Bever's Legacy? Hushed Community Voices
The Costa Mesa City Council will hold a regularly-scheduled meeting Tuesday, July 17, 2012 in Council Chambers at City Hall beginning at 6:30 p.m. It will be preceded by a Closed Session at 5:00. You can read the entire agenda, including the details of the Closed Session, HERE.
Under ordinary circumstances I'd try to just wade through the agenda, giving you links as they appear in order and offering my observations. Today there is an issue on the agenda near the end that requires star billing. This is New Business #4, Mayor Eric Bever's attempt to quash the appeal process that has served this community well for decades. You can read that staff report HERE.
Presently, if a party presents an issue before the Planning Commission or the Parks and Recreation Commission and is rejected it can be appealed to the City Council within 7 days. That happens one of two ways - the appellant pays the fees (perhaps several hundred dollars) and files the appeal. Or, the appellant could receive assistance from ONE council member, who would - using his or her authority - bring the item before the council for its consideration and no fees would be charged.
However, Bever doesn't like that very much. He apparently thinks that Wendy Leece - you know, that council member who represents ALL the people of this city - abuses that authority, so he wants to cut her off at the knees and change the municipal ordinance to require TWO council members to approve such an appeal. And, since she has virtually NO support from the four male members of the council, that means that those folks who find a need to appeal an issue will have to pay MORE money to do so.
So, Joe Blow who has already spent several thousands of dollars on plans and fees to renovate his Westside home, but has it rejected by the Planning Commission, will now have to find TWO sympathetic council members or end up paying even more money to appeal the decision.
In addition to this being a flat-out slap at Leece personally, it creates a process with almost guaranteed Brown Act violations built-in. Say, for example, Joe Blow contacts Bever about an appeal. Bever agrees, then makes contact with Jim Righeimer seeking his "second", who declines. If Bever then contacts Gary Monahan on this issue we have an automatic Brown Act violation - a "serial conversation" on an issue that will come before them.
BEVER SHOULD ABANDON THIS
This is an unnecessary, capricious and mean-spirited move that certainly will not serve the public well. Whether Bever "signed up for this" or not, he should withdraw it from the agenda and chalk it up as just another of his many boneheaded moves. He should find another issue to be his legacy - not quashed public participation.
Now, on to the rest of the agenda for Tuesday.
The aforementioned Closed Session has three items on it - labor negotiations, conference with legal council in anticipation of significant litigation (sound familiar) and a request by a Public Employee for a special leave of absence. We'll never know about this stuff until it actually hits the fan.
As always, the Consent Calendar is filled with little goodies just waiting to be discovered. These items are theoretically things that can be voted upon in one vote, without separate discussion. Lately, though, many items have been pulled by council members and members of the public for separate discussion, explanation and vote.
For example, there are two more Warrants on this agenda, #2428 and #2429. Click on those numbers to read them, if you wish. #2428 contains a couple interesting legal payments. One, to our contract City Attorney firm, Jones and Mayer, is for $111,170.64, which means we've spent more than $775,000 on that legal firm alone in the last fiscal year - with another month to go. There's also a payment of $14,425.49 to Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which means we've paid them more than $46,000 since March, when they began "helping" us with labor negotiations. On #2429 there's a very interesting entry - a payment of $25,000 to Talon Executive Services for "IT Consulting". I sure wonder what that was all about and whether the recent departure of former IT Manager Rick Kirkbride, whose position was canceled as part of the recent budget approval process, was somehow involved.
Down at #5 is an interesting item - Traffic Mitigation Agreement with Newport Banning Ranch, LLC. As you read the staff report, HERE, you'll see that this is an agreement that facilitates The City of Costa Mesa being paid more than $4 million by the proposed developers to mitigate traffic impacts on our city as the project is built. Funny, you'd have thought somebody on the council might want to let the voters know that they were looking out for their interests in this election year. Late tonight, Saturday, the folks at the Banning Ranch Conservancy fired off a misleading email about this item, neglecting to mention that the City of Costa Mesa has NO authority to interfere with this project and that the agreement, if signed, provides for funding of improvements necessary to handle the 15,000 cars per day that are expected to pour onto Costa Mesa streets.
INCREASING RESERVE POLICE OFFICER PAY
The final item on the Consent Calendar, #8, is a resolution to raise the pay of Police Reserve Officers. You can read about it HERE. Part of the scheme by this council majority is to more fully staff the Costa Mesa Police Department with Reserve Officers - those who don't get any benefits, including those nasty pensions. To do so they've decided to raise the hourly rate by just under $6.00 per hour, to $33.00 per hour.
There is only one public hearing scheduled, a resolution certifying special assessments for collection of delinquent civil fines for municipal code violations. The staff report, HERE, includes a list of all those violators who will have action taken against them for non-compliance.
NEW BICYCLE ORDINANCE
The only Old Business item is the second reading of the new ordinance against locking up your bicycles to posts, poles and any other "non-bike rack" fixture, and it outlines the fees that will be charged, HERE. I scoured the ordinance and didn't find anything about the disposition of impounded bikes that are not claimed. One must assume that, after a specified period of time, those bikes would be disposed of - auctioned off or crushed as scrap. This item, which was initiated to discourage homeless folks from leaving their bicycles chained to fixtures all over town, but particularly in Lions Park, will very likely become an unpleasant fact of life for those who ride their bikes to public parks - where there are woefully insufficient bike racks - and to other public and private locations that also lack the approved devices for securing their bikes. It feels pretty heavy-handed to me, particularly in a city that appears to be trying to encourage bicycle use.
ANNUAL PERFORMANCE AUDIT
There are 5 items under New Business. I've already dispatched with #4, Bever's bonehead move, above. Item #1 Steve Mensinger's scheme to have an annual performance audit. This item, HERE, describes how that should work.
Item #2 is a plan to waive fees for a "Go Green Program", for solar systems and electric automobile charging sites. You can read about it HERE.
Item #3 is the Request for Proposals for the Telecommunication Technical Services. The staff report, HERE, recommends simply receiving and filing and continue to attempt to partner-up with another municipality. We'll see how that goes Tuesday.
BUSINESS LICENSE TAX
The final item on the agenda is the discussion of possibly placing an increase in the Business License Tax on the November ballot. You can read the staff report HERE. As almost everyone who pays the slightest bit of attention knows, Costa Mesa has an abysmally low Business License Tax, ranging from "0" to $200 dollars for the maximum charge. To say this is "business friendly" is beyond laughable. Our tax, which brings in about $850,000 annually, has not changed since 1985, for goodness sake.
NOT ENOUGH DISCUSSION PREVIOUSLY...
The original staff report at the study session last week had a couple proposals, designed as starting places for discussion. However, the council - apparently pre-occupied with the Charter Public Hearing that immediately followed the study session - didn't take the bait. Instead of tinkering with the numbers Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young presented them, they sent the Finance staff back to the drawing boards. One of the proposals put a minimum amount of $50.00 per year and stretched all the way to $10,000 per year and would have theoretically generated a potential INCREASE in revenue of $2.7 million. Those numbers were too severe for the council. The council could have simply said to double or triple the existing fee structure - I seriously doubt ANY business owner would have balked.
The staff report includes a very thorough analysis prepared by a consulting firm. However, the staff did NOT have time to do what Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer asked them to do - return Tuesday with a proposal to calculate our Business License Tax on a per-employee basis, as Newport Beach does. The staff suggests that if the council isn't able to arrive at a good solution with the data available to them right now, then perhaps the thought of putting this issue on the November ballot should be abandoned so a more thorough study can be done between now and 2014 - the next time it could be placed on the ballot. Actually, that would take those lock-step "NO TAX" lemmings off the hook. They can tell their handlers at the OC GOP that they didn't propose any new taxes, and - for the voters - blame it on insufficient staff work. It will be the staff's fault that we don't have more revenue. Ya gotta love it.
COULD BE A LONG NIGHT - AGAIN
Tuesday promises to be a long, and potentially raucous meeting. Business leaders have said they will fill the house with unhappy business owners to address the Business License Tax issue. Hope they bring a pillow, since it's the final item on the agenda. We'll attend and report back next week.