December 15, 2009

Are You Listening?

There were lots of goings on last week in the ol’ Poway corral.

First off, Rod Gould unexpectedly resigned. He is going to be leaving Poway in January to take the city manager ‘s job in Santa Monica. Gould has been Poway city manager for 4 yrs.  That's not very long by Poway standards (Jim Bowersox served for 24 yrs), but probably only a few years shy of the average city manager’s tenure. Gotta wonder just how much of Gould’s decision was a desire to get away from the rancor and contentiousness of Poway and how much was a desire to do something in a bigger city and get paid a lot more for it. Gould is a consummate professional. We will probably never know.

Betty Rexford was elated at the news about Gould’s leaving. Apparently she and Gould didn’t get along too well. I think there may have been some words between them about this city not being big enough for both of them. She’s still standing, so I guess that’s a win for her.
Last week, Rexford launched her website, It is Rexford’s effort to get her side of the story out. As you might expect, the Poway Posse aka the recall-rexford folks responded to the rollout of her website by rolling up their recall tent. Not. You can read their responses here, but I suggest you avoid it, unless you have a perculiar nostalgia for your junior high years.

Last week was also the performance of Steve Vaus’ Carols by Candlelight. That’s his annual “for charity” gig. But since Vaus’ production company is a for profit company, we won’t know how much of the donated money and ticket revenue from Carols by Candlelight went to coddle the artists and line Vaus’ pockets and how much of it actually went to charity.  The recall stampede has been pretty quiet lately. I am not sure if that is because Vaus has been otherwise occupied or if they just ran out of steam.  Vaus hasn’t sent out a tweet since Nov 10.  No new republican leaders have stepped forward this week demanding that Rexford resign right this very minute.

Vaus’ claim that other houses burned to the ground during the Cedar Fire because a fire crew  was diverted to “babysit” Rexford’s house has been getting a lot of pushback.  I must say, the “facts” about the fire presented on the realbettyrexford site here, here, here  and here are pretty compelling. The documents on Vaus' site don’t back up his claims, they just show that a fire truck was sent to Rexford’s neighborhood to mop up after the fire. No document that Vaus provided shows that Rexford called and made any demands to send a firetruck. No document shows that any other house burned down due to a truck being sent to the Creek Rd neighborhood to quell spot fires.  Although not backing down or apologizing for what sure seems like a freakin’ distortion of events, Vaus (and his friend, Jack) are quick to point out that the issue of Rexford costing us a lot of money remains.

Do whatever you can to hide the real issue. Betty Rexford is unfit to serve and her repeatedly poor ethical choices have cost the city almost 1/2 a MILLION dollars. Does this not even bother you Gerold and Chris? You would rather put up with someone who is clearly unfit to serve rather than let anyone replace her?
So, maybe another house didn't "burn" as a direct result of her having trucks babysit her home, but does that make it any less salacious that she was able to have her own personal fire brigade stationed at her property and available to her beck and call?

Yes, it does bother me that the court case cost the city almost $500,000. I don’t agree with the recallers that Betty, and only Betty, was the problem that led to the court case. Nor do I agree that removing her from office just before her term expires and replacing her with an appointee is gonna fix things. But, consider the mathematics of the settlement. There are about 50,000 people in Poway. This case cost us about $10 ea. Or about $25 per household. Since January, I have been bitching about something that is costing me and many other Powegians about $50 per bi-monthly billing cycle. That is about $300/yr and it has been going on for years and will continue to go on until the council takes some action on it. I’m talking about my sewer consumption rates also known as “a variable commodity charge”. I’ve blogged about it here, here, here, and especially here. I’ve also complained about the fixed fees but that is another whole blog. Right now I am paying $72.23 for using 13 units of sewer water.(even when I only use 10 units). That is over $6/unit. Customers who use over 51 units are paying less than $2.29/unit. It isn’t fair, it isn’t just, it doesn’t comply with the best management practices of cities that have joined together to promote less consumption. Why should those who dump less water into the sewer system be paying a higher rate?

Tonight, the council will take another look at the water rate increses that went into effect this summer. The GVCA (Green Valley Civic Assoc) has complained that the rates aren’t fair and that some people will be paying more than it costs the city to provide the water.  Well, hello, isn’t that what I have been saying about the sewer rates for almost a year now? Can anybody hear me?  At least with the water rates, everyone is paying the exact same rate for the same amount of water purchased. Not so with our sewer rates. Those who buy more pay less. So how is it that GVCA got the council to bring back the water rates, but my complaints about the unjust and unfair sewer rates have been completely ignored?

Not a single councilmember has stepped forward to bring back the unfair sewer rates and put it on the agenda. In fact, Merrilee Boyack is the only council member to even respond to my many emails. Ms Boyack said maybe the council will look at it in a couple of years. A couple of years, eh? In a couple of years, that $300 extra that water-wise Powegians are paying each year is going to start adding up. It makes the Rexford settlement look like chump change.

Betty Rexford has also spoken in favor of rehearing the GVCA call to roll back the water rates to a flat rate. My request to rehear the sewer rates? She has done nothing.  Here is the issue where I am in total agreement with the recall folks. Betty Rexford has not been doing a good job of representing all of us.  But I’m not looking to replace Rexford with an appointee chosen by the council. I want the voters to replace her with someone who will listen to everyone in this community, not just the GVCA.

As for Higginson, Kruse and Cunningham, I haven’t heard a peep out of them about the unfair sewer rates either. They all live in north Poway and are pretty much tethered to the GVCA, but, uh, don’t you guys represent all of us? The unfair sewer rates  are not a north v south issue. The people who are getting ripped off are the ones who don’t use a lot of water in the winter months.  They are paying up to 10 times the sewer rate of the people who are putting a lot of water down the drain.

To be fair, most of my complaints were sent to the council before Carl Kruse was appointed.  So, here is your chance Carl. At tonight’s meeting, I am hoping you will ask to bring back the sewer rates and change them so that everybody pays the same rate for their sewer use. Not the same fee-  the same rate-  for each unit of water put into the sewer pipes.  Are you listening, Carl?  

Is anybody listening?

November 26, 2009

The Rabble Rousers

In my last post (written a few eons ago) I promised to blog a bit about some of the locals who are rousing up the crazies. This blog is not about issues, it more of a behind-the-scenes look at two local rabble rousers  and how they derive personal income from their political and charitable activities.

The first rabble rouser is Gary Kreep.  Kreep is a long-time political activist for conservative causes. Kreep was even a teabagger way back in 1975. 

Back in the mid 1970s, Gary Kreep spearheaded a national tea bag-based movement to protest the Ford Administration's tax policies, he confirmed to TPMmuckraker today.

"To protest unreasonably high taxes, people stapled tea bags to their tax returns," explains Kreep, now director of the United States Justice Foundation, but then a law student and an officer in the California chapter of the Reaganite Young Americans for Freedom.
When the the 2009 teabagger movement began to emerge earlier this year, Kreep thought: "It's deja vu all over again."

In 1975 the top income tax rate was 70%, today the top rate is half that, 35%.  That is very nearly the lowest rate  that the top earners have had to pay in the last 80 yrs.  Since 1960, federal taxes (income taxes, capital-gains taxes, payroll taxes, estate taxes, gift tax and corporate tax) have decreased for low earners, risen slightly for middle income earners and dramatically dropped for high earners.  Distribution of wealth? Well, of course.   But shhh!!! Don’t tell the crazies. It stupefies ‘em. 

Kreep is also engaged in the lunatic fringe’s refusal to recognize that Obama is the legitimate president of the United States.  Kreep and birther queen Orly Taitz filed a lawsuit in Orange County, California on the day the president was inaugurated, claiming that Obama was not born in Hawaii, but rather in Kenya.  As “evidence” they produced Obama’s purported Kenyan birth certificate which is now acknowledged to be a fake.

It took just 48 hours to definitively expose Taitz's find as a forgery, and for the document that it was apparently based off of to surface. It's a certified copy of a birth certificate for one David Jeffrey Bomford, born in South Australia in April 1959.
Images of both certificates can be viewed below -- for comparison purposes, you can see a larger, more legible version of the forgery here. The similarities are striking; they bear the same seal, have the same document numbers at the top left and top right corners and have identical book and page numbers. The names of the registrar and district registrar listed on each document are remarkably similar as well -- the source has the registrar listed as "G.F. Lavender," while the forgery names him as "E.F. Lavender." In the original, the district registrar is "J.H. Miller;" in the forgery, it's "M.H. Miller," and the M is slightly askew, overlapping the period.

The source material was indisputably published prior to the revelation of the forgery; it was available on a family genealogy Web site and popped up in Google image searches. (The Web site is no longer accessible, apparently due to the sudden increase in traffic prompted by the exposure.)

You can join the fun and make your own forged Kenyan birth certificate .

Lucas Smith, the witness who purported “found” the fake birth certificate now claims that Taitz asked him to lie to the court, as did Larry Sinclair, another witness, who was claiming to be Obama’s homosexual lover.

Smith also reveals that Taitz stopped speaking to him after he told people that she was sleeping with Charles Lincoln, a member of her legal team. And he describes in detail Lincoln, who has been disbarred in three states, relating his opinion of Taitz's sexual performance.

Folks, it is not a freakin’ reality tv show. It’s the courts. You are all batshit crazy. And you are wasting the taxpayer’s money with your frivolous court suits. Judge Carter dismissed this case. In another birther case (also dismissed), the judge fined Taitz $20,000 for abusing the courts. She says she is not going to pay. Ohhhkaaaay. Let's see just how much longer until Taitz is disbarred.

I’ve met Gary Kreep. He has defended the Minutemen, anti-abortionist Connie Youngkin, and the cranky (but harmless) Poway octogenarian-government-watchdog Ed Carbonneau. He is a true believer in conservative causes. Why he would team up with Taitz I have no idea. Well, maybe I do. For a while there, the birther delusion was just hot, hot hot, and it was a great hook to keep the money rolling in.

Kreep is the executive director of the US Justice Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks “to advance the conservative viewpoint in the judicial arena”. US Justice Foundation makes money several ways: by charging clients or winning their case and collecting attorney’s fees or by asking for donations.  This fall, USJF was running a “birther infomercial” in several selected southern states.  At the end of the infomercial which featured Kreep and Bill Keller (a fundamentalist who was imprisoned in the late 1980s for an insider trading conviction) viewers are asked to send in a donation. In return the donees get their name on a petition and a bumper sticker. 

As I said, the USJF is a nonprofit group. They file a Form 990 every year with the IRS. The documents are available on guidestar

In 2005, Kreep was the only paid officer for USJF. He was compensated $299,000 and an additional $9,000 went into his deferred compensation plan. Stirring up the crazies can be lucrative. So, to sum up, Kreep's message seems to be, "Don't pay your taxes, send your money to me, Gary Kreep, instead."

The second rabble rouser is Steve Vaus, the Poway resident who is leading the recall of city councilmember Betty Rexford. Although Vaus was an unknown entity in local politics before the recall, he is hardly a political neophyte. He has a long history of political activism. In fact, Vaus once ran for office. Way back in 1986, when he was living in the city of San Diego, Vaus ran for a seat on the school board. He campaigned for “back to the basics” and also against school health clinics (that might dispense birth control paraphernalia). Although an early favorite, Vaus lost; he came in 5th out of 8 candidates.  Afterwards, he compared his loss to a woman losing an unborn child late in her pregnancy:[1]

"I really think I understand what it's like for a woman to have a miscarriage," Vaus said. "You go along for so long-in my case, eight months-nurturing this dream, then all of a sudden, it's just not there anymore. You're left with an emptiness that's very hard to deal with."

Ummm...right. After the election, Vaus resumed writing jingles for ad campaigns and sound tracks for movies. And he started writing “political” songs. The first was an ode to Oliver North, written in 1987, and inspired by North's testimony during the Iran- Contra hearings. [2]

Titled "The Ballad of Lt. Col. North," the song extolling the Marine officer as the "kind of man who built the USA" made its debut on local radio and television shows.
Vaus, 35, said he wrote the song because North impressed him during his testimony "with his honesty and his clear-sighted action in supporting his superiors and the country he loves deeply."
"He looks like a hero," said Vaus, who lives in Scripps Ranch and runs Steve Vaus Productions, a company that churns out songs for local advertisers at its Kearny Mesa offices.

I guess Vaus and I differ on our definition of heroes- mine don’t secretly sell American weapons to Iran.

In 1992 Vaus wrote another politically inspired song, “We Must Take Back America”. The song was a fundamentalist pitch for prayers in school. For about a month, the song was hot, hot, hot and Vaus was a rising star.  RCA records wanted the song and sent Vaus on a promotional tour.  Then the song crashed. Vaus blamed the dive on “liberal radio stations” that refused to air his song because it was "too patriotic". Jack Weston, vice president and general manager of RCA in Nashville saw it differently.[3]

JWeston, who signed Vaus, says his decision to drop the singer was motivated by economics, not political pressure.

Despite its Top 100 chart appearance, "We Must Take America Back" sold fewer than 25,000 copies and obtained airplay on fewer than two dozen of the nation's more than 200 key country radio stations.

Music industry insiders say that it is not uncommon for a label to drop a new artist if the performer's debut does not receive substantial airplay or sell records.

"Sometimes you see the writing on the wall and you try to cut your losses as quickly as you can," Weston explains. "When we first heard Mr. Vaus' music, we thought that, given the election and the current political climate, it might appeal to a lot of folks out there. But we were wrong.

"Radio programmers said they didn't think their listeners wanted to hear somebody harping about all these causes in such a preachy manner. Fact is, the record just didn't sell."

Vaus has recently re-released “We Must Take America Back” with new lyrics. The school prayers appeal has been cut.  There is still plenty of dark, patriotic doom and gloom in the new lyrics, along with a lament against pols who “stick and bleed us” and who are “not even fit to hold office". The new lyrics are a general, all-purpose, whiny angst, perfect for a tea-bagging event or a recall.

This post is not an attempt to discuss (or debate) the merits of the Rexford recall. But I do find it ironic that in 1998, Vaus teamed up with Roger Hedgecock to do a hit piece on president Bill Clinton. Yes, I said  Roger Hedgecock, the same Roger Hedgecock who was the mayor of San Diego from 1983 until he was forced to leave office in 1985 after being convicted of taking illegal campaign donations from none other than Nancy Hoover and J. David Dominelli.  Dominelli was kind of the “Madoff of the 80s";  he ran a company that scammed millions of dollars from some very wealthy, high-profile investors. His investment company collapsed because it was really a ponzi scheme.  Hoover and Dominelli ended up in prison. Hedgecock was luckier. Most of his convictions  were later overturned by the California Supreme Court.  One remaining charge was reduced to a misdemenor, for which  Hedgecock merely served probation. 

Four days after he resigned his mayorship, Hedgecock took a giant leap to the political right and re-invented himself as a talk radio host. It was on Hedgecock’s KOGO show that Vaus introduced his“Wrong is Not Right” anti-Clinton song and ad campaign in 1998. The ad campaign consisted of several 60 second radio spots that featured letters from children writing to the president for advice on how to get away with lying to their parents.  Vaus asked people to send donations so that he could raise a million dollars to run the ads on various radio stations.  Vaus asked people to send the money to him at a P.O. Box. No PAC or political group is mentioned on the website, so I have no idea where to find an accounting of how much money was raised or how it was disbursed.

Hedgecock also pitched Vaus’ anti-Clinton ad campaign fundraising request on one of the 2 min commentaries he did for  KUSI TV news. And he got "indefinitely hiatused" for it. [4]

Hedgecock says he had permission from KUSI management to tell viewers to send money to a local musician who's trying to place commercials on radio stations around the country urging the removal of President Clinton from office.

Rawdin, and station owner Mike McKinnon, says he violated their orders not to air the live commentary.
Hedgecock, who was paid $250 for each of his two-minute KUSI commentaries, says he's frequently done fund- raising for local charities in his commentary, but Rawdin responded: "We don't do political fund-raising through our newscast."
Said Hedgecock: "Under my contract, if they don't like a script I've submitted, and this one was submitted, the remedy is not to air it.

"Not only was it approved by the producers, but the production staff assisted in making the (graphic) board which was put on screen which asked for the money.

"They allowed it to be aired, and after the fact, they censored me by putting me on suspension indefinitely because Mike McKinnon didn't like it for some reason."

Which is not the way Rawdin remembers it.

Rawdin says he instructed Hedgecock's representative, Jimmy Valentine, that Hedgecock should not deliver his pitch for Vaus. "He didn't follow our procedure," Rawdin said. "He was told by me not to do that. Then he did it.

"The word `suspension' was never used. Roger violated. . . explicitly what I did not want (him) to do. Since then, I've put Roger on hiatus while we evaluate his violation of our procedures."

Gotta wonder if Hedgecock is another one of Steve Vaus' heroes.

I’ve never met Steve Vaus in person, but I did have a phone conversation with him in Sept. Steve had left a comment on my blog and somehow got my email address and asked me to call him. After the call, I started getting group emails and news updates about the recall from Steve although I had never asked to be placed on any list. About a month later, I got an email about a Christmas concert promotion called “Carols by Candlelight” that Vaus produces. The email asked for my help “keeping Carols afloat” and it stressed that “the sole reason that Carols exists is to raise money for LOCAL children’s charities". A link from the email mentioned that this was the first year in 19 yrs that Carols did not have a title sponsor chipping in $25,000, so they really needed some angels to send money to them. Could I be an angel and send them $250- $25,000?
Carols by Candlelight 2

Two friends who were also getting unrequested recall emails from Vaus, got the Carols by Candlelight email too. Was Vaus using the recall to phish for email addresses so he could pump Powegians  for donations to finance his concert? It seemed that way to me.
Ken Leighton, who covers the music scene for the San Diego Reader, raised my query up a notch or two. He wanted to know  just how much money Steve gave to charity from his concert. He called Vaus and asked him, but Vaus couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say how much money the concert gave to charity in 2008.

After I read Leighton’s piece and the comments that were posted. I called Make-A-Wish foundation on Nov 11th and asked “Rachel” just how much they got. Rachel said they got $25,000 from Carols last year, but she would not specify if the money came from a corporate sponsor or if Vaus cut a check to her.

$25,000. That is how much an event sponsor pays. What happened to all of the other angel donations and the proceeds from the ticket sales. (Tickets cost $30-$100 this year). Why didn’t this concert have more proceeds? Where was all the money going?

Vaus has been doing his “Carols by Candlelight for 19 yrs.” Although Carols by Candlelight  is purportedly being done for charitable purposes, Vaus does not have a nonprofit foundation handling the donations and expenses of producing the showing. If he did, the corporate sponsors, the private donors and the public would be able to see how much of the money  goes to pay expenses, how much goes to pay Vaus and how much goes to a charity.  None of the donations are tax deductible either, unless they are given directly to the charity although the original email I got from Carols by Candlelight doesn’t mention that.

I know that there are “for profit” fundraising companies out there. I mean, someone doesn’t just give cookies to the Girl Scouts to sell for free. But, I can find out just how much goes into the bakers pocket and how much goes to the girl scouts. And the cookie makers don’t solicit angel donations to help cover  their production costs. Not so with Vaus’ fundraisers.

Vaus’ charity fundraising goes way back to 1989 when he produced a Christmas album titled “The Stars Come Out for Christmas”. The album was a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital. Some of the songs were sent to Vaus by the stars and others were recorded in his San Diego studio.  Although there is no formal accounting that is available to the public, articles in the newspaper shed some light on how the fundraiser worked. Star ATM System underwrote the manufacturing and related costs ($40,000). Eagle Limousine gave the stars free transportation and San Diego Marriott agreed to provide them with free accommodations. Taco Bell and Imperial Savings sold the albums at their sites. The album netted Chilren’s Hospital $160,000.[7]

In 1990, Vaus planned to do a bigger project, marketing the albums nationally and benefitting a lot more hospitals. And maybe benefitting his production studio with a little more, too.  But Vaus and Children’s Hospital Foundation didn’t see eye-to eye on the terms, so they dropped Vaus and hired someone else to produce a benefit Christmas album.[5]

The decision to sever ties with Vaus and find another producer was based on a "a whole variety of reasons," said Stuart C. Turgel, senior vice president and executive director of the Children's Hospital Foundation of San Diego. The primary one, he said, was Vaus' insistence on a $250,000 "production fee" for this year's album,substantially more than the $16,000 he charged last year, when the album was a local effort. This year, Turgel wants to expand marketing drastically and take it national.

"We don't believe an individual should enjoy financial gain, if you will, from this work," Turgel said. "The original idea was that all proceeds would go to the hospital."

Vaus, however, said his request for more money was prompted by necessity rather than greed.

"Let me shed a little light on that figure," he said. "The amount was to cover air transportation, lodging, and food for all the artists; roughly 1,000 hours of studio time; designing and printing the graphics; mastering and sequencing the tapes, and then promoting the album to 10,000 radio stations around the country.

"I'm not an independently wealthy person; I've got an operation to run and a staff to pay. And this year, we were talking about a significantly different animal, because it's no longer just a local project, it's a national project. It would have taken a whole year, from start to finish, and we would have had to bypass all our customary business, which generates well in excess of $250,000 in that same period."

Another reason for dumping Vaus, Turgel said, was the producer's demand for complete artistic control.

"We wanted a project that would represent Children's Hospital in the most appropriate way," he said, "and not having the ability to approve or disapprove certain artists, certain songs, was very problematic for us."

Said Vaus: "I'm in the business of music, they're in the business of fund raising, and it's difficult sometimes when the artistic world and the fund- raising world have to come together because you get people trying to do each other's jobs and it simply doesn't work."

In any case, Turgel said, "it became clear to us that we wanted to find somebody else to work with us," and that "somebody else` turned out to be Lloyd, who was not only willing to work for free, but didn't mind giving hospital officials final say as to what tunes would appear on the album."

Meanwhile, Vaus is busy working on "The Stars Come Out for Christmas 1990," which will benefit an undisclosed local charity and also be marketed nationally. The charity will purchase the entire stock at 50 to 60 cents per tape over the manufacturer's cost, Vaus said. The extra money will cover Vaus' expenses, including salary for him and his staff.

So basically, Vaus' idea of fundraising is that he will produce a product which the charity will have to pay for and then the charity can have the proceeds when it sells. Like girl scout cookies. Only, nobody knows if Vaus’ production costs are excessive or in line with what others would charge for the same work. And although there are claims about how much money went for charity in the newspaper promo pieces there are also blurbs like this one comparing Chrildren’s Hospital’s Christmas album and Vaus’ Christmas album[6] :

Once again, there are two star-studded Christmas benefit albums competing for San Diegans' generosity. You might remember the local "Christmas album war" of 1991, a quietly venomous battle for charity- minded dollars between two seasonal benefit recordings.

On one side was "The Christmas Album . . . A Gift of Hope, Volume III" which was produced in Los Angeles by Grammy-winning producer Michael Lloyd; featured a number of major recording stars; and eventually raised $300,000 (in San Diego alone) for San Diego Children's Hospital and its counterparts across the country.

In the other corner was "The Stars Come Out for Christmas, Volume III," which was produced locally by Steve Vaus. It also boasted a number of major recording stars. Nationally it raised $2 million. North County's Casa de Amparo center for abused children and families shared in the proceeds but were unable to disclose how much.

So is Vaus in this for the "charity" or for the benefit of Steve Vaus? Are his concerts just a hook to provide himself with a good living? There is no way to know without any disclosure. Just how many Poway angels forked over some cash thinking it would benefit Rady Children's Hospital? No way of knowing. But, if you were one of them, be careful. That donation was NOT tax deductible.

Kreep’s fundraising efforts may be cheesy and self-serving, but at least he is upfront about who the beneficiary is and how much he is paid. With Vaus, we just don’t know. 

[1] BARRY M. HORSTMAN. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Jun 15, 1986. pg. 1

[2] Bob Corbett. The Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jul 11, 1987. pg. A.6

[3] Chuck Philips.. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Sep 13, 1992. pg. 68
[4] ROBERT P LAURENCE. The San Diego Union - Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jan 21, 1999. pg. E.6
[5] THOMAS K. ARNOLD. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: May 4, 1990. pg. 1
[6] JOHN D'AGOSTINO. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Dec 9, 1992. pg. 1

[7] THOMAS K. ARNOLD. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 2, 1989. pg. 1

September 28, 2009

The crazy wackos make PUSD cry "uncle"

Unless you have been living under a rock you have probably heard about the controversy surrounding President Obama's address to students on Sept 8th. PUSD opted out of the speech.  PUSD Superintendant Don Phillips sent a message to all PUSD parents suggesting that they watch the speech "at home as a family."  The district provided a link to the speech from their website. And, Dr. Phillips laid out the hoops a teacher would have to jump through to use the speech as part of their classroom curriculum. 

As with any significant current events topic, some teachers may choose to include the viewing of the Presidents speech as a part of a supplemental classroom learning activity focused upon the importance of education, goal-setting, and college and career awareness. We will not be encouraging teachers to do so, nor requiring that they use any of the suggested learning options from the Department of Education. As with all classroom lessons, we expect our teachers to present all materials in a relevant and meaningful way.

We understand that some families may not wish to have their child watch the Presidents speech at school. We are sending guidelines to all teachers indicating that if they plan to include the speech as part of a lesson, they need to inform parents by the end of school this Friday and give parents an opportunity to opt out by notifying the teacher prior to the broadcast on Tuesday morning. Students who have opted out will be assigned supervised alternate learning activities out of the classroom during the 20-minute speech and any immediate follow-up discussion.

Let's see. The president of the United States, the highest ranking public official in the country, a man whose own success was due to hard work and perseverance wanted to tell kids to study hard and do their homework. PUSD discouraged teachers from letting their students listen and formally allowed students to  "opt out" if the teacher brazenly showed the speech anyways. I emailed Dr. Phillips, the highest ranking public official in PUSD, and asked him if PUSD had ever allowed students to "opt out" of any speech or address from any other public official or politician in the past. Dr. Phillips hedged his answer by replying that no public or elected official had requested to address ALL students since he arrived in 2001. Ohhhh.....Kay.

If the letters to the editor in the Chieftain and online comments are any indication, the brouhaha is simmering up, not down. The Chieftain's own editorial on Sept 16 tried to distance PUSD from responsibility for disrespecting the president by blaming Washington for insufficient planning. They also lashed  the Dept of Education for "trampling state's right's" by suggesting an optional lesson plan.  Trampling state's rights? What the...? Must be part of that "get government outta my face" discombobulation. Geez, maybe PUSD should send back the millions of stimulus dollars that the Obama administration sent their way this year and invite Arnold to come speak to the kiddies and explain how he can run the state and keep the schools humming by cutting taxes. 

Chieftain reader Amy Sandberg was similarly not impressed with their editorial.

Amy Sandberg of rancho bernardo wrote at 11:23 pm on September 16, 2009:

Oh please!!!! What a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacking this article is! Parents didn't even knew the content of the "suggested" curriculum (of a voluntary address) when the outcry began. You can bet racism was involved at some level if only sub-conscious, as was partisanship and fear. Fear of what, I'm not sure. Certain whack jobs in our community and nationwide are acting as if the democratically elected leader of the free world is a child predator standing on a street corner offering our students candy. This is our PRESIDENT for God's sake. Does anyone recall what George W. Bush was doing when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers on 09/11/01? He was reading to a classroom of impressionable young minds. And GOOD FOR HIM! If our president--even one our parents don't like-- can't inspire our children, then who can?

 And as for treading on state's rights, who's kidding who? 'No Child Left Behind' is a federally (un)funded mandate requiring schools to hold to certain standard otherwise loose their credetials and funding from the Feds. Would that not be an intrusion of states rights as well?

Kudos to the parents of the La Mesa/Spring Valley School District for holding their school board members accountable...PUSD parents should do the same!

Former city councilmember and retired teacher Bob Emery ended his Sept 23 column with a brief comment about the controversy.

A mild hip, hip, hooray to Poway Unified for leaving it up to the teachers and parents whether to watch it or not. Personally, I would have made viewing the speech mandatory.

That set off a reader, aptly named, "PowayBoob" who flamed Bob online.
A "boo and a hiss" for Bob Emery's opinion that viewing of Obama's speech would have been "mandatory" had it been in his classroom.

WHAT Obama said was not so controversial as much as WHO Obama the man is, saying it. It is interesting that someone who will not release his own school transcripts and who admitted to drug abuse while in school wants to have a pulpit to "talk about the values..." children should espouse. A man who for over twenty years sat at the feet of a preacher who hates America, who studied and employed the teachings of radical Sal Alinsky and who apprenticed with Bill Ayers, a terrorist.

Most people are all for exposing their children to various ideas and viewpoints, but want to draw a line somewhere. For many, they draw the line at having this man (not as the President), but specifically THIS man, address their children. I cannot say I blame them.
As his life is NOT representative of the values that many people have, I think it is right that they have a CHOICE to let their kids hear him or not. Your viewpoint Bob, is very typical of a lifelong Democrat, union-backed teacher who is out of touch with both what kids need and what families want.

Schools need to do more teaching and less indoctrination. Of COURSE Bob would have made "viewing the speech mandatory". That is what indoctrination requires...

Thumbs up! for PUSD for making viewing of the speech a choice and not mandatory as some would have.

PowayBoob makes her case very clear. It is not about what Obama says, it is WHO HE IS that rankles her. So it really wouldn't have mattered if the district had a week or a month to prescreen Obama's comments or pour over the suggested lesson plans.  The Obama haters are freakin' crazy. There is no reasoning with them. So I have some pity for Dr. Phillips. What was he supposed to do when they started calling him? Tell them to turn off Fox and Rush and hate radio and come back in a couple of weeks  (if and when their heads cleared) and talk about it? I imagine they told him they would have HIS head on a platter if PUSD showed Obama's speech. 

I've seen this hysteria before. I saw it in the 60s when folks went completely ballistic because little black kids were attempting to go to school with little white kids. Armed federal agents managed to get the kids through the doors, but it didn't protect them from the hateful stares and vile comments that greeted them every day. What were the parents afraid of? That one of those little black kids might grow up and be president someday? Ha! 

I saw this hysteria in the early nineties too. The religious right emerged as a political force. Their goal was to get as many of their people elected to office, any office, but particularly school boards. Once they had a majority on the board, they planned to impose religion based changes on curriculum and school policies.  They were particularly successful in San Diego county. Matthew Freeman explains how they did it in his book The San Diego Model: A Community Battles the Religious Right:

In 1990, San Diego, California became the testing ground for this strategy, when the Christian Coalition joined forces with a number of Religious Right organizations in fielding and then working to elect a slate of like-minded candidates. Among the offices for which these candidates ran were a handful of state legislative seats, and a host of positions on hospital planning boards, city councils, water districts, and most significantly, school boards.

Altogether, these forces fielded some 90 candidates in 1990, nearly two-thirds of whom were ultimately elected. Apart from ideology, what distinguished these candidates from all others was their method of campaigning. While most candidates seek opportunities to meet the voters, these candidates rarely ventured beyond the safety of their church communities. They came, in fact, to be referred to as "stealth candidates," and one longtime school board member would say of an elected slate member that "Nobody laid eyes on her till the day she was sworn in." 

The movement's success in 1990 put it within striking distance of a still more significant victory in 1992: in a number of school districts throughout the country, Religious Right forces, with at least one board seat already safely in their column, were poised to seize control of the board with just modest gains in 1992's elections.

With control of school boards would come virtual carte blanche for the religious Right to enact its extreme agenda for the schools, ranging from censorship of selected novels and textbooks to the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in biology classrooms; from the gutting of sex-education programs to a variety of hard-hearted policies intended to end school breakfast programs for the needy and day-care for the children of working-parent families, on the grounds that such programs undercut the family.

 In the 1992 election, 10 out of 30 religious conservatives won school board seats, but they had a majority in only one district- Vista. And what a contentious mess that was. Their school board meetings were like today's town hall meetings. In 1994, fearful that the same fate could happen to PUSD, groups organized to push back.

In a move to foil the religious right’s agenda, three area chambers of commerce formed the Cookie Coalition, so named because it first met at the Keebler factory in Poway. The coalition’s school board candidates won decisively.

The "Cookie Coalition" candidates were Steve McMillan, Penny Rantfle and Jeff Magnum.  McMillan retired some years ago, but Rantfle and Magnum are still on the board. 
I have no idea if the school board weighed in before Dr. Phillips sent his letter to parents. In an email response to my inquiries, Dr. Phillips stated that PUSD  was in the process of reviewing the entire event (Obama's speech) and how they might respond in the future. So, I am sure the school board is going to have a say in the future policy.  It will be interesting to see how  the two remaining cookie coalition members deal with it.

Dr. Phillips also mentioned (in response to my questions) that 50 students stayed home "due to the speech". Wow, that is gonna leave a mark. If they stay home, the district loses "daily attendance money" for those students. I wonder which students stayed home- the children of the frenzied lunatic fringe, or perhaps some parents who thought it was important for their children to see Obama's speech live, as it happened. Some people actually think Obama is inspirational. 

 As I see it, PUSD opened a pandora's box with their ill-thought out policy. I mean, if you can opt your kid out of an address by the highest public official in the country, why not let him/her opt out if he/she doesn't like his/her teacher, or the topic of the day?  Detention? Pffffttttt! Just opt out. No union-belonging teacher should discipline your kid. This could get real ugly.  
The current wave of hysteria is sometimes very difficult for the rational to understand. While the rhetoric is sometimes racial and sometimes "religious"  wignuttery, it is more often, just completely wacko, making no sense at all. It is interesting that it was the chamber of commerce folks who got together and sought candidates for the school board to stop the takeover from religious wingnuts. Chamber of Commerce types are typically conservative right wingers. They stepped forward to stop the fringe element from messing with the schools. 

Sadly, there seems to be no one on the right who is stepping forward to tell the crazies to put a lid on it. In fact, they seem to be encouraging it and joining in the show of disrespect. Their only goal seems to be to bring Obama down, to delegitimize him.  If they can  spread the hyped-up discontent, oppose Obama and stall any new legislation, then maybe they can swing things their way in the 2010 elections.  And then what? What can top spending $60 million to impeach a president for lying about a consensual blow job, or invading a country for their oil,  trampling on the constitution, shredding all the treaties, torturing and rendition, and, oh yeah, starting with a surplus and ending up with the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression?  Granted, they didn't destroy social security, yet, but give them a chance in 2010 and they will try again.

 For our schools' sake, for our country's sake, reasonable people need to push back against the hysteria of the right wing crazies. Hopefully, PUSD will get it together, and not let political factions use the schools in a struggle for  power. 

I suppose it is no surprise that politicians will use hyped-up crazy people to achieve more power for themselves. But there are other  agitators stirring the pot who are not politicians. What are they getting out of it? In my next post, I am going to delve into the activities of 2 local agitators and try to answer that question. 

September 11, 2009

Poway's Public Buildings Are On a 25-30 Yr Replacement Schedule

Poway Community Center

Poway Senior Center

I'm from the midwest. When I first saw stucco houses, I thought they were temporary structures built to tide people over because some disaster had befallen them. It took a while, but eventually I got used to stucco buildings as permanent structures. It doesn't have to be made from bricks to last for decades. But I still cannot get used to the idea of "disposable" public buildings.

Poway's first city hall was built for the water district in 1979, a year before Poway incorporated. If I remember correctly, the building was built with thick, reinforced walls, the intent being that it would someday be converted to a sheriff's substation with a jail. That never happened. In 2004, the city built a new $20 million, 50,400 square foot administration center and tore down the old building.

At the time, I thought 25 yrs was really too short a life for a public building. I also thought the new city hall was a tad expensive. For comparison, PUSD just bought a 54,000 sq ft administrative center in Carmel Mtn Ranch. The published asking price is $11.2 million, although PUSD may negotiate a lower price. Granted, PUSD benefitted from buying during the recession, nevertheless their building and the land cost about $207/sq.ft, while Poway's city hall building alone cost $397/sq. ft. Quite a difference.

Today I read an article in MyLocalNews and found out that the City of Poway is planning on "replacing the aging senior center and community center with a new 30,000 square-foot building." "Aging" refers to the building, not the seniors. Really. The senior center is a little over 30 yrs old. That is pretty old in dog years but is 30 yrs really the expected life of a public building?

The senior center was built circa 1976 and remodeled in 1996. The guy who was remodeling it bailed without finishing the project. Luckily, he was bonded and the city did get it finished. In 1999, the roof trusses failed. I'm not sure who did the crappy job on them, or if roof trusses sometimes fail because the building is nearing the end of its useful life. Whatever, they got fixed.

The Poway Redevelopment Agency will have to issue new bonds to pay for the buildings. They will have 30, 40, maybe forever years worth of tax increment money to pay off the bonds. Maybe more if they refinance a few times. The tax increment money is the property taxes from parcels that are located in the redevelopment area. Instead of that money going to the state and paying to finance schools and state government, the tax increment money gets diverted to redevelopment agencies, where folks consider 30 yr old public buildings aged.

They sure don't build them like they used to in the Midwest, do they?

UPDATE: A friend of mine belongs to a group of real estate agents that meets every Friday in the Community Center. They have been meeting there for years, and paying for it too. Recently, the city told them they would no longer be able to set up tables and chairs for their meetings because of the cutback in personnel. The group's fees were not refunded or reduced to compensate.

According to the article the city plans to construct a new center a few feet from where it is now so that the city can minimize staff allocation.

Fuentes added the city would like to build a new 30,000-square-foot “multi-generational facility” closer to the aquatics center so that both could be overseen by the same city staff members.

So, the city plans to spend $10-16 million to build a new community center so the staff doesn't have to walk too far to oversee both buildings. What??? Will the kids have to take a time out at the pool while the lifeguards hustle over to put up tables and chairs at the senior/community center? Because other than the lifeguards, I don't see how moving the senior/ community center a few feet closer to the pool is really going to make that big of a time savings.

The problem seems to be that there are too few people trying to do too much. Insufficient staff. And that seems to beg the question, "How does the city have easy access to $16 million but not enough money to hire sufficient staff?" The answer to that question is that the money to build a new building and the money to pay staff come from 2 different pots of money. Building projects come from redevelopment money and the staff is paid from the general fund, which is always broke lately. The redevelopment agency doesn't necessarily have a lot of money either, but they can always borrow money and pay the bonds off over the next 30 -40 yrs or so. The money to pay them off comes from property taxes, money that would have gone to state and local general funds if it wasn't diverted to a redevelopment agency.

So that is why we have millions of dollars to frivolously replace not-so-old buildings but nadda when it comes to staffing them.

August 20, 2009

Betty Wasn't The First

Last Tuesday's City Council meeting was one for the record book.

It was the first time the Poway Council used teleconferencing during a council meeting. Both Betty Rexford and Merrilee Boyack were physically absent but connected via a telephone hookup.

It was also the first time that a council member was asked to resign by the rest of the council. At the end of the regular meeting, the council met in a closed session to discuss a lawsuit against the city by some of Betty Rexford's neighbors who claimed that she inappropriately directed the planning department to make their lives miserable. After the session, Mayor Don Higginson announced a settlement. The city the people of Poway would pay the Rexford's neighbors $360,000 and the entire council asked Mrs. Rexford to resign.

“The recent decision of the court in this case has demonstrated that settlement is necessary to protect the city from greater exposure to damages and significant future legal costs if the case goes to trial,” Higginson read from a statement on behalf of the council.

“Further, it is clearly inappropriate for any City Council member to interfere in the city's administrative functions, such as the development projects that were the subject of this case. It is apparent to the City Council that the public trust has been irrevocably damaged, and that even the appearance that the council member acted in her self-interest is unacceptable.

“Therefore, it is with great sadness that we ask council member Rexford to consider stepping down from her position on the Poway City Council.”

While the city settled with the plaintiffs, Rexford and her husband were also personally named in the suit. Apparently, that part of the suit has also been settled.

Daral Mazzarella, the attorney fof the plaintiffs, said his clients settled that part for $40,000. Mazzarella also said that while his clients had sought the resignation of Rexford, he had been under the impression that her fellow councilmembers would not seek it.

“I was surprised to see that,” Mazzarella said of the resignation request, which he termed “appropriate.”

Rexford contends that she did nothing wrong; that she had the right as a private citizen to complain to city staff about her neighbors. And she does. But Rexford also had something the average citizen didn't have. Clout. When she pestered the staff, they listened. And acted. Way more than they would for the average Poway resident. Maybe that is because the poor blokes are "hired and fired at will" and pretty much have to sell their souls to be a Poway planner in the first place. Anyway, the judge in the case ruled that there was plenty enough evidence to go forward with a trial. Once the case was going to trial, the city decided to cut their losses and settle.

On Saturday, a SDUT editorial also called for Rexford to quit. The editorial repeated the words from Mayor Higginson's statement:

it is “clearly inappropriate for any City Council member to interfere in the city's administrative functions ... It is apparent to the City Council that the public trust has been irrevocably damaged, and that even the appearance that the council member acted in her self-interest is unacceptable.”

"....clearly inappropriate for any City Council member to interfere in the city's administrative function." They need to print that up and glue it all over the walls in the council members' offices. I mean, in another decision on that very same night that the council issued this statement, the council agreed to give a permit to a guy who built a baseball diamond on his private lot. He had previously been turned down for a permit for a larger project. Afterwards, Mickey Cafagna had supposedly told the homeowner to go ahead and build the smaller project without a permit. I wish I had $10 for every time I heard that Mickey gave someone "permission" to do something the Poway code doesn't allow.

Higginson is no stranger to directing the staff to do stuff for a friend either. In 1993, Bruce Tabb (developer of Old Coach Golf Estates) called up Jim Nessel, a senior Poway planner and "lambasted" him because his property was not identified on SANDAG maps as "disturbed". Somehow, the property had been graded (more times than it had permits for) and SANDAG was unaware of the results. Nessel was so upset with being harangued by Bruce Tabb that he wrote a memo and put it in the city files. In that letter, Nessel notes:

Mr Tabb could not recall exactly what SANDAG map he looked at, and I told him it may have been a historic vegetation map of the region and suggested that all map data layers prepare for the habitat evaluation model be reviewed. During the phone conversation, Mayor Higginson got on the line in Mr. Tabb's office and encouraged me to help Mr. Tabb with his problem. (emphasis added)

Remember Jay Goldby, former city council member (and more recently manager of a nudist enclave)? Goldby owned a print shop in Poway. As a council member, he steered business to his shop. The city used a $90,000 transportation grant to buy a bus, paint it to look cute and route it around town from shopping area to shopping area. The City approved a program whereby the Chamber of Commerce was allowed to solicit advertisers to put signs in the back windows of the bus. The paperwork for the signs directed all customers to have the work done at Jay's sign shop. Nifty, eh?

Jay also got embroiled in a deal involving directional signs for the car dealers. The City agreed (and Jay voted for it) to pay for the posts and the property and the dealers were to pay for their individual slats. The car dealers had already had some of the work done at Jay's shop, before the other council members reprimanded him for "the appearance of impropriety". Goldby then agreed to have some other company make the signs. It should be noted that the Chamber never got anyone to buy any advertising space on the bus, so technically Goldby did not accrue a benefit from having voted for the project. It should also be noted that it was a rare event when the bus had a passenger. And those directional car signs with the dealers names on them? The city had to remove them 'cause they were illegal.

We can go back even further, to the very beginning of our fair city, to find more "appearances of impropriety". In the early 1980s, four landowners in the northern part of Poway attempted to subdivide their property. The city wanted them to build improvements, including paved roads, as a condition of the split. The landowners balked and complained that the improvements to the properties were unnecessary and would benefit council member Bob Emery and City Attorney Jean Harris. Bob owned 6 nearby acres just outside the city limits. Harris owned acreage on Eagle's Crest Rd, which he had subdivided without having to build the same improvements that were required of the landowners.

There were court suits, grand jury investigations and an indictment. Bob skated. Harris had gotten a former city attorney to say it was OK for Bob to vote on the issue. But in a strange turn of events, the county planning department determined that Jean Harris's lot subdivision was illegal. The D.A. also did a criminal investigation. Harris signed a plea agreement and got 3 yrs probation. He might have gotten worse, but the D.A. made some mistake when they raided his office and so the plea agreement was the best they could get. Harris also resigned his city attorney position in Poway. Two years after the plea deal, Harris hadn't made his court-ordered restitution and the judge threatened to revoke his probation. I have no idea where he landed after that. Perhaps he is sunbathing in the buff up on his property.

There are a couple of reasons why Poway council members might be more prone to conflicts of interest. First of all, they do not have any ethics ordinances or an ethics commission like the City of San Diego does. Poway is a general law city and does have to abide by state laws. But state laws do not require council members to keep a calendar or log of who they meet with or what their activities are. What goes on behind closed doors stays behind the closed doors. Most of the decisions in Poway are made behind closed doors.

Another problem is that the council members are the planning commission and redevelopment agency, too. They wear all 3 hats at once. Their is no counter-balancing authority to appeal to. By the time a project goes before the council for approval, and the public finally has an opportunity to see and comment on it, it is too late. Likely, several of the council members have been personally involved with shaping the project. They may have even introduced the developer and project themselves and met with the developers or their representatives several times. The council members have likely discussed things with staff. Or maybe called staff on someone's behalf.

Even workshops and neighborhood meetings are more like infomercials than a forum where the community gets to give real input. Remember the town center meetings? People said they wanted something with a lot of open space and a rural feel. In their report afterwards, the staff as much as said, "We listened to you and we came up with some 4- story retail and residential buildings. But don't worry, we heard you, we're gonna have some vines growing on the 3-story parking garage that will give it a lovely rustic flair." I can hardly blame the staff. They do what they are told. Or they can be fired. So, some council member's buddy comes up with a great development project and the staff has to stuff it down our throats even if they know the community does not want it.

I'm at odds about Betty's resignation. On the one hand, it is clear she crossed an ethical line. It seems as if she doesn't even realize it. That is scary in itself. Betty has been very ineffectual in the last several years, as she has focused on subdividing her own property and getting concessions from developers that could benefit her property. Also, she seems to be increasingly unable to understand the complexity of council issues and relies on one or two individuals to help her make decisions.

On the other hand, I don't want another council appointment. That process sucks. A council appointment is like a gateway drug. Without term limits, incumbency seems to bestow near-lifetime status in Poway. Too many times in this community, a mere handful of people have controlled our fate. If Betty does resign, we should have a say, a vote, for her successor.