Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Riggy on a Rampage

In the immortal words of those one-hit-wonders, the Baha Men, "Who let the dogs out?! woof woof, woof woof"

Planning Commissioner James Righeimer - the carpetbagger who holds his seat because his buddy, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, boosted our young jailer/mayor's campaign last year - showed us the real "Riggy" at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, April 23rd. He slipped his leash and went straight for the throat of an applicant who was attempting to get approval for a condominium conversion project in our city.

Righeimer, in what fellow commissioner Eleanor Egan would later refer to as a "cross-examination", read developer Barry Saywitz the riot act with a level of aggressive rudeness not seen in this city in recent memory. Watching "Riggy" in action, it's clear that he's been watching too many "Law and Order" re-runs, and that patience is not his long suite.

From Righeimer's very first question, "Mr. Saywitz, what does "intention" mean to you?", you knew Saywitz was in trouble. That was the start of an interrogation that questioned Saywitz about his "intentions" for this project and his veracity. Righeimer questioned his management skills and strongly suggested Saywitz fire his property manager at the location in question. He nit-picked the project to pieces like a man looking for a golden needle in a haystack - chaff was flying everywhere!

At the end of the discussion, after Righeimer flexed his muscles and berated Mr. Saywitz mercilessly for the best part of an hour, the Planning Commission approved the project, but only after they "conditioned" it to reduce 3 units from the proposed 12 unit project. It sure seemed to a few of us watching the proceedings that Old Riggy seemed determined to be sure Mr. Saywitz was going to have a hard time making a profit on the project. I found myself wondering if Righeimer might have a ax to grind with Mr. Saywitz beyond this project. It's difficult to explain his conduct otherwise.

Later in the evening the commission declined another condo conversion project outright, despite the fact that the developer was already underway with significant improvements. Unless the applicant appeals to the City Council and the denial is overturned, this project will remain apartments.

I've got strong mixed emotions about what I watched last night. There is no doubt in my mind that we need to upgrade our requirements for the conversion of apartments to condos as we try to encourage greater home ownership in this town. However, as Commissioner Egan so eloquently put it last night, if we think people are going to buy high end homes in that neighborhood (referring to the Saywitz project), we'd better think again. Developers are pretty savvy guys. They're not going to spend a pile of money on a product that won't sell.

Of greater concern for me is the attitude of Commissioner Righeimer. To approach this developer, or any developer, with virtual brass knuckles and berate and belittle him from the dais is well beyond the normal bounds of civility I expect from those on our commissions. Mr. Saywitz had, as far as we know, given Mr. Righeimer no reason for such belligerent behavior. After the dust settled, almost every issue Righeimer rattled on and on about had already been addressed by Saywitz and/or were included in previously agreed-to conditions. Righeimer's pontificating about his 28 or 29 years (he used both numbers) as an owner/developer/manager of "hundreds of units" as he flailed Saywitz looked at the time - and even more so with the passage of a few more hours and a review of the tape - like political posturing. Hmmm, isn't that interesting? A political pay back appointee posturing like a potential candidate for "something". We already know he was a candidate for the state Assembly - the seat Van Tran holds. It looks to me, as I've said in the past, that Old Riggy was given a high visibility perch from which to squawk as the clock ticks until the next round of elections.

Sandwiched between the deliberations of the two condo conversions was a request by a resident, Mr. Hernandez, to build a large home on the Westside. Many of the neighbors stood and complained about the size of the proposed building, fearing that it would be out of scale with the community. During the discussion, rookie commissioner Sam Clark speculated about the future use of this home ten years downstream "when all the kids are gone". He speculated that it might become a "group home for (pause) 20 college students or God-knows-what, I can't predict the future." He made a motion to reverse the planning staff's approval based on the fact that it's not compatible nor harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood. Even though the plans met all city requirements and was recommended for approval by the staff, Egan seconded his motion and expanded the findings which seemed to have a vague inference that she was afraid of it becoming a 5,000 square foot flop house for illegal aliens. Riggy chimed in, trying to establish new guidelines without agendizing the question first. He was on a roll, for sure.

As we know, the City Council passed an urgency ordinance this month to put a moratorium on all condo conversions in the city until tighter standards are established. This is in the wake of their "ready-shoot-aim" approach to the redevelopment of the Westside, where, because of the lack of vision on the part of the council majority, the floodgates of development were opened without proper consideration being given to the result. Now they've forced all the developers to mark time while they try to figure out exactly what they want. This lack of foresight is typical of small people in big jobs.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoff – my colleague lives next to the house on the Westside that was scheduled to change from a small single-family residence to a behemoth capable of housing 12+ people. This was the second attempt from a homeowner on their street to ram a project like this down their throats. Not only would the house invade their privacy, it would, without proper garages, increase an already over crowded parking situation. Now these people have lived in this tract for +20 yeas, they know the intent of both of these “owners” and both were lining up to house mass amounts of people into a small place. I also hear that this commission received laud applause from the people in attendance for not allowing the forward movement of either the Westside remodel or the conversion. Now I was not there to confirm this but the look of satisfaction and relief on her face said it all.

Geoff, you need to look at the impacts that these things have on people living in areas like this and realize they’re fed up. If it takes our leaders, the abrupt approach to people trying to add to the overcrowding with irresponsible development then so be it. There are plenty of investors and developers that will follow our rules and regulations to invest in a city that is near the coast. Screw the ones without the interest of being civically responsible to their neighbors.

4/25/2007 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Andrew - The planned house in question would certainly stand out in the community - it was well over 5,000 square feet in a neighborhood of much smaller homes. The city has a rule that says a new home must be "harmonious and compatible" with the neighborhood. It's a rule that is used arbitrarily when other rules won't prohibit a project that a majority on the commission simply don't want to see built. Egan said that the "use" of this proposed new home didn't fit the neighborhood. That was hogwash! The use was as a family home, according to the testimony of the young woman who spoke for her father, the owner. Our city is very inconsistent in the way they apply the rules. Here on the Eastside there is a home being built in the 400 block of Broadway that makes me think of Tara from "Gone from the Wind" every time I turn the corner and see it. It is HUGE and sits forward on the lot. It dwarfs any home within several blocks. This home certainly doesn't meet the "harmonious and compatible" test, and yet, there is sits.

Regarding Righeimer's actions on Monday, you really need to watch the tape before commenting. There's obviously something else at play between Riggy and Saywitz.

4/25/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what was "in play" is that riggy has seen how devious saywitz has been in other appearances for other projects. projects that could have been nice but he did not want the "hassle" of making nice. did you see the photos of that place? all the trash? fire the "on site" prop manager asap! did you hear saywitz admit he built an illegal storage shed for "tools" that he assumed was about the size of a one car garage (in an underparked area) only to later admit it was the size of a two car garage and, no, it did not have tools in it, it had a boat. Whose boat? Saywitz'!! It was like pulling teeth until saywitz, seeing riggy had a lot of knowledge, decided to answer questions truthfully, lest he get caught lying again. the cross exam was the best one since the other commish, the realtor, caught that guy lying about his illegal house trailer he moved to Elden from Morro bay (the one Foley wanted to stay on Elden so she appealed it). the PC is as entertaining as the CC. Good work by them.

4/25/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your take on uniformity being allied with the development, however, the young woman wanted to bring in their extended family to live there, what is extended. Is putting 12 people in a house fair to all of us. From what all the neighbors that came to oppose the plan it was unclear. Bottom line is this is exactly what should be done to assist with thinning out high-density areas. Having a 60:40 rental to owner rate in CM is horrific; it leads to out of town owners affecting quality of life and no ties to them being affected.

I don’t know if you remember a flier that went out last year about trash. How my trash bill would go up because the rate of trash was out of proportion to the number of households in CM. Humm, think about how many people are living in some of these houses and apartments, and how much trash comes out of homes lie this. Is it fair for us, responsible homeowners, to pay more, again, for overcrowded dwelling?

4/25/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Anonymous Insect, yes, I watched the entire proceedings - twice. I saw the exchange about the "tool shed" when Riggy caught Saywitz in the fact that he stored his boat there. Yes, this project would be under parked, as so many have been in the past. In it's current configuration as approved it will still be under parked. Still, after all the rancorous rhetoric, the project was approved. My issue was not so much the project in question, but Riggy's interrogation of Saywitz. By the way, that trailer you mentioned was from the El Moro trailer park, not Morro Bay.

Andrew, when the young woman was asked about the number of residents she said a family of 5. No mention was made of an extended family. That being said, the proliferation of these large homes and the many common interest developments that put 3, 4, 5 or 6 residential units on a spot that previously held one certainly do negatively impact the infrastructure. The water, electrical and sewer systems are taxed beyond their original planned capacity. The streets carry more traffic. There are more cars than space available and, yes, there is more trash to pick up. You can't blame that overtaxing issue strictly on the number of people in apartments (illegal aliens, right?) when the city regularly approves developments that quadruple the number of bodies throughout the city.

4/25/2007 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit that I have not watched the video yet so I can not provide any opinion on Mr. Righeimer's demeanor. I am always horribly disappointed when any of our elected or appointed officials act in any way less than respectfully toward anyone in public. I would hope that Mr. Righeimer's handlers are watching and will give him some pointers on being respectful even when asking tough questions. Unfortunately, Mr. Mansoor and Mr. Bever don’t always set the best example. Perhaps they will do better in the future.

4/26/2007 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morro, Moro, flammable , imflammable.
Foley appealed the large house that had been approved by staff. Does that make it better for you?
I do not know if the project is still underparked with the removal of 2 x 3 bedroom units and 1 x 2 bedroom units= 8 bedrooms removed. If it is, it sure has come a lot closer to conformity and the commission is willing to give him the slack. It was approved by riggy's motion to approve. I thought the cross exam was tough, yes, but needed, due to the applicant's attitude. Riggy's questions all came out of concerns about the project, wanting to get all the facts out on the table, and educating the applicant that CM is not someplace to dump some lousy project. Riggy said he is for conversion(s), hopes the applicant makes a lot of money but that the applicant needs to clean up his act. Code enforcement should be called out there next. It can be a win win situation for all. CM gets a better project, the applicant makes a little less $$. Hope you agree.

4/26/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Anonymous Insect, actually, facts really are important. Morro Bay and El Moro are only about 300 miles apart. One's a thriving Central Coast community. The other is a defunct beach front trailer park.

I agree that Costa Mesa should not approve marginal projects if we ever expect to elevate our city in the eyes of those who apparently have been told it's a slum and illegal alien sanctuary. If Saywitz does bad projects he should, indeed, be challenged. However, there is no excuse for the kind of treatment Righeimer heaped on him Monday night - none! I, as a more than three decade resident of this city, expect much more from those who work on the council or commissions. You can ask tough questions without denigrating the applicant. I think Righeimer was way out of line practically demanding that Saywitz and his Director fire the on-site manager. That's their business, not ours. If the present apartments are deficient from a code standpoint then, yes, code enforcement should be alerted and appropriate action taken.

4/26/2007 10:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have watched the tape and see what you are talking about. Mr. Righeimer's demeanor clearly indicated that he felt that he was being lied to or the Planning Commission was being mislead by Mr. Saywitz. Regardless, his tone was condescending and abrupt, and frankly not entirely appropriate for a Planning Commissioner. A judge, yes, but appointed Commissioner, no.

I attended the City Council meeting where the condominium moratorium was imposed. If you remember, Mr. Righeimer offered powerful testimony regarding the urgent need for more stringent conditions on condo conversion projects. His demeanor was passionate and informed, and I can see some of that in his "cross" of Mr. Saywitz.

I caught a whiff of what may be the genesis of the Saywitz "cross examination" after the council meeting. As I was leaving, I passed Mr. Saywitz and Mr. Righeimer on the patio outside the council chambers. It appeared that they were having an intense conversation. Not wanting to put words in anyone's mouth, I won't comment on what I thought I heard, but that exchange may explain some of the apparent animosity.

I do agree that Mr. Righeimer needs to tone it down and realize that the people appearing in front of the Planning Commission are property owners who have a right to a fair and just application of City standards, not an interrogation. If they aren't playing by the rules, you simply deny the permit without any added color commentary. If Mr. Righeimer has a personal issue with Mr. Saywitz, he should recuse himself.

Mr. Righeimer is new to his seat on the Commission. From what I see, he is very well-informed and takes his post seriously. I think he will be a great Planning Commissioner. He just needs to remember that no matter how a citizen behaves, it is incumbent upon him, as a representative of the city, to remain calm, objective and impartial.

4/27/2007 04:38:00 PM  

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