Homeless Debris, General Plan And More
The Costa Mesa City Council meeting went longer than I expected last night - a couple hours longer. But, at least we ended in the same day we started - 11:30 p.m. when Mayor Jim Righeimer finally adjourned to the next council meeting on April 2nd. You can read the entire agenda HERE.
The evening began with yet another presentation of the Mayor's Award - Righeimer's tossing them out like candy - to Hank Hornsveld. As the mayor listed Hank's many accomplishments and contributions to our community and, as a younger man, to society in general we got the strong feeling that his has been a life well-spent. Watch the video of the meeting, HERE, for this presentation alone.
Then Jared Dever from Orange County Vector Control gave a presentation to encourage us to be alert about things like standing water (mosquitos) and food sources (rats, raccoons, possoms, etc.)
POOCHES, PERPS AND MORE
Public Comments yielded some gems, as usual. Failed council candidate Al Melone stepped up one more time to bemoan the situation with the Costa Mesa Dog Park and what he perceives is short shrift being given to the owners of small dogs. Flo Martin complained about the proliferation of massage parlors within a short distance of her home and asked the council to do something about it. A couple speakers promoted the Relay For Life, attempting to recruit more teams from City Hall. Mesa North residents John Feeney and Martin Millard complained, once again, about the armed robbery that occurred at an ATM last weekend. I covered Millard's comments on my earlier entry. Others spoke about the recent construction near Golf Course Drive and demanded repairs be completed to renovate the street.
RIGHEIMER AS CARNACK
During Council Member Comments Righeimer led off to dispel what he referred to as an urban myth - that we don't pay our public safety folks well. He said, "We're spending more money on police and fire.", but didn't provide more detail. As usual, he's just blowing smoke. He did reaffirm that he didn't want to send more money than we absolutely have to to CalPERS, explaining that it will finally crash and he didn't want our money lost. He rang the "unsustainable pensions" bell again, stating that we will spend 20% of our budget on pensions next year. Wonder how he knows that, since the budgeting process is just beginning now? He also spoke about "motels", indicating that we're going to re-zone them to help take care of the problem. That was an interesting comment since the item on the agenda that would address that issue had not yet been heard. His comments only affirmed observations by others that he and his pals have their minds already made up before they "officially" consider issues.
During his comments Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger spoke about the dog park and asked CEO Tom Hatch to address it. He also stated that the membership of the Bark Park Board should be Costa Mesa residents - there are outsiders on the board now.
Sandra Genis mentioned the March 26th "Art Walk" at SOBECA, the dog park and massage parlors.
SERVICE, WATER, FIRE
Wendy Leece suggested a moratorium on massage parlor licenses until we get a better handle on this issue, the 59th annual employee service award ceremony last week, the Mesa Water Reliability presentation last week and wondered where the city stands on the Airport issues. The current agreement will expire in 2015. She also mentioned the much-delayed Fire Department improvement plan being created by Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold. She bemoaned the delay, but indicated it's better to do it right.
WAKE UP, GARY!
Gary Monahan sleep-walked through yet another meeting and had nothing to say during his comments segment.
SENIOR CENTER, EMPLOYEE COMP
CEO Hatch addressed many issues. Among them were a program by Southern California Edison to help businesses better manage their energy issues and the current financial difficulties at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, which has lost some of its revenue stream. He also mentioned that the 2012 Employee Compensation Report is now available online, HERE. I suspect more than a few people - including some council members and their sycophants - will attempt to use this information for their own purposes. As you'll see, Police Chief Tom Gazsi is at the top of the list - a bargain, if you ask me.
SLUMS AND PD STAFFING
Hatch also spoke briefly about the Parks and Recreation Commission, massage parlors, the alleged "Fillmore" and "Mendoza" slums, indicating that new Code Enforcement officers are focusing a big portion of their time on those areas. He also talked about the recent budget surpluses, indicating that those extra dollars were applied to the dwindled reserves and also talked about new police hires and the increase in non-sworn PD members in response to complaints about low staffing levels by citizens.
PARKS AND REC. MEETINGS CHANGED WITHOUT COMMENT
The Consent Calendar had items that were pulled for separate discussion, despite Righeimer's often-stated preference that he'd rather not do that. Again, we're not a dictatorship - yet - so some of them were pulled. Among those that were passed without discussion was the item that changed the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting day - Thursdays instead of Wednesdays - and the fact that it will now meet EVERY month instead of every other month. The commissioners are paid $100 per meeting, so they will get 9 paychecks this year - they missed January and February and will not meet in December. You will recall I expressed concern about the need for doubling the number of meetings, but a conversation with a commissioner gave me better insight about what may be coming down the pike. Things like a review of the Fairview Park Master Plan and the entire Parks and Recreation Program are apparently on the agenda. That issue and the others not pulled passed, 5-0.
Leece pulled the item that listed the 6 alcohol licenses just to point out the proliferation of such items. Peter Naghavi, Director of Economic and Developement, indicated a representative from the ABC will present information at a study session soon. The item passed 4-0 - Mensinger was on a walkabout somewhere.
MORE LEGAL FEES
Tamar Goldmann, once again, pulled the two warrants on the Consent Calendar to point out our rising legal costs which, following a short discussion, passed, 5-0.
CITY HALL FRESHENING
The last item on the Consent Calendar dealt with design services for the redesign of the City Hall lobby, Police Department lobby, directional signage and design concept for the City Clerk's office, Council Chambers and the utilization of the closed print shop space on the first floor of City Hall. Communication Director Bill Lobdell led the discussion and the consultant architect from Doughery+Dougherty gave a presentation on the kind of work they've done for other cities recently.
RESIDENTS ASK "WHY?"
A lengthy discussion, including many comments by the public questioning why this expenditure is necessary at this time when members of the council continue to complain about a budget "crisis". Hatch told us the dollars for this design phase and assessment was budgeted this year. City Hall security was mentioned as one reason for considering changes - Righeimer told us "sometimes we have crazy people coming in here." Geez.
COSTA MESA COFFEE SHOP
The issue of the abandoned Print Shop was interesting. Council members mentioned what I heard as "copy shop" a couple times but, based on a comment by Mensinger indicating that there would be a Starbucks at that site, I guess they actually were saying "coffee shop". It seems that certain people at City Hall are absolutely salivating about that 1300 square feet of "prime space". Mention was made about using it as a community meeting room, to which Genis opined that was what the Neighborhood Community Center was used for. Eventually the item passed, 3-2, with Leece and Genis voting no.
QUICK 2ND READING
At 8:40 we finally heard Old Business #1, the second reading of a recent ordinance dealing with Emergency Shelters and transitional living, which passed unanimously after a very short discussion.
HOMELESS STORAGE AND CAMPING
We then heard New Business #1, the change in the municipal code on confiscation and storage of abandoned personal items and camping in public places - an issue aimed squarely at the burgeoning homeless population that currently infests many public areas in the city - mainly Lions Park and environs. The discussion ended an hour later with a 5-0 vote. Genis indicated she will NOT vote affirmatively on the second reading unless more specific progress is made on our ability to store the belongings. You can read the staff report HERE. You can read Lauren Williams' coverage in the Daily Pilot HERE.
COMPASSION ON DISPLAY
The discussion reflected to me a council that is compassionate about the issue and who has worked hard with the community and faith-based organizations to manage the problem. The Homeless Task Force was mentioned several times and community activists immersed in this issue spoke, including Larry Haynes, the Executive Director of Mercy House, and Becks Hayhoe, who heads up the Churches Consortium which presently provides storage facilities for homeless folks. That group is apparently at 85% capacity at their facility at The Crossings Church.
Genis was concerned about legal pitfalls in the confiscation, fines and fees to retrieve belongings, and what we will do with those things not claimed after 90 days. Deputy City Attorney Elena Gerhli explained that the recent 9th Appellate Court decision in a Los Angeles case gave them a clear path and that she anticipated no legal problems. We've heard that line before.
Righeimer was all over the media yesterday on this issue - I heard him on the Bill Carroll Show on KFI just after noon. He was so omnipresent yesterday that at least one local television outlet - NBC - sent a cameraman to cover the issue. In that presentation he proclaimed what we are going to be doing to solve it - before the issue was vetted by the council and before ANY public comments had been heard. That fact was pointed out during the meeting and Righeimer took exception, stating that he's always going to speak his piece to the media if he felt like it - he apparently feels unilateral decisions are part of his job description as Mayor. No surprise to me...
WHERE TO STORE THE STUFF?
One of the stumbling blocks in this proposal is finding locations for storage of the items. It is unreasonable, for example, to snatch up the belongings of homeless folks and store them at the Corporate Yard - miles away from Lions Park, for example. This plan needs lots of fine tuning before it is actually implemented. Much concern was expressed by council members, and Righeimer, specifically, about Costa Mesa becoming what he described as "Storage Heaven" for homeless folks. He wants to fix the problem without becoming a haven for homeless. Interestingly, one of the homeless people in the audience - a man named David Mason - stood and spoke on the issue, complaining about the distance he had to go to the current storage facility.
FINALLY, THE GENERAL PLAN
At 9:55 we finally got to the very important discussion of the General Plan Update, Public Engagement and Land Use and Circulation Strategies, HERE. By that time only a few residents were still present in the auditorium - maybe 15, at most. The staff presentation, led by Assistant Development Services Director Claire Flynn and Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman, gave some history and requested direction from the council on several items.
PUBLIC OUTREACH PLANS
The most important, in my view, was the method to be used for public outreach. The choices were the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) approach or the Greater Community Outreach Approach (GreatReach). After much discussion with the consultant hired on a $600,000 contract to facilitate the General Plan Update and input from the community members still present the council decided to go with the GreatReach plan, which includes many workshops and public meetings that will give every member of the community a chance to provide input in real time. Some concern was expressed that those meetings might turn out to resemble the ill-fated Charter meeting last year at which the attendees were directed to "experts" at locations around the room and no general questions were answered. Assurances were given that the format for the General Plan meeting will allow every attendee to ask questions and hear all the answers.
WESTSIDE OVERLAY PLANS
The staff was directed to return with a tighter presentation on their proposal to abandon the three Westside overlay plans and fold the elements of each into a broader, more all-encompassing plan. That received a lot of push back by council members and members of the public who reminded everyone of the hard work put in by residents many years ago coming up with those three distinct plans.
NODE OVERLAYS FOR PROBLEM MOTELS
There was also a discussion of the "node overlay" plans for every motel in the city. Much push back was received on that plan, too, because not ALL the motels in the city are "problem motels". The staff will fine-tune this plan, too. All three segments were individually passed on 5-0 votes.
READ THE REPORT, CHECK THE TIMELINE
This is going to be a VERY interesting process. I encourage you to read the staff report, look at the timeline provided and begin to make plans to attend the meetings and/or provide your input to the council on this VERY important document - our "constitution for development" for the next decade and beyond.
CONDOLENCES TO RIGHEIMER AND FAMILY
I can't close today without offering condolences to Mayor Jim Righeimer and his family on the passing of his father earlier this week. He spoke of him often in public settings and I, for one, understand the loss of a parent.