Friday, March 09, 2007

Gangs of Costa Mesa

At their study session next Tuesday the Costa Mesa City Council will discuss, among other things, the current proposal by new Police Chief Chris Shawkey to attack the growing gang problem in our city.

I read the staff report available on the city web site. It's voluminous, 22 pages, and looks like a pretty good start. The proof, of course, will come in the application of the plan - if the city council approves and funds it. There are elements they've rejected in the past that, according to most credible experts in this field, are essential to the success of any such program.

And, it will come to no surprise to regular readers, that the CM Press has chimed in on this subject with his own special spin. Part of what he has to say should be cause for concern to all Costa Mesa residents.

In his little assessment of the plan he notes with much indignation that the only gangs mentioned by ethnicity are white supremacists. He's offended that the staff report found it necessary to mention that ethnic group and didn't mention Latinos. He attempts in his mini-tirade to portray these groups as somehow oppressed, singled out for discussion when, in his words, the real problem is the Latinos. Give me a break! Anyone with even half a brain, much less a Mensa member, realizes that we're talking about Latino gangs in this city. The fact that white supremacists exist in our community is very relevant and an important consideration when formulating plans to deal with gangs in general.

You will recall that he and his buddy, the mayor, were strangely mute when a task force snatched up 20 white supremacists from 17 separate locations in Costa Mesa as part of a county-wide crackdown the end of last year that took 58 individuals off the streets. Those arrested were part of a group that, among other crimes, allegedly had targeted law enforcement officers for assassination. I commented on this curious silence at that time because the mayor had been the first one in front of a microphone or writing commentaries in the newspapers if a Latino person had been arrested for committing a crime and the CM Press crowed loud and long when any crime involving Latinos occurred. He told us he was frequently "first on the scene" at some crimes because he monitors the calls from his home in Mesa North. I thought at the time it was a curious double standard, and still do. It was especially strange since the targets had been law enforcement officers. I would have expected the mayor to be overjoyed about those arrests and to have made a big deal of it. Any real civic leader would have made a point to compliment the task force, and the part Costa Mesa officers played in the sweep, in an effort to make our citizens proud and feel safer. No, the mayor was mute and invisible.

It doesn't surprise me at all that the guy at the CM Press takes umbrage at the mention of those white supremacist gangs. He writes his racist essays for web sites like the New Nation News and National Vanguard among others that are specifically massaged for white supremacist consumption. His incendiary rhetoric provides no doubt about his personal views on race in this country. In his recent posting he provides his readers with a mini version of his underlying position on race. It's disgusting.

So, next Tuesday the council will have the new plan presented. I will wait with great interest to see how our city council, and particularly the majority, respond to it.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Everybody Cares About Musical Chairs

Well, the mayor's most recent misstep (of many) last Tuesday night has gained notoriety for our fair city far and wide. Both the Daily Pilot, here, and the Orange County Register, here, took shots at the council for the mayor's clumsy attempt to shuffle the deck on the dais and force Linda Dixon over to the hinterlands with Katrina Foley. Orange County blogs were buzzin' with it's own special brand of speculation. Byron De Arakal, over on, said it best - as usual.

Simultaneously, the two main posters on the Orange Juice! blog, Claudio Gallegos and Art Pedroza (who resigned from the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee after the recent elections because of his disenchantment with the organization) have made Costa Mesa their cause of the week. Gallegos continued his three-part interview with a "Westside Improver", and promises a more incendiary finale next week. Pedroza wrote a blog entry, which included input from our young jailer/mayor, regarding the differences between Costa Mesa and Santa Ana - of which there are many.

Both sets of postings have generated several comment threads of the type we've come to expect on that blog - dominated by heated raves by gutless anonymous posters. I guess if you're part of the SantaAnaCentric inside group you've learned to deal with it, but from an outsider's standpoint it sure does seem non-productive.

There's a lot of speculation going on around town right now on 1) whether the mayor will actually agendize the issue of the seating chart for a future meeting and 2) just who is Gallegos' anonymous westsider?

As to the first question, I wouldn't be surprised if he continues to display poor judgment and actually require the staff to prepare an agenda item for consideration. History has shown us that he's capable of such lapses. In fact, using poor judgment seems to be his normal mode.

I doubt we will ever find out the identity of the anonymous Westside Improver. I suspect the poor person fears for his or her safety, so will choose to remain unidentified. I guess I can't blame him or her. There has been enough information provided for at least one person involved to guess the identity - the guy who runs the CM Press. Since his broader writings on the various far, far right wing web sites panders to the worst side of people, it's likely that he has some very rabid followers who have not taken kindly to the fact that their guru has been exposed, so to speak.

So, I guess we'll just wait for next Tuesday's finale to see what surprises might be in store for us. In the meantime, we can only hope that our elected leaders wake up and start acting like adults one of these days.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Looking For The Front Half

Although the City Council meeting Tuesday night showed moments of conciliation, one of the strangest events in all the years of my observations of these meetings occurred during the Council Member Comments section, early in the meeting.

Our young jailer/mayor and Minuteman extraordinaire - in a fit of pettiness beyond any in my memory - decided that his sidekick, Rubber Stamp Wendy Leece, needed to be seated beside City Manager Allan Roeder. So, as the pompous dictator-in-training that he's become, he asked Councilwoman Linda Dixon to swap seats with Leece, thereby placing her between Mansoor and Katrina Foley. That would move all dissenting views to one side where they would be much more easily ignored. Dixon balked, alluding to a previous telephone conversation they'd had, and quoted Leece from an earlier conversation when she apparently said she preferred to be seated in the middle, not wanting to look like an outsider.

Mansoor was ticked off, and the debate went back and forth before he finally decided that Dixon wasn't about to budge. So, in a fit of pique for such an unimportant item, said he would agendize the item for a future meeting! Unbelievable! With all the important issues facing them, this petty tyrant feels it's necessary to agendize the seating chart on the dais. This, of course, will require staff time to place it on the agenda - likely laughing and shaking their heads as they do it.

I guess expecting our leaders to act like adults is hopeless. What a bunch of schmucks.

The guy over at the CM Press is crowing about how effective he was before the council Tuesday night, ranting and raving about his little "passive park" - Paularino Park. He's also attempting to resurrect that red herring of air pollution from the Westside industrialists - something that has been disproved over the years despite his constant drum beat. He listed specific instructions for the city in that regard. It's going to be interesting to see if his disciples on the council will bow, once again, to his wishes and spend valuable city resources for another wild goose chase.

I find myself wondering just why this guy subjects himself to such a horrible existence in Costa Mesa. Wouldn't you think that, if he's so darn unhappy with the life he leads here, that he'd look for greener - or, in his case, whiter - pastures elsewhere? Gosh, I sure would. All these terrible safety issues he talks about all the time - marauding soccer players, foul air, gangs, etc. - would sure make me think about living here much longer. Of course, you will recall he complained about some of his neighbors moving out not too long ago. Can't understand why someone wouldn't want to live near him - cheerful guy that he is.

In case you missed it, late Tuesday night Claudio Gallegos posted his second installment of Confessions of a Westside Improver on the Orange Juice! blog. To read it just click here. The final installment is promised for next Tuesday. Should make for some interesting reading.

Separately, co-owner of the Orange Juice! blog, Art Pedroza, posted an interesting entry here which is certain to tick off the guy at the CM Press. It's worth a look.

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Giving Credit Where It's Due

Last night the Costa Mesa meeting ended with a flourish, a unanimous vote on a contentious issue. And we thought they couldn't get along! Silly us.

Although Councilwoman Katrina Foley was housebound for some unexplained reason, her presence was felt - and heard - because the technical gurus at City Hall managed to hook up an audio feed between her location and the council chambers. Her smiling, blond countenance was replaced by a big, black squawk box that allowed her to voice her views on every issue throughout the evening. I must observe, though, that at times it was a little like listening to Darth Vader. Whatever - it worked.

In fact, this may have been a great solution, because the last time this item was discussed at the council's last study session it looked as though Eric Bever was ready to leap the table that separated him from Foley and pummel her.

The issue in question was the much debated and squabbled over Youth In Government program. You will recall that our young jailer/mayor got his shorts in a bunch when this was proposed in January because he felt slighted by not having had the chance to provide "input". I won't beat that horse any more, except to observe that this council finally acted as we expect - they discussed, debated, heard testimony and then resolved the issue. Sadly, because of their earlier fit of pique, the young people who had signed up for this year will get short shrift. A sub-committee of Foley and Wendy Leece will work to hammer out the details of how the current group can salvage what's left of the school year and make plans for a more extended program beginning in the fall.

This didn't have to go this way. If, as speaker Chris Blank observed, they hadn't let petty politics cloud their judgment, the children involved this year would have had a very satisfactory experience. We saw a couple of them speak tonight - even though this item was the final agenda item - and realize that their inability to fully participate this year is the city's loss.


Before I forget, that guy who very much resembles my theoretical character "Your Neighbor", as predicted, jumped up like a jack-in-the-box during the Public Comments portion to yap at the council about his favorite pet peeve, Paularino Park. He was all over them for not being more attentive to his demands that more trees and rocks be placed in the park to dissuade those nasty rogue soccer ball kickers that he says have terrorized folks in that park. I'm sure he's sleeping soundly as I type this knowing that he's, once again, made the city staff dance to his tune.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Selma, Alabama - March, 1965

All the news coverage over the past few days about the anniversary of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama dredged up some very painful memories for me - many of which I'd just as soon forget. As I watched the news coverage of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, here, pander to the black congregation in Selma last weekend, it reminded me just how shameless politicians can be as they campaign over the bloodied bodies from the past. As I heard Obama - an articulate man - break into his version of "black speak" and listened to Hillary "preach" to the crowd in her best "southern" dialect it made me sick.

At the time of the marches in Selma that Obama and Clinton fought for podium time to commemorate I was in the United States Army and was in the middle of helicopter flight training. On Saturday, March 6, 1965, the day before the first of three marches - what has become known in that part of the world as Bloody Sunday - a classmate and I drove through Selma enroute from the Primary Helicopter Training School at Fort Wolters, Texas (near Mineral Wells) to the Advanced School at Fort Rucker - where Alabama, Florida and Georgia join to form the armpit of the south. As we drove my 1957 Ford across the Edmund Pettus Bridge we saw a couple hundred State Police cars congregated at the headquarters at the base of the bridge. Since we had been immersed in flight training and a de facto Officer's Candidate School for several months, we were virtually unaware of the political climate around us at that time. We did notice the atmosphere, though. It was like a pre-lynching scene in an old B movie. If we'd been stopped that tense morning - two anglos driving a car with California license plates and a loaded 357 Magnum pistol under the passenger's seat - we'd have been lucky to be thrown in jail. Keep in mind that this was around the time when three civil rights activists had been kidnapped and murdered not too far away in Mississippi.

We drove on through Selma, leaving behind the violence the next day portrayed in the photo above, and went on our way to our new duty station and continued with our training to become what would be the nucleus of the first air mobile unit in the Army, the 1st Air Cavalry Division out of Fort Benning, Georgia - an organization which was shipped enmasse to Viet Nam in the fall of 1965. The experiences of that organization were featured in the movies, "Platoon" and "Apocalypse Now".

Circumstances conspired to eliminate me from flight status - a health issue that remained un-diagnosed until well after I left the Army the end of 1965. As a result, I spent from March until December of that year assigned to Fort Rucker, so I got a real first-hand dose of what life was like in the bowels of the segregated south.

The closest town of any size was Dothan, Alabama. Occasionally, some buddies and I would venture into town to the lone movie theater to see the most recent releases. I'll never forget my reaction the first time I saw that theater, with a separate entrance for blacks, who were forced to purchase tickets at a separate window and were required to sit in the balcony, entering through a separate, outside entrance. This was a time where separate drinking fountains were maintained for blacks and whites. The KKK was still prolific and active. In Alabama at that time it seemed to me that the white residents of that state worshiped University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, Governor George Wallace and God, in that order.

Two weeks before I mustered out of the Army there was a cross burned on the lawn of a black sergeant - on post, in government housing. This was not a good time in this country.

I recall sitting in the day room on post during the summer of 1965, watching the Watts riots as they unfolded. Being from Los Angeles, I had a special interest because my best friend was a rookie Los Angeles Police Officer at the time and was up to his neck in that turmoil. Until the time of those riots our post seemed to be happily integrated, with black and white soldiers living harmoniously together. The riots changed that. From that point on, blacks and whites segregated themselves in our day room, watching the news of the day in small same-race clusters. When the news showed black rioters looting stores and setting them afire, the clusters of blacks would cheer. When it showed National Guard and police units firing on looters, the clusters of whites would cheer. You could almost chew the tension.

I mention this today because, for more than a year I have felt a similar tension building in Costa Mesa. There's a cadre of unhappy folks in our city who apparently feel that the Latinos among us are the root of every problem in our city. Among that cadre are the current majority on the City Council - Mayor Allan Mansoor, Mayor Pro Tem Eric Bever and rookie rubber stamp council member Wendy Leece. Because they now have the power to do so, they have been methodically taking steps to make the lives of Latinos in our community difficult in hopes that they will leave our city. They've used the lightning rod issue of "illegal immigration" as their wedge to attack every entity or program that provides support to the Latino community.

I'm saddened by what our alleged leaders are doing to this city, much as I was saddened while living in the south in the mid-1960s, watching up close and personal the inhumanity and violence that occurred. Many of you who will read these words were not alive at that time. If you had been, you would understand what a terrible time it was for this country and certainly wouldn't wish to have those days re-created here in Costa Mesa more than 40 years later.

If you read the coverage of that time in our country, I hope you will begin to develop a new perspective on current events in this city and involve yourselves in the correction of the course we seem to be on - a course infested with intolerance and bigotry. If you don't, who will?

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

"Your Neighbor" Throws A Fit

Well, our old pal over at the CM Press is throwing a hissy fit because the city staff has not jumped to the snap of his fingers regarding the use of a public park near his home. He first flipped out many months ago when he reported marauding soccer players kicking the ball around on the grass in this passive park. He conjured up all kinds of concerns and told the city administrative staff that this represented a horrendous safety issue and it must be stopped. He told a tale of his small child nearly being hit by an errant ball. If you took what he said at face value - something we've learned not to do - you would expect to see that park overrun by soccer players at all times of the day and night. According to comments I observed at commission meetings, investigations have not supported his wild claims.

He also told stories of men defecating in the shrubbery and being rude to those peaceful citizens who chose to meander through the park while these miscreants were kicking the ball.

Want to bet that none of those criminal ball kickers were blond, blue-eyed young men? Of course not! These fellows were Latino men, kicking the ball around after work to let off some steam.

Now our pal, who very much resembles my theoretical character, Your Neighbor, is ranting and raving about how he feels slighted by the city staff, whom he accuses of ignoring direction from the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council. As if it is humanly possible to ignore this guy! It's like trying to ignore a bad case of athlete's foot, for goodness sake.

Expect him to jump up before the City Council at their meeting Tuesday - he'll likely be the very first speaker at the Public Comments portion of the meeting - and read the council the riot act for being bad managers and unresponsive to resident's needs. I wouldn't be surprised if he calls for heads to roll because he was slighted. That's right - he apparently thinks the world of Costa Mesa revolves around him and expects the staff and city council to bow to his every demand. In the past when the council hasn't been immediately responsive to him he's threatened to get them "un-elected", as he did the chronically incompetent Chris Steel - a man who was smart enough to turn his back on this guy.

This is just another of his moves to make every Latino in our city uncomfortable enough to look for another place to live. The guy is disgusting in his transparency. Sadly, he has enough influence over this current City Council majority that I wouldn't be surprised to see them grovel at his feet once again and follow his directive. What a shame.