FUN STUFF FIRST
OK, before we talk about the long, long evening let's get the fun stuff out of the way first....
NEW LIFE-SAVING EQUIPMENT
As a preamble to the Tuesday night Costa Mesa City Council meeting the Costa Mesa Fire Department unveiled two of their new Paramedic vans in the parking lot of City Hall. Fire Chief Dan Stefano
and several members of the design and build team that coordinated the acquisition of six of those beautiful pieces of equipment - worth $200,000 each - were on hand to give tours and explain to the members of the public and media present just what these trucks mean to the residents of the city. The City must now fill the four firefighter vacancies so all of the vans can be deployed.
EQUIPMENT ON DISPLAY
The unit were on display for an hour - from 5-6 p.m. - and dozens of employees and residents on their way to the council meeting took a look at the rigs. You'll be seeing them around town once the department is fully staffed and all of them can be deployed. Kudos to former Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold
for selling the city council on this proposal, and to Chief Stefano for carrying it out.
Once the meeting began there were several presentations. First, Mayor Jim Righeimer
found the highest-profile Rabbi in the area - Rabbi Elie Spitz
- to lead the moment of solemn expression and then to receive a plaque recognizing Holocaust Day last week. A cynic might think this was intentional - an attempt to continue to peel off the scab on the wound Righeimer created at the last council meeting when he called me and four others out for a comment I made on Facebook. For his part, Rabbi Spitz delivered quite a nice little speech in which he spoke of "Words have power"
and to "use them wisely
The mayor then acknowledged the firefighters in the audience and mentioned the vans. Captain Brent Turner
spoke about the process of getting the vans and acknowledged the other members of his team present last night.
PROVIDE A RIDE
Then the women responsible for the "Provide a Ride" program - that gives motorcycle rides to blind and other impaired individuals. Started in 2004 as a class project, hundreds of impaired folks have had a chance to ride since then. It was a very nice feel-good story.
Then came Righeimer's favorite part of the evening - the recognition of St. John The Baptist School Clover Choir - recently judged the very best in the country at a national competition. The young people sang a couple songs for us and Righeimer presented plaques and flowers to the director. Did I mention that his children attend the school and one of them is on the choir? No? Sorry...
Which brings us to the Public Comments segment. Righeimer decided, unilaterally, that since there were only 11 speaker cards submitted, we would hear them all instead of having one be trailed to the end of the meeting. Good decision - perhaps his only one last night.
RIGHEIMER - SWING AND MISS
Right off the bat Righeimer got into trouble. Speaker Cindy Brenneman
, who has been described here as a uber-activist - she's involved in everything, or so it seems - stepped up. At the end of her time she asked the mayor when we could expect to see our new paramedic vans begin transporting accident victims in lieu of the current contract vans. Her point was that part of the savings we expected to get from the purchase and deployment of these vans was the elimination of a private company doing medical transport. As she stepped away - her time had expired - Righeimer tossed this comment at her: "Don't hold your breath.
" Nice, huh? The very first speaker and he sends her back to her seat with a snide remark! Oh, yes - did I mention that our current contract ambulance service, CARE
Ambulance, has been a big contributor to the mayor's campaigns in the past. No? Sorry... It gets worse - wait until the end...
Another speaker - I didn't get his name - warned us of the potential danger from the radioactive plume heading our way from the Fukajima disaster.
thanked Righeimer for permitting all speakers to talk now rather than later. She commented on the terrific job the CMPD did during the OC Marathon last weekend. She also addressed the heroic efforts of CMPD officer Matt Olin in saving the life of a drowned child and praised the city employees as very professional and included Management Analyst Dan Baker
Former City Council candidate Al Melone
complained about the shabby condition of the Dog Park and, specifically, the lack of shade trees. He got angrier and angrier as spoke, then told the council, "My days as a volunteer in this city are over!
reminded us of the drive to collect goods to be shipped to our adopted Marine unit, the 1/5. There is a box in the City Hall lobby. She acknowledged the return of the Budget Question and Answer program next week and also observed that concerns about density and traffic seemed to have been ignored during the General Plan update process.
suggested that, instead of shifting the library to the Neighborhood Community Center, the existing library be remodeled to add space and update it from a technological standpoint. Righeimer just brushed that idea aside.
expressed concern about questions remaining unanswered about the 60th Anniversary fiasco. Righeimer abruptly challenged her, which startled her - a newcomer to council meetings. She regained her composure and finished her questions - which included questions about the mayor's job description and that of the CEO, but Righeimer's tactic seemed to have worked. Once a bully...
suggested that all too frequently council members have complained to the press that they were victims when adversity befell them in the form of criticism. He observed that CEO Hatch is just a scapegoat, and that all the real decisions are made at the top - by Righeimer.
observed that, while Righeimer's crew holds the majority on the dais, they don't have a mandate by any definition of the word, and pointed out the narrow margin Gary Monahan
had held to be re-elected and that Sandra Genis
was the highest vote-getter in the last election.
presented a hastily-contrived discussion attempting to link Righeimer campaign contributors to developers doing business in town.
addressed the recognition of the holocaust, then spoke briefly about how the kind of dictatorship that led to that terrible time started as something much smaller and wondered how we, in local venues, could be aware of such situations that might be starting locally.
COUNCIL MEMBER COMMENTS
At 7:00 Righeimer began Council Member Comments by addressing the new fire equipment, the new traffic light coordination plan that will permit smoother flow of emergency equipment around the city, saying it would save $1 million each year and not require laying off a single person. He said the citizens are paying the bill. This man is deluded! He conveniently forgot to mention that the firefighters have been working backbreaking shifts for almost three years while he and his majority refused to let them hire more staff. Right now there are four vacancies in the CMFD which are keeping us from fully deploying the new equipment.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger
launched his comments by telling Righeimer, "you are a guy, a father and a leader...
" I thought I was going to puke! He praised the fact that the upcoming Mayor's Celebration was sold out and would raise $10,000 for high school arts programs in the city.
He touted the new Costa Mesa Connect app for smartphones, stating that he's used it nine times with great success. He said, "It's a lot better than the phone calls council members used to make to get things done.
" Uh-huh... that would be like the decomposed granite path, for example, Steve?
He addressed the Dog Park - referring to it as the Dirt Park and suggested that we should clean it up and make it for residents first. Then he launched into a mini-rant defending "developers" and cited South Coast Plaza, Metro Point, IKEA and the Auto Club as examples of good developments. He said "it's in vogue to disparage change
"... whatever that means.
He then praised COIN, citing that it was conceived here - his baby - and mentioned that lame duck supervisor John Moorlach
is pushing to implement a similar program in the county government. The thought of Mensinger being the sperm donor for a program that still has not demonstrated it's actual value made me smile.
mentioned a recent meeting of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) which included a discussion presuming that toll roads were all but a done deal for most interstate roadways. She also corrected the record Mensinger had misrepresented about the developments he cited.
covered a wide array of issues, including the radioactivity concerns by the earlier resident; more trees at the dog park; wondered about the report from the 60th Anniversary Committee wrapup; indicated that an RFP will be issued for the new library expansion. She commented on the inclusion of the rabbi last night and suggested that we needed more diversity in the presentation of the moment of solemn expression and cited a very recent Supreme Court decision.
- he actually showed up and actually spoke at this meeting - suggested that we go back to having an actual invocation instead of the moment of solemn expression; that we just go plant more trees at the dog park; that Industrial Way curbs and gutters need attention and that there are two fund raisers this coming week at St. Joachim Catholic Church (his church) and another for Kaiser and Woodland schools.
CEO Hatch began his presentation at 7:45 and told us the draft of the final report on the 60th had been circulated to the members and he hoped to have the final version on the city web site by week's end. He addressed the two meetings on the budget next week - and mentioned a $109 million General Fund amount. He mentioned the re-formation of the internal Elections committee to oversee and manage that process again this year. He also mentioned that the city crews had been dealing with fallen trees due to the wind - 22 in all, that there is a memo about the closure of the Hamilton Garden (see my previous post) and that the Orange County Board of Supervisors and Ganahl Lumber have signed a deal to expand that store into space below the 55/73 freeway interchange.
Only two items, #4 and #5 were pulled from the Consent Calendar so the remainder were passed on a single vote.
At around 8:00 Righeimer recused himself because he's involved with Mercy House and the council dealt with Public Hearing #2, the granting of CDBG funding. Several speakers addressed their organizations and the vote was taken for Mercy House and passed 4-0. Righeimer returned and the council voted, 5-0, to follow the staff recommendations on the remainder.
Then they addressed Public Hearing #1, the actual resolution of the agreement for the CDBG and HOME funds. After a short, fifteen minute, discussion it was passed on a 5-0 vote. They then took a 10 minute break.
Public Hearing #3, the proposal for the development of 240 apartment units at 125 Baker Street began at 8:30 - and it ran on and on and on, finally ending at 11:40, followed by another break. This project discussion had some interesting twists and turns. For one thing, based on our current formula, it is underparked by roughly 20%, although Righeimer said it's not. Several developers or friends of developers - commercial real estate agents, etc. - stepped up to praise the project. A total of fourteen people spoke on this project, six of which supported it. The remainder didn't support it outright or had some misgivings about it.
"WE NEED SOMETHING ELSE"
You'll note in this image, which shows the presumed costs of amenities for this project a number called "Contribution" for $250,000. Leece wondered where that number came from and was told by staff that it was a result of a suggestion by the mayor. It seems that Righeimer took it upon himself to contact the developer directly and suggest that we needed "something else
" on this project, so the developer agreed to pony up a quarter million dollars. Righeimer acknowledged his involvement during the meeting! My jaw dropped when I heard that, as did those of several audience members around me. Then, again, nothing should really surprise me - more to come on that at the end.
During one series of comments he made Mensinger was addressing the developers of this project and the way profits were going to be calculated. He said, "this is what they decided to do as an avocation.
" Well, my dictionary says "avocation" is "something a person does in addition to principal occupation.
I suspect this is not an "avocation" for the developers - it IS
their day job!
WHAT IS HE SMOKING?
Righeimer went off on another of his long rants, saying at one time, "People want to live in Costa Mesa. They don't want to live in Irvine. They don't want to live in Newport Beach. They want to live in Costa Mesa because it's cool!
WHAT EVER THE DEVELOPERS WANT
Then he complained about having too much "C office space" - as in a scale of A, B, C, D, E... He indicated that owners are selling out and the best return on the investment is housing. When asked how many such projects he expected to see, he said "probably not more than 1,500 or 2,000 units.
" Is that all? He also said, "We have to do whatever we can to to get jobs.
Finally, just after 11:00 p.m., they began to consider each of the half-dozen motions. The first passed, 5-0, but then Leece balked and the remainder passed on 4-1 votes and they took another break at 11:40. It took us just under three and a half hours to get through that process.
HEADING PAST MIDNIGHT
At 11:50 Righiemer had a quorum so took a vote to extend the meeting past midnight, 3-0. The first was New Business #1, the re-authorization of the Business Improvement Association and the funding of the Conference and Visitors Bureau, which passed on a 5-0 vote at midnight. There are some who think Righeimer and his majority use this funding as a piggy bank for special projects. All he's got to do is pick up the telephone...
SIGN ORDINANCE TO PLANNING COMMISSION
Next up was Mensinger's plan to revisit the sign ordinance. After a 10 minute discussion and one speaker addressing it - John Feeney
- who has spent decades in a business that supports the sign business, the council directed that the issue be sent down to the Planning Commission for a study and assessment. Mensinger doesn't like the big monument signs, so we'll be spending thousands of dollars of staff time on this issue without clear direction.
At 12:10 we began the discussion of the Ethics Policy. I've mentioned many times before that seldom does anything good happen after midnight after these meetings. This was no exception - except we got a very clear look into the mind of the mayor.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Wendy Leece inquired of Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau
how we got here? What brought this item to us? She said that an audit recommended gathering up all the fragments of an ethics policy and putting them all in one place. She cited pieces of this in the Municipal Code and other places.
Four people spoke on the issue. Sue Lester wondered specifically how it would be applied, especially to council members. Beth Refakes wondered about volunteers and consultants. What about the actual penalties? What about the MOUs? What about consultants? Robin Leffler
wondered about the process - hearings, appeals, wrongly accused? Cindy Brenneman suggested that it will be good to finally have a clear policy that's easy to understand and follow. She wondered about penalties for council members who toss flippant comments at residents as they leave the speaker's podium - as happened to her earlier.
"NOT INTERESTED IN IT"
During the subsequent discussion Righeimer's true self finally showed through. He said it "seems like a lot of work.
" and that "I'm not interested in it.
" Monahan suggested they just receive and file the report. Genis suggested it would add transparency to their processes. Leece was perplexed because the auditor suggested it, that we should all work more closely together and with higher ethical standards. Mensinger aggressively asked her if she wanted them to be guidelines and enforceable? Who knows what he meant by that?
Eventually, before they voted to receive and file it on a 4-1 vote - Leece voted no - Righeimer speculated that it would just be used as a "crudgel
" - I guess he meant "cudgel" - for people to make false accusations and that the council would be flooded with paper. Whenever the discussion swung around to how council members would be handled he deflected it away.
After watching that discussion - I encourage you all to watch that segment of the meeting for yourselves when it becomes available - it is very clear to me that our mayor simply cannot be bothered with worrying about ethics. THAT
is chilling! Not unexpected, but chilling, nonetheless.
It was now 12:35 this morning. Jay Humphrey
had pulled Consent Calendar items #4 and #5. Number 4 dealt with the General Plan review and he used it to complain that we had no Mobile Home Park ordinance and were losing open space. Robin Leffler also commented - that residents comments about density were not being considered. It was passed, 5-0.
Number 5, the extension of a contract with West Coast Arborists, gave Humphrey the opportunity to point out that this is an example of something being "outsourced" when the mayor has proclaimed that was why we needed a charter. Unfortunately, the late hour and heads apparently turning to mush, allowed Righeimer to launch into his "Charter" rant again.
VRSKA FIGHTS OFF THE BULLY AGAIN
Anna Vrska was a "trailed" public commenter, so she talked about ethics - Righeimer didn't like that too much and tried to shut her off, unsuccessfully. She also criticized him for referring to speakers as the "crazy crew", suggesting that was specifically the kind of thing the ethics policy would address.
Robin Leffler also spoke, criticizing Righeimer for his "Don't hold your breath" comment to Brenneman earlier in the evening.
IT'S "HIS WAY" OR...
The meeting ended with us knowing a lot more about Mayor Jim Righeimer. We know that the rules don't apply to him, and that he won't approve any attempt to make rules that he has to follow - the Ethics Policy, for example. I read the policy and the modified version handed out at the meeting. It wasn't quite ready for prime time yet, but it would only take a little tweaking to make it work - some process issues needed to be clarified. So, dear readers, know that your mayor - the guy with hands firmly on the steering wheel of your city - simply isn't going to be bothered by ethical issues. He's going to do things HIS
way, whether you like it or not - and he's got the votes to do exactly that. Six months from now you have a chance to change that situation.
Labels: COIN, Dan Stefano, Ethics, Gary Monahan, Jim Righeimer, Sandra Genis, Steve Mensinger, Tom Hatch, Wendy Leece