Thursday, October 31, 2013

Quashing Criticism Advocated By Mensinger!

It seems like there has been so much "stuff" swirling around in Costa Mesa ever since Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger landed on the City Council that it's sometimes difficult to wrap one's arms around it all

The adversarial relationship those two men have established with the employees is very disheartening and frustrating.  They've created a toxic employment atmosphere in the City that permeates every nook and cranny of government life.  Employees at every level are constantly looking over their shoulders, waiting for the next bad-news-shoe to drop.  The fifth floor - the "Executive Offices" - seems to have become a bunker, secured from prying eyes or inquisitive residents.  Cameras, where none existed before, now record every movement in the building and other city facilities.   Staffers worry about their every word being monitored, whether via telephone or electronic mail.  Thirty-nine police officers are among the dozens of employees who have left Costa Mesa since those guys took over!


We now have an ongoing array of scandals and lawsuits when those kind of events were extremely rare in years past.  Righeimer and Mensinger theoretically bring their business expertise to their city jobs, which apparently include a willingness to file or incur lawsuits as simply a cost of doing business.  When, for example, was the last time you heard of two seated council members - the top to slots in city government - actually suing their police department?


By their actions - which are now too numerous to list here  -  they have incurred the wrath of many residents.  Some of those, who actually pay attention to civic matters and take the time to study issues and spend their precious personal time standing before the City Council to express their concerns and offer potential solutions, are frequently vilified by council members from the dais and in the public press.  We're talking about a broad diversity of backgrounds - Republicans and Democrats and folks who decline to state, as well.  Business owners, educators, retirees and young folks, as well as the normal parade of special interest groups, all step up and speak up and, many times, tell the council things they don't want to hear.  That, of course, is a big mistake.

The council majority - you have to lump too-long-at-the-trough Gary Monahan with them because he seldom votes against Righeimer and Mensinger - seem to have their minds made up on almost every issue BEFORE they hear from the public, and brush those views aside when they eventually take the time to hear them.

Righeimer and Mensinger simply don't like criticism of any kind from anyone, period!  That's clear at almost every opportunity they have for interaction with the general public, not just the little gatherings of their like-minded sycophants who nod their heads like a flock of boot-licking bobble head dolls.

This attitude has recently become exacerbated by the advent of a new blogger in town.  Resident Dennis Popp, whose blog was recently portrayed in a Daily Pilot article as a "kinder, gentler blog", seems to have become the latest internet mouthpiece for the council majority.  I don't talk much about his blog because, quite honestly, it's too darn boring.  However, over the past couple of weeks he's taken a much more negative stand and it just cries out for response.

In his current offering to his few readers he, once again, takes critics of the City Council to task because he feels the expression of their constitutionally-guaranteed right of free speech keeps the council from "doing things".  In fact, the last few words in his latest online rant in which he bemoans the presence of "rude jerks" says the following:
"Perhaps the rude jerks should be uninvited from Council meetings, too. It might give doers an opportunity to get the job done."

And, as if there's any doubt about what kind of influence he has over members of the City Council, Steve Mensinger echoed that statement in an online comment and added, "I would second that motion."   

Such is the state of municipal affairs today in Costa Mesa where the Mayor Pro Tem overtly advocates blocking residents and others from expressing opposing views because it theoretically hampers them from "getting the job done"!

This kind of overt admission by a top elected official should send a chill down the spine of EVERY resident of this city.  These men apparently view themselves not as public servants, but as members of a junta, ruling with an iron hand and willing to abridge the rights of the citizens of this community to force their will upon them.

I've heard Dennis Popp referred to as a "war hero".  I have no knowledge of his record during "our war" - the Viet Nam Conflict.  I don't really care, either.  I do know that he and I shared service to our country at approximately the same time.  I find myself wondering how he squares that time in our lives - when we both took an oath to protect our country from enemies, foreign and domestic - to the current date, when he advocates dictatorship over democracy.  Regardless what his service record was, I find his current views abhorrent and, even worse, that they are obviously shared and advocated by people in power that can use them to continue to do much to damage our community with those attitudes.


In fifty-three weeks we will enter the voting booth to decide who will help guide the future of our city.  Do we perpetuate the right-leaning, lock-step march toward a society akin to Nazi Germany or do we select people to lead our city with a view of the democratic process more in line with the views of our founding fathers?  Do we want our city to return to being a shining example of a well-run community where all voices are welcome and loyalty among employees is appreciated or will we let it continue to decay into a politically-driven bastion of far right-wing authoritarian oppression?  The voters will decide.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just When You Think You've Heard It All...**(Amended)

Not your typical day with the Costa Mesa Police Department!  This story is a strange one, to say the very least.  Tuesday around 9:00 a.m. CMPD Traffic Investigator Darren Wood had a very strange encounter with a citizen.  Rather than try to paraphrase the event, here's the full text of the incident report from the CMPD:

Yesterday morning, a Costa Mesa police officer uncovered an extortion scheme after being flagged down by a female motorist.

Yesterday morning just before 9:00 a.m., Traffic Investigator Darren Wood was driving a marked patrol car near Harbor Blvd and Hamilton Street after completing morning follow up work on several cases he was investigating.  While in traffic, he noticed the female driver of a nearby car honk her horn and wave at him in an apparent attempt to get his attention.  Investigator Wood stopped to speak with the female driver who was crying and visibly distraught.  The female driver was speaking via her car’s Bluetooth system with an unknown male caller who claimed he had abducted the female’s sister who he claimed had just been injured in a serious car accident.

Investigator Wood solicited assistance from nearby patrol Officers Novikoff and Alegado to carefully facilitate communicating with the driver, as she appeared fearful of terminating the phone conversation with the male caller.  During lulls in the phone conversation, officers passed written notes to the female driver who confirmed the male caller was threatening to harm her sister if she did not complete an immediate wire transfer to the caller through a nearby Western Union office.

Further complicating matters, officers were unable to immediately make phone contact with the female driver’s sister, who was supposed to be in class at a nearby community college.  After police were able to eventually confirm through campus security that the female driver’s sister was unharmed and attending class, they focused their efforts on locating and apprehending the extortion suspect.  Costa Mesa Police detectives responded into the field and worked to isolate the suspect caller’s cell phone location, while appearing to follow his instructions to initiate “wiring” a money transfer at a nearby Western Union in the city.  Upon confirming the suspect was calling from Puerto Rico, officers terminated the field investigation.

Detectives learned the victim motorist had initially received the cell phone call from the male suspect who later inquired if the victim had a sister.  The suspect’s cell phone showed, on the victim’s phone, to be located in Massachusetts.  Upon learning the victim had a sister, the suspect caller immediately asserted to the victim that her sister had been injured in a serious car accident.  The suspect caller went on to demand that the victim not contact police, to remain on the line and to comply with demands for completing an immediate money wire-transfer or face having her sister harmed by a gang member working with the suspect caller. 

The public should be aware that these types of scenarios represent a common extortion scheme involving cell phone “spoofing.”  “Spoofing” is successfully accomplished when a suspect phones a victim and – through use of an application – enables the call received by the victim to falsely show originating from a location other than the caller’s true location.  The suspect, in some instances, is able to “spoof” the call, falsely showing a phone number familiar to the victim.  In this case, the suspect remotely attempted an extortion scheme on the female motorist using cell phone and money transfer technology.

Other schemes involve suspects phoning and contacting victims, impersonating a family member or friend in need of “immediate assistance” in another country.  After verbally disclosing limited identifying information about a family member known by the victim, the suspect caller then insists on arranging for the victim to wire-transfer funds to assist with unexpected air fare or required bail to assist the family member known by the victim.  In most cases, the suspect caller was able to previously obtain personal (identifying) information, about the purported family member needing help, via social media sites used by the victim.

Costa Mesa Police detectives are completing appropriate follow up regarding this case.  Anyone with information regarding this incident, or similar incidents, are encouraged to contact the Costa Mesa Police Detective Bureau at 714.754.5205.

Just a little more information for you.  Those two officers who helped out with this situation are freshly-minted CMPD officers Ryan Novikoff and Arnold Alegado, seen here as the second and third men in this photo at their swearing-in ceremony in January of this year.

So, another excellent bit of police work by the folks at the CMPD.  More reasons to be proud of them every day. 

CBS' Stacey Butler interviews the victim of this event, HERE.  Worth a watch.  CMPD Lt. Greg Scott gets a quick cameo, too.


Lots Of Rhetoric, No Real Plan On I-405**(Amended)

At a standing-room-only Town Hall meeting at the Community Services Facility in the city of Westminster last night the Freeway Cities Coalition, officials from the so-called "corridor cities" - Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Westminster, Los Alamitos and Seal Beach plus the enclave of Rossmoor - discussed the current state of affairs surrounding the scheme by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) to widen the I-405 Freeway from Costa Mesa to the Los Angeles County line and install High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in both directions.  You can read Bradley Zint's comprehensive coverage of the meeting in the Daily Pilot, HERE.
This scheme has been foisted off on the corridor cities after we - they - thought the deal was done for what as then known as Alternative #1 - the addition of one general purpose lane in each direction WITHOUT TOLLS.  Alternative #2 would have added an additional lane.Recently the OCTA has back-doored the process with their scheme, called Alternative #3, to add general purpose lane in each direction,  a toll lane in each direction, and convert the current High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) or carpool lane into a HOT lane.  You can read more HERE, from the OCTA web site.

The engineering representatives from several of the cities presented their case for Alternate #2, which would basically double the HOV capacity with very little additional cost over #1.  The "distinguished panel" from member organizations included our own lovable mayor, Jim Righeimer, John Collins, former Fountain Valley mayor, Matt Harper, councilman from Huntington Beach, Tri Ta, mayor of Westminster, Gary Miller, councilman from Seal Beach, Gerri Graham-Mejia from Seal Beach and Ron Casey from Rossmoor.  The event was moderated by Westminster councilwoman Diane Carey.

In addition to the panel, the crowd of approximately 150 people included Supervisor John Moorlach - who suggested the move by the OCTA and CalTrans was akin to highway robbery - Assemblyman Allan Mansoor - who muttered nothing important except that his door is always open -  our Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, CEO Tom Hatch, Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz and Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman.  The only other Costa Mesa faces I recognized were the omnipresent Beth Refakes and her mother, Gladys, although two other people spoke and identified themselves as Costa Mesa residents.  I was disappointed that so few of our neighbors showed up for this meeting.  This is actually a VERY big deal for us, since the plan would connect the 73 Toll Road with the new toll lanes and, basically, bypass our shopping venues - the Harbor Boulevard of Cars and South Coast Plaza, for example -  not to mention being virtually impossible for Costa Mesa residents to use.

Adolfo Ozaeta, a traffic engineer from Westminster, gave  some history of this project and included the following two charts.
The panel addressed many issues of concern - a flawed "Degradation Study", enviornmental issues with air pollution, congestion at the northly end of the toll lanes, being effectively double-taxed, since Measure M2 monies are to build the I-405 improvements and then we'd end up paying a toll on top of those costs which are paid by an increase in the sales tax until 2041!

Other concerns revolved around just what happens to that toll money?  Does it stay in Orange County?  Does the State take it away the way it did our Redevelopment Agency money?  OCTA and CalTrans were asked to send representatives but declined.

Several speakers were very animated and angry, including Righeimer, who at one point said the process was so frustrating that it was like putting a gun to your head and pulling the trigger!  What?!

All the speakers, including the eighteen members of the public who spoke - including our own Beth Refakes - except one, suggested that this was a bad idea and that "none of us" want tolls.  The elected folks suggested we all show up at the OCTA Board meeting on November 8th, when this issue will be discussed.  They also handed out a list of the names of the seventeen (17) members of the OCTA Board and suggested they each be contacted and told our views on the subject.
A couple speakers suggested the use of online technology - petitions, etc., to spread the word, which was encouraged by the moderator.

I did learn something VERY new after I got home and was watching the television news.  Stacey Butler - who was in the audience last night, said on Channel 9, that "Costa Mesa was seriously considering legal action to block the toll road."  That's the first time I've heard that, although I missed a couple meetings recently.  I guess there's just no issue that we can't solve without a law suit.  Geez!  Will somebody please double check those campaign contribution lists to see how many lawyers are contributing to which council members? NOTE:  Apparently there was conversation about legal action while I was snowed-in earlier this month.  Didn't know about it since I couldn't access the internet for awhile.  Brad Zint sent me the two following links to stories he wrote at the time, HERE, and also way back in June of 2012, HERE.  Thanks to Zint for setting the record straight.

After all the rhetoric for more than two hours I came away with the feeling that the OCTA and CalTrans is going to do what they want, regardless what the residents tell them.  However, that doesn't mean we should stop telling them.  You can learn about the Board of Directors of the OCTA HERE.  And, you can always go to to see the location of the meeting on November 8th at 9:00 a.m.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Proud Morning...

This morning, on a day scrubbed fresh by an early morning drizzle, the setting was perfect for a gathering of every member of the Costa Mesa Police Department for a "family" photograph - a preamble to the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the department later this year.
(click on photo to enlarge)
Just over two hundred men and women, sworn and civilian, gathered in the parking lot adjacent to Police Headquarters to have their presence as proud members of the CMPD recorded for posterity photographically as the department marks six decades of service to our community.
As I wandered around snapping candid images of the men and women who have become my friends over the past few years I felt great pride in them, and the way they go about doing their jobs.  Despite being vilified by certain elected leaders they just continue to exhibit true professionalism and do their jobs to the best of their ability.  Although their numbers have diminished significantly in recent years, those remaining and those few new members of the CMPD family go out every day to protect and serve us all.
I saw former Police Chief Roger Neth - badge #1 - join former Chief Dave Snowden - currently the Chief of Police for Beverly Hills - and current Chief Tom Gazsi with the men and women they hired, trained, nurtured and supported over many decades.  As I snapped this photo I found myself thinking how lucky this community has been to have such outstanding, forward-thinking law enforcement leaders.
I watched as the cadre of volunteers eagerly awaited their time to be properly positioned for the group photo, enthusiastically chatting with their co-workers.  Their tireless efforts certainly augment the duties of the civilian and sworn officers.
I had to smile as I saw officer Kha Bao, shown here with a co-worker, lined up at the tail end of the line of officers that would be placed on the benches by height.  There stood the man who accounted for more DUI arrests than any other officer - by far - bringing up the rear.  He and I joked about sharing being the little guy.
I smiled as the husband and wife teams within the department made sure their spouses looked good for the photo, straightening neckties and making sure their brass was properly shined.
I watched as a half-dozen men who perform as chaplains for the CMPD gathered and spoke with the men and women.  I found myself glad they have this kind of spiritual guidance available to them at this time in the history of the organization.
As I watched the professional photographers lined up each tier on the benches in the parking lot, then patiently got them properly staged for what will certainly be a photo for the ages, I thought a lot about what it takes to be a law enforcement officer, and particularly what it takes to be a law enforcement officer in THIS city at THIS time.  I venture to say that nowhere in our region - maybe our state - has there been a more difficult work environment for public safety staff than Costa Mesa over the past nearly three years.
On the heels of the economic downturn beginning in 2007 that froze salaries, a new council majority was elected that considered employees - and particularly law enforcement employees - not as partners and associates providing services to the public,  but as adversaries - impediments to the accomplishment of their political agendas.  The short-sighted fiscal management that prioritized potholes over public safety restricted timely hiring of officers to replace known anticipated retirements.  The toxic atmosphere created by that council majority caused many officers to seek positions elsewhere.  As of today, thirty-nine (39) officers have departed the CMPD since the beginning of 2010.  And the crime rate rises.
And, as I watched them mill around, waiting for the photo opportunity, I thought about the lawsuit filed by our mayor and mayor pro tem against them.  Yes, Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger will say they sued the "union", not the cops.  That, of course, is a steaming pile of horse manure!  The men and women of the CMPD ARE the association!  They are officers who go to work every day with that bogus lawsuit in the back of their minds.
As a member of the community, this morning I was proud of the men and women of the CMPD, and of their leadership team that directs a diminished staff to keep us all safe.  I worry about their future, and ours, because it is very likely that we will be able to place fewer than 100 sworn officers in the field in the very near future.  Despite their skill, professionalism and their will to serve us, it seems virtually impossible to properly police a city of more than 110,000 people with such meager resources.  For that you can thank your mayor and mayor pro tem.
Thanks to the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department for their efforts on our behalf.  I'm sure they know that many people out here in the community appreciate their efforts - and have their backs.
Thanks to our friends in Newport Beach for covering our turf for this event.  It's always nice to have good neighbors, isn't it?

Labels: , , , , ,

Short, But Illuminating, Meeting

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting Monday night went about as anticipated.  In a 90 minute session - one of the shortest such meetings in recent memory - the commission dealt with the few issues before them briskly.

They approved a request by a resident to allow their porch to remain although the original plans called for it to be smaller.  The completed project, which apparently got botched up due to a confluence of events, would have likely been approved in any event, so this really was a non-issue.

On a 5-0 vote they approved the request in Public Hearing #1, HERE, in which certain segments of the Residential Design guidelines were modified.  The only speaker on the issue was a developer who is doing business in the city and will be a beneficiary of the changes.

The final item on the agenda, New Business #2, was a long discussion of Extended Occupancy Motels, HERE.  The staff report was advisory, requiring no action on the part of the commission.  It was, however, a bellwether of things to come.  The commission will soon hear about new ordinances and other policies designed to "correct" the problems at several of the motels in our city.  Squalor, calls for public safety - fire and police - services that are deemed to be excessive were all discussed at length by the commissioners.

We learned, too, that due to the departure of many senior staffers, institutional knowledge of issues is sorely lacking.  Gathering historical information for the commissioners takes longer and the context is sometimes missing.

We were told by Vice Chair Rob Dickson that this issue is not new, and he cited reports from 1996 during which current council members Sandra Genis and Gary Monahan, as well as iconic names like Mary Hornbuckle, Joe Erickson and Peter Buffa, were all on the council at the time and described conditions nearly identical to the current state of affairs regarding "problem motels".  Unfortunately, not enough has been done in the intervening years to resolve the problems.

Dickson then went on to criticize the critics of the current city council - those who accuse them of trying to feather the beds of developer buddies.  That, of course, was aimed directly at me.  I have long been a critic of the methods Mayor Jim Righeimer and his fellow-travelers are trying to use to "fix things" in our city - problem motels are one of those issues.  Righeimer has said during public forums that he was going to put the motels out of business - to force them, through intense, aggressive code enforcement and law enforcement actions - to re-consider the value of their properties and accept more moderate offers to buy them.  In fact, Righeimer said the city might be forced to buy some of those properties, then SELL THEM AT A LOSS to developers!

Early into his term Righeimer said, during the Council Member Comments segment of a Council Meeting on June 21, 201l, the following:
"Another thing that we have in this community that causes crime is we have a lot of motels that are problems.  We all know that.  It gets to be like a running joke about the motels.  In fact, if you need an arrest you just run to a motel and hit it get all the license plates and you'll find somebody.  The city needs to remove these motels.  I'm not talking about condemning them, I'm talking writing a check and buying it and making a pocket park out of it.  That's how you take care of crime issues."

That seems to have been the kernel of his ideas about how to dispose of so-called problem motels.  It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be held on a Tuesday, November 12th and, according to Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick, will have nine (9) Public Hearings!  Yikes!  That promises to be a long one.

Speaking of Fitzy, in my last post I asked for some help keeping track of how many times he uttered his pet annoying, immature and inappropriate words,  "Cool!" and "Excellent!" during the meeting.  Well, I tried to keep track and here's my results:

Cool! - 1
Excellent! - 5
And, he also threw in "Awesome!" for good measure - 3

Labels: , ,