OK, folks... that's it! No more political forums this cycle! Whew! Thursday night my friends of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group held the final City Council candidate forum of this campaign season and, if our casual post-event poll is any indication, it was a rousing success.
Every person with whom we spoke following the event felt it was run well, with fair, relevant questions and even-handed moderation with enough latitude for audience reaction. We saw no evidence of harassment of those in charge this time around, unlike two years ago when Jim Righeimer
read the riot act to the hosts and moderator because he felt Steve Mensinger
had been unfairly treated. It was bullying at it's worst and we wrote about it at the time.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
The President of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, Jeff McConville
, got things moving promptly at 7:00 p.m. By that time the room was full and folks were standing in the back. Part of the rear wall was eventually opened up to provide more seating. Based on information provided by the sponsors, we estimate that between 250 and 275 people attended the event.
Many of the attendees were residents. I recognized them from past events. Some were not - I recognized little knots of Republican Party operatives scattered throughout the crowd. They became active cheerleaders during the evening. That's OK - it's politics. It's not ancient Rome, where the emperor can be swayed to give a "thumbs down" to a combatant by the voice of the crowd.
STEPHENS ON HIS GAME
The moderator for the evening was Costa Mesa resident, lawyer and former council candidate two years ago, John Stephens
. He ran the event crisply, with just enough light-hearted reminders to the crowd about proper etiquette so as not to stifle the enthusiasm.
The format was NOT
a debate format. As it played out, there were a total of thirteen (13) questions posed. Three (3) candidates - and only three - had one minute to respond to the question. There was NO
back and forth, nor was there any interrupting of candidates by other candidates. Stephens cautioned the candidates about that at the beginning.
Following the event some folks wondered if some candidates got off easy, not being required to answer the same number of questions as others. Well, here's how it went. Al Melone, Tony Capitelli
, Jay Humphrey
and Rita Simpson
each answered six (6) questions. Katrina Foley
, Jim Righeimer
and Chris Bunyan
answered five (5). Candidate Lee Ramos
, as previously announced, did not show up for this event, even though the sponsors left a space at the table for him, just in case he changed his mind.... he didn't.
The questions covered the gamut of important issues in the city currently. They included questions about the Charter; Pensions; Public Safety; Development; Fireworks; Sober Living Homes; Medical Marijuana; Fairview Park; Banning Ranch; the General Plan; Legal Expenses; the formation and appointments to commissions and committees.
I am NOT
going to try to give you every answer to every question. As you know, the City of Costa Mesa chose NOT
to have CMTV cover this event so it was recorded for later viewing by a private contractor, Terry Wall
, who will have it up and ready to view early next week. When I know where to find it I'll let you know. And, Barry Friedland
and his Costa Mesa Brief team were on hand to do before and after interviews, just as they did at the recent Feet To The Fire Forum. I'll let you know when that video is available for viewing, too. He sweet-talked me into participating this time - an act I'll probably regret, depending on how he edits my words.
MY TAKE ON THE SHOW...
My impressions of the evening.... The event was well run. The questions were timely and pertinent. Each candidate was treated with an even hand and provided exactly the same amount of time to answer questions. Stephens, as the moderator, had just the right touch dealing with the candidates and the enthusiastic crowd. The room as configured turned out to be too small. Even with part of the back wall removed more than 30 people were left standing against the remaining wall. This was, once again, the best forum of the series this year. McConville and the committee for the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group are to be commended for an excellent event - again.
HUMPHREY AND FOLEY
My impressions of the candidates.... (Bias Alert! I don't like the way Righeimer does business, which certainly affects my views on this issue.)
I thought Katrina Foley
and Jay Humphrey
demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues to which they responded. They presented a mature style one expects from persons who have, literally, "been there, done that". In my view they are clearly the best choices for City Council this time around and their performance last night affirmed that for me.
, once again, did a fine job of mixing the responses to the questions with pointed explanations of how he felt Righeimer had failed and would fail if permitted to continue on the council. He offered some good ideas and pointed out Righeimer's mistakes when the opportunity presented itself.
, with his VERY
pregnant wife, Julie, smiling up at him from the first row, did another credible job. I like him a lot. He's trying to sell himself as a bridge-builder between the generations and a voice of moderation. However, through his employment as a representative for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, I think he just might be a "Righeimer-in-waiting". He says no, but....
continues to demonstrate insufficient knowledge of the issues, shooting from the hip on several answers. And, I've seen him in action before the city council, where he has demonstrated a serious lack of patience that likely would transfer to his seat on the dais if elected.
, the poor dear, has NO
grasp of important issues facing the city, including those she holds as the cornerstone of her campaign - the Charter and Unfunded Pension Liability. Her answers were taken from a script, from which she read throughout the evening. I had the impression that if someone asked her how she's feeling these days, she'l likely have to refer to a manual before answering. I cannot give her any support in this race.
WHY I WON'T VOTE FOR RIGHEIMER
My views of Jim Righeimer
are well known. He has demonstrated to me during his term on the City Council, and particularly while serving as mayor, that he is NOT
a consensus-builder. Far from it! He operates exactly like a dictator. He not only does not have an open mind when it comes to public input, he has overtly stifled it with many initiatives while in office. His pro-development bias will only serve to increase density throughout the city - and particularly on my Eastside. His proclamation that, when faced with motel owners who had what he thought were inflated ideas of the value of their property, he would bury them in police, fire and code enforcement that they would soon reconsider that value.. the goal was to have it sold to his developer-buddies, who would then benefit from special zoning to permit high-density housing at the site. He said that very thing at the forum last night.
HIS CHARTER FIXATION
His stubborn unwillingness to hear the voice of the voters when they rejected his Charter two years ago and move forward with another, more onerous version this time around only amplifies my view of him as a dictator. I shudder to contemplate a Charter like the one currently proposed in his hands, where he, through his methods and tactics, has systematically dismantled a once-proud city government, instead choosing to use very expensive consultants and outsource whatever he can. His overt hatred of public employee associations has blinded him to fair negotiations which has resulted in severe service declines throughout government.
DESTRUCTION OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Righeimer has orchestrated the dismantling of the Costa Mesa Police Department - once the high-water mark for law enforcement agencies in our region. It was a place where officers in other jurisdictions wanted to work because it had an outstanding reputation and because of the forward-thinking leadership of the department and the city. No more. Righeimer has caused the department to suffer serious staff shortages when he ignored the best professional opinions available to him in the form of hand-picked consultants and by the creation of a toxic workplace - one in which police officers are not only not appreciated, but vilified and sued by the elected leaders of this city. He exacerbated that toxic atmosphere by refusing to let the Police Chief begin hiring replacements quickly enough to stop the bleeding of decades of experience to other agencies. He caused officers to consider early retirement rather than stay on the job. He, personally, has made every resident, business and visitor to the city less safe. He cannot mutter excuses on this issue - he is responsible and is undeserving more time on the dais. He has chosen pothole repair over public safety. During recent discussions about the status of the Police Department he cavalierly said, "We're gonna be just fine.
", while crime is on the rise and sober living homes are popping up like mushrooms throughout the city. He frequently tells us that crime is because of the people who live here, yet he has created an environment that actually attracts criminals and depletes our protection from them. Is that REALLY
the kind of guy you want making major decisions about the future of our city?
CONVENIENT "MEMORY LAPSES"
Righeimer crows about previous councils "blowing through $35 million in reserves
", but conveniently forgets to remember that those self-same councils had the foresite to build those reserves so they could be used when the economy went in the tank. He crows about how neglectful councils in the past were responsible for the rapid increase in our unfunded pension liability, choosing not to mention that it was the economic downturn and resultant poor performance of the CalPERS investment portfolio that caused the unfunded liability to rise so dramatically, not only in Costa Mesa, but throughout the state.
A MUNICIPAL SHELL GAME
Righeimer bleats about spending $40 million paving streets that he said had been neglected. Well, those streets were on the schedule for re-paving long before he dragged his carpet-bagging carcass across the border from Fountain Valley. He accelerated the paving schedule by using dollars saved by reducing the city staff to precarious levels - where service across the board has suffered and consultants have been used to try to hold things together.
A LAWYERS ANNUITY
He, almost single-handedly has caused our legal fees to rise astronomically during his tour on the council. Apparently, to him having many lawsuits is just a cost of doing business. That, apparently, is how he has conducted his business life, so he feels no remorse about burdening the city with astronomical legal fees because of his actions.
It was his action in 2011 to attempt to illegally layoff nearly half the so-called "miscellaneous employees" that began that parade of legal difficulties. We're still paying lawyers on that fiasco. And, of course, poor Huy Pham
leaped to his death that Saint Patrick's Day.
THE 60TH SCANDAL AND SLUSH FUNDS
On his watch the now-infamous 60th Anniversary Celebration scandal erupted and remains unresolved, even though the city paid off the man responsible for creating and overseeing the event. His minions claim the issue is resolved - an opinion not supported by the investigators in the District Attorney's office, which has not yet generated a report. As demonstrated by that event, he uses the Conference and Visitors Bureau as his own personal slush fund. And, while proclaiming to be a fiscal conservative and budget hawk, he creates a $1 million piggy bank in the form of his CEO's contingency fund, where his whims can be funded without much oversight.
Do you remember when the Conference and Visitors Bureau funded a junket for Righeimer and others to a city in China touted as a "business developement opportunity"? What ever came of that "business"? As far as we have been told - zip, nothing, nada!
And, how about those annual city-funded jaunts to Las Vegas where Righeimer takes an entourage of city staffers to drum-up business at a shopping center trade show. How many businesses have relocated to Costa Mesa as a result of those trips? Any?
Speaking of pensions and oversight, he created a committee - stacked with his pals - that meets frequently to try to figure out how to solve the pension issue. One of the very first things that group did was hear a presentation on Municipal Bankruptcy by one of its members. Even though his cronies continue to meet, Righeimer has frequently acknowledged that we, the city, cannot resolve the pension issue alone - it's a state-wide issue.
THE FAIRGROUNDS SALE DEBACLE
Righeimer has proven to be an untrustworthy person even before he took office. He was part of the group that tried to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds and manipulated the process to get his cronies assigned to the advisory committee considering that move.
TEWINKLE SPORTS COMPLEX TAKEOVER
And, do you remember the attempt to privatize the TeWinkle Sports Complex? That happened only a couple years ago, yet it has left an open, festering wound of distrust behind.
ARROGANT, HOLIER-THAN-THOU ATTITUDE
Last night, during a discussion of Fairview Park, he arrogantly said that "nobody cared about Fairview Park until we tried to do some improvements over there.
", and referred to the playground near the end of Pacific Avenue. He might just as well spit directly in the face of Native American groups who care about the history of that site and every resident who enjoys Fairview Park for what it is - an oasis of natural beauty in our city. It's that kind of an attitude from which the creation of the now-infamous decomposed granite trail springs. That "I know what's good for you, so don't question me
." attitude is what makes him such a dangerous person in a leadership position in our city. He and his cohorts don't much like rules - at least other people's rules - so they just ignore them and/or make up new ones.
DEVELOPER, NOT RESIDENT, FRIENDLY
An example of that is his full-court press on development in the city. His developer buddies gripe to him and his cronies about how hard it is to build projects with all those darn rules designed to protect the character of our neighborhoods and the sanctity of our homes so, all of a sudden, we have a Small Lot Ordinance which codifies the elimination of those protections that have made Costa Mesa an appealing place to live for six decades. Now we will be seeing six homes where there once was one and tenement-style stacked homes springing up in industrial zones, occupying contaminated land sites, taxing the infrastructure - water, sewer, streets, etc., - and blocking those precious ocean breezes so many so-called improvers have touted for decades. His cronies, placed in positions of great power without the maturity to handle it, vindictively threaten to punish the Sanitary District by recommending developers contract with other trash haulers for new developments. All this is done for Righeimer's developer-pals, who will jump into town, build their onerous projects, then skip right on out of town again, leaving these disasters in their wakes.
BANNING RANCH TRAFFIC
On Righeimer's watch the Banning Ranch development, which would dump virtually ALL
it's residential and retail traffic onto Costa Mesa city streets, has been given a free ride. Although the project is in Newport Beach, negotiations for traffic mitigations fell far, far short of what is really necessary to do the job. Again, his priorities are NOT
the residents of the city, but his developer pals.
ETHICS POLICY UNNECESSARY?
In recent months Righeimer led the charge to reject the establishment of an Ethics Policy when, based on that 60th Anniversary scandal, such a policy is clearly appropriate and necessary. Do you really want a guy at the helm of our city who holds ethics in such low regard? I sure don't!
HE WON'T GET MY VOTE!
Righeimer has told us many times recently that he's willing to stand on his record. That's great news for those of us who have watched him in action. His record alone should disqualify him for further consideration for a seat on the City Council. I will NOT
be voting for Jim Righeimer and hope you won't, either. Neither will I vote for Measure "O", the bastard son of Measure V, Jim Righeimer's Charter.
Labels: Al Melone, Chris Bunyan, Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, Jay Humphrey, Jeff McConville, John Stephens, Katrina Foley, Lee Ramos, No On O, Rita Simpson, Tony Capitelli