Friday, March 25, 2011

Redevelopment Agency Fails To Act

POLITICS OVER FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
When is an emergency not an emergency? When the elected leaders of our city choose to ignore the best professional advice of the city staff and elect to leave at least $1.3 million on the table for the state to scoop up if its weekend session results in the passage of Redevelopment Agency legislation.

PAY BACK INTEREST?
This afterno
on a dozen residents saw the Costa Mesa City Council - four of them, anyhow, because Eric Bever was absent AGAIN - meet as the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency to discuss whether or not to have the RDA "pay back" monies available as interest on a loan made by the City when the RDA was first formed almost 40 years ago.

NO-BRAINER

This issue seemed like a no-brainer. The staff brought it to the Agency as an emergency item - notice was made barely 24 hours before - because the state legislature is very close to passing bills that would freeze RDA funds and then reach out and snatch them away, to be used for "education". The staff recommended, in the clearest terms possible - so clear that even I understood them - that they were looking for an authorization to transfer funds immediately back to the City before the State could grab it.

"PASSING" ON $1.3 MILLION
The amount in question, $1.3 million, was the minimum amount available
. If the state passes its issues as "urgency" items they go into effect immediately. That requires a 2/3 vote. If they pass with only a majority - a slam dunk - then the bills would go into effect July 1, 2011 and it's possible the City would receive additional Property Tax revenues into the RDA - perhaps another $700,000 - that would be available for repayment of the loan interest. If the RDA didn't vote to capture this money we may, effectively, be leaving the money on the table for the State to snatch away.

THEY DID NOTHING!

However, th
e Agency - led by Jim Righeimer - chose to do NOTHING and thereby left that money in jeopardy. The funds available now could have been applied to our shortfall and aid in balancing the budget this year. That money could save the jobs of a dozen employees.

THEY DON'T CARE
So, the message they sent is loud and clear. The majority on this city council really DOES NOT care about the financial stability of our city. Nope, they are just playing politics with the lives of employees and safety and security of the residents. Every dollar that brings us closer to a balanced budget erodes their bogus argument that we are in a financial crisis. This afternoon they turned their backs on cash that is available right now.

THEY IGNORE THE STAFF
And, as each meeting comes and goes, it's becoming more clear to me that they don't give a darn about the opinion of the staff. Nope, they've already got their minds made up on these critical issues and are not going to be diverted from their path by facts. If the facts interfere with their dogma, the dogma is going to win every time.



WHAT'S IT GOING TO TAKE?

I guess I'm left tonight wondering just when the regular, normal hardworking f
olks in this city are going to wise-up to these clowns? When will they realize that the future of this city is in jeopardy? Will it be when the crime rate climbs because, as Mayor Monahan said recently, "There are no longer any sacred cows"? Will it be when the graffiti remains on buildings and walls for weeks because the outsourced crew couldn't get around to it? Will it be when gangs begin to take over neighborhoods because the staffing of the police department was cut drastically? Will it be when folks requiring emergency medical aid die before the help arrives because we closed fire stations and understaffed those that remain? What's it going to take?

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Emergency Council Meeting Today?(Amended)


RDA LOAN TO BE CALLED?
There's word going around town this morning that the City Council may call an emergency meeting at 4:00 p.m. today to pull back to the city a more than $10 million loan it made to the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency several years ago. There has been no official announcement of a meeting by the city yet.

HEADING OFF JERRY BROWN
We assume this is in response to the threat of Governor Brown yanking all Redevelopment funds back to the state to balance its budget.

CASH TO THE CITY, NEW LOAN FOR THE RDA
This was discussed recently in a joint meeting of the City Council and Redevelopment Agency. Presently the city receives a good interest rate on the loan, which is scheduled to continue to be paid well into the next decade. If this loan is called it would mean an immediate infusion of funds into the city coffers and the RDA would have to find another source of funds at the current market interest rates - which are much lower than our loan.

DEMAND FUNDS BE USED TO BALANCE THE BUDGET
Once again, this emergency meeting is an example of this council working at a pace which makes it almost impossible for residents to follow and understand what they're doing. If this meeting is, indeed, held, residents are encourage to attend and insist that the funds be used to balance the current budget and to hold off funding anything else until the 2011-2012 budget can be fully-vetted.

STAY TUNED...
More on this later as the story evolves. I'll let you know more when I know more...

UPDATE
Thanks to reader OCProgressive for this heads-up. The Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency - the City Council in a fancy dress - HAS scheduled a meeting today. You can read the agenda HERE.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fair Board Puts On The Gloves

FAIR BOARD READY FOR LEGAL BATTLE
At it's meeting today the 32nd District Agriculture Association - The Orange County Fair and Event Center Board of Directors - decided to take a more aggressive posture regarding the pending sale of the 150 acre site.


LEGAL ACTION AUTHORIZED
Their press release, issued today following the meeting, makes it clear that the Fair Board is willing to fight the sale and have authorized its legal council to do so. The second paragraph of that press release provides a policy statement as follows: " The 32nd DAA is the owner of the OC Fair & Event Center. As owners of the OC Fair & Event Center, the Board has authorized its legal counsel to initiate appropriate legal action including but not limited to intervention in the pending litigation, to prevent the sale of the fairgrounds as a public asset."

The release went on to say, "The Board also announced several strategic partnerships & capital improvements to the property, including discussions with Barrett-Jackson for plans to build
a permanent facility for the popular collector-car auction, a fortified partnership with the Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau and a public-private partnership to expand the Pacific Amphitheater."

Board Chairman David Ellis stated, "The Board is focused on a strategic vision for the facility. Realizing that vision means building out the 2003 Master Plan and developing public-private partnerships so we can continue to provide world-class facilities, programs and events." He added, "The potential sale makes it difficult to move forward with facility improvements, the development of public-private partnerships and creates an air of uncertainty for our employees and the community."

Fair President and CEO Steve Beazley expressed this vi
ew, "The OCFEC has proven itself to be successful as a public asset in the fulfillment of its mission to 'Celebrate Orange County's Communities, Interests, Agriculture and Heritage'. We bring a unique blend of public accoutability and private sector entrepreneurship to the management of this facility, which is reflected in the programs and events we have been providing to the public over the last 120 years. That is a tradition we believe is worth continuing."

THIS IS GOOD NEWS
In my view, this is good news. The Fair Board obviously feels it is the proper owner of the Orange County Fair and Event Center and are moving aggressively to protect that ownership and keep the site as a Fairgrounds a public asset.


BRAVE MOVE BY THE FAIR BOARD

Regardless how you feel about the events that have brought us to this point, and whether or not you feel the current Fair Board is the right group to take the Fairgrounds forward, the fact that this group is willing to fight with all their resources to keep this historic and valuable community resource a public asset is certainly a step in the right direction.

HOW WILL GOVERNOR BROWN REACT?

It's hard to tell what kind of a reaction Governor Jerry Brown will have to this announcement
. Since the Fair Board works at his pleasure, it's possible he could just fire them all and appoint another group. The strains of attempting to balance his budget might make him take extraordinary steps... we'll see.


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Lobdell As A Lightning Rod

BLOG COMMENTERS AFTER LOBDELL
Blog commenters, both here and on the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register comment threads, have whipped themselves into a frenzy about the hiring of journalist Bill Lobdell by the City of Costa Mesa as a communications consultant. The frothing seems to be generated in equal portions by his reported salary - $3,000 per week for 90 days - and the fact that he's been an investigative reporter/columnist for the Daily Pilot recently.

LOBDEL
L IS MY FRIEND
Let me pause here to state that Bill Lobdell is a friend of mine. Our relationship
is somewhere between "go-get-a-drink-together" buddies - which we are not - and "Facebook friends" - which we are - but I've come to know him a little bit in recent years. I admire his skills as a writer - his highly-acclaimed book, "Losing My Religion - How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America - and Found Unexpected Peace", is a fascinating story of his journey to and from religion, regardless how you feel about religion as a subject. He was editor of the Daily Pilot at a time when he and then-publisher Tom Johnson salvaged what was a sinking local newspaper. His journalistic skills are without challenge.

RELIGION, MINKOW AND BACK
Lobdell left his management position at the Daily Pilot and became the religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, which led to his book. When he left the Times he had some kind of a brain-burp and joined convicted con-man Barry Minkow as the investigative arm of Minkow's scheme to expose perceived malfeasance in public companies - and make a profit by short-selling the stock. Fortunately, Lobdell severed that tie shortly before Minkow was, once again, indicted for his actions. His recent stint as a columnist for the Daily Pilot has produced some very interesting work and has allowed him to demonstrate his reporting and writing skills again.

SAY, WHAT?

All that being said, when I heard that Lobdell was being tapped by Costa Mesa as a communications cons
ultant - to "create a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation's most transparent government.", according to Chief Executive Officer of the City, Tom Hatch in a disastrous press conference late last week - I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Bill's a terrific writer and reporter, but I don't think there is anything in his background that would prepare him for this assignment. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

ZAP! OUCH! - ZAP! OUCH!
Based on the reaction to his assignment since the announcement, it seems to me that Lobdell's first job has been to become a lightning rod - a person that attracts the heat and noise and deflects it from those individuals more properly the target of the rancor, the members of the City Council who have created the current crisis in our city. If he keeps getting zapped like this it's probably going to hamper his effectiveness in the assignment described above in Hatch's statement.

STIFLING STUPID STATEMENTS
There is no doubt in my mind that the City of Costa Mesa needs a very heavy dose of public relations attention. Part of that, however, is keeping the elected officials from m
aking stupid statements and running off like self-serving loose cannons, trying to puff-up their personal media presence for future runs for higher office. Yeah, I mean Jim Righeimer, who seems to have been omnipresent in the media for the past few weeks. And that includes Gary Monahan, who is quoted in the Daily Pilot this morning in an article about cutting the Police Department by 20 officers, stating that there are "no sacred cows anymore". That statement may demonstrate just how out of touch Monahan is with the city staff, which is still reeling from the tragedy of St. Patrick's Day. Who knows - maybe Monahan is just striking back because of the well-deserved criticism he received when he remained at his pub to pull beer taps in his cute little skirt rather than tend to the job as mayor. Regardless, those are the kind of actions and statements that will make Lobdell's job virtually impossible.

LIES MASQUERADING AS TRUTH
Another big part of this quest for "transparency" certainly must include dissemination of facts, not convenient fabrications, by our elected leaders. Righeimer has, for example, been spewing falsehoods to anyone who will listen when he talks about our pension dilemma. In my opinion, that transparency they allegedly are seeking will never be achieved when Righeimer and his sycophants are permitted to misrepresent the facts for personal political gain. Also in my opinion, I think Bill Lobdell has zero chance of shutting them up.

GOOD LUCK, BILL

So, I wish my friend well in this assignment. People can gripe about what the city is paying him, but - as I told him - if he is able to accomplish the goal established for him he will be worth every cent and then some.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

False Fears and Feet Afire

COSTA MESA TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION
Just a reminder... Thursday evening, beginning at 6:30 p.m., Mayor Gary (Skosh) Monahan is hosting the fledgling Costa Mesa Taxpayer's Association inaugural meeting and spleen vent at his pub. Acting President of the group, Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy, has sent out the following invitation:

"YA GOTTA GET DOWN HERE!"
This event is clearly aimed at ALL residents of the city and sure looks to be one more PR move on the part of the current council majority to whip up a frenzy of anti-employee fervor in this city as they attempt to get rid of municipal pensions one way or the other. I encourage ANY of you interested in hearing about it to attend and ask questions. I don't know if special prices for folks who received layoff notices last week will be in effect, but I imagine the mayor will welcome all employees with open arms.

PASSION BASED ON FALSEHOODS

I fully expect the proponents of this organization to speak with passion about their view that our "greedy" muni
cipal employees are destroying the city, even though the numbers they will throw around to support their thesis have been fabricated out of thin air. Expect the spreadsheet showing the 2010 employee compensation to be waived around as though they've discovered the Holy Grail while they proclaim the greed of our municipal employees. Expect a PowerPoint presentation using fabricated numbers demanded by the current majority to support their plans.

CITY HALL ANNEX?
It's looking more and more like
the Mayor's pub is becoming the de facto seat of power in our city. That must make the residents very comfortable - knowing that major decisions about their lives are being made over drinks drooled on Skosh's bar. So, head over to the pub at the corner of 20th Street and Newport Boulevard for free appetizers and extra doses of bull manure. I will not be there, so please report back on the excitement.

WILL MONAHAN PERMIT MEDIA?

I wonder if the media w
ill be present? Do you think Gary Monahan, after his latest debacle with the press, is going to welcome members of the media into his pub? Will he bar them? If so, what will that say about this new wave of "transparency" we're hearing about? Will Bill Lobdell, the new communications guru, show up? It's not an official "city" event, but it's being hosted by the mayor and promoted by city officials. And, more city officials are promised to be on hand by the promoters.

IT'S THE REAL "MARCH MADNESS" FOR ME
I'm persona non grata at Skosh's, so I'm going to stay home and watch a different "March Madness".

*****

"FEET TO THE FIRE" MOVED TO APRIL
And, speaking of events, th
e irrepressible Barbara Venezia has wisely chosen to shove her next "Feet to the Fire" forum off a few weeks, to let things settle down a little bit in Costa Mesa following the St. Patrick's Day disaster. The event, originally scheduled for the 28th, has been moved to April 18th. The venue will be the Costa Mesa Community Center and it will be open to the public. Barbara and her band of media-types, John Canalis of the Daily Pilot, Frank Mickadeit of the Register, Roger Bloom of the Newport Independent and Norberto Santana, Jr. of the Voice of OC will fire questions at a panel of guests that is still being recruited. The topic will be, "Should Costa Mesa Be Run Like A Business?"

MORE INFORMATION LATER
This event will run from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m., with the doors opening at 6:30. I'll remind you as time approaches and the panel is firmed up.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bruce Garlich - 8/25/36 - 3/22/11

PASSING OF A GREAT MANAt the end of a week filled with sadness in Costa Mesa, today I must add to it by reporting that my friend, Bruce Garlich, passed away this evening after a brief stay in hospice care.

A TRUE PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY
As many readers here will know, Bruce was a pillar of our community. At the time of his passing he was the President of the Costa Mesa Senior Corporation Board of Directors. He has also been involved in many other community organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club, Lions Club and was a volunteer reader in Costa Mesa elementary schools.


PLANNING COMMISSION AND MUCH MORE
Bruce was a member of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission for six years, including a tour as Chairman. During that time he used his finely-honed executive skills to keep the commission focused and productive. He ran for Costa Mesa City Council twice unsuccessfully, but never flinched at those defeats and continued to serve the city that had been his home for more than three decades and was a mentor to many.

AEROSPACE EXECUTIVE
He retired as an executive
after a long and illustrious career with McDonnell Douglas Corporation He managed billions of dollars in cutting edge projects.

A LOYAL TIGER
He was a proud Missouri native and a graduate from the University of Missouri in 1959. Those of us who called him a friend could see that ster
eotypical Missouri stubbornness peek out from time to time.

BRUCE THE MANAGER
In recent years Bruce had been slowed by his battle with cancer. During that time he tended to his wife, Marietta, as she also wrestled with a particularly nasty form of that disease. She passed away almost exactly two years ago, on March 17, 2009. (HERE) Bruce "managed" his illness with the skill and tenacity borne of a lifetime of "managing" things. Even in his final weeks he was firm and decisive about how his days would be managed.

SURVIVED BY

Bruce is survived by his son, Gregory G
arlich, his former wife, Barbara, both of Huntington Beach; his brother Roger Garlich of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri; nieces Carla Lett of Vallejo, CA and Dawn Lett of Los Angeles and nephews Kevin White and Gary Bowles, both of Los Angeles.

REST IN PEACE, MY FRIEND
I will miss my friend, Bruce Garlich. I'll miss his frank and caring friendship, his wise counsel, his clear vision and his terrific sense of humor. He was a true Gentleman of Costa Mesa.

SERVICES PENDING

Services are pending for my friend and I'll post another entry when they are established.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Today The Healing Began - Or Did It?

IS HEALING POSSIBLE?
At this time in the history of the City of Costa Mesa, when employees are being discarded like threadbare underwear and tension between the employees and our elected leaders is palpable, events of this date may mark the beginning of healing in our city. I hope so.

AN HOUR OF PRAYER, HYMNS AN
D REFLECTION
For nearly an hour beginning at noon - during a steady, cold rain - more than one hundred people gathered in foul weather gear under umbrellas to circumscribe City Hall and qu
ietly pray for young Huy Pham, for the employees, for each other and for the future of our city. These folks, representing churches in the area and residents who care, stood shivering, huddled together for strength and support as they whispered prayers and quietly sang hymns together as their own particular mood struck them.

IMAGES
Many images of that event are burned in my brain. Some of them are shared here. Like Ed Fawcett, President of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, standing alone under an umbrella quietly praying to himself a few feet from where Pham ended his life on St. Patrick's Day.






QUIET REFLECTION

Along the rear walkway stood a line of more than 20 soggy people and one drenched puppy, each in their own thoughts. Some rocked slowly back and forth, humming a tune I couldn't hear, while others mouthed words of some special verse.

RESPECTFUL MEDIA

Respectful members of the media quietly spoke with one or two of the visitors, soliciting their thoughts and feelings.

FLORAL CHAIN REMAINS
At a few minutes past 1 p.m. this quiet, caring crowd gradually dispersed, leaving behind a chain of white carnations surrounding the building as a reminder of the support they offered today.

WHAT DID THE EMPLOYEES THINK?
I know I was moved by this display today and found myself wondering how the employees within the City Hall must have felt as they looked out the windows at this human chain of compassio
n.

CLOUDS PART, RAIN STOPS - CEREMONY IS JUST RIGHT

Later today, under glorious blue skies with puffy white clouds in the distance, the memorial ceremony for Huy Pham took place adjacent to the spot where he took his life last Thursday. A special seating area was arranged for members of his family and City CEO Tom Hatch began the proceedings shortly after 3 p.m.

CO-WORKERS PRAISE HUY PHAM
Several co-workers spoke about their time with Huy Pham, who has been described as a stellar employee. Most described his dedication to his job and the skills he had developed. One former supervisor referred to him in glowing terms and, at the end of his short, passionate speech, barely ch
oked out the fact that he thought of Pham as a son.

NAGAHVI GUIDES SILENCE
Public Services Director Peter Naghavi took the podium to lead the crowd in 30 seconds of silence to honor Huy Pham.

CHAPLAIN OFFERS ENCOURAGEMENT

Police Chaplain Decker - who just happened to be in the building last Thursday at the time of the tragedy - spoke to the crowd of around 250 people assembled for this service, offering wo
rds of encouragement and directed those who felt the need of some personal consultation to canopies behind City Hall where counselors were available.

FORMER OFFICIALS
Many current and former city officials were present today. I saw former councilwomen Katrina Foley, Sandra Genis, Linda Dixon and former councilman Jay Humphrey. It seemed to me that the crowd was made up mainly of employees, with about a third being residents and other conce
rned citizens.

STOIC STOOGES
Mayor Gary Monahan, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Co
uncilman Steve Mensinger stood in a group off to the right and moved nary a muscle during the ceremony. Once the Pham family had been escorted into City Hall, the three men also slipped into the building. That was probably a very good idea, because there was still a strong undercurrent of anger in the crowd.

SHARED CONCERN
Following the ceremony the crowd just seemed to hang around, commiserating
with each other, sharing stories of Pham and trying to get their heads around just what happened on St. Patrick's Day. There was much conversation about the direction the city is headed now. I heard no positive thoughts about it, only apprehension about what's ahead. There were concerns about individual jobs, mortgages, families and their futures. Many of the people with whom I spoke had received 6-month layoff notices last Thursday and were uniformly somber.

TRAGEDY CHANGED NOTHING
When I expressed the view that the ceremonies today might form a foundation
for healing, most replied that it didn't really change anything - that the city council has given no indication of a willingness to change their course.

APPREHENSION CONFIRMED
Then, this evening, I heard Jim Righeimer talk with John and Ken on their afternoon radio show. Nothing he said today gave me any encouragement that he will do anything other than move full speed ahead on the course to outsource at least half of the city staff. Quite the contrary. Despite the terrible emotional impact the death of Huy Pham has had on the staff and that the elected leadership has come under fire for major gaffes in the wake of this tragedy, Righeimer seemed unmoved by this issue.

I'M CONCERNED FOR OUR CITY
Tonight, as I wrap this up, I'm very concerned for our city. I continue to hear rumblings of imminent departure of more senior staffers and a growing discontent among city employees. I saw consultant Bill Lobdell in the crowd today - shown here with new City Attorney Tom Duarte (right). I'm sure he now realizes just what a big job he has ahead of him. I find myself wondering if he will actually be allowed to do what they've hired him to do. He's probably going to advise them to do things that are against their nature - and these guys don't respond well when asked to do something they don't want to do. I guess we'll see very soon.

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