Thursday, June 21, 2007

Herding Jackasses with Joe Bell and Byron de Arakal

The elected majority on the Costa Mesa City Council continues their display of ineptitude, most recently with their decision to write an inconsequential missive to President Bush deriding his support for the current potential solution for the illegal immigration situation in this country. This is typical of this trio, who see things only in black and white and fail to consider the broader views of their constituents when they make decisions like this one.

Today our local newspaper of record, The Daily Pilot, published a couple columns of great interest to those of us who live in Costa Mesa. Each of them addresses this issue one way or another.

The first of these, published on the front page, is the regular column by octogenarian writer Joseph N. Bell in his The Bell Curve. His is an open letter to our mayor, Allan Mansoor, and demonstrates what more than a half century of observing and writing about celebrities and near-celebrities can produce. You can read Joe's most recent contribution to the enlightenment and entertainment of our populace here. Bell, who will celebrate his 86th birthday on July 4th, continues to pump out prescient, provocative prose at an age when most of his peers are bemoaning the departure of Bob Barker from "The Price Is Right" and waiting impatiently for the Meals-on-Wheels truck to arrive.

The secon
d is a commentary by Byron de Arakal in the every-other-Thursday rotation that he shares with Newport Beach's Barbara Venezia. Byron is a fourth generation American, business owner and dedicated community activist, who put his blog into suspended animation recently when he, once again, agreed to produce a commentary for the Daily Pilot a couple times a month. Today's effort, which can be read here, takes the entire illegal immigration issue to task and points out, as only he can do, the folly of the actions of most of our politicians, including those local leaders who seem to have lost sight of their real job - to manage the well being of their constituents by focusing on things over which they actually have authority.

Those of us who scribble the occasional thought for your consideration can only sit and marvel at the skill and insight these two talented men display at every at-bat. Oh, to have that skill...

So, when you visit those links above, take the time to read the accumulating comments taking each of them to task. Many of those will be written anonymously by cowards who don't have enough courage to put their names to their rants. Such is life in the wonderful world of blogging - where the courageous present a position and the cowards hide behind anonymity and throw mud without any attempt to enhance or amplify the debate of important issues.

This event, and other perpetrated by our ruling troika in recent months, reminds me of a particularly relevant quote with which I will close this entry.

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
-George Jean Nathan

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Stable Bucks, Cart Retrieval Schmucks and More Stooge Yuck, Yuck, Yucks

Well, the June 19th city council meeting is behind us and we have a budget. As anticipated, the council agreed with most of the budget and passed it unanimously. That didn't surprise me, because the staff has consistently done an excellent job of translating the wishes of the council into a workable, balanced budget year after year.

The evening was not without it's noteworthy moments. During the debate of
the Great Shopping Cart issue, pulled from the consent calendar for discussion by avid Mansoor supporter, Phil Morello, who was joined in his condemnation of the current program by a man who very much resembles my theoretical character, Your Neighbor. No surprise there - it was predicted here in an earlier post. The council moved to continue with the program as-is.

During the debate our young jailer/mayor proposed that a letter be written pointing out the offending markets - a suggestion/direction offered by Your Neighbor. As you might suspect, he was cautioned about doing that by council member Katrina Foley, citing the potential for law suits. The mayor, in his own, special way, replied that, "I simply want to bring attention to the fact of what's going on in our city." Yes sir, our "Great Communicator" in action.

Later in the meeting, during the budget discussions, the subject of a City Manager Newsletter, similar to the one distributed by Homer Bludau, City Manager of Newport Beach, came up. The mayor voted "no" on this issue,
and stated during the debate that he felt we had plenty of communications with our residents now. Talk about inconsistent! Of course, he must feel he has plenty of communications with his "improver" buddies, so why bother with the rest of us? Fortunately, the rest of the council saw that it's a good idea and directed the City Manager to move forward with it.

The big topic, THE LETTER, was the last item on the agenda. After some heated discussion and public comments where all but one speaker spoke against Bever's epistle chiding President Bush for his stance on the current i
mmigration bill, the council, to no one's surprise, agreed to send it off to The President over Mansoor's signature. Since it was clear that there were at least three votes, Mansoor included in his motion a condition to permit all those council members who voted for it to be included as signatories. So, all three of our municipal stooges, Mansoor, Bever and Wendy Leece, will sign the letter. Boy, that will sure get the President's attention! Linda Dixon and Katrina Foley voted "no".

So, as far as we know, the following is the text of the letter proposed to be sent to President Bush. The signatures are a little bit of literary license applied under the circumstances:

"Dear President Bush,

On behalf of the Costa Mesa City Council, I wish to convey our position on illegal immigration. We feel it is vital that local governments such as ours communicate our concerns in this area. Our community suffers significant social, civil and law enforcement impacts, which appear to be the result of unfettered illegal immigration.

Promoting the deeply flawed SB 1348 is an affront to all law-abiding Americans. Passage of such legislation would be a disaster for our community and nation. We strongly oppose amnesty by any other name; just making something legal does not set things right, and will not address the impacts Americans suffer.

Since December 2006, we have had an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent assigned to work in our city jail. In the last six months, an astounding 262 arrestees have been flagged as probable illegal aliens from points around the globe who will be subject to deportation after their jail time is served. This demonstrates at a local level that existing laws can work if they are applied.

The immigration system is not "broken," the only thing that is broken is the will to uphold the law. Your administration's lack of will to meet its obligations regarding immigration enforcement is disrespectful toward all American citizens and legal immigrants.

Please uphold the existing federal immigration laws. Please provide all federal, state and local agencies the necessary resources and training to assist where they can. Federal funding is also needed to reimburse local governments' social, civil, and incarceration costs of illegal immigration.

Mr. President, we are weary of the massive local impacts of unfettered illegal immigration. We do not want amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens; we do want strong enforcement of our existing immigration laws.


Moe, Larry and Curly"

I've seen it suggested recently in the Daily Pilot blogs that the council majority should quit trying to concern themselves with the national immigration debate and tend to their municipal knitting - the job they were elected to do. However, since at least one of them apparently sees a bright - if I can use that term in his case - future in the broader political arena for himself, I suspect we'll continue to see them poking their noses in places where they don't belong.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Budget - Does Anybody Care?

Last Thursday night I attended a workshop on the 2007-2008 Costa Mesa municipal budget, conducted by City Manager Allan Roeder, Finance Director Marc Puckett and his new associate, Bobby Young. The staff had printed information available for virtually every level of interest, beginning with their Budget At A Glance booklet, the first of four progressively more detailed documents available to interested residents.

Hello, Is Anybody There?
As has been the case for the past three years that I've attended this event, it was sparsely attended. Sparsely? At the beginning there were only three residents in attendance, but one left early-on to attend another meeting - that left two of us. Two and half hours later three more residents arrived, but one left shortly thereafter. Despite the valuable information we received, I kept feeling that this just wasn't a good return on investment.

So, at a meeting designed to inform residents about how the city proposes to spend nearly $130,000,000 in the next fiscal year, virtually nobody showed up. That's an amazing fact, when you think about it. In fact, fewer than a dozen people total have showed up over the past three years.

The city staff does a remarkable job of preparing and presenting the budget each year. Their presentations have won
awards many times over. It's just too bad that so few residents seem to care about how their tax dollars are spent.

Some Interesting Numbers and Questions

In the 2007-2008 the City of Costa Mesa will spend $128,080,367 - around $1,100 per resident. The Operating Budget is $120,890,367, up just under 9% from the year ending June
30th. Due to the spike in the use of Measure M funds last year, the Capital Improvement Budget will drop 52.28%, to $7,190,000.

Did you know that just about 49% of the budget will go to Protection of Persons and Property, which includes Police, Fire, Code Enforcement, Emergency Medical Care, Building Safety and Animal Control?

Did you know that just about 66% of the budget is allocated to the payment of Salaries and Benefits?

Did you know that the Residential Renovation Improvement Program (RRIP), implemented in 2005 and 2006, that waived the payment of permit fees for residential property improvements, cost the city around $700,000 in revenue?

Did you know that our Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which some folks refer to as the "Bed Ta
x", is the lowest in the county by a large margin? At 6%, it's less than half that of most neighboring communities. Do you realize that for each 1% increase in the TOT the city would receive around $1,000,000 in revenue - most of which would be coming from folks just passing through town?

Do you understand what the term "Fund Balance" means? Nah, I didn't think so.

Your Neighbor and Cart Retrieval
On the subje
ct of the budget, over at the CM Press The-Brain-Who-Ate-Costa-Mesa continues his drum beat, ranting about the money the city pays to have shopping carts retrieved around the city. The contract is for $4,000 per month - a total of $48,000 per year. He rants and raves about this expenditure as though it's going to break the bank. The truth is that the city has never spent $48,000 a year on cart retrieval. They have a contract with the markets in the area for reimbursement for each cart returned by the service. So, the net expenditure by the city has been significantly less than the contract amount. Of course, acknowledging that fact takes the edge of the CM Presses argument, so he won't tell you that. The issue here is not whether we should be paying for cart retrieval or not - that subject was debated and resolved several years ago. The issue here is that the city negotiated a good contract and found a way to get some of that money back, too.

At the council meeting tonight our elected leaders will likely approve much of what was proposed by the city staff. If they get into the debate, once again, about the shopping cart retrieval cost you will know that our old buddy at the CM Press still has his hands on the reins of the majority and gives them a not-too-gentle yank every now and again to remind them that he's still there.

Any Ideas?
I'd be very interested in how you feel about the budget and the dissemination of the information in it.

Do you, for example, think there is value in a presentation such as the one I attended before the f
inal budget is approved?

Do you have an interest in some kind of a Budget Town Hall Meeting, to be held after the fact, in which residents could be briefed on how their leaders and the city staff plan to spend their tax dollars in the next year?

Would you like to receive something like the Budget At A Glance booklet at home, perhaps distributed with the Recreation Guide?

Any other ideas?

I'd appreciate your views. If you want to post a comment about it, please do so. If you prefer to simply email me your ideas and not have them posted here please use the email address on my Profile page.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Bever Trades Veracity for Mendacity

At the end of last week the agenda for Tuesday night's Costa Mesa City Council meeting appeared on the city web site. I scanned down through the agenda items to the very end and found an interesting entry. It seems the council will consider sending a letter to President Bush decrying the "amnesty" bill that has been resurrected and may be passed by the time you read these words. That's not really the point of this entry.

Attached to t
hat agenda item was a draft of the letter proposed to go out over Mayor Mansoor's signature, theoretically representing the views of the City Council. In the letter it made the following outrageous comment, "Our community suffers significant impacts as a direct result of unfettered illegal immigration, including hundreds of hit-and-run accidents every year in our small city alone."

Well, not only did this comment catch my eye, but two Orange County Register reporters, Jeff Overley and Tony Saavedra, saw it and investigated the claim. Apparently this piece of fiction was fabricated by the actual author of the letter, our municipal court jester, Mayor Pro Tem Eric Bever. This is not atypical for him. He's been known to shoot from the hip and bend the rules with regularity.

According to
an entry by Overley on The Total Buzz, the Register's political blog authored by reporters Martin Wisckol and Peggy Lowe, CMPD Police Lt. Dave Anderson, who told Overley that the cops don't keep such figures, was quoted as saying, "We're a little taken back by that, because we have (found) no correlation on hit-and-runs and illegal immigration."

According to Overley, Bever says there were 728 hit-and-runs in Costa Mesa in 2006, of which 284 were solved. Of those, 186 involved unlicensed drivers. Bever, without proof, infers that most of those people were illegal immigrants. He is quoted by Overley as saying, "We didn't have a rash of 14-year-old kids stealing mom's car and playing bumper cars through the city." That's a typical glib, smart-aleck response from him.

Subsequently, investigative reporter Saavedra reported,
"A look at Costa Mesa arrest data compiled by the Register shows that only seven undocumented immigrants were picked up for hit-and-run between Dec. 5, 2006 and May 31. That is a far cry from the "hundreds" every year reported by Councilman Eric Bever. Even when you consider the number of illegal immigrants arrested for driving without a license -- 26 in the six-month period -- Bever's numbers don't add up. "

Prior to reading these reports I contacted the Costa Mesa Police Department myself, but no return call was received. I'm sure they were very busy trying to figure out how Bever came up his numbers. They needn't have bothered - he just makes up his "facts" as he goes along.

A check of the city web site on Saturday found a new, revised version of the letter to be considered by the council on Tuesday. Yep, you guessed it - the reference to hit-and-running illegals is gone.

This would be comical if it were not so darn important. This is precisely the kind of things I've commented on for years. Bever, Mansoor and their cronies really don't care if they have to play fast and loose with the truth as long as they get their way. Even though Bever continues to act the clown, this should deeply concern every resident of this city. It's clear from watching him that veracity is an "alien" concept to him (pun fully intended).

One more time... you just cannot turn your back on these guys or they will stomp on your rights eventually, too. Consider yourselves warned - again.

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