BETTER LATE THAN...
The combination of late night meetings and early morning eye doctor visit (dilated eyes and all) and a dead battery delayed this entry... onward and upward. Since I've dragged my heels today the city feed for this meeting is now available, HERE
. As we go through this process I'll give you some time reference points so you can watch a specific event. You're going to want to do that...
I should have known it was going to be a very special City Council meeting when I arrived at City Hall forty minutes before the meeting to find businessman Tim Lewis
sitting on one of the toilets he dragged to the City Hall steps. The photos say it all! I thought the toilet paper earmuffs were an especially nice touch.
A BIG CROWD
The auditorium was not full, but it felt like it was. I counted slightly more than 100 people seated during the evening. And, even though Wendy Leece
's request to re-visit the whole Fireworks issue - it had been placed last on the agenda - was pulled and will be heard at the next meeting, several people stepped up during Public Comments to address it. One fellow hung around until the bitter end, nearly 12:30 a.m., to plead for pepetuation of the current policy. I'm getting ahead of myself..
OOPS! WHERE'S GARY?
We began the evening with Mayor Jim Righeimer
telling us that council member Gary Monahan
- who will complete two decades on the council in 2016 and vest life-time health care in the process - would lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Only problem was, he wasn't in the auditorium! He eventually showed up later, so Lurch, er, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger
Then - and my jaw dropped on this one - we had a presentation by Righeimer, who read a proclamation naming the day Maximilian (Max) Mormont Day
in Costa Mesa. Who is Max Mormont
, you ask? Well, it turns out he's Righeimer's personal trainer at Costa Mesa CrossFit who apparently took second place in an obscure event recently. We're told he missed the gold by one kilogram. Max seemed like a great guy as attested to by the dozen or so friends who showed up in workout togs. Good for him, and all the work it took, but really? First the mayor devalues the City, now this... good grief!
But it would get worse... much worse...
LUCK OF THE DRAW
Eighteen people turned in cards to speak during Public Comments, so City Clerk Brenda Green
shuffled the deck and pulled the first ten lucky people. The rest would have to wait unti after midnight - including James Bridges
, who depends on public transportation to attend the meetings. Once again, he couldn't wait.
FIRST SIGNS OF MELTDOWN
Folks stepped up and spoke for and against the bastard child of Measure V, Measure O, Fireworks, Parking and more. Teresa Drain
, once again, stepped up and demanded a forensic audit on the 60th Anniversary debacle. At the end of her well-reasoned presentation several members of the large crowd clapped. At that point an angry Righeimer made the first of many memorable statements. As he told the crowd not to clap, to which someone said something about "free speech
", he spit back, "If you think it's free speech you'll be removed!
" And that was just the beginning.
CROONING TO THE MAYOR
One of the more memorable moments came when Terry Koken
stepped up in the number 2 slot and crooned another tune to the mayor. His lament, titled "Put Another Charter On The Ballot"
, had several catchy phrases, but I'll just give you one sample here as an example. His second stanza begins:
We don't 'specially mind the nasty screwin',
But hope that you will understand we're pissed.
Not only'cause we don't like all the stuff that you are doin',
But mostly'cause we're screwed and never kissed....
It was not clear whether the mayor was amused by the ballad or not.
RIGHEIMER AND BUDGET DOUBLE TALK
During Council Member Comments Monahan had nothing - big surprise there - but Righeimer crowed about the "at least $6 million budget surplus
" that was announced earlier in the day, and acknowledged that "$19.4 million that we saved came from somewhere.
" Profound! He told us "We're doing better.
" What he didn't tell you was that the "somewhere
" was right out of the pockets of the employees and from the savings achieved by NOT
filling vacancies in critical areas, including the Police Department, which is trying to keep us safe while operating with 25% fewer cops than the current authorized headcount (and 40% less than optimium staffing of a few years ago). Nope, he didn't mention that.
MENSINGER SPEAKING IN TONGUES
Mensinger acknowledged speaker Flo Martin
's complaint about parking issues throughout the city, then segued into a political statement about political statements, stating "Up is down and down is up
", whatever the heck that means! Then he spoke on Fireworks, complaining about how expensive it is to fund extracurricular activities in schools, citing "$100,000 a year for Estancia Football
". He asked the City Attorney to investigate increasing fines for illegal fireworks, but said nothing about curtailing the sale of safe and sane, which has now become a week of terror for many in our community as they are discharged for five straight nights under the current policy. Leece's plan would reduce that to only July 4th, but I expect it to get almost no support, and that we will see dozens of kids in the audience on October 21st to plead for the retention of the current plan.
GENIS - FIREWORKS TRUTH
During her time Sandy Genis
gave us background on the Fireworks issue - she was on the council at the time. What has been misrepresented as "voter approval
" of fireworks is nothing of the sort. The fact that we currently permit fireworks is the result of a compromise made following an advisory vote by the people on the question of fireworks. It was so close - 151 votes difference - against fireworks that the council at the time decided to permit safe and sane fireworks, but with strong controls. Somehow, that morphed into the current situation.
LEECE - FIREWORKS AND TREES
also addressed the Fireworks situation, indicating that complaints to her about illegal fireworks have tripled this year. She has formed a Study Group on this issue and invited interested parties to join her by contacting her through City Hall. Among the other things she addressed was the wisdom, or lack thereof, of our current mass tree-planting program during a time of drought.
CEO Tom Hatch
, during his time, spoke of the "smooth transition at the Senior Center
" - clearly an issue subject to interpretation, and introduced a new booklet, "Applicants Guide To Entitlement Processin
g", designed to facililtate development. Swell...
JOYCE AND MEASURE O
Items 3 and 4 were pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion later - after midnight, as it turned out. Item 3 was the Warrant and Terry Koken
hung around to complain about the $170,225 paid to Dan Joyce. Righeimer, in replying to him, said they don't discuss personnel issues. #4 was for a series of projects in the city paid for, in part, by state and federal grants. Flo Martin
also stayed around to postulate that if Measure O passes and the anti-Prevailing Wage section is followed, the City would lose millions of dollars in grants. There was no response.
Public Hearing #1, the extension of the moratorium on opening any new Hookah Parlors, got more discussion than I anticipated. Monahan was livid because of one operator, who had a dispute with his landlord and was tossed out, couldn't re-open in the city until the ban was lifted. The staff wants an extension of a year so they can work on an extensive review of this kind of business plus "vaping" venues and smoking in public places in general. Monahan was nearly apoplectic. Following advice by contract City Attorney Tom Duarte
, the upshot was that the moratorium would be extended another 12 months, but the staff would take a look in five months to see where they are in their process. The vote was 4-1, with Monahan voting NO.
GROUP HOME ORDINANCE
At 7:20 the most contentious of the issues remaining on the agenda, the Group Home Ordinance
, began. Lawyer Elena Gherli
launched into what would be a nearly two-hour discussion, including her extensive slide presentation - the same one she presented to the Planning Commission last month. In fact, she neglected to update information on the slides following the Planning Commission meeting. Here are three that summarize the issue.
BAKER'S DOZEN OF SPEAKERS
Thirteen members of the public, including several who either owned or represented owners of sober living homes (SLH), spoke in favor of the ordinance or against it. Residents decried the destruction of their neighborhoods, and told horror stories about how their lives have been affected by this infestation of "sick people", many of whom are from out of state. One resident of Huntington Beach who owned two contiguous sober living homes in Costa Mesa spoke, expressing concern that he - a "good operator" was being penalized for the actions of "bad operators".
WAIT FOR A NEW COUNCIL
used her three minutes to, among other things, suggest that - taking a page from Monahan's playbook when he stalled the police labor contract negotiations to "wait for a new council to be seated
" - suggested this issue not receive final consideration until after the election. Of course, that made too much sense. She suggested that rushing this process now was a "political Hail Mary
", referring, of course, to Righeimer.
Monahan wondered why facilities in R-2 zones were not being considered. Gherli told him it was more complicated, and that this ordinance for R-1 properties would be easier to enforce.
SCHOOLS AND PAROLEES
Leece wondered why the ordinance didn't include a prohibition of such facilities near schools, like the Orange Ordinance does and expressed concern about parolees. Gherli didn't give a satisfactory reply on the school issue and said the parolees are protected by state law. Contract Staffer Jerry Guarrancino
said there may be only one parolee per house.
MAYOR WANT TO SPREAD THE WEALTH
Righeimer expressed gratitude for the turnout, complained that Costa Mesa has 25% of such homes but only 3% of the population in Orange County. When addressing why that might be the case he said, "because Costa Mesa is such a great place to live!
" He also acknowledged that we have no idea how many such facilities there are in the city, and that it's a problem of over-concentration - we have to spread them out! That, dear voters, says the mayor is telling you to watch for a sober living home coming to your neighborhood soon!
BOTH SIDES OF HIS MOUTH
When addressing his oft-stated observation that this ordinance - or any ordinance, for that matter - would result in lawsuits, he spoke again of Newport Beach's on-going battle on this issue, which has cost that city nearly $4 million in legal fees so far. Expressing his resolve to spend our money on legal fees he said, "If it cost millions - 2 million, 3 million, 5 million - to keep our neighborhoods safe, then we will do it!
" And I thought about how he disemboweled the Costa Mesa Police Department just because of his animosity against employee "unions
" and realized that he is nothing more than a hypocritical, self-serving, mealy-mouthed politician. And that wasn't the worst last night...
TWO HOURS AND IT PASSED
At 9:05 last night - after nearly two hours of discussion and comments - the council unanimously passed the first reading of the ordinance - and lawyers all over Orange County are calling their Bentley dealers this morning.
APPEAL OF CAR DEALERSHIP EXPANSION
After a short break we took on Public Hearing #3, the appealed changes to the plans for the Orange Coast Buick-GMC-Cadillac dealership at the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Merrimac - the site of the previous Nabors Cadillac store. This issue has been plagued with bad management since the beginning, when the demolition of the old building resulted in significant damage to resident's property and the death of a pet. The residents have been working with the new ownership and the planning department to resolve serious issues. This was an appeal of an approval given by the Planning Commission last month. And, as it turned out, it was not going to be a pretty scene.
MEL AND PETER
Senior Planner Mel Lee
made the staff presentation, then Peter Naghavi
- former long-time city employee and senior member of the management team - represented the applicant and made a lengthy presentation, addressing the history and the concerns. Through it all Righeimer seemed antsy - more than usual.
RIGHEIMER STUNS TERESA DRAIN
When it came time for the public to speak, the first person up was resident Teresa Drain
, who has been a spokesperson for her neighbors near the dealership on this issue. As she began to read her prepared statement (go to 04:01:57 on the video)
- to be sure she could fit it all in during her 3 minutes - Righeimer interrupted her and snapped, "Wadda ya want?
" Startled, Drain stared up at him, and he repeated, "Wadda ya want?
" At that time Leece told him to just let her speak. He then said, "I don't know why we're here!
" Flustered, Drain continued, giving a brief history of the situation and explaining that she and her neighbors were looking for just a little more time to finalize arrangements with the owner. Righeimer gave her more time and asked her what she wanted - money? She said no, but perhaps something like what the Home Depot center provided to contiguous neighbors - air conditioning because they had to keep their windows closed - double paned windows. She wasn't asking for those things, just wanted a little more time working with the owner.
WISE WORDS, PROBABLY UNHEARD
The remaining 8 speakers took their turn, which took us to around 10:20 p.m. Then the Vice President representing the owners, Ron MacEachern
, spoke about their plans and mission. As part of his attempt to apologize for the early missteps with the project he said: "One of the habits of highly successful people is to seek first to understand, then to be understood
". I heard that and wondered if Righeimer heard and understood what he had just said. Probably not.
RUDE RIGHEIMER INTERRUPTS AND ERUPTS
Then, when Leece asked for the floor, Righeimer cut her off (04:47:10)
and said, "Lemme speak first!
" He then, unbeliveably, apologized to the owner for having to be there. He said "There's just property owners here and they have issues. Not homeowners, just property owners.
" This begins his rant which culminates in him making a motion - seconded by Mensinger - to move exactly what the Planning Commission recommended except requiring a 10 foot wall for two properties - and is followed by Leece expressing her disappointment and Genis reading him the riot act for his behavior.
PROPERTY OWNERS SHAKING DOWN DEALER?
Leece derided his "attitude and condescention"
toward the residents of College Park. Righeimer interrupts her and, at 04:51:45
, referring to the property owners, "What I heard here is property owners trying to shakedown somebody for money - for cash.
" The audience erupted in anger and, at 04:52:39,
you can hear one being told to leave. When she did she hurled over her shoulder at the mayor, "You're an ass!"
She was correct.
GENIS PULLS NO PUNCHS, SO TO SPEAK
Then it was Sandy Genis' turn... Oh, boy! After providing some history that comes only from being a long-time resident and former council member, among the thing she said addressed Righeimer's "temper tantrum
", and wondered if it was because he was "outside the loop
" or because "he didn't come up with the idea"
(I'm smiling as I type that) and she said she was "appalled at the infantile reaction to that.
" Her explanation of the reason for the additional conditions made perfect sense, but it fell on three sets of deaf ears. She observed that nobody knows what the future holds for this dealership, so any conditions should be codified. Nope, Righeimer wasn't hearing anything like that!
LOGIC AND SOUND GOVERNANCE FAILS, AGAIN
Genis made a substitute motion to include the list of conditions added that evening and Leece seconded it. When the vote was taken it was defeated, 2-3. They then voted on Righeimer's motion, which passed, 3-2 and the owner went away smiling and the residents - you know, those "shakedown artists" went away stunned.
MORE LIVE/WORK, MORE TRAFFIC
The final item on the agenda - a screening request for the 32-unit live/work development at 1672 Placentia Avenue that would produce traffic 220% greater than the ultimate build-out prescribed in the General Plan - took less than an hour to discuss, finishing up at midnight. Seven speakers addressed the proliferation of such developments. Chad Brown
, the developer, said the city has 440 such units in the city now! Yikes. Residents complained about the density, parking and what appears to be a rush to get these kind of projects done while there is a developer-friendly administration in the city. The irrascible Terry Koken stuck around to address this item and his parting words to Righeimer were, "The density of this project is exceeded only by your own!
VRSKA ON THE CASE
That took us to the trailed Consent Calendar items mentioned at the top, then the remaining speakers during the trailed Public Comments - all six of them who stayed to the bitter end. Among those was Anna Vrska
, who criticized Righeimer for his condescenting attitude and referred to him as a "little tyrant who needs his ego stroked. She also wondered to Monahan - who likely wished he was at his pub, pulling beer taps about that time - and asked, but received no answer, to her questions about his and attorney Duarte's creation of the Medical Marijuana Ordinance. Apparently she is being stone-walled by the City on her request for documents defining the cost in attorney time - Duarte had indicated that it cost $25,000. She also decried what appears to be the misuse of the self-insurance fund - which appears to be another Righeimer piggy bank. Crickets. However, Miss Vrska is, if nothing else, persistent. I suspect we have not heard the last of this.
RIGHEIMER DEMONSTRATED HIS UNFITNESS
We bailed out of the council chambers at 12:30, feeling very drained and frustrated by the performance of your mayor. Fortunately, his tirades last night only further demonstrate his unfitness for the office he holds, and why an open checkbook like Measure O would be catastrophic for the city in his hands. Make it easy - No on O and No R's on the ballot. Simple, no?
NO ON "O" - NO R'S, YOU KNOW...
Labels: development, Gary Monahan, Hookah Parlors, Jim Righeimer, Sandra Genis, Sober Living Homes, Steve Mensinger, Tom Hatch, Wendy Leece