Another Late Night And Righeimer Blows A Gasket
The Costa Mesa City Council meeting got off to a late start last night when the council stretched their Closed Session to nearly 2 hours. We don't know exactly what went on in that meeting up in the 5th floor bunker, but contract City Attorney Tom Duarte "reported out" that the City will receive a $125,000 settlement on the third item on the agenda - a lawsuit that has been pending since July. We can only assume that the other two items - labor negotiations between the City and both CMCEA and CMPOA were contentious. Negotiator Richard Kreisler wasn't in the chambers for any kind of a report and, since the COIN process requires a report if offers are made, we must assume no progress has been made on the CMCEA issue. And, I have no knowledge of whether Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger left the meeting when the CMPOA issue was discussed.
COSTA MESA UNITED
Once the regular meeting finally began at 6:20 we had a little report from Colin McCarthy and Ron Amburgey, representing Costa Mesa United, on how the monies they raised (and the City contributed) had been spent over the last year. Unfortunately, Amburgey blitzed through the slide show so fast and without much comment, that I'm still unsure how much was spent, and where. Still, good for Costa Mesa United. The schools appreciate their efforts. It is, after all, all about the kids, right?
The Public Comments segment was interesting. As has been his practice, Righeimer was handed a deck of speaker cards, appeared to shuffle them up a little, then called the names of the anointed 10 speakers who would be permitted to address his highness, er, the council. The remainder would be trailed to the very end of the meeting - in this case, well after 11 p.m.
COPS AND GROUP HOMES
The first speaker, Scott Morlan, addressed the recent series of articles by Eric Hartley in the Orange County Register and asked Righeimer to clarify some of the comments attributed to him. Righeimer didn't. Morlan's wife, Lisa, addressed the council on the issue of Group Homes and wondered how many citations have been issued so far under our Nuisance Ordinance. She also wondered why no list is available for unlicensed group homes, since they are, in fact, businesses. Licensed group homes are listed on the City website. Righeimer, in response to her, mentioned that she was one of seven community member selected for his new Preserve Our Neighborhoods Committee.
DENSITY AND TRAFFIC
Harold Weitzberg cautioned the council about the location of infill projects, not wishing Costa Mesa to end up looking like his hometown of Flushing, Queens.
I'M A SWELL GUY
Phil Morello used his three minutes to pat himself on the back for his accomplishments of the past 20 years as a member of the Wallace Avenue Improvement Group.
COP RECRUITMENT STATISTICS
Sue Lester provided some statistics to the council about the Cost of Recruitment for the Costa Mesa Police Department, explaining that it's MUCH cheaper to find creative ways to retain officers than to replace them.
Margaret Mooney rose to also address the talent drain in the CMPD.
Then Greg Thunnel stepped up and began to speak, even though his name had not been called. After a few seconds Righeimer slammed the door on him. Thunnel didn't stick around until the end of the meeting to speak.
Kim Hendricks asked why the Fairview Park vernal pools are not being protected.
FIELD USE ALLOCATION NUMBERS
Anna Vrska took on the recent Field Use Allocation Report, questioned its accuracy and wondered how the scheduled uses compared to the actual use time.
WHAT WILL IT TAKE?
Tamar Goldmann addressed the "Police staffing crisis" and suggested that the council ask Chief Tom Gazsi and the members of the CMPD what it will take to keep them here.
I'M A SWELL GUY, PART 2
Shortly after 7:00 we arrived at the Council Members Comments segment. Mensinger led off and patted himself on the back as a member of Costa Mesa United.
WANTS A REPORT
Sandra Genis thanked Lisa Morlan for her comments and asked for a report on the citations issued as a result of the Nuisance Ordinance.
COMMITTEES, DEVELOPMENT AND FIELDS
Wendy Leece mentioned the call for volunteers for five city committees and the Costa Mesa Senior Corporation Board that was recently announced, HERE. She reminded us of the Costa Mesa Relay For Life event coming up on March 31st which she co-chairs. She addressed Weitzberg's comment and expressed concern for developments that will generate more traffic and increase the density in the city. On the Field Use issue, she wondered if groups are "hoarding fields" - scheduling them, then not using them.
Leece then addressed CEO Tom Hatch on the issue of the Costa Mesa Police Department and asked him, directly, what we are doing to address pending retirements. She said the CMPD is "on the brink of collapse", and that we need a plan to address it. She implied that this was an attempt at "union busting" to demonstrate to outside entities how tough we are. I presume she was referring to Righeimer. She referred to this situation as a "political battle". She demanded to know what is going to be done and suggested, among other things, we consider hiring/retention bonuses. I thought to myself that folks are not leaving the CMPD because of money. Recent reports tell us that many leave because of the political environment created by Righeimer.
Gary Monahan, as is usually the case, had nothing to say. He's been sleep-walking through council meetings for many months.
PRESERVE OUR NEIGHBORHOODS COMMITTEE
Righeimer then took over and yapped for fifteen minutes. He mentioned his Preserve Our Neighborhoods Committee that has been percolating for "four or five months" and announced the names of the members - which he rattled off so fast that I couldn't catch most of them. It was strange, since there was no public process for the selection of members to that committee. I guess he just picked folks he liked. So much for transparency. He did mention Lisa Morlan and Tim Sesler - whom he mentioned is a lawyer. Little Timmy is a Planning Commissioner and one of the inner circle of Riganistas that now dominate most city committees.
COMPARED GROUP HOMES TO THE PORN INDUSTRY
During his rant about the Group Home issue he mentioned that Newport Beach, which found a way to oust them, is now being sued. He compared that "billion dollar industry" to the pornography industry - a very nice touch. He said "This is gonna cost a lot of money - litigation does." He also said, "It's gonna be a long, hard, painful road."
Addressing the "police" issue, among the pearls of wisdom he laid on us was, "It's important that the people are protected and that they feel protected." He then defended closing the A.B.L.E. helicopter program by telling us that most cities don't have helicopter programs and they get along just fine. That's why he "just shifted the dollars". Well, he shifted one heck of a lot of dollars to potholes from protecting residents. He closed his segment by saying, "When I ran for office about four years ago I said it and I meant it. We love our police department!" I almost threw up in my mouth! Does he even think about this garbage before he spews it? I can tell you that the men and women of the CMPD are sure not feeling that love from him! What a hypocrite!
At 7:30 Hatch had his turn at bat. He told us that a space at the Police Department substation near Lions Park would be carved out as a regular meeting room for Costa Mesa Vets, and that they would continue to be offered meeting rooms at the Neighborhood Community Center free of charge.
GROUP HOME/CODE ENFORCEMENT
Addressing the Group Homes issue, he, once again, spoke of the Code Enforcement officers in the 5th floor unit dedicated to "motels" and "group homes" and told us "public safety is our top priority." Really, Tom? Please explain to us how the City's actions square with your words.
ALLEYS, GRANTS AND VERNAL POOLS
Hatch relinquished a segment of his time for Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz to address alleys - we're ahead of schedule by a couple years of getting all the alleys paved (due in great part to Righeimer's "shifting of dollars" - my words, not Ernesto's); grants - the staff continues to be successful in acquiring grants for important infrastructure improvements and the vernal pools. We're still waiting from guidance from United States Fish and Wildlife (USFW) on how to proceed.
THREE ITEMS YANKED
Items 6, 7 and 8 were pulled from the Consent Calendar and were addressed at the end of the meeting.
SMALL LOT SUBDIVISION ORDINANCE
Just before 8:00 we got to Public Hearing #1, the Small Lot Subdivision issue. The voluminous agenda report can be read HERE. After a short staff report - in which it was stressed that "the proposed ordinance is not intended to increase the density in any multiple family residential zones, modify the minimum requirement for parking spaces, or change the approval process for small subdivisions" - sixteen members of the "public", including former council candidate Chris McEvoy, rose to address it. Those included five (5) developers or representatives of developer organizations, who were pleased as punch that Costa Mesa has created this document which will basically make it a lot easier on them - and the city staff - to process their requests. Previously, most such developments were "bogged down" by the need for variances and deviations from the existing city code. You know, those codes that had been enacted to protect neighborhoods from things like density and traffic. This ordinance codifies the deviations from those protections.
SOME HAPPY, OTHERS NOT SO MUCH
a cheap lay" within the development community. Nice, huh? Another wondered if an examination of campaign contributions for certain council members might find the names of developers.
ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT QUESTIONED
The subsequent council discussion was interesting. Genis - a land planning consultant by profession - expressed frustration because she said the "environmental determination is bizarre" and angrily suggested that the staff needs training on the subject.
AN AMUSING MALAPROP
Mensinger - who sometimes speaks in tongues - in trying to explain how developers had been frustrated by the old process said it "exasperated the problem". Well, of course, we know he meant "exacerbated", right? What a guy! But then, that's just "Steve being Steve".. the cop out for everything he does.
MORE TRAFFIC AND COMMUNITY DENSITY
Wendy Leece expressed concern that this would result in more traffic and stress on our infrastructure. When the vote was called at 9:10 it passed the first reading, 3-2, with Genis and Leece voting no.
EXPANSION TO MOVE AHEAD
When the meeting reconvened at 9:20 they addressed Public Hearing #2, an appeal of a proposed renovation in Wimbledon Village. Forty minutes later the council upheld the original decision on a 5-0 vote.
JUNKYARD TO HOMES
HERE, took more than an hour of wrestling with basically a parking/easement access issue. The issue of this appeal by a contiguous property owner was the use of the shared easement that was a driveway to both properties. The current use of the property to be developed is a salvage yard. The appellant expressed concern about the safety of cars backing out of garages - 10 of the units are configured so the garages face the easement - because of the number of delivery trucks and other commercial vehicles going to their property. This was partially mitigated by shifting the development a few feet, but Leece and Genis continued to express concern about the safety elements, and that children may wander out onto the easement.
RIGHEIMER LOSES IT!
At that point Righeimer just completely lost it. He said, "This whole issue of safety is bizarre!" (That's got to tell you something about the man..) He ranted about council members concerns, saying "we want it perfect!", meaning they - the other council members - wanted it perfect. Then, as Leece had the floor and was explaining her view, Righeimer threw his arms in the air, rudely interrupted her and - as Monahan and Mensinger squirmed in their seats - bellowed, "It's just a junk yard!" I knew he'd never make it through the meeting without one of those little explosions for which he has become notorious. The council approved the development on a 3-2 vote - Leece and Genis voted no.
EXPAND VANDALISM REWARD TO PRIVATE PROPERTY, TOO?
At 11:10 they began considering Old Business #1, the ordinance that provided for a reward to folks who lead to the arrest and conviction of people who vandalize public property. This was a no-brainer, so the discussion took only couple minutes and it passed, 5-0. However, (speaking of no-brainers) Mensinger wanted to expand it to vandalism of private property, too. He couldn't get a second to his motion, but Righeimer directed Hatch to bring back a NEW ordinance to provide rewards - from city funds - for apprehending and convicting criminals who vandalize private property. I'm not so sure about this one. Why should public funds be used for this purpose?
DOOR'S OPEN FOR SEX OFFENDERS AGAIN
At 11:15 it took fifteen seconds for the council to vote to repeal the ordinance that forbade sex offenders to be in public parks. That may be a new record.
QUICK WORK OF CONSENT CALENDAR ITEMS
They then took on the three items pulled from the Consent Calendar, numbers 6, 7 and 8. The first two passed with 5-0 votes and the third, which dealt with the Orange County Marathon, passed on a 4-0 vote because Righeimer recused himself because he said, "I sold some furniture" to the guy who runs the program. Well, it's more than that, but he left the auditorium for the discussion and vote.
RIGHEIMER QUASHES COMMENTS - AGAIN
And, the meeting ended at 11:33 as the last remaining person who signed up for Public Comments, Cindy Black, questioned the 19th Street bike path. Righeimer managed, once again, to discourage another half dozen speakers by bifurcating the Public Comments segment. Folks like James Bridges, who depends on public transportation to attend meetings, had their opportunity to speak before the council delayed and, for all practical purposes, denied. Such is life in Righeimer's "transparent" world.