Sunday, February 06, 2011

Tuesday's Study Session A Bellwether Of The Future?

Tuesday, February 8th, the Costa Mesa City Council will hold a Study Session in Conference Room 1A at City Hall beginning at 4:30 p.m. Normally these meetings last an hour or so. This one promises to be much, much longer because of the nature and number of items to be discussed.

As you may know, the council can take no votes on items discussed in a Study Session. They hear
staff reports and discuss the issues on an informal basis. They also hear very limited public comments due to the normal time constraints. If any of the issues discussed on Tuesday are to be officially acted upon they must be agendized for an open City Council meeting - the next one is the 15th - at which time a public hearing will be held and full public participation is permitted.

There are seven (7) items on the agenda for Tuesday. They are, in order:

1 - Overview of the
FY 2010-2011 Budget at Mid Year
2 - Consider the Dissolution of the Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE) Program
3 - Consider the El
imination of Two Vacant Police Officer Positions
4 - Presentation of Future Rate
s and City's Unfunded Liability for CalPERS
5 - Discussion of Noticing Requirements for Outsourcing City Servi
ces or Layoffs
6 - Redevelo
pment Agency Update
7 - Employee of the Month

There are no staff reports available for Nos. 1, 4 and 7.


As you look down that list you'll certainly realize the significance of each of them. In previous years this particular session would just be a discussion of the budget. Not this year - not with the new council. This year this session will amount to a "machete-sharpening" event, in which our impatient council members appear ready to begin thinning the city staff with something well-short of surgical precision.


Take #2, for example. Although, according to the staff report, HERE, Costa Mesa has had helicopters for more than forty years and has been operating the joint venture - Airborne Law Enforcement (ABLE) - with Newport Beach for more than fifteen of those. It also contracts with the City of Santa Ana to provide helicopter coverage for a fee. I think it is safe to say that most folks in local law enforcement view ABLE as a tremendous asset to the cities it serves. It is a "force multiplier" that has enhanced law enforcement operations since its inception. However, the benefits notwithstanding, the City Council Budget Working Group (Mayor Gary Monahan and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer) have decided that it must go and are recommending to the full council the dissolution of the program.

If the council decides to proceed with the dissolution of ABLE, and thereby lessening the effe
ctiveness of three police agencies in the process, it will incur some significant costs. Among those are the lease on the hanger for which there is a $13,000 per month obligation with no early termination clause. This could cost over $190,000. There is also a contract with the Santa Ana Police Department, which requires a termination notice by March 1, 2011. Costa Mesa would transfer four officers from ABLE - one commander and 3 pilots - each of whom will have bumping rights that would likely result in the layoffs of 4 junior officers. The three mechanics that are part of ABLE are Newport Beach employees and their futures are unclear should ABLE be dissolved.

While one would hope such a very significant move would be the result of calm, reasoned consideration by our elected leaders, it sure seems like this is a done deal - without public comment. You will recall I warned you about this crew from the very beginning. This is just the beginning.

Item #3 deals w
ith the potential deletion of two (2) open Police Officer positions that have been kept open for four (4) months. IF the City Manager and Acting Police Chief Les Gogerty can agree on a restructuring of the department as a result of the permanent loss of those two positions and IF there is a satisfactory result in the statutorily-required "meet and confer" with the police bargaining unit, the abandonment of those positions would represent a savings in this fiscal year of around $200,000 according to the staff report, HERE. Of course, if they decide to outsource our police activities (see below) it won't make much difference, will it?


Let's talk about #5, the "noticing requirements" if the city decides to outsource services or in the case of layoffs. In her staff report, HERE, Contract City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow provides answers to three questions:

1 - Is the City required to give notice to each bargaining unit before issuing layoff notices to its members?
YES, and she cites the reasoning behind that answer.

2 - Is the City required to be specific as to the service/program being considered for contracting out? In other words, can the City Council issue a blanket notice to all employees of its intent to contract out all services to keep all options open?
NO, followed by a lengthy explanation.

3 - May the City withdraw its notice at any time over the 6 months' notice period?

YES, but... (see staff report)

Dumping the "pension problem" by outsourcing services seems to be a ham-handed
way to solve that problem. As yet unaddressed is how The City will assure quality services to the residents following any outsourcing efforts. I'm especially concerned about what will happen with public safety - Police and Fire - if those functions are outsourced. If the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Orange County Fire Authority were to take over servicing Costa Mesa we lose any semblance of control. We would be subject to staffing decisions made by county officials with their priorities in mind, not ours.

Item #6, the Redevelopment Agency Update, is being presented because old/new Governor Jerry Brown has been making big noises about folding up Redevelopment Agencies state-wide, and sucking up that cash into the state's coffers in an attempt to balance the budget.

The staff report, HERE, responds to three questions posed by the City Council:

1 - What is the Status of Governor Brown's Recent Proposal to Eliminate Redevelopment Agencies in California?

2 - What is the Status of the City of Costa Mesa Loan to the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency (RDA)?

3 - How Much Money is Unencumbered in the Redevelopment Agency's Budget for the Downtown Fund?

Please refer to the staff
report for the detail in the responses. While there are specifics as to the numbers in items 2 and 3, number 1 is the great unknown.


I fear the impatience of a majority on the City Council may drive us into significant legal entanglements as they rush to "do something" about the budget - and serve their own personal political
agenda at the same time. As each day passes it's becoming clear to me that the impatient majority has already decided a very specific course of action - to resolve the "pension problem" by disposing of the employees who carry that obligation.


There are many facets of these issues that have NOT been thoroughly aired and made available for public comment. With four members of the council clearly operating in lock-step - and with the strong possibility of Brown Act violations as a result of their mismanagement of their "sub-committee" scheme - there is every likelihood that many of these major decisions are going to be a fait accompli before any resident has a chance to address them with the council. Personally, I'm not too happy with the idea of our municipal fiscal future being decided by the mayor and mayor pro tem and a bunch of their cronies over a few beers at the mayor's gin mill.


I urge the City Council to throttle-back their self-serving agenda a little and take
the time required for reasoned discourse on these issues before charging off like the Sooners in the Oklahoma land rush. Effective management of our city demands resident involvement and mature, calm deliberation. They simply cannot run around like the Queen of Hearts, shouting "Off With Their Heads!" and properly serve the needs of the people who elected them.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

I'm Ready For Some Football!

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.


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!

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

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.


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.


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.




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

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:


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.

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."

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.


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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?).


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.

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.


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.

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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