Category Archives: Opinion

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

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La Habra Heights may have county take over municipal elections

By: Richard Irwin

La Habra Heights City Council ElectionLA HABRA HEIGHTS>> City officials are moving ahead with a proposal to have Los Angeles County take over its municipal elections, despite concerns it may not save any money.

“We need to do some research on it and direct (City Manager Shauna Clark) to see if there’s even space on the ballot,” said Councilman Brian Bergman. “At that time, I guess we can get a cost estimate.”

Clark said the soonest elections could be merged would be in November of 2017, since the county doesn’t have room on the ballot in even numbered years.

The council directed the action after this year’s election that cost the city nearly $184,000. However, two-thirds of the cost is the result of having Measure A, the anti-oil initiative, on the ballot.

“We had a particularly difficult election, we even had a recount, which is an extremely rare event,” said Clark. Read more

Sleepy La Habra Heights jolted into lively public debate over oil by Measure A

La Habra Heights, a small city on the southeastern edge of Los Angeles County, is set to become the latest battle ground in the debate over how much authority localities have to regulate the oil industry, as voters head to the polls to consider Measure A, an initiative that would ban new drilling.

“We’re all just so damn lucky to be here,” says Jane Williams, sitting in the garden of a house she has occupied since the city’s incorporation.

Everybody in La Habra Heights sings from the same hymnal about its beauty. They praise avocado trees, no sidewalks, and the minimum one-acre zoning that begets low-density this low-density living.

“When we moved here people had herds of goats, and pygmy goats. Herds of sheep! Every other house had a horse,” Williams says.

Oil has been here too, right from the beginning, and then some – and oil is now sowing the biggest public disagreement in the city’s 36-year history.

Five-year resident Jesse Loverne, too, praises the La Habra Heights way of life. But he says he’s worried about the ongoing reach of oil into the ground under houses in the heights, and in nearby Whittier.

As a member of Heights Oil Watch, he backs Measure A, which aims to ban future drilling, limit redrilling of existing wells, and prohibit any so-called high intensity oil techniques such as hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

These controls go further than new statewide fracking rules taking effect in July, which only mandate monitoring and reporting for that activity.

Loverne says that’s the point. “I’m not convinced the state is doing enough to regulate it,” he says. He wants La Habra Heights to ban fracking because of environment and health risks. “Until the state and federal governments put forth a meaningful regulation I think it needs to be in the hands of the city for each little unique situation every city has,” he says.

La Habra Heights’ measure resembles ones passed last November in San Benito and Mendocino counties; so, too, does the oil lobby’s reaction bear a resemblance to those earlier fights.

Californians for Energy Independence, a pro-oil political coalition, has poured in $400,000 so far to defeat Measure A, much of that on lawyers’ fees for a dispute over ballot language. (Measure A supporters have spent just over $26,000, including lawyers’ fees donated in-kind for that same skirmish.)

And local independent oil companies with interests in town are carefully negotiating the political fight, offering information about their operations and opinions about regulation.

 

Matrix Oil has applied to develop wells; the company has paused an environmental impact report midway through, awaiting the vote’s outcome. Vice President Joe Paquette says he’d rather the environmental impact report, and the county’s usual process, played out. “This initiative, what it does. It’s attempting to bypass all of the regulators. Let’s throw the regulation into the laps of the city council. Why would you want that? It’s just the wrong way to govern. And it’s the wrong way to regulate.”

California Resources Corporation, a corporate descendant of Occidental Petroleum, also opposes the measure. CRC has been operating its 141 wells in the Heights for decades, and while Measure A backers insist CRC’s current activities aren’t targeted by the initiative, the company’s lawyers aren’t so sure.

“There’s potential for litigation if this thing happens,” said CRC’s Steve Gregg.

That’s not an empty threat. When Mendocino and San Benito approved bans, oil company lawsuits quickly followed.

Four of La Habra Heights’ five city councilmembers oppose the measure; they take that threat seriously That includes Jane Williams, who nods at her neighbors’ Yes on A signs.

“I understand their fear. I don’t feel it,” she says.

Williams is up for re-election Tuesday. She’s the only opponent to Measure A among three candidates vying for two seats.

She points out that oil royalties make up a significant amount of the small city’s revenue. “How the books balance makes a great deal of difference to me. They’re putting in jeopardy 13 percent of our budget. And we don’t have 13 percent to cut.”

While La Habra Heights held no official debates, public comment at a recent city council meeting became a politely contentious arena for airing views – both on the political question, and on which side has the better claim to being more local.

“I put more faith and trust in our neighbors…than I do in some radical environmental law firm from San Francisco who’s got another agenda altogether,” said Measure A opponent Dave Frankenbach. A few minutes later, referencing an oil company’s offices in Santa Barbara, another resident, Mike Hughes said, “I drove a mile and a half to get here. I resent the implication that Measure A was brought by out of town people. I am one of the drafters of Measure A.”

La Habra Heights is the first California city where voters will consider a ban with this kind of reach. Still, urban planning expert Bill Fulton points out that the idea’s not brand new: coastal cities began limiting onshore oil operations in the 1980s.

“That’s a pretty well established practice all up and down California,” Fulton says. “The question is whether you can use that kind of process in this kind of situation.

This situation – whether cities can limit high intensity techniques including fracking for the otherwise approved land use of oil drilling – is pretty new for California law; legal and planning experts say legal questions here are murky at best.

Even backers acknowledge courts would have some role interpreting it. But La Habra Heights resident Sayre Weaver says it’s worth risking lawsuits to pass Measure A.

“Local governments who are much closer to the people have an opportunity to say, we don’t want to live this way. And that can trickle up and change the state legislature’s mind over time,” says Measure A supporter Sayre Weaver. “Maybe it will.”

La Habra Heights won’t be the last word on local control in California, no matter the outcome. Another, similar measure over oil will hit the ballot in the far-northern county of Butte next year.

 

Source: SCPR.Org

Measure A – A Solution In Search For a Problem

By: Kyle Miller (La Habra Heights Resident and City Council Member)

Friends and Neighbors, below is a guest commentary piece I wrote regarding Measure A that will be published today in the La Habra Journal & LaHabraHeights.com If you haven’t yet voted, please read and consider this prior to casting your vote on this very important issue. In addition, please consider sharing the below text or the Jpg attachment with other voters in LHH that are undecided.

I know this is an off year election but please come out to vote on March 3rd.
Thank You.

Measure A
A Solution In Search Of A Problem

Guest Commentary by Kyle Miller

On March 3rd La Habra Heights voters will be asked to consider Measure A, an initiative to end all future oil production in the city through the banning of nearly all forms of oil extraction along with the prohibition on new wells and restarting wells.

While I support the initiative process, in this case, Measure A and it’s advertising misleads voters and creates a false sense of urgency in an attempt to scare us into voting “yes” to stop practices that don’t exist in our city while creating new regulations that conflict with thoughtfully crafted existing city and state laws that already protect residents.

For example, compare some Measure A myths with the facts:

Myth: Ads for Measure A say a “yes” vote will stop “fracking” in the Heights.
Fact: There is no current or proposed “fracking” occurring in the Heights, or LA county for that matter.The City already has existing laws at the State and local level to address “fracking” should it ever be proposed in the future.

Myth: “Measure A does not stop any existing oil operations, period.”
Fact: Measure A would expressly prohibit “High Intensity Petroleum Operations” What exactly does that mean? Nobody knows because because it’s a term created by the people who wrote Measure A, so legally it throws all current oil operations into question, opening the city up to countless legal challenges it would be forced to defend.

Myth: ” Vote for Measure A to stop 18 wheeler trucking on our City streets”
Fact: Measure A does not address trucking at all. While the city’s existing transparent review process, interrupted by this initiative, is fully capable of examining trucking or any other safety concerns of a proposed project application.

Four out of five City Council members oppose this measure not because they’re in the pocket of big oil, as the authors of Measure A are trying to get all of us to believe, but because it is not needed! We have our existing laws, new state laws, the CUP process, and CEQA with the protections provided by the EIR process. In summary we have all the tools we need to protect us from the negative effects of additional oil production. We do not need this initiative which prevents the residents from hearing the facts of the proposed project and making their own decisions. Moreover the vague and ambiguous language in Measure A will trigger many extremely expensive lawsuits that our small city will not have the resources to defend and will be unlikely to recover from.

For all of these reasons I ask you to to join me, and hundreds of our neighbors, in voting NO on measure A.

Kyle Miller is a 17 year resident of La Habra Heights as well as a member of the La Habra Heights City Council for the last 2 years.