Hang On! Here We Go!
The Planning Commission meeting Monday night was a particularly interesting adventure. This was the first meeting with the "5 improvers", or 4 improvers and a question mark, depending on how you view Jim Righeimer.
At the beginning of the meeting the assembled throng was treated to a mini-concert by a group of wonderful young children from Rea School. They led the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, then sang the National Anthem and other patriotic songs. It was a nice touch. Apparently, although it didn't come through to the viewers at home, there was an accompanying Powerpoint presentation on the large screens displaying a recognition of the contributions Bill Perkins and Bruce Garlich made during their six year tenure on the commission - a very nice touch.
In the middle of this concert I received a telephone call from another observer, wondering if I was watching. He also wanted to know if I shared his feeling of irony at those bright, eager, mostly brown faces singing patriotic songs in front of the "improvers" on the dais, some of whom were almost certainly wondering how many of those children were in this country illegally. I, of course, shared the same question...
I couldn't help thinking about those children in the context of our current municipal immigration debate. I found myself wondering how many of them will find themselves separated from one or more parents in the near future as the parent is interrogated after a minor infraction - jaywalking, wrong-way-bicycle-riding, etc. - and end up being deported because they cannot produce adequate identification.
The meeting itself was just a little surreal. Following the mini-concert Donn Hall, serving as vice chairman of the commission, clumsily made presentations to Bruce Garlich and Bill Perkins acknowledging their service on the commission before being bounced by the new council majority. Hall's well-intentioned, but inept, attempt at a gracious presentation fell well short of the mark. He didn't even give Garlich and Perkins a chance to acknowledge the presentations and to say thanks to the many people gathered to honor them. I found myself cringing as I viewed the proceedings. That would not be the last time I would cringe that night.
After all that hoopla they finally got around to electing new officers - Hall as Chairman and Jim (I'm a realtor here in town) Fisler as Vice Chairman. Some will remember that Hall is a former mayor of Costa Mesa who, during his tenure two decades ago, tilted at more than his share of windmills.
Right off the bat the guy who resembles my theoretical character, Your Neighbor, stood before the commission and tried to sell them on the wisdom of the creation of a marina in the Santa Ana riverbed - a pipe dream that was first floated by Hall two decades ago and failed to gain consideration. Hall took this guy's lead, acknowledged that he is "right" - a truly scary concept!
Hall, in his role as chairman, finally got around to introducing the new commissioners, Jim Righeimer and Sam Clark.
You knew this was going to be an interesting meeting when they decided to consider the last item on the agenda first. Good grief! Hall, crusty curmudgeon that he is, ran what can only be described as a loose ship last night. He seemed not particularly concerned with protocol and did a marginal job of controlling the flow if dialogue - frequently allowing comments to be shouted from the audience. This does not bode well for the future. He's shown us in the past that he cares little for the formalities so important for proper decorum and deliberation on the commission. With him in charge now the commission needs to be watched carefully. He demonstrated a penchant to attempt to consider and vote on items not on the agenda, for example.
In what may be an omen of things to come, Commissioner Eleanor Egan - a long time improver - attempted to derail the first item discussed. She launched a long and tedious presentation about how that particular project didn't fit her idea of the Mesa West Urban Plan. Fortunately, Hall slowed her momentum down long enough for Don Lamm, director of Development Services, to leap to the rescue and remind the commission that the urban plan didn't preclude industrial development, only provided a mechanism to insert residential into that primarily industrial area. Any industrial property owner in that area should be very, very worried. This sure looks like the improvers are going to try to change the rules - that agreement that was hammered out over a year's time by the Westside Revitalization Oversight Committee (WROC). I'm not surprised. You will recall that I've frequently reminded all residents to watch their backs, that their rights may be the next trampled by this mob. Well, this is only the beginning.
A note about Righeimer. He seems like a very smart fella, who is obviously up to speed on planning issues. I'm withholding judgment on him for a little while longer, but I suspect he'd be a good guy to have in this role - if his appointment hadn't been such a transparent example of political patronage. Time will tell.
As provocatively entertaining as the Planning Commission meeting was last night, the City Council Study Session this evening promises to be even more fun. I'd love to have the boxing glove concession for this one. I find myself hoping that Katrina Foley and Allan Mansoor are sitting at opposite ends of the table, to avoid the possibility of nose-to-nose dialogue. Stay tuned.