August 2014.

Reform - ChairNewport Independent Columnist Kurt English continues to dig on the excessive spending on the Taj Mahal.  He uses a city invoice to show the ridiculous prices they paid for desk chairs – some as much as $1,100.  Bob McCaffrey from Residents For Reform suggested, “Next time the city buys furniture, maybe they could go to IKEA.”

Click Here to view the invoice



From Newport Beach Independent

A Civic Center Chairy Tale

I have written several times about the infamous $1,073 chairs purchased for the Newport Beach City Hall.

After multiple requests, I finally received the invoice from the city dated March 1, 2013.

Tara Finnegan, Public Information Manager for the city of Newport Beach, said that the Orange County Register article stating the $1,073 price tag was based on a quote the city received in 2012. She said the actual invoice price paid for those chairs was $957 each.

However, there were more surprises for taxpayers in that furniture invoice.

Twenty-three other chairs characterized in hand written notes on that invoice as “executive” conference room chairs were purchased for $1,159.50 each. A conference room credenza was purchased for $6,052.86. A conference room table wins the prize for most expensive item on the invoice at $10,609.21.

One hundred plastic “side” chairs were bought for $176.58 each (I found alternative chairs for $30.99 each on

The city paid the seller a design fee of $6,900 and a project management fee of $1,700. I wish I could charge my customers $8,600 for the privilege of buying my products. “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” as Robin Leach used to say on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Conference rooms in large or medium sized law firms or court reporting services have nice facilities with professional looking furniture. I’ve talked to various lawyers and court reporting service executives about furniture costs. For $3,500 they can buy a professional conference room table that can accommodate 12 to 15 people, a conference room credenza, and 10 conference room chairs.

Several city council candidates I talked to disagree with the city’s free spending on furniture.

City Council candidate Diane Dixon responded, “I bought two ergonomically correct leather chairs at for my home office at $399 each, and I didn’t get the government rate. Someone advocating for the taxpayer needs to be sitting at that $10,000 table and making the decisions. I will wear the green eyeshades for the taxpayer.”

Why could private citizen Dixon buy high-end specialty chairs for significantly less than the city? It’s amazing what you can save when you spend money as if it was “your” money.

City Council candidate Kevin Muldoon added, “These expenditures are great examples of unwise spending of taxpayer funds. This indicates a much bigger problem with city spending.”

Many taxpayers are outraged that government would buy high-end “designer” furniture rather than lower priced generics. Someone I know who is involved in California politics (but wanted to remain anonymous for business reasons) quipped that the “city’s excessive spending on luxury furniture [is opulence] that one might find in the headquarters of [New York City investment bank] Goldman Sachs (oh wait, didn’t they sell the bonds that financed the [city hall] deal)?”

Bob McCaffrey from Residents For Reform suggested, “Next time the city buys furniture, maybe they could go to IKEA.”

City Council candidate Scott Peotter pointed out that credit furniture purchases more than doubled the invoice costs.

According to a February 2014 article in the OC Register, the city hall project cost is $142.2 million.

According to the Certificate of Participation documents on the city’s website, the city financed $128.4 million. Taxpayers will pay for the project costs and interest totaling $297.4 million. So financing the project increased the percentage cost to taxpayers by 109 percent.

Amortizing the 109 percent interest cost to each individual purchase, the $1,159 chairs actually cost taxpayers $2,424, the $6,052 credenza actually cost taxpayers $12,657, and the $10,609 conference tables actually cost taxpayers $22,188.

One of the justifications for purchasing the $957 chairs was their projected useful life of 12 years. But taxpayers are paying for them for 30 years—that’s 18 years after their projected useful life.

More fiscal discipline is likely to be imposed on the city after November’s elections. How much will depend on how many reform or status quo candidates are elected.

Dear Newport Beach Republican,


I have been a soldier in the Republican Party since my days of working for Barry Goldwater for President.  It saddens me to see our city council morph into the overspending, overtaxing, and big-government beast that Sen. Goldwater and President Reagan warned against.


There is a ray of hope with this election cycle.  There are four city council seats on the November ballot.  I believe it’s time for a change.  Out with the big spenders.


Below is a wonderful article by Register columnist Jack Wu that is a great starting point for the November elections.  Jack lays out the big-spending ways of the current city council and the need for change. 





Bob McCaffrey 
Volunteer Chairman, Residents for Reform




Jack Wu: Newport home to conservative bait and switch


2014-08-27 16:07:37

wuI’ve had the great pleasure of writing about Newport Beach politics for the past seven years. And during this entire time, I’ve had to repeatedly dispel the notion that Newport Beach is the most conservative city in California.

But according to the Sacramento Bee, and a subsequent column by Martin Wisckol at the O.C. Register, 60 percent of Newport’s voters have described themselves as conservative.

That makes Newport the most conservative out of the state’s 150 biggest cities.

Hear that? That’s me falling out of my chair in laughter. So three out of every five Newport Beach voters are calling themselves conservatives. Apparently, they’ve forgotten that when they get to the ballot box.

Unless, of course, it’s a conservative notion to elect every union-backed candidate, who then gives wondrous compensations and benefits to their public employees. That includes the full-time lifeguards who peak upward of $200,000 a year, with 51-year-olds retiring at $108,000 a year for the rest of their lives.

In what world would a council candidate be considered conservative for actively pursuing the endorsement of the Newport Beach labor unions (associations), which then unabashedly donate to and support liberal candidates in other races? Yet, every single republican (small “r”) on the Newport Beach City Council has sought and received contributions from both the city’s police and fire associations.

In addition, these so-called conservatives voted to transform a $40 million City Hall into a $144 million Taj Mahal, complete with $250,000 concrete bunnies, a $2 million zinc-covered bridge to the dog park and $1,000-plus office chairs; adding tens of thousands of dollars to the budget just for good measure to give the architects opportunities to win design awards.

Oh yes, and borrowing every red cent to do it, creating a long-term debt obligation for future generations to enjoy, alongside the modern sculptures.

Tax and spend to build a larger house for government – that’s a conservative notion, right? I thought conservatives were for low debt and smaller government?

Later, the tax-(called fees in Newport Beach)-and-spend City Council raised the city’s mooring fees exponentially, charging commercial dock owners a percentage of the gross income, as well as increasing four-fold the fees paid by residential dock owners to use their own docks.

Mayor Rush Hill cursed at his constituents when they dared to challenge his excellence.

Since 2003, with only a 7 percent increase in population, Newport Beach’s budget has ballooned 172 percent, from $110 million to $280 million in 2014. Its unfunded pension liability is the highest per resident in Orange County, and Newport Beach still has an extremely high ratio of full-time-equivalent employees per resident.

As a full-service city, having lots of city employees is expected, but when comparing Newport Beach, with 87,000 residents, to neighboring Huntington Beach, it’s downright embarrassing.

Newport needs almost twice as many city employees per resident than does Huntington Beach.

Even Newport Beach’s City Council has more members (seven) than neighboring Irvine, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach, each with five. Huntington Beach, with its larger population of 197,000, also has seven members.

But perhaps that’s why, in its 108 years of existence, the Newport Beach City Council has never had one of its own elected to higher office. In a typically conservative voting district, Newport Beach council members were never conservative enough.

Although Newport Beach’s voters may consider themselves conservative, their City Council is anything but. I could go on forever.

Jack Wu is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and has been a longtime Republican Party activist. Contact him at [email protected].

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Coastal Commission wants more information on Newport Beach’s charcoal-only bonfires


2014-08-27 16:54:32

NEWPORT BEACH – How long will Newport Beach give away bags of charcoal? What do beachgoers say about charcoal-fueled bonfires? Has the city studied the health effects of charcoal bonfires?

In an Aug. 15 letter, California Coastal Commission staff asked for answers to these questions and dozens of others, writing in response to the city’s permit application, which commission staff called “incomplete.”

The application, submitted in July, was for a pilot program requiring beachgoers to burn charcoal, rather than wood, in the city’s 60 fire rings.

In practice, however, the city has gone ahead with the charcoal-only program since March without a permit from the Coastal Commission, the state agency that oversees coastal access. The city said the program is in response to an air-quality rule that generally bans open-burning in fire rings within 700 feet of homes.

In the August letter, commission staff asked for specifics about the charcoal-only program, including how long it would last, if the city had looked at the ill effects of burning charcoal, and whether the program has lessened the use of fire rings.

The city’s application says that the same number of people are mostly using fire rings now compared to earlier, when wood-burning was allowed. Commission staff, in response, asked for hard numbers. They didn’t give the city a deadline to respond.

Tara Finnigan, a Newport Beach spokeswoman, said Wednesday the city was still reviewing the Coastal Commission letter and wasn’t sure when they might respond. She said the city will give away free charcoal at least through Labor Day.

Since March, the city has given away about $12,000 worth of charcoal, officials confirmed. The city also budgeted $150,000 this year for staff to educate beachgoers and enforce the charcoal-only rule.

Contact the writer: [email protected] or Twitter:@nicolekshine

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Daily Pilot

Mailbag: City Council isn’t as conservative as it claims to be

12:32 PM PDT, August 27, 2014

Newport Beach’s current City Council is filled with self-proclaimed Republicans — fiscally conservative, against big government — and they want to just leave people alone and keep the government out of people’s lives.

Or so they claim.

Despite the rhetoric, that’s not what we’ve been seeing in practice.

The current council members are not fiscally conservative. They have passed the largest proportional increase to property owners in Newport’s history: The so-called dock tax is a whopping 500% increase for dock owners I know.

They have also presided over the largest expenditure in Newport’s history: The Taj Ma-City-Hall came in at an astounding $237 million over 30 years, a mind-boggling five times larger than the original $46 million cash estimate.

The current council members claim they are against big government but recently agreed to begin exploring the possibility of ceding our beaches to the state. They claim to represent their constituents, yet have voted to outlaw burning wood in Newport’s beach fire rings — making them charcoal-only — against the will of the public.

The current council outsourced trash services by ramming the process through without spending sufficient time to properly define specs and get the best possible bids. During the very same council session where members voted to pare vendors and proceed with the outsourcing process, they were asking the companies what was and wasn’t included in their specifications — items that should have been pinned down before the bidding process even began.

They claimed the purpose of outsourcing was to reduce pensions, yet promised the workers different city jobs at the same pay. Where is the savings? Why the rush? I’m on record as supporting outsourcing delays. We needed six to eight more months to iron out the details. The city recently completed the transition and is already experiencing “surprises”. Not surprising.

Our current council loves to tout our fantastic credit rating, but if you spend $60,000 and bring in $100,000, your credit rating will be fantastic even if you spend the entirety of that money on complete absurdities. A good credit rating doesn’t mean we are spending wisely. It just means we aren’t spending it all, at least not in an obvious fashion.

Taxing more and spending more isn’t my definition of fiscally conservative. Handing over management of our beaches to the state isn’t “small government,” nor does it serve the needs of the community, and passing ordinances against our fire rings and legislating against the wishes of our own people isn’t “representative” in any fashion.

Newport Beach needs a City Council reboot. Four of seven seats will soon be open. Come November, we have the opportunity to fix our city, to fix our home. Let’s do it right this time.

Michael Glenn

Newport Beach

The writer is a former City Council candidate.


Daily Pilot

Activist challenges candidate’s ballot designation

Bob McCaffrey sues registrar of voters and Newport city clerk, contending Tim Brown’s listed occupation as businessman is misleading.

By Emily Foxhall

6:04 PM PDT, August 21, 2014

A Newport Beach resident is challenging the description of a City Council candidate as a businessman on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Dock tax opponent Bob McCaffrey filed a lawsuit Monday in Orange County Superior Court against the county’s registrar of voters, Neal Kelley, and Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown, alleging that the occupational descriptor for District 4 candidate Tim Brown — no relation — is deceptive.

Brown’s occupation is listed as “Planning Commissioner/Businessman” on the ballot, although the planning duties are not in dispute.

Newport Beach City Atty. Aaron Harp said the occupational designation was determined to be appropriate based on information that Brown provided to the city clerk.

“Our office has reviewed the lawsuit, and we believe the city clerk’s determination that council candidate Tim Brown is a businessman is correct,” Harp wrote in an email.

In the petition, McCaffrey, who headed the “Stop the Dock Tax” movement and has helped raise funds for District 1 council candidate Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, argues that Brown’s own ballot statement describes him as a professor at Riverside City College.

Brown’s “primary source of income” comes from the college, not his educational consulting firm, Tim Brown and Associates, according to the court document.

To describe Brown as a businessman would be “misleading” and would “result in irreparable injury to the voting public,” the petition said.

“Tim Brown should be proud of his profession as a reading instructor at Riverside Community College,” McCaffrey wrote in an email. “He shouldn’t try to hide his noble profession by claiming he is a businessman.”

Tim Brown referred questions to attorney Mark Rosen, who called the allegations “totally bogus.”

Rosen said Brown has a business, “and McCaffrey should have done his homework.”

A hearing has been set for 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Orange County Superior Court Central Justice Cente

Newport Beach Independent

Playing Loose with City Election Rules

It appears that Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown misstated an important city election rule.

The issue is about the rights of minority owners of businesses to donate to city council campaigns once their company makes a maximum donation, or vice versa.

Four owners of Woody’s Wharf made maximum donations of $1,100 to Newport Beach City Council reform candidate Scott Peotter (a former Newport Beach Independent writer).

Woody’s Wharf (the corporation) also donated $1,100 to Peotter’s campaign.

City Clerk Brown sent Peotter a letter dated August 1 demanding that Peotter return the $1,100 contribution from Woody’s Wharf and threatening criminal prosecution if he didn’t.

Brown claimed, “The Political Reform Act of 1974 requires campaign donations to be aggregated when donations are made by a person(s) and an entity that is controlled by that person(s)” and cited California Government Code Section 85311. Brown borrowed the plural tense from another rule. The relevant law is, “The contributions of an entity whose contributions are directed and controlled by any individual shall be aggregated with contributions made by that individual and any other entity whose contributions are directed and controlled by the same individual.”

The term “individual” is used in the singular tense. A majority owner can “direct and control” a company. A minority owner does not “direct and control” a company.

A fair reading of this law is that campaign contributions of an owner owning the majority of a company would be aggregated with that company’s contributions, but not a minority owner’s contributions. Apparently Woody’s Wharf doesn’t have one person who owns the majority of the company. If so, Brown’s accusations aren’t supported by applicable law.

Why does this matter?

City officials can’t change state election law. Brown’s misinterpretation limits donations beyond the legal limits and creates confusion.

Brown misstated the law in her August 1 letter by muddling language from different parts of the statute, changing its meaning.

I sent Brown a very detailed email asking for clarification of the rule. I reviewed the statute, regulation and Newport Beach Municipal Code, quoted her August 1 letter extensively and asked for guidance on the alleged violations because I don’t see them. Brown’s terse response was, “I have no comments beyond what is in the letter.”

Her refusal seems unnecessarily uncooperative for someone paid a total annual salary and benefits of $170,960 of taxpayer money.

City Manager Dave Kiff told me that the City Clerk is the elections officer of Newport Beach. So Brown abdicated her responsibility to clarify these rules. Kiff and City Attorney Aaron Harp also refused to discuss the matter.

Right in the middle of campaign season, city officials overseeing a $300 million total budget are refusing to clarify the rights of minority owners in businesses to make campaign contributions if the company has already made a maximum $1,100 contribution.

Woody’s Wharf is reportedly in a dispute with the city over indoor dancing or music at the famous restaurant. Many of us who listened to music or danced at Woody’s Wharf over the years hope that Woody’s decades old tradition continues.

Critics of the way the city has been managed in recent years are concerned that citizens and businesses like Woody’s Wharf and candidates like Peotter are being targeted unfairly by a city that doesn’t like criticism.

Citizens have a right to, and city officials have an obligation to provide, clear bright line rules about when owners and their businesses may contribute to city council races.

City officials owe the citizens clarifying discussions on important campaign contribution rules so people and candidates can coordinate legal campaign contributions in advance, rather than being threatened with criminal prosecution after the fact.

Bullying, gotcha government is bad government.


Daily Pilot

Newport council hopefuls debate parking, ‘dock tax,’ more

By Emily Foxhall

7:31 PM PDT, August 14, 2014

When Newport Beach City Council candidates gathered for their first debate on Thursday morning at the Central Library, they could all agree on at least one thing: Newport Beach is a great place to live.

But as the forum focused on hot-button issues such as parking, traffic and development, they began to divide over whether the current council has handled issues with fiscal responsibility, attention to resident input and reasoned deliberation.

The free public event was sponsored by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce as part of its monthly Wake Up Newport series.

Local dignitaries settled into the audience to hear how the next council might decide to change things — if at all. The onlookers included former Mayor Don Webb, several harbor commissioners and the council members whose seats are not up for election this year: Keith Curry, Tony Petros and Ed Selich.

Moderator Lucy Dunn, president and chief executive of the Orange County Business Council, greeted the eight candidates by telling them, “You are looking very spry this morning.”

The hopefuls gave introductory statements, then answered rapid-fire questions from Dunn by raising “yes” or “no” signs in response.

Then they began to dig a little deeper into issues, with one-minute responses to a series of other questions.



When it comes to parking strategies on the Balboa Peninsula, the city should be serving residents rather than focusing on making the area a destination for outsiders, according to Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, a District 3 candidate.

“The issue on the peninsula will never be solved in terms of parking,” Duffield said. “There simply isn’t enough parking and never will be.”

Roy Englebrecht (District 4) expressed a similar view, saying, “This is a problem that has never gone away.”

Perhaps there could be a parking structure at the top of the peninsula, suggested Kevin Muldoon (District 4). Maybe more permit parking, Scott Peotter (District 6) offered. Or businesses could try to share spaces better, said Michael Toerge (District 6).

Mayor Rush Hill (District 3) said parking requirements sometimes can only be met by certain types of businesses, such as banks.

The group was in general agreement that the market should dictate which businesses should stay, rather than imposing more stringent zoning.

“If we want the businesses to thrive in Newport Beach, which we do, we have to patron those businesses,” Muldoon said.

Hill said government needs to impose parameters to keep out unwanted businesses such as massage parlors and explicit video stores.

Only Englebrecht staunchly opposed an amendment to the land-use element of the General Plan that will be on the city ballot in November. It proposes increasing development potential in the Newport Center and airport areas but decreased development capacity in other parts of the city, like Newport Coast.

Englebrecht lamented that condominiums block his view of the ocean when he drives, and he called for “common-sense protection for our views, or we just become another city.”



An argument began over whether the city should have raised the fees for residential and commercial tidelands permit holders, commonly referred to as the “dock tax.”

“It’s not a tax,” Hill said. “It’s a licensing fee.”

He added that the fee amount had been unchanged for 21 years and needed to be amended.

His opponent, Duffield, classified it as “the most complicated and expensive method” for the city to get an “unequitable” amount of money.

“The city essentially took away a property right that existed for the homeowners,” Muldoon agreed, arguing that the change had negatively affected property values.

Other questions touched on two other water-related issues: the drought and rising sea levels.

“I support whatever we can do to strengthen water conservation,” said Diane Dixon (District 1). “We all have to do our part.”

Peotter suggested calling for more water storage statewide. Toerge suggested tiered water rates.

As for how to deal with a rise in sea levels, Duffield proposed a floating gate at the harbor entrance. Tim Brown (District 4) posed a strategy of building up the Balboa Island sea wall incrementally. “We have a little bit of time,” he said.

Newport Independent


By Kurt English on August 02nd, 2014

City Hall’s $1K Chairs, Take Two

Two months ago, I wrote about the new city hall building that, according to a report in the OC Register, was “furnished with high-end furniture and fixtures, including 204 leather Herman Miller chairs designed by modernist designers Charles and Ray Eames, at a cost of $1,073 each, according to city invoices.”

I was so surprised by the $1,073 chairs that I asked city officials for copies of these invoices. In my meeting with City Manager Dave Kiff in late May 2014, he promised to get them to me. Tara Finnegan also promised to get them to me. As of the publication deadline for this article more than two months later, I have not received copies of these invoices.

When I spoke to Steve Badum, the Assistant City Manager and project manager for the construction of the new city hall he said he said that the $1,073 cost might be accurate for Herman Miller conference chairs but that he couldn’t verify it without reviewing the invoices. Badum justified the expenses of the city hall by stating that the city used a “Value Engineering Process.”

He added that the budget for Furniture, Fixture and Equipment (FFE) was under two percent of the cost of the city hall project, which he said is good. Critics of the city hall project counter that the FFE was less than two percent because the building cost so much.

Badum said they wanted furniture in public areas of the city hall that was cost effective, durable and not lavish or extravagant. He also mentioned that the government buyers get discounts and don’t pay retail prices.

$1,073 for a chair seems excessive to me, as I complained in that article two months ago.

So for the last couple months I have been curious about what private sector organizations spend on conference room chairs. I asked business executives and lawyers with prominent law firms. One law firm partner told me his firm spent $150-$200 per chair in his firm’s “best” conference room. Another business owner told me he spent a similar amount for his conference room chairs that seat CEO’s of companies with tens of millions of dollars of revenue per year.

I had a hard time getting anybody to admit spending more than $200 on a conference room chair. One architect told me that it was possible to design in a $1,073 chair, but that you’d have to really try to do it. An executive that had sustained a back injury with subsequent back surgeries said he might buy a specialty chair for himself because of his unique medical condition, but not for common area use. It seemed reasonable to me that the city not spend more on conference room chairs than those private sector firms.

After these executives told me about their conference room chair costs, I asked them what they thought a city like Newport Beach might pay for conference room chairs. They each speculated that the city would pay what they paid ($200 or less). When I told them that $1,073 was spent on over 200 chairs, none of them could believe it.

The federal government is trillions of dollars in debt. California is deeply in debt. The city of Newport Beach issued certificates of participation that will result in the city paying about $100 million extra for the city hall project than if they paid cash. Unfunded pension liabilities are on top of these figures.

We need public officials to think about our children and grandchildren having to pay back public debt. Government at all levels needs to go on a spending diet. $1,073 chairs can’t be on the menu anymore. Business as usual won’t work in this debt environment. Government needs to change its spending habits to become cheap, just like the taxpayers struggling to pay for big government that spends too much money.