Another Frustrating Marathon Meeting
As I've said many times before, when the Costa Mesa City Council keeps on talking after midnight nothing good comes from it. Last night was no exception. When the final item was completed I dragged my old body out of my chair at 12:40 a.m. and headed home - exhausted! Even after the controversial change in the appeal process was dropped and the equally controversial bicycle ordinance was removed at the last minute and re-scheduled for two weeks hence, it was a long, long meeting.
BORA AND LONG NAMED EMPLOYEES OF THE MONTH
At their council meeting last night they arrived late - a longer-than-anticipated Closed Session delayed them - it took them a few minutes to get into the meat of the meeting. The Presentations segment included Dane Bora and Brad Long of Costa Mesa Television being named Employees of the Month, and rightfully so. Those two hard-working guys put a positive face on Costa Mesa with their professionalism, good spirit and quality product. They are creative, reliable and excellent ambassadors for our city. Now, if we could just get them some good equipment - that hamster's getting tired!
CANDIDATES ON DISPLAY
One interesting element of the meeting last night was the fact that, in addition to two council members who are running for election in November - Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan - the audience also included many of the announced candidates, too. Sue Lester, Marshall Krupp, Harold Weitzberg, John Stephens and Sandy Genis all attended and each spoke on important issues - in some cases, many issues. At one point Monahan angrily chided some of them for "politicizing" issues and told them to leave that for the campaign trail and not in council chambers - then turned around and did precisely the same thing. Politics... ya gotta love it!
CINDY SETS THEM STRAIGHT!
They finally got around to Public Comments at 6:30 and that stretched until 7:30, as 21 people rose to speak their piece - or tried to. Mayor Eric Bever had another hissy fit and tried to stop a speaker because he thought what he said wasn't relevant. The final speaker, Cindy Brenneman, set him straight, though. She told him and the rest of the council that they should just let the speakers say their piece and not have to have the last word. Several members of the council constantly toss comments at speakers as they leave the podium - Bever is one of the worst offenders. Brenneman told them to just stop it, then turned to depart. Bever - in a perfect example of the problem - muttered something like, "I guess we'll hear about the Solar System at the next meeting." All that was missing was a drum rim shot! The crowd cheered.
PRAISE FOR I-405 POSITION
Many of the speakers heaped high praise on the council for their courageous and strong stance against Alternative #3 in the OCTA plan for widening the I-405 Freeway, and correctly so. For them to take such a strong position against the favored option may cost us down the road in our relationship with the OCTA.
Perhaps the highlight of Public Comments - until Brenneman lit into the council at the end, that is - may have been long-time resident Terry Koken's little story about his friend, Raja and his difficulties with the English language. It was all a segue to announce the formation of "Politicians For Irresponsible Government" - P.I.G.! He gave the council this sheet in honor of their induction into the organizations. Smiles filled the auditorium. Little did we know that the subsequent events that evening would validate this "honor". (Click on image to enlarge)
RIGHEIMER SETS THE TONE
Before we even got to the real meat of the evening, during Council Member Comments, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer got off one of many lines last night that still ring in my ears this morning. Speaking of the announcement of much lower returns than expected by CalPERS said, "We need to start off-loading employees that have these pensions that are unsustainable." It's like he was in the melon business, deciding to dump a crop before it begins to rot! That set the tone for the evening.
TAMAR'S INADVERTENT WISDOM
In an evening of memorable moments, resident Tamar Goldmann may have delivered one of the best by accident. While chiding the council for out-of-control legal expenditures - we paid Jones and Mayer more than $111,000 last month - she was talking about using "in-house" attorneys and inadvertently referred to our contract attorneys as "outhouse" attorneys. Guffaws erupted throughout the chambers as she realized her malapropism, chuckled, then recovered her train of thought. More than a few of us thought she might be onto something...
SHUFFLING THE CONSENT CALENDAR DECK
It was well after 8:00 p.m. before they even got to the Consent Calendar, those items that are expected to be voted upon in one vote. Not last night. Only 3 of the eight items on the Consent Calendar went without discussion. They sifted through the issues and shoved #5 - the Banning Ranch Traffic Mitigation issue - out until the end, figuring it might take awhile. Boy, were they right!
PAYING POLICE RESERVES MORE
However, #8, the proposal to raise the pay level of Reserve Police Officers to $33.00 per hour, generated more heat than light. Nine speakers addressed this issue, including a couple council candidates who accused the current council of using this scheme to dismantle the CMPD. Of course, those comments generated angry comments from the council. In fact, Gary Monahan went ballistic at the end - a rant worth watching. Righeimer got off a couple more memorable comments. He said, "The police have never been told no once in their life." He then emphasized his philosophy by saying, "This council will not have more officers with the pension plan we have today." It was at that point that he accused commenters of "politicizing" the issue. The issue passed, 5-0. You can read Joe Serna's Daily Pilot piece HERE.
MORE RULES VIOLATIONS?
An interesting sidebar on that discussion - Righeimer may have violated the rules for Closed Sessions when he told the audience about the offer the City had on the table in very specific terms. Negotiations are supposed to be private between the two parties. We'll see how that shakes out.
35-1 AGAINST BANNING RANCH FEES
Finally, at 9:15, they got to the final item on the Consent Calendar - #5, the Traffic Mitigation Fee for the Banning Ranch. You can read Thy Vo's piece in the Orange County Register, HERE. There were still well over 100 people in the auditorium at that time. After a brief description of the issue by Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman, the parade to the speaker's podium began. When it stopped more than 90 minutes later 36 people had spoken - only one in favor of accepting the fee. That was restaurateur John Ursini, a terrific guy whose family owns the Newport Rib Company and is a huge supporter of municipal issues, primarily youth sports-related events. Based on his comments, I'm not sure he really understood what the actual issue was last night.
MORE BEVER BONEHEADEDNESS
Speakers from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach clogged the lines in the aisles at the sides of the auditorium. That's Bever's edict. No more calling folks up to speak based on their completion of speaker's cards. Nope, if you're going to speak in Eric's court, er, meeting, you just have to drag yourself to a line and wait your turn - like prisoners in a chow line. And, he demands that you wait until he acknowledges your existence before speaking. And, since he doesn't require speaker cards to be completed and didn't require speakers to identify themselves, the minutes are laced with misspelled speaker names. This is yet another curious facet of the Bever regime. He's a fanatic about the accuracy of the minutes of meetings, sending them back time after time for revisions, and yet he institutionalizes failure by his actions. But I digress...
KOKEN AND RIDGE
The speakers ranged from concerned to emotional to frustrated to angry to downright mad. The aforementioned Terry Koken, for example, got the council's attention by slamming a slab of wood with a wrench, making a loud "crack", then proceeded to read them the riot act with his personal volume turned to HIGH. Greg Ridge told the council it was too soon for this deal and used a Winston Churchill story to imply that we, the city, were prostitutes who had just negotiated our "price".
Several speakers carried the theme that it was too soon for this deal because the project had not yet been approved in Newport Beach or by the Coastal Commission. Every council candidate present addressed this issue, including lawyer John Stephens who pointed out deficiencies in the agreement and advised the council NOT to approve it. Robin Leffler told the council this was a good deal - for Newport Beach and the developer. Newport resident Jim Mosher pointed out what a bad deal it was for Costa Mesa by describing the kind of arrangements being made in Newport.
FEE ACCEPTED - BEVER, "GO HOME"
Finally, after much discussion by the council and staff, just before 11:00 p.m. the council voted, 4-1 - Leece voted NO - to accept the fee agreement, but to clean up some of the "mistakes" and add a CPI escalator in it. As the crowd filed out, many of them loudly calling for a recall, Bever was heard to mutter, "Go home!" Ever the class act. And now we had the rest of the agenda ahead of us and it was almost Wednesday!
The only Public Hearing item went fast and was completed at 11:15 with staff directed to work with two of the folks present to sort out the apparent differences with the fines involved.
PERFORMANCE AUDIT TO RETURN IN AUGUST
New Business #1, the issue of the "performance audit" requested by Mensinger some time ago, probably should have been an item for a Study Session. That's how this discussion went, with Assistant City Manager Rick Francis fielding the questions and guiding the discussion. The issue will be "tightened up" and returned for further consideration the first meeting of August.
The issue of providing fee waivers for certain "Green" issues - solar systems and charging stations for electric vehicles - went smoothly but Bever said he couldn't support waiving fees in a time of fiscal distress. They accepted the staff recommendation, selecting the alternative that provided for a 50% fee waiver but extended the program through the end of the next fiscal year instead of December. Bever vote NO, citing his unwillingness to waive fees in these difficult financial times. (Remember that at the end of this post)
Next up was the Request for Proposals for the Telecommunications Technical Services for Emergency Equipment. This should have been pretty straightforward, but it ended up being bizarre. The staff recommended rejecting the RFP response as insufficient and to pursue shared coverage with other agencies. Apparently, with the departure of a staff member to Tustin recently, we have only one person qualified to install the plethora of emergency electronics in our vehicles. According to Lieutenant Bryan Glass we're looking for a replacement for him now. After much discussion, Righeimer moved that the RFP response be rejected, that we continue to seek other municipal partners for this service and to maintain the layoff notice. Part of the staff report was to rescind the layoff notice. The motion was later amended to instruct staff to seek a replacement for the departed staff member. So, we have one guy doing this work, we need to have him continue to do it, we are not going to outsource the job but Righeimer demanded that the layoff notice remained in place! The vote was 4-1 with Monahan voting NO.
A WEIRD MOVE...
Think that was strange? Even stranger was the fact that Bever, noticing the clock had struck midnight during the middle of the discussion, called for a vote to either continue or not. The vote was 4-1 to continue - Bever voted NO. So, he was apparently all set to cease the discussion midstream, forgo the discussion of the business license tax - which has a tight time line - and go home! Unbelievable!
IT GETS WORSE!
The final item on the agenda - which began at 12:05 - was the continued discussion of the proposal to place an increase in the Business License Tax on the November ballot for the voters to continue. This fee structure - which has not been significantly changed since 1985 - was actually implemented in 1961. Only the fee levels were tinkered with during that two-dozen year period and NOTHING has been done since.
SQUANDERING STAFF TIME
Righeimer had sent Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young back to the drawing board after a previous meeting to come up with a plan similar to that used in Newport Beach, where their tax is based on employee headcount. There was insufficient time for that to happen, so the staff recommended that the item be removed from the track to put it on the November ballot and that they gather the data to provide a proper report so the council can make an informed decision. That sounded logical, but in the alternate universe that Righeimer operates in, that was not to be.
PLUCKING NUMBERS FROM THE AIR
He insisted that Young just pull numbers out of the air - call a couple companies, get some numbers and base a staff report on that. This is another of his Fire-Ready-Aim moves that always bites us in the posterior. He said we need to get this on the ballot in November, so the discussion went round and round.
Finally, at 12:30, we got an inkling of the real truth of this issue. One of the final speakers on this long, long night was former Planning Department executive Perry Valantine. During his comments he asked if any of the council members had signed a pledge against any new taxes. If so, then they'd already made their decision before hearing any of the discussions and the public has a right to know that. He received no response, but the issue became clear in a few minutes
THE PUNCH IN THE GUT
Mensinger said he'd rather see us focus on collecting the taxes already due from folks who don't pay them and the handwriting - graffiti, in this case - was clearly on the wall. Monahan continued by saying, "I have no interest in moving forward with this - never really have." He went on to list the taxes which he, as a businessman, paid. He looked over at Righeimer and said, "Sorry, Jim, but I wouldn't be supporting this no matter which one of the proposals you bring forward." You got the impression that he really wasn't sorry. Bever chimed in and said, "Thanks for sharing that, member Monahan, I feel the same way. There you have it, Mr. Hatch. No special meeting necessary." And with that he adjourned the meeting!
A QUIET DEATH
And, as jaws dropped among the remaining few attendees, we all realized that we'd been snookered all along. Since it takes 4 votes to place an item on the ballot, this item died a quick death - as though someone had deftly and quietly slit its throat.
As a taxpayer and a resident of this city for nearly four decades, I'm really steamed about this. Your city council - driven by the agenda of the Orange County Republican Party and its "no new taxes" mantra - has chosen to forgo picking up gold nuggets in the bottom of the stream to please their political masters. When not one of the council members responded to Valantine's inquiry we suspected what was about to happen. When there was not a single member of the business community present for this meeting after Chamber of Commerce President Larry Weichman promised a packed house last week, I knew something was up. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this wasn't just orchestrated purely for the theatrics of it.
ABUSE OF POWER
This is the most egregious abuse of power I've seen since the Charter fiasco began. Our city has been described by Righeimer and his minions like Colin McCarthy as being in dire financial condition - tottering toward bankruptcy - and this council refuses to give the voters of this city a chance to help steer it back on course by demanding a change in the way business license taxes are calculated, knowing full well the staff couldn't pull together the numbers. And also knowing full well that they didn't have the votes anyhow.
A SIMPLE SOLUTION
This could have been simple. They didn't have to demand hundreds of staff hours be used, and many consultant dollars spent, to come up with an elaborate formula. The current structure has a maximum business license tax of $200. Each year we receive around $800,000 from this revenue source. If the structure was just quadrupled across the board - with a maximum of $800 - the city could have received revenue of $3.2 million! That's enough to fill a lot of potholes and hire more police and firefighters to keep us safe. Or, to apply to that unfunded pension liability they keep yapping about. I doubt you could find a single businessman in the city who would seriously balk at that change.
SHAME ON THEM
This meeting, with the incivility displayed by Bever and the dishonesty by the other council members on this particular issue and their unwillingness to seriously negotiate the pressing labor issues based purely on political dogma, may be the low water mark for such meetings in my personal memory. I'm ashamed of them. Only Wendy Leece seems to be trying to serve the people of this city - the others serve a different master.
ONE LAST THING...
Several folks have told me they heard Bever mutter the words "That's Bulls**t" during the meeting. Between phone calls and my attempt to finally get this posted I've not been able to find it. Let's have a contest to see who can find that point in the meeting. First person with the answer - and specific site on the web feed - gets to say something nasty about Bever here. WE HAVE A WINNER! CONGRATS TO READER JERRY GARCIA OF COSTA MESA WHO FOUND THE CLIP. TURN YOUR VOLUME UP, LISTEN CLOSELY AT ABOUT 10 SECONDS IN.