Eastside Neighbors Forum Rocks!
FORUM A GREAT SUCCESS
The Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group City Council candidate forum Thursday night was a huge success despite, or maybe because of, the absence of four of the seven candidates.
THREE OUTSTANDING CANDIDATES SHOWED UP
Sandra Genis, Jay Humphrey and John Stephens showed up as planned, while the other four failed to make it. Rumor had it that at least some of them may have been raising cash at a gin mill not too far away. No, not Gary's. It's really too bad the rest chose to boycott this event because, as usual, it was the best of the bunch. The questions were well-thought-out and evoked good answers from each candidate. Each one was given the same amount of time to answer and there was no sparring amongst the candidates. I venture to say that if the remainder showed up that probably would not be the case.
MC CONVILLE TO WEITZBERG
The evening began as Eastside Neighbors Group President Jeff McConville promptly kicked things off at 7:00 p.m., then tossed the moderator ball to Harold Weitzberg, who did a fine job of presenting the issues to the candidates. The questions were crisp, as were most of the answers, and the program stayed right on schedule. I'm going to try to give you a flavor of the evening, and may even manage a few direct quotes, but much of what I present to you here will be paraphrasing the questions and answers. Terry Wall was on site recording this event again. His finished work product will be available for viewing sometime next week. I'll provide you a link when it's up.
FIRST, THE BALLOT MEASURES
After personal introductions by the candidates, Weitzberg announced that the next segment would involve a discussion of the many ballot measures facing Costa Mesa voters in November.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA ISSUES
He launched into the first question, which dealt with the three local issues on the Costa Mesa ballot regarding Medical Marijuana - Measures V, W and X. Measures V and W were placed on the ballot by gathering of enough signatures of voters last year. Measure X was generated by the city council majority. He asked each candidate for their views on the issues and whether they will vote for them. I'll provide answers in the order asked, which changed throughout the evening.
Jay Humphrey was the first to answer this one. He said he understood the need for some ill people to get relief from Medical Marijuana and didn't want to do anything to hamper that relief. He didn't like the idea of the product being sold in our city, so said he will vote NO on V and W, and may vote yes on X, the city-created measure that has no retail sales element in it, just manufacturing, testing, distribution kind of functions restricted to a specific section in the north part of town.
John Stephens mentioned the fact that Recreational Marijuana - on the November ballot - will likely pass, but he didn't think dispensaries in Costa Mesa was a good idea. He mentioned the need for a state agency like the ABC to manage the product. He said he will vote NO on V and W and yes on X.
Sandra Genis acknowledged that some folks really need medical cannabis. She cited the need for more state controls. She will vote NO on V and W and, probably, Yes on X.
DEVELOPMENT AND GROWTH
Next up was the issues of Development and Growth. There are two issues on the ballot - Measures Y and Z.
Stephens said he'd be voting NO on Z. However, he was having a tough time with Measure Y. He acknowledged why more than 7,000 people in Costa Mesa signed the petition to get it on the ballot - rampant growth throughout the city - but suggested a better way to change the way development is handled in Costa Mesa would be to change the demographics on the council dais.
Genis also praised the folks who got Measure Y on the ballot. She said it's not perfect, but it reins-in the wholesale changes approved by the current council. She said Measure Z is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" placed on the ballot by the council majority, and that the voters are being lied to on this issue.
Humphrey, a main proponent of Measure Y, said he would vote NO on Z. He briefly expressed the mood of those who signed the petition to place Measure Y on the ballot as frustrated, with a feeling of powerlessness, at the rampant growth in the city.
FAIRVIEW PARK ISSUES
Next came a question about the measures on the ballot involving Fairview Park, Measures AA and BB.
Genis said she will vote Yes on AA and No on BB, another measure placed on the ballot to confuse the voters.
Humphrey said he will vote NO on BB, also emphasizing the attempt to fool the voters. He will vote Yes on AA.
Stephens agreed with them, and used his time to explain his view of the lies being perpetrated on the voters by the council majority by the placement of these measures on the ballot. He express outrage that not only did they place BB and Z on the ballot, but are spending our tax dollars to promote them.
DISTRICT VOTING ISSUE
The next issue was Measure EE, the district voting issue on the ballot.
Humphrey said he's against EE, but agreed that it is important for the city to go to selecting council members by district and also to retain the existing term limits.
Stephens said this measure is another example of the perversion of the process. He briefly explained that we should have districts because of our large Latino population. He explained how this measure really doesn't accomplish the intent - to give a greater voice to the Latino population in our city. He said he will vote No on EE, but will do everything he can to get district voting approved with a Latino majority district.
Genis told the audience that she had offered a substitute motion - a 5-district option that had been preferred by the participants at the many workshops on this issue. Not a single person supported the 6-district with directly-elected mayor choice that was placed on the ballot. She cited this as another example of abuse of power at City Hall. She will vote No on EE.
MESA WATER HOSTILE TAKEOVER MEASURE
Next came Measure TT, the advisory issue placed on the ballot by the Mesa Water District to test the sentiment of the voters on whether Mesa Water and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District (CMSD) should be combined.
Stephens said he will vote NO because he didn't like the way it went down. He suggested the proper forum for this discussion was the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).
Humphrey agreed and will also be voting NO. He said this is simply a power grab and also agreed with Stephens that LAFCO is the place for this discussion.
Genis agreed - she, too, will vote NO. She said there is no clear reason for this to even be on the ballot. She cited the one-sided financial study by Mesa Water, which was completed without the cooperation of the CMSD. She suggested that maybe the Costa Mesa Sanitary District should investigate taking over the Water District.
QUESTIONS FROM THE HOSTS
Next they tackled questions posed by the host organization based on input from their membership. Each candidate was asked to respond to each issue again.
HIGH DENSITY HOUSING/GENERAL PLAN/OVERLAYS
First up in this segment was High Density Housing, the General Plan Update and the Overlay Zones along Harbor and Newport Boulevard. The candidates were asked if they agree with them and, if not, what they will do about it.
Genis said she did not agree with them and voted against them several times. She said they produce areas that are too dense, with too much traffic - much of which will end up being cut-through traffic on the Eastside. And, she said it will result in no affordable housing in Costa Mesa.
Humphrey said he disagrees with the General Plan changes, citing the density and traffic, too. He said it's just a land grab for developers. He said those changes MUST not be codified.
Stephens said he is against the Overlay Zones because they will change the character of our city. He referred the audience to the development at 125 Baker Street, where a huge apartment complex with multi-story parking structure is being built. He said there's a lot of lying being done by the council majority regarding the so-called "problem motels". He said it's a myth being used to oust those properties, and cited an apartment complex in town as having the highest calls for service.
SOBER LIVING HOMES
Next came a question about Unlicensed Sober Living Homes, which Weitzberg said the city - 4% of the county population - has 29% of such homes. He asked if they felt the laws were adequate to enforce?
Humphrey said they are not being enforced. He cited the two laws on the books are not adequate, but acknowledged the need for sober living homes. He cited the over-abundance of them in some neighborhoods and that we need to do a better job of forcing them to be better neighbors.
Genis acknowledged the need for sober living homes, but said our ordinances need more teeth and that we need to work with other agencies to help solve the problems - lobbying in Sacramento and Washington to get better laws.
Stephens said he could talk a half hour on the issue, and would stick around after the meeting if anyone was interested. He affirmed that the addicts are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). He suggested a Nuisance Abatement Fund be created to help deal with the problems. He said many residents with sober living homes in their neighborhoods feel "hopeless and helpless".
PUBLIC SAFETY/POLICE STAFFING
Next came a question about Public Safety, specifically about Police Staffing, and asked what we should do to attract more experienced officers.
Stephens said "Elect Me!" He said the city is a service business but that we currently have a "siege mentality" at City Hall against the police and that it's out of control on the dais and is constantly discussed on social media - he specifically didn't mention any site in particular. Citing the obvious acrimony that is well-publicized, he said, "I wouldn't want to hire an officer who didn't know how police officers are treated in Costa Mesa."
Genis said we need to establish an atmosphere of respect. She said the relationship with the police department has reached a critical point, and that the fact that we have no specialty units makes it hard to find experienced officers for lateral transfers, which is already a slow process. She praised Police Chief Rob Sharpnack for his diligence in trying to manage this problem.
Humphrey told us the reality is the toxic atmosphere that has existed for more than 5 years. Many senior officers took early retirement or looked for other jobs where their skills were appreciated. And, the council majority imposed a hiring freeze, which put recruitment behind for nearly a year. He looked forward to helping the CMPD become a premiere department again, and that it will take a change of attitude to attract laterals to the force.
Next came a question about Emergency Preparedness. The candidates were asked if they feel we are adequately prepared to handle a major emergency - a terrorist act or a natural disaster.
Humphrey said that concern is very real and cited the recent Trump Rally, which ended up being a riot and caused more than $290,000 in damage. He said there was not enough notification to and by the Fairgrounds and there was no plan to which they could refer.
Genis mentioned the emergency generator which she, and Wendy Leece before her, had tried to get purchased for years without success. She mentioned one member of the council majority who asked, apparently seriously, "Why should we have something that we will never have to use?" She mentioned that our Emergency Operations Plan had not been updated for years, when Chief Tom Gazsi finally got it done. She said we have NO Hazard Management plan. She also referred to the current practice of having public safety personnel work so many hours of overtime - thousands in many cases - that they might not be physically ready for a major disaster/emergency.
Stephens said it kind of depends on the kind of emergency. He mentioned a recent conversation with an official in north county that said something like, "Why worry about a fire. Other departments will come to your aid." He said we need to get our staffing levels in both the Police and Fire Departments up to the required level soon.
Next up was a question about Marijuana, specifically the possibility of Recreational Marijuana being approved by the voters in November. The candidates were asked, "If it passes, how will it affect Costa Mesa?" and "What steps do we need to take to prepare?"
Stephens began by saying he had no problem with adults using marijuana and suggested that anyone in Costa Mesa that wanted marijuana were probably getting all they want already. He emphasized he didn't believe we needed dispensaries, then mentioned the fact that there are more than 300 places in Costa Mesa where a person can get alcohol, and that 80% of the police calls receive involve drinking.
Humphrey was concerned about it being a cash business, subject to armed robbery. He expressed the need to take care of the "bad actors" in that business if it evolves.
Genis said she hopes the State creates an agency like the ABC to manage the product, and emphasized again that some people do receive relief from pain from the product. Weitzberg interjected that there is already an agency being formed.
COSTA MESA HOMELESSNESS
Next they discussed Homelessness in Costa Mesa, defining the problem and looking for solutions.
Genis said homelessness in Orange County is up, that there are currently and estimated 15 thousand homeless people in the county. Many are in Costa Mesa. She mentioned even Avalon, on Catalina Island, has a homelessness problem because the boat gives free passage to the island on your birthday. She also mentioned we, the City, have been sending HOME funds that could be used for transitional housing for homeless back to Washington. She said there will be "cap and trade" funds available soon, and that we need permanent supportive housing.
Stephens mentioned that he'd recently spent a lot of time with Assistant CEO Rick Francis, the point man on Costa Mesa's battle with the homeless issue. He has a small team and they're trying to get proper data so they can actually create a plan to deal with it. He cited faith-based organizations, like Trellis.
Humphrey observed we have more young women homeless in Costa Mesa and blamed it on sober living homes that dump their failures out onto out streets. He suggested the city become a credit guarantor to assist the homeless get re-established.
Next was Banning Ranch. It was presumed that the developers would appeal the recent Coastal Commission ruling and be back at it, trying to develop that property. The candidates were asked to address the impact on Costa Mesa in terms of traffic, noise, clean up of the site, etc.
Humphrey said he would be attending any meeting on the issue. He said we don't have any control, but that we need to negotiate a better deal to mitigate some of the impacts than the last one - one he said would barely cover half the anticipated impacts. He suggested we keep an eye on the Coastal Commission to make sure they follow the law.
Stephens said he was proud of Genis because she was the only elected official to step up and speak at the recent hearing that quashed the last attempt. He said that if the three of them were elected, there would be three at those future meetings. He thanked the opponents of the development, mentioning Terry Welsch in particular.
Genis said it is going forward and it would generate a lot of traffic in Costa Mesa. If the Bluff Road is included it will mean even MORE traffic, and that we need to keep fighting it.
Finally came their closing statements. They were asked what makes them the best choice for City Council.
Genis said she was one of three good choices for City Council. She said she's in it for the long haul, that she has great institutional knowledge about the City and is a professional land planner. She said she wanted to see the government returned to the people, not continue abridging the rights of the residents.
Humphrey said he's a long-time resident of the city and that when on the council before he worked with Genis when she helped get the City out of the county investment pool before the bankruptcy, saving approximately 40% of our money in the process. He cited the need to treat people with respect. He mentioned that every small business, every resident are a major part of our community and that the council needs to hear from the people and respect their opinions. He said he wants to bring balance back to the City for a sustainable future.
Stephens thanked the hosts and Weitzberg. He said he's a practicing attorney and that he thinks we should stop squandering our tax dollars on frivolous lawsuits, and that his background could help with that. He said he would be the residents eyes and ears at City Hall. He said we could trust him to manage our tax dollars. He said he knows how to negotiate in good faith. He said he loves the city, and that he's a nice guy. He said even Mensinger and Righeimer would agree that he's a nice guy. He said he wants to listen to the people with Respect, Joy, Dignity and Love.
The meeting ended precisely at 8:30 with closing comments by McConville. Luke Money from the Daily Pilot, shown below chatting with resident Greg Ridge, was at the meeting, so look for his coverage of the event.
I came away from this forum with strong positive feelings about all three of these candidates. It was clear that they agree on most issues, but don't necessarily agree on solutions, but are willing to discuss them. This is a refreshing change from what we've seen the past five years from the current council majority. Two of the three, Genis and Humphrey, have significant experience on the City Council and know how good government looks and works. Stephens is a skilled lawyer and negotiator. All would be excellent council members and, as a team, they would be terrific. My sense of the crowd tonight is that most in attendance were very impressed. I know where my three votes are going later this month when my absentee ballot arrives.
THANKS TO ALL INVOLVED
My Eastside Neighbors did a fantastic job with this forum. Congratulations to McConville, Weitzberg and to all involved, and to the candidates who took the time to speak to more than 100 of their neighbors on issues that are important to us all.
TO THE NO-SHOWS...
To the other candidates that chose NOT to attend... I have nothing good to say to or about any of you. By avoiding this opportunity to express your views on these important issues you've demonstrated your arrogant disdain for the voters - something everyone in attendance last night will certainly remember and pass on to their friends.