The Charter, Fire Dept. Re-Org And More
As I feared, last nights Costa Mesa City Council meeting was another marathon - perhaps in honor of the OC Marathon last weekend. Whatever the reason, the proceedings didn't wrap up until 12:40 a.m. this morning. Ugh! I'm going to cover the meaty issues from last night here, and do a subsequent post on some of the other things that happened last night later.
CONTROVERSIAL DEVELOPMENT APPROVED
One of the reasons the meeting took so long was because the council spent over two and a half hours discussing a 14-unit development on the Eastside. Most agreed that developer Matt White produced a "nice project". Despite warnings by councilwoman Sandra Genis - a land planning professional - that it was illegal, the council approved the project on a 3-2 vote. Genis and Wendy Leece voted no. You can read Bradley Zint's coverage of this issue in the Daily Pilot HERE. We learned during this discussion that Jovial Jim Righeimer is gone again. Our mayor used his pulpit to chide folks who used their rights as concerned citizens and neighbors to speak against this project. His message to them and others was loud and clear. Speak out if you want to before the Planning Commission, but if the item shows up before the council we're going to slap you down. How dare they oppose something that the Planning Commission approved?! By the way, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick wandered into the chambers midway through this discussion and wandered out again when it was concluded.
BIA APPROVAL IN 3 MINUTES, FLAT
When the council convened at 10:15 following a 10 minute break it took them 3 minutes to hear and pass the first item under New Business - the reauthorization of the Business Improvement Area (BIA).
Then, at about 10:20 p.m., they began the discussion of The Charter. You can read the staff report HERE. As I've said before, this council is putting the cart before the horse since nobody has yet defined WHY we need a Charter. Well, in a preemptive strike of sorts, during Council Member Comments Mayor Jim Righeimer got out in front of the question. He said the following: "The question always come us, you know, 'Why a charter, why a charter, why do you need a charter?' And, you know, obviously there'll be, if a charter goes forward with a committee, there'll be a campaign and we'll get into those things. But this real basic, it's very simple, why a city would do a charter. It's called having local control and saving money." Of course, that sounds all well and good, but the devil is in the details and we're still waiting for those details. He gave us the "Why", now we need to know the "How" of the question. How will it give us "local control" and How will it save us money, specifically.
BARLOW DEFINES THE PROCESS
When Special Council Kim Barlow began her presentation she alluded to the earlier study session that resulted in the staff preparing their report for the evening. The report included:
1 - Whether a commission or committee should draft the proposed charter;
2 - The appropriate selection process if using a committee;
3 - Whether to use a facilitator; and
4 - The selection of special counsel.
RIGHEIMER SAYS HE'S NOT PARTICIPATING
It was determined that the council wants to use a committee, not an elected commission, to create a charter. When asked by Leece what role he expected to play in the creation of the charter - would he be providing content to the committee that he wanted included? - Righeimer stated that he wasn't going to be involved in this charter at all. Oh, yeah? We'll see...
13 MEMBER COMMITTEE
Barlow indicated that the state law on commissions required a 15 person body. She suggested that the council might consider, in addition to the 13 person committee previously discussed, perhaps expanding it to 15. That was rejected.
HOW TO SELECT A COMMITTEE?
How the committee will be selected generated a lot of conversation. Former council member Jay Humphrey provided a chart that showed the cross-pollination of the other city commissions and committees, suggesting that the council should avoid appointing individuals that already serve on those committees - especially those serving on multiple-committees and/or commissions. That suggestion was also rejected and you could see what was coming.
PROCESS STACKS THE DECK
The staff report included a potential selection process for a 13 person committee as follows:
- The first five would be appointed by the council, one per each member.
- The second five would be selected by a council nomination process
- The remaining three would be randomly chosen by lot.
The result of that process would almost certainly establish an 8-5 majority in favor of the charter - the three selected by the majority plus the five that would be voted upon.
GENIS ALTERNATIVE REJECTED
The primary concern about the selection process, as discussed at length by Genis, was that the current council majority was pro-charter last time and the current minority - Genis and Leece - was against the charter, simply using a council vote method would stack the committee in favor of the charter as mentioned above - and would likely result in a recommended document that resembled the previously defeated document. She suggested a more balanced selection process. Make it a 15 person committee. Allow each council member to appoint one person, then take all the remaining names who applied and put them in a hat. Shake them up and select one at a time until the 15 positions are filled. If all ten turn out to be favorable to the majority, so be it. It was rejected on a 3-2 vote. The staff recommended method, above, was chosen, on a 3-2 vote. Genis and Leece voted no. No provision for alternates on the committee was discussed.
APPLYING FOR THE COMMITTEE
So, the council authorized the recruitment for a charter committee beginning today. You can read the announcement HERE. No qualification are shown on the announcement, so I contacted Barlow to confirm what she told me following that part of the meeting last night. The only qualifications for membership on this committee are being a Costa Mesa resident and a registered voter. The application period ends on May 28th and the selection will likely take place the first council meeting of June, on the 4th.
COUNCIL GETS THE FINAL WORD
Under this plan the committee, under the guidance of a facilitator, will craft a charter and present it to the council. The council will have the final say as to what appears on the ballot. So, you can see the handwriting (graffiti) on the wall, can't you? The committee - hand-picked by the council - will go through the facade of crafting a "fair" charter, then the council will give it a nip-and-tuck before it's placed the ballot. Who's willing to bet that it won't be the identical twin to Jim Righeimer's Charter that was soundly defeated last November? Nobody? I thought so...
Leece asked about the timeline for this process early in the discussion. If the plan is to place a charter on the June primary election ballot - that's Righeimer's plan - then the first public hearing must be held early in December. That doesn't give a committee that will be created in June much time for public outreach and consultation. If the November ballot is the target there is more time - the first hearing would have to be in May of next year. There is legislation pending in Sacramento that will require anything dealing with a charter to be on a General Election ballot.
ONCE AGAIN INTO THE BREACH
So, off we go again, battling with the forces of those who would attempt to transform our city into their own, personal playground to further their own personal political future. Let the games begin...
FINALLY, THE FIRE DEPARTMENT RE-ORG
Then, at 11:25 p.m., the council prepared to hear Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's latest proposal for the reorganization of the Fire Department. You can read the staff report HERE.
CEO Tom Hatch presented the overview of the proposal, which included the following elements:
1. Adopt the “Alternative Model” Restructuring Plan in Attachment 1 as recommended by the Interim Fire Chief;
2. Adopt the two-phase approach to the implementation plan as recommended by the CEO and outlined in number 1 to 8 on page 3-4;
3. Direct staff to obtain the necessary information and conduct appropriate studies concerning ambulance transportation then agendize for City Council consideration in the future;
4. Adopt the recommendations numbers 1 through 17 of Table A as outlined in this staff report; and
5. Direct staff to modify the CEO’s Proposed FY 2013-2014 Budget to include the financial impact as described in the outlined recommendations.
I suggest you go to the staff report and read those 17 items on Table A to get a feel what will be studied and what will be implemented. It's a good read.
ARNOLD AND SEGUIN PRESENT EXAMPLES
Arnold and Deputy Chief Fred Seguin used examples of recent events in the city to demonstrate how the Fire Department would respond using then new model.
CARE STILL TRANSPORT
This new model, which is projected to save only $15,000 in the next fiscal year and nearly $2 million annually thereafter, plus provide superior response times, falls short of Arnold's original proposal. For the near future CARE Ambulance will continue to provide medical transport within the city. The new program will be "phased in", and the CARE situation will be considered later. I suggest you visit the City website to see who might have benefited in the past from CARE political contributions.
STATION #6 TO BE CLOSED
This plan will require closure of the Metro Fire Station, #6, in the north part of town. Arnold and Seguin demonstrated how this area will be covered using mutual aid from surrounding communities.
This new model, which will require the acquisition of six new Emergency Medical vehicles - which has a timeline of approximately 210 days from the date of order, according to Seguin.
Several speakers expressed concern about finding a permanent replacement for Arnold, who is restricted by the terms of his retirement from Newport Beach to working less than full time. It's my understanding that a recruitment is underway now.
KUDOS ALL AROUND
Righeimer praised everyone involved - Hatch, Arnold, Seguin and the leadership of the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association for their willingness to consider a new approach and - in the case of the CMFA - finding a way around the minimum manning requirements to make this new model possible.
POOR CLOCK MANAGEMENT
Gary Monahan had to remind Righeimer - at 12:15 - that they needed to vote to work beyond midnight. We finally left the chambers just before 1:00 a.m. This is a pathetic way to run a city!