Mesa Verde Forum Smooth As Silk
A SMOOTH EVENT
The City Council Candidate Forum hosted by Mesa Verde Community, Inc., last night ran as smooth as silk - perhaps, in part, because three of the seven candidates failed to show up.
Council candidates Steve Mensinger, Allan Mansoor and Lee Ramos failed to appear even though the hosts prepared a seat at the table for each of them. We won't talk too much about their absence except to observe that more than 150 residents missed a chance to hear their answers to some pretty darn good questions. We're told that a couple had schedule conflicts. I don't believe that for one second. I think they just have a hard place in their hearts for the hosts, so they decided to sit this one out.
LEFFLER INTRODUCED HORNBUCKLE
However, the meeting was a great success. John Leffler, representing the Mesa Verde Community, Inc. Board, welcomed the crowd promptly at 7:00 and introduced the moderator - former mayor Mary Hornbuckle - who took the baton and held it firmly all evening. She did a wonderful job of keeping the candidates in line and moved the process through briskly. She mixed just the right amount of humor with her assignment.
After each of the four candidates present - Lawyer John Stephens, Retired CPA Al Melone, former councilman Jay Humphrey and councilwoman Sandy Genis - took two minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they were running, Hornbuckle proceeded with a series of questions, each of which were asked of each candidate in order. She rotated the order for the sake of fairness. The first set of questions allowed up to two minutes to answer, after which the dreaded red card would be flashed and their speaking door would be slammed. Subsequent questions allowed one minute for a response and, later, only 30 seconds. I'm going to give you a summary of the responses - not replay every single word. This event was taped for replay later by First Impressions Video so you can see the whole thing if you wish.
RIGHT TYPE OF GROWTH FOR COSTA MESA?
First up was a question about "the right type of growth for Costa Mesa".
Humphrey mentioned controlled development, and spoke about the current plans for more high density housing. He also mentioned the Smart Growth Initiative. He indicated the council should hear from the public.
Genis emphasized that the "right type of growth" should take into consideration the needs of the current residents - services, work opportunities and should have a balance of residential, commercial and industrial. Citing the many developments around town, she described them as "a hodge podge of stuff going up." She was concerned that we are replacing jobs with ticky-tacky housing that will be bad for the environment and for living.
Stephens agreed with them and observed that we have a Planning Commission and asked "Shouldn't they be doing some planning?" instead of just approving. He cited enormous developments, like 125 Baker Street and the four story with roof garden developments popping up. He specifically mentioned the radius around 17th Street and Pomona, where developments are sprouting up all around that area.
Melone observed that we are not like Irvine - we are a built-out city and our population is staying fairly level. He agreed with the other candidates.
HOW TO LOWER CRIME RATE?
Melone said better allocation of resources. He said Quality of life = safety, which means more police and fire personnel.
Stephens agreed with Melone and said we need more police officers, indicating that "perception becomes reality" when it is known we have too few cops criminals take advantage of it. He cited the reasons for fewer cops and said we need to elect different councl members to help solve the problem.
Genis also said we need to get the number of cops up because our current staffing levels makes us a sitting duck. She disagreed with those (Righeimer) who said more cops doesn't mean less crime. She criticized the current council majority because they continue to blow off studies by expensive consultants that tell them we need more police. She mentioned the lawsuit between Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and the police association as problematic.
Humphrey agreed and said currently the Fire Rescue Service and the Police Staff are working too much overtime, which puts strain on their health and performance.
STRATEGY FOR REDUCING UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY?
Stephens mentioned he had been on the Pension Oversight Committee for a couple years. He suggested pre-paying the pension and paying down the Fire Side Fund, which is currently costing us 7.5% interest.
Genis agreed with him, and recalled several expensive consultants that had been hired to advise on this issue. They all recommended paying ahead on the Fire Side Fund.
Humphrey said we need to prioritize and pay down the debt.
Melone observed that the economy may go south again so we shouldn't pay ahead when it would go away anyhow.
DEALING WITH SOBER LIVING HOMES?
Genis said we have new ordinances but are not enforcing them. She also expressed disappointment that we didn't look at what other cities had done - Orange, specifically.
Stephens said we should be going after the bad operators and put more resources behind enforcement of our laws.
Melone suggested that we do what Newport Beach did - spend millions in legal fees to make sober living operators aware they are not welcome in that city. (He didn't include in his response that those Newport Beach operators just came across the border to Newport Beach).
Humhprey also stressed enforcement and cited group homes on Royal Palm that were problematic.
MENTIONING SOUTH COAST PLAZA, WHAT ABOUT DIVERSIFYING THE TAX BASE?
Melone said we should be extremely grateful for South Coast Plaza, but that the current council doesn't know how to spend our money.
Stephens said the key is tourism. We should do as councilwoman Katrina Foley has been trying to do for a couple years and ramp-up our emphasis on tourism, generating more Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT).
Genis mentioned the Sales Tax generated by South Coast Plaza and the car dealerships, but emphasized the need to do a better job of strengthening our reserves - save, don't spend.
Humphrey said he thinks we have a balanced economy, but we've not done a good job of building back our reserves in the event of another economic downturn. Put more money away for a rainy day.
WHAT ABOUT THE BALLOT MEASURE FOR VOTER CONTROL OF GROWTH?
Humphrey said the people need to be able to say "enough is enough". He was concerned about the traffic impacts of the high density housing being built/proposed. He said we need good planned development.
Genis said the people who live her should have a voice. She emphasized that those with a vested interest should be heard.
Stephens, who apparently is not 100% sold on the Smart Growth Initiative, said the solution is to elect people in November that will listen to the residents. He said the initiative wouldn't exist if he and Humphrey had been elected in the past two elections. He said that, while he understands why the initiative was launched, it's not the best solution. That solution is to elect a different council majority.
Melone muttered something about there never being enough money to pay for projects. Geez!
THE FIRST 30 SECOND QUESTION - YOUR MOST NECESSARY CHANGE IN COSTA MESA?
Stephens said make it safer and immediately begin ambulance transport.
Genis said restore respect for residents, employees and tell the truth. She said the current council majority doesn't respect you enough to tell you the truth.
Humphrey said safety. Get the Police and Fire Departments back to proper staffing.
Melone said Group Homes, describing them as a plague.
WHAT ABOUT MEDICAL TRANSPORT?
Melone said he didn't have enough information, so he passed on the question. This is a perfect reason that he should not have been on the ballot.
Humphrey said we spent $1.5 million on the units which should be deployed. He cited the millions in income the city would receive if we did so.
Genis said we should immediately go to medical transport and get the Fire Department up to staff.
Stephens said it was a no-brainer - we should immediately begin medical transport.
SOLUTION TO HOMELESS?
Genis said a "carrot and stick" approach should be used - enforcement and supportive housing. She said some of the homeless just need a little help. She refered to the Fairview Developmental Center as a place for transitional housing.
Humphrey agreed with Genis and said there is a City fund to help with transitional housing.
Melone said Genis hit the nail on the head. We need supportive housing.
Stephens agreed with the others and spoke about the broad spectrum of homeless folks that need help.
WHAT ABOUT CANNIBIS DISPENSARIES?
Humphrey said Medical Marijuana is important for folks that actually need it. He said we need to control the process.
Genis agreed that the people who have a valid medical need should have access to it, with proper controls.
Stephens said this is not the right time for Costa Mesa to have dispensaries - that we should wait for the State to get their rules sorted out first. He cited our current public safety challenges.
Melone agreed with Stephens and said the "medicine" should be dispensed by pharmacies, and with no sales tax.
HORNBUCKLE ASKED EACH WHAT THEY WANT TO LEAVE BEHIND AFTER FOUR YEARS ON THE COUNCIL
Genis said healthy reserves; pay down the pension liability; retain Fairview Park as a natural park forever; Expand the SMART program for the youth; balanced growth; development that will actually pay its way and a new animal shelter.
Humphrey said a vibrant, healthy city that knows where it's going. He wants balanced development, a return of the City of the Arts and protection for all our parks, including Fairview Park.
Melone cited quality of life and an animal shelter.
Stephens said he wanted to leave behind a different attitude about governance, where people actually listened. He wants to leave behind after his eight years on the council a atmosphere where people receive thoughtful consideration of their opinions - a place where we are nice to each other and we can build consensus.
Then they began questions from the audience, with a 1 minute time limit on responses.
MERGER OF MESA WATER AND COSTA MESA SANITARY DISTRICT?
Humphrey is against it. It looks like a power grab.
Melone agreed. He said he didn't know why they wanted it. It looks like a power grab.
Stephens said he really didn't know enough about it, but is a very satisfied customer of both entities. He said, "If it's not broke, don't fix it". He said it appeared that Mesa Water is trying to jam this through, and that there should be more meetings. He said it should not be on the ballot.
Genis recalled that 30 or so years ago both entities had offices at City Hall and there was talk of the City taking both over, but it was rejected. She said each has different missions. She said it looks like one agency trying to glom onto another agency's revenue.
BEST PART OF COSTA MESA - YOUR SKILLS TO MAKE IT EVEN BETTER?
Melone said bring more fairness and participation by residents.
Stephens said, with a smile, "Costa Mesans and Mexican Food". He looked at the audience and said "YOU are the best part of Costa Mesa!"
Genis said "The people of Costa Mesa", citing ethnic diversity. She said our differences make life interesting and that we're in this together for the long haul.
Humphrey said the city's diversity - that we learn from each other. He said Fairview Park, a jewel that should be protected. He also mentioned Talbert Park, which may someday become part of Fairview Park.
YOUR STAND ON FAIRVIEW PARK AND BANNING RANCH?
Stephens said keep Fairview Park natural forever and save Banning Ranch.
Genis acknowledged Dr. Richard Mehren - the father of Fairview Park - in the audience and said she was the only elected official to speak in Long Beach against the development of Banning Ranch.
Humphrey said keep Fairview Park natural. He said Banning Ranch should not be developed, but should be cleaned up by the owners.
Melone said "Once again they stole my thunder."
WHAT ABOUT OUR NEGATIVE NEIGHBORS, THE VAGABOND INN AND MOTEL 6?
Genis said we do have some motels that cause problems. She spoke about one that became a Single Room Occupancy facility to meet affordable housing demands.
Humphrey said we should enforce our codes against the bad actors. He referred to the recent conversion of a problem motel into the BLVD Hotel on Newport Boulevard. He said the solution should be what is best for Costa Mesa, not developers.
Melone said he didn't think his Mesa Verde neighbors think there is a problem with those two motels. He said we need a Vice Squad, trained to control prostitution. He said the "motel thing" is a "diversion" from other issues.
Stephens said flat out that the motel issue is more of a land grab, to facilitate more High Density housing. He agreed that we need more police and a Vice Squad, but we also need some of the motels that serve as last resort housing for folks who would otherwise be homeless.
REDISTRICTING OF CITY AS DEFINED ON THE BALLOT?
Humphrey said NO! It would dilute the Latino vote.
Melone said NO! He's against the whole idea of it, but if forced, we should use one of the 5 district choices.
Stephens said district voting IS going to happen and said 5 districts may be the way to go. Districting is not the best way to place Latinos on the council, but that they do deserve a voice. He's against the 6 district and directly elected mayor choice that's on the ballot.
Genis said NO! She prefers a 5 district choice. She said the current item on the ballot will only exacerbate the current abuse of power we see in the city.
WHAT ABOUT FIXING STREETS AND POTHOLES?
Melone asked "what potholes?". He said our streets are nice, and reminded us we have no snow, ice or sleet.
Stephens said our streets are much better than where he grew up in San Gabriel. He said he can live forever without the medians in Mesa Verde and elsewhere.
Genis cited a couple problem areas that need targeted repairs.
Humphrey said we need to prioritize our street repairs and that we're spending too much on medians that are not needed or wanted.
NEIGHBORHOOD STREETS FILLED WITH CARS - PERMIT PARKING?
Stephens said perhaps we should lower the threshhold for permit parking in residential neighborhoods. Much of this problem is due to high density housing nearby.
Genis blamed it on high density housing and Small Lot Developments that replace one home with six or more and provide inadequate guest parking. She said we need more enforcement.
Humphrey cited apartment complexes that lease out garage space as a problem.
Melone said permit parking should be expanded and that if we solve the high density housing issue this problem goes away.
Genis said ZERO tolerance to violators, and increase staffing levels of the Police and Fire Departments.
Humphrey agreed, ZERO tolerance and penalize to the maximum allowed.
Melone said in his neighborhood some folks spend $1,500 - $2,000 for fireworks and received only a $150 fine. Increase the penalties.
Stephens said first limit use of fireworks to ONLY July 4th. He said hire undercover cops to infiltrate neighborhoods and cite offenders. Double the fines. And, he said every dollar in fines collected should go to youth sports. That would increase the possibility of snitches turning in folks for illegal fireworks.
SMART GROWTH INTIATIVE?
Next came a raise of hands - who supports the Smart Growth Initiative? All raised their hands except Stephens, who asked if he could raise it half way. He's not convinced it's the best way to solve the problem. He suggested changing the council instead.
HOW DO WE REUNITE THIS CITY?
Stephens said change our attitude about governing the city. Listen to the people, not developers.
Melone said new blood on the council, including Latinos.
Humphrey said the public is not being heard.
Genis echoed that sentiment and cited recent programs - like the Great Outreach for the General Plan or the voting districts workshops, where resident input was ignored. She suggested NO private meetings to resolve problems - they should be fleshed out in public.
Stephens said he was born in 1963 and was named after John F. Kennedy. He quoted Kennedy, "
All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days . . .nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
Melone spoke about South Coast Plaza and quality of life.
Humphrey told us he has the skills to do the job and asked for their votes.
Genis said she's tired of being on the "2" side of 3-2 votes, but she's still been able to accomplish some things. She asked the audience to elect her and others on the dais so we can have a really productive community.
Hornbuckle closed by apologizing that all the candidates were not present, but that she had personally reached out to each of those absent. Places had been set at the table, just in case they changed their minds.
From my standpoint, this event went very well. Of course, there were no voices of discord. In fact, there were very few folks in the audience that I would describe as avid Mensinger, Mansoor, Ramos supporters. I think, though, that those of who did attend got a better idea of the priorities of the candidates who attended. Thanks to the good folks of Mesa Verde Community, Inc for hosting this event, and to the very special presence of Mary Hornbuckle - the high water mark for a public servant. She presently serves as Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Coast Community College District and will, herself, be on the ballot for re-election in November.
To the best of my knowledge, the next candidate forum will be held by my friends at the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group on October 6, 2016.APPLAUSE FOR EGAN
As a sidebar, when Eleanor Egan arrived before the formal program began she was greeted with a round of applause by many in the room and presented with a bouquet of gratitude for her tirelessness in the pursuit of truth on the rebuttal issue mentioned in an earlier post. Again, kudos to her and her persistence in standing up to bullies and liars on our behalf.
Labels: Mesa Verde Community