Lies and Deceit - The Worst Campaign Season - EVER!
CAN'T INFLUENCE THE NATIONAL RACE, BUT...
With just a week to go the campaign season, both locally and nationally, has taken on a fever pitch pace, with each day producing some new element for the voters to consider. I'm not going to address the national campaign here - I cannot do a thing to influence the outcome. All California's electoral college votes will go to Hillary Clinton unless she's tossed in the pokey before November 8th - and even then it might not be in time. So, we'll talk a little about our local race...
NASTIEST IN MY MEMORY
I've lived in Costa Mesa for 43 years and confess that I coasted through the election cycles for most of that time, doing what most people do - trusting that the folks we elect will do what's right for us. Most of us just look for a familiar name - one that's not accused of being an axe murderer - and mark our ballot beside it. Then, a little more than a dozen years ago, I began paying attention, then began writing about local politics and I can tell you with absolute certainty that there has not been a more contentious, nasty campaign season than this one.
TWO FACTIONS - MUCH RANCOR
This season has two clearly defined factions competing for the three council seats available. Most observers expect the two incumbents, Mayor Steve Mensinger and Councilwoman Sandy Genis, to retain their seats. That leaves four - five if you count Al Melone, who really has no chance - competing for the vacancy created by the departure of lame duck Gary Monahan. On the Mensinger side of the equation you have former councilman and mayor Allan Mansoor and long time resident and multiple-time also-ran candidate, Lee Ramos. On the Genis side you have long time activist and former councilman Jay Humphrey - who lost to Righeimer two years ago by 47 votes - and former candidate lawyer John Stephens - who lost to Monahan four years ago by 155 votes.
BIG DEVELOPER DONATIONS
From the very get-go in this campaign it became clear that the big money was coming from developer interests supporting the Mensinger trio and against initiatives placed on the ballot by residents. Much of the funding for the Genis side apparently has come from local public safety organizations - primarily the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association. I was not surprised about either situation.
NEGATIVE CAMPAIGN TACTICS PAID FOR BY OUTSIDERS
We have seen flyer after flyer arrive in our mailboxes with very negative, lie-filled messages about Stephens and Humphrey and the other issues - funded by outside sources. Virtually all the negative campaigning has come from the Mensinger side. For the most part the Genis side has produced very positive, message-driven flyers.
CAMPAIGN FLYER LIES
For example, in the early days of the campaign a large flyer appeared that blatantly lied about Measure Y, the Smart Growth Initiative. It said the initiative was supported by developers - which could not be further from the truth.
CONFUSING THE PUBLIC
Measure Y was generated by gathering more than 7,000 voters signatures to place it on the ballot. Rather than simply let the voters decide the issue the council majority placed a competing measure on the ballot to confuse the voters - a typical move by them.
AGAIN, REFUSED TO LET THE PUBLIC CHOOSE
Measure AA was similarly placed on the ballot by collecting enough voters signatures. This issue, the protection of Fairview Park from what has clearly been an attempt to develop at least part of it into playing fields, was very clear. However, the council majority, again, placed another issue on the ballot to confuse the voters instead of just letting them vote AA up or down.
FURTHER CONFUSING THE MEDICAL MARIJUANA ISSUE
There were two Medical Marijuana measures that qualified for the ballot via the initiative process, one for up to 4 dispensaries and the other for up to 8. Rather than trust the voters to make their views known the council again placed a competing issue on the ballot, Measure X, which has NOTHING in common with the other two. Again, they don't trust the voters.
RIGHEIMER HIJACKED DISTRICT VOTING
When a lawsuit forced us to consider a method of creating district voting in The City - electing council members by district instead of at-large - Righeimer hijacked the process, coerced the demographer to create a 6-district PLUS directly-elected mayor option. None of the residents who attended the meetings on this issue expressed interest in that option, yet Righeimer demanded that it be the City choice and the majority placed it on the ballot - once again ignoring the wishes of the public.
Mansoor has been debunked as a liar when he denied voting for the 3@50 contract during his tour on the council. Not only did he vote for it, he actually moved the motion! And, of course, he was the most devisive councilmember we've seen in decades, aligning himself with right-wing extremist groups and costing us thousands of dollars in the Benito Acosta debacle. His Assembly tour was marked by nearly zero accomplishment.
Ramos has also been branded as a liar by Judge Dunning for his part in the now-infamous ballot rebuttal argument for Measure Y, along with Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and three other signatories.
Last week an image of Mensinger flanked by Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack and Fire Chief Dan Stefano was posted on the Internet on the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Facebook site. Long time Mensinger/Righeimer sycophant Jim Fitzpatrick - who is running for a seat on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board again - confessed to the local media that he was responsible for the photoshopped image that included campaign references appearing, but said he took it down and does not know who produced the doctored image. The City generated an immediate response on the City web site decrying the image and criticizing those responsible, HERE.
FITZPATRICK UNFIT FOR PUBLIC OFFICE
Fitzpatrick has recently been openly posting virulent critical comments about the Costa Mesa Fire Fighters and Police Officers - often getting into nasty exchanges with members of each group and spewing the party line about over-paid, greedy firefighters wanting a council they can control. For a man running for office to behave in that manner is unbelievable and, especially when combined with his terrible judgment on the above-mentioned image issue, certainly brings into question his judgment and his qualifications for any public office. You may recall that he resigned from two offices - the CMSD seat and as Chairman of the Planning Commission because he violated the rules about simultaneously holding those two positions.
LIES, LIES AND MORE LIES
The campaign being conducted by the Mensinger, Mansoor, Ramos side - MMR - has been laced with lies and misrepresentations - probably because their chief strategist is the notorious Dave Ellis, a political king-maker known to play fast and loose with the rules.
IGNORING THE PUBLIC
Mensinger oversaw a council majority that has ignored the public in most important issues. For example, during the meetings over the past few years dealing with the update of the City's General Plan the predominant message from the public was "no high density housing". That message was summarily ignored and the General Plan update includes onerous plans for several areas of high density housing.
BOWING TO DEVELOPERS
When developers complained to their friends on the council about the problems they were having getting small housing developments approved because they all required deviations and variances to our codes the council and their Planning Commission promptly cobbled together the much-ballyhooed Small Lot Ordinance, which basically codified all those nasty deviations and variances to the codes that had been designed to protect the character of our neighborhoods and made it a breeze for the developers to run roughshod on our neighborhoods.
PICKING ON THE LITTLE GUYS
In a City that is mostly built-out there are few opportunities for any sizable developments, so all of a sudden the council majority discovered "problem motels" - a dozen or so long-time establishments that looked like juicy pickin's for developers except for the fact that the owners of those places had what Righeimer described as "unrealistic ideas of their value". So, incredibly, he told us all from the dais that he and his council majority were going to do everything they could to make those owners see the light and have a different view of their properties' value. To do that they created a completely new Code Enforcement organization aimed specifically at those properties and, combined with more frequent visits by fire and police teams, began to squeeze the motel owners until they cried "uncle" - and some decided to sell. The plan, of course, was to replace those "problem" properties with high density housing - exactly what the residents DO NOT want.
MANIPULATED THE GENERAL PLAN
They have now created a General Plan that will permit high density housing in many areas of the city and have codified Overlay Zones that carve out small businesses and potentially replace them with high density housing. And, of course, we are seeing the results of their handiwork all over the Westside as three-story units with rooftop decks sprout up like mushrooms adding more people, more traffic and creating more demand for water, sewer and trash services.
STIFLING FREE SPEECH
Righeimer and Mensinger don't like criticism, so they shifted the agenda at council meetings to impede public commentors by restricting the comments segment to a specific time and all remaining comments would be trailed to the very end of the meetings - sometimes six hours later! And, they exacerbated that infringement on free speech by frequently interrupting speakers, disrupting their thoughts. And, of course, they used their bully pulpit - that word seems perfectly appropriate - to chide speakers who had no opportunity for rebuttal.
SHUFFLING THE DECK - QUASHING PUBLIC DISCUSSION
Similarly, the Consent Calendar under their watch has grown significantly. It is supposed to be made up of routine items that can normally be voted upon without discussion in one vote. However, as time passed more and more controversial items appeared on the Consent Calendar, so members of the public would "pull them" for separate discussion and vote. That irritated Righeimer and Mensinger, so they changed the rules again - all items pulled for separate discussion would be trailed to the end of the meeting. That effectively quashed public concerns about important issues because, again, those meetings often ran well past midnight so the folks who had pulled them had left.
All of this was happening when Mensinger and Righeimer controlled the council because they had the willing accomplice in the form of Gary Monahan, a lame duck who has stayed way, way too long at the dance. He was a guaranteed third vote on nearly every issue, so there was not even a pretense of discussions on most.
ABANDONED STUDY SESSIONS
On that issue, they also abandoned Study Sessions - opportunities for casual discussions of upcoming important issues where staff and council members could meet in public to vet issues and flesh out conflicts or complications. Since there was a guaranteed majority vote the Righeimer/Mensinger majority simply abandoned the Study Sessions - no need to "study" anything when they already knew how they were going to vote.
TOXIC ATOMOSPHERE FOR EMPLOYEES
The most egregious acts by this council majority revolved around their treatment of the City employees. Right after they took power in 2011 they immediately issued illegal layoff notices to more than 200 employees, which caused such turmoil and angst among the staff that one young man, Huy Pham, actually took his own life by jumping off City Hall roof. After significant legal action costing hundreds of thousands of dollars those layoff notices were found to, indeed, be illegal and were rescinded, but much of the damage was done and the intent of this council majority was clear - dump as many employees as they could to avoid incurring more pension liabilities.
TALENT AND EXPERIENCE EXODUS
Such a toxic atmosphere was created toward the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department that dozens departed - either through early retirement or lateral transfers to other departments - leaving a tremendous experience/leadership vacuum. This was compounded by the imposition of a hiring freeze, which put the City well behind the curve in re-staffing once it was lifted. And that was coupled with an arbitrary and unrealistic staffing edict that reduced the authorized head-count by more than 20%. The result was the elimination of specialty units like Narcotics, K-9 and the world-renowned A.B.L.E. helicopter program - the model for municipal helicopter programs throughout the country.
STAVELEY WAS CORRECT
And, the atmosphere was so toxic that Interim Chief Steve Staveley - a legendary law enforcement leader who served in that role twice while permanent chiefs were sought - resigned in disgust leaving behind a scathing indictment of the current city leadership. His exact words were, "They are, in my opinion, incompetent, unskilled and unethical".And, he was correct. The current council majority has demonstrated an incredible ignorance of municipal management, particularly of public safety organizations. If you want an idea of what it was like here in 2011, I did a little reprise of it earlier this year, HERE.
IGNORED THE EXPERTS AND THE FACTS
They have ignored the firefighters expired contract for two years and have refused to properly staff that organization and to deploy $1.6 million worth of rescue ambulances that could generate well in excess of $2 million in annual revenues to the City. They ignored the re-organization model proposed by Interim Chief Tom Arnold which was fine-tuned by current chief Dan Stefano to protect a campaign contributor's ambulance contract to the detriment of the members of our community.
POTHOLES BEFORE PUBLIC SAFETY
This majority has put pothole repair ahead of public safety, crowing about all the miles of streets they've paved and alleys they've re-surfaced. In the meantime, we have insufficient staff in both public safety organizations to do the job right unless unreasonable overtime is required. Last year many firefighters worked in excess of 4,000 hours - nearly two full jobs - because the council refuses to properly staff the organization.
LAWYER'S RETIREMENT FUND
This council has created a city that has become an annuity for lawyers. We spend nearly $200,000 each month on legal fees and our self-insurance fund - from which many lawsuits are settled - has been nearly totally depleted. In their quest to "run the city like a business" they've apparently found it expedient to simply do things that will generate lawsuits.
And then there's the infamous "Decomposed Granite Path" in Fairview Park to consider. Mensinger used his influence to coerce city staffers to "improve" a user-defined path through some weeds along a fence near Estancia High School. The result was a road wide enough that it supported a dual-wheel dump truck used to remove the decomposed granite later when it was discovered and found to encroach in the habitat of the protected San Diego Fairy Shrimp. The action by the US Fish and Wildlife Service remains pending.
ELECT GENIS, HUMPHREY AND STEPHENS
After all this long-winded blather, my point here is that ever since Mensinger and Righeimer took over things have gone downhill in our city. The only way to get back on track is to change the balance of power on the City Council. That means electing people who's first instinct is NOT to sell out the city to developers and to give our tax dollars to lawyers, but to protect and maintain it's eclectic nature and return city services to their once-proud stature. The only way to do that is to elect Sandra Genis, John Stephens and Jay Humphrey next week.
YES ON Y AND AA - NO ON ALL THE REST
And, to make it especially easy for you, Vote YES on Measure Y and Yes on Measure AA and NO on every other municipal issue, including Mesa Water's Measure TT, the hostile takeover of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.
PERRY AND FERRYMAN FOR THE CMSD BOARD
And while you're at it, re-elect proven leadership for the Costa Mesa Sanitary District by returning Jim Ferryman and Art Perry to the Board.
REICH TO MESA WATER BOARD
And, elect Alex Reich to the Mesa Water District Board replacing Jim Fisler.
NO ON PROP. 57
And one last thing... be sure you vote NO on Prop. 57! We cannot afford to have more criminals tossed out onto our streets early.