Friday, February 04, 2011

I'm Ready For Some Football!

IT'S FOOTBALL TIME AT THE CAULDRON
OK, troops... everything else is on "pause" for the weekend. Time for me to turn the Cauldron down to a low simmer and watch the final football game of the season. So, your concerns about our municipal budget, egomaniacs on the dais, Fairgrounds follies and all the rest will just have to wait until Monday.


THIS GAME HAS IT ALL!

I hope you'll join me in watching and enjoying what promises to be one heck of a great football game, unlike so many other Super Bowls in the past. This one has it all - great quarterbacks, great defenses... Oh, boy!

TO GET YOU READY
Here's a little low-key taste for you from our pals at NFL Films.

LADIES, FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE
For you ladies, who usually spend Super Bowl Sunday being shooed from in front of the television, this year we've got something special for you. We've got two guys that are defensive destroyers, both from USC, and both have lovely HAIR. I'm speaking, of course, of the Steelers Troy Polamalu and th
e Packers Clay Matthews.







CHRIS ERSKINE MAKES ME LAUGH

To introduce you to them, here's a link to a column by Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine - he of "Man of the House" fame who also writes some very special sports stuff, too.




CLIPS FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT

And, to show you what stands ahead on Sunday, here are a couple little film clips of those "Sons of Troy" for your viewing pleasure.

TROY POLAMALU


CLAY MATTHEWS



MY PREDICTION

I hope we see a great game and my prediction is Packers 30 - Steelers 24.... Now, let's get on with the kickoff! See ya Monday...

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Fair "Rent Increases" Clarified

DIFFUSING ONE BOMBSHELL
The last day of January I published an entry titled "Fairgrounds Bombshells", which you can read HERE. In it I linked to two different blog entries, one by Norberto Santana, Jr. in the Voice of OC and the other an entry by Gericault in the Orange Juice Blog.

At the end of that entry I included the following segment:

"FAIR BOARD "PROFIT SHARING"

Gericault's excellent summary of events provides some contex
t for Santana's piece, and has some very clever illustrations, too. One little tidbit he provides at the very end of his piece tells us that selected Fair vendors have been provided the opportunity to receive an 800% rent increase for their space during the Fair! That's right - 800%!!! As Gericault says, when the Fair Board is talking about profit sharing it's clear just whose profits they will be sharing!"

I took that information directly from Gericault's post.

CLARIFICATION FROM THE FAIR MANAGMENT
Today I received a note from Robin Wachner, Communications Director of the OC Fair and Event Center offering the following clarification of the information included in Gericault's post and my echo of it. Here's the relevant portion of her note to me:

"A letter recently went out stating that some of the retail spaces at the Fair would be part of a new program called Platinum Partners, which would enable interested vendors to secure highly-visible spots in which to sell their products and services. This is a program that has been in demand by some of our vendors who are interested in paying for premium placement at the Fair.

Due to a clerical error on our part, the letter went out to all of our vendors and not just the vendors in the buildings which were eligible for participation in this program. It does not affect all vendors and it is a volunteer program and no one is being forced to participate. To state that it is a rent increase is erroneous."

CLARIFICATION ACCEPTED - CASE CLOSED
We do appreciate the clarification and acknowledge that Gericault's information seems to have been accurately presented at that time based on
the erroneous mailing mentioned above. I have not seen the letter in question, nor I have spoken with any Fair vendors to personally validate this story, but have no reason to doubt it. The Fair management made a mistake and has clarified it. As far as I'm concerned the book is closed - it's a done deal and any issues resulting from this are between the Fair management and their vendors.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER QUESTIONS?

Before closing I must observe that there were many questions raised in both of the linked stories that, to my knowledge, have not received any response from the Fair management. I'm grateful for this one, but what about the rest? I'll let you go back and review them on your own and see if you don't agree with me that there are some pretty provocative issues left unaddressed.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Cans, Banners, Walls And Scary Budget Ideas

NOT SHORT, BUT WORTH WATCHING
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 NE
W "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 necess
ary - 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 c
ame 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.

OUTSOURCING
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 c
rystal 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!

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Short, But Not So Sweet, Council Meeting

A SHORT MEETING, BUT WITH SCHEDULE-JUGGLING ASSURED
Tuesday's Costa Mesa City Council meeting should be short - interesting, but short. In fact, I suspect their "7:00" rule for public hearings is going to bite them again. If the meeting starts promptly at 6:00 as scheduled they should be ready for the first public hearing by 6:15. Even if they slip the only public hearing scheduled - a request to extend the closure date of Garcia Recycling - there are only two items of New Business to consider and those could go quickly. It is our suggestion to the council that they abandon the requirement to begin public hearings at 7:00 and just let the agenda flow as written.

GARCIA RECYCLING - AGAIN
In any event, the first and only public hearing is from Garcia Recycling, who is supposed to close it's recycling business they've operated on West 19th Street for 20
years. Apparently they are close to acquiring a new location nearby and have asked for an extension of their closure order to finalize the deal.

MASONRY WALL PERMITS

The first item o
f new business is an interesting issue. You may recall that recently the council decided to require masonry walls in locations where wood fences were previously authorized. Now comes the other shoe - the requirement for a permit, which may cost at least $350, for each such wall over 3 feet in height. You can read the staff report HERE. So, first they demand that you use masonry and now they hit you with a new permit fee. Remember when I told you to watch this crew... this is how it's going to be in our fair city as long as this mob is in power.

STREET-WI
DE BANNERS
The final item on the agenda deals with a new council policy for community event street-
wide banners. The staff is recommending such installations be permitted in only a few spots around town. I read the staff report, HERE, and don't see the need for such signs. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that they will be visual blight in the areas identified. This is a bad idea looking for validation by the same guys who generated it while on the Planning Commission.

"COMMENTS" NOBODY WILL HEAR
Finally, you will recall that the council has moved their "comments" section to the end of the meeting. Several years ago this was where those comments were made, usually to a virtually empty auditorium. It's possible now that our council members will use this lightly-attended segment of the meetings to plant the kernels of new, bad ideas - just as Gary Monahan did when he dropped the "let's see how much it would cost to close the job center" question late one evening. You can't take your eyes off these folks for a single minute.

CLOSED SESSION ON "CITY MANAGER"
And, as it turns out, the "closed session" segment will actually have an item for discussion - dea
ling with the City Manager. Wonder what that's all about? I hope it's deciding where to place Allan Roeder's statue on the City Hall grounds - he sure does deserve one!

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Fairgrounds Bombshells!

INCOMING!
Just when you thought it was safe to go outside again...




GET READY TO GET TICKED-OFF

Today I present for your reading angst two links dealing wit
h the rapidly-becoming-notorious Orange County Fair and Event Center sale drama.

VOICE OF OC EXPOSE'
Late yesterday Norberto Sa
ntana, Jr., Editor of the Voice of OC, published an entry titled, "Records Call Into Question District Attorney Probe of Fairgrounds Sale", with links to documents that list billing records and contracts involving former State Senator Dick Ackerman and the Orange County Fair Board.

T-RACK WHITEWASH

Santana's report refutes the report by Orange County District Attorney Tony
Rackaukas which apparently cleared Ackerman from any illegal lobbying on the proposed sale of the Fairgrounds. That report certainly appears, based on this new information, to be a whitewash of the issue. I won't attempt to quote or misquote Santana - read his excellent report at the link above. Rackaukas deputy Susan Kang Schroeder defended the report.

GERICAULT'S EXCELLENT SUMMARY
Then, this morning, dropping his own bomb, Gericault provides a lengthy piece on the Orange Juice blog titled, "The 'State of af-Fairs' - Gericault's update on the Great Fairgrounds Swindle". If Santana's report didn't get your blood boiling, Gericault's certainly will.


FAIR BOARD "PROFIT SHARING"
Gericault's excellent summary of events provides some contex
t for Santana's piece, and has some very clever illustrations, too. One little tidbit he provides at the very end of his piece tells us that selected Fair vendors have been provided the opportunity to receive an 800% rent increase for their space during the Fair! That's right - 800%!!! As Gericault says, when the Fair Board is talking about profit sharing it's clear just whose profits they will be sharing!

CLICK AND READ
Take a few minutes to follow the links to these sites, read the information. Be prepared for your blood pressure to rise significantly, though. Arrrggghh!

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