Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Small Crowd Remembers Huy Pham's Death


REMEMBERING HUY PHAM
Friday night, on the 6th anniversary of Huy Pham's tragic death at City Hall, a small group of friends, co-workers and activists met on the east side of of the building near the employee entrance where Pham died to spend a couple hours remembering that young man whose life was cut short.
FEW MANAGERS ATTENDED
Fire Chief Dan Stefano and Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman were among the city management team in attendance.

GENIS WAS THERE
Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Genis attended and mingled with the small crowd, sharing stories of the event and other events since that day.
NAGHAVI ATTENDED
Former Public Services Director and Deputy Chief Executive Officer Peter Naghavi also remembered this day and attended, bringing flowers and lighting a candle in Pham's memory.


EGANS AND LEFFLER
Others included former Planning Commissioner and member of the city legal team, Eleanor Egan, and her husband, Tom - a former member of the Newport Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees.  Robin Leffler, President of Costa Mesan's For Responsible Government, the group that helped sponsor this event, also attended.
HELEN NENADAL
Former Maintenance Supervisor Helen Nenadal, who spent the past few years as an employee as the President of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA) before retiring the end of 2013, attended and shared wonderful memories of her time working with the City and of Huy Pham.  You can read what I wrote about her retirement HERE.  She's shown here with Naghavi and others.
VISITING THE TREE
At one point several of the attendees walked around to the west side of the building to visit the tree that was planted in the lawn there in Pham's memory a year after his death.  Some wondered why no plaque has been placed to memorialize his passing.  Seems like a very good question.

FEW STAFFERS TOOK THE TIME
By the time I left just before 6:00 p.m. the crowd had thinned.  It was interesting to note that, with the exception of those mentioned and shown in the photos, few staffers nor managers even slowed as they passed the makeshift memorial site.  Of course, so few of the existing staff were onboard at that time that I suppose this lack of interest is understandable.  It was sad that not a single member of the City Manager's staff made an appearance by the time I left.
A WATERSHED MOMENT RECALLED
It's a shame that more folks didn't make it to this small remembrance.  Huy Pham's tragic leap to his death on that date was, in my opinion, a watershed moment in Costa Mesa's history.  It marked the downhill slide orchestrated by Jim Righeimer, Steve Mensinger and with a willing accomplice in Gary Monahan - who likely spent last night the same way he spent St. Patrick's Day six years ago - pouring beer for celebrants in his gin mill.
WE WILL BE BACK...
Because of the importance of this sad event, there will be more than a few of us who will NOT let the City forget it.  We'll be back...

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Huy Pham Will Be Remembered Again Today


"GET TO CITY HALL, NOW!"
Six years ago today, at approximately 3 p.m., I received an urgent telephone call from a friend who works at the Costa Mesa City Hall telling me to drop whatever I was doing, grab my camera and get to City Hall - NOW!  No further explanation, just the repeated instruction to get to City Hall immediately.  Well, I trust this friend, so I did, indeed, stop what I was doing, grab my camera and drove a little too quickly to the Costa Mesa City Hall.

CLEAR SIGNS OF TROUBLE
When I turned into the parking lot off Fair Drive I immediately saw emergency trucks parked near the employee entrance on the east side of the building, with yellow Caution tape strung around.  I knew something was seriously wrong.
NAGHAVI'S GRIEF
As I parked my car I saw Public Services Director Peter Naghavi, obviously very distraught, briskly walking toward that site.  I later took a photo of him sitting on a curb in the parking lot, sobbing.

LEARNING OF PHAM'S DEATH
As I worked my way around the side of the building I encountered folks who told me what happened.  Huy Pham, a then 29-year old maintenance worker who had been out on a medical leave due to a non-work related injury, was one of the more than 200 employees who were to receive layoff notices that day.  He apparently got the word unofficially, came to City Hall, went to the roof of the building and leaped to his death.
IMAGES BURNED IN MY BRAIN
As news vans packed the parking lot and their helicopters circled overhead, memories of that day will never leave me.  Even though the images I captured that day clearly show the drama of that incident, those I did NOT record remain burned in my memory - I suspect I will never forget them.... Like new City Manager Tom Hatch being consoled by Pastor Mike Decker... Like Transportation Manager Raja Sethuraman restraining Pham's supervisor as he moved to confront Jim Righeimer - the man who will carry Pham's blood on his soul forever...  Like my brief conversation with then-interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, who began his second tour in that role just two days earlier... And the tears - so many tears on the cheeks of employees as they heard about this tragedy and came downstairs to console one another.

MONAHAN'S WORST MOMENT - OF MANY
I've written about this day many times, and always on the anniversary - St. Patrick's Day.  The fact that it occurred on that holiday is relevant because, upon hearing the tragic news then-Mayor Gary Monahan, instead of dropping what he was doing and going to City Hall to help manage the situation and console distraught employees, he chose to remain in his little kilt at his gin mill and pull beer taps, selling green beer and having a good old time.  He told one reporter at the time that it was, "the biggest day of my life".  I was disgusted then and remain so to this day.  That event, and more that would follow, demonstrated what a poor excuse for a human being Monahan is, and that he was unworthy of the trust placed in him by the electorate.
WORST DAY - BEGINNING OF AN ERA
Last year I wrote about this tragedy HERE.  Please take the time to read that entry and follow the links embedded in it to other entries I've written.  This event marked one of the worst days in the history of our city.  It marked what can be considered the beginning of the Jim Righeimer era in our town - when his flawed vision for the city and his ham-handed ways about trying to achieve his objectives have left an indelible scar on our city that will last forever.

LAYOFF NOTICES RESCINDED AFTER COSTLY LAWSUIT
The layoff notices issued that day, which precipitated Pham's death, proved to be illegal after a long and costly court battle and were rescinded.
DESTRUCTION OF THE CMPD
A few months later Righeimer led the march to disband the ABLE Helicopter program - the benchmark by which other municipal airborne law enforcement programs had been measured.  He had already instructed Staveley that the staffing level for the CMPD was too high and imposed an artificially-contrived number that gutted the department.  That, combined with the bogus lawsuit filed by Righeimer and councilman Steve Mensinger against the men and women of the CMPD, created such a toxic environment that more than 50 experienced officers either retired early or left for other jurisdictions, creating a vacancy issue that we still deal with today.  Righeimer refused to let then-Chief Tom Gazsi begin recruiting efforts to fill those vacancies for nearly a year.  Incidentally, Gazsi is among those who have moved on - retiring from the CMPD to become the Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police.  According to current Police Chief Rob Sharpnack, if we have no further drop-outs it will still take until the end of 2018 to fully staff the department - and that's at the artificially-created lower staffing level.  And the crime statistics rise.
STAVELEY WAS CORRECT
In June of that year, 2011, Staveley - a law enforcement leader of national renown who brought stable, skilled leadership to the CMPD twice when it was so necessary - abruptly resigned.  In his wake he left behind a long letter outlining his thoughts.  With his permission I reproduced it verbatim in an entry, HERE.   His criticism of the city elected leaders was spot-on, which has been validated in the years that have passed since that date.
DEMONSTRATIONS
In the days and weeks following Pham's death we saw many demonstrations at City Hall.  There was a formal remembrance of his passing, with his family present.  On a rainy day more than 100 individuals circled City Hall under umbrellas for a prayer vigil in his honor, HERE.  A year later a tree was later planted on the opposite side of the building in Pham's memory.
ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY HIS IMAGE
In the wake of Pham's passing there was a focused effort to sully his image by claiming he was some kind of drug-addled doper - a falsehood spread far and wide on social media by sycophants of those in power.  Pham apparently was taking pain medication for his injured foot.  That campaign demonstrated the lengths some folks will go to in order to destroy a reputation.  Shame on them!
NO CELEBRATING FOR ME
So, today I will not be celebrating St. Patrick's Day the way most will do - by joyfully wearing green and slugging down too may beers to mark the day.  I will not be going to Monahan's pub, although I won't be surprised if some folks visit to remind him of this day.  The CMPD is joining many other law enforcement agencies by enhancing patrols, to try to keep the roadways safe from drunk drivers.
A SMALL REMEMBRANCE TODAY
No, this afternoon I will join others who remember that day as we pay our respects to the memory of Huy Pham at the site where he died, in the parking lot on the east side of City Hall, near the employee entrance.  From 4-6 p.m. folks will gather to respectfully remember that young man and his life cut short by circumstances that should not have happened.

I WON'T FORGET...
And I will NEVER forget nor forgive the circumstances that created that tragedy and the people responsible.  Rest in Peace, Huy Pham...


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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Commission Reviews Open Space Master Plan

FINAL DRAFT PRESENTED
Wednesday night the new Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the recently-completed Open Space Master Plan For Parks and Recreation completed by the consulting group RJM Design Group.  You can read the staff report, HERE.  Take a couple minutes to read the first half-dozen pages to get a feel for this presentation.  The summary is 159 pages and the full report is more than 500 pages, but it's a surprisingly easy read.
Vice Chair Liz McNabb
NEW COMMISSIONERS DID A GREAT JOB
All the new commissioners were in attendance and did a great job.  Each had clearly reviewed the documents and each asked many excellent questions and made observations that demonstrated they actually knew what they were talking about.  Chairman Kim Pederson kept things rolling.  Conference Room 1A is fine for the participants, but leaves much to be desired for those trying to observe, and hear, what's going on.  Luke Money from the Daily Pilot attended and will also write about this event.
THE PUBLIC SPOKE
The meeting began with five members of the public asking questions/offering observations about the document/process.  Approximately 15 members of the public attended.  A couple observed that it's prodigious length was off-putting.  Another observed that the Sports Fields Questions were leading - guiding the participants to a pre-determined answer.  She also observed that, in light of Measure AA passing overwhelmingly, much of this work was unnecessary.  Others observed that the need for expansion of the Tennis Center was ignored.  The need for safe public restrooms at most parks is essential.
RJM DESIGN GROUP
Consultant Zach Mueting, Project Manager for RJM who headed the team of consultants that prepared this report, led the presentation, which took just over an hour.  I've included only a few of the slides here for your reference.  His full presentation will be on the City website before the end of the week.
DOVETAILED WITH THE GENERAL PLAN UPDATE
This process has taken two years and was dovetailed with the recently-completed General Plan Update last year to make sure there were no conflicts.  The Open Space Master Plan has not been updated since 2003, but has been a solid guide for park and open space issues since that time.  It involved significant community outreach, including a telephone survey of 400 residents, four separate workshops and meetings with stakeholders, like youth sports organizations.  The information gleaned from those meetings was analyzed and homogenized into a series of graphs depicting things like user satisfaction, improvements people would like to see, comparison to the earlier document, etc.


 Walking distance to parks
POPULATION AGING, RECREATION NEEDS FOLLOWING
Several things became clear as a result of this long, costly exercise.  Costa Mesa's population is aging, and with it the recreation preferences are shifting, from more active,  participative  types of activities to more leisurely, passive choices.  That thread was consistent throughout the report and the presentation.
DEMOGRAPHICS SHIFTING, TOO
It is also shifting demographically, with the white population declining and the Latino and Black population increasing.  It's not clear how that impacts the reach of this report.
Commissioner Leah Ersoylu, Recreation Manager Justin Martin, 
City Engineer Bart Mejia
MOVING TO THE COMMISSION IN APRIL
The consultants will take input provided by the commissioners and the public at this meeting and blend it into the text of their report.  That report, and any subsequent communications received from the commissioners and/or the public, will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission at their meeting in April.  I expect more than a few of you will attend that meeting to present your views for commission - and public - consumption.  Presuming it passes muster with the commission, it will be forwarded on to the City Council for review and approval at a subsequent meeting - probably in May or June of this year - where the public will get one more shot at this plan before the City Council adopts it.
GREAT JOB ALL AROUND
Kudos to all who participated in this process.  I attended the workshops and wrote about it at that time last year.  It appears that the process worked and the consultants have prepared a very thorough report - in depth, yet easy to understand.  If you begin to review it at the link above I suspect you'll agree.  The goal was to complete an easy-to-understand document with a shelf life of a decade or more - just like the one it replaces.  It looks like they may have attained that goal.

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