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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Monday, April 23, 2007

Costa Mesa's Image Trashed

I plunked down on my couch Sunday morning and began working my way through the three local newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and, of course, the Daily Pilot. I'd already completed my "prep" - going through each one and discarding the advertisement sections - does anyone really read that stuff?

About a third of the way through the Times I picked up the new Opinion section and began thumbing through the pages when an article entitled "The ugliest building in town" caught my eye. This is allegedly written by two guys who write a blog about Los Angeles architecture. They took a poll of folks in that business to determine the ugliest structure in Los Angeles and when I read down the article, which described opinions of many well-known and some not-so-well-known buildings, I came across this comment: "
Nominations ran the gamut, from the '80s-style corporate glass towers — exemplified by the Directors Guild of America building on Sunset Boulevard, which was likened to a "Costa Mesa bank building".

I was really ticked off! Now my hometown is being used as a benchmark for bad architecture!

Those of you who read this blog frequently probably saw the comment reader Len Bose posted on my entry entitled, "Mansoor Creates Gang Haven", posted 4/18/07. It read as follows: Yesterday while at a Pizza party with my seven year old, in Huntington Beach, the subject of trains was brought. I asked the six year old “have you ever been over to Fairview Park and seen the Train Station?” Not one but two of the HB mothers over hearing me said “ Its not safe in THAT part of town”.

I really don't like to see Costa Mesa referred to in such disparaging terms. This town is arguably the center of culture and retail in Orange County. The performing arts complex can measure up against any venue in this country and the whole South Coast Metro area, including South Coast Plaza, is a destination for shoppers from around the world.

However, over the past few years, the actions of the Mansoor-led majority on the city council have created a world-wide image of Costa Mesa as a slum and haven for violent illegal aliens. Instead of pumping up the attributes of this city, the mayor and his cronies seem determined to be sure Costa Mesa is viewed by outsiders as a terrible, unsafe place to live, work or visit.

When Mansoor launched his bogus plan to cross-designate every Costa Mesa cop as an immigration screener a couple years ago he created a firestorm of controversy, which saw demonstrators being dragged from the City Council chambers and arrested- an image beamed around the world. When he was embraced by Jim Gilchrist and his rabid supporters and named an honorary Minuteman, Mansoor instantly became a national celebrity, appearing on television to spout his "I just want to enforce the law" tripe. People watching his act around the country got the impression that Costa Mesa was a teeming cesspool of violence!

Personally, I'm sick of Mansoor and his mob denigrating this city. The relentless drumbeat of negativity - orchestrated primarily by The-Brain-Who-Ate-Costa-Mesa over at the CM Press - has become so virulent that it's drowned out any attempts by others to tout the positive aspects of our city. I'm disgusted by Mansoor's transparent attempt to further his own political career at the expense of the reputation and image of our town.

Every time he and his majority ignore the expert opinion of his senior staff on critical issues in this city and use only their own, narrow, bigoted views to establish public policy they do tremendous harm to our city.

By their actions they have initiated an exodus of the very kind of folks most cities hope to attract - young, upwardly-mobile professional men and women looking for a safe place to live and raise their families. If the residents of this city don't wise up and demand that he begin acting like the mayor of a thriving, vibrant city instead of a ego-centric dictator, the legacy Mansoor will leave behind will be a city in ruin.

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