Friday, February 03, 2012

Costa Mesa Meeting Schedule For February

MEETINGS FOR FEBRUARY
It took some arm-wrestling this week, but the City of Costa Mesa finally got ALL the meetings scheduled for the remainder of the month posted on the web site. Here's the list just as it appears:




COUNCIL MEETING TUESDAY

I'll write more about the February 7th council meeting in a separate post over the weekend.

IN THIS CORNER...

On the 9th you'll note the TeWinkle Sports Complex Task Force is meeting in the Emergency Operations Center at the Police He
adquarters. I'm eager to attend that one and see just what's happening with that VERY controversial plan. Rumor has it that there is bad blood between some members and the vendor selected to provide input.

ANOTHER SHOT AT RIGHEIMER'S CHARTER

On Monday, the 13th the council will hold the second and FINAL public hearing on Jim Righeimer's Charter scheme. At that time it is assumed that the final version of the Charter will be drafted. The final vote will be taken at the council meeting on March 6th.

HOMELESS TASK FORCE AND BUDGET REVIEW

Rounding out the month will be a special study session
at which, if previous notes about the agenda hold up, the council will finally receive the report from the Costa Mesa Homeless Task Force. This meeting will also include the Mid-year Budget Review, which should provide plenty of good information.

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY
So, plan your schedule for the month... it's going to be a busy one again.

*****

MY PICK FOR SUNDAY...
Oh, yes.... in case you're not going to watch the taped replay of the last Study Session Sunday afternoon and will watch that "little" football game instead.... Giants 31, Patriots 24. (Eat your heart out, Jimmy Fitzy!)

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Davis Field Improvements Dedication


A GREAT DAY FOR A SPECIAL EVENT
At the end of a bright, sunny day today a handful of residents and a gaggle of officials and city staff sat on chairs placed in the perfectly manicured infield of the beautifully refurbished Luke Davis Field at Lions Park to enjoy the dedication ceremony. The sun had dropped behind the bleachers, so we each experienced an occasional shiver, but the chill didn't dampen the enthusiasm for this wonderful facility.

START TIME CONF
USION
I arrived early to beat the crowd. Because someone communicated a start time of 4:30 and the event actually began at 5:00 I had time to w
ander around the facility and admire the pristine condition and the new amenities. I also had a chance to observe the 40 or so homeless people congregating in Lions Park adjacent to the field. From my vantage point they all looked surprisingly young, but then, everyone looks young to me these days.

ERNESTO IN CHARGE
Public Services Interim Director Ernesto Munoz was the master of ceremonies and he, appropriately, stood on the pitcher's mound, welcomed the crowd and acknowledged the dignitaries present. He also gave credit to previous councils for their tenacity that permitted the now-defunct Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency to spend $520,000 on these improvements - all of which were covered in my earlier post.

RIGHEIMER'S GOPHER BALL
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer spoke, as did councilman Steve Mensin
ger. Council members Eric Bever and Wendy Leece were not present and neither was Mayor Gary Monahan. Leece was on her way home from her youngest daughter's graduation from Marine boot camp. We assume Monahan was pulling beer taps at his pub a half-mile away and it's anybody's guess where Bever was. At the end of the brief ceremony Righeimer actually attempted, twice, to throw out the proverbial "first ball". He shanked the first toss, but actually came close to home plate with the second. I was going to suggest we draft one of the young girls in the audience as a relief pitcher if he continued to have trouble.

IT LOOKS BRAND NEW...

This facility - I almost wrote "new" facility - because it looks like it was started from scratch although it is actually almost four decades old, is truly a gem. The new fences and netting are great and the grass, both in the infield and beyond, is in perfect shape. I agree with Mensinger and Righeimer - I doubt you can find a finer baseball field in Orange County. And, the state-of-the-art lighting system permits using only those lights necessary for the game being played. The infield lights, for example, can be snuffed if a soccer game is played in the outfield.

EASY TO BE PROUD

It's easy to be proud of this city when you see this kind of a facility - the results of years of planning by staff and councils. Kudos to everyone involved over the years. As I read the plaque on the front of the facility listing the names of the council members at the original dedication - Mayor Alvin Pinkley, Vice Mayor Jack Hammett, and council members Robert Wilson, Dom Raciti and Norma Hertzog - I had the feeling that they all would be VERY proud of these improvements. I was surprised that Hammett was not present today.

WHAT ABOUT THE FISH FRY?
As I stood there, listening to
the folks speak and admiring the facility I found myself wondering about the future of the Lions Club Fish Fry - a tradition in our city for 65 years. Clearly, the carnival rides previously located on Davis Field will not be permitted to defile this pristine facility now. I guess that's a story for another time.

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En"light"enment And Replays


DAVIS FIELD IMPROVEMENTS DEDICATED TODAY
This afternoon, at 4:30 p.m., the City of Costa Mesa will dedicate the new, $520,000 improvements at Davis Field, adjacent to Lions Park.

REDEVELOPMENT
AGENCY FUNDS USED
According to the press release, funds from the now-defunct Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency were used for those improvements, which include:
  • A new energy-saving state-of-the-art lighting system
  • The ability to turn lights on/off individually or as groups by phone or online
  • Capability to be used as either baseball or soccer fields
  • New vinyl-coated perimeter fencing
  • New 50-foot high baseball netting along the firs and third base lines
The public is invited to this dedication ceremony.


*****

REPLAY SCHEDULE FOR THE LAST STUDY SESSION
You will recall my recent post discussing the January 31, 2012 council study session that dealt with financial planning for this city. That meeting, attended by very few of your neighbors, was both illuminating and frustrating because it demonstrated the true intent of the current council majority.

WATCH THE REPLAY!
Because this issue is so important to the future of this city, I highly recommend that residents take the opportunity provided by CMTV to view the replays on television or via the streaming video at the city web site.

STREAMING VIDEO
The streaming video can be viewed HERE.

TELEVISED REPLAYS

The replays on CMTV, Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) or Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse) will follow the schedule listed below. You non-football fans will note that one of the replays is scheduled for 4 p.m. this Sunday - the same time the Super Bowl will be televised.

THANKS TO DANE AND BRAD
Thanks to our award-winning team at CMTV, Dane Bora and Brad Long, for continuing to provide important information to the residents of this city.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Return Of Dr. Barbot

DR. ROBERT BARBOT NAMED INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT
In a press release early this evening the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, through its Director of Communications, Laura Boss, announced that Dr. Robert Barbot will return to the district as interim superintendent. He replaces disgraced convicted felon, Dr. Jeffrey Hubbard, who was fired a week ago following his conviction on two felony charges involving crimes committed while the superintendent of the Beverly Hills School District.

SECOND TIME AROUND
Dr. Barbot, who served the district for eight years before retiring in June, 2006, will begin his new role sometime between February 23rd and March 5th. His contract will continue until July 31, 2012.

WILL HEAD THE REPLACEMENT SEARCH
According to the press release, Barbot's duties will include conducting a nationwide sear
ch for a new permanent superintendent for the district. Although the details of the contract are still being worked out, we are told that he will receive $960 per day plus a housing allowance - Barbot lives in northern California - during his tour as interim superintendent. If you only count "work days", that means he will receive well over $100,000 plus the housing allowance for this period of service. Since he was a highly-respected leader during his previous tour, it sounds like a bargain to me. His presence should be a calming influence on the district at a time when that kind of leadership is needed.

HOPING FOR A DIFFERENT RESULT
I don't know if Dr. Barbot was involved in the search that resulted in Hubbard's selection as his replacement. If so, I hope he and those with whom he will be collaborating on this new search will step back and evaluate that process to be sure the results are better this time around.

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Fears Manifested... (Amended)***

DON'T BLINK...
I'll give them this much. This current council majority never ceases to surprise me. I have learned, though, that it's always worth the wait if you stick around until the very end of any meeting because something VERY important is going to be said by one of them. Usually, as was the case last night, it was by Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer. You can watch the entire proceeding on the streaming video feed HERE.

A QUORUM,
BARELY
The special study session held in council chambers began shortly after 4:30 and we
nt nearly twice as long as anticipated. It finally was adjourned at a little after 8:00 p.m. Mayor Gary Monahan never made it to the meeting, but Eric Bever did. He's batting .500 for meetings this year so far. Wendy Leece bailed out half-way through the meeting, heading for the red-eye flight east to attend her daughter's graduation from Marine boot camp, leaving a quorum of Righeimer, Bever and non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger to flesh out the most important part of the meeting.

SMALL CROWD
Approximately 30 people were in attendance, about half of which were staff. Several of the "usual suspects", concerned residents who actually take the time to study the issues and address them with the council, stepped up to offer suggestions. One particularly grumpy old fella with a prison release haircut - a guy who operates a blog in town - left after speaking to the council during public comments, apparently feeling that there would be nothing else important to be heard. The remainder of us residents stuck around for most of the meeting, but there were only a half-dozen left at the end. The rest missed the punchline. (See below)

RECORD OF ACCOUNTABILITY
The first half of the meeting was taken up by Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young's presentation of the draft Financial and Budget Policies Document. The staff report is HERE. Young made it clear that the creation of this document was to provide a "record of accountability" as the city moved forward.

SO MANY NUMBERS
The subsequent discu
ssion wrestled with various fund balance issues and how to plan for essential capital improvements. Since this is only a study session and the council can only give direction to staff, few "hard" numbers were agreed upon. The staff will take the data provided and cobble together a final version of this document, including the specific numbers, for the council to approve at a near-future meeting.

FIVE-YEAR PLAN
Then they tackled the second, and most interesting, segment, the Five Year Financial Forecast and Capita
l Reinvestment Strategy. You can read that staff report HERE. This is when my worst fears about these guys were clearly demonstrated.

RIGHEIMER AT THE HELM
Righeimer continued to run the meeting - Monahan's absence put him in charge - and he clearly had his own ideas about what the outcome was going to be.



FRUSTRATED BY "
UNKNOWNS"
Much time was spent discussing the fact that some "assumptions" must be made to work through the 5-year planning process. This was obviously very frustrating for some of them, Mensinger in particular. He wanted hard numbers when it is, literally, impossible to provide them. There are too many unknowns - revenues, for example, tend to fluctuate over a 5-year span. And, of course, we have the element of the employee contracts, each of which will come up for renewal during this period.

PULLING NUMBERS FROM THE A
IR
Finally, they tried to navigate through Attachment #2, which was a spread sheet showing 22 separate line items with some projected numbers included for the next five fiscal years. This was a fascinating exercise because they just pulled numbers out of the air to fill in some of the blanks and, in the process, added tens of millions of dollars to the eventual totals on that sheet. This is very important to know, as you will soon see.

GO FOR IT ALL
As they moved through this process I could see the scenario unfol
ding. For example, following on with Righeimer's suggestion that, in the case of employee pension contributions, because we really don't know what kind of pension contribution will be in place following the next contract expiration, we shouldn't assume any number, Mensinger said: "I think what Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer is saying is if we're going to show it, and we don't know what's going to happen, then let's just show the maximum as opposed to what it is. 'Cause, let's assume the best. If we're going to look at the goodness of the hearts in the negotiation process, let's make sure we look at the maximum." That "goodness of the hearts" crack was clearly a stab at the employees, implying that they might not negotiate in good faith and pay the maximum permitted by CalPERS, and would then have a number "imposed" on them.

RIGHEIMER DELIVERS THE PUNCH LINE
So, after orchestrating the addition of tens of millions of dollars to the five-year plan, Righeimer wrapped up this segment with the following statement: (quoted verbatim)
"We've got a pension cost that's about 18 million a year about 3 million, or two and half million, picked up by employees. The goal that Governor Brown talks about is to get 50% of that paid for by employees. And so, if it's 18 million, that would be 9 million and we can find a lot of the dollars that we need in there. Can we get there? Is that feasible? Will it work? I have no clue if it will happen or not. But we need to figure out what that number is and by continually putting in numbers that make no sense it doesn't work, so we have to, we have contracted for, and then if we can't get contracted, what we can impose, or whatever, but some how we've got to close that gap. And in the end this number's going to come out negative. We have to find it somewhere. It's going to come out of salaries and benefits. So, we've got to figure that out. And if that means outsourcing or whatever else we have to get those costs down, we'll get those costs down."
***(Video clip added 2/1/12)









FILLING POTHOLES WITH EMPLOYEE PENSIONS
Bingo! Any employee representative viewing that performance would get the message loud and clear. They're saying that potholes, alleys and other infrastructure improvements are much more important than employees, and that they're going to load up the budget beginning next year with things THEY WANT, then pay for it using salaries and benefits reductions or staff reductions using their bogus outsourcing scheme.

COMBAT
And, there was no sign of any interest in a conciliatory resolution to this issue. No, this is going to be hand-to-hand combat with this group. To look conciliatory would demonstrate weakness to their pals in the OC GOP hierarchy, so they're in full frontal assault mode.



MID-YEAR BUD
GET REVIEW COMING UP
The mid-year budget review, that would normally take place in January, will occur in February. That will be very interesting, since it's my understanding that we're in pretty darn good shape budget-wise this year, too. You'll recall that, although this council cried poverty from the rooftops, we actually had a nearly $4 million budget surplus at the end of the last fiscal year.

CHARTER MA
Y EQUAL CORRUPTION
I was left feeling very apprehensive and frustrated. Apprehensive because their performance at this meeting gave me a clear indication of what life will be like if they manage to get the current version of Righeimer's Charter passed this June. It has woefully insufficient safeguards built into it to protect the City from corruption. For example, I could see Righeimer and Mensinger salivating about the prospect of buying our "problem" motels and selling off the property - to developers, at a loss! What a surprise, huh?

KEYS TO THE BURGLAR
Passing Righeimer's Charter would be like handing the keys to the castle to a bunch of burglars. Without pr
oper safeguards built in they won't have to worry about playing by the rules - they'll make up the rules as they go along.

FRUSTRATED BECAUSE NO OPPOSITION IS IN SIGHT

And, I was frustrated because I don't see anyone yet willing to step up to challenge Mensinger and Monahan for their seats, nor to run for Bever's open slot. That probably means OC GOP shill Colin McCarthy will win that one, which would result in an even more developer-dominated, untrustworthy council tha
n we have right now.

FIRST THE CHARTER, THEN THE COUNCIL

So, I guess the only thing to do right now is to stop the Charter in June, then deal with the council.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Important Study Session Tomorrow

FINANCES ARE THE FOCUS
Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 31st, the Costa Mesa City Council will hold a VERY important study session in the council chambers beginning at 4:30 p.m. Public comments are much more limited in Study Sessions - a maximum of 15 minutes is provided for ALL speakers and no comments will be permitted following the discussion of the issues.

POLICIES AND FORECASTS
Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young will guide the discussion
tomorrow. The issues to be discussed are 1) Review of Financial and Budget Policies and 2) 5-Year Financial Forecast and Capital Reinvestment Strategy. I expect the discussion to be lively because City finances have been the cornerstone of much of the unpleasantness created by this City Council over the past nearly a year.

RESERVES

The staff report for the Review of Financial and Budget Policies may be read HERE. This is very important because it presents a way to codify certain mandatory requirements, including a Minimum Fund Balance Reserve; a Minimum Cash Balance and an Emergency Fund Balance Reserve.

REVENUE MANAGEMENT
In addition, the disc
ussion will also cover General Revenue Management, including how to maintain a diversified and stable revenue base; forecasting general revenue; how to manage one-time revenues and annual user fees and charges.

APPROPRIATIONS, CAP
ITAL BUDGETS AND DEBT
They will also cover the adoption of appropriation limits; budgetary contro
l, Capital Budget policies including a minimum percent of the General Fund budget for capital expenditures. And there will be a discussion of Debt Issuance and - the elephant in the room - Unfunded Liability.

FORECASTS AND STRATEGIES
The second segment will cover the Five Year Financial Forecast and Capital Reinvestment Strategy, the staff report for which can be found HERE.

A WINDOW INTO THE CITY COUNCIL MINDS

This is also a VERY important issue and the staff will look
to the City Council to provide suggestions about future priorities. The staff has provided a comprehensive look at the past decade to help the council focus on the future.

MIGHT AS WELL BE GREEK!
I am among those who have no small degree of difficulty understanding the complexity of municipal finance management, regardless how patient the finance staff has been with me over the years. However, these issues are so important - and the responses the council will give to this data are so important to measure their true intentions for our city - that I'm going to pop a few No-Doze, splash some water on my face and try to follow the discussion. And, I'll try to present this information to you later.

WILL BE TELEVISED AND STREAMED LIVE

However, since this meeting will be held in Council Chambers, CMTV will televise it live on Channel 24 (Time Warner Cable) and Channel 99 (ATT U-Verse) and will also be streamed live on the city web site.

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Commentaries Worth Your Attention

TWO NOTEWORTHY COMMENTARIES
This weekend, the tail-end of a relatively slow news week in Costa Mesa when compared to the past several months, two commentaries appeared in our local newspaper of record, The Daily Pilot, written by two Costa Mesa residents that, individually and together, require your attention.

FIRST, CRISSY...
Last Thursday afternoon, January 26th, a commentary by Crissy Brooks - co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives - titled "How do we avoid doing nothing?" was published in the Daily Pilot online and appeared Friday morning in print You can read the complete commentary HERE.

A WISE YOUNG WOMAN
I read it the first time online. In fact, I read it a couple times, because I found myself wondering how such a young woman has managed to acquire such wisdom.

ADDRESSING THE CONUNDRUM
As you will see when you read it through, she addresses the conundrum faced by many people in our city and elsewhere - how do you affect change if you "do nothing"? There were many very interesting observations made by Brooks, whose father, Dave, is currently president of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and I want to highlight just a couple of them for you.


QUOTES
The first phrase that caught my eye was:
"The problem is that while we are doing nothing, something is happening. City charters are being drafted, neighbors are being laid off."

Later she said:
"Decisions are being made to shape the way we are governed every day and most of us are quiet, doing nothing. Doing nothing in 2012 will not be neutral. Nothing results in something, and in the case of the city charter, it will have long-term effects on the shape and future of Costa Mesa."

And further on she said:
"Whatever we do, we have to do something. To do nothing is not nothing. To do nothing is to add to the confusion and brokenness from which we seek to be free."

NOW WHAT?
I suspect many of you will agree with her observations, but will you "do something"?




ROBERT THE ELDER

Then, Saturday evening, January 28th, a Community Commentary by Costa Mesa resident Robert Murtha, titled, " We can all unite around a good cause" appeared online and also in print in the Sunday edition of the Daily Pilot. You can read it HERE. You will likely remember that name, but you're probably thinking of his son, also Robert Murtha, the star running back for the past couple years on the Estancia High School football team.

YOUTH SPORTS ACTIVIST AND MENSINGER PAL
Robert, the elder, is very active in youth sports and, through those activities, he's become very close to non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger. In fact, a year ago, when Mensinger was appointed, he stood before the city council to praise him. To say they are tight would be a major understatement. It is that closeness that makes his commentary so extraordinary.

SURPRISED BY HIS TREATMENT
Murtha recounts for us his experiences at the recent Mesa Verde Golf Classic, which was hosted by Costa Mesa United. He tells us of the trepidation he had when rolling up on members of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, who were staffing on of the many booths around the course. Apparently expecting to be shunned by the group, instead he gives us this quote: "I was waiting for the whispers to each other, cold shoulder, even maybe some eye rolling with a few OMGs. But instead, I was offered a hot dog, a drink, thank yous and a hug or two."

AND MORE...

He recounted another incident that day that also pleasantly surprised him. I'll let you read about it in the article.

AN EXCELLENT OBSERVATION...
Near the end of his commentary he gives us this observation: "For the sake of our future, I hope we can all get past our differences, move forward and show the friendship and respect I received that day."


WHY WRITE ABOUT THIS?

So, why do I write about this tonight? Well, for a year members of our City Council have attempted to paint members of the various employee organizations as greedy, self-serving union thugs, unwilling to work with the City to try to resolve our perceived fiscal distress. They went so far as to launch a mass-layoff scheme, which they botched and it resulted in a lawsuit against the City.

TRYING TO DO THE JOB DES
PITE MAJOR CUTS
This new council has kept up a pace that has made it very difficult for employees to do their jobs while trying to formulate the Outsourcing Requests for Proposal that would be the cornerstone of the scheme for them to lose their jobs. The headcount has dropped by more than 25% and the Police Department is being forced to try to do the job of keeping us all safe with staffing levels rejected by both the City's paid expert consultants and former interim Police Chief Steve Staveley. Staveley was so distressed by the council's stubbornness that he quit and left behind him a scathing letter denouncing some of the council members.

MANIPULATED NUMBERS
The council has manipulated numbers to fabricate a "fiscal crisis", which pivoted on their proclamation of an "unsustainable unfunded pension liability", as though the City would be expected to fork over all those dollars next Friday. Those inaccurate buzz words served only to inflame the casual observer.

ANTICIPATING EVIL
What amused me was the obvious surprise expressed by Murtha in his commentary when he was not, in fact, shunned by those city employees. He is so tight with Mensinger and his pals that he certainly expected them to react like he carried the plague - but they didn't. They embraced him and reacted the way they've reacted to every obstacle placed before them over the past dozen months - they've just put their shoulders to the wheel and continued to do their jobs the best they could.

PROUD OF BROOKS AND MURTHA

I'm proud of both Crissy Brooks and Robert Murtha for expressing their frank views in these two commentaries and hope we all learn from each of them. Certainly, as Brooks suggests, more residents need to get involved - at least pay attention to what's going on in our city. And Murtha makes it clear that folks on the opposite side of an issue are not necessarily evil. Good lessons for us all.

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