It Began Positive, But Ended Negative
The Costa Mesa City Council met again last night in a meeting that lasted uncharacteristically briefly - we were out of there at 9:30. However, it was not without its moments, so let us begin...
ANOTHER LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT
Right out of the chute Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told us that, during the closed session that preceded the council meeting, the council agreed to settle a claim with Myra Bailey for $150,000 to settle a lawsuit. The vote was 4-1, with Gary Monahan voting no.
DEVELOPMENT HEARING CONTINUED
We then were told, as we had heard earlier in the afternoon, that the developer involved in the plan to replace a commercial building at 440 Fair Drive with 28 residential units - New Business #1 - had asked for the item to be continued to September 15th. It seems he wants to engage the community in some outreach efforts to assuage the angst that was obvious and palpable in the College Park community. Although provided the opportunity to speak to this issue during Public Comments, nobody did.
A WORTHY RECIPIENT!
A highlight of the meeting for me was the presentation of the Mayor's Award to Costa Mesa icon, Hank Panian. Brad Long of CMTV prepared an excellent summary of Hanks life in Costa Mesa - narrated by Hank himself. I sat there, hearing about his life and his outstanding contributions to our community - a life-long teacher at Orange Coast College; was part of the original creation of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District; was instrumental in the establishment of what is now the Mesa Water District; was a member of TWO Charter committees a generation apart.. and on and on.
GRACIOUS, AS ALWAYS
Following the presentation Hank took great pains to thank all those folks along the way who helped him in his community service and, in particular, his wife Barbara, with whom he will celebrate 62 years of married life in November. Hank Panian is certainly a man who has made a difference in our community.
The Public Comments segment included presentations by fourteen (14) people and the subjects were wide-ranging.
Richard Russell went on a three minute rant about the recent newspaper articles concerning the Chris Lanzillo affair, misrepresenting the facts and demanding answers. Funny, he didn't get around to asking Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer if, since the judge threw out the charges involving him, will he and his wife drop their civil lawsuit against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department. Must have been an oversight.
Once and maybe future council candidate Lee Ramos made a brief showing at the council meeting and spoke about the brand new Car Wash on East 17th Street and thanked the council for permitting it to exist.(!) He then complimented councilman Monahan for a recent fundraiser at his bar. Yep, it was pandering time for Old Lee. He left shortly thereafter.
John LaVere, a 30 year resident who works at Lions Park complained about the locked bathrooms at that park, and the lack of picnic tables because he's involved with children in the park and they need restrooms.
Robin Leffler observed that the 5:45 start time for council meetings is inconvenient for many residents and requested the start time be moved back to 6:00. Mayor Mensinger blurted out that the meeting starts at 6:00 - which is NOT true.. the posted time for commencement of the regular meeting is - at his request - 5:45.
Terry Koken returned after a few months off to regale the council with another of his pithy observations. He punctuated them by presenting to the three men on the council a booklet, which he told us was entitled, "How to extract your head from your butt". I think the council got his drift.
Ann Parker stepped up to, once again, express concern for the sober living situation in the city. She spoke about the recent problems at Heller Park and the many sober living residents terrorizing parts of the Eastside. She described having had a lighted cigarette butt flung at her during an encounter. She also expressed concern that Solid Landings on West 19th Street is operating as before.
Margaret Mooney expressed concern about the City not having Supportive Housing and about the locked Lions Park bathrooms.
Beth Refakes told us - and showed us images - of the results of the recent ball gown drive for the 1/5 Marine Battalion at Camp Pendleton. She said the contributions by Costa Mesa residents were really appreciated.
Chuck Perry rose to praise the council for the recent pavement on Red Hill and for the residential development on the corner of Tustin and Ogle on the Eastside.
Jay Humphrey complained about the misinformation about the initiative petition being circulated and asked that it stop.
Mary Spadoni bemoaned the loss of 8 police officers in 9 days nationwide and criticized the first speaker - Russell. She encouraged everyone to get behind our police department.
Karl Ahlf spoke of upcoming meetings on the Poseidon desal plan, and also complained about the unsafe conditions at Lions Park because of the homeless folks.
Sue Lester spoke strongly about the growing homeless problem, explaining first-person experiences with "tweekers" recently. She observed that Prop. 47 is causing all kinds of problems because the dopers know they will not be incarcerated, only cited. She said she's afraid to ride her bicycle in certain areas of town because of this infestation. (my word)
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bob Graham spoke about the impending dismantlement of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant and suggested something be done about it. Of course, there is NOTHING our city council can do about it. He suggested that, rather than have Southern California Edison pass along the estimated $4-5 billion cost of dismantlement, they should pay someone to take it off their hands and refurbish it. Sounds naive...
COUNCIL MEMBER COMMENTS
Katrina Foley, during Council Member Comments, spoke of upcoming fundraising events and of the generosity of the Segerstrom Family for their contributions to our community. She asked for a report on summer recreation activities, including participation. She acknowledged the presence of new Public Information Officer, Tony Dodero, in the audience.
Sandra Genis asked for an update on Group Homes and spoke of the upcoming meeting at Orange Coast College at which their modified Vision 2020 plan will be address on Wednesday, September 9th. I'll write more about that later in the week. She also mentioned the passing of Russell Imada (sp?), the man responsible for the entry garden at City Hall and asked the Mayor to close the meeting in his honor - he didn't.
Gary Monahan almost had nothing to say, but got riled-up by earlier speakers. He addressed what he called the "Red Light or Stop Light Initiative" brought up by Jay Humphrey, and instructed Jay to "stick to the facts", which, of course, Jay had done. It's VERY obvious that the male majority on the council is REALLY angry about the initiative and seem willing to participate in spreading misinformation about it. He then went off on a rant about homeless, citing all the hard work the Homeless Task Force has done. Of course, that organization doesn't exist any longer - somebody should remind him of that.
Jim Righeimer said he was going to speak on only one subject - San Onofre - and began by saying, "I do a lot of development around the country", then complained that nobody will bring business to California. His exact words were, "Nobody will bring employees to this state, period!" He then continued with "People have to take personal responsibility"... somehow he thought that was related to the closing of a nuclear power plant!
Steve Mensinger used most of his time to rant about the homeless situation, telling us that "a month and a half ago a resident called me about Wilson Park - she had recently moved from out of state into a condo next to the park and was concerned about the transients in the park". He got in a little promo for the Costa Mesa Not-So-Public-Square Facebook site - you know, the one that says everyone is welcome, but blocks many residents and ousts those who don't toe the party line. Mensinger is a frequent participant on the site.
We can't police ourselves out of this." He told us that the about-to-be- defunct Costa Mesa Motor Inn and another nearby problem motel are "incubators for crime". In an amusing story, he described having received a complaint about the Vagabond Inn, calling Assistant CEO Rick Francis to meet him there and, upon arrival, being propositioned by a prostitute. He then called Police Chief Rob Sharpnack to the podium to address the issue.
Sharpnack echoed Mensinger by saying, "We can't arrest ourselves out of this". He spoke of the mentally ill and the social workers that accompany officers occasionally. He spoke of the new bike patrols that will make a difference and, vaguely, about undercover operations. He told us the Patrol Force is at capacity and that, later this month, they will promote several officers and begin to re-staff specialty units as the staffing levels rise. He also spoke of the impact of Prop. 47, which needs to be fixed at the state level.
STUPID MENSINGER QUOTES
Mensinger took the ball back and said, " All of us have to be part of the solution.", which might be OK in a football huddle, but didn't tell us just what our part might be. Are we all supposed to start packing guns and helping the cops enforce the laws? He then said something that might have been the stupidest thing he uttered all night, "You can't expect 200 police officers to solve it." What a crock! This city has NEVER had 200 cops and, right now, the command staff would just be happy to have half that number ready and able to report to work! One must wonder if the mayor ever thinks before he speaks - most of the time it appears not to be the case! You get the impression that he's not really paying attention most of the time.
Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau, standing in for absent CEO Tom Hatch, told us that the Dog Park is out of commission and undergoing renovation this week; the Crime Map Feature is back operating and Fire Station #4 has had the ground breaking for the renovations there.
Items 9 and 11 were pulled from the Consent Calendar, so the rest passed without discussion.
SMOKING LOUNGES AND VAPING
Public Hearing #1, the amendments to the Municipal Code regarding Vaping and Smoking Lounges, was up next. After a brief staff report Genis asked about the health issues with e-vaping. Amy Buck from the Orange County Health Care Agency stepped up and gave a short, quick briefing on the dangers of vaping and hookah, after which Mensinger observed "Well, that answers the health issue." The presentation was so quick, and the slides used for information purposes were on the screen for such a short time that I couldn't capture any of the images. Foley expressed concern about locations of smoking lounges and vaping sites regarding schools. Only one person stepped up to speak on this issue - Ann Parker. She wondered why we just cannot ban them, period. She observed that the only hookah parlor in town now - the others closed down - is adjacent to the Tower On 19th - the senior living facility formerly known as Bethel Towers. Not a single supporter of vaping or hookah spoke. In fact, there were few folks in the audience for this issue. The staff will bring back more details about school locations for the second reading. The first reading passed, 5-0.
CAPITAL ASSET NEEDS ORDINANCE
Public Hearing #2, the first reading of the Capital Asset Needs Ordinance, which codifies the current policy of earmarking 6.5% of the General Fund budget for capital expenditures in two segments - 5% and 1.5% - generated some heated discussion. In a nutshell, Foley and Genis seemed concerned about the need to codify this into the Municipal Code, which would then require a 4/5 majority to overturn part of it. Genis was concerned about the fact that, for the past several years, we have not had a balanced budget, yet we would require this money to be used ONLY for these purposes.
STUPID RIGHEIMER QUOTES
Mensinger and Righeimer strongly supported it. Righeimer got off some great lines during the discussion. He said,"It's six and a half percent of the budget. It's not a big deal!" Well, that would be more than $7 million this time around, so it really IS a big deal! In response to Genis' observation that this seemed not very conservative, he said, "We have money gushing into this city like a fire hose.", totally ignoring what happened in 2008 and 2009, when that fire hose went limp when sales tax revenue dropped like a rock! He went on to blame any fiscal problems on the fact that we had more employees back then. In response to Genis observation that by tying up this money we would lose flexibility in municipal management, he said, "Too much flexibility is not what we need." He made my head hurt!
Foley, during her comments, described this as simply a political ploy, and that the ordinance is unnecessary, but she supports the concept and would prefer it remain as a policy.
SPLIT VOTE - WHAT A SURPRISE!
When the vote was taken it passed the first reading, 3-2, with Foley and Genis voting NO. We took a 10 minute break and began again at 8:15.
VACATION OF RIGHTS-OF-WAY
Public Hearings #3 and #4, which involved vacation of road right-of-way and flowage right-of-way were quickly dispatched on 5-0 votes, taking only 20 minutes between them.
PARK FEES ON NEW APARTMENTS
Old Business #1, which was the second reading of the changes to the Municipal Code regarding the imposition of Park Fees on Apartment developments for the first time, also got a quick hearing and passed, 5-0.
LEINART CASH STAYS IN GENERAL FUND
New Business #2 - #1 had been continued - was the question of what to do with the nearly $25,000 in fees paid to the City by Matt Leinart Flag Football for field use last year. Katrina Foley brought this forward for discussion, feeling that the money should be split between the two high schools for uniforms or equipment instead of going into the General Fund. By this time Monahan had disappeared... After a short discussion two speakers addressed this issue. Teresa Drain reminded the council that Matt Leinart Flag Football had recently been caught in a similar "misunderstanding" in Irvine and had to pay the full amount - something like $60,000. She opined that the "misunderstanding" was really just flat-out lying. Wendy Leece suggested this whole thing reeked from the beginning and smacked of a back-room deal. In the end, Foley withdrew her request and the money will remain in the General Fund. No vote was taken, but Genis asked for a copy of a letter mentioned by Foley that had been circulated among booster groups during that time frame.
VOTING DELEGATES NAMED
New Business #3, the appointment of voting delegates to the Annual California League of Cities Conference was quickly dispatched, with Mensinger being designated as the voting delegate and Genis being the alternate, on a 4-0 vote.
APPEAL FEE REIMBURSEMENT REQUESTS
The final bit of agendized business was New Business #4, the request for reimbursement of appeal fees by Ann Parker and Carrie Renfro for two successful appeals recently. Parker's was an appeal to the Planning Commission of a decision by the Zoning Administrator on the Solid Landings facility on West 19th Street. The Planning Commission upheld the appeal and the City Council confirmed it when the applicant appealed that decision. Renfro's was for the proposed Farmer's Market at a church parking lot at the corner of Orange Avenue and Bay Street. She appealed the Planning Commission decision to the City Council and they found in her favor.
Because there is precedent for returning the fees for similar appeals, it seemed like a slam dunk, right? Wrong! From the very beginning it was clear that Righeimer and Mensinger were NOT in favor of returning fees. In fact, he was so adamant about it that Righeimer actually misrepresented the facts of Parker's issue, claiming she could have asked "any council member" to bring the appeal forward without paying fees. In her case, that was NOT true! When Parker presented her facts to Planning Commissioner Stephan Adranian he said he would appeal the issue, but then backed out at the VERY last minute, which seemed curious at the time. Parker, having NO alternative, dashed to City Hall and filed her appeal paperwork with barely minutes to spare - and paid the $690 fee. Her appeal presentation was powerful and factual and was upheld - twice.
DUG DEEP AND GOT NEW INFORMATION
In Renfro's case, she dug and dug and got information from archives the city staff apparently didn't even know existed regarding land use restrictions on the church property, which formed the lynch pin of here argument. Her appeal of the Planning Commission decision was upheld by the City Council.
After all the discussion - which included the idea of preparing a Municipal Code section to address how to handle successful appeals - and it was clear that Righeimer and Mensinger were NOT voting for full reimbursement, Foley finally offered a compromise solution - to pay half the fees. Genis seconded her motion, but the resultant vote was 2-2, which means it failed. Foley offered to pay each of the women $50.00 toward their fees - in my view a symbolic and pathetic gesture.
Here's my opinion on this subject. The mayor and mayor pro tem don't much like being told they're making mistakes and, in the case of Parker, she tells them that frequently. Similarly, Renfro has been a vocal critic on the sober living home issue which infests her neighborhood. She held a meeting on her lawn many months ago when then-mayor Righeimer spoke to the issue. I think both men approached this with their minds already made up. This is just another way to stifle dissent and they used it to make that point. A couple times Righeimer mentioned that "it's not much money". What a condescending jackass! Maybe it's not much to him, but to someone on a fixed income, relying on Social Security, it's a LOT of money. Of course, it's not surprising that both men have that attitude, since one is presently building a new home and the other, according to reports, is contemplating the same thing. And, interesting to note, that one of the two recent appeals for which the fee was refunded was a pal of theirs. Uh, huh... This was one of the most disgusting displays of vindictiveness and misuse of their power that I've ever seen... and that's saying something!
ANOTHER WAY TO STIFLE DISSENT
And, after the vote was taken and Foley asked staff to come back with some kind of policy/code amendment to make this kind of issue equitable, Righeimer asked that they include an analysis of what our appeal fees actually are. Earlier he suggested raising them, which would "price out" some potential appellants - another way to stifle dissent.
WE WON'T FORGET, STEVE...
DELMAR ENTRANCE IMPROVEMENTS
The final two items discussed were Consent Calendar items 9 and 11. #9 was a discussion of the street improvements at Newport Boulevard and Del Mar. It took ten minutes - nine minutes longer than necessary, but the council approved it, 4-0.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS - AGAIN
Labels: Ann Parker, Brad Long, Gary Monahan, Hank Panian, Jim Righeimer, Katrina Foley, Matt Leinart Flag Football, Rob Sharpnack, Sandra Genis, School Resource Officers, Steve Mensinger, Tammy Letourneau