Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Kaiser School Field Lights - Yes Or No?


So, let's just cut to the chase.  Last night, Tuesday, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously - but not without some hesitancy - to authorize the placement and use of six portable light units on the playing fields at Kaiser School so approximately 12 dozen kids - half of which apparently live in Newport Beach - will be able to practice soccer after the sun goes down.

During an unusual special meeting - with only one agenda item - the commission chaired by Byron de Arakal affirmed what the staff report, HERE, implied it would do.  It had promised the neighbors of Harper School that they would not be expected to endure the noise, inconvenience and intrusive lights for a third year in a row.  That burden will now be transferred to the contiguous neighbors of Kaiser School for at least this winter season.

During the Public Hearing on this item more than two dozen people spoke.  20% of them were in favor of lighting the Kaiser fields.  All of those represented youth sports groups or adult soccer organizations.  The bulk of those who spoke against the plan, not surprisingly, were Kaiser School neighbors.  However, several Harper School neighbors - the ones who have been carrying this burden - spoke in support of the Kaiser School neighbors and demand a better solution than simply moving portable lights from one school to another.  They demanded a permanent solution to this issue, which has continued to fester for more than a decade.

In an interesting twist, City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch was in the audience and, immediately after new Recreation Manager Travis Karlen, presented the staff report, Hatch stepped to the speakers podium to tell the commission and the audience that he had correspondence that very afternoon from Dr. Fred Navarro, Superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District that requested the commission NOT make a decision on this issue.  His letter, below (click on it for easier viewing) made it very clear that the school district was not happy with what appeared to be a unilateral decision to place infrastructure on school district property without even so much as consultation.

Even more interesting is the fact that, although de Arakal acknowledged Hatch's presentation of this information and the existence of the letter, it was completely ignored the rest of the evening, including when the final discussions were taking place before the vote.  It's hard to know what Dr. Navarro's reaction to this will be, but I suspect he will not be a happy camper today.

I'm not going to try to give you a verbatim transcript of what the folks said tonight as they opposed the plan.  Concerns were expressed about noise, light, diesel fumes, enviornmental damage to the fields, danger for the children and residents of the neighborhood due to the increased car traffic, and on and on.  None of those concerns are insignificant.

One resident, a gentleman with expertise in lighting situations, spoke at length - or as much as he could within the prescribed time - and explained that the lights being used were absolutely NOT the proper kind of lights for this application.  He did acknowledge, though, that proper portable lights, used correctly, would only worsen the situation because the lights would then shine DIRECTLY into the homes nearby.  He opined that the only good solution for the site would be proper permanent lights.

As an aside, obviously recognizing the sensitivity of the issue, de Arakal was VERY generous with the speakers last night, giving many a chance to complete their presentations even though they used well beyond their authorized 3 minutes.   In fact, at the end of the meeting, just before their vote, he permitted resident activist Anna Vrska to speak a second time to present what turned out to be quite relevant information to the issue - the complete lack of lighted fields to the California Youth Soccer League, which serves 100% Westside Costa Mesa youth.  She also asked for clarification about a comment concerning Group 3 users, mentioned below.

Among the five speakers who supported the plan was Brett Eckles, representing AYSO District 97 - the group involved - and a member of both the Charter and Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committees.  He presented us with numbers, most of which were delivered much too rapidly to record.  He eventually did calculate that the actual impact of not lighting fields this winter would mean that approximately 144 kids would not be able to practice.

During the deliberations staff provided information in response to questions from commissioners about how many lighted fields we presently have and if there were any groups other than Group 1 users - AYSO is a Group 1 user - were using any of them.  The response, clarified later, was that three Group 3 users utilize segments of Jack Hammett Sports Complex along Fairview Drive adjacent to Costa Mesa High School.  Two of those those are programs with paid staff -  Friday Night Lights Football and Matt Lienart Flag Football - and Newport-Mesa Soccer is "club" soccer.  It was interesting that there was NO discussion about displacing one - or all - of those organizations so the AYSO youth sports groups could use the time.

Former city council candidate Harold Weitzberg stepped up and suggested that half of one of our municipal golf courses could be leveled to install a dozen playing fields - a move that would immediately fix the problem.  He suggested a nine-hole "executive" course with the remaining 9 holes.  Many in the crowd cheered, but the idea got very little traction with the commission.

One of the pro-field lights speakers, Bret Woods,  suggested putting several fields in Fairview Park.  De Arakal explained that the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee was working hard on the plan for the park.  He also explained that the Master Plan of Parks and Open Spaces needs to be updated, and that money has been budgetd to do that update this fiscal year.  Part of that process is a significant public outreach element, at which time residents and other interested parties could make their views known.

Near the end of the discussion, and before the vote was taken, de Arakal promised the folks present that he WOULD get something done about this situation - soon.  He all but guaranteed that this situation would be temporary.  He said he would create an ad hoc committee to study field use, and mentioned as participants council members, planning commissioners, parks and recreation commissioners, members from all the youth sports groups and, almost as an after thought, members of the public.  I don't believe he has the authority to create such a committee - that's the City Council's job.  If that scheme goes forward I foresee another committee stacked with council supporters, just like both commissions and several committees are today.  It seemed to me that this was just a ploy to difuse some of the very significant negative energy in the room as the vote was about to be taken.  It's very possible de Arakal will not be on the commission when that committee gets vetted - his term is up next year.

This process should have taken place months ago.  Because it did not, the commission is up against a nature-imposed time limit - it's going to get dark earlier very soon.  I believe it is within the rights of the opponents to appeal this decision to the City Council, but de Arakal didn't tell them that.  If someone decides to appeal - spend the money or convincd a symphathetic council member to appeal it for them - that will stretch out the process and probably place it before the City Council just before the election.  And, it would delay lighting the fields until a determination is made.  I doubt if anyone running for office wants to have this facing them so soon before folks vote for them - or not.  There are only a couple council meetings left before the election.

Speaking of the city council, candidate Chris Bunyan attended this meeting, arriving shortley after the meeting began.  Candidate Lee Ramos showed up later, after attending a meet and greet event for him and Jim Righeimer at the home of Planning Commission Chairman and Righeimer sycophant Jim Fitzpatrick.  Fortunately, the meeting ended before 8:30 - the time Ramos usually leaves those infrequent council meetings he attends.

When the vote was called each commission member expressed their views.  It was clear that none of them saw an alternative and commissioner Don Harper actually paused a little and made me wonder if he might vote against this plan - but he didn't.  Commissioner Dean Abernathy mused that it might be fairer to light two schools fields and spread the grief, but let that thought pass.  Vice Chair Kim Pederson suggested, once again, that consideration be given to working with the folks across the street at the Orange County Fair And Event Center toward the possibility of using part of their parking lot for the installation of roll-up artificial turf "fields".  He broached that question a couple years ago. After all the conversation, all five commissioners voted for the plan.  The Chairman gave very clear, specific direction to staff that the lights WOULD be turned off NO LATER than 7:30 each night of operation.
 Karlen assured us that, although his organization is short of Field Ambassadors, they are working on hiring more and those should be in place in time for the winter field use season in a couple weeks.  We'll see.

I heard mutterings among the crowd as they left to the effect that they'd heard this all a decade ago and hoped it didn't take another ten years to fix this problem.  Amen to that!  Now we'll see what happens.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Hangin' With Public Safety Folks This Week

There are two opportunities for the residents of Costa Mesa to spend some time with some of the bravest folks you'll ever meet and I didn't want to miss the chance to remind you about them.

The first event, on Wednesday, October 1st, is the second in what will be a series of "Coffee With A Cop" events.  The flyer below tells you all about it.  I attended the first one earlier this year at McDonalds on Harbor Blvd. and it was a great success.  You'll have a chance to meet some of Costa Mesa's finest, ask questions and express your concerns.  See you at Shirley's Bagels!

The second event is the annual Public Safety Recognition BBQ, to be held at the Orange County Fair and Event Center from 11:00 - 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 2, 2014.

Join the hosts of this wonderful event as the men and women of the Police Department, Fire Department and 911 Communications Center are recognized for their hard work and dedication.  Fun, food, fellowship and raffles, too!  See you there!

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Lighting Kaiser Fields

Tomorrow, Tuesday, September 30, 2014, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will hold a special meeting beginning at 6:00 in City Council Chambers at City Hall to "discuss" installing temporary portable lighting on several playing fields at Kaiser School on the Eastside of Costa Mesa.  I put that word in quotes because it appears the decision has already been made, so the "discussion" will apparently be the commission telling everyone that it's a done deal.

You can read the agenda announcement HERE and the skimpy details of the single issue on the agenda HERE.

Just to give you a flavor for this issue, Parks and Recreation Chairman Byron de Arakal is quite adament that this IS GOING TO HAPPEN, PERIOD!  In a post on a new Facebook forum, Costa Mesa Public Square, in the middle of a long, long discussion with residents and others on this issue, he posted the following statement:
The residents around Harper have been tolerating - relatively patiently i might add - lights at Harper for the past two years. The CM PRC proposed a rotation system as far back as last spring. It WILL be implemented. Beyond that, as long as i am a commissioner i will prioritize the recreational needs of thousands of kids over the short-term inconvenience of residents. We as a community need to recognize that from time to time we need to endure inconveniences for the greater good of the community.

For those who have signed up for that forum, when you read down through the 90 comments (and counting) you will find several where the exchanges between The Chairman and others to be, er, testy.  I guess that's to be expected, since this is a very touchy issue.  One participant described some of de Arakal's comments as "snippy" - I agree.  He directed at least one of them at me.  I fear my friend - he's the reason this blog exists - has taken on some of the attributes of his benefactors on the City Council who appointed him to the commission - he just doesn't like folks to challenge his views and/or disagree with him.

The reason for lighting Kaiser School fields is to provide some relief for the residents surrounding Harper School, who have been enduring the intrusion - light spill-over and noise - for the past couple years.  Lighting Kaiser School fields would allow elimination of the Harper School lights.  This decision is driven by the conclusion reached by the commission that we MUST have lighted field for kids to practice soccer on in our city.  Independent analysis by residents of some of the numbers used to support this conclusion raise some interesting questions about their accuracy.

And, added to the mix, is the implication that our friends in Newport Beach are not doing their fair share to provide lighted venues for AYSO 97, which includes large numbers of Newport Beach kids.  I don't have facts to support that segment of the issue, one way or the other. 

I expect the council chambers will have more than a few interested parties for this special meeting.  I imagine there will be some of my Eastside neighbors in attendance to address both schools situations.  I'll attend and report.  Because it will be held in council chambers I imagine CMTV will televise the meeting live and also make streaming video available to us later.

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It's That Time Of The Year...

The campaign season is in full swing and, as usual, we're seeing signs popping up like mushrooms all over town.  All manner of sign ordinance violations were visible throughout the city and will likely continue to be so until November 4th, when all the craziness theoretically stops.
Of course it's not limited to Costa Mesa.  Here's a sign I saw Sunday at the corner of Jamboree Road and Pacific Coast Highway.  I gave up trying to count them...
This week, on Thursday, we will have our final chance to see all the Costa Mesa City Council candidates (except Lee Ramos) respond to questions as a group when my friends and neighbors of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group (ECMNG) hosts a candidate forum starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center.  All the information you need is on the flyer below.
This forum has been the subject of controversy lately.  First, at the last one two years ago, Mayor Jim Righeimer took exception to some of the questions asked of candidate Steve Mensinger and, following the forum, cornered the moderator and members of the host organization and read them the riot act.  Many of us who attended that forum thought it was the best of the bunch that time around, just as it had been in the previous cycle.  We're hoping for that same level of professionalism this time, too.

Speaking of reading the riot act, Mensinger returned the favor when he cornered Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez following the last forum - the Feet To The Fire Forum - and chewed her out for questions she asked Righeimer.  These guys have developed bullying into an art form!

The ECMNG forum will NOT be televised by the folks at Costa Mesa Television.  The City, apparently bowing to political pressure, has chosen to not cover this event while covering the previous two forums.  The first lame excuse was covered in a press release that told us that another outside law firm had advised them of potential complications.  In fact, the language used was anything but clear.  Then, CEO Tom Hatch offered up yet another lame excuse at a council meeting, blaming Video Production Coordinator Dane Bora for overstepping his grounds during the first forum this year - the one hosted by Mesa Verde Community, Inc. - and covered by CMTV.  It is my understanding that the ECMNG has made private arrangements for television coverage of this event and it will be posted on the Internet promptly.

While we presume all the candidates will show up for this one, there have been some rumblings that Righeimer, in addition to Ramos, might not show up.  I actually hope ALL the candidates attend this event.  The voters of this city deserve to hear their positions on important issues in this kind of a setting.

I'll remind you later in the week of this event.  See you all there.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Feet To Fire Forum Boycott

In case you already have not heard about this, please read Barbara Venezia's Daily Pilot column, HERE.

It seems that three of the candidates for Newport Beach City Council seats in November have chosen - apparently on the direction/advice of their campaign advisor, Dave Ellis (he hates it when I call him Dave).

This is beyond strange, since this version of the series - the final one this cycle - adds to the panel of interrogators Orange County Register columnist and former Newport Beach council candidate Jack Wu and uber Republican insider and operator of the FlashReport site, Jon Fleishman.  Both would seem to be kindred spirits and more likely than not to cut some of their pal, Ellis', stable of candidates some slack.  I don't know for sure, but it seems likely.

It sure looks like the OC GOP hierarchy is peeved at Barbara Venezia for the last Costa Mesa Forum, which can be watched HERE.  It would appear to me that the move to stifle dissent is not constrained to Costa Mesa in the form of Mayor Jim Righeimer and his minions, but looks to be systemic within the leadership of MY Republican Party!  I don't like it one bit!

I don't believe I know any of the boycotting candidates, but I do know OF a couple of them.  How do you not get a warm, fuzzy feeling when you think of Marshall Duffield of Duffy Boats fame?  And, I've read some of Scott Peotter's stuff in the Newport Beach Independent.  He has been a field representative for lame duck Assemblyman Allan Mansoor.  I don't know squat about Kevin Muldoon, but he must have a few bucks, because Ellis doesn't come cheap.

I DO know about Dave Ellis, though.  I have spoken with him a few times, shared a meal with him and the stories about him around these parts are legion!  Did you know, for example, that he advised Leslie Daigle during her Newport Beach council campaign in which Venezia was also a candidate?  Did you know that some of the political shenanigans he pulled during that race that involved the business operated by Venezia's husband so angered her that she dropped out of the race?  Do you think she might be holding a grudge?  I would be, but that's just me.

I have NO reason to believe that Venezia would attempt to make life difficult for Ellis' stable of candidates just because they have a personal history.  I DO think it's a cop-out on their part to avoid facing their challengers and members of the media to have important issues fleshed out in a community forum setting.

So, the voters of Newport Beach lose on this one.  Because of what certainly looks like institutionalize vindictiveness and political cowardice, nearly half the candidates running will blow off the Feet To The Fire Forum next week at the Oasis Center in Corona del Mar.  What a shame.

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Parks & Recreation Commission Meeting Wrap

The Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission met Thursday evening for what turned out to be a fairly brief affair.  New Recreation Manager Travis Karlen was welcomed as he manned the barricades for his first meeting.  He handled himself well.

The commission accepted the donation and plaque from Melody Freeman in memory of her friend and co-worker, Kimberly Curtis, who passed away recently.  The tree and plaque will be placed in TeWinkle Park.

The first item on the agenda was a tree removal request from the resident at 2016 Arnold Street.  The commission made short work of this item - the decision was made unanimously in less than five (5) minutes to deny the request that the City remove the tree because it is on private property.  I've subsequently heard from the property owner, who was unable to attend the meeting because it fell on a religious holiday.   She tells me she doesn't want the tree removed at all.  She just wants the City to continue to maintain it as has been the case for decades.  She plans to seek relief from this decision.

On the issue of dividing the city into five (5) park districts and assigning a district to each commissioner - the brainstorm of Chairman Byron de Arakal - generated some discussion.  The chairman told us he thinks this is a good idea and wants to have it codified in the Municipal Code.  His plan would call for every park to have new signage placed at two entrances to each park in the city which would include the name of the commissioner responsible for that particular park.

In his scheme, residents with issues involving a particular park would be in touch with the commissioner via the contact information on the signs.  The commissioner would discuss the issue with the complainant and the staff and, if necessary, bring it to the commission for discussion.  Additionally, each commissioner would be expected to report to the commission on the status of each of their parks twice a year, and be prepared to make recommendations on capital improvements coincident with the annual budget cycle.  The commission decided to have the staff further flesh out this plan and bring it back to the commission for further discussion/fine-tuning.  It may be voted upon in November.

Here are my thoughts on this.... We've been getting along just fine without this change.  Is it really necessary?  I don't disagree that it's a good idea to assign each commissioner a specific group of parks for which they would be the primary contact.  Some conversation was made about rotating the assigned groups among the commissioners every two years.  That seems like a good idea.  I think putting the names of individual commissioners on the park signs is a bad idea and will cause too much maintenance as commissioners rotate from group to group.  I think the sign should simply refer questions to the Parks and Recreation Department, who could forward them on to the proper commissioner, if necessary.

Next up was the donation of the cost of installing a second exit at the Costa Mesa Bark Park.  The Bark Park Foundation no longer manages the facility, but it has some cash left and Shirley McDaniels, representing the Bark Park Foundation, wanted to contribute the costs of installing the additional entrance.  The commission discussed this for a few minutes, then agreed unanimously to accept the donation and instructed staff to assist with the installation of the new entrance.

Then came the discussion of the new 19th Street Monument Signs that would be installed in concert with the 19th Street Improvement project.  That project, which would be funded by nearly $900,000 in grant dollars, will strangle traffic along the stretch of 19th Street from the city border at Irvine Avenue all the way to Fullerton Avenue, near the terminus of the 55 Freeway.  Monument signs would be placed at either end of the project.  The image you see here is the final selection.  The commission voted to move this project forward with the selected signs.  A couple residents, including 19th Street resident, realtor and President of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, Jeff McConville, spoke in favor of this plan.

The final item on the agenda was Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman's report on the nearly half-million dollar Bristol Street Media Project.  Grant dollars will be used for this project, too.  The goal is to make that roadway safer and beautify it at the same time.  The plan was approved on a 5-0 vote.

New Recreation Manager Karlen gave his report on the status of summer activities in the city.  I won't give you all the statistics, but will observe that most youth-oriented programs - Teen Camp, R.O.C.K.S, ECP (early childhood program), Summer Day Camp were almost all over-subscribed with some waiting lists.  Regarding the Neighborhood Community Center, Karlen reported that in July and August more than 17,000 people were served by that facility and it generated more than $27,000 in revenue.  This, you will recall, is the facility that your mayor described as underutilized as a reason for planning to convert it into a library.  Somebody needs to take a much, much closer look at that situation because I've heard no plan that replaces that space for the residents.

Karlen also reported on the Senior Center and the hostile takeover (my words) of that facility this month.  Plans are afoot to spruce up the place, with new carpet and some new furniture.  He told us more than 900 people have signed up to become members since June. (Note some of the names on this plaque from the Senior Center Building)

During commissioner reports mention was made about a "lighting demonstration" that apparently occurred last night somewhere in the city.  Apparently there will be a meeting next Tuesday, September 30, beginning at 6:00 p.m. in council  chambers to discuss lighting the fields at Kaiser School on the Eastside of town.  I expect the contiguous neighbors will receive notices of this one - and we plan to be there to hear the message.

Commissioner Bob Graham apparently visited the Newport Beach City Hall recently and viewed a large display of public art at the site. He suggested we consider doing something similar throughout the city.  He specifically mentioned Fairview Park.

Chairman de Arakal also mentioned he wants to begin considering banning "vaping" - the use of electronic cigarettes - in all parks throughout the city.  He also wants to consider using the Senior Center Parking Lot for some kind of outdoor recreation facility for the Seniors.  He mentioned lawn bowling.

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