Good Turnout For CM4RG Town Hall
PUBLIC SAFETY AND SOBER LIVING DRAWS A CROWD
Somewhere around 100 people turned out for the Town Hall sponsored by Costa Mesans For Responsible Government (CM4RG) Thursday evening at the Neighborhood Community Center.
CANDIDATES WERE ALSO PRESENT
In addition to the presenters of information, city council candidates, representatives of certain initiatives and candidates for the Mesa Water District Board and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board were also present to answer questions and hand out literature.
Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief was on hand to record the event, so look for his work product at his YouTube Channel in the next few days.
REICH TO LEFFLER...
Alex Reich, candidate for the Mesa Water Board, acted as the Master of Ceremonies. He kicked the meeting off at around 6:45 p.m., then handed it over to CM4RG President Robin Leffler, who led the pledge of alligience and then explained a little bit about the organization.
Former councilwoman Wendy Leece then stepped up to provide an update from the Orange County Vector Control Board, of which she was a member during her tour on the City Council. She explained the need for resident diligence due to the growing problems with West Nile Virus and now the Zika Virus. No standing water. Contact Vector Control if you suspect a problem.
COSTA MESA FIRE DEPARTMENT DISCUSSED
Next up was Ralph Taboada, Chairman of the Bikeway and Walkability Committee and member of the Pension Oversight Committee, to talk about the Costa Mesa Fire Department. He explained that the department used to be one of the premiere departments in Orange County - a destination department. He explained that the members of the CMFD are active in the community, including teaching CPR and making school presentations. Members of the CMFD are usually pillars of their communities. He explained the history - 5 Chiefs in six years - and used slides to enhance his presentation. These are mostly self-explanatory.
SOBER LIVING HOMES
Then came community activist Teresa Drain to speak about Sober Living issues. She told us also on hand for questions was Robert Mann of the Sober Living Network. She gave us some statistics that really made you think. Speaking of heroin specifically, she told us that there have been 1800 deaths due to overdoses in the past five years and the Center for Disease Control estimates 70 lives a lost daily due to addiction. There are 300,000 addicts in Orange County. She told us Costa Mesa has 300 licensed liquor dispensaries.
ADDICTION A DISEASE
She then described Addiction as a disease and Sobriety as addiction in remission. Among the stats she told us was that there is a 86% failure rate with heroin addicts. She spoke about the 12-step programs, first evolving from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and now used with Narcanon, too.
DUAL PROBLEM - DRUGS AND ALCOHOL
She spoke of the dual problem of alcohol and drugs and mentioned the Orange County Sober Living Coalition as an organization helping with the problems. She told us that 80% of criminals have drug and or alcohol addiction issues. She told us that 95% of those incarcerated for drug issues return to the drugs once released. She told us that treatment and recovery is the solution, not incarceration, which is why so many petty criminals with drug issues are currently involved in Sober Living Homes.
SPADONI DISCUSSES THE CMPD
Mary Spadoni, life long law enforcement officer - she was the first woman police officer to work in patrol many moons ago - next spoke about the Costa Mesa Police Department. She spoke about the impact of AB 109 and Prop. 47, and told us to oppose Prop. 57 on the November ballot because it just goes one step further in the wrong direction than Prop. 47. Because of those laws we have many more criminals on our streets.
She spoke about the decline in staffing of the CMPD - how the current council majority issued over 200 layoff notices to city employees in 2011, several of whom were civilian employees of the CMPD. She spoke of how that act caused a lawsuit by the Orange County Employees Association, which represents the employees in question, and how the city lost that lawsuit and cost nearly $400,000 in legal fees.
HISTORY OF STAFFING
Spadoni told us a little history of the staffing of the department, and mentioned that currently the authorized staffing level of the CMPD is 136, but that we actually have only 113 on the payroll, 10 of which are out on injuries. We have only 52 officers available for patrol duty and many of the speciality assignments to which officers aspire - Gangs, Narcotics, K-9 - are no longer available, which hampers recruiting and retention of officers.
She mentioned the attrition report prepared by former Chief Tom Gazsi more than two years ago which outlined for CEO Tom Hatch the reasons for the departure of so many officers due to retirement and/or moving on to other venues. That report was never acknowledged. Much of that turnover was due to the toxic environment created by the current City Council majority.
PAROLEES LOVE COSTA MESA - NO COPS
Spadoni told us of a meeting in 2014 of representatives of the County Probation Department and State Parole organization in which Costa Mesa representatives at the meeting were told that parolees like to come to Costa Mesa because we're understaffed in the CMPD, so chances of them being picked up for crimes is small. She described our situation as a perfect storm - fewer cops and greater demand. She said we're "understaffed and overcrimed".
SHARPNACK TRYING, BUT...
She praised Chief Rob Sharpnack for his energy and enthusiasm trying to get the CMPD back on track, but the process is taking a long time - despite what Mayor Mensinger told us earlier this year. She cited the influx of sober living homes as part of our problem keeping crime down - it's up dramatically. She said we're not "Costa Mayberry" anymore. She told us that Costa Mesa has 3% of the county population but 27% of the sober living homes. She said 63% of our residences are rentals. She cited the unrealistic positions taken by candidates Mensinger, Mansoor and Ramos on public safety issues.
Q & A
Next came Questions and Answers presented by the audience via note cards. The panel included retired CMPD Lieutenant Clay Epperson - a long-time Costa Mesa resident; Former man-of-many-hats, retired Interim Chief Fred Sequin and Robert Mann of Clear Path Recovery to answer Sober Living Questions.
CMPD 5 YEARS BEHIND
In response to a question about police staffing, Epperson told the audience that we're 5 years behind. That we have a hard time recruiting and retaining officers because of the atmosphere within City Management towards the CMPD.
CMFD WORK SCHEDULE
Seguin was asked about work hours. He explained that the CMFD works a 56 hour work week and that it's not at all unusual for firefighters to work hundreds and even thousands of overtime hours because of the depleted staffing.
MANN DODGED THE QUESTIONS
Mann, didn't really answer many of the questions posed to him. Most of the time he waltzed around and did a promotion for his industry and his business specifically. He feigned ignorance of statistics when asked. He was not the only Sober Living operator in the room. He was asked, for example, why there was no mechanism to return failed "clients" to their homes instead of just turning them out onto our streets. He didn't really answer that, except to say his organization sometimes turns those failures over to other organizations. Kind of an incestuous situation.
CRIME FROM DRUG AND ALCOHOL USE
Other questions were asked about rising crime. Epperson told us much was due to drug and alcohol users.
JULY 4TH ENFORCEMENT?
Seguin was asked about July 4th fireworks and how it is enforced. He said with current staffing levels it's hard to catch perpetrators in the act. One angry audience member demanded to know how many arrests were made this year - he had no answer. He did say it's hard to catch those shooting off illegal fireworks because they are masked by legal fireworks.
IMPACT OF OVERTIME
He was also asked about the impact of overtime on the firefighters. He responded that it was hard on the firefighters AND on their families due to the unanticipated demands for overtime. He said it's not unusual for a firefighter to work several consecutive shifts without time off.
FIND BARRY'S RECORDING
The meeting ended just after 8:30. Find the Costa Mesa Brief recording, HERE. It will be worth your time.
THANKS TO CM4RG
Thanks to the folks at CM4RG and all the volunteers who put this program together. I think most who attended thought it was time well-spent. Interestingly, despite some grumbling on certain social media sites, I saw no members of the opposition in the audience. That wasn't all bad. One particularly mouthy candidate for a Sanitary District Board seat kept yapping about attending all week, then did a no-show. No loss.