Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Father's Day Memoir

On the banner at the top of this page I warned the readers that, from time to time, the content of this blog will go off on a tangent. This entry is one of those times. If you're looking for political observations today, just click your cursor and move on.

Father's Day is a tough holiday for me. My own father, Robert J. West, died more than 27 years ago, two years after he retired from a career in which he worked sixty plus hours a week for more than thirty years to make a good life for his family.

y father was an uncomplicated man. One of five siblings being raised by a single mother - his own father passed away at a very young age - he left school early to help support the family. With only an eighth grade education, his options were limited. He even spent some time with a circus, but ended up working as a floor covering installer - carpet and vinyl tile. Ineligible for military service in World War II because of a childhood knee injury, he worked two full time jobs for the duration of the war - one as a carpet installer and one as a defense plant worker.

At the end of the war my father joined thousands of others in a migration from the mid-west to C
alifornia, to find a job where he could work without the possibility of freezing to death in his truck, as almost happened in the winter of 1945 in Ohio. He began his own carpet installation business and found a modest home to buy before sending for his family. From that time, in 1946, until he retired in 1977, he worked twelve hours a day, five days a week, plus a half day on Saturday, to make a good life for us.

I learned much from my father. Following his example, I learned to treat everyone fairly a
nd honestly. You could trust my father. As I said, he was an uncomplicated man. It frustrated him when business associates tried to cheat him, since cheating was not in his lexicon. The business he operated with my uncle was small potatoes, employing only 20 men at it's peak. He had a core of men - maybe 10 - who worked for him for more than 20 years. When business expanded he would split up his two-man teams and hire helpers to fill the spots. When it slowed down he would lay off the helpers and re-combine the teams. When work got really slow, which happened from time to time, he would spread what little work there was among his crews so each would be able to make it through the difficult times and feed their families.

He ran his business the way he conducted the rest of his life - with great integrity. He trusted everyone until he was given a reason to do otherwise. He stood behind his work and that of his employees and that reputation for reliability and quality kept him in business for those many decades.

My father was a m
an so revered by his acquaintances and employees that he was referred to by many as "father". That caused confusion from time to time, because strangers overhearing that term of endearment from men his own age assumed he was a priest. He wasn't, of course, but he was a deacon in our church and Scout Master of our Boy Scout troop. He was an honest, hard-working leader of men. My father didn't tell you how to live your life - he gave you the example by the way he lived his.

Several of my high school friends worked for my father - some longer than others. A few used their jobs with him as simply a way to earn money during the pursuit of their education. Others made that tough job a career and spent more than 20 years - with smashed and cut fingers, swollen knees and aching backs - lifting those rolls of pad and carpet, moving the heavy furniture in and out of houses and crawling around homes throughout southern California installing floor coverings.

Here's a story that may help illustrate the kind of man my father was. A few years ago - at that
time my father had been gone for a decade - a friend and I were having lunch a few blocks from my home at an outdoor eating area when I noticed a fellow and a younger guy sitting about ten yards away, eating and talking. I thought I recognized the older one, and mentioned it to my friend. We sat and talked and ate and, every once in awhile, I'd glance over at those two men and was sure I recognized the older fellow. Finally, as we finished and were about to depart, I excused myself and went over to the table where the two men were also preparing to leave. I walked up and said to the older one, "Excuse me, but can you tell me your name?" He said, "Cliff", to which I said his last name. I had gone to high school with him and his twin brother and he, as luck would have it, was in town from his home in Utah for his daughter's wedding and was having lunch with his son. After a astonished greeting by us both, the next words out of his mouth were, "Your father was the best man I've ever known."

Cliff had worked for my father right out of high school, earning money for college. He hated every day as a carpet layer's helper - he felt the job was beneath him - and it used to really make me angry when he complained about it. He eventually quit, completed his education, began working as a civil engineer, got married and started raising a family. I'd lost track of him for more than 25 years. However, life
threw him some curve balls, his marriage broke up and the wife moved to Utah with their youngest son. My friend, disenchanted with engineering work, followed along and began working at the trade he learned from my father - installing carpet and vinyl tile for a living.

We visited for a couple minutes, then he agreed to join me at my home, where we spent four hours talking about old times. Through it all there was one theme - his admiration for my father and the life-lessons he learned while being around him.

This story is only one of many I've heard over the years from men and women who knew and loved my father like he was their very own.

When we moved to our present home more than three decades ago I was lucky enough to inherit a neighbor, Wayne Stanfield, who, although more like an older brother age-wise, conducted himself like a father. In fact, he, too, is referred to by many friends as "father". He, too, is a God-fearing, uncomplicated man who has made his living much like my father did - through honesty, hard work and long hours. When my father died a generation ago, Wayne's presence helped fill that tremendous void. To this day he remains a source of unflagging love and support for me and all his friends and family. He's one of the finest men I've ever known.

I'm a very lucky man, because I've had many friends in my life who have helped shape the person I've become. I've had friends and mentors throughout my career
who have pounded out a dent here and there and applied a buffer to the rough spots. They've reined me in where necessary and given me my head - to find my own speed - at other times. These are men I've admired, learned from and tried to emulate throughout my life.

On this Father's Day, I want to express just how grateful I am for these two special men in my life. I'm grateful for my father, whose example helped form the foundation of who I became for the first half of my life. I'm also grateful for my friend, Wayne, who has participated, through his example, patience, wise counsel and faith, in the constant renovation of my life over the last half of it. One taught me from the very beginning the virtue of honesty, integrity, loyalty and hard work. The other reinforced those virtues and demonstrated, by the way he lives his life every day, that kindness, understanding and love still have a place in our society today.

On this holiday I hope each of you fathers out there who might read this will do the very best you can to mold those young lives you've created. A gentle hand and a kind, encouraging word will do more to motivate than a swat on the behind and a threat. Don't tell your children how to conduct themselves - show them by your example.

Remember, time is fleeting. If you teach your children kindness and compassion today, perhaps those kids - whose drool you wiped and diapers you changed - will return those favors in the not-too-distant future.



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fields of Screams

Just a reminder, today the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will meet in a Study Session to discuss proposed changes in the Field Use and Allocation Policy. The meeting will be held at City Hall, in Conference Room 1A at 5:30 p.m.

Since this has been a very contentious issue over the past few years, pitting AYSO against Pop Wa
rner Football and neighbor against neighbor on the lighting of fields, I recommend that any interested party attend to get a feel for the way the city is planning to go on this subject. No votes will be made in this meeting - it's a study session - but the whole subject should be pretty thoroughly fleshed out in anticipation of the next public hearing on the subject, probably at their meeting on the 27th.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Smooth Sailing, Riggy Railing and Carmax Prevailing

One down, two to go. It was mostly smooth sailing at the Planning Commission meeting Monday night because much of the anticipated fireworks did not occur. The commission made fairly quick work of the new condo conversion guidelines by continuing the item to a future study session where, in a more "casual" atmosphere, the more controversial segments of the proposal can be discussed. This was a good move.

We then came to the request from developer Barry Saywitz for a re-hearing on his condo conversion on Victo
ria Street. The last time this was heard - and approved, by the way - was the date rookie commissioner Jim Righeimer sliced and diced Saywitz mercilessly. During all the turmoil of that meeting conditions were placed on the project which Saywitz was not given the opportunity to address before the the vote was taken. Those conditions, which reduced the number of units from 12 to 9, will make a significant hit to Saywitz' ability to complete the project profitably. The debate on this subject was very interesting. Saywitz made his case for a re-hearing, but old Riggy - like a pit bull with the smell of blood in the air - resisted the proposal with such vigor that Chairman Donn Hall, crusty curmudgeon that he can sometimes be, might have reached over and given Riggy a swat with a newspaper if he could have reached him. The end result, driven by a very logical summary of the actual issues of the situation by Commissioner Eleanor Egan, was that the commission voted 3-2 to give Saywitz the chance to present his views on the conditions at the July 9th meeting. Righeimer and Vice Chair Jim (I'm-a-realtor-here-in-town) Fisler voted no. I don't know what's going on between Saywitz and Riggy, but the commissioner treats him like a chunk of dog poo he can't get off his shoe. Maybe the best solution is to simply put some boxing gloves on these two, lock them in a room and let them sort it out. The meeting on July 9th promises to be more fun.

The long and thorough hearing on the application by the Segerstroms for the placement of a Carmax Auto Superstore at the location of the old Wickes Furniture Store resulted in approval of the project unanimously. Typical of most Segerstrom projects, this one was presented well and defended we
ll by their silver-tongued representative, Paul Freeman and others. The only rocky spot came when Commissioner Sam Clark cockily requested, out of the blue, that the developer pony up to repair the surface of Gisler Avenue adjacent to the site to the tune of $300,000-$500,000. It was obvious that this demand came out of left field and Freeman, smooth as butter, rejected it. It looks to me as though Clark is beginning to take some pages from Mayor Pro Tem Eric Bever's court jester handbook. He's beginning to take his attempts at glib humor much too seriously. My advice to him is to forget the yucks and just do the job you were appointed to do. With the approval it's likely that we'll see this sales tax generator in business some time next year.

This afternoon we find out during the City Council Study Session just how much money our city will be able to spend beginning the fiscal year starting July 1st. Since there have been meetings going on with some of the bargaining units, I suspect there will be some very interesting numbers thrown around. Stay tuned.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Government In Action

This is going to be a very interesting week at City Hall in Costa Mesa. Disregarding the probability of controversial and/or boneheaded comments by some members of the council, the scheduled events alone are going to make for some fascinating observation.

Today, Monday, the Planning Commission has an interesting schedule of events for their meeting tonight. First out of the blocks will be the review of the new standards for residential and commercial common interest developments (condo conversions) that have been rushed into preparation because of the recently-imposed moratoria. You will recall that the council, in it's haste to "change things" in our city, went off half-cocked and finally had to be reined in before they approved conversions that were shoddy and haphazardly conceived. The debate of this subject should prove to be interesting.

Then, ma
sochist developer Barry Saywitz throws himself back under the wheels of the train as he presents his request for reconsideration of a condo conversion project on Victoria Street. This is significant for many reasons. The last time this item was heard by the Planning Commission rookie commissioner Jim Righeimer shredded Saywitz like a carrot going through a Veg-O-Matic. Now Saywitz brings this item back for a re-hearing, saying that he was not given a chance to address the changes in the project as it was approved, 3-2, the last time. He states in his paperwork that he's not interested in pursuing this project as previously approved because he can't make any money on it. This should really be fun to watch. I have this image of Righeimer pounding himself on the shoulder pads in preparation for the confrontation.

They're also going to consider a request to put a Carmax Auto Superstore at the site of the old
Wickes furniture store - another huge sales tax generator for our city. I find myself wondering whether, because of this locations proximity to the 405 freeway, might this not finally result in a huge sign advertising the Harbor Boulevard of Cars? It seems to me that most folks who actually go to a dealership to buy cars these days prefer those auto malls, where you can park your car and walk around, shopping for new wheels. I think the dealers along Harbor Boulevard can probably use all the advertising help they can get.

On Tuesday the City Council will be briefed on the 2007-2008 budget by staff. We expect that Finance Director Marc Puckett and his staff have, as always, put together a solid, workable budget for the council to consider. For those who don't follow this process, Puckett and his team consistently win awards for their budget presentations and Costa Mesa has been recognized for it's solid financial position for many years.

Then, on Wednesday, the Parks and Recreation Commission will hold a rare study session to consider the new proposed changes to the Field Use and Allocation Policy. This one has the potential for some very interesting speaker comments and dialogue, since there has been some very contentious debate on this issue recently. You can get a feel for this by reading Byron de Arakal's commentary in the Daily Pilot last week, here.

All in all, it looks like a fun week here in Costa Mesa.

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