Saturday, November 12, 2011

Peace In Our Time At The Fairgrounds?

BARBARA REPORTS A TRUCE
In her column in the Orange County Register today, the vivacious, bodacious and sometimes efficacious Barbara Venezia has reported that there that the rolling boil of antagonism between Jeff and Bob Teller, the operators of the Orange County MarketPlace and their landlords, the 32nd District Agriculture Association Board (Orange County Fair Board) seems to have been turned down to a simmer. You can read Barbara's assessment HERE.

GOOD NEWS
This seems to be good news, especially for the hundreds of vendors who make a living as part of the MarketPlace, for the Tellers and for the tens of thousands of folks who visit the Market
Place every year.

CAN THEY MAKE IT
WORK?
There has been very obvious strains in the relationship between the Board and Tel-Phil Enterprises, Inc., the name of the MarketPlace operating company. Without ripping scabs off old wounds - the result of the drama surrounding the attempt to sell the Fairgrounds a couple years ago - it would appear that the shift in the leadership and demographics on the Board recently has produced some moderation of the political posturing and more reasonable discussions. That's good news, as long as both the Fair Board and Tel-Phil can both make a living based on whatever this new deal turns out to be.

WAITING AND WATCHING
On the agenda for the Fair Board meeting Thursday, November 17th, the
re are three items on the agenda, HERE, there a couple items directly related to the MarketPlace situation. Item 9A is the Consideration of the 18 Month Notice of Termination to Tel-Phil Enterprises, Item 9B is Swap Meet Request for Proposals and Item 10A, the closed session discussion of Lease Negotiations with Tel-Phil Enterprises and Potential Litigation. It should be a VERY interesting meeting. If you plan to attend, the meeting is scheduled from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the Administration Building at the Fairgrounds.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thank You, My Fellow Veterans

REMEMBERING BRAVERY AND SACRIFICEOnce again we celebrate Veterans Day - a day when we should pause to remember the men and women who have served our country with pride and valor, both during times of war and in peace time. This link may help you understand this holiday. And, if you need a little more information, this short video clip from the History Channel will help you understand what this day is all about - it's not just another day off from work.



PREVIOUS ENTRIES
For the past several years I've written about this holiday around this time of the year. Here are links to what I wrote in 2007, 2008 and 2009. There are other links on some of those sites and I hope what you read and see there will help you appreciate the sacrifices made for our freedoms.

VETERANS DAY, 2011
Finally, this video clip will give you some current perspective on this day. Take some time out to tell a veteran "Thank You" over this weekend.

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Pomona Elementary Town Hall A Success

KUDOS
The Town Hall meeting hosted by councilwoman Wendy Leece Wednesday night at Pomona Elementary School in Costa Mesa was a success. It was a standing-room-only crowd, with more than 150 people in attendance and at least half of those were Latinos, including many families.



OFFICIA
LS ATTENDING
Officials in attendance included councilwoman
Leece as the moderator, plus Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer (who stayed only about 20 minutes, skulking out the side door after snagging a free bottle of water) and councilman Steve Mensinger (and one young son) who stuck around until the end. Planning Commissioners Jim Fitzpatrick (Also bugged out early, staying long enough to get paid by the Sanitary District for attending. He probably had to run home to wax his new moustache) and Rob Dickson also attended (Dickson stayed until the end). Mesa Consolidated Water District President Fred Bockmiller was there for the whole program, as were Newport-Mesa Unified School Board members Dana Black and Judy Franco.

WESTSIDE ACTIVISTS
There were also several long-time Westside activists in attendance - folks who, for decades, have been attempting to "improve" their part of town. I was happy to see them at this meeting.



TRANSLATION WAS NOT
A PROBLEM
The thrus
t of the meeting was public safety and all the presentations, including the Q & A at the end, were translated into Spanish. Those folks who appeared to have limited English fluency were attentive throughout the evening, including most of the children. I expected that element of this program to be more cumbersome than it actually turned out.

CMPD STOOD TALL
Lt. Robert Sharpnack and Officer Julian Trevino (above) from the Costa Mesa Police Department took the lead, making excellent presentations that provided crime statistics and, in a nutshell, encouraged the members of the audience to call the police when they have problems and to work together as a community to help the police help them. Members of the CMPD Gang Detail, led by officer David Sevilla, were also present. Sevilla gave an excellent presentation, also emphasizing the need for community cooperation.

UNITED NEIGHBORS
A lengthy presentation was also made by Di
ane Hill of United Neighbors, in which she encouraged the members of the audience to treat public safety as a "family" activity and encouraged them to consider using the model she's developed for the north part of town.

CERT
There was also a brief, but effective, presentation by the CERT team, encouraging folks to get involved in that program
beginning with their next class in January.

I LEFT THE MEETING WITH A GOOD FEELING
I was left very encouraged by this meeting. The members of the CMPD spoke with authority and friendliness. From what I could tell by observing the audience, I think most of the folks "got it". I was impressed by the number of families in attendance, especially on a school night. I hope Leece uses this one as a model for others as she moves forward addressing neighborhood problems in the heart of the neighborhoods.

DELICIOUS IRONY
Although I avoid talking these days about a guy I've described as Co
sta Mesa's racist laureate - a fellow I call The Mouth From Mesa North. He attended this meeting tonight, after posting an entry on his blog with a link to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement website, just in case any attendees saw anything suspicious and wanted to report it to ICE. For those who know this guy's habits, yes, he was dressed in black and, yes, he sat in the far right rear of the rows of seats. He was there early and, as luck would have it, the seats around him filled up with members of the Latino population - except for one or two empty ones near him. Then, a few minutes into the meeting, three very handsome black people came in and, as luck would have it, sat right next to The Mouth.

GOTTA KNOW HIM...
Now, to fully understand the
irony of this situation, one had to have followed his exploits for awhile. One really needed to know that he's an internationally notorious racist, who claimed a measure of that notoriety when, in one of his many essays decrying the homogenization of the American populace though interracial marriage, he described our populace as becoming a "slimy brown mass of glop". So offensive is his body of work that he uses the admiration of it by former KKK leader, David Duke, as a marketing tool to sell his books! This link to an essay from the Southern Poverty Law Center may give you some perspective. So, viewing him sitting in this elementary school auditorium completely surrounded by blacks and Latinos in this public setting made me smile. That's enough about him - I now have to go wash my hands.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Setting The Record Straight On Park Paving

MY PREVIOUS ENTRY....
In an entry last week, HERE, I mentioned that there might be a move afoot to pave over part of Fairview Park - a section that includes protected vernal pools. I identified that section as being near Estancia High School and the Waldorf School. I mentioned that this issue would be on the Parks and Recreation Commission agenda next week.


NOT ONLY 'NO', BUT...
Tuesday I received a return telephone call from Ernesto Munoz, Interim Pu
blic Services Director for the City of Costa Mesa. He assured me that there is NOT a plan to pave over any portion of Fairview Park, especially segments where protected vernal pools are located. He told me unequivocally that no such item is on the agenda for the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting next Wednesday, November 16th - the final meeting of that organization for the year with the exception of a special joint meeting with members of the Newport Beach staff to discuss replanting the median along Irvine Avenue where the eucalyptus trees were recently removed.

SHRIMP SAF
E
So, there you have it. The San Diego fairy shrimp - apparently the residents of the vernal pools - are safe. Munoz told me that ANY change in Fairview Park is a major undertaking and requires re-opening the Fairview Park Master Plan, which would involve significant public hearings.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Westside Town Hall Tomorrow

JUST A REMINDER FOR YOU
Tomorrow, starting at 7:00 p.m., councilwoman Wendy Leece and Mika Development Corporation will hold a Town Hall at Pomona Elementary School. The specifics of this public outreach event is included on the flier below. To the best of my knowledge, no other member of the City Council plans to attend this event. (Click on the image to make it bigger)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Q & A - Tamar Goldmann To City Council

INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW
A few weeks ago Costa Mesa resident, educator and frequent speaker before the City Council, Tamar Goldmann, addressed the council with a long list of questions dealing with the outsourcing scheme in our city and some that are, in some way, related to that subject. Ms. Goldmann has shared the reply she recently received from Interim Communications Director Bill Lobdell with me and I'll share it with you.

THE QUESTIONS
The following is the list of questions Tamar Goldm
ann submitted to CEO Tom Hatch:
  1. How much of this year's budget--in dollars and by percentage of total budget is estimated to be spent on pensions?
  2. How much of this year's budget--in dollars--is devoted to staying current on the interest accruing on the unfunded pension?
  3. How much of this year's budget (in dollars, in addition to this year's routine pension payment) is going toward reducing the unfunded pension liability?
  4. Has OCEA offered or agreed to a 2-tier retirement system within the last three years?
  5. Have the fire or police department ever offered or agreed to such a plan?
  6. We have been reading about six bargaining groups. Besides OCEA, fire, and police, what are the other three?
  7. Have any of the groups offered to increase their pension contributions?
  8. What other concessions have been made by employees, e.g., furlough days?
  9. Please publish the 100-item list of cost-saving suggestions that employees produced.
  10. Which departments have been reviewed for possible outsourcing within the past four years, and what was the determination for each one?
  11. How many employees have voluntarily left city employment since November 2010?
  12. Which positions have been eliminated, and how have their responsibilities been filled?
  13. What has been spent since November 2010 on rearranging and refurnishing/refurbishing City hall?
  14. What is the running total for outsourcing expenses broken down by

a. Legal fees

b. Management companies: Growthpoint and Management Partners (I'll check the names and get them right)

c. Staff time

THE ANSW
ERS
Last Week L
obdell provided the following response: (Lobdell's replies are shown in blue) He didn't answer all of them, but came close.

  1. How much of this year's budget--in dollars and by percentage of total budget is estimated to be spent on pensions?

14,674,741 - 14% page 64&65 of adopted budget, excluding capital projects.

  1. How much of this year's budget--in dollars--is devoted to staying current on the interest accruing on the unfunded pension?

Unknown at this time, as no analysis has been completed.

  1. How much of this year's budget (in dollars, in addition to this year's routine pension payment) is going toward reducing the unfunded pension liability?

Unknown at this time, as no analysis has been completed.

  1. Has OCEA offered or agreed to a 2-tier retirement system within the last three years?

Technically it is Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. and yes, it did in 2010. However, the plan hasn’t been implemented yet. Details are still being negotiated.

  1. Have the fire or police department ever offered or agreed to such a plan?

Offered yes, but not agreed to.

  1. We have been reading about six bargaining groups. Besides OCEA, fire, and police, what are the other three?

Technically it is Costa Mesa City Employees Assn. not OCEA, but the others are the 3 management groups= Police Managers, Fire Managers, City/Division Managers

  1. Have any of the groups offered to increase their pension contributions?

Yes, in 2010, all groups increased their pension contributions on a temporary basis.

  1. What other concessions have been made by employees, e.g., furlough days?

Most groups took furlough days in 2009 & 2010. CMFA (Fire) reduced their health flex bucket instead of furloughs.

  1. Please publish the 100-item list of cost-saving suggestions that employees produced.

Click here. Suggestions are attached to the end of the report.

  1. Which departments have been reviewed for possible outsourcing within the past four years, and what was the determination for each one?

We have not reviewed an entire department to be outsourced.

  1. How many employees have voluntarily left city employment since November 2010?

FY 09/10

Resigned/Terminated: 9

Retired: 42

FY 10/11

Deceased: 1

Layoff: 27

Resigned/Terminated: 15

Retired: 34

FY 11/12 as of early October

Layoff: 4

Resign: 13

Retired: 5

My total above comes out to 150. It’s not perfect, this is my best estimate within the time frame given. This is for FT authorized positions only. This only takes into account employees who have actually left since July 1, 2009. It does not account for any positions that were vacant prior to July 1, 2009 and subsequently officially eliminated.

  1. Which positions have been eliminated, and how have their responsibilities been filled?

More than 150 positions have been eliminated in the past three fiscal years throughout city government (many are detailed in various council reports that you can get online). Responsibilities have been dispersed to remaining staff and/or services/programs have been cut or reduced.

  1. What has been spent since November 2010 on rearranging and refurnishing/refurbishing City hall?

The City spent $8,000 for carpet in the finance department after a flood in late 2010 or early 2011. We hired some movers to bring the Housing and Community Development Department to the second floor. Nothing major.

  1. What is the running total for outsourcing expenses broken down by

a. Legal fees.

This will take some time. If you’d like the information, please submit a California Public Records Act request.

b. Management companies: Growthpoint and Management Partners (I'll check the names and get them right)

GrowthPoint wasn’t involved in outsourcing. As for Management Partners, to break out the outsourcing will take some time. If you’d like the information, please submit a California Public Records Act request.

c. Staff time

Not quantifiable. We have not specifically kept track; it is a matter of priorities for management.

NOTE: When you go to #9 and click on that link it will take you to the staff report submitted by then-Finance Director Marc Puckett to the City Council for it's meeting of April 14, 2009. At the bottom of that staff report you will find a list of attachments that looks like this: (This is an image, not a live link. Go to the link above)

The list of questions Ms. Goldmann refers to will be found in attachments 3, 4 and 5. In fact, the entire list of attachments provides an excellent reminder of how things were in our City two years ago. Take some time and review the charts.

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More Red Meat For Pension Reformers

THE REGISTER'S BURIED PENSION TREASURE
Sunday's Orange County Register was a treasure trove for those among us who believe drastic action must be taken to reform pensions in California.


GREENHUT ON BROWN'S PENSION PROPOSALS
Steven Greenhut, editor of www.calwatchdog.com, presents us with a
commentary on the editorial pages titled "Odds against Jerry on pensions", HERE, that addresses Governor Jerry Brown's recently announced pension reform proposal. While I'm not going to try to steal his thunder - you can read his words at the link above - suffice it to say that he doesn't think Brown's proposals have chance of passing. This paragraph probably says it all, "But the plan probably is dead on arrival in the union-dominated Legislature. One might even argue that Brown is being cynical here - offering reasonably tough reform proposals that he knows will go nowhere. Then he can claim that he has tried to fix the problem but could not surmount the insurmountable." Enjoy your read.

OC WATCHDOG HITS US AGAIN
Then, OC Watchdog columnist Teri Sforza presents us with her most recent update on the "$100,000 Dollar Club" - those Californians currently raking in $100,000 or more in pensions. Her column, "$100,000 pension club explodes", HERE, is designed to startle you - it will. For example, she tells us that, between 2005 and 2011 the number of people receiving CalPERS pensions in California rose by 10,358 - a 563% increase!

STARTLING NUMBERS

And, although s
he provides us with the "top ten" - those folks receiving almost unbelievable pensions - Sforza also tells us that the average CalPERS pensioner receives $27,564 and that those in the "$100,000 Club", 12,199 pensioners, represent only 2.3% of the total 536,234 retirees. Still, the numbers rock you back.

MORE RED MEAT

So, I suspect Tuesday's Costa Mesa City Council closed session meeting - which will discuss labor negotiations - will likely include some of these numbers. And, if I were a betting guy, I suspect that they will be presented out of context.

PENSIONS ARE A PROBLEM

Let me be clea
r about one thing. I've heard all the public presentations by "pension experts" and I've heard the self-serving comments by members of the Costa Mesa City Council over the past couple years. I've had conversations and correspondence with members of the employee organizations on the subject and have heard scores of speakers address this issue before the City Council. There is NO doubt in my mind that our current pensions situation has our city in a tough spot. The word "unsustainable" keeps being tossed around and, much as I'd like to throw it right back in the faces of those who use it as an oratorical cudgel, I can't. I believe that something MUST be done to address the ongoing costs of our public employee pensions and that "something" is likely a two-tier system, combined with an increased participation in the costs by employees.

TWO-TIER NOT A QUICK FIX
However, those "pension experts" all
agree that if we started tomorrow to offer a reduced pension benefit to new hires, it will not significantly affect our pension costs for years - probably decades. And thereby lies the problem we face. We have folks on our City Council - Jim Righeimer in particular - who campaigned as a "pension reformer", but finds himself in a boat without a paddle. He can't do anything about the pensions because the legally consummated contracts will be in effect until after his term of office expires - unless he gets recalled even sooner.

HEAV
Y-HANDEDNESS LED TO LAWSUIT
Righeimer's solution - ratified by the majority on the City Council - is to g
et rid of the employees who are earning those pensions and the "tool" being used is the now-infamous "outsourcing" scheme. And, in their haste to impose this draconian measure, the council forgot the rules, which has resulted in a law suit filed by employees to protect their rights. In response to this situation the City has hired an expensive mercenary - renowned labor lawyer Richard Kreisler, who has a track record of "dealing" with these kinds of issues - to bring some horsepower to the negotiations. He will bill the City $300 per hour - with no cap - to "deal" with this lawsuit.

PAST COR
DIAL RELATIONSHIPS GONE
In years past the relationship between the management of the City and the employee bargaining units has been cordial, right up to and including the most recent difficult years 2008-2010, when the individual units stepped up when asked and tried to find ways to help the City over the dire financial problems it faced. Nobody held a gun to anyone's head - both parties agreed on the contracts and side letters signed at the time. Today, it is my impression that the bargaining units have so little trust in the folks currently running the City that they are very apprehensive about opening discussions at all. We KNOW the City Council doesn't trust the employees because CEO Tom Hatch told them that at a meeting earlier this year with members of the police department staff.

DON'T SEE ANY LIGHT YET

I'd like to find some light at the end of this very, very dark tunnel, but I'm not sure where it will come from. As long as this City Council perpetuates the adversarial relationship - un
til trust is restored on both sides - I just don't see how the employees can feel safe attempting to try to work things out. Maybe I'm wrong - I hope so. I hope wisdom and trust will prevail - and soon.

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