Final Candidate Forum "In The Can"
THAT'S IT - NO MASWell, that's it! The final Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forum is under our collective belts. And, thanks for the good work performed by my friends of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbor's Group, Inc., it was worth waiting for. My best guess is that around 160 -180 people attended the event at the Neighborhood Community Center - a good turnout.
STARTED ON TIME
After a half hour of mingling and chatting, the meeting started on time at 7:00 as President Jeff McConville introduced his team, did a little fund raising and then handed it off to fellow Eastsider, Marnie O'Brien Primmer, to moderate the program. She did a great job.
MANAGED WITH PRECISION
The script was followed with precision, the questions were carefully crafted and each candidate was provided just enough time to give a complete answer. It ran so smoothly that when I looked at the clock at 8:30 as they wrapped it up I couldn't believe the time had flown past so quickly.
FIRST THREE QUESTIONS
Each candidate was give time to make an opening statement, then each was asked to respond to three questions:
1) How will they balance business and residential needs;
2) How will they vote if the Triangle Square LED lights issue comes back after the first of the year?;
3) How will they deal with the John Wayne Airport expansion?
BALANCING BUSINESS AND RESIDENTS NEEDS
In response to the first question, Jim Righeimer suggested attracting high quality businesses. Sue Lester urged creating an environment to entice businesses. Chris McEvoy emphasized the need to promote small businesses and to maintain our Westside Industrial area. Chad Petschl suggested an aggressive marketing plan and Wendy Leece, citing Quality of Life issues, said residents must have priority over businesses.
LED LIGHTS AT TRIANGLE SQUARE
The second question was whether they would vote in favor of the LED lights at Triangle Square if that question was brought back for consideration in January, McEvoy stated emphatically he would vote NO if the issue was returned for consideration. Righeimer gave a history of the issue and closed by stating that we don't make such decisions without a public hearing. Petschl was a little vague on this one. Lester also danced around the issue a little before stating she would vote NO. Leece emphatically stated that she wasn't going to support it and that she "didn't need a public hearing to decide it!" That seemed like a curious - and incorrect from a legal standpoint - answer for her to give.
JOHN WAYNE AIRPORT GROWTH
Responding to the third question, about the growth of John Wayne Airport, Leece spoke of her current involvement with community organizations fighting expansion of the airport, but stated she didn't want to see any growth. Lester echoed those remarks. McEvoy also indicated he didn't support ANY growth. Righeimer reminded the audience that growth is already happening at the airport, citing the expanding new terminal, and that it's not just a local problem.
PETSCHL COMMITS HARA-KIRI
Poor Chad Petschl chose this question to display how completely out of touch he is with local issues. It's understandable, considering that he's a very recent resident to the area. However, to say that he "shot himself in the foot" when he answered that he favored adding a couple more runways at John Wayne to generate more business would be a huge understatement. It's unusual to watch a candidate for public office commit virtual Hara-Kiri on the dais, but that he did. You could hear a few gasps when he suggested that we should emulate Las Vegas and encourage MORE flights to and from John Wayne.
NICE GUY - UNPREPARED
I spoke with him later and he acknowledge that his response was a mistake, but he stuck by the logic. He's a heck of a nice guy and I really hope he does stay involved in city business. He's enthusiastic and energetic but completely uninformed about almost every important issue in our city. He could have a future in local civic events if he does his homework and gets up to speed on the issues. Right now most 7th graders on the Eastside probably know more about the traffic and John Wayne concerns simply by overhearing their parents speak about it.
The questions shifted at this point, with each candidate being asked two separate questions in a random fashion.
Sue Lester was asked about Banning Ranch, to which she responded that she was not in favor of ANY development at that site. She was also asked about variances for high density development, to which she indicated a need to work with the Planning Department and said we need more affordable housing.
Jim Righeimer was asked about Recovery homes and how to limit their numbers. He responded that if they are six or less residents we can do very little. He indicated that some control can be exercised at the planning level if potential operators try to add a 5th bedroom - we require a 3-car garage, which increases the cost and affects the profitability of such places. He implied that if a "happy family" made application for that 5th bedroom perhaps the requirement for a 3-car garage would be overlooked. That one snapped my head around, because it sure did sound like he was saying he'd apply the rules differently, depending on the applicant. Makes me nervous thinking about what other rules he would apply so cavalierly. He was also asked about variances to the General Plan and kind of answered it with a mini-rant about lacking infrastructure, pointing to the Westside as an example. I'm not sure he ever actually answered the question.
Chris McEvoy was asked about the 55 Freeway completion, to which he replied that he expects that the completion would resolve some of the cut-through traffic, also mentioning the Banning Ranch as a large negative influence on the Westside. He was also asked about the recent Orange County Register article that said Costa Mesa stood alone among OC cities by not turning a profit. He replied that he'd heard those numbers were incorrect and that the city had replied to it indicating that a profit, although small, had been made.
Chad Petschl was asked for his take on the traffic issues in the Eastside, to which he began talking about Banning Ranch and bike trails. He had no idea what the question meant. He was also asked about a "pedestrian-friendly town center" - again, no bells went off in his head. He spoke in generalities, unable to nail down specifics. No cigar on this one.
Wendy Leece was asked about visual blight, but indicated that she didn't have an answer for it. She did refer to our graffiti program. She was also asked about the noise battle from the Pacific Amphitheater and talked about the long legal fight, then referred to Triangle Square and the recent noise issues with the Sutra Lounge.
FINAL QUESTION - NUMBER 1 ISSUE?
The interrogation wrapped up by asking each candidate what they felt the number 1 issue would be that they would face if elected.
Wendy Leece led off by addressing the current condition of the labor contracts and indicated that the current contracts are a result of lots of negotiating by several different councils. While they need changing, she said we just can't "eat the elephant in one bite." She said we need to pay employees what they are worth.
Chad Petschl indicated he has only been here a few months, but spoke of being the new guy and how he could bring fresh ideas, then referred to "washed up politicians", making a small gesture toward Righeimer, sitting beside him, then talking about needing to get the city humming again.
Jim Righeimer said the budget was the number 1 priority, indicating that things in the city have changed and that he didn't know if we'd ever get back to where we were. He mentioned needing an ombudsman, then whined a little about being attacked by the police unions. He suggested a "bi-partisan" commission to assess the contracts. I thought at the time it was a strange comment, since our city issues are theoretically NON-PARTISAN.
Chris McEvoy also said the budget was number 1, choosing a "hunker down" approach, taking our time to get things sorted out. He said he preferred a simple community.
Sue Lester also said the budget was her top priority, stressing accountability and "sharing the load." She said something like, "If you want the same old thing, then vote for the same old thing", meaning the same old people.
TERRIFIC FORUMAll in all, I'd have to say this may have been the best forum of the series. Clear questions, with enough time to answer them, an excellent moderator and responsive candidates all contributed to the success.
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN
For me, one of the highlights were things that DID NOT happen. For example, neither the police union anti-Righeimer sign truck nor the threatened hooligans carrying booking photos of Chris McEvoy showed up. The former had been driven all over town and the latter was just an empty threat by deranged people.
KUDOS TO MY NEIGHBORS
My friends of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbor's Group, Inc., deserve a lot of credit for presenting an excellent candidate forum. It's just too bad it couldn't have been televised. Oh, well..
OUT ON THE STUMP
Now the candidates will continue with the hard part of the campaign - walking the precincts, knocking on doors and telling your neighbors just why they deserve their votes.
MORE NASTINESS AHEAD
Sadly, I suspect we will see some more hi-jinks from the police union and also those folks who recognize that Chris McEvoy actually has a chance to defeat Righeimer, so they are attacking him. Desperate folks do desperate things. This has been an extremely nasty campaign so far and, with a couple weeks to go, I don't expect to get any better.