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Council Preview—Feb 5

There are a few interesting additions on tap.

The Feb. 5 meeting of the City Council will have a few interesting additions to the usual fare. The Council will choose two Parks Commissioners and they are being asked to act on two proposals to build more homes.

Parks Commission

Item 23 on the agenda is the selection of two Parks and Recreation Commissioners for a new four-year term. There are nine applicants, including two existing Commissioners seeking re-appointment—the existing chairperson John Irish and member Amanda Morrell. People with good memories will recall that Morrell recently applied for a post on the Planning Commission and that Irish has for many years served with distinction on the Parade Committee.

The other 7 applicants are Merry Axelrod, J. Brett Miller, Gracie Duran, Bernard Esposito, Victor Scherr, Nilima Gupta, and Jeffrey Werkmeister.

Both Morrell and Irish have been supporters of Peter Herzog, and if things go the way they did at the Planning Commission, this means they will probably not be re-appointed. Parks and Recreation has been one of the bright spots in Lake Forest, partly due to the good work of the City’s Director Gary McGill, but also to the work of the Commission.

More Homes

Item 24 on the agenda is a discussion of the request from two developers to speed things up. Brookfield Residential proposes developing 151 attached homes on a 9 acre site comprised of the former Pontiac/Buick/GMC dealership. Trumark Homes proposes developing 72 detached homes on the 7 acre site formerly home to Foothill Ranch Chevrolet.

On these pages we’ve discussed the traffic tsunami and the problems Lake Forest currently faces with traffic. It’s the #1 concern of our citizens. The City Council has already approved 4,000+ new homes that will bring more than 20,000 cars, vans, and trucks into our city on a daily basis, bringing the stalled traffic to a complete stop. The only benefit these new homes brought to our city was the thousands of dollars that City Council members added to their campaign coffers from developers. The thought of adding more than 220 homes to the existing 4,000+ lineup makes me shudder.

By the way, we have not only these 4000+ new homes to worry about, but Mission Viejo is planning to add new homes adjacent to El Toro Rd in the Portola area, and the traffic from these new homes will funnel through El Toro Rd which is their nearest access, adding even more traffic to our city in geneal, and especially to the Foothill/Portola area.

If you’ve been reading my recent articles about crime, you know that one of the biggest correlates of crime is city size. The more people you have, all things being equal, the higher your crime rate. Moreover, Lake Forest already has one of the highest crime rates in Southern California (3rd highest out of 10 cities), so the idea of increasing our population by more than 15 percent is sheer madness. We will not only cripple our traffic problem, we will increase an already troublesome crime rate.

I have sympathy for developers who are simply trying to make a buck. But must it be done at our expense? And must it be done now, when we already have a major traffic problem and when our crime rate leaves a lot to be desired? Surely there is a time and place for development and no one should favor “development at any cost.”

BTW – tonight when the developers appear before the City Council it will be interesting to see whether they or anyone on the Council mentions the money which these companies and their representatives have contributed to existing City Council members’  re-election campaigns. I hope they do and I hope the City Council members who are honest enough to admit they took money, which isn’t illegal, will recuse themselves from any vote.

Before we approve any more homes to be built in Lake Forest, the City needs to see what the impact of all these already approved 4,000+ new homes and the 20,000 cars, vans, and trucks that go with them are going to have on the City. Such a study must also take into account the new Sports Park that will attract more traffic into an already congested area. Add the new homes being approved by Mission Viejo along El Toro Rd. And then add the new traffic that will be generated by the eventual opening of the Great Park, as people from Mission Viejo and RSM go through our City as an alternative to going through the 5 Freeway.

Then, because none of these new developments come with new schools, factor in the enormous school arrival and pick-up traffic that will be coming from Foothill/Portola into the center of the City as kids are bounced from existing schools to make way for the new arrivals.

When that is done, factor in a 15 percent rise in population and the impact that will have on our crime rate.

If we have a valid study of these issues, then it’s time to consider adding more homes. But until that is done, adding to the traffic problem and the crime rate in Lake Forest would be a serious mistake.

Stay tuned. Tonight promises to be an interesting meeting. Please attend if you can and make your wants and needs known. City government works best when we are all involved.

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.

Terry Anderson February 05, 2013 at 04:59 PM
Jim, Your comment, "BTW – tonight when the developers appear before the City Council it will be interesting to see whether they or anyone on the Council mentions the money which these companies and their representatives have contributed to existing City Council members’ re-election campaigns."..., probably needs a small correction. Do we only consider the RE-election campaigns or should be we be looking closer at most recent new member election campaigns too? There appears to be some devil in those details too.
Jim Gardner February 05, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Oops. You're absolutely right. When I wrote "re-election campaigns" I had in mind any election campaign, and thus I intended to include, in my mind, the recent campaigns by Robinson and Nick, but it may be interpreted as if I was just referring to Voigts, Herzog, and McCullough. Thank you for catching that.
LFh00fer February 05, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Thanks once again Dr. Gardner for keeping us informed. I met John Irish several times in association with the Parade and I found him to be approachable and problem oriented. Apart from the omission of a dog park I think our parks are great, so he's been doing a good job there. I hope he gets re-appointed. The only other person I know on the list is Gracie Duran who has been active trying to make the Village Pond Park area safer. She has been dedicated and hard working in this.
Jim Gardner February 05, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Thanks for the comment Hofer. I also know Gracie and also know that she has been hard working to make the Village Park area better. I know several of the others, including Merry Axelrod who has been active on The Patch and J. Brett Miller who has been active in sports programs. What I don't know about them is their particular qualifications per se to be on the Parks and Recreation Commission, so I hesitated to put in any comments about them in the article. John and Amanda drew comments since they have been on the Commssion. But if anyone reading this has something positive to say about any of these people with regard to their qualifications to be on the Parks Commission they might want to (a) send a comment to the City Council and (b) put a comment up here.
JustUs February 05, 2013 at 08:03 PM
Jim. why do you feel sympathy for developers? Many of them are in bed with the politicians by sweetening the pot to such an extent that the offer is way too good to refuse. Not at all saying this is what the developer, re: Item 24, has done. I have no idea whether any money has changed hands, nor do I know the history of said developer. But I have read some pretty shocking accounts of how some other developers around the State and various politicians do the 'play for pay' thing and act in their own best interests while ignoring the best interests of the citizens. And much of it is legal too, btw. So all sides of the equation must be examined during these transactions, even though the politicians make the final decisions. I don't know that much about the Parks Department of Lake Forest. I only know what I read, and often that must be taken with a grain of salt. But I do know that many cities (even poor cities) sponsor, let's say, adult basketball leagues that play for free in city facilities, adult bowling leagues (small fees attached), and other free or very lost cost sports activities. I have never seen this offered by Lake Forest. I know that limited programs are offered for seniors at a decent rate, but most of the programs for regular adults are quite expensive from my recollection. I guess I want to know why poor cities can offer better programs for free or at very low cost and why LF can not match those programs dollar for dollar?
Jim Gardner February 05, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Hi JustUs, I don't have any more or less sympathy for developers than any other group per se. Developement can be a good thing, but it is not an absolute thing, and I'm against "development at any cost." At the moment in our city development is a curse, sure to worsen our traffic problems, burden our infrastructure, and increase our crime rate. But I'm sure there are cities where development would be a blessing. Unfortunately, for the past decade, developers have been the single largest "vested interest" group plying our city council members with money for their campaigns. Little wonder that the city embarked on a crazy development plan to increase the number of homes by more than 15%. And that's being done without any new roads or any new schools and without any new commercial centers. It's being done with no changes to an already over-used infrastructure that includes libraries, the DMV, the post office,and the court house where parking is already a problem and long waits are a way of life. How crazy is that?
JustUs February 05, 2013 at 08:35 PM
Well, the Council approved park bans for sex offenders before they rescinded it, even though the large, large majority of sex offenders are not pedophiles, nor did they ever commit a sexual offense in a park. Even after the local courts said the ban was unconstitutional and the City was sued by former sex offenders, a couple Council members still wanted to continue to honor the ban. Go figure. The Council has spent $2M to defend the ban on pot dispensaries. And now the State Supreme Court is preparing to rule on said ban after there were mixed rulings from lower courts. So if the SSCoC rules in the dispensaries favor the $2M goes "poof" and is there a chance LF will have to pay the dispensaries legal fees too? The City spent a gob of tax money to fight the day laborers who are still hanging around Jeronimo. So, as sad as it sounds, approving 4000 new homes without the infrastructure to support them appears to be par for the course. Welcome to bizarro world.
JustUs February 05, 2013 at 08:39 PM
Oh, I forgot. After banning pot dispensaries and banning sex offenders from the parks to save the children, the Council has given it's silent blessing to a gambling house in the City of Family Values. Go figure?
Merijoe Axe February 06, 2013 at 11:01 PM
Jim, how do you figure the P/R was a "bright spot"? at the one meeting I went to -aside from there being no excitement, all I saw from these people sitting on the big leather chairs do was giggle at inside jokes and eat. I looked at the agendas of many of these meeting and there's one or two, maybe three things listed that aren't relavent to anything -we have a whooping 28 parks, some that need severe facelifts and activities to generate excitment, no one from this commission has bothered to investigate a good spot to have a dog park or the price of dog park equipment, meanwhile the citizen's of LF are on the hook for 5-6 million dollars for yet another park, the brain child of our penny watching council. This is the same park Scott Voigts wanted to make sure we had funds for one of his reasons for not wanting to fighti the sex pervert ban. So what's the bright spot?
Merijoe Axe February 06, 2013 at 11:17 PM
Parks and Recs is not brain surgery, Anyone who pays taxes and is a resident of a city can put in an application or the application would say you need to have certain qualifications now, wouldnt it? If everyone needed to have "parks and recs" experience then no one in history would have ever been on the parks and recs board...I say getting involved with your community is more important than having past experiance on a board, you will learn as you go, thats with anything. As far as if a person is qualified to represent the citizens... if they care, they listen to taxpayers, are honest, are ethical and willing to learn, they are qualified. Having "experiance" on a board doesnt mean you are any of that and doesn't qualify you to be on a chalk-board.
JustUs February 06, 2013 at 11:55 PM
I listened to the candidates get interviewed yesterday by the Council. The man who was second to the last interviewed (can't recall his name) seemed to be the ideal candidate. He had a wonderful background in recreation and provided excellent answers to the questions asked. I was shocked that he was not in the final 4. I mean I was shocked. Maybe he didn't have any inside connections. I don't know. But the fact that he was excluded in the final round floored me. I wonder why Adam Nick didn't ask any questions? Perhaps he figured that questions from the other 4 were enough and he didn't want to spend more time at it. I don't know. I didn't listen to the housing matter (Item #24) How did that turn out and how did the various Council members vote?
JustUs February 07, 2013 at 07:35 AM
Jim Gardner, are you still out there? I heard that the Council voted 3-2 against the City's recommendation for an independent review of the the Developer's market study with those 3 votes coming from Voights, Robinson and Nick. A local news source reported that Robinson said during the meeting that the $12,000 needed for the independent review was a lot of money for the Developer to pay and that he didn't feel it was necessary. The local news source also reported allegations that the Developers in question contributed $42,500 to the GOP a short while before the Council election to the GOP which then spent about $38,000 in campaign mailers to help Nick and Robinson get elected. Furthermore, the news source claimed that in 2010 one Developer gave a direct $8000 contribution to Voight and Robinson. And then it's alleged that one Developer then contributed another $22,500 to a political committee called 'Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods' which then commissioned about $17,000 in political mailers supporting Robinson and Nick. The local news source, btw, is Voice of OC. Are you aware of Tuesday's vote and have you caught wind of any of these allegations? Just curious.
LakeForest Lifer February 07, 2013 at 01:16 PM
You mean This news article? http://www.voiceofoc.org/oc_south/lake_forest/article_68a2b6fe-709f-11e2-abee-001a4bcf887a.html
LakeForest Lifer February 07, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Lake Forest citizens should be outraged by this sort of activity by their supposed "city first" elected officials.
LakeForest Lifer February 07, 2013 at 01:23 PM
This situation is starting to stink of political corruption. So where is the OC Grand Jury? I thought this was the sort of thing they are supposed to deal with.
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Hi Merijoe, Leaving aside the fact that we still don't have a dog park, the City has been active upgrading our parks. They put in bathrooms for the disabled, added special equipment for young children, and generally keep them in good shape. Apart from the physical structure, the Rec Dept has an acting program of classes and activities, many of which are well attended. The annual parade falls under the Rec Dept and Ron Rivera and his small staff do a great job organizing that. Considering the problems in the City (higher crime rate than our neighbors, too much traffic with no solutions, several blighted areas, too much wasted spending on legal matters, lower home values than our neighbors, lower level of crime solving, etc), I think Parks and Recreation is certainly a bright spot compared to these other areas. Could it be better? Sure. They could start with the dog park. Let's see how quickly the new guys give us one. BTW - what's with this new Council. Both appointments to the Planning Commission were males and now both appoinments to the Parks & Rec are males. And in each case they threw out a female. Is this something to watch for?
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 04:49 PM
Hi Merijoe, I agree with you. Parks and Recreation isn't "rocket science" and it doesn't take the kind of background and experience one looks for when considering someone for Planning. And I also agree that being positively involved in your community is one of the highest recommendations one can bring to any job at the City. OTOH if I were looking for someone for that Commission, in addition to community involvement, I'd like to find things like experience with children (to know their likes and dislikes and general behavior), experience with sports (since many of the Parks have sporting facilities), any kind of architectural background or planning background (since there is such a physical component), and some indication that they possess deductive skills (since there is a limited budget and choices must be made between various projects).
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Hi JustUs, Right now I am in the middle of a rainforest in Brazil where even the electricity can be problemmatic, much less Internet access. So I may be a little slow to respond on occasion. I am aware of the money involved and in fact I tried to hint at this problem in my article. Unfortunately I am away from home where my notes on this issue are, so I don't want to comment on the specifics without having the info in front of me. I can't confirm or deny the specifics but I can say that I have information of a similar nature without being able to confirm the exact amounts or the people. Actually I think I have even more information than the Voice reported. Here's an example where Nick's recommendation that information be put online would be great because I could access it from there, instead of relying on my notes at home. This is just one more indication of what I have been complaining about for years - the influence of developer money on city council decision making.
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Hi Lifer - You probably want to go back and read my series of blogs called "Follow the Money" which provide detailes of how this "political corruption" as you call it goes back for more than a decade. I have a 100 page report I would be happy to give you if you like. My e-mail address is drjgardner@gmail.com
JustUs February 07, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Pretty damning article, huh Lifer? There goes the sunshine. Heavy cloud cover today. Waiting for Jim's reaction.
JustUs February 07, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Jim, thanks much for responding. I looked back over your "Follow the Money" series and I found nothing about what was reported in the Voice of OC. I assume that this was public information since that other news source found it. Maybe I'm missing something. Could you direct our attention to where you wrote specifically about the donations made by the Developers in question that allegedly assisted in the election of Robinson and Nick? Thanks. "Here's an example where Nick's recommendation that information be put online would be great because I could access it from there, instead of relying on my notes at home." Another question. Based on the report by the Voice of OC, would you consider the gist of that story to be a positive or a negative for Mr. Nick and Mr. Robinson? Would it be a 'jeer' or another 'cheer'??? Just curious?
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Hi JustUs The information in my "Follow the Money" series on The Patch dealt largely with the study I did from 2002 to 2010, I followed that with updates, as they came available, for the 2012 election. The information The Voice talks about became available after my series, although I have been tracking it as well. This info became available in the City Clerk's office only a few weeks ago. You can find it in the 460 FPPC filings for each of the candidates. There you will see the company and individual names of the contributors for, if my memory serves me correctly, 3 of the people running in the election. But one of the problems when you "Follow the Money" is that the people with the money are not stupid, so they find ways to be less transparent and more obtuse. Hence I always qualify my remarks with "at least" because I know for every dollar I find there are probably 2 or 3 more that go uncovered. In the case of the developers, in addition to their direct contributions, they formed a committee psuehnonymously and the money was used for the "attack ads" (against Anderson & Rudolph and in support of Nick & Robinson), so that it takes a little detective work to uncover these money flows. At the City Clerk's office you'll find in a special section at the end of the 460s 2012 book where the monies spent in this manner can be found. I mentioned this issue in this blog in the paragraph that began "BTW – tonight when the developers appear before the City Council..."
JustUs February 07, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Thanks for your reply, Jim. "The information The Voice talks about became available after my series, although I have been tracking it as well. This info became available in the City Clerk's office only a few weeks ago." I'm confused. So you tracked this and knew about it and did not report in in your blog? Seems like some pretty important information that the citizens should've known about prior to Tuesday's vote. "BTW – tonight when the developers appear before the City Council it will be interesting to see whether they or anyone on the Council mentions the money which these companies and their representatives have contributed to existing City Council members’ re-election campaigns." Yes, thank you for directing my attention to that paragraph. However it states "re-election campaigns", and nothing about the contributions that allegedly benefited the 2 new councilmen. You did not respond to my question of whether you would consider the Voice of OC findings to be a 'jeer' or a 'cheer' for Mr. Nick and Mr. Robinson. Lately, you have been opining about the newfound hope for sunshine in local politics and you have been particularly impressed with Mr. Nick. Do you still feel the same way today after reading the Voice of OC article? Also, the Voice of OC claimed that Nick did not return calls and that he avoided an interview after Tuesday's meeting. You seem to like him. Could you get some answers? Just curious. Thanks.
Jim Gardner February 07, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Hi JustUs I have a mountain of information I gather, process, analyze, write, re-write, fact check, re-check, then slot into a Patch blog that won't overwhelm readers. Each one I publish generates more time/effort responding online and more often in private e-mails because most people prefer one-to-one correspondence. Looking back, some things come out too early or too late, some are out of sequence or step on the toes of another one. It's hard to do. When I wrote the allusion to the "re-election campaigns" Terry Anderson was bright enough to realize that I actually meant any campaign (I guess he knew what happened), so he asked the question right after the article appeared and I replied and thanked him for catching my mistake. I assume everyone was up to speed on the meaning of what I referred to. As to the culpability of Nick or Robinson in this, as I said earlier I am away from my notes and this information is not available from the City online (but it should be). Moreover, the final FPPC filings were not in the Clerk's office when I left the City so I haven't had a chance to review those. They may be even more incriminating. It's not fair for me to comment from memory. Nor have I watched the council meeting yet to see what was said. When I return I will look over everything and produce a new report. If VOC is true, it's definitely a "jeer". I'm glad VOC ran the story. I tried for months to interest them w/o success until now. Welcome aboard VOC
LakeForest Lifer February 07, 2013 at 09:39 PM
Not just a damning article but an exposing article. Mr. Nick keeps calling for more sunshine. This is the kind of sunshine that really shows us what's really going on. Jim, send your report to LakeForestLifer@yahoo.com. Thanks.
Jim Gardner February 08, 2013 at 02:16 PM
Hi Lifer, I sent you a copy of the report. Your copy excludes the appendix which unfortunately I do not have in a file, but only paper copies. I'm happy the Voice of OC is now interested in the topic. I sent them a copy of the report and spent some time with their reporter awhile ago but they were not interested at that time. I also spent even more time with the OC Register who also were not interested. Hardly a single Council meeting goes by where someone or some company is not appearing before the Council with a request that will enhance their own financial position, where that person or company has given hundreds/thousands of dollars to Council members, and no one says a thing, and the Council member (s) votes in favor of whatever the person or company wants. I can't recall, in more than 100 such cases, a single time when anyone voted against the money. This is a tragic indictment of so-called "honest" government. Technically it is not illegal because the politicians have written a loophole into the law which exempts contributions to campaign committees from what otherwise might be looked upon as bribes and payoffs. The sum total of these contributions well exceeds $100,000 and the sum total of the value of these decisions to the people or companies well exceeds $10,000,000.
R.S.G. May 13, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Mr. Gardener, I may be incorrect, but did you voice an opinion on the "on-site" stadium project the SVUSD introduced to LF residents in May of 2012? I believe you suggested that the stadium be built off-site as the District campaigned to the community when they pushed to get the Measure B Ballot passed in 2004. I wish we had some City Council Members supporting the LF residents when the SVUSD began to push this project. I firmly believe the project would not have gone beyond the "idea" phase if certain people were not members of the Lake Forest City Council, and on the Measure B Oversight Committee for SVUSD. Most of the students attending El Toro High School live within the neighboring homes and will be negatively impacted by the noise, and hazardous traffic congestion it will cause just to name a couple. The increased crime, and gang activity it will cause is extremely unfair to the students and children who live near this small school. ETHS cannot handle the current traffic congestion during the morning and afternoon crunch. Greed is the motivation behind this project.
Jim Gardner May 13, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Hi RSG, Good memory. Yes I did recommend that the stadium be built on the grounds of SVUSD offices which are about 5 minutes away from the school and in an industrial area where the noise, traffic, and light nuisances will not have much of an impact since most of these stores are closed at night. In turn, the SVUSD could move into one of the vacated schools. I understand that some of the residents have sued the SVUSD to prevent them from going forward. IMO, ETHS should have a stadium, but it shouldn't be done at the expense of the hundreds of people who live around the school.

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