Friday, March 07, 2014

Voice Of A Departed Comrade-in-Arms

NOT ENOUGH COPS
Much has been said lately about the staffing levels of the Costa Mesa Police Department.  The combination of the economic downturn a few years ago that created early retirement incentives and a vindictive, stubborn City Council majority that came into power with a view that the CMPD should be staffed nearly 20% thinner than consultants and experienced law enforcement leaders recommended, has contributed to a situation today where we cannot field a full complement of officers without requiring dramatic overtime hours.  The Daily Pilot published a commentary I submitted on this issue this afternoon, HERE.

LEAVING IN DROVES
The toxic atmosphere created by Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and councilman Gary Monahan throughout the city has been felt most strongly among the ranks of the CMPD.  Recent reports released by the city, which we mentioned HERE a couple weeks ago, show just how precarious public safety is in this city today.  It is my understanding that we are unable to field 100 men and women for duty with the CMPD today - and this is likely to get much worse soon.

PENDING RETIREMENTS AND RESIGNATIONS
Besides the nearly one dozen officers, including Chief Tom Gazsi, who could retire right now, other officers are actively seeking other positions in neighboring agencies - and taking pay cuts and longer commutes to do it.

ONE BRAVE OFFICER SPEAKS OUT
Officer Jacob Slechta left for a job at another nearby agency this week and, on his last day as a member of the CMPD, wrote a letter to fellow-officers in the Costa Mesa Police Department.  I spoke with Officer Slechta this afternoon who confirmed for me that he would not have left the CMPD if it was not for the limited opportunities due to the hostile political climate created by the current City Council majority.  With his permission I offer this letter to you now for your consideration. It has not been edited.

From: SLECHTA, JACOB A. 
Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 10:19 PM
To: POLICE DEPARTMENT  
Subject: Thank You

Greetings,

Tonight ends my time with the Costa Mesa Police Department.  Over the past few years, I have read many “farewell” letters.  Most of them have the same general tone of thanking people and so on.  In fairness to a long lost moral trait, I am going to speak my mind and tell the truth about certain things that others may think, but choose not to speak of due to possible repercussions.  With that being said, I also have no intent on burning any bridges.  Whatever I say throughout this letter are my beliefs and my beliefs alone.  I will not use anyone as my own personal martyr for choices that I made. 

First, I want to thank this organization for hiring me.  I have learned a ton about the law and all of its nuances.  I have had the honor to learn from some great leaders.  I also possess the common sense to know when someone is not so great.  There are entirely too many people to name that have positively influenced me and it would be unfair of me to try. 

I had an amazing opportunity to work with a great group of rank and file police officers during my time on patrol; most recently working weekday PM shift.  Teams 5 and 6 really blended together.  I wish my partners nothing but the best and hope they get all the recognition they deserve.  Sergeants Starn and Grimmond were outstanding and made this transition seamless for me.  I had never worked for either of those Sergeants until recently.  They understand how to develop subordinates and bring a level of expertise and experience that is unmatched; two of the best patrol sergeants I’ve known.  They both took a solid interest in me and listened to my reasons for leaving the department.  Thank you, gentlemen.  

I also earned the chance to work in the Special Enforcement Detail.  That is an experience I will never forget.  I learned so much from my partners in that unit.  Mario, Bang, George (1), George (2), Kevin, Dan, and Matt; you guys are excellent at this job and we had a great three years.  We traveled throughout the region taking drugs and money off criminals and loved every minute of it.  I only hope this police department understands the value of their efforts.  The money that was seized has opened many doors that were otherwise closed.  Sergeant May, you have been like a father figure to me and although you come across a little rough, those that truly know you believe that you would give anyone the shirt off your back.  Okay, maybe not the equivalent to a father figure.  Maybe a distant cousin that possesses no filter; I am only kidding.  Thank you for allowing your team the freedom and trust to succeed.

I especially want to thank the civilian staff that works very hard to support our efforts as police officers.  Every one of you helped me along the way and I can’t thank you enough.   

My decision to leave this department was not an easy one.   I will say this:  If you are in a position of leadership whether it is deserving, or not; never forget how you got to that position.  Unless of course you got there by doing things that were not consistent with being a good leader.  What I mean is that I have seen people get promoted that do not possess the type of leadership traits that I agree with.  This is a very simple concept.  Never ask a subordinate to do something you would not do yourself, and every now and again it does not hurt to perform the duties that brought you to the place you currently are.  I would also challenge everyone in a leadership position to look within and ask themselves if what they are doing is in the best interest of those they govern.  I learned at a very young age that if I just do my job and take care of my men, my efforts will and should be recognized.  The second I start performing my duties in an effort solely to get recognized is when I failed as a leader.  Leading men and women in a profession such as this demands a selfless leader.     

To the three individuals that comprise our council majority.  If you think that you have filled your quota of public service by becoming (elected) council members; you are sorely mistaken.  You are (3) of the most despicable human beings I have ever heard of.  You question our pay and retirement, but have no idea what goes into being a police officer.  We work a career of shift work that is unstable at best.  To put it short, we put ourselves in harm’s way and do so because we believe in what is good and just.  I have never seen a group of human beings that felt their elected position entitled them to some form of royalty status the way you do.  Your arrogance disgusts me and if you truly cared about your constituents and the city you govern you would not let your arrogance drive your belief system.   

I remember the first time I met Righeimer and Mensinger.  They were touring the police department and entered the SED office.  I regretfully shook both of their hands.  Mensinger asked if I had served in the military and deployed.  When he found out I served in, Iraq his next comment was “leave them where they lay” in reference to my combat experience.  Obviously he has zero clue as to what combat is really like. He thought that I would somehow embrace his falsely motivated comment and revere him as some type of powerful figure.  I actually have been disgusted by his comment to this day, and even more irritated that he made an attempt to relate to my own personal experiences.   

I was once a registered Republican.  Because of the three of you, I am now a registered Independent.  I only wish and hope you are all exposed for your true worth in the very near future. 

This letter may have a few negative parts, but only if the shoe fits.  Thank you all for the memories.  Stay safe and God speed. 

Jake

“All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (E. Burke)    

GOOD-BYE AND GOOD LUCK
Well, there you have it.  We, of course, wish him well in his new assignment, and understand the decision that forced the move.  Sadly, this feeling is NOT an aberration.  Other officers who have recently departed have privately expressed similar sentiments.  Officer Slechta chose to express them publicly.

THE TIPPING POINT
This officer is precisely the kind of officers we should be finding ways to retain.  A Marine veteran with ten years service, including a tour in Iraq,  Officer Slechta spent eight years with the CMPD and is acknowledged by his superiors as an outstanding officer.  Something simply MUST change before we pass the tipping point where, regardless the number of overtime hours, the CMPD will simply not be able to provide safe coverage for our city.  Chief Gazsi and the staff are actively recruiting new officers every day, but the time it takes to process the applications, screen them, test them, then run them through the academy can be as long as a year before they show up for work.

LAWSUIT ON THIN ICE
In an interesting bit of timing Bradley Zint published an excellent article in the Daily Pilot this afternoon that covers decisions made last Wednesday in the lawsuit filed by Righeimer and Mensinger against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department and others.  You can read it HERE.   This is a complex issue which I think Zint managed to accurately capture.  Both sides seem pleased with parts of the decision.  The best news, as far as I'm concerned, is that ONLY private investigator Chris Lanzillo will be deposed AND, unless Righeimer and Mensinger's lawyer can come up with a more compelling case against the CMPOA by March 25th, the judge is likely to throw out that part of the lawsuit.  The only exception I would take with the article is the characterization of Righeimer being administered a "field sobriety test".  That phrase conjures up him being asked to put his finger to his nose, walk a straight line and being administered a Breathalyzer.  None of that happened.  He was asked by Officer Kha Bao - our most highly decorated DUI officer - simply to follow a light with his eyes for a few seconds.  Bao, based on his experience, determined that Righeimer was not impaired and that ended the encounter.

SPEAK UP!
The residents of this community MUST speak up to let their elected leaders know just how unsatisfactory this situation has become.  Response times are getting longer because we just don't have enough cops on the street.  Until the residents speak up there is no incentive for the current council majority to do anything - except sue the members of the Costa Mesa Police Department, that is.  Shame on them.

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

60th Anniversary Controversy Continues To Fester(Amended)***

A PAINFUL WOUND
Like a wound that just won't heal, the controversy surrounding the Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary Celebration costs continues to ooze.  This week members of the "real media" reached out and tore the scab off.

TWO ARTICLES IN THE REGISTER
Earlier in the week Antonie Boessenkool of the Orange County Register published two articles, the first of which appeared to be outside that darn pay wall.  I'm not sure about the companion piece.  The first one, HERE, titled, "How Costa Mesa costs soared for 60th birthday party" and goes to great lengths to address the history of the huge cost overruns associated with the celebration early last summer.  She addresses the various vendors involved, the fact that the cost of the three-day party was more than a half-million dollars and quantifies many of the relevant statistics.

ARTIST'S DEMANDS
The companion piece, HERE, titled "Costa Mesa foot bill for 60th anniversary bands' Jack Daniels, munchies", goes into great detail on just what kind of stuff was demanded by the musical groups contracted to perform at the celebration.  Eric Burdon, for example, demanded that his hotel room be stocked with very specific water, wine, tea and cheeses.  His demands for his dressing room were even greater, requiring specific kinds of chocolate, tea, black socks and Paul Mitchell Firm Dry Wax hair product.  Yikes!  Other artists made similar demands.

EXCELLENT COVERAGE
Boessenkool did a terrific job of presenting some pretty darn painful statistics and the timeline of how the City managed to overspend all that tax money on an event that apparently had a miserable turnout for the entertainment.

BARBARA'S BACK AT THEM
Then, today Barbara Venezia returns to the Daily Pilot with HER take on the 60th in her column titled, "Nothing adds up in 60th debacle", HERE.  Venezia is much less patient in her piece, asking the tough questions about just what the heck happened as the planning for this event unfolded and, later, when the bills came due.

NOT ENOUGH ANSWERS
She spoke with both CEO Tom Hatch and his Assistant CEO, Rick Francis, about this issue.  I got the impression from her observations that she's not very satisfied with their replies.  Take some time and read through her column.  I guarantee that it will make you more than a little angry.

A YEAR LATER, WE WANT TO KNOW...
We are now past the anniversary of when this ill-advised brainstorm was hatched (no pun intended) by Mayor Jim Righiemer as a bit of self-agrandizement to distract residents from all the other crap going on in the city at the time.  There has been a report issued that didn't come close to answering many of the questions being asked throughout the community.  Residents want to know how more than $500,000 of our tax dollars got spent on that, to use the word from Venezia's title, debacle.  People want to know if what happened was a result of incompetence or conspiracy - or both.

***BLAMING THE STAFF
We're told that there was NO buyer in place during this time - only a part-time clerk with limited experience who was expected to process bills.  Following publication of this entry I'm advised that there was, indeed, a buyer in place during this time period.  I'm also advised that when that person pushed back, demanding that proper procedures be followed, he was bypassed and the bills were approved by a "higher authority".  The uncertainty of what happened that resulted in Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce being placed on administrative leave - where he remains to this day, getting paid to do nothing - only adds to the suspicions throughout the community.  We know bills were paid without proper approvals.  We know the Conference and Visitors Bureau - which seems to function very much like a slush fund for the mayor - covered many of the overages.  That fact is kind of just waved off when questions arise, although our tax dollars funds the CVB.

VOLUNTEERS DEMAND A VOICE
We are eight months downstream from the event and there STILL has not been any kind of "after action report".  The cadre of volunteers who worked long and hard to try to make the event a success have been crying for a chance to discuss what went right - and wrong - during the event so we can learn from our mistakes.  The longer it takes for that meeting to take place the angrier and more frustrated those folks are becoming.

THIS IS ON HATCH
This falls squarely in the lap of CEO Hatch.  It's his responsibility and, in my view, he has failed miserably in fulfilling that responsibility.  He needs to get this mess behind us.  He needs to step up, convene the volunteers and let them tell their stories - no matter how long it takes.  The longer he waits, the more it looks like a cover-up.

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"Preserve Our Neighborhoods" Task Force Formed

DEALING WITH GROUP HOMES

Yesterday the City of Costa Mesa announced, via a press release, HERE, the appointments of seven individuals to the "newly formed Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force".  Keen observers will recall that Mayor Jim Righeimer announced the names of the individuals he appointed to this group at the last council meeting Tuesday.  I wrote about it HERE.

WHO ARE THESE FOLKS?
The names of the individuals appointed are Jeremy Broderick, Kerry McCarthy, Scott McClane, Joe McGreevy, Lisa Morlan, Tim Sesler and Larry Weichman.  A few of those are familiar names, while others are brand new.  Sesler and McCarthy are Riganista insiders, currently appointed to other committees.  Sesler - a lawyer, which I mention only because Righeimer made a big deal about it at the council meeting -  is a planning commissioner and also serves on the Pension Oversight Committee.  McCarthy, wife of Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, also serves on the Charter Committee.  Weichman is a highly-respected realtor and volunteer in the community  Morlan, a fellow Eastside resident, has been one of the most vocal residents on the issue of Group Homes recently.  Apparently Broderick runs sober living facilities locally and McGreevy lives in the belly of the beast on the Eastside.  I have no information on McClane at this point.

ACCOUNTABLE TO WHOM?
The press release says this task force "will explore ways to lessen the negative impacts of group homes on Costa Mesa residential communities."  It will be very interesting to see how this evolves.  As I understand it, because it is a "task force" - clarified for me by Communications Director Bill Lobdell this morning, in which he said this is like a "mayor's committee".  He compared it to Wendy Leece's Town Halls, in which she ran the whole thing and the city supported it.  As I understand it, as a "task force" this group is not subject to the Brown Act, which means they can meet whenever, wherever they wish and have no responsibility for any kind of public reporting of their activities.  I'm just a teensy bit uneasy about that...

DOESN'T SQUARE, MR. MAYOR
Righeimer is quoted in the press release as saying, "The city is committed to spending the resources needed to maintain the character of our Costa Mesa neighborhoods and their safety."  I'm trying to square that comment with his behavior over the past three years, in which he has almost single-handedly destroyed one of the best law enforcement organizations in the state.

SO FAR NO EVIDENCE ON THE "NUISANCE ORDINANCE"
He goes on to say, "The City Council recently passed a nuisance ordinance that will help curb bad behavior in our neighborhoods, and we are looking to the task force come up with other solutions that keeps the integrity of our neighborhoods without discriminating against any group."  OK, I get that, and recall that he told us at the last council meeting that dealing with the Group Home industry - which he described as a "billion dollar industry" and likened it to the pornography industry when comparing the impact on communities - was going to be expensive.  He said, "This is gonna cost a lot of money - litigation does."  He said "It's going to be a long, hard, painful road."

YES, IT'S A BIG PROBLEM
Let there be no doubt - the Group Home issue is a HUGE problem for our neighborhoods and I'm happy the City is moving forward seeking solutions.  Righeimer told us last Tuesday night that Newport Beach made big mistakes in it's handling of their Group Home problem and are now paying millions in legal fees/settlements as a result.

WITH FINGERS CROSSED....
According to the press release, this new task force will convene for the first time "within the next few weeks and establish a regular meeting schedule."  I'm keeping a positive thought about this process and hope their combined concerns,  passion and backgrounds - whatever they are - can facilitate some solutions to the issue that other cities have not yet discovered.

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Friction Marks Fairview Park Citizens Meeting

THREE HOURS AND RANCOR
The most recent monthly meeting of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Meeting Wednesday night at the Neighborhood Community Center was marked by slow progress, extended hours and friction among the members.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY UPDATE
The meeting began benignly enough with a presentation by Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia presenting an update on the Archaeological Survey being conducted within the park.  The last one was completed in 1993.

HARBOR SOARING SOCIETY
Then members of the Harbor Soaring Society gave a report on their history in the park, their community outreach and their desires to extend their permit to operate at the park for another five years.  The city council voted to only extend their permit through the end of this year when the then-current permit expired last year.  Henry Smith, shown, told us that the HSS was formed in 1982 and currently has between 80-90 members. He and John Anderson discussed many elements of the HSS activities, including their involvement in the Design/Build/Fly program.

PUBLIC COMMENTS
During Public Comments a handful of people rose to express concern about the items to be discussed for the Southwest Quadrant of the park last night.

EAGLE SCOUT PROJECT
The highlight of the Public Comments for me was the presentation by young Eagle Scout candidate Christian Redman.  His project is to plant 800 new plants within the park on March 16th.  He's looking for help with the project in the form of manual labor and/or financial aid to buy the plants.  The flyer explains it all.  (Click on it to enlarge.)

DR. MEHREN'S UNFORTUNATE RANT
Following Public Comments and before they tackled the main item on the agenda - evaluating which items should or should not be considered further during their discussion of the Southwest Quadrant, Chairman Dr. Richard Mehren (shown here with Vice Chair Steve Smith) used his bully pulpit - inappropriately, in my view - to read several letters to the committee from the last meeting's batch of correspondence, then castigate members of the committee for trying to advance their own agenda.  He expressed his opinion that many members do not represent the community and indicated that he'd "held my water for a long time", expressing frustration and that the issues being discussed by the committee should go on the ballot.  I watched as committee members, staff and audience stared in disbelief at Mehren's outburst.  More on that later.

MEETING RAN LONG
Because of the large number of items to be discussed, the staff report presented only half of them - the first twelve (12).  HERE is the link to the staff report.  Because of the nature of the items, and because they permitted public comments on each and every one, working through the process took more time than anticipated.  They votes to extend the time twice, eventually ending the meeting shortly after 9:00 p.m. - an hour longer than anticipated.

FEW ITEMS MOVED FORWARD
Only four (4) of the twelve items considered at this meeting will receive further staff consideration/analysis and be brought back to the committee for further assessment.  The remaining eight (8) either died for lack of a motion being made, or a second being found or had a tie vote, which meant it was defeated.  Interestingly, issue number 3, the possible expansion of the trains to the West Side of the park, over the bridge  and around the bluff, ended up in a 4-4 tie and thus failed.

PASSED
Those items that passed were:
#1 - Additional Picnic Structures - 7-1 (Steve Smith voted no)
#4 - Improve Information Kiosk, SW Quadrant - 7-1 (Smith voting no again)
#5 - Vernal Pools Preservation with Cables/Signage and Delineation - 7-1 (Smith again)
#7 - Retain the Elements of the Master Plan as it Reads Now - 7-1 (Brett Eckles voted no)

That last one requires some explanation.  Smith presented an explanation, apparently agreed upon by staff during their pre-meeting, that defined exactly what a "yes" and "no" vote meant.  He actually read it twice and I'm not sure anyone in the room understood what their vote might mean.  Still, they went forward with it, with the result indicated.

FAILED
Items NOT moving forward were:
#2 - Baseball/Softball Facilities - Died for lack of a motion
#3 - Expand Train Routes - Failed on a 4-4 vote.  Member David Stiller remains hospitalized and was absent.  Members Popp, Cummings, Eckles and Amburgey voted yes.  Members Vrska, Ramos, Smith and Mehren voted no.
#6 - Soccer/Football Fields - Died for lack of a motion
#8 - Install a Two-Tier Building w/Interpretive Center/Terrace/Viewing Deck - Died for lack of a second
#9 - Westside Grass Area/Sprinkler System Improvements - Died for lack of a second
#10 - Basketball/Handball Courts - Died for lack of a motion
#11 - Eroding Bluffs - Install Staircase SW Quadrant - Died for lack of a motion
#12 - Install Information Kiosks with Pamphlets - Died for lack of a motion

THE SECOND DOZEN NEXT MONTH
At their next meeting in April the committee will tackle the remaining dozen items on the list earmarked last summer as potential activities/projects for the Southwest Quadrant of the park.  The staff will proceed with analysis of the four items above that were moved to go forward for further consideration.
SEVERAL SPEAKERS
Many members of the public - approximately 40 people attended the meeting - stepped up during the dozen discussions above, most of whom expressed the same thought - don't do anything to this Quadrant.  Of course, there were several eloquent speakers, who gave excellent reasons for their recommendations.  Barry Friedland was on hand to capture the event for replay on his YouTube site, Costa Mesa Brief.

SERIOUS CRITICISM OF CHAIRMAN MEHREN
At the end of the meeting, during Member Comments, Brett Eckles used most of his time to strongly criticize Mehren for his "abuse of power" earlier in the meeting.  He said he was offended that Mehren accused members of having an agenda when he, above all, had demonstrated a strong bias against doing anything from the very beginning.

Ron Amburgey echoed Eckles, stating, "You're the most biased person on this committee - you and Anna." (He meant member Anna Vrska).  He also said, "You're not keeping an open mind and you're not running the meeting properly."

Dennis Popp agreed with Amburgey, stating that "the position of the chair is not to promote a position of authority."  He said Mehren's actions were "an abuse of power".

SADLY, I MUST AGREE
I must say that I agree with much of that criticism.  Mehren violated Robert's Rules of Order with his rant earlier in the meeting.  That kind of criticism should have been done during the Member Comments segment, if at all.  I was disappointed with his performance last night.  He continues to struggle with the task of running the meetings and it makes for many awkward moments.  I keep hoping he will figure this out, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

ANOTHER MEETING NEXT MONTH
So, off they go into the night, looking forward to another long meeting in April.  We can hope this one will end up with less rancor.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Another Late Night And Righeimer Blows A Gasket

LATE START
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?

PUBLIC COMMENTS
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.   

CMPD
Margaret Mooney rose to also address the talent drain in the CMPD.

THUNNEL MUZZLED
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.

VERNAL POOLS
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.

POLICE CRISIS
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.

AS USUAL...
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."

HYPOCRITE!
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!

HATCH
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
Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy stepped up to praise the council for passing this ordinance.  Retired senior staffer Peter Naghavi stepped up to praise the council for passing this ordinance. Nine residents rose to offer their views.  One of them wondered to the council whether it was working for the people or the developers.  Others suggested that developers go where there is more open space - like south county - for their developments instead of trying to jam more of these developments into Costa Mesa.  In a parting shot, one speaker echoed a phrase Councilwoman Sandra Genis uttered several weeks ago when she observed that she'd heard that Costa Mesa was becoming known as "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
Public Hearing #3, the 36-unit combination live/work development on Placentia Avenue, 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.

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