By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
How long did it take your Republican-dominated Orange County Board of Supervisors to give a Newport Beach businessman a $61,000-per-month contract renewable for the next 20 years?
At a June 2006 board meeting, clerk Darlene Bloom announced "Item 103." She mentioned CNH LLC, but not its owner, Alfonso G. Cordero; Cordero's big donations to the Orange County Republican Party, President George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee; or that he'd be the lucky recipient of a potential $15,615,360 in taxpayer money.
Supervisor Bill Campbell spoke first: "I move the item."
Supervisor Tom Wilson: "Second!"
Campbell: "All in favor?"
"Aye," all five supervisors said in unison.
Campbell: "Next item, please."
Board members have spent more time debating what color to paint their top-floor executive-office suites than their generous deal with Cordero.
So what would cause supervisors to spend a massive sum of money without pausing for a single comment, question or explanation? Sensitive homeland-security equipment? A vital new road? Additional teams of private lawyers to handle our frisky sheriff's sexual-harassment and ethics issues?
No. They spent the money to lease "file storage space" for court records.
But, you might guess, the supervisors must have approved the deal after carefully analyzing whether buying a warehouse outright would be cheaper, right?
No, there was no analysis.
So the contract isn't a good deal for taxpayers?
Nobody doubts Superior Court administrators need more space, but numerous other sites were available to lease for substantially less money. In fact, our review of similar-sized properties found sites for a whopping $20,000 to $30,000 less per month. Provisions of the lease allow Cordero to make $69,402 a month by the 10th year of the pact, which can be renewed for an additional decade.
Perhaps supervisors had insisted on putting the lucrative contract out for bid, and despite strenuous publicity efforts, nobody was interested in the cash?
Nope. There was no publicity about the project. Thomas G. Mauk's county CEO office says its spending rules didn't require public bids, so they didn't bother to shop for the best price.
Surely, Moxley, you're leaving something out, aren't you?
Yes, the lease was placed on the agenda at another public meeting on Jan. 30, 2007. But again, there was no debate. County staff buried the item on the consent calendar (non-discussion agenda items that are approved in bulk), and who would have known anything was fishy? The agenda failed to mention the $61,000-per-month cost.
But isn't the lease practical because the new storage space is in close proximity to court administrators based in Santa Ana?
Sorry, no. The supervisors ignored more than a dozen nearby properties and instead chose a building 8.2 miles away in Campbell's district.
Aren't taxpayers going to save money because the bureaucrats can stop leasing other file-storage facilities—the ones within three blocks of the central courthouse?
No. We're still paying for those, too.
Cordero—the founder of Irvine-based Powerwave Technologies Inc. and various other corporate outfits—must be pleased. Thanks to our supervisors, he could get more than $15.6 million in lease money for a property worth just $7.4 million, according to county assessment records.
The gap will help support Cordero's new nine-bedroom, 22,000-square-foot Mexican oceanfront estate, as well as houses in Nevada, West Palm Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Irvine, Newport Coast and Newport Beach.
Supervisor Campbell said the Irvine contract "doesn't jog my memory particularly" and confirmed that county real-estate lease rules don't require public bidding.
"We define what we want, go out, look at the market, and then negotiate," said Campbell. "Now that I've checked on this property [following the Weekly's questions], I think what I was excited about was that the escalation in the lease was only 2 cents per square foot each year. That's not bad."
But why no public debate or analysis of competing properties?
"I can see what you're saying," he said.