Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 Snoopy House Launch A Great Success!

SNOOPY AND SANTA ARE BACK!
Friday night was the kick-off of the 2013 Snoopy House presentation on the lawn at Costa Mesa City Hall and it was a rousing success - again.  You can read Bradley Zint's Daily Pilot piece about the event, and see Kevin Chang's photo gallery, HERE.
A GREAT LAUNCH EVENING
Several hundred people attended the launch of the 47th iteration of this event.  The first 44 years these displays were at a private residence on the Eastside of town.  Three years ago it was moved to City Hall when city officials decided to come to the rescue of the Jordan Family, who were losing the home to foreclosure.  Through the cooperation with Jim and Linda Jordan the display has been presented at the current site ever since.
A TRAIN THIS YEAR!
This year a train ride was added courtesy of the Orange County Model Engineers - those same folks who operate the model train at Fairview Park with free rides one weekend each month.
AND SNOW, TOO!
POLITICIANS ON HAND
City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch kicked off the festivities, then introduced Mayor Jim Righeimer, who also introduced dignitaries who were present.  On the stage with him were Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, council women Sandra Genis and Wendy Leece, Newport Mesa Unified School District Trustee Katrina Foley, Huntington Beach Mayor Matt Harper and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor.
THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH
Following the introductions and the presentation of appreciation to Jim and Linda Jordan, Righeimer led the crowd in a countdown to the official kick-off and lighting of the trees and City Hall Building.
LOCAL ENTERTAINMENT
Entertainment early in the evening was presented by a youth choir from Christ Lutheran School.  Local organizations will provide the entertainment each evening.
SANTA FROM THE 18TH-23RD
I didn't hang around until Santa Claus arrived last night, but he will appear each evening from December 18th through the 23rd from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.  The Snoopy House, including the train rides, will be open from 5:30 - 10:00 p.m. each night through Christmas Day.

KUDOS TO ALL
This is a wonderful family event that is fast becoming a great Costa Mesa tradition.  Thanks to everyone who toiled for the past several weeks to put this event together, and to the Jordan Family for allowing the City to continue this wonderful tradition.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Fairview Park Decomposed Granite Path Remediation Begins

PATH REMEDIATION BEGAN TODAY
Today, Friday the 13th - which somehow seems appropriate - remediation of the illegally-installed decomposed granite (DG) path in Fairview Park along the fence line that separates Jim Scott Stadium and the Waldorf School from the park began today.

MENSINGER STARTED THIS WHOLE THING
In case you've forgotten, this all began when Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger prodded Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz to "do something" about the user-defined trail that ran along the Waldorf School fence line.  Seems he was concerned about the children navigating through the weeds that bordered that path to get to Estancia High School.    This is what it looked like then:
STAFF RESPONDED
The city staff then responded to the request and graded the trail and applied an herbicide to kill the weeds and it ended up looking like this:

WHO APPLIED THE DG?
Then, mysteriously, some "DG Fairies" apparently applied a thick layer of that material to the paths and nobody seems to know who did it.  Men were seen doing the work by park users, but were combative when approached by observers.  The City officially says it did NOT do it and doesn't know who did it.
ENCROACHED ON VERNAL POOLS
However, this process managed to encroach onto federally protected vernal pools that are part of Fairview Park.  The city is required to be a good steward of the park and protect those pools.  It didn't.  Now the Federal Department of Fish and Wildlife is involved and, among other things, is demanding that the DG be removed and the vernal pools be properly restored.
(Ernesto Munoz and Christine Medak of US Fish and Wildlife)
 (Medak, Dickson, Nerheus and other biologist)

REMEDIATION TEAM ARRIVES
Today members of the City Staff, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and contractors, including biologists, all arrived around noon at the site to discuss the proper method of removal and to begin the work.  Munoz and Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia represented the City.  Barry Nerheus is with the contractor, Endemic Environmental Services, and was joined by one of his biologists, Crysta Dickson, in pink.  That organization has done a lot of work in Fairview Park and is familiar with the sensitive nature of the sites in question.  USFWS was represented by Christine Medak.  Councilwoman Sandra Genis - and avid lover of Fairview Park -  also showed up to observe the process.
THE WORK BEGAN
Test holes were dug in a couple spots along the DG path and methods of removal and possible restoration was discussed.  Eventually the team from the contractor began carefully removing the DG from the path closest to the Parsons Field/Waldorf School fence line near the intersection with the path that runs parallel to the Jim Scott Stadium fence line, taking the DG down to the original underlayment.  Once the shoveling is complete brooms will be used to remove ALL the DG from the path.  The same process will be repeated on the other leg of the path - with the logs (old telephone poles) that line the path carefully removed before the DG is shoveled away -  and it is hoped that this process will be complete next week - before Christmas.
RESTORATION MAY BE NECESSARY
Once the DG is removed sightings will be made to determine what measures, if any, will be necessary to adjust the level of the pathways so water will, once again, flow into the vernal pools adjacent to them. 
NO MORE PATHWAY!
According to the officials onsite today, one thing is certain.  Because the city is required to maintain a 10 foot buffer around the perimeter of the vernal pools, there will be NO ROOM for a pathway along the fence.  The kids will just have to find another way to school - like walking another 100 yards around the pools.

INVESTIGATION CONTINUES - PENALTIES UNKNOWN
In the meantime, an investigation is under way to determine just who is responsible for the application of the DG on the pathways.  So far, nobody has admitted responsibility for it, although there is much speculation around the community.  And, it is still unclear what, if any, kind of penalties the city faces from the federal government from this broach of its responsibility to properly maintain this natural habitat.  That part of the drama continues to percolate.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

First Trash Change Town Hall On Tuesday

BIG TRASH HANDLING CHANGES AHEAD
You will recall when I wrote about the changes the Costa Mesa Sanitary District was planning to impose on its customers - you and me - last month, before the meeting HERE and and after it HEREBradley Zint of the Daily Pilot - the only person to attend the Sanitary District Board meeting that night - also wrote about it, HERE.

FIRST MEETING ON TUESDAY EVENING
Well, the first of two scheduled Town Hall meetings on the proposed changes is coming up on Tuesday evening, December 17, 2013 at 5:30 at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park).  You all should have received a notice in the mail about these meetings.  It looked like this: (click on image to enlarge it)

 LAST CHANCE ON SATURDAY, JANUARY 11, 2014
  This meeting, and the one scheduled on SATURDAY, January 11, 2014, at 9:00 a.m. at the same venue, will likely be the only opportunity for customers of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District to hear about these VERY significant changes to the way each of us will be required to manage our trash in the near future.  It will mean TWO trash trucks instead of one prowling your neighborhoods each week, doubling the load on the infrastructure, too. 

BIG CHANGE IN YOUR HOUSE
In a nutshell, you will no longer be able to dump your trash - recyclables, green waste and general trash - into one "cart" (that trash can on wheels the hauler, CR&R, provides us).  Following this change you will be required to sort out so-called "organic waste" and place it in the can with other green waste - lawn clippings, tree branches, etc.  I outlined the process in my earlier posts.

WHY THE RUSH?
I guess I understand why this change may be necessary, I just don't understand the RUSH to do it so quickly when, based on the information available at the links I provided earlier, the Sanitary District is not required to do it until 2015.

BE THERE OR... 
I hope you'll join me at the meeting Tuesday evening to hear from the Sanitary District staff and Board members just WHY this change MUST be done NOW.

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Doing The Molasses Back Stroke Again

 HEARING THE "SKATERS WALTZ" IN THE BACKGROUND
Around and around they went last night, circumscribing pirouettes, big crossing arcs and tightly-focused spins like Olympic figure skaters until they eventually reached something resembling decisions.  Yes, it was another fascinating meeting of the Costa Mesa Charter Committee - their final one of the year.

ONE MORE TIME...
Facilitated by Dr. Kirk Bauermeister and Dr. Mike Decker, the committee charged by the City Council several months ago to come up with a Charter for the city that might have a better chance before the voters next November than Jim Righeimer's disastrous document did a year ago.

BETTER SLOW THAN SLOPPY, BUT...
To say the progress has been slow vastly understates the pace at which this group has been operating.  Don't get me wrong - better slow and steady than fast and sloppy, but sometimes those of us who attend these meetings want to scream out in frustration as the same conversations happen over and over and over and over again.  You get the idea, right?

DUMPING PROPERTY TAXES?
First item on the agenda, HERE, was member Hank Panian's proposal - in the interest of property tax equity - to phase out the collection of Property Taxes, HERE.  Panian - by far the senior member of the committee - was also a member of the very first attempt at converting Costa Mesa to a Charter City back in the 1970s.  He is a revered educator in our city and a highly respected volunteer in the community.  When he speaks, folks listen.  He was supposed to make his pitch at the last meeting, but it was pushed out until last night because the committee stretched things out at that one, too.

NO RESOLUTION - NEED MORE INFORMATION
I read Panian's report and thought this idea would go down in flames with very little discussion.  I was wrong.  The committee listened courteously and asked excellent questions of Panian and Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent.  Eventually, after nearly forty-five minutes, it was agreed that the committee needed more specific information from the staff before proceeding.  That's kind of how the whole night went, as it turned out.

BUDGET RESERVES
Next up was the discussion of City Budget Reserves, HERE.  Dunivent opened by telling the committee that he was making a presentation to city staff on some new budget policies which would mean:
1) A specific requirement for 1% of the General Fund Revenues to be used to replenish Reserves and
2) Between 5 and 7.5% of General Fund Revenues must be used for Capital Projects.

WRONG, AGAIN!
When I heard that I thought the committee, with very little discussion, would probably wait until that proposal was fleshed out by the staff before tackling any overture for Charter language on the issue.  I was wrong - again.

OH, MY HEAD HURTS!
Nope, once again they waltz around with this issue to the point that my head was spinning, circling back on previous statements and positions for nearly an hour.  Eventually they decided to - wait for it - carry it over to the next meeting.  By this time I was joining attorney Yolanda Summerhill in seeking divine intervention, but it didn't come.

COUNCIL COMPENSATION - AGAIN
Next up was the issue of Council Compensation, HERE - which had been thoroughly flogged at the last meeting.  Again, I thought that, since this issue had been pretty well wrung-out previously, it might result in a rapid resolution last night.  Wrong, again!  In baseball I'd be "out" by now.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS AND MORE QUESTIONS!
Round and round the discussion went.  Is a council member an employee?  If so, must he be treated as such under labor laws?  We thought we agreed last time to pay them a flat stipend and let it take care of any medical/pension choices they might make!  Should a council member even have a pension?  On and on and on....  It was decided that there needed to be input from Human Resources on the personnel elements of this question.  Most committee members opined that council members shouldn't have pensions, but the issue is long from resolved.  I had to smile when committee member Tea Party Tom Pollitt - maybe the strongest advocate of Jim Righeimer's Charter on the committee - said in frustration, "Why don't we just use General Law?"  That's a refrain many observers have muttered to ourselves as this painful process has unfolded over the many months the committee has met.

UNFUNDED PENSION LIABILITY
Because of the lateness of the hour Bauermeister proposed shoving the Unfunded Pension Liability issue, HERE, off to the next meeting since the Pension Oversight Committee expects to have important recommendations at that time.  That also should have been simple, but member Gene Hutchins - for whom the Unfunded Pension Liability has become his own personal crusade - stretched out what could have been a one-word answer (yes), into another fifteen minute discussion of the issue, including using a bottle of water as a prop.

MEASURING PROGRESS CAREFULLY
So, three hours later and four agenda items put on pause until the next meeting.  That doesn't mean there wasn't some valuable discussion last night - there certainly was.  What it means to me, though, is that Bauermeister's expectation that the committee will actually have a viable document to present to the City Council by his target date of February 26, 2014 is extremely optimistic.  The committee is scheduled to meet four times between now and that date, including that meeting.  We'll have a much better handle on it following their next meeting on January 8, 2014.

AMIABLE ADVERSARIES
An observation: The committee, despite the circular path they take on almost every issue, has remained civil and generally followed the rules of decorum they established in the very beginning.  I've been impressed with the quality of some of the arguments, on both sides of issues.  Maybe "argument" is a little too strong.  "Debate" may be a better word.  There is a core group on the committee that is obviously well-prepared for this task and have the logical, analytical thought processes and oratorical skills to craft and deliver a coherent message.  Yes, there are clearly very divergent views among the members, but it's not unusual to have folks who appear to be polar opposites agree with each other on important issues.  I'm encouraged by that fact.

WAIT AND SEE...
Until they get down to the end - when the language of the final document is hammered out - I'm still not sure whether they will produce a document the voters will accept.  After all is said and done, the goal is to produce a document that will improve the governance of our city by trading state-mandated safeguards and controls we enjoy as a General Law city for more local control that the public will buy into.  With the recent legislation that took the Prevailing Wage issue off the table, the single-biggest reason for even considering a Charter form of government is now gone.  And, there is absolutely no assurance the council will agree with their proposal, either.  We'll see..

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