Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Drama On The Dais

That's what we got at the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last night.

st, we had Wendy Leece's geezer posse stand before the council and continue their tirade about the Senior Center. We saw Costa Mesa's grumpiest couple, Ernie and John Feeney, perform a vitriolic tag team attack. Then the theme was carried forward by a couple of perpetual malcontents - two women who apparently have worn out their welcome at The Center. They were followed by two less strident ladies singing the same tune.


In fairness, the subject du jour was the apparent announceme
nt within the last day or so by the Executive Director of The Center that it will be closed for a week next month, dislocating a few hundred seniors, so she and her staff can hold some kind of planning retreat. I must admit that, without more information, shutting down the Senior Center for a week so five staff members can "plan" seems ill-advised and certainly was ill-timed, considering all the controversy swirling around The Center for the past several months. The subject seemed to catch the council and city staff by surprise.

Yep, if it wasn't The Mouth Fr
om Mesa North, who frequently speaks before the council, cussing them out several times because of their position on fees proposed by the fire department (I think he might have been ticked off because his trademark black golf shirt was in the wash), it was the perpetually petulant Eric Bever pouting on almost every issue. It seemed like he was just hitting the "No" button during votes because he was peeved.


One thing was confirmed last night. If you want to get our young jailer/mayor's dander
up, all you have to do is say one word - TAX! It seems that when he hears that word he's just like Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate when he sees the Queen of Hearts. Mansoor immediately goes into some kind of trance and begins spouting his anti-tax mantra.

Last night he a
ttempted to give us a primer on the difference between a good tax and a bad tax. Apparently, a tax that helps fix roads is a good tax and any other kind of a tax - the Transient Occupancy Tax, for example - is a bad tax. Somehow his teeny little brain doesn't seem to comprehend that it's tax dollars that keep the city functioning. Somehow he manages to forget that it's tax dollars that pay his salary as a Deputy Sheriff - if he's still working in that job, that is.


The controversial measures proposed by the Fire Chief to raise revenue generated some heated debate,
both among the council members and residents, too. On a split vote, with Bever and Leece voting no, the council passed the resolution to begin assessing every resident fees for ambulance and paramedic services when they use those services. It is assumed that most folks will have health coverage that will cover those costs or will qualify for "hardship" relief. This theoretically will generate over $540,000 in new revenue to the city. Several residents spoke against this issue, claiming that it was part of the basic services paid for by property taxes.

Equally controversial was the subject of charging those responsible for traffic accidents the cost of cleaning up the "property damage" caused by the accident. Generally, we're talking about an event that spills fuel, oil or coolant on the streets or otherwise damages city property. This is supposed to generate nearly $200,000 in new revenue. An interesting sidebar - Chief Morgan had sitting at his side as an "expert witness" one of the honchos of EF Recovery - the mysterio
us company mentioned in my earlier posts. Gee, I wonder who will get the contract? The vote on this one was the same - 3-2, with Bever and Leece voting no.

The third item presented by the Fire Chief - the fee schedule for fire prevention inspections - was not passed. It was sent back for more information and will not likely be adopted in time to become pa
rt of the initial 2009/2010 budget.


The issue proposed by the grandstanding Mansoor to reduce city co
uncil salaries by 5% passed the second reading. So, way, way off in November of 2010 the council at that time will get a meaningless pay cut and Mansoor will be looking over his termed-out shoulder and smiling that goofy smile of his.


The ordinance approved
in an earlier meeting was back for another try. The wording of the ordinance was buffed up to meet current state requirements and was approved. Violations will now be civil citations and all the money received will go to the city.


The annual love-fest that is the renewal of the 2% levy on hotel rooms to support the Business Improvement Area (BIA) was passed, but not without some healthy discussion. Katrina Foley asked that a portion of the proceeds be contributed by the BIA to related community activities. That got Gary Monahan's Irish (sorry, couldn't resist) up, because he's apparently been wheeling and deali
ng with the group to kick back a pittance. The fact that Monahan gets lots of referrals to his gin mill from member hotels has more than a slight odor to it.


Finally, the council approved getting an appraisal for the site of the old mini-storage at 1100 Bristol, below the 73 Freeway. It is assumed that it would make a good location for still more playing fields in a city that just can't seem to build them fast enough. They approved it only because Foley managed to find a third party - Costa Mesa United - to pay the $9,000 fee. We can't afford to buy the land, but that decision is way off in the future. Right now the appraisal is necessary to begin thinking about it. Many thanks to the good folks at Costa Mesa United for stepping up.


I was very pleased to see young Chris McEvoy, candidate for city council in the last election, again step before the council and ask excellent questions. His courteous, respectful demeanor was a very pleasant counterpoint to the near-apoplectic rants by The Mouth From Mesa North. But then, unlike The Mouth, McEvoy doesn't have a hidden agenda. He only cares about the well-being of his home town and ALL the residents who live here.,

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Anonymous rob Dickson said...

Geoff, I watched the whole meeting and was seriously disappointed with the lack of leadership from the Council. The Fire dept. is perfectly justified in coming forward with proposals to raise revenue, but they should come better prepared, and the Councilmembers shouldn't let them get away with not answering questions.

An example: the Fire dept. representatives were asked what the components of the first responder fee were. No answer except some vague reference to formulas and the tired old mantra about comparisons to other jurisdictions. No follow-up by the Council at all. They are being asked to place the burden of basic emergency services which should be covered by property taxes on the backs of residents, and they cannot get a straight answer about what the payment covers or why they are charging the specified amount. Pretty pathetic.

I know that you are a fan of Katrina Foley, but it is pretty clear that she is out of touch and has sold out to her union supporters. Mr. Millard may be a thorn in the side of some, but he makes some valid points. Her attempt to clarify his OT comment actually backfired quite dramatically, with an admission from the Fire Chief that OT reimbursements were only 25%.

Why are we hitting injured or sick Costa Mesans with onerous fees while paying firefighters hundreds of thousands in OT?

I am not criticizing firefighters as a group, but City management. Was that OT justified? We don't know.

Again, why are we trying to close the budget gap by targeting the citizens, when 74% of the budget is for salary and benefits of city employees? If we truly cannot afford our own fire department, maybe we should contract with OCFA. I'd hate to see that happen.

I do know that I'm pretty tired of hearing that WE residents need to pay more and accept lesser services while trying to cope with a dramatic economic downturn while city employees continue to enjoy raises and retirement benefits that few in the private sector enjoy.

I have not wanted to turn this debate into an "us vs.them" exercise, but it sure looks like the Fire Dept. has done that all by themselves. After all, they are the ones who came before the City Council with a fee program for basic emergency services that will only impact the injured and sick instead of serious wage and benefit concessions.

5/06/2009 04:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Frank S said...

Hey Rob, Didn't our Council just approve a increase in our city employees pension (2% @ 55 to 2.5% @ 55)? Let's be honest, our public employees are subject whatever our elected officials feel is fair. I agree, city employees enjoy raises and retirement benefits at our expense. However, I feel the elected official's should be held accountable, It's funny, when times are good theres no talk about public employees pay or benefits. When times are like this its "us vs them" thats not right. We are all trying to make it.

5/06/2009 05:53:00 PM  
Anonymous rob dickson said...

Frank, I totally agree, and have said so before. My foremost complaint is the lack of true leadership.

No one except one public commenter has criticized the employees themselves. I have repeatedly stated that I think we have a great crew, and my dealings with CM city employees have always been very positive.

Which brings me to your excellent point. Not sure if you intended to make my point for me, but you did.

CM public employees DID just get a raise and increase in benefits, which the Council was glad to give them. However, what you notably failed to mention was the fact that the CM employee associations have so far refused the City's request to renegotiate their contracts until audited sales tax numbers are final - well after the budget process is over.

Curious how you failed to mention that fact, Frank.

As I have said here and on the Pilot blogs - the employees are the single largest expense and the employee associations - NOT the Council, residents and businesses - are causing this impasse.

Revenues are down, taxes require a vote, and therefore we have two options: 1) renegotiate employee compensation; or

2) slash services, raise fees and lay people off.

The ball is in the unions' court. They take when the going is good, but refuse to give back when the going gets tough. You tell me who is the problem here.

You are absolutely right - no one talks about employee benefits and salaries when times are good, because we pay well and value our employees. Now that times are bad, the employees should show that they value and care about the residents, their fellow employees and the well-being of the city some have served well for decades.

5/06/2009 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris McEvoy said...


Here are a few thoughts about last night.

Our city is in a tough position and I don’t envy anyone that has to work through this.

I didn’t catch the first speaker’s name that spoke on the first and third fee recovery issues. He made absolutely excellent points about property tax paying for these services and we already pay a subscription via property tax.

I was impressed how Bever and Leece voted last night.

Something that wasn’t seen at home, 2 planning commissioners were in attendance. I assume that they were there if any questions on the parking ordinances were raised. If that is the reason I must say good job. One stayed for the first half and left shortly after the second one showed up.

I am curious overtime, is it a time and half type overtime?

Thank you for the kind words

5/06/2009 10:23:00 PM  
Anonymous rob dickson said...

Frank, with all the passionate talk regarding this whole budget issue, I think something gets unintentionally lost in the mix -the individual city employee.

I am calling for flexibility from the city employee associations and less focus on hammering residents and businesses with fees, but I know that each and every city employee has bills to pay, mouths to feed and real life issues to face. City employees aren't getting rich working for Costa Mesa, and I am on record saying that I think cops should get paid more. I have no idea how much firefighters get paid, so I can't speak to their pay. I am sincere when I say that I don't want anyone to lose their jobs.

This is an public blog, so I won't go into details about how the economy has impacted people close to me, but they have suffered dramatically. Private employers have to lay people off, cut salaries and eliminate raises and bonuses in order to survive. A city should be no different.

That said, I don't think we should mess with salaries if at all possible. A small cut, like the 5% proposed, perhaps, but more than that and it causes a serious hardship. But I think that the city should take a very hard look at the retirement system. The city should honor its obligations to those who have retired or are close to retirement, but should identify a system that is more in line with the private sector and that requires employees to share the risk. It is no secret that public employee pension obligations are wreaking havoc on governments all over the state. Recent news articles have described retirees making massive pensions for life - all without having ever contributed a dime. That must stop.

Hopefully the unions and employees renegotiate the contracts, and include a provision that will ensure they recoup their losses if and when the economy rebounds.

5/06/2009 11:18:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Thanks, guys, for this informative, civil discussion.

Chris, the speaker was long time employee Parry Valantine, former Assistant Development Services Director, who retired from the city a couple years ago. He was terrific in his job and you can see why. You're correct, he framed his position with clarity and was not confrontational, unlike that braying jackass from Mesa North.

Which planning commissioners were in attendance?

Is your question about the fire department overtime? I don't know how they calculate it because most of the staff works an unusual schedule... I'll try to find out. In broad terms, I think the speakers were referring to the time spent on mutual aid events - like the current Santa Barbara fire, for which we apparently get reimbursed for about 25% of the cost of providing men and equipment.

5/07/2009 12:09:00 AM  

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