Around Town

It was a great honor and privilege to be the Mayor of Laguna Niguel last year, and to continue to serve as a Councilmember. It is another great honor to run for Supervisor, and has been a joy getting to meet many more good people in the process. Staying close to those I serve has always been very important to me. Here are some of the places we’ve been and things we’ve been doing lately.



Molding the Next Greatest Generation

Did you celebrate Veteran’s Day today? Thankfully, we have the great privilege of having veterans all around us. Most are quietly going about their lives, but if you ask, they all have stories. Every day is a good day to hear those stories, and especially today.

In Laguna Niguel, we celebrated by hearing from five veterans representing WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War and Iraqi Freedom. The boy scouts and girl scouts in attendance may have wondered why our WWII Vets were referred to as the Greatest Generation. I think USMC First Lieutenant Tom Evans said it better than I ever could.

These men and women were dealt blow after blow of adversity, but they would not give up. Now dwindling in number, their country asked them to bear a burden unlike any before them. When tyranny knocked on our door, they were the ones who responded. They voluntarily enlisted by the hundreds of thousands. Then when their blood had secured our freedom, they rebuilt our war weary nation with their energy, discipline and ingenuity.

I want my children not only to hear the stories, but to long for the opportunity to prove that they too have the moral fiber to be a next Greatest Generation.

Sacrifice. Honor. Courage. Faithfulness. These are the traits that made them the Greatest Generation. These are the traits our veterans exemplify every day that they serve. These are the traits we must teach our children, not by words alone, but by our actions.

With great admiration of our veterans,

Robert

Robert Ming
Mayor, City of Laguna Niguel
Candidate, Orange County Supervisor

Addressing Homelessness

People often ask me what we are doing about the homeless in Laguna Niguel. There is no doubt that the economy has brought hard times on regular people just like you and me, and many report a greater instance of panhandling on our street corners here in the city. We can use law enforcement resources to make sure crime and trespassing issues are addressed, but that is not where the problem ends. The issue is a serious one and one that is difficult to address.

I am a firm believer that the best way to address the homeless problem is through partnerships with charitable, civic, religious and other nonprofit organizations who have the volunteers and resources to truly help those in need.

My family and I attend Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo and we are regular supporters of their food pantry program and homeless outreach projects. We also support South County Outreach and the Orange County Rescue Mission. These programs help to provide the homeless not just with a meal once in a while, but with the skills, training and tools they need to end the cycle of homelessness and help them get their lives put back together.

Today, I also had the great pleasure of touring the Orange County Rescue Mission facility in Tustin, and I am amazed by the efficiency and effectiveness of their program. They have an incredibly high success rate of getting people off the streets and into productive jobs and stable housing, and they serve Laguna Niguel. These are the kind of solutions we need to help support, and I encourage you to contribute whenever you are able.

There will always be those who choose to be homeless and would prefer to beg rather than seek gainful employment, but I believe as a compassionate society we should always invest our personal charitable dollars in the organizations that help them get out of that situation if they want to. There is no silver bullet to solve the problem, but we should continue to support organizations like South County Outreach and the Orange County Rescue Mission who have the answer and are delivering it to hurting and hungry people every day.

Better Half Gun Club

I had a wonderful time yesterday morning speaking to a room full of women who are part of the Better Half Gun Club, a group that meets monthly at On Target Shooting Range in Laguna Niguel. They learn about gun safety, how to handle various types of firearms, and the rules surrounding gun ownership. They also wanted to know about things going on in the city, and I was happy to provide them updates on everything going on. I was honored to follow Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who had spoken at previous meetings.

The group was lively and not afraid to ask hard questions. “What are you doing to keep us safe?” “What are crime trends looking like in the city?” “How can we be harder targets for those who might want to do us harm?” I answered these, and many more. We discussed our sheriff department staffing and coverage, our growing neighborhood watch program, and the little tips people always need to be reminded about that make you a harder target – like locking the front door when you leave, locking car doors and taking valuables out of plain sight when in public parking lots, and being aware of your surroundings when out alone at night.

We have a very safe city, but there is always room for improvement. These women were interested in helping keep our city a safe place and their efforts should be applauded.

A Fiscally Responsible City Manager Loan

Your City Council recently encountered an interesting problem. We selected Rod Foster as our new City Manager out of a great pool of candidates, negotiated a fair and reasonable compensation package and were ready to have him start, but he lived in the Inland Empire, and we really wanted him to live here in our community. In fact, we thought it was so important that the City Manager live under the same rules he would administer, we made it a condition of employment that he relocate to Laguna Niguel. Running a city isn’t the same as running a company where a 2 hour commute would be a choice the executive would have to make. Truly being in touch with the city requires eating, working, playing and sleeping here, and that’s what we wanted. It is the same approach the first city council took 22 years ago when we hired Tim Casey as our first city manager, and it is the approach we wanted to take again. He can just move here, right?

Wrong. In case you hadn’t noticed, the residential lending market has been in a tailspin for the past few years and the effects are still lingering. That doesn’t matter so much for those of us who live here and like our loans, but it matters a great deal if you are trying to refinance or move in. Qualifying can be very difficult, and lenders are not really making many jumbo loans at all. We could either wait for him to sell his house and get a loan, or we could offer him a loan to speed things up.

Of course, we are not in the business of being lenders, we are in the business of fiscally responsible leadership and not wasting the city’s assets. The only way I was willing to make a loan was if our return on investment was actually in the financial best interests of the city. When looking at our reserves, it is clear that we needed to achieve an investment return at least as high as what we were getting. That was actually easy, since the lending market for the loan was just over 3% and our return on reserves was just over 1%. The hard part was assessing risk.

Investments of city reserves in real estate is not new, but our investments are usually indirect. We have millions of dollars invested in real estate through Fannie and Freddie debt securities. These massive pools have broad exposure across the country, but as we have seen recently, they are not without risk. When I sit back and think about which real estate we should be investing in, the answer is very clear. Invest right here! We have direct control over many of the factors that make Laguna Niguel such a wonderful place to live, and everything we do is focused on keeping your quality of life excellent and your property values high. There is no more appropriate place for a city to invest in real estate than right within its borders.

What about the risk of default? This is where we are in much better position than virtually any other lender. We are, of course, the first lender on the property, but that is only the beginning. As his employer, we know exactly what he will be making, and we take his mortgage payments right out of his paycheck. If he is ever fired, he is required to sell the house and pay off the loan. How about the amount? We originally authorized a loan of $850,000, but rising prices made Rod come back and request an increase to $925,000. That is certainly a lot of money, but we were not focused on telling him which house to buy or deciding how much of his salary he wanted to put toward mortgage payments. Those are decisions we all make. Based on the salary we were paying him, he could afford the payment, and we required that he get homeowners, title and earthquake insurance to be sure. As long as the investment was secure, we get a good rate of return and it is secured by land in Laguna Niguel, this seemed like a good investment of city funds that would pay a healthy rate of return.

So, at our last council meeting we reset the interest rate on the loan to make sure it was a market rate of interest and voted 5-0 to approve the investment. Special thanks to Councilman Slusiewicz, our resident financial advisor on the council for running the numbers for us. It was a sound investment of city funds, we will get paid a better rate of return on the money that we would have gotten otherwise, and we get a City Manager who can start right away and live in the city. I’m happy with the result, and I think you will be too.