Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Legal Costs, Annexation, Labor Contracts On Council Agenda

FIRST MEETING IN A MONTH
The Costa Mesa City Council will hold its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, September 2, 2014 after a month-long hiatus.  The meeting begins in Council Chambers at City Hall at 6:00 pm., but a Closed Session precedes it beginning at 4:30 p.m.  You can read the complete agenda HERE.

CONSENT CALENDAR
There are eight items on the Consent Calendar - items which most likely will not receive separate discussion and be voted upon in one vote.  However, I'll mention a few of them here and provide you with links, just in case you're interested.

INTERESTING EXPENDITURES, AGAIN
Item #3 is Warrant 2521, HERE.  I'm sure you'll find some of the entries of interest.  Here are a few that caught my eye.

#0181936 - Costa Mesa Senior Center (Final Payment) - $61,000.00
#0181938 - Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (Crime/Excess Liability/Property - $443,521.96
#0181941 - City of Huntington Beach, (Helicopter Services, 6/14) - $20,545.00
#0181942 - Civil Source (Staff Suppport, Inspect. & Construction) - $67,598.05
#0182006 - Keyser Marston Assoc. (Various Homeless Consulting) - $6.770.00
#0182012 - Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (Legal) - $4,554.00
#0182051 - Trauma Intervention Program (Annual TIP Fee) - $14,061.00
#0182075 - Jones Day (Legal, CMCEA, 6/14) - $36,753.75
#0182129 - Government Staffing Svcs, (Mgt. Analyst/Proj. Mgr) - $6,480.00
#0182191 - FTOG, Inc. (Interim Buyer, 7/7-8/1/14) - $5,940.00
#0182200 - Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (Various negotiations) - $24,123.00
#0182202 - Prudential Assigned Settlement (Whitlock/Olsen) - $294,000.00
#0182283 - Interwest Consulting Group (Bldg. Inspection, 6/14) - $12,355.00
#0182432 - Jones & Mayer (Olsen) - $73,451.75
#0182437 - IDS Group, Inc. (Architect.Svcs/Plan Review) - $46,505.00
#0182441 - Pamela Olsen (Settlement-Whitlock/Olsen) - $100,000.00
#0182489 - Employment Development Department (Unemployment 4/1 - 6/30/14 - $9,175.00
#0182492 - FTOG, Inc. (Interim Buyer, 8/4-8/15/14) - $2,340.00
#0182561 - Synoptek, LLC (Implement. Mgt. SunGuard CAD) - $12,660.00

SALARY RANGE INCREASE FOR RESERVE COPS
Item #7, HERE, is a much-needed salary range adjustment for Reserve Police Officers.

MORE PLANNING CONSULTING COSTS
Item #8, HERE, is yet ANOTHER extension of the contract with Lilley Planning Consultants for an additional $225,000, taking the contract, which began in November, 2013 for $100,000, to $480,000!

WHITTIER COLLEGE EXPANSION LOAN
There are three (3) public hearings on the agenda.  The first, HERE, is a so-called TEFRA hearing for a loan not to exceed $100,000,000 for improvements to the Whittier College of Law campus in the City.

UNHAPPY ANNEXATION SECOND READING
The second public hearing, HERE, is the second reading of the Santa Ana/Colleen Island Annexation plan.  This issue has had only lukewarm support from the residents of this island of county property.  Many speakers have observed that their large lots have created a special character in their community and that the minimum lot size in this proposal of 6,600 square feet - about 1/3 the size of the existing lots - will negatively impact the surrounding properties.  Coincidentally, there is a big chunk of land in the middle of this site for which development is planned by some of the same players who bid on the Orange County Fairgrounds a few years ago.  I expect the council majority to approve the second reading and proceed with the annexation.

WITHOUT EVEN A KISS!
It seems somehow strangely significant immediately following the Labor Day holiday that he third public hearing is the Civic Openness In Negotiations (COIN) hearing of the proposed contract between The City and the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA).  I've read the staff report, HERE, and the summary of conditions, HERE.  It seems to me that the employees who fall under this contract, both current and future, gave away a lot so they could keep their jobs.  Read through the summary and make your own judgement.

REPLACING TWO FIRE STATIONS?
The final item on the agenda is New Business #1, HERE.  This is Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's proposal to hire an architectural firm to provide conceptual development for the replacement of fire stations #1 and #2.  There is no estimate of cost, but whatever it is will be covered out of the municipal piggy bank - CEO Tom Hatch's slush, er, contingency fund.  You know, that million bucks the council has given him to use any way THEY want.

THAT'S ALL, FOLKS!
That will be it until the next meeting on the 16th.

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Monday, September 01, 2014

City Fails Another Transparency Test

GOOD GRIEF!
Geez, a guy can't take a couple days off to enjoy the holiday made possible by the labors of others without the wheels coming off here at home!  I'll address the Barbara Venezia column in a separate post.

A HUGE DECISION BY THE CITY
First, and most important, is the decision by the City of Costa Mesa to NOT televise and replay the City Council Candidate Forum to be hosted by the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group on October 2nd.

CONVOLUTED RESPONSE
Last week I wrote to City Communication Director Bill Lobdell, asking whether Costa Mesa Television (CMTV) would be recording the two remaining candidate forums this cycle - the Feet To The Fire Forum on September 18th and the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group forum on October 2nd.  The answer he sent me - as I was literally walking out the door for a long holiday weekend on Thursday - reads as follows:
Earlier this year, the city agreed to use public resources to record and broadcast the Mesa Verde Community, Inc. and Feet to the Fire City Council debates.

After the city made those commitments, Mal Richardson, special counsel in charge of election issues, advised that the city needed to be politically neutral, and, therefore, it should not utilize public resources for the recording and broadcasting of political debates hosted by private entities.

In addition, Richardson—who is with the law firm of Best, Best and Krieger—expressed concern that once the city agreed to participate in one political debate, it would have legal difficulty declining the request of any other group wanting the city to record and broadcast its debate.

City officials decided to honor their previous commitments to Mesa Verde Community, Inc. and Feet to the Fire, but, on the advice of counsel, will not participate in any political debates going forward.

BETTER LATE...
It was too late for me to do anything about that except to reply to him that I thought it smelled of politics and I hoped the City would reconsider.  I didn't have the technology available to me over the weekend so didn't write about it until now.  Segments of the note have been referred to elsewhere, but I thought you should see it verbatim.

ZINT COVERED - RAMOS DECLINES TO SHOW, AGAIN
In the meantime, Bradley Zint wrote about the issue in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  Some of the quotations he included, and later added to, made me smile.  I particularly enjoyed Lee Ramos' comment that he wasn't going to attend the Eastside Forum - stiffing them just as he did for the recent Mesa Verde Community, Inc., forum, but "I have many friends on both sides.  I have no disrespect to them at all."  Really, old fella?  Now he's managed to alienate TWO powerful, active community organizations, including one that represents the neighborhood in which he, and I, live.  He told Zint that his campaign committee decided "some time ago" to not have him participate in those two - only the Feet To The Fire Forum.  Seems like strange advice, unless they suspected he might shoot himself in the foot at the others.  Funny - it seems like he's already done that.

WHINING AND BULLYING
At the last forum conducted by my Eastside neighbors two years ago Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger was VERY unhappy about the questions and his buddy, Mayor Jim Righeimer, accosted members of the leadership of the group and the forum moderator immediately following the event, berating them for what he thought were "unfair and slanted" questions.  As others have mentioned, this tirade happened in front of his daughter.  Nice life lesson!  Bullying 101!

ANTI-EASTSIDE GROUP BIAS
It's obvious from this, and other recent events, that the current power elite in this city are very unhappy with my friends in the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group and are clearly using their political power to disenfranchise them during this election cycle.  Another example of that attitude is Planning Commission Chair - and council majority lapdog - Jim Fitzpatrick's recent calling out of the President of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, real estate agent Jeff McConville, at the last commission meeting because he didn't do back flips supporting a proposed development on the Eastside.

THE EASTSIDE FORUM MUST BE COVERED!
The note from Lobdell, above, is more than a little contradictory, but it is clear what should happen.  Because CMTV has already taped and replayed the Mesa Verde Community, Inc., forum, and plans to do the same for the Feet To The Fire Forum, they ABSOLUTELY MUST provide the same coverage for the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group! 

MORE RIGHEIMER POSTURING
In an added comment in his article Zint quotes Righeimer as committing to pay half the cost of recording and broadcasting the Eastside forum.  We think that "offer" is just so much political posturing.  We're presuming he'd try to get his buddy,  majority supporter Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief, to do the job, then do an editing job favorable for his side.

ONE MORE ATTEMPT TO STIFLE DISCUSSION
Righeimer is  quoted as saying, "I'm hoping my fellow council candidates will join me in this effort to make sure Costa Mesa voters are as informed as possible before casting their votes in November."  I agree, and the best way to do that is to have Costa Mesa Television cover the event and provide the replay via their normal outlets on CMTV and streaming video.  Anything less would demonstrate to the voters of this city that this is just one more way for the mayor and his pals to stifle public participation in the political discourse in our city.

WRITE TO HATCH
Since we have a little time, I suggest those of you who feel the same way take a few minutes to drop a little note to City CEO Tom Hatch, HERE, and request - or demand - that this bogus decision be reversed and that he instruct Dane Bora and Brad Long of Costa Mesa Television to cover the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group candidate forum on October 2nd.  AND, I hope all of you will join me at that event - in recent years it has been the best of the bunch.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Final (?) General Plan Workshop In The Can

FINAL WORKSHOP
Last night city staff and consultants responsible for creating the updated General Plan held what is likely the final public workshop before they begin working on the draft document that will be presented to the Planning Commission and, subsequently, to the City Council.

SMALL TURNOUT
There was a very small turnout last night.  Only fourteen people were in the seats when the meeting began a few minutes after 6:00.  The "crowd" grew to around 30 as other meetings in the building wrapped up.  However, what it lacked in size it made up for with enthusiasm and tenacity - and frustration.
THE "USUAL SUSPECTS"
Many of the attendees have made it to most, if not all, the other such meetings over the past year or so that this process has taken so far.  Some were clearly frustrated by the format and the fact that the overwhelming views of participants in some of the prior meetings seem to have been ignored - specifically concerns about high-density housing and traffic.

INADEQUATE ADVERTISING
Last night was billed as follows:
You'll notice that "Safety and Noise" got top billing, but the little sub-heading that mentions "community design, growth management and historical resources" was virtually ignored.  Well, the bulk of the meeting was dedicated to those elements and I expect many more residents would have shown up if those items had been more prominently displayed.

SAFETY OVERVIEWS
Fire Chief Dan Stefano and Police Lieutenant Keith Davis provided an overview of the current status of their departments and also answered specific questions.
FIRE STAFFING AND DEPLOYMENT
Stefano spoke of the new organizational structure, the deployment of the new paramedic ambulances and the possible closure of Fire Station #6.  He told us that the new organization configuration is not quite complete, and that they are actively recruiting 5 new firefighter/paramedics.

POLICE STAFFING AND NEW HIRES
Davis spoke of the current staffing levels - around 100 versus the current authorized strength of 136 - and mentioned the recent graduation of five (5) new police officers who have just begun their field training.
THE PROCESS AND CONCERNS
As has been the case in some previous meetings, charts were on display around the room and participants were asked to indicate priorities/concerns using colored stickers and/or post-it notes.  Before that exercise, though, the audience asked many questions on specific issues of concern to them.  Some of those were:
  • Concerns about the format and the lack of inclusion of questions/concerns from previous meetings.
  • No real analysis of density issues and the current patterns of redevelopment.
  • Apparent lack of concern for quality of life issues.
  • No indication that water is being considered at all in this process.
  • Concern about lack of "lateral" officers being recruited.
  • Concern about "police blotter" and "activity log" no longer available.
  • Questions about the approval/evaluation process of new building projects by the Fire Department.
  • Questions about the closure of Fire Station #6.
  • Questions about why we still use a commercial ambulance to transport victims.
  • Concern about wider use of traffic signal preemption to facilitate emergency vehicles moving across town.
  • Limited publicity of this meeting - hence, the poor turnout.  And, difficulty finding info on the City Web site.  After much searching you can find the page HERE.
CHARTS, STICKERS AND NOTES
Here are some images of some of the charts used last night and some of the post-it notes with questions/concerns.

ANOTHER YEAR OR SO TO GO
According to the consultant, Laura Stetson, the Draft General Plan will take about 6 months, and the final approval by the council another half a year or so.  This is going to end up being a two-year project.
HOUSING ELEMENT DONE
On the brighter side, Director of Development Services, Gary Armstrong, told us that the Housing Element was completed promptly and has been submitted, meaning that the City will only have to update that segment every eight (8) years instead of four (4).

WAITING
So, now we wait for the draft document to be prepared and the public hearings before the Planning Commission..... humming the Jeopardy! theme...

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gnarly, Dude! Historic Waves At The Wedge!

IN ALL IT'S GLORY!
Hurricane Marie is doing a number on Southern California beaches.  It's all over the news, so I jumped in my little automobile and drove to the overlook of Corona del Mar beach to look across the jetty at The Wedge to see what I could see.  I knew I couldn't get to the actual sand because the Newport Beach Police Department issued a warning to stay the heck away because of traffic and lack of parking... I can believe it!
REAL NEWS COVERAGE
Take a look at some of these shots I took across the way!  Also, read Emily Foxhall's piece in the Daily Pilot, HERE, and view the Daily Pilot photo gallery, HERE.  Lots of news coverage - helicopters PLUS the Coast Guard chopper patrolling, too.  Enjoy.
There was a guy on the beach using a drone to video the action in the waves!  Just happened to catch it in this shot.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Curious Discussions At The Planning Commission Meeting

SMALL CROWD, CURIOUS CONVERSATIONS
At the Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting Monday night the small crowd - 22 people at the high point - had a chance to hear some curious conversations.

FITZY FIGHTS OFF THE SANDMAN
Early in the meeting Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick was clearly having difficulty staying awake.  I really did expect him to nod off during the discussion of the proposed new car wash on 17th Street.  He didn't, but it was close.

CAR WASH APPROVED
On that subject, after longer than anticipated conversation the commission approved the plan, 4-0 - commissioner Tim Sesler was AWOL.  The only controversy was the fact that commissioner Colin McCarthy didn't like their roof line!  Yep, he didn't like the appearance of it - a kind of "S" shaped canopy in the front of the building.  Other commissioners joined him and it seemed like they might actually ask the applicant to abandon it - his brand identification - for the approval to proceed.  In the end common sense prevailed, but they will ask him to work with the staff to lower the feature to a level that will still permit trash trucks to drive under it.  And, there was some serious discussion about the volume of traffic that is anticipated to be routed out the back of the facility, through what was described as an alley, but is really the parking lot of the strip mall on Irvine Avenue.

NEW HOMES ON TUSTIN
Then came the final item on the agenda, the proposed development of 11 fee simple homes on Tustin Avenue at the corner of Ogle Street.  This one seemed like a no-brainer - replacing 14 old apartment units with 11 brand-new homes that would sell in the $900,000 and up range.  The developer, Chad Brown of Melia Homes, had good answers for all the questions and also managed to fend off most of the angry protests by the eleven speakers who challenged it.


DICKSON FLUMMOXED BY THE SMALL LOT ORDINANCE
As it wound down to the end Vice Chairman Rob Dickson seemed very hung up on the fact that this project, which fell under the recently-approved Small Lot Ordinance, failed to meet the requirements of that ordinance because the front set back requested was only 12 feet instead of the minimum 20 feet required.  The conversation went 'round and 'round, with Fitzpatrick lethargically suggesting that Dickson take a little more time to think about it.  He said he didn't need to think about it, so the vote was called and it passed, 3-1, with Dickson dissenting.

OOPS!  NOW WHAT, OLLIE?
This was a very interesting test for the Small Lot Ordinance, which was designed to eliminate the morass of administrative adjustments, deviations, variances and other modifiers of the then-current codes that made life difficult for developers.  This ordinance was hailed by many of those developers as the key to infill developments in Costa Mesa.  Well, as it turns out, it's not quite that easy and I wouldn't be surprised if someone appeals the decision to the City Council later this week.

ANGRY CROWD
That was it for the evening.  Many of the speakers interested in that project left the auditorium shouting at the commissioners over their shoulders.  It was as raucous a crowd I've seen at a Planning Commission meeting in many, many months.  The next Planning Commission meeting is Monday, September 8th.

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