Surreal Council Meeting - Again
Sometimes I leave Costa Mesa City Council meetings just shaking my head in disbelief. Last night was one of those times. There's so much to talk about and so little space! So, with a deep sigh, here we go...
As mentioned in an earlier post, the meeting was preceded by a special closed session to discuss labor negotiations. As I speculated earlier, this was done to accommodate hired gun Richard Kreisler. The council thought it was wiser to have the closed session before the regular meeting so Kreisler wouldn't be sitting around, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for the regular meeting to end while his $300 per hour meter is running. As it was, they managed to wrap it up and begin the regular meeting only fifteen minutes late - and without Mayor Gary Monahan, who apparently became ill and went home. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer took charge of the meeting.
The meeting began with some terrific presentations. The Ursini family, operators of the Newport Rib Company, was honored for all they do for the community. The organizers of the recent Woodbridge Invitational Cross Country meet was recognized and our youth ambassadors to our sister city, Wyndham, Australia, were also recognized.
Fifteen residents - many of them familiar faces - spoke during Public Comments, which began at 6:55 due to all the presentations. Concerns included the ill-advised scheme to turn Costa Mesa into a Charter City; the missing CEO report from the last meeting; legal fees; CARE ambulance charges; pensions; curiously incomplete documentation for consultant GrowthPort Partners and volunteerism. Perhaps the most amusing "presentation" was that of Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy showing up wearing the Estancia High School Eagle mascot outfit - apparently paying off a bet he made with frat-boy councilman Steve Mensinger. Righeimer took a break at 7:30 and reconvened the meeting at 7:45.
THIS IS LEADERSHIP?
As an aside, a Council Policy was created that required the council to cease all other activities at 7:00 and immediately begin any Public Hearings on the agenda. The rationale was that it wasn't fair to require applicants before the council to wait. I've disagreed with this practice because it has caused some very herky-jerky meetings in the past and, in the confusion, items get overlooked - like the CEO report at the last meeting. And, sometimes, the re-arrangement of the agenda by Monahan seemed almost vindictive at times. However, there was only one Public Hearing item which involved a General Plan amendment for a project on the Sakioka property on Sunflower Avenue. Righeimer ignored the policy and forced the Sakioka entourage to wait more than four hours - one member of his team had actually been in the auditorium since 5:00 - as the council waded through the Consent Calendar. When he finally got to it at 10:30 Righeimer made a lame joke to George Sakioka about taking a half-hour break first. I was watching - Sakioka didn't think it was funny. The issue took fifteen minutes and, after all that, Righeimer almost forgot to call on Sakioka during the hearing. For whatever reason Righeimer exercised bad judgment and chose to add insult to injury on an issue that involves a highly-respected family willing to invest hundreds of millions of development dollars in our city.
Back to the agenda. CEO Tom Hatch presented his report beginning at 7:45 and addressed a few of the comments from earlier in the evening, including offering a VERY defensive response to Eleanor Egan's criticism of the GrowthPort Partners billings. I don't think many people felt comfortable with his "they reported directly to me" response to the criticism that there is no report of their accomplishments, only bills.
HOMELESS TASK FORCE REPORT YANKED
Hatch also mentioned that the Homeless Task Force Report had been pulled from the agenda - that happened VERY late in the day Tuesday, to the surprise of that group - and would be brought back later. Since the staff report that had been distributed earlier seemed VERY thorough, it left some of us who observe these things VERY curious about the motivation for yanking it off the agenda.
EXPLAINING THE CONTINGENCY FUND
He told us that around $127,000 of the $960,000 contingency fund the council authorized as part of the budget had been spent and mentioned how most of it had been distributed - and corrected an error mentioned earlier about the amount contributed to KOCI.
GENERAL PLAN UPDATE RFP COMING
He mentioned that an RFP for a General Plan Update was being prepared and will be distributed in December and a contract is expected to be signed in February.
BANNING RANCH, BIKE MAP AND WORKER'S COMP
Hatch also told us that the City had responded to the Banning Ranch EIR and that there is a new Costa Mesa Bicycle Map and Safety Guide available in City Hall and soon on the City web site. He also told us the long-delayed report on the Worker's Comp program is still being fine-tuned, which is curious since it was originally on the agenda for an earlier council meeting. He said it will be presented at a Study Session, but didn't say when.
FIRE CHIEF TOM ARNOLD AND "BATTLE OF THE BELL"
He mentioned that Tom Arnold had been appointed as Interim Fire Chief and praised all involved for the highly successful "Battle of the Bell" football game and extravaganza.
CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS WITH FIREFIGHTERS
Then he did something I've never seen before. Hatch told the audience the details of the ongoing negotiations with the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association. That kind of information has not been divulged in the past while negotiations were underway and, quite honestly, this seemed to be a purely political move - an opinion that has become stronger now that I've heard the other side.
NEGOTIATING IN PUBLIC?
Hatch told us that the current contract with the CMFA extends until 2014 and that last year they agreed to pay 5% of the PERS costs to help with the City's budget dilemma. That agreement ended on November 5th. Hatch told us that the 5% represented about $500,000 annualized. He then told us the City had proposed that the firefighters contribute the maximum allowed by State law - 15.839%, but that was rejected and the CMFA countered with continuing the 5% through 6/30/12 and wanted to amend certain layoff policies.
THE OTHER SIDE
What he DIDN'T tell us was that, on September 1st, the City asked for the 5% contribution for the life of the contract and CMFA asked for cost projections and other information. A week later, on the 9th, the CMFA offered to extend the 5% though February 2012. They received NO ANSWER until November 3rd - nearly two months after they made their offer.
MEETING WITH THE HIRED GUN
Hired gun Richard Kreisler has met with the CMFA, first on November 3, when the CMFA offer was re-stated, but Kreisler couldn't respond because he apparently hadn't met with the full council yet. He did mention the 15.839% contribution at that time. They met again on November 14 - at a time when the expired 5% contribution could still have been continued without a mountain of PERS paperwork - but offer to extend to February 2012 was rejected. The CMFA offered to extend the 5% through the end of the current fiscal year and requested modifications to the layoff policies as respects Engineers and Captains. The City replied that the CMFA should email Human Resources if it wanted to extend the 5%, but they rejected the modifications of the layoff policy.
On November 15th the CMFA, through their attorney, sent Hatch an official letter offering to extend the 5% and asking for the layoff policy changes.
CITY DECISION COSTS $300,000
So, the City permitted the 5% to expire and, according to Hatch's numbers, it will cost around $300,000 through the end of this fiscal year. They could have agreed to extend it two months ago, but didn't. HERE is Joe Serna's article in the Daily Pilot this evening on this subject.
WHERE IS THE "GOOD FAITH"?
It seems to me that the CMFA has negotiated in good faith and have done so without a high-priced hired gun attorney at their side during the negotiations. In fact, contrary to some recent comments by members of the power elite in Costa Mesa, they have not had an attorney in the negotiations since 2007.
At 8:00 p.m. we finally got to the Consent Calendar, which took two and a half ours to plow through. Wendy Leece pulled the first Warrant, #2394, for discussion of legal fees. It passed 4-0.
Steve Mensinger, in a display of ignorance that was hard to comprehend, even for him, pulled #6, the contribution of $40,000 from OC River Park, Inc., for their mitigation efforts in part of Fairview Park. Righeimer also participated in what appeared to be a group brain burp, as they complained about Costa Mesa being a dumping ground for somebody else's mitigation! The fact is, this is like found money. A developer in Huntington Beach wanted to develop a chuck of land. In exchange for permission to do so he had to agree to "mitigate" another piece of open space - like Fairview Park. This kind of thing has been done many times in Fairview Park, which benefits us all. According to Mensinger, we're "just creating habitat you can't use - a weed patch that blooms every 7 years." I guess, in his alleged mind, if you can't stomp it down, reel it in or shoot it, it's not really wildlife. In the end, after a half-hour of aimless discussion, the council voted 3-1 to pass this issue. Righeimer voted NO. Geez!
WIDENING WEST 17TH STREET
Wendy Leece pulled #10, which involved funding to widen the far west end of 17th Street. She was concerned that this would further facilitate the Banning Ranch development and, if so, the developer should be paying for it. (Correction: I must have dozed off during this one. Eleanor Egan, not Wendy Leece, pulled this one. My apologies to the charming Ms. Egan. See her comment below.)
She also pulled #11, the "Selective Traffic Enforcement Program" grant. This item had been pulled from a previous agenda by new Police Chief Tom Gazsi, who went back and massaged the grant request. This grant provides $225,856 in funding for DUI enforcement efforts. Gazsi shifted the emphasis from DUI checkpoints to Saturation Patrols, where history tells us we get more enforcement for our money. Instead of 20 checkpoints the new plan is for 10 between now and September, 2012. After some frustratingly obtuse questions from Mensinger - at one point he said, irrelevantly, that "we're borrowing money from the Chinese!" - the council approved it 4-0. I really think they opposed this because it meant overtime money for the members of the Costa Mesa Police Department, who they view as the enemy.
HUNTINGTON BEACH CHOPPER EXTENSION
At 9:00 we got to #12, the extension of the contract with the City of Huntington Beach for helicopter service. Now, you'd think this would breeze right through. Our ABLE program is dead - it only needs to be buried once the assets are sold off and the lease expires on the hangar next April - so this deal for $150,000 through 6/30/12 should have just been a rubber stamp. All the battles about ABLE and the costs have been fought and lost, or won, depending on your side of the issue. And yet Mensinger, in particular, grabbed this and shook it like a puppy with a new stuffed toy. Eventually it was approved 4-0, but not after another half-hour discussion that could have been two minutes.
At 9:30 we finally got to the first of the three new RFPs being considered for release - Tree Maintenance. The staff report on this item was 72 pages long - which made me wonder just how many trees gave their lives for it. And then Bruce Hartley lit a fuse when he told the council that 95% of the Tree Maintenance is already outsourced. More than a few of us in the audience wondered why this was generated in the first place. The handful of speakers who addressed this issue wondered the same thing. After another half hour of wasted discourse it was released.
At 10:00 we got to #14, Park and Landscape Maintenance, which received much of the same thrashing from the Council and it only took 20 minutes to release it.
#15, the Fire Service RFP received hardly any discussion except for Leece's inquiry about why bother releasing it if we still have the Orange County Fire Authority proposal pending and new Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold had added a 5th alternative - to possibly re-organize the Costa Mesa Fire Department. The RFP was released on a 4-0 vote.
As mentioned above, we finally got to the only Public Hearing at 10:30, which was passed, 4-0, in fifteen minutes.
SMOKING IN PARKS
New Business #1, the Smoking in Public Parks, etc. came up for the second reading. It passed with almost no discussion in 10 minutes.
TEWINKLE PARK ATHLETIC COMPLEX TASK FORCE
At 10:55 we got to what was almost a surreal event - the selection of members for the TeWinkle Park Athletic Complex Task Force. The staff report contained names of those nominated by their user groups and homeowner associations, which basically left only two positions for the Council to select - the "At Large" member of the community and an alternate. There were five people who had applied for the job and I thought this was going to be a no-brainer - especially with Mensinger's friend (or maybe former friend) Gordon Bowley on the list. He's been active in sports-related functions for years and seemed like a perfect fit for the at-large slot. NOPE! Out of nowhere Mensinger began throwing out names of people he thought should be considered - but who had not applied! Righeimer chimed in, stating that some folks had also contacted him and wanted to know how to apply - after the deadline! Of course, his sympathy on this issue didn't surprise me - he was appointed to the Planning Commission 7 months after he moved to town after the deadline for applicants had passed. Again, rules are for somebody else.
APPLICATION PERIOD EXTENDED
Anyhow, this discussion went round and round and included Mensinger wanting to re-task the Task Force. Fortunately, contract City Attorney Tom Duarte cut him off at the knees on that one or we'd still be there. Finally it was decided to re-open the application period for another week, then re-visit this issue at the next council meeting. Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell sent out a press release this morning announcing the extension until November 22nd. Also, Eleanor Egan again reminded the council that the deed to the property on which this facility is located prohibits such a development. Duarte was instructed to investigate that claim. The motion had passed 3-1, with Leece voting NO.
NOT SEEING THE "RIGHT NAMES"
This is yet another example of this council not seeing "the right names" on applications for committees and task forces, so they just want to change the rules so they can stack the groups with their sycophants. You will recall this same thing happened recently when, after a huge public outreach for candidates for several committees, at the council meeting they just arbitrarily decided to reduce the size of the committees and put off placing people on them until the spring recruitment period. Again, the rules are for someone else.
THESE GUYS CREATING A CHARTER?
An aside here - these are the guys who WILL be creating the Charter for this city between now and June. This should scare the heck out of every member of the public. The responsibility for creating a Charter - the second biggest event in the history of our city following its creation in the 1950s - is a process that simply should not be rushed and, more important than that, not be entrusted to political opportunists with visions of grandeur and personal gain. This is going to be like sending four foxes into the hen house, drooling all the way. Think "The City of Bell" on steroids.
The last item on the agenda, the issue of Telecommunications Facilities in the Public Right-Of-Way, was given a short discussion, with Righeimer leaving the room because he's involved in cell tower sites. After the installation of the tower in my neighborhood a couple months ago - it looks like a suppository on top of a telephone pole - the Council agreed that something had to be done and approved staff time to review and recommend a policy on this issue.
Leece led off the comments by suggesting that the council consider creating a Veteran's Affairs Committee, to coordinate and focus the City's efforts to assist and recognize our troops. (Eric Bever later chided her on this issue)
Mensinger began his comments by suggesting that we may now finally put the "urban legend" of the ABLE helicopter program to bed. He said the Town Hall last week was "interesting", but that we should leave race out of it - referring to the fliers that were distributed. And, of course, he raved about the Battle of the Bell festivities.
Then Righeimer launched into his usual late-night rant, starting by saying that "outsourcing is going very well" - which is a crock! Not a single RFP has been evaluated yet and they still have not released all of those planned for release. He harshly criticized the Firefighters for their "unconscionable"contract. He said we had been "hoodwinked" by the fire department. He raved about the benefits of a Charter City, and told us we WILL see it on the June ballot - even though contract City Attorney Tom Duarte has not yet brought the information back to the council. See, facts don't matter - especially when they get in the way of his plans. He described it as a "very routine" situation. Then, in the most self-agrandizing bit of puffery I can recall, he said he would give the city a "B+" on its report card. I sure hope he didn't hurt himself patting himself on the back!
Eric Bever wrapped up this long, long evening by criticizing Leece for, among other things, "flag waving" with her Veterans Affairs Committee suggestion, criticizing her Town Hall because of the translations provided - despite the fact that he was not there. He was using second-hand information. His final contribution to the enlightenment of the populace was to have a blog web address placed on the screen and encouraging everyone to read it because, "in contrast to some of our other local blogs, it's actually factual and quite honest." It will come as no surprise that you did not see "A Bubbling Cauldron" up there on the screen. Nope, you saw the link to a site that is primarily an attack site, focusing on trying to discredit what you read here. The author is an Irvine resident - a good buddy of Lobdell, by the way - who was at one time a writer of some renown. Those days passed after he left the OC Weekly - which he co-founded - under a cloud after getting into a snit with the new owners and then failing in a new alternate weekly in Long Beach. He blames that on the economy. Since he has no dog in this Costa Mesa hunt, it's easy to speculate why he might have decided to throw himself into the fray. My suspicion is that is has to do with dollars - I'd love to know who's bankrolling his efforts.
LAST MEETING OF THE YEAR ON 12/6
The next council meeting - the final regularly scheduled meeting of the year, will be held on Tuesday, December 6th. One can only cringe at what might await us at that one.