OPINION: Lies Are Easy to Tell

A point-counterpoint column in which City Councilwoman Laura Freese responds to a call for her retirement after one term.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was written in response to . Byrnes has since decided to run for council. Freese has yet to pull nominating papers. The deadline is Friday.

Let the truth prevail, Roy Byrnes.

Roy Byrnes wrote a letter to the editor published in the two local publications. The majority of his long diatribe is simply wrong. In this rebuttal to Roy Byrnes, I want to identify just one section of his 830-word accusations as an example of his ability set aside facts, including his own statements, as a political tool.

In his letter, he refers to the "faulty that will only obliterate our unique historic atmosphere and transform San Juan into a faux, plastic 'Beverly Hills Rodeo Drive?' " Those words are the convenient new sound bites to stir up the residents of San Juan Capistrano. But the truth is that Dr. Byrnes was in favor of the plan.

Roy Byrnes attended the April 3, 2012 meeting on the downtown plan and these are the exact words that he said into the microphone, for the public record:

Two years ago I had some doubts regarding this plan with innocuous desuetude. I’ve become a Christian believer. I’m impressed. I congratulate you. I urge you to pass this plan. 

So what has changed since April 3? It is election time, and printed lies are effective, convenient weapons. Roy Byrnes, just like the rest of his group, does not care if he tells lies, as long as it frightens the people of San Juan Capistrano into voting their way. Lies are the oldest political weapon on earth. It is well worth it for the residents of the city to do the research and find out what is true and what isn’t.  

Freese is a current member of the San Juan Capistrano City Council.

Clint Worthington August 07, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Laura Freese, Dr. Byrnes could have had several columns on your voting record and the detrimental effect those votes have had on our City. Let me remind you of one that effects our safety each and every day. You voted for every single change to this project: The Del Obispo Railroad crossing and the Quiet Zone. I appeared before yourself and the City Council eight different times, personally sent you emails that our small City cannot take on the liability of railroad crossings. The City transferring this liability from the railroad to the City is a requirement of the Quiet Zone . Almost a year after completion, the City still has no insurance and the FRA and PUC have not approved the Quiet zone. You also approved the traffic signal at the crossing that was not a requirement by the railroad or for the Quiet Zone. Laura You also approved the widening of the median to a point that it is so wide now, that emergency vehicles may not pass where previously they could. This now delays emergency vehicles further and has placed our families safety at risk. Yes. Laura you voted for every single change to this project. After 9.2 million dollars in taxpayer money you spent for this project we have a boondoggle that does not work and does not appear will ever work. You could have voted against any change to this project but you did not.
Clint Worthington August 07, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Laura, you voted as Chairwoman of the Redevelopment Agency to give the auto dealerships in town five million dollars. Let me say that again five million dollars. After you gave them five million dollars, Capistrano Ford has satthere for the past year with a half completed building that is an eyesore. In addition, the thanks the residents get for our five million dollars, are business that park vehicles in the landscaping for sale, launch tethered balloons 200 feet in the air, I could go on and on for these violations . Five million dollars and this is the thanks we get from these dealerships. Yes Laura, you gave the dealerships five million dollars of taxpayer money .
Jim Reardon August 07, 2012 at 02:36 AM
What is the truth in this instance? Did Dr. Byrnes say "innocuous desuetude", as claimed here, or did he say "innocuous vicissitude"? Knowing Dr. Byrnes to be consistent and well spoken, I believe that he has been misquoted. I believe he said, "Two years ago I had some doubts regarding this plan. With innocuous vicissitude, I've become a Christian believer. I congratulate you. I urge you to pass this plan." Obviously, it helps to put the punctuation in the right place, too! To make matters worse, the I think the plan he referred to was the plan to renovate the Mission Gate -- not the downtown plan. But then, in this instance, it doesn't matter because the renovation of the Mission Gate is a fact (you can see for yourself), and the downtown plan is a fiction -- dead on arrival. I've learned from experience that it is impossible to determine truth anywhere in the vicinity of City Hall. Some may wish that elections and popular opinion could determine truth. But truth is more resilient.
Steve Behmerwohld August 07, 2012 at 08:12 PM
Dr. Byrnes endorsed both Sam and Laura, so at the very least we can question his judgment, if not write this all off to politics, since he is now running against them. Another thing we should remember is that the doctor has written this same letter -- with just different names of incumbents inserted -- for the last three sets of incumbents running for City Council. It started with former Councilman Dave Swerdlin about 10 years ago, continued with Mark Nielsen two years ago and now is leveled at Sam and Laura. Apparently Dr. Byrnes just doesn't like incumbents, unless it's him. I suspect Dr. Byrnes and the people at Capistrano Common Sense are just political opportunists, as they spend years bashing the city for anything it does, then try to run candidates. Last time it was Jim Reardon, Clint Worthington and Derek Reeve. Two out of three wasn't good enough, so now it's Kim McCarthy and Dr. Brynes. "Common Sense" is just a big campaign mailer passing itself off as a city watchdog.
Lon Uso August 08, 2012 at 01:24 AM
and they make Harry Reed look honest, I am not endorsing the incumbents but when these so called "common sense" people start to talk about the truth it makes me gag a little... make that a lot!!!!!!!!!
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 06:01 AM
Steve, we have now been a incorporated City for over fifty years. After fifty years we have zero money in savings for a permanent City Hall. That is so sad. The financial statements are so very poor that the City is unable to even sell a thirty million dollar water bond for infrastructure improvements. The City has been on the wrong end of so many lawsuits that in the last judgement against the City, the City was unable to raise cash to pay the judgement. It could not sell a bond, because the financial statements were so poor. The City had to have a Superior Court judge approve the issuance of a Judgement Obligation Bond at a higher interest rate so that the City could pay the creditors who had the judgement. Steve, as you are aware you and I have had many discussions about this. These are plain facts. Should these subjects be swept under the rug and not talked about and discussed? Absolutely not. If we don't bring them up and talk about it, who will? Did you forget that former City Manager Joe Tait was number fifteen on MSNBC's pole of the fifteen highest paid at $324,000 a year for our City of 37,000. The President of the United States governing a country of 300 million makes close to the same amount. Does that make sense to you. Yes, that was Laura Freese who called Joe Tait "the water guru". That was also Laura Freese, Sam Allevato, Lon Uso and Mark Nielsen who voted for that incredible salary.
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 06:04 AM
Lon, I like you as a person, however, there is a reason that you and Mark were voted out of office. You financially destroyed our City. It will take a generation of people to recover from the spending that you could not stop. Please see previous comments.
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Steve, I am curious, since you state that Common Sense is just a big campaign mailer, what did you do with the rebate from CR&R that you received in your quarterly trash bill recently? Yes, it was those Common Sense people pointing out that the trash bill from CR&R is calculated incorrectly and CR&R was required to rebate it back to you. Your welcome Steve. In the past 15 editions of Common Sense, can you name any candidate that was suggested by Capistrano Common Sense that you vote for? The fact is, there was not any. The editions are online that you can look through. But now that you mention it, that may need to change for future editions. Thank you for the suggestion. Oh, by the way Steve, that award winning intersection at Rancho Viejo and J Serra is back before the Transportation Commission tonight (I believe). If you remember, we asked readers to write to City Hall and gave them who to write to at City Hall. Guess what? It appears that a change is being made at that intersection. If you think that is just part of a big campaign mailer, then so be it.
Lon Uso August 08, 2012 at 09:23 PM
BTW Clint, can you tell me how much the city is paying in salary and benefits for the City Manager and Utility director combined? Mr. fiscal conservative. We cut millions of dollars from the budget to balance it and did it while all of our neighbors were spending like drunken sailors on Rose Parade floats and lifetime benefits for council members. We were in the process of getting rid of a ton of dead wood when we were kicked out. i had proposed a new way of setting salaries for staff using comparable private sector job responsibilities. has any of this moved forward since i left or are there still the same people getting paid the same way doing the same things?
Mark @ SJC Chamber August 08, 2012 at 09:50 PM
This is fun. It's like being at Council way back in 2010! All we need now is an update from Joan Irvine Smith. Thanks for the memories Clint & Lon!!! :)
Jim Reardon August 08, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Mark -- I was about to make somewhat the same comment. All we need now is for another good argument is for Tom H. to join-in. Gosh, come to think of it, he didn't have much to say about Shea's plan to reconfigure the open space designation around Mrs. Irvine's property. Perhaps he was conflicted about it? I'm pretty sure Lon's got the best gig these days -- commenting from afar while we all sit in traffic on Del Obispo waiting for non-existant trains. Incidentally, Mark, did you notice that the City Council's consent agenda last night noted that there was a $7 million cash deficit attributable to utilities? Most of that was directly attributed to operations of the GWRP. The other day, you asked my why the City continues to defend this. Now, I would ask you: Can we afford to be $7 million in the hole? How much more can we afford to sacrifice in order to keep operating the GWRP?
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 11:07 PM
You left out that no matter how many people were in the room wanting to speak, she was always the first to speak!
Lon Uso August 08, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Hey Mark, glad i could help to keep you entertained. BTW, Italy was awesome, what a great tour, well worth the 2K i paid the chamber!! Jim is so right, the most traffic i run into up here is a momma bear and her cubs trying to share the trail with me and my toughest decision is whether to ride 3 or 4 hours that day. i guess i should thank those folks that helped retire me from city council 'cause life is good up here!!!!!!!!
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Gosh Lon, since you left, there have been many, many changes. I am surprised that you have not kept up with them.
Lon Uso August 08, 2012 at 11:34 PM
What is the breakdown of that $7 mil? how much was the shortfall last year? is this a one time expense or is it an ongoing operational expense? is it a management or personnel problem that can be resolved or is it structural and not possible to resolve? south coast is running a very similar plant a couple of miles away, are they having the same problems? would they like to buy (along with our water rights of course) and operate the plant? i guess thoughtful people might want to have these and other questions answered before just shutting the plant down and putting an avoidable $3 mil burden on rate payers for the next couple of decades. if the problems are irreconcilable then shut it down.
Clint Worthington August 08, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Lon, Water Operations ($987,398) Water-GWRP Operations (6,316,788) Just between water operations and the GWRP the deficit is (7,302,186). As Jim Reardon keeps pointing out, there will be a time when the City just plain runs out of cash. These figures are from the City Council meeting last night, which you can now watch online from your home up north.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 12:20 AM
you didn't even read the questions Clint, can you answer them?
Clint Worthington August 09, 2012 at 02:25 AM
You asked what was the breakdown of the 7 million. I took the time and provided that information for you. If you would like the answer to the rest of your questions, the City would be best to answer those questions for you. They are analytical in nature and cannot be answered in a short paragraph.
Jim Reardon August 09, 2012 at 02:31 AM
To be clear, the $7 million is an accumulated deficit. It has taken 4 years to lose that much. Because the figure revealed last night is a mid-year figure, it is not possible to determine how much they will lose this year, but at higher rates of production -- and significantly higher water rates, we can expect the loss to narrow a little. Nevertheless, the underlying problem is that for more than half the year, the GWRP can produce more water than SJC consumes at this rate level. Since that water has literally no place to go, production is slowed and the per-unit cost thus fluctuates seasonally. Nobody can honestly claim that the per unit cost ever gets below the MWD per-unit cost. It's not even close. As for South Coast, the economics of their plant are similar to ours, though the capacity of the plant is smaller. But the big difference is that their plant -- running at full capacity, can only produce a small fraction of their year-around demand. In this way, it has only minimal impact on their water rates. The vast majority of their water is coming from MWD at their much lower per-unit cost. You might watch your terminology with regard to "water rights". Right now, SJC as certain SJ Basin rights of its own (insufficient to feed the GWRP), and it has been temporarily assigned rights from the surrounding agencies -- in return for SJ taxpayers footing 100% of the plant cost. Around 2035, these rights revert to their owners.
socalfam August 09, 2012 at 05:22 AM
I notice that Ms. Freese doesn't address any of the other very valid concerns expressed by Dr. Byrnes in his article. But then, if I had voted to raise the water rates as she did; and continued to defend the water plant that is way too expensive to run - as she continues to do; and if I voted for nearly everything the Ranch wanted as she has, which has raised our property taxes and will create tons more traffic on our roads that we can't handle; and if I had voted to increase the City debt through wasteful spending as she has repeatedly, a debt that is ultimately paid by us taxpayers, well I suppose I too might look for something....anything... to distract voters from my record. But Ms. freese can't hide from her voting record any more than Sam Allevato can, or for that matter any of the other council majority who have so wrecklessly mismanaged this town (and our money). San Juan needs a good house cleaning. The good ol' boys have been in charge for way too long and look at the result.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 05:42 AM
Thanks for a much more thoughtful answer than Clint's. so this is a 4 year loss including the Chevron years when we where producing almost no water but still had the cost of running the plant plus the debt service, right? so it is back loaded. it sounded to me when i first learned about this $7 mil as though it was a one year loss so that is not so and i would assume, actually i know that the first two years the loss was much greater than the next two years if the plant was producing. lets say, and this is a bit of an educated guess, that the loss without any changes in operation will be about $1.5 mill/ year going forward. That is still half of the cost of shutting down the plant. lets now assume that since we have fixed costs and a substantial rebate/ unit produced that we continue to produce at full capacity all year long and sell that excess during the winter years for the same price as Met, maybe we get the losses down to $750K or $1 mil, that is substantially better than $3 mil closing the plant. am i wrong Jim? or is it worth loosing a couple of million dollars a year to prove a point? in this life there are problem makers and problem solvers, which kind of person should you elect to the council?
Jim Reardon August 09, 2012 at 06:01 AM
This is not about "proving a point". The loss is real and growing. The concern around town is that other normal expenses in the utility department are being deferred to keep the losses in check. Would they do such a thing? Well, just read your own comments. They did it for years. As for the Chevron issue, that is old news. The settlement was paltry, but it is over. Now, the cost of all the additional filtration is borne by the city directly. But it is also clear that the GAC filters aren't preventing the "green sand" filters from failing prematurely -- and there is nobody to sue in this instance. Council has already appropriated extra money to replace the filter media this year. Sadly, the filters are proprietary -- only one company makes them. Such forethought in the design of a plant that is supposed to operate for decades! Right? Shall we sell water at a loss as you suggest? It would make sense if doing so would bring our cost per unit to produce down to a level near the MWD price. But sadly, it will not. We still lose hundreds of dollars per acre foot, even after the MWD subsidy. And speaking of that subsidy, back when it was proposed, it was roughly 50 percent of the price of MWD water. Today it is 20 percent. As MWD water rises, the so-called subsidy becomes a joke. And what makes MWD water go up is not scarcity. It's electricity. Our GWRP runs on electricity too.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 06:28 AM
Jim, all the wishing and whining in the world won't make the plant go away, right? if you had a business and had bought a piece of equipment only to find out that it was not cost effective and that you could not sell it. if you realized that running the equipment would cost you $1 million in losses but shutting it down would cost you $3 million, besides declaring bankruptcy, which would you do? would you then try to find a way to mitigate those losses?
Jim Reardon August 09, 2012 at 02:08 PM
We're making progress, as you seem to concede that that operation of the plant results in losing money. At least you can acknowledge that we are faced with a choice between losing scenarios. This is far more than the city has been willing to concede to date. If you read their public pronouncements, you would think that operating this plant will somehow result in saving money! Beyond that, you present a false choice. There are numerous options for the city that do not involve closing the plant. Furthermore, if the plant were closed, you are exaggerating the annual future cost. This is exactly the false argument made by those who support the sad status quo. You are asking us to suffer the toothache and risk infection instead of removing the tooth, all the while denying that there may be other options. This is exactly the form of malpractice that we have come to expect from our utilities department.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I have no current information as to the operating costs of the plant and am merely making a "worse case scenario" argument as too why it is silly and impractical to talk about closing the plant. for all i or you know, this new water guru will make the plant work, maybe not. i am not sure why you want to talk about teeth, as a dentist i can tell you that your example does not translate very well. and here i thought we were making progress as well
V. Duvall August 09, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Clint, Some people like Joan Irvine Smith garner that respect
V. Duvall August 09, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Clint, also the issue with the law suites, in my view, rests directly on the shoulders of the City Attorney. He or she is the one that basically makes the decision to settle or fight and then brings it to the Council and either talks them into it or out of it. So basically we can 't blame them for not knowing any better. That's why you pay a attorney to give them the best legal advice they can get and I don't think they were getting that. For years I thought the previous City attorney made some grave mistakes in deciding to fight or not fight. And I believe they just blindly took it. It was the council's fault for not getting rid of him. I have no idea how this new one will be. We shall see. Perhaps Mr. Reeve can shed some light on this.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Well said V.
Lon Uso August 09, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I like Omar a lot personally but have no faith in his firm to represent the city again
V. Duvall August 09, 2012 at 07:33 PM
You are right


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