Official who drew $551,000 CalPERS pension must repay $3.4M

The poster boy for public pension reform now owes the Golden State millions.

Huntington Beach resident Bruce Malkenhorst once was the most handsomely paid retiree in the entire state of California, with pension checks totaling more than $551,000 a year. How? From his service to the small, strange city of Vernon – where he was city administrator, finance director, redevelopment director, city clerk, city treasurer, head of the municipal light and power operation, etc., pretty much all at the same time.

The California Public Employees’ Retirement System paid him that princely sum for seven years, until a closer examination – which followed the public release of CalPERS’ pension rolls, and Malkenhorst’s guilty plea to felony misappropriation of public funds – suggested that sum might be grossly inflated. After a legal song and dance, CalPERS recalculated Malkenhorst’s pension based on the salary for one of his lesser positions, then slashed his pension from more than a cool half-million to $115,000 a year.

CalPERS also insisted that Malkenhorst repay the millions it errantly overpaid him – which Malkenhorst decried as “elder abuse” and battled in courtroom after courtroom.

On Wednesday, Malkenhorst lost and CalPERS won.

ABUSE?

Even though an administrative law judge concluded that CalPERS’ recalculation of Malkenhorst’s pension was “arbitrary,” “without sufficient legal authority” and “an abuse of discretion” – and asked CalPERS to recalculate based on the (much higher) pay for the city administrator position, rather than acting city clerk – the CalPERS board of directors decided to stick with the program as is. It has final authority.

America’s largest public pension system now moves in to collect $3.4 million from Malkenhorst, spokeswoman Amy Morgan said. His annual pension is now $122,936, subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments.

We tried to reach Malkenhorst and his attorney to see what’s next, but they didn’t return phone calls and emails seeking comment. Malkenhorst could challenge the decision in court, as he has challenged past decisions. Those have not proved successful.

CalPERS is clearly trying to make an example of Malkenhorst and burnish its “we’re-on-your-side” cred.

“As the judge specifically found, Malkenhorst and other Vernon officials intentionally obscured Malkenhorst’s pay increases, making it impossible for the public to figure out how much the city was paying for what services, and subverting the law’s transparency requirements,” said Matthew Jacobs, CalPERS’ general counsel, in a prepared statement.

“CalPERS will not tolerate these kinds of abuse. We remain on the lookout for all forms of pension spiking and encourage the public to help us root it out.”

NO MYSTERY

Important note: Malkenhorst’s ways were widely known long before CalPERS’ readjustment.

A stunning, once-secret investigation into Malkenhorst’s escapades in Vernon was done in 2004, alleging that Malkenhorst stealthily and systematically bled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the peculiar city’s coffers.

Malkenhorst spent money on groceries, including top sirloin steak and fudge cake; golf; country club memberships; Christmas gifts for his family; homeowners association dues; massages; haircuts; property taxes; and a multitude of other personal expenses, according to the probe by a city-paid attorney.

“In just one year, the city administrator caused the city to pay at least $91,000 for his credit card charges,” the probe said. “Such charges included expensive meals, golf-related fees and travel and dining expenses for his family. The city apparently never received or maintained the detailed credit card statements; they were not able to provide them to me when requested. Thus, nobody but the city administrator reviewed the charges in order to analyze the propriety of his expenses. He was reimbursed for several hundred thousand dollars of expenses without providing support or detail.”

In 2011, Malkenhorst pleaded guilty to misappropriating $60,000 in public funds and using it for political contributions, golf games, massages, a personal trainer and a home security system. The CalPERS review followed.

Back when he was still working, one of Malkenhorst’s lawyers said there was no deception involved – Vernon officials knew all about Malkenhorst’s handsome compensation and generous perks.

“The people who are running the city say, ‘We like Bruce Malkenhorst. We want him to be able to get around in a limousine. We want him to use it for personal or business uses. We want to pay him a lot of money,’” attorney Bart H. Williams told the Los Angeles Times.

WEIRD CITY

Vernon is an odd place. Just a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles, it’s a tiny industrial enclave of odoriferous factories and warehouses, with its own power plant. Its 100 or so residents live in homes mostly owned by the city itself.

“Vernon should have been subsumed long ago into the surrounding city of L.A., but its independence is a strange and stark example of how a democracy can become a dynasty,” Forbes magazine wrote back in 2007. “California’s tiniest city, if you want to call it a city, is one of the nation’s most lasting and efficient political machines, run almost entirely for the benefit of a handful of rarely opposed, extremely well-paid politicians.”

But that was the old Vernon – when political candidates who challenged the status quo said they were evicted from their homes, kicked off the ballot and followed by private investigators packing heat. The state Legislature did, indeed, try to do what Forbes prescribed – and a bill to make Vernon disappear and fold it into Los Angeles County made big headway in 2011.

The city fought back hard, and a deal was brokered allowing it to continue to exist in exchange for major reforms. The “new” Vernon sided with CalPERS in this fight.

Contact the writer: tsforza@ocregister.com

Our long-lost roadside attractions: From the Alligator Farm to Lion Country Safari, the Wax Museum and more

Before dawn on Friday, a structure known as “Numero Uno” traveled 45 wide-load freeway miles from Downey to Irvine. The building with adobe-style archways and elementary school lettering was the very first Taco Bell.

Until recently, the original restaurant, which opened in 1962, was slated for demolition. But fans of the food (or at least the quirky look of the building) rallied to save it. And behind the scenes, Taco Bell officials made relocation plans.

They were lucky to have a place to move to.

As development has made and remade and re-remade Orange County, the region has gained and lost a lot of kitsch. Attractions that once were genuine one-offs, either because of function or appearance or all-around weirdness, have fallen to wrecking balls and escalating land prices.

For proof, consider this: The new home for the original Taco Bell is in Irvine, in a business park, near Taco Bell’s corporate tower headquarters.

For a list of other local throwbacks, the Register talked with Chris Epting of Huntington Beach, author of the picture book “Vanishing Orange County.”

“Orange County, at one point, was a hotbed of tourism, and not just Disneyland,” Epting said.

Some spots capitalized on the allure of Hollywood or tried to grab a piece of the local theme park traffic. Others took advantage of open space to host animal-themed attractions, with real creatures with real teeth.

“When we had all this space down here, you could have places like that,” Epting said.

Here’s a short list of those roadside attractions lost to history:

• The Japanese Village and Deer Park in Buena Park was a showcase of Japanese culture, music and food. Visitors could pet Japanese deer that wandered the grounds and stare at koi. The park on Knott Avenue near I-5 closed in 1975 and was briefly replaced by a theme park called “Enchanted Village.” There, according to some reports, visitors could see Oliver, a chimp who walked on two feet, and take in the occasional “Island of Dr. Moreau”-themed animal show. The second park lasted only a year, closing in 1976. Today, the land has businesses and a park.

• Orange County International Raceway, open from 1967 to 1983, drew race fans from all over the country, according to Epting. It was, at its opening, the Taj Mahal of drag racing, with a three-story starting tower and the sport’s first permanent bleachers. The track’s founder, Mike Jones, eventually left the business and took over his father’s interior design company. Today, the former drag strip serves as a sliver of the Spectrum Business Center in Irvine.

• The Newport Harbor Buffalo Ranch was a 115-acre grazing area for buffalo and, when it opened in 1954, one of the county’s original amusement parks. The drive-to-see-it-style spot included the buffalo (a herd that started with 72 animals but soon grew to more than 100) and storytelling from a man billed as Geronimo III, the great-great grandson of the famous Native American. The ranch closed after a tough five-year run, and the buffalo were sent back to their original home in Kansas. Today, the site on the northeast corner of Bonita Canyon Drive and MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach is memorialized by a bronze statue of a buffalo.

• For about a week in May 1960, the country turned its attention to Buena Park and the fate of a man who ran the California Alligator Farm. Time magazine, among others, tracked Ken Earnest, who was fighting for his life after suffering a bite – from a snake, not a gator – at the Buena Park attraction. The episode was a high point of a certain type of innovation in the county, which was host to (or had hosted or soon would host) a buffalo show, a lion park, a deer park, roaming ostriches and basketball-playing bears. And the gators. The California Alligator Farm ran in Buena Park from 1953 to 1984, and it closed only after annual attendance dipped under 50,000. The gators moved to Florida; Earnest survived the bite. Today, the land is vacant, just west of a Claim Jumper restaurant.

• Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park opened in 1962 and closed in 2005. For a time, publicists of movie stars fought mightily to get their clients immortalized in wax. Then that time ended. Today, the building hosts Premier Exhibitions, which has held shows such as the “Bodies” exhibit. Near the former wax museum was Movieworld: Cars of the Stars. It opened in 1970 and featured cars from movies and TV shows of the 1960s and ’70s. It closed in 1979.

• Movieland of the Air Museum opened in 1963 with historic airplanes at what’s now John Wayne Airport. It closed in 1985.

• Old MacDonald’s Farm, a petting zoo, was part of Knott’s Berry Farm before moving to Mission Viejo in 1969. The farm closed for good sometime around 1980. It’s now the location of the Kaleidoscope shopping center.

• Of course, one of the best-known roadside attractions was Lion Country Safari. Visitors could drive their cars into the “safari” for a very up-close look at giraffes, rhinos, tigers, lions and other animals native to Africa, not Irvine. Photos from the era show lions climbing on visitors’ cars. It closed in 1984, not long after a toddler was mauled by a tiger and the park’s chief ranger was killed by an elephant named Misty. The land once occupied by the safari – and later, the Wild Rivers Waterpark – is now the Irvine Co.’s Los Olivos apartment community.

Los Olivos will total 3,700 apartment units when it’s done.

But to the dismay of music fans, the second phase of the two-part development will involve closing and demolishing another local landmark, Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Apartments will be built on what’s now the concert venue’s parking lot in 2017. Next year’s concert season will be the last.

Irvine Meadows fans have launched an effort to try to save the amphitheater, including a Change.org petition that has gathered more than 7,000 supporters.

But the Irvine Co. has had its Los Olivos development in the works for some time. In 2006, the city’s Planning Commission approved the company’s plans to eventually build residences on the land. Irvine Co. has said the property was always meant for a more permanent use.

Staff Writers Kelli Skye Fadroski, Nancy Luna and Keith Sharon contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: aboessenkool@ocregister.com

Man killed by Metrolink train in Orange

ORANGE– A male died after he was struck by a Metrolink train at a railway going across Sunday night, authorities claimed.

A 911 call came in at 5:44 p.m. reporting the incident at the La Veta Avenue going across, Orange Cops Lt. Jeff Bird said.

An adult male, whose name hasn’t been launched, walked around the closed gate prior to he was struck by a northbound train headed to the Orange terminal, Bird stated. The guy passed away at the scene.

A Local area Internet dispatcher stated the guy remained in his 30s.

The train stays at the scene as the examination proceeds. The going across will be shut up until concerning 10 p.m., Bird stated.

Metrolink tweeted that the train was goinged from Oceanside to San Bernardino. OC Line 667 to L.a is holding at the Tustin terminal as a result of the occurrence, baseding on the tweet.

Contact the author: 949-445-6397 or tshimura@ocregister.com!.?.!

Ducks close in on approval for four Great Park ice rinks, team training facility

IRVINE – Grand, unrealized plans are the hallmark of the beleaguered Orange County Great Park.

But one of those long-debated proposals – the construction of a 270,000-square foot public ice facility and Anaheim Ducks training center, in a region where interest in ice-based sports is growing – might soon become reality.

On Tuesday, the Irvine City Council will consider a proposal by the Ducks to, via a new nonprofit organization, erect a community ice complex with four rinks at the Great Park. Councilman Jeff Lalloway said it will cost $30 million to $40 million to build and, according to city staffers, would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

After the lease expires, up to 50 years after the building is constructed, the facility would become city property for $10.

City staff have recommended the council approve the lease under the condition that H&S Ventures, the company that manages the club owned by Henry and Susan Samueli, hire a consultant to study the environmental impacts of the facility because of its bigger-than-expected footprint.

Ten years after the city was given the land for the Great Park, roads and infrastructure necessary for the rink are finally being built, ending years of waiting on behalf of the Ducks, who have a growing high school hockey league.

“For years, no one had confidence that there was going to be a Great Park,” Lalloway said. “I think it’s important that a regional icon like the Ducks has determined we’re moving forward with the park. That’s really exciting.”

With four sheets of ice on about 13.5 acres in the western portion of the park, the complex would ease competition for rink space in Orange County for amateur players.

“We’re absolutely jam-packed in all of our rinks in Orange County and in the L.A. area,” said Michael Schulman, the Ducks’ chief executive officer. “The sport is growing, but it’s limited by how many ice rinks there are.”

The Ducks would train there when the club’s primary practice space, Honda Center, is otherwise occupied.

The club’s interest in building rinks at the Great Park dates to 2005, when developer Lennar bought the bulk of the El Toro land from the federal government. Lennar then gave it to the city for a major metropolitan park in exchange for the right to build commercial and residential developments around the park.

The council first authorized negotiations between H&S Ventures and the city in January 2011.

But when no infrastructure or roads materialized in the area under consideration, the plan was put on hold. Now, construction at the park has picked up, and portions of the 175-acre Sports Park – a section of the 688 acres of the Great Park being brought online for the city by developer FivePoint Communities – is set to open by the end of 2016.

Schulman publicly reintroduced the ice facility proposal at a City Council meeting in September.

The project is “coming to the table at the perfect time,” Irvine Mayor Steven Choi said.

Under the current proposal, H&S would construct and operate the facility, putting in a minimum of $25 million. But spending will likely surpass that total, Schulman said in a recent interview at his Corona del Mar office.

The complex would be owned by the Irvine Ice Foundation, a new nonprofit organization being formed specifically to manage the facility. The Samuelis, through their Samueli Foundation, would fund the organization. Schulman would be managing director of the complex.

Construction on the multi-rink ice facility would start less than a year from now, in fall 2016. Opening day would be in January 2018.

Irvine would be on the hook for providing off-site overflow parking and adjacent infrastructure and utilities, but the management company would handle operations and maintenance, according to a city staff report.

During construction, H&S would rent the land from the city for $1 annually. After construction is complete and operating expenses are covered, annual rent to the city would be 25 percent of net revenue or $250,000, whichever is less.

An initial draft of the agreement had H&S paying only $1 annually.

“It’s easy to get all glittery-eyed about some name brand coming to the city, but our job is to negotiate the best public policy for our residents,” said Councilwoman Christina Shea, who disagreed with the previous proposal under which the city would get no share of the revenue. “I certainly see this as a prototype of what we’ll be looking at for future partnerships.”

Additional revenue would go toward supporting youth ice-based sports via the Irvine Ice Foundation.

Councilwoman Beth Krom said the proposed terms show the Ducks are serious about building a quality facility.

“There will be a lot of people looking to fulfill their dreams and aspirations at the Great Park, and I am certainly open to consider any good proposal, but a lot of people don’t really have resources to bring to the table,” she said. “We are working with a partner that has a reputation and has a lot of investments here in Orange County.

“The stakes for them are high as well. They’re not a fly-by-night operation.”

The proposed complex is larger than was discussed when talks between the club and the city began. That’s because one additional sheet of ice, with seating for 2,500, was added to the plans. (The other three rinks each seat about 500 spectators.)

Three sheets would be NHL-size; the fourth, an Olympic-size rink.

As many as 10 major events might be hosted annually at the rink with seating for 2,500, Schulman said.

The Great Park ice complex would increase by 40 percent the number of rinks, both ice and inline, operated by the Ducks in the greater Orange County area, Schulman said.

“We track the usage of our rinks, and pretty much every rink is at 100 percent capacity,” he said. “Five years ago, some were at 70 or 60 percent. We’ve reached a point where there’s no more room to grow without more rinks.”

Since its inception about five years ago, the Ducks’ high school program has grown from one team and one inline rink to 48 teams on seven facilities.

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said youth players will benefit.

“I’ve been to a lot of the rinks in Orange County, and some of them are old grocery stores and those kinds of things,” Getzlaf said. “It’s going to be nice to have a facility that can handle the foot traffic, the amount of ice kids need to progress in this game.

“Even talking to the guys who have kids that are playing already, they’re driving all over the place to try and find ice (at) five, six in the morning.”

In addition to the rinks, the facility would include some retail, a small restaurant, locker rooms, administrative offices and training space. Nearly 600 public parking spots and 68 private spots are planned. Across the street, FivePoint plans to develop a commercial center.

The complex would be open at least 7 a.m.-10 p.m. six days per week.

The lease on the finished complex would be as long as 50 years: an initial 25-year term plus five potential five-year extensions.

“Ultimately, the rink will be a gift from the Samueli family to the city of Irvine,” Schulman said. “They’ll have a great, beautiful building there, fully paid for.”

Staff writer Eric Stephens contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2221 or sdecrescenzo@ocregister.com

Smelly Huntington Beach dump must move indoors, kill odors and pay fines, board rules

Soon, Huntington Beach’s Oak View neighborhood will smell better than it has in a long time.

After years of neighborhood complaints and five days of hearings, a Huntington Beach dump was ordered Thursday to fix operational problems that have caused foul odors, dust and pollutants to waft into a nearby grade school and the surrounding community.

The order by South Coast Air Quality Management District’s hearing board forces Rainbow Environmental Services, which operates the 17.6-acre facility on Nichols Lane, to make more than $10 million in improvements.

“This is, in my experience, which goes back half a century, the most comprehensive odor control program,” said Edward Camarena, chairman of AQMD’s five-member quasi-judicial board. “I’m looking forward to its results.”

The order requires the waste station to construct and retrofit buildings so it can conduct all trash-related operations indoors by the end of 2017, divert smelly loads to other dumps in the interim, enhance asbestos monitoring and pay $130,00 in fines.

The company also must check for bad odors daily, spray chemicals to counteract foul smells, send a quarterly newsletter to its neighbors and return before the hearing board in April to provide proof that these changes have solved the problems.

If Rainbow fails to construct and open its enclosures by Dec. 1, 2017, it will pay a $250,000 penalty.

“We needed to provide some relief to the community, and I think (this) will go a long way to providing that relief promptly,” Camarena said.

Rainbow representatives declined comment on the order. But they have said the company has often offered to help find solutions to Oak View’s complaints.

The company is involved in an ongoing lawsuit, in which the Ocean View School District is suing Rainbow and its parent company Republic Services in connection with the dump’s effects on Oak View Elementary school and preschool.

Oak View residents and members of the school community say Rainbow’s operations have emitted bad smells and dust into classrooms and homes, attracted flocks of seagulls that feast at the dump and defecate on children, and caused chronic illnesses, such as asthma. The neighborhood complaints prompted AQMD to issue 13 citations against Rainbow in the last two years for violating California Health and Safety Codes governing air contaminants.

When Rainbow failed to fix the problems and continued to get violations, the AQMD filed a case against the company. The subsequent hearing, which included four days of testimony and deliberation over the past two weeks, was largely a negotiation between the AQMD and Rainbow over what changes and fines would be required.

The hearing board mostly adopted that agreement, and commended Rainbow for its cooperation.

But school district and community representatives said they think the board’s ruling fell short of fully addressing their concerns.

Gina Clayton-Tarvin, president of the Ocean View School District board of trustees, complained that Rainbow will still be allowed to store construction and demolition debris outdoors and uncovered in open-air “bunkers,” even though the order requires construction material dumping and sorting to take place indoors.

“The construction and demolition dumping area is potentially the most dangerous of all the processing areas,” Clayton-Tarvin said. “We’re appreciative of the hard work that AQMD has done, but our difficult journey to save the surrounding community and Oak View is far from over.”

Victor Valladares, 29, who has lived in the Oak View neighborhood all his life, said he has concerns about the construction debris and the mist Rainbow sprays to combat odors – even though the company has said the chemicals are safe.

“Spray Febreze 24 hours a day, and you don’t think that’s going to do any damage to your respiratory?” he said. “My kids have asthma. My neighbors have asthma. I think these chemicals might be contributing to their bad health.”

However, he called the AQMD’s ruling “a step in the right direction.”

“Our voices were finally heard,” Valladares said. “For far too long our community has been living in the shadows.”

Contact the writer: jgraham@ocregister.com or 714-796-7960