you "negative." I am always amused when they like to promote an event which shows we do better than other cities, and then when they end up on the short end of the stick, and other cities do far better than us, they (especially Voigts and McCullough) say "what do we care about what other cities do."


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