Cans, Banners, Walls And Scary Budget Ideas
OK, I was wrong. The Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday wasn't particularly short, but it did have it's painful moments, and provided some uncomfortable clues to the future of the city.
SCHEDULE JUGGLING, AS PREDICTED
I was correct about the scheduling - after announcements, presentations, the consent calendar and public comments they were still a long, long way from 7:00 o'clock, so they slid New Business #2, Masonry walls, ahead of the Public Hearing item.
MASONRY WALLS, WITH PERMITS
Several residents spoke against this plan - to require a building permit for any Masonry wall over 3 feet in height, which will require a fee based on value, but likely $350 or more. Most residents who spoke felt it was over-regulation, one referring to it as a "nanny city" approach. The main proponent, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, said he worried about improperly installed walls by unlicensed contractors that wouldn't be around to face the music if problems occurred. Wendy Leece felt such issues were best left to the neighbors to sort out for themselves. In the end, though, the council voted in favor of requiring permits, 4-1, with Leece voting NO.
GARCIA EXTENSION REJECTED
By this time it was 7:15 and back they went to Public Hearing #1, the request for an extension on the order to vacate it's current premises by Garcia Recycling. You could see the result on this one coming a mile away. Despite the fact that Garcia has been working diligently to locate new quarters close to it's current location on East 19th Street, has identified a space, has tentative plans made by a local architect and filed for a conditional use permit for that space that very evening the council was unsympathetic. Garcia, who has run a wildly successful recycling business on his current site for more than two decades and clearly meets a need in the community, was given a stiff arm by the council. They voted 4-1, with Leece voting no, to uphold the eviction notice. Garcia must vacate his premises by February 14th.
THE NEW "HEAVY HAND"
This is apparently how this council is going to treat applicants. They are using the "no mercy" rule - do it, or else! We assume Mr. Garcia - who sat quietly during this brief, unsatisfactory, hearing without changing his expression - will continue to try to open a new state of the art facility at the new site only a couple blocks away, despite his shabby treatment by the council.
NEEDED OR NOT, HERE COME BANNERS
Then came the third item on the agenda - street-wide banners. A few people spoke, wondering why these were necessary - the very question I asked in my earlier post. Among those were Councilman Eric Bever. Neither he nor Leece saw the burning need, especially since every location would require at least $20,000 in infrastructure (poles, wires, etc.) at a time when we can ill-afford any new expenditures. Steve Mensinger moved to approve it, but with an open page where the sites are to be located. Staff was directed to look for alternate sites around town. Leece made a substitute motion to receive and file the report. No second was heard. Bever then made a substitute motion, also to receive and file, but instructed the staff to investigate using existing poles. (that was shot down by staff because existing poles belong to someone else - utilities - and wouldn't handle the stress of signage, too.) Leece seconded it. They were voted down, 2-3. The original motion was then passed 3-2, Leece and Bever voting NO. So, whether we need them or not, we're going to have street-wide banners somewhere in our city in the near future.
GLAD I WAS WATCHING
Then came the council member comments. You will recall that I observed earlier that we must pay close attention to them in this segment, which now comes at the end of the meeting.
NOTE TO BEVER: ENGAGE BRAIN BEFORE OPENING MOUTH
Bever suggested we investigate reducing fees for developers in the overlay zones. This is typical of him - we can barely balance our budget and he wants to reduce income! Yes, he is that stupid!
Leece and Mensinger had nothing to say.
MONAHAN'S PILE OF STUFF
Mayor Gary Monahan had a bundle of stuff: 1) he wanted to investigate increasing the foul ball netting at Lions Park ballfield; 2) he thanked Allan Roeder for the organization charts (more on that later); 3) he wanted an update on Chief Chris Shawkey and Captain Ron Smith. Roeder told him Smith is retiring this month and then said something only an insider would understand about Shawkey giving permission about something soon. In any event, Shawkey remains on paid leave of absence; 4) he then mentioned the upcoming (on February 8th) study session that will include a budget discussion. He said he wanted to finish the current budget year without any further use of Fund Balance, and that he wants to look into reorganizing the city to make it stronger and more efficient. (remember those org. charts?).
GUTTING PUBLIC SAFETY?
Monahan then went on to throw out some issues being discussed as a result of the budget sub-committee work in recent weeks - consolidation of police functions; possible elimination of the ABLE helicopter program; the Orange County Fire Authority Proposal; joint regional arrangement with Newport Beach Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley and changing the daily shifts to five 8-hour days.
Righeimer went on with his contribution to the results of the sub-committee discussions: Outsourcing, both of work and staff; communication systems outsourcing; use of the jail; Maintenance services outsourcing; Information Technology outsourcing; Planning outsourcing. In fact, one had the clear indication that he was looking to investigate outsourcing every function in city government possible.
HATCH HAS A BLANK CHECK FOR CONSULTANTS
The council affirmed the authorization given to Tom Hatch, as City Manager-in-waiting, to hire whatever expert consultants he feels necessary to assess the entire organization and make recommendations for improved efficiencies, including staff reductions and outsourcing.
A MAJOR OVERHAUL COMING?
It was crystal clear from the comments Monahan and Righeimer made that the structure of the entire organization is on the table, and that this council will be impatient when it comes to delays in finding solutions to the budget crisis. This got even more clear when reference was made to Laguna Niguel, which has a population of 65,000 people and a city staff of only 50. We're talking about turning over practically every municipal function to someone else - Sheriff's Department, Orange County Fire Authority, contract maintenance and street repair - the works.
STORM CLOUDS AHEAD
As each meeting passes I see growing signs of impatience in this new council, led by Righeimer and Mensinger. Those two have been the top dogs in their own businesses and could simply call the shots as they chose. They'd tell folks to jump and expect them to be levitating as they spoke the words. Things don't - and can't - work that way in municipal government. There are too many rules in place to safeguard individual rights. This is obviously an alien concept to Righeimer and Mensinger. I see lawsuits ahead caused by their impatience and disregard for the rules of conduct designed to guide their actions as city officials. As I've said many times in the past and will continue to do so in the future - you can't take your eyes off these guys for a minute!