Fun With COIN, Andranian Survives, And More
Well, that was interesting! The Costa Mesa City Council met again last night in a meeting that took longer than it should have and ended on a less than harmonious note, but more on that later.
YELLOWSTONE LAWSUIT MOVES FORWARD
The council met in a Closed Session - see the agenda HERE for the list of items. A member of the public spoke to the council before they traipsed up to Conference Room 5A for their meeting and begged them to NOT settle the Yellowstone lawsuit, citing solid reasons why they should continue to fight. When they returned 2 hours later and the regular meeting began, City Attorney Tom Duarte announced that the litigation will continue and that they are now in the "discovery" segment of the lawsuit.
BELTIN' OUT THE "BANNER"...
As has become the practice under Mayor Katrina Foley, regular meeting began with the singing of the National Anthem by a young soloist from Estancia High School, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a moment of solemn expression - we used to call that prayer before somebody got their shorts in a wad a few years ago. Regardless, Pastor Jon Mestas of the Newport Mesa Church prayed.
Public Comments were, as always, interesting.
The person (above) who addressed sober living issues with the Council earlier expressed concern for a new 70-bed facility being created not far from City Hall, indicating that The City apparently has no record of it although significant renovations are being done at the site. She also mentioned concern in San Clemente about the apparent establishment of a recovery home for folks with sex addiction. I'm sorry, but the thoughts that have blasted through my head about that one almost make me blush.
Dana Lavin complained about Carla Navarro Woods being placed on the Planning Commission, and demanded that it be "fixed now!
Beth Refakes reported on Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Genis' recent Infrastructure meeting, the recent Heroes Hall launch and thanked the council for cleaning up the terminus of the 55 Freeway.
COUNCIL MEMBER COMMENTS
Allan Mansoor led off this segment with a politically-charged screed about the Orange Coast College student who was being disciplined for violating college rules about filming instructors. He said he was glad he videoed the instructor and mischaracterized what actually happened in the classroom. He observed that "we have to keep an eye on what the instructors are doing". He sounded like he was a warm-up guy at a Trump rally. His angry comments made me more than a little uneasy.
Foley was up next and spoke of the Heroes Hall event. She shared that her son had attended one of the events for school kids and came away very impressed with what he saw. She announced an upcoming Women's History Month event on March 8th (above). She asked City Manager Tom Hatch for an update on the Marine View Park landscape condition. She also wondered about the status of signage in Fairview Park, and observed how lush and green it is now after the recent rains.
Genis spoke of her Infrastructure Workshop and of mosquitoes in standing water following the rains. She also spoke of the Heroes Hall event and asked for a report back on the 70-bed sober living facility.
Councilman John Stephens reminded us of the Costa Mesa United Golf Tournament next Monday - unless rained out. He reminded us of the 75th anniversary of Japanese Internment during World War II and said we're "pretty close to getting there again.", apparently citing the current national angst about Muslim refugees. He then observed that the word "them" is the most dangerous word in the English language - as in "us vs. them".
Councilman Jim Righeimer was the caboose on this segment and he cheerfully observed that Costa Mesa is a great place to live, that the new homes around town are selling fast. He also observed that it's great that the Chargers chose Costa Mesa as their new headquarters.
One item was pulled from the Consent Calendar for separate discussion - Item #5, the approval of the routes and street closures for the upcoming Orange County Marathon. Former councilwoman Wendy Leece pulled this to observe that this was once a non-profit event which provided significant financial support for Costa Mesa organizations. She wondered what is happening in that regard now. She also wondered if we are losing money providing public safety and other staff support for the event.
UH, ABOUT SCOTT BAUGH...
This resulted in a longer-than-anticipated discussion during which the representative of the Marathon spent a long time telling us about how the organization helped many charities, including four in Costa Mesa - but he couldn't name them all. Following this long discussion and questions by council members, Righeimer announced that he needed to recuse himself because a "close personal friend" is involved in the Marathon. He didn't name him, but it's Scott Baugh, who is thought by some to be a potential successor to Representative Dana Rhorabacher if he ever steps down from his seat in Congress. The council voted, 4-0, to approve the item.
COIN SCHEME UP NEXT
Next came the much-anticipated COIN hearing on the negotiations with the Costa Mesa City Employees Association. The staff report, HERE, does a good job of explaining the agreement that was discussed. You may read the entire Memorandum of Understanding HERE. Assistant City Manager Tammy Letourneau and Human Resources Manager Lance Nakamoto provided the presentation of the proposed contract, which will result in $5.65 million in fiscal impact to the city over the life of the contract, from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2020. It includes stepped pay increases of 2.5%, 2.5%, 2.75% and 2.75% beginning last July. This works out to just about 11% over the life of the contract.
RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTIONS TO DROP
Employees currently contribute 17% of their earnings - much more than any city around - toward their PERS retirement. This will change with this new contract. Beginning with the first full pay period following the ratification of this contract the employees, regardless of the Tier in which they fall, will contribute 14%. In July that number drops to 13%. In July, 2018 it drops to 12%.
INCREASE IN HEALTH BENEFITS PREMIUMS
Health Insurance Flexible Benefits Contributions by the City will rise from $919 to $1,100 per month this year. In July they will rise to $1,200. In July, 2018 it rises to $1,300 and in July, 2019 - the final year of this contract, it rises to $1,400.
CHANGES ARE ESSENTIAL
All the above changes are deemed by City negotiators to be essential to facilitate the recruitment and retention of employees. Our current contract - the draconian contract enforced on the employees by the last council majority - is simply not competitive. Perhaps that's what Jim Righeimer had in mind - make it virtually impossible to run a city government populated by City employees - so he could accomplish his goal he tried to implement six years ago when he attempted to illegally fire more than 200 of these employees and poor Huy Pham jumped to his death off the City Hall roof.
Richard Russell, began by saying, "This isn't even the big one.". I presume he meant the contract with the Firefighters, which is pending. He praised the COIN process for providing us with this information.
RECRUITING AND RETAINING
In response to a question, Letourneau told us that there are currently 90 vacant positions in the City and Nakamoto observed that we've had a consistent 13% vacancy rate. It is difficult to recruit and retain employees with the contract currently in place.
MANSOOR - "GOING BANKRUPT"
Mansoor observed that there are three ways to resolve the pension crisis: 1) Increase taxes; 2)The employees pay more or 3) Ask retirees to pay more. He went on to say "The City's going to go bankrupt, it's just a matter of time." He then asked that a letter from former mayor, his buddy, Eric Bever, be included in the official record.
Stephens asked Nakamoto about the "normal cost" of pensions. He said the CMCEA has always paid more than the normal cost. The current rate of 17% is way above the normal cost. Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent was asked what the highest amount employees can pay. He said he thought it was 14%, but would have to double check.
ROLL BACK TO THE DARK AGES
Righeimer chimed in with another bloviation - his answers are the ONLY answers that count, don'tcha know? He misstated facts (lied). He suggested that we just go back to "60% of pay" for all pensions and, in his words, "Problem solved!" I swear I could see his nose growing as he spoke...
MANSOOR CONFUSED - AS USUAL
Foley responded to Mansoor's earlier claim that, back in 2007, the council acted on the information provided and it got us into this hole. She said the only thing that can be done is use the best information available to base their decisions upon. Mansoor conveniently forgot that the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008 - something folks that work for a living certainly remember.
FINALLY, PASSED UNANIMOUSLY
Eventually, after this heated discussion, the council voted, 5-0, to schedule the second hearing on March 7th. Geez, what a workout! We took a short break...
WATCH CONNECTION PARKING SPOTS
When the council resumed they tackled Public Hearing #2, the issue of 2 limited parking spaces for the Watch Connection, a business at 3303 Bristol that has been operating there for 37 years. The configuration of the center has changed hands in recent years and the businesses are now mostly food outlets - several of which are wildly successful. Kelly Johnson spoke for the appellant - this item was denied by the Planning Commission earlier. He painted a grim picture of customers not being able to get into the shop. The business owner, Mark Martini, painted an even more unpleasant picture, describing armed robberies and burglaries and expressed concern for the safety of his vendors who must walk a long way to their cars. Property owner Jason Ball was backed into a corner by questions from the council about security at the site and his willingness to work with the appellant.
MOVE TO OVERTURN...
After much discussion Stephens moved to overturn the Planning Commission denial and grant the two spots requested. Foley seconded it. Genis asked that the parking issue be monitored by staff to be sure this didn't generate any overflow into adjoining neighborhoods.
RIGHEIMER - HIS WORST OF THE NIGHT
Righeimer got off his best (worst) line during this discussion. When addressing the safety concerns, he said, "As far as the safety stuff, I'm done with it!" He said, "You're not going to get robbed for a $10,000 watch!" What world is he living in? People get robbed every day for way, way less than that! What a jackass!
The council voted, 4-1, with Righeimer voting NO, to overturn the denial and approve the two parking spots. It seems to me that this is an issue that could have, and should have, probably been worked out with the landlord, for goodness sake.
CALMING 19TH STREET TRAFFIC
Next up was Old Business #1, the plan to implement traffic calming measures along the length of East 19th Street - in my neck of the woods - from Church Street to Irvine Avenue. These include chokers at each intersection. Several (15) members of the community spoke in favor of this plan - none spoke against. The only person I know who has spoken out against this plan is me - at the Bikeways and Walkability Committee meeting when this issue was heard recently. I'm concerned that the slowed, impatient traffic will find a way around 19th Street - onto neighboring streets and create safety issues on those. Many of those who spoke in favor of this plan cited Broadway - a nearby, parallel street - which had undergone a similar change a couple years ago. Broadway is a much wider street, with dedicated bike paths and planters scattered through the right-of-way. And, yes, the traffic DOES go slower along Broadway. Traffic will go slower on the new 19th Street, too. Again, my concern is about those drivers who wish to get to the 55 Freeway pronto. The council approved this plan on a 5-0 vote.
New Business #1, the Community Based Transit Circulators Project, was up next. This is a $3.1 million project, of which the City will pay $301,000, probably from grants. It proposes a bus circulator system that will connect South Coast Metro to the CAMP/LAB complex on Bristol and will intersect with the existing connections that take folks from South Coast Plaza to Anaheim, near Disneyland. The council approved it, 5-0.
GENIS' GAFFE... AND MORE
Finally, at 9:50 p.m., we got to the Big Issue - New Business #2 - Councilwoman Sandra Genis' request to remove Chairman Stephan Andranian from the recently-appointed Planning Commission because of an error she made during the selection process two weeks ago.
HARSH DESCRIPTION - BUT ACCURATE
To her credit, Genis fell on her sword on this one, admitting her mistake and - several times - describing herself as an idiot. While not particularly helpful, it was probably accurate for this occurrence. She just blew it. Unfortunately, Mayor Foley decided to fold into the discussion - without it being part of the noticed agenda item - the issue of whether Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods should have been permitted to be on the selection ballot because she applied to the Planning Commission after the application period had closed and was never interviewed for that position - although her interview for the Parks and Recreation Commission position was quite impressive. Including this issue in the main subject was a mistake - one of many that has happened in this process.
SPLIT PUBLIC OPINION
Fifteen members of the public spoke to this issue, several of whom - including close friends of Teresa Callo Drain, who might have been the beneficiary of Andranian's removal, since she finished only one point behind him in the ranking process - actually spoke to just move on and let Andranian remain on the commission. Most, however, expressed concern about the viability of the process, Woods' inclusion and how it just didn't seem "fair". Most wanted a complete "do over". The public commenters included many highly-respected members of the community. The husband and wife team of Tom and Eleanor Egan - authors of a recent commentary in the Daily Pilot on this issue - spoke to it in favor of a do-over. The public comments went on until 10:45.
FOLEY TRIES TO EXPLAIN THE PROCESS INTENT
In the subsequent discussion by the council members Foley defended the process she implemented as an attempt to take politics out of the appointment process. It could have worked except people intervened. Genis made a mistake. Someone - Foley, I believe - decided to bend the rules and let Woods name appear on the nomination forms for the Planning Commission despite her late application. Interview rules were haphazardly applied. In hindsight, it would have been much easier to just follow the established council policy. Even easier, just let each council member appoint one commissioner without approval of the others - simply a ratification vote for all appointees. That, of course, is complicated by the fact that the Senior Commission has seven (7) members - it really only needs 5, if any at all.
Stephens went to great lengths to explain that his intent with this process was to select commissioners based on merit and balance. He said that, although he didn't vote for Chairman Andranian, he went to great lengths to praise him for his apparent flexibility and reaching out to the community during his earlier tour on the commission. Stephens attended the first Planning Commission meeting and said he thought Andranian did a great job.
RECEIVE AND FILE THE REPORT
In the end the council voted unanimously to receive and file the report and take no action to remove Andranian from the Planning Commission. It was probably the best solution to this sticky wicket.
REMEMBERING A FALLEN OFFICER
Foley closed the meeting in remembrance of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer.