Category Archives: City Council

In La Habra Heights, llama poop leads to civic enragement

La Habra Heights, LlamasIn La Habra Heights, llama poop leads to civic enragement : A couple s llama fertilizer sets off years of controversy, including yelling matches and thousands of records requests.

The problems in La Habra Heights started with llama poop.

Phil and Aida Lough were so convinced their eco-friendly fertilizer — Llama Brew — was their ticket to success that they tried to entice investors on ABC’s reality show, “The Shark Tank.”

The investors weren’t impressed and neither were La Habra Heights city officials, who sued the Loughs, saying that their animals and huge, open drums of animal waste at their home were a stinky, unsanitary mess. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the Loughs to stop producing Llama Brew.

FOR THE RECORD:
La Habra Heights: An article in the Feb. 2 California section about ongoing disputes between residents and the city of La Habra Heights said that George Edwards has gotten into physical fights with residents at council meetings. Altercations involving Edwards have occurred at a public vote-counting at City Hall and at a meeting of the La Habra Heights Improvement Assn. —


The case set off years of controversy that officials say has nearly paralyzed the small town’s government.

The Loughs and a handful of local gadflies with their own agendas have filed thousands of public records requests, so many that the city had to hire additional staff to fulfill them.

City Hall limited its public hours in January because the nine full-time employees were overwhelmed by daily visits from the group. The city’s finance manager quit, saying she couldn’t take the stress. The city attorney announced her resignation in December.

City Council meetings devolve into yelling matches and sometimes drag on for hours.

“Everybody take a deep breath in, a deep breath out,” Mayor Roy Francis said as he called a recent meeting to order. “I’m asking the people that speak today to keep it civil, to keep the names out of it.”

During another recent meeting, one man looked at another man and grinned.

“What brings you down?” he asked. “Bad government?”

“No. There’s nothing good on TV.”

::

All the hubbub is a huge departure for a town known for its quiet locale and sprawling lots.

With a population of about 5,300, the wealthy hillside community on the Los Angeles County and Orange County border prides itself on its avocados and rural nature. Its winding roads have few streetlights and no sidewalks, and its only businesses are a private golf course and a small real estate office. One resident in its only park called it “just a bunch of mansions on a hill.”

Angry about the city’s meddling in his home and business, Lough unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2011, saying he was fighting to uphold La Habra Heights’ motto of “Rural Living.” A self-described watchdog, he has accused the city of threatening residents, awarding contracts to friends and stifling public comment.

In November, the council limited public speaking time at meetings because the Loughs and two friends, George Edwards and Stephen Blagden — authors of local opinion blogs — spoke so often that annoyed members of the public stopped attending meetings, council members claim. The group responded by coming to a meeting dressed in black to protest the “death of free speech.”

City officials, Lough said in an email, blame him and his wife “for every ill in this city, and also the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, too.”

The Loughs’ latest allegation is that La Habra Heights failed to provide details for hundreds of checks and did not account for at least $500,000. At one meeting, Aida Lough said the money is being funneled into a “secret bank account.”

“This is government gone wild,” said Phil Lough, a former high school economics teacher.

No checks or money were missing, City Manager Shauna Clark said. But an accounting technician — who was later fired — failed to list unused or voided checks in monthly warrant registers, according to city officials and documents.

The city also has created a section on its website called “The FACTS” to publicly dispute claims by the Loughs and a few other residents.

The Loughs, Edwards and Blagden have filed numerous complaints about the city with the district attorney’s office.

The D.A.’s office did recently chastise La Habra Heights’ Planning Commission and City Council for violating the state’s open meeting laws. The council “unlawfully engaged in serial communications” away from public meetings to approve security cameras outside City Hall and the creation of the FACTS site, according to letters from prosecutors.

But the D.A. has taken no action against the city over the missing checks, city officials said. Head Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls — deviating from a general policy of keeping complaints and their statuses confidential —said in a letter to city officials that it found no proof of missing checks or a secret bank account.

Aida Lough said in an email that the investigation “was a sham” and that they will take their complaints to state officials.

All the accusations have La Habra Heights’ tiny city staff feeling under siege, Clark said.

The small group of gadflies visits City Hall nearly every day. They bring cameras, snapping pictures and posting them online. Clark said she and other officials can’t even go to the restroom during public meetings without being followed.

And it seems as if the accusations never stop, Clark said. She’s been accused of putting a rat in the Loughs’ mailbox and abusing their children.

Edwards has gotten into physical fights with residents at council meetings and sued the city over its renovation of City Hall. Blagden regularly reports the city to the district attorney.

Then there are the public records requests. From January 2011 through Nov. 30, the city received 2,110 requests. More than half have come from the Loughs, Clark said. The city has spent more than $468,000 in staff time and expenses pulling 26,000 pages of documents, Clark said.

The city’s finance manager, Rochelle Clayton, was one of the handful of employees who spent hours a day retrieving documents from a small metal storage shed behind City Hall. Each request could require a search of hundreds of documents.

Clayton said she worked weekends to try to catch up — but never could. Finally, in October, Clayton said she couldn’t take it anymore. She resigned, claiming “out-and-out harassment” from citizens bent on stopping the city government.

“In my 20 years in government finance and accounting … I’ve never experienced the level of bashing that I’ve received in this city,” she said. “We can’t do our jobs.”

In an effort at transparency, the council voted in 2012 to put city records online and hired a deputy clerk to index and upload documents — but she hasn’t done so yet because 90% of her time is spent filling records requests, officials said.

City Councilman Kyle Miller, a 15-year resident, said that when he was elected last year, he thought he could help end the polarization. Instead, he is accused at nearly every meeting of criminal behavior and backroom deals.

“When you have efforts like this where they’re initiating investigations based on unsubstantiated claims and you pair that with voluminous public records requests … that leads to massive distraction and the inability to function day to day as a city,” he said.

Now, city officials fear the controversy — and the very public bashing — is starting to hamstring their ability to recruit a replacement for Clayton.

The city has spent more than $1,400 to advertise the finance manager position, but numerous applicants have been dissuaded, Clark said, after seeing online comments from city detractors and watching meetings. Because of this, the council in November approved $25,000 to hire a recruiting firm for the position.

The city is even subjected to mocking from a llama.

The Loughs’ Llama Brew business mascot, Eden the Llama, frequently takes to Twitter to show her disdain for La Habra Heights.

“My cat friend is apply’g 4 the Fin. Mgr. job. He can do a great job,” the llama tweeted

LA HABRA HEIGHTS TO WELCOME LA COUNTY SHERIFF FOR FIRST TIME EVER

Since the City of La Habra Heights was incorporated nearly 37 years ago, it has never formally welcomed the head of the largest Sheriffs Department in the United States. That ends when the city welcomes newly elected Sheriff Jim Mcdonnell later this month for a

meet and greet with the residents and to thank him and the department for the great service to the city all these years. “I’m not sure why it hadn’t happened until now” said Mayor Pro Tempore Kyle Miller ” But I had spoken with him at a few events and finally just asked him if he would come to the city and spend some time with the residents and let the city show our gratitude to the department” Mayor Pro Tempore Miller added ” He happily

agreed and said he loves our small city and the golf course, which is well known, so we’re very pleased to welcome him.

In addition to the sheriff, Supervisor Don Knabe will also be attending as well as a special performance by the Rancho Starbuck drum line core. The meet and greet takes place on Monday, September 21 from 6pm to 8pm at City Hall in the Council Chambers.

The event is open to all La Habra Heights residents. There will be refreshments as well a photo opportunity with Sheriff Mcdonnell for the residents. Please see the included flyer for more info and to RSVP.

Meet and Greet – LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell (1) (1) (1)

Shopping center could come to La Habra Heights

LA HABRA HEIGHTS >> For 37 years, this city has only allowed residential development. In fact, a real estate office is the only commercial area in town.

But that could change after Thursday’s night’s City Council 4-1 vote to approve an 180-day exclusive negotiating agreement with Costa Mesa-based Prism Realty to consider buying city-owned property and building a community shopping center there.

“It’s a parcel of land sitting their vacant,” said Councilman Brian Bergman about the 3-acre site at the southwest corner of Hacienda and West roads the city purchased for $480,000 in 2004 from Los Angeles County with the idea of building a new fire station.

That never happened and now it’s surplus property, Bergman said.

“It really doesn’t have much value,” he said. “We have a fiduciary relationship with the citizens to extract the highest price we can out of this property … so we can repair our roads. We’ve never really funded our paramedics.”

But the council needs to put something there that will be acceptable to the community, Bergman said.

La Habra Heights, Ca Shopping Center Location

The City Council is considering a deal that could sell a vacant three-acre site at the southwest corner of Hacienda and West roads to be developed as a community shopping center.

 

For example, that rules out putting in apartments, he said. In fact the council last year rejected a proposal from another developer for high-density housing, City Manager Shauna Clark said.

Bergman said he also doesn’t believe that single-family homes — no more than three would be allowed under the current zoning — would work because no one would want to live near the heavy traffic on Hacienda.

But there already is opposition to the proposal to consider commercial zoning for the lot.

That should be no surprise, said Jean Lietzau, who was on the City Council from 1978-90.

“We tried to do this about 35 years ago on the corner of East (Road) and Hacienda and the council almost got lynched,” Lietzau said.

Still, Lietzau is OK with the idea.

“If this council wants to do it, I say good for them,” she said.

But others aren’t.

“I am appalled by the fact that we’re even entertaining (the idea),” said Scott Thomas, a 40-year resident of La Habra Heights.

“If you allow one area to be developed for commercial real estate, there is no way for us to say no to any where else in the city,” Thomas said. “I’m concerned about traffic. Any commercial endeavor requires commercial traffic to be successful.”

Resident Norm Zezula said the general plan already forbids commercial zoning.

“The general plan states that La Habra Heights is a unique community because of its rural character. What part of unique doesn’t (the council) understand?”

Mayor Michael Higgins said opponents may be jumping to conclusions because there’s not even a project yet. In fact, Prism has yet to make an offer on the property.

Before the company can do that, it needs to do its due diligence on the site, such as traffic and other studies, Higgins said.

The council also would have to amend the zoning ordinance — right now the code has no mention of commercial zoning.

Higgins said Prism might bring in a couple of restaurants, a coffee shop or something like that on the lot. It also could be a gathering place for the community, he added.

Councilman Roy Francis, who cast the lone no vote, said the only way he would support it would be to put the issue to a vote of the residents.

 

Source: Whittier Daily News

La Habra Heights to move city council elections to November of odd years

La Habra Heights, Ca City Council ElectionLA HABRA HEIGHTS – City Council elections will be moved eight months ahead beginning in 2017.

Instead of being held in March as they have been since 1995, they will be consolidated with local school and water board elections and run by Los Angeles County.

The City Council on Thursday on a 5-0 vote approved the second reading of the ordinance making the change.

“It just seemed like in the long term that it is less expensive for us,” said Mayor Michael Higgins. “It also takes some of the burden off of staff.”

City Manager Shauna Clark said the city could save between $20,000 and $40,000 depending on whether La Habra Heights Water District’s board has a contested election.

If it doesn’t, the city would be responsible for all of the cost. Otherwise, the expense will get shared.

La Habra Heights blogger Stephen Blagden criticized the move because it will extend council terms by nine months – from March to December.

“It’s self serving,” Blagden said. “They’re extending it without a vote of the people.

Blagden said he would be OK with the change if the council members promise not to run again.

Higgins said the eight-month extension isn’t that big a deal and has happened before. The council during the mid-1990s moved the election from April of even years to March of odd years, giving council members an 11-month extension.

In fact, Higgins said he’s not that happy about the extension.

“I’m not thrilled about it, being the one who has to sit in the mayor’s chair for an extra eight months,” he said.

This year’s municipal election cost the city nearly $184,000. Two-thirds was the result of having Measure A, the anti-oil initiative, on the ballot. That was another reason to make the change, Higgins said.

“It cost a lot of money and hours in staff time,” he said.

The city was sued a couple of times and had to go through a recount.

“When we go to the county, that will be the county’s problem,” Higgins said.

La Habra Heights Council approves budget with deficit for first time in seven years

La Habra Heights, Ca City Council Meeting

LA HABRA HEIGHTS >> For the first time in seven years, the city’s $3.2 million budget will be in the red — even if you don’t count the nearly $700,000 still to be spent on the City Hall renovation project.

However, City Council members, who on Thursday voted 5-0 to approved the fiscal 2014-15 budget, which projects a deficit of $32,864, said they’re not concerned.

“We passed essentially a balanced budget,” Mayor Brian Bergman said. “We’re really close. Why pick it apart? It’s a small concern, and that’s why we’re going to monitor things really close.” Read more

La Habra Heights to reduce water usage

By Daniel Hernandez

La Habra Journal

La Habra Heights residents must cutback its water usage after the LHH  Water District Board voted June 11 to comply with the mandatory 25 percent water use reduction handed down by the state two months ago.
La Habra Heights County Water DistrictDirector and Vice President of the La Habra Heights County Water District Pam McVicar briefly detailed to the  city council at its June meeting, the specific cutbacks residents must face, including limiting the watering of ornamental landscapes or turf to only two days a week or face a possible $500 fine.
County Water district Ordinance 15-01, passed with a unanimous vote, keeping the city in compliance with the state’s mandate.
Under the emergency rules, residents in LH Heights must limit watering areas like the lawn to two days a week before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Homes with addresses ending in odd numbers are allowed to water on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while residents in even numbered addresses are allowed to irrigate their property on Sundays and Thursdays.
Commercial and institutional properties must also face the same cutbacks.

Read more

La Habra Heights city manager proposes city budget

La Habra Heights, CaLA HABRA HEIGHTS >> For the second straight year, City Manager Shauna Clark has proposed a budget that will slightly be in the red.

Last year, Clark proposed a more than $3.1 million budget with a deficit of about $32,000 — discounting the nearly $1 million spent on the City Hall renovation — in fiscal 2014-15.

This year’s budget — again about $3.1 million — would be perfectly balanced, except Clark is proposing to set aside $50,000 to continue saving for a new fire truck. The city’s general fund reserve is now estimated at about $5.3 million.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the budget at its 6 p.m. Thursday meeting.

“It’s pretty much the same,” Clark said of the budget. “Last year’s budget was a little more healthy in terms of revenue, and we had to cut a position to fund some of these extra (state) mandates.” Read more

Coffee with the Mayor June 13th 9am-10:30am

Coffee with La Habra Heights MayorSave the date – SATURDAY JUNE 13th 9am – 1030am
Coffee with the Mayor – CITY HALL – MPR Room

Michael Higgins La Habra Heights Mayor

Michael Higgins – LHH Mayor

Come and talk with the Mayor and rotating council members in a relaxed conversational atmosphere. This is your opportunity to introduce new ideas, show support, or voice concerns regarding city policy and direction.

If you prefer a conversational engaging style of meeting over the constraints of the City Council meeting format – Coffee with the Mayor is for you.

If you have shied away from attending City Council meetings because of the perceived unpleasant atmosphere that sometimes occurs – Coffee with the Mayor is for you.

The goal is a friendly get together with lots of information exchanged, concerns addressed, and to do our best to answer questions raised.

Community building starts with events like this so please consider attending.

Look forward to seeing you there.

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