An Unanticipated Result And More
At the Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, the agenda was long, the house was packed and an unanticipated hero was the star of the evening. The meeting began thirty minutes late and stretched until nearly 2:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. First the BIG story...
A SMALL MAN MADE A BIG DECISION
Following a long discussion of the extension of the expiring 25-year agreement with the Orange County Model Engineers, during which eight members of the public pleaded with the council to extend the contract beyond the fourteen months proposed by the Parks and Recreation Commission, it was clear that Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Righeimer wanted the recommended short extension passed. Mensinger moved to do so, with Righeimer seconded it. Councilwoman Sandra Genis moved a substitute motion to extend the contract five years and Wendy Leece seconded it. Following a VERY short discussion Righeimer smirked and called for the vote on the substitute motion... and it passed on a 3-2 vote! Genis and Leece voted yes, as did former mayor Gary Monahan! As the crowd erupted into cheers and clapping and Leece did her "V for Victory" pose from the dais, Righeimer and Mensinger looked dumbstruck and, after a long pause, looked over at Monahan as if to say, "What did you do?!" He could be heard to say above the cheering, "Five years seemed like a good compromise." And, indeed, it was! Righeimer called for a fifteen minute break and the cheering crowd of model train supporters carried their celebration out onto the council chambers porch. Shown here are a few of the happy train supporters, including spokesman Hank Castignetti in the foreground and model train buff Police Chief Tom Gazsi in the rear.
A GREAT SOLUTION
This is a terrific result for everyone in the community - except maybe those who covet the space the train tracks presently occupy on the eastside of Fairview Park. In the recent past members of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee have been heard to say the location would be perfect for playing fields, bocce ball courts and baseball diamonds. The OCME folks have provided tremendous public service and deserved a longer extension than the slap-in-the-face 14 months proposed. Kudos to Gary Monahan on this one. You can read Bradley Zint's account of this story in the Daily Pilot HERE.
KREISLER REPORTS PART OF THE ISSUE
As I mentioned earlier, the meeting began late because the council stayed 30 minutes longer than anticipated in the Closed Session meeting. The meeting included Richard Kreisler, the labor negotiator for the city, who - for the first time - reported the results of that meeting. He told us that Steve Mensinger's COIN scheme required a report on negotiations, so he told us that the city spent $21.2 million in pay and benefits to the CMCEA employees in the last fiscal year. He said that if nothing had been done it would have been $23.5 million this year. He said the city's offer produced a cost of $21.5 million, but he didn't mention a word about the offer the employees made, so the COIN process has not demonstrated any value yet.
IT'S GOING TO BE A LONG SLOG
Later, during his comments, Righeimer dismissed the fact that the employees had offered to "partner" with the city with a sneer. Of course, at the time he was fuming because several speakers called for him, along with Mensinger, to cancel their lawsuit against the police. He was so angry you could practically see smoke coming out of his ears as he angrily stated that he would do whatever it took to protect his family. And, amusingly, he mentioned that it was campaign time - referring to those requests as campaign rhetoric when, in fact, this whole scheme is a campaign tool to distract from the abysmal decisions they've made and the multiple scandals brewing in our city.
RIGHEIMER TOSSES SANDY JOHNSON OUT
It was an interesting evening from many standpoints. For example, it's the first time since Benito Acosta was dragged, struggling, from council chambers several years ago, we saw a resident removed from the chambers for disrupting the meeting. Soft-spoken Sandy Johnson was escorted from the auditorium by an officer after demanding from her seat near the rear of the chambers that Righeimer answer whether his scheme to squeeze the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and the Sandpiper for code enforcement violations negatively impacts our affordable housing numbers. It was an excellent question, which Righeimer acknowledged as Johnson was removed. This the effect he has on otherwise mild-mannered long-time residents.
ANOTHER KNEE-JERK REACTION
Another part of his rant included a response to criticism of police staffing. He went into another of his knee-jerk reactions and demanded from the dais that Chief Tom Gazsi, CEO Tom Hatch and senior staffers meet with him every Thursday at 3:00 p.m. from now until the police staffing levels are resolved. This is just grandstanding on his part, since the process of hiring new police officers is necessarily a very deliberate process. If you cut corners in the screening and testing process you end up with folks you don't really want as part of the CMPD. This was just a guilty reaction on his part, since he is personally responsible for the current shortfall in staffing levels in the CMPD. Shame on him!
CONSENT CALENDAR RESULTS
We finally got to the Consent Calendar at 8:15! We knew then it was going to be a long, long night. Criticisms were offered for charges on the Warrants, including large legal charges again. Nobody really satisfactorily answered those criticisms. Most items passed on a mass vote with the exception of the following.
The discussed the proposed Housing Element Update to the 2000 General Plan at length and, even though there are some significant holes in it, passed it with the assumption that it can be revised later. To not pass it would have created huge administrative problems and probable loss of funding.
19TH STREET IMPROVEMENTS
The also passed Item 7, the signal improvements near the former Bethel Towers and moved on to the aforementioned Model Train agreement. We'll pick it up after that decision.
PUBLIC NUISANCE ORDINANCE PASSED
At 10:00 they finally began the presentation of Public Hearing #1, the new Public Nuisance Ordinance, with Assistant CEO Rick Francis taking the lead. Eight members of the public spoke on this issue and most welcomed it as a way to solve significant problems, although a few expressed concern about possible abuses and the breadth of the ordinance. There were still 65 people left in the auditorium as the council voted, 5-0, to approve the first reading. It will be brought back for the second reading and some tidying-up of some of the language at a future council meeting.
A LONG DISCUSSION AND POOR RESULT
Shortly after 11:00 p.m. the council began hearing Public Hearing #2, the appeal by councilwoman Sandra Genis of the proposed "improvements" in Fairview Park near the Pacific Avenue entrance to the park. Two dozen members of the public spoke on this very contentious issue and not one of them spoke in favor of the proposed changes. Many had previously spoken to Righeimer at his "meet the mayor" event last Thursday night. Concerns were expressed for the stability of the nearby bluffs, the actual need for such a large turnaround area and the need for the tot lot when a similar facility is located at Vista Park, a few hundred yards up Pacific Avenue. Residents were also concerned about safety, implying that a proper entrance to the park at the end of Pacific would result in more, faster-traveling cars in the neighborhood along a street with incomplete sidewalks on both sides. Those comments stretched until around 12:20 a.m. and the subsequent discussion stretched until 12:50 a.m., when Righeimer called for the vote to only install a turnaround at the end of Pacific with NO parking spaces, a proper entrance marking for the park at that location AND the installation of the tot lot as presently prescribed. He also instructed staff to include the necessary improvements to Pacific Avenue after Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz told him that improvements are already scheduled for that street early next year. He also told them to investigate a different location for the tot lot. It passed on a 3-2 vote, with Genis and Leece voting no.
At 12:55 we still had three items to go! And there were still 20 people in the auditorium in addition to the staff! The first two, screening requests, went OK. The third, not so much.
New Business #3 was the request for authorization of an overage already paid to Cognify, a consulting firm that has been doing Information Technology stuff for the city for a year. We watched CEO Hatch dance cautiously around this issue, of course, it could have been the early hour. Regardless, one speaker listed more than $136,000 in payments to this outfit and also expressed concern that we somehow managed to pay them without following the proper approvals. Wendy Leece speculated about the coincidence that the president of the company is a major contributor to Mayor Righeimer's campaign - which had Righeimer fuming. Still, it's a good question. This is either very sloppy staff work or something else. Neither makes me particularly comfortable. The council voted to pass this one, 4-1, with Leece voting NO.
GENERAL PLAN CIRCULATION WORKSHOP TONIGHT
That's it, folks. Don't forget the General Plan Circulation Workshop at the Emergency Operations Center beginning at 6:00 tonight. I'll try to drag my bleary-eyed old body to that one, too. See you there.