AN EXCLAMATION POINT TO A CONTENTIOUS EVENING
At the end of a meeting of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee Wednesday evening, following three hours of contentious public comment and spirited discussion between the members of the committee, Chairman Dr. Richard Mehren
- the man who was largely responsible for the City of Costa Mesa acquiring the Fairview land originally and who was the chairman of the first Fairview Park Advisory Committee for seventeen years in addition to manning the helm of this committee for nearly two years - abruptly resigned.
(Dr. Richard Mehren (right) shown with Vice Chair Steve Smith)
Dr. Mehren, who has been very clearly in favor of keeping Fairview Park in a natural state and obviously opposed to any of the schemes proposed to convert all or part of it into active sports venues, chose to close the meeting with a prepared statement, part of which included a comment that it "was something I've wanted to say for some time
." As we leaned forward to hear because many of the members of the audience and the committee were already in departure mode, Mehren said, "This committee should never have been called the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, it should have been called the Fairview Park Mayor's Advisory Committee because the mayor stacked it with six members who were in favor of playing fields.
" And with that he gathered up his papers and left the room, leaving dropped jaws behind him. As Mehren departed one audience member near me muttered that "At least one of them has some balls.
" I had to smile because that "mayor" - now Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer
- was at the table as primary liaison to the committee for the first time. I suspect he was not happy.
(Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer on left)
NEW CHAIRMAN NEXT TIME
According to Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill
, who provides staff legal support to the committee, the committee members must select a new Chairman at their next meeting. The City Council must now decide whether to replace Mehren and the process to be used. When member David Stiller
, who was not in favor of playing fields in the park, passed away last year the council replaced him with Frank Davern
, who is in favor of playing fields. Mehren's departure has the high probability of further shifting the balance on the committee if another person favoring playing fields in the park is chosen. It all may be moot, since this committee has almost wrapped up it's assignment after nearly two years of meetings.
STANDING ROOM ONLY
As anticipated, even without Mehren's departure, this meeting had plenty of other drama. First, it played to a standing-room-only crowd. Seats were provided for 100 people, but more than 150 packed the venue until one of the walls was removed late in the proceedings to provide seating for them. Bradley Zint
of the Daily Pilot and Jordan Graham
of the Orange County Register were in attendance. You can read Zint's article HERE
MOST AGAINST ANY DEVELOPMENT
During the Public Comments segment of the meeting that began shortly after the six o'clock start time, more than three dozen people spoke. More than 90% were clearly against placing any playing fields within the boundaries of the Southeast Quadrant - or anywhere in the park, for that matter. Those who spoke in favor of playing fields were representatives of youth sports organizations, each of whom bemoaned the dearth of adequate fields within the City. A few acknowledged that the shortage was actually of lighted fields for the most part. That issue is NOT
within the purview of this committee's scope of work, although it is foundational to the attempt to snag some of the land within the park for fields.
Many of the speakers have become regular attendees at these meetings and spoke with gusto and concern. There were more than a few new faces, though, who addressed the committee with passion and trepidation. One young fellow, James DeLaO
, marched right up to the microphone, held it in his hand and told the committee that, while he was a baseball player, he didn't think there should be playing fields at Fairview Park. Interestingly, his father later spoke and advocated for fields in the park.
One interesting speaker early in the segment was Vicki Snell
, new Newport Mesa Unified School District Trustee for Area 1, which is part of Costa Mesa. She had the unenviable task of delivering to the committee the letter signed by District Superintendent Dr. Fred Navarro
and Board President Martha Fluor
, which I mentioned in my earlier post, HERE
. A copy of the letter is contained in that entry. As it turns out, the letter may not have been what it appeared to be, according to Snell. It appears that Navarro and Fluor may not have actually understood what this meeting was all about, and what the charter of this committee actually is. After her brief 3-minute presentation she was asked by Vice Chairman Steve Smith
to step back up and read the letter into the record in it's entirety, which she did. A later speaker, Laurene Keane
, told us she had been in contact with Fluor during the day and affirmed that the letter was not what it appeared to be. Of course, that's problematic, since we have the two highest ranking people in the school district firing off a last-minute missive to the committee, city council and Parks and Recreation Commission without a clue. I suspect they, did, in fact, understand what they were doing and may use this event to leverage some kind of change - monetary or otherwise - in the Joint Use Agreement. We'll see. I've been told by some sources who should know that the City should probably be contributing substantially more to the District for maintenance of fields than is presently prescribed in the JUA.
MOST COMMISSIONERS PRESENT
By the way, 4/5 of the Parks and Recreation Commission were in the room during this meeting. Chairman Byron de Arakal
and Commissioner Don Harper
were in the audience and Dean Abernathy
and Bob Graham
were at the committee tables. I did not see Commissioner Kim Pederson
(Byron deArakal (right) shown with Estancia Principal Kirk Bauermeister)
Suggestions from speakers included carving up part or all of one of the two municipal golf courses to use for playing fields. Others suggested the pending availability of all or part of the Fairview Development Center as possible venues for sports fields. Still others suggested that any attempt to carve up segments of the park would likely violate the trust deed in force from the purchase. Others observed that artifacts from Native Americans were all over the park and properly assessing them and mitigating possible damage could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
CONSIDER THE LEGACY
Resident and almost councilman Jay Humphrey
spoke to the committee and reminded them of the legacy they will be leaving for their children, grandchildren and their children, too. He suggested anything that would place hardscape - paving, etc. - would damage that legacy.
PROTECT THE ARTIFACTS
Professor Patricia Martz
- a frequent attendee to these meetings and archaeologist of some renown - reminded the committee of protected areas within the park and, specifically, within the Southeast Quadrant.
STICK TO THE PLAN
, a teacher with a passion for the park, again spoke and quoted from the current Fairview Park Master Plan to remind the committee of the constrictions they're working with.
MEHREN CUTS THE SPEAKER'S TIME
At about 6:35 Mehren arbitrarily decided that speakers would now get only two minutes
instead of three because it was his intent to begin the business part of the meeting promptly at 7 p.m.
Among the subsequent two dozen speakers was Flo Martin
, who suggested that we "follow the money
", then spoke of the Great Park boondoggle and of the near loss of the Orange County Fairgrounds and TeWinkle Park to private developers
Public Comments ended at 7:15.
Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia
then gave an overview of the process to get to this point and described the remaining six items to be discussed last night. The committee would consider each of them and decide if more staff analysis is necessary for further consideration or to just not move forward with the item. The six items to be considered are these:
1 - Baseball/Softball Facilities
2 - Soccer/Football Fields
3 - Multi-use Athletic Fields
4 - OCME Track Expansions/Improvements
5 - Basketball/Handball Courts
6 - Roller Hockey Surface
SPLITTING THEM UP...
Then member Ron Amburgey
- who was one of two members who originally had most of the 35 original items place on the list - suggested that all six should be considered at one time. After some discussion by the committee it was decided to split the items into three distinct groups for consideration. Those would be items 1-3 in one group; item 4 by itself and items 5 and 6 as a group, so that's how they then proceeded. Before they began public comments Mehren told the committee and audience he felt all the items violated the Fairview agreement and would vote NO
on all of them. The crowd cheered.
Sixteen people spoke during the "comments" segment of the discussion of items 1-3, although several used their time to speak on broader issues that they couldn't cover earlier due to time constraints. Sometimes the will of the people seems very much like water. Even though you might attempt to dam it up, it can usually find a way past that dam. They spoke of the loss of habitat for animals in the park, the use of water to grow playing field grass, the damage grading would do to Indian artifacts. One speaker reminded the committee that splitting the elements for discussion won't mitigate the damage done. One speaker, who said he was a tribal leader of local American Indians, spoke vehemently against any development in the park and, at one time, looked directly at Righeimer with a comment about development. Righeimer brusquely told him to "speak to the body
" - ever the class act. The ratio for and against fields in this segment was the same as earlier.
After more than 20 minutes of public comments the committee then began discussing those three items. Smith reminded them that the 8 o'clock hour was approaching, so the time was extended to 8:30. It would later be further extended to 9:00. Brett Eckles
- a strong advocate for playing fields - tried to be the voice of conciliation and asked for compromise. He attempted to provide some valid statistics for the committee to consider, and spoke of the need for more maintenance of existing fields.
PUFFING AND BLOWING
The ever-pompous Dennis Popp
suggested that he needed more expert opinion from Civil Engineers before making a decision to recommend fields or not, so he wanted to shove these three items forward so the staff could bring back more information. He attempted to cite his nurse training, but - as is usually the case when you try to read his pathetic blog - he just didn't make any sense. Of course, it didn't help his case much when he accused the audience of being immature and scolded them for their behavior.
RAMOS, THE CHAMELEON
, in one of the few times he's spoken out on issues, went off into what sounded like a deflated version of his campaign stump speech, during which he made a back-handed comment to Mehren and closed by reminding folks of his Hispanic heritage - "my culture owned this land at one time
" - before stating that "we need to find a way
." Later a speaker looked directly at Ramos and spoke of a man who had recently come to her door campaigning and told her flat out how he felt about issues in Fairview Park, then voted the opposite tonight. She was fuming! Fortunately, enough people saw through Ramos' campaign rhetoric and did not vote for him in November.
COMMITTEE A WASTE OF TIME AND RESOURCES
observed that this committee, while it includes many fine people, has been a waste of time and resources. She observed that they had not been provided with sufficient or accurate information with which they could make decisions. I was not surprised, since she has regularly asked for statistics from the staff which seemed not to be provided.
THIN, PARTISAN, VOTE MOVES THEM FORWARD
Finally, just after 8:30, the committee voted, 5-4, to ask the staff to bring back an analysis of those three items for the committee's consideration at the next meeting. Ramos, Popp, Amburgey, Eckles and Davern voted YES
. Mehren, Smith, Anna Vrska
and Terry Cummings
NO TRAIN EXPANSION
Following a discussion of item #4, the expansion of the Orange County Model Engineers footprint, Ron Amburgey
moved to approve it, but received no second, so it died and will receive no further consideration.
HARD SURFACE IDEAS QUASHED
Items 5 and 6 received a similar fate. Seven members of the public spoke to this issue - none in favor of moving them forward - and Amburgey could receive no support for his motion, so it died for lack of a second.
FINAL ITEM STARTED, THEN CONTINUED TO THE NEXT MEETING
I was astounded when they actually began the final agenda item, a discussion of the East Fairview Channel Trail
, shortly before 9:00. I thought for sure they would shove that item off to the next meeting. Nope, Mejia delivered a short staff report, showing maps, etc. and no members of the public spoke. THEN
it was decided to put it off to the next meeting. Then Mehren delivered his bombshell news and Smith adjourned the meeting. Whew! So, back we come next month, on February 4th, when a new Chairman will be selected and the future of this committee will be clarified.
COSTA MESA BRIEF ON THE CASE
Almost forgot... Barry Friedland
was on hand with several cameras to capture the evening's event. He tells me that the video of this meeting should be up on his Costa Mesa Brief YouTube Channel, HERE,
within the next couple days. Look for it Friday.
Labels: Barry Friedland, Brett Eckles, Byron de Arakal, Costa Mesa Brief, Dennis Popp, Dr. Richard Mehren, Fairview Park, Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, Frank Davern, Lee Ramos, Ron Amburgey, Terry Cummings