Friday, March 05, 2010

BIG Changes Coming In Costa Mesa School Leadership

This morning Katrina Foley announced on her Facebook page that big changes are coming in Costa Mesa educations circles. According to Katrina, Phil D'Agostino, currently the principal at Estancia High School, will move to Costa Mesa High School upon the retirement of Dr. Wong. Kirk Bauermeister will move from TeWinkle to Estancia and Rich Rodriquez will move from Newport Coast Elementary to TeWinkle.

According to Katrina, D'Agostino has done an amazing job at Estancia, bringing new ideas and enthusiasm to the school and created much more parent involvement.

Bauermeister has worked similar miracles at TeWinkle so he should slip right into D'Agostino's slot easily and provide more positive leadership in this new, big job.

Rodriquez has an excellent reputation at Newport Coast and it's anticipated that he will jump right into TeWinkle and perpetuate the progress made at that school over the past couple years.

This news is terrific on many levels. Of course, these moves each will surely result in the on-going improvement at the various schools. We expect D'Agostino's arrival at Costa Mesa High School to be the biggest positive change among all the schools. CMHS has been much maligned lately by certain members of the community. Expect positive changes in the near future.

I find myself wondering about the reaction by one particularly virulent resident of this city to this news. It's going to defuse many of his perpetual complaints about the differences between the schools on the Costa Mesa side of the district when compared to the Newport Beach side. Quite honestly, I find myself wanting to give him the finger right about now. Sorry...

Costa Mesa will probably never be as wealthy as Corona del Mar, but improvements can be made in the schools in our city and these changes will demonstrate that fact. It may take a couple years for those positive changes to be reflected in the test scores, but watch for them, nonetheless. So, whether you're a TeWinkle Trojan, an Estancia Eagle or a Costa Mesa Mustang, good things are on the way.

During my conversation with Katrina about these changes I asked her about her plans to run for the school board seat next fall. She continues to be considering her options in that regard, although she's certainly leaning that direction. The possibility of her being on the school board must have the district staff squirming in their chairs. Katrina Foley is a change-maker, and an impatient one, at that. This summer's races should be very interesting, indeed.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fun In Newport-Mesa

It's been an interesting week here in the land of Newport-Mesa. In addition to the budget gyrations mentioned in the two previous blog entries, there have been a few other noteworthy events, too.


Among them is the decision made by city officials early in the week to cease enforcing the anti-solicitation ordinance that has provoked yet another lawsuit by the ACLU. We don't know all the details of specifically why, as contract City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow announced on Tuesday evening, they've chosen to pause in their enforcement efforts. She tells the local media, HERE and HERE, that they will hold off any further enforcement efforts until the results of an appeal of a similar case involving the city of Redondo Beach is resolved. While you're at those sites, take a peek at the comment threads for a little perspective on how some of the "open-minded" folks who live around you feel. The Register site is particularly enlightening.

I invite you to visit the Orange Coast Voice blog, HERE. Over in Huntington Beach Editor John Earl and his staff has produced quite an outstanding series of video clips on the subject of the Costa Mesa efforts to enforce the anti-solicitation ordinance which includes an extensive interview with Costa Mesa Police Chief Christopher Shawkey. A peek at those YouTube clips will be very informative for those of you who have an interest in this story. Congratulations to Earl and his team on this excellent report.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday night councilwoman Katrina Foley tossed some of the venom pitched her way earlier by The Mouth From Mesa North, as reported in an earlier post. Well, the Daily Pilot reported her comments today. You can read them in the Political Landscape column HERE. It's about time someone starts standing up to that racist bully. He's ranted his displeasure with Costa Mesa for more than a decade. The Mouth is obviously unhappy with the demographics of our city. My suggestion is, in the interests of his mental health, he seek greener (or whiter) pastures. I imagine there are some folks in Idaho who would welcome him with open arms. I'll buy the bus ticket.

Our pals in Newport Beach are defending their use of their automated telephone alert system to warn residents to stay away from the shoreline during the recent Chilean earthquake-induced tsunami scare. You can read the Register article on the tsunami HERE, and the Daily Pilot article HERE and Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff's commentary HERE. Even though the threat turned out to be nothing at all, I think they did the correct thing. The tsunami manifested itself as ripples on local beaches, but it's better to be safe than sorry.


A writer dropped me a note after this post was published to let me know that this whole "Tsunami Alert Failure" story was actually broken by Amy Senk at the Corona Del Mar Today blog. Amy, not just your average blogger, is a real journalist who does a great job covering issues involving the village of Corona del Mar and nearby locales. Unfortunately, she doesn't always get the credit she deserves for her coverage of important issues. You can read her entry on this issue HERE.

The earliest local report on the earthquake and tsunami threat was produced by a local high school sophomore, Melanie de Arakal, who, after hearing the international news reports that morning, sprang out of bed and fired off an entry in the online version of the Corona Del Mar High School Trident, HERE. If that name looks a little familiar, this budding reporter is the daughter of my friend, former Daily Pilot columnist and Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman, Byron de Arakal. It certainly looks like those "ace reporter" skills are in her genes. Congratulations to Melanie for her timely and excellent reporting. Incidentally, young Melanie is also a budding basketball star at Corona del Mar. You can read more about her enthusiasm for the game, and one player in particular, HERE.

Councilman Gary Monahan apparently continues to believe the rules are for others and don't apply to him. You will recall that in recent months he displayed an illegal banner on the front of his gin mill announcing Sunday Night Football. Even though the city Code Enforcement folks advised him to remove it, he stretched it out as long as he could. He was cited for that infraction. Well, he's at it again and this time not only is he violating the law with another illegal banner in the same place, he's thumbing his nose at the city by posting it on his Facebook page. Here's what his announcement looked like:
As I said the last time Monahan pulled this kind of stunt, I don't have a problem with temporary banners announcing a special event. However, Monahan made his case to his peers on the council the last time and was rebuffed. He went right ahead with the other banner and here he is with another. These kind of shenanigans should be kept in mind if (when) he dredges up the "directly-elected mayor" scheme later this year. He apparently sees himself as a kind of "mayor for life" and wants to put the issue before the people. His scheme excludes term limits, by the way. As always, it seems that all he cares about is what's in it for him. Don't worry, I'll remind you of his banner transgressions when the time comes.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Council Gives Staff Go Ahead On Budget Scheme

During a surprisingly brief meeting Tuesday evening the Costa Mesa City Council gave the staff unanimous approval (Gary Monahan was absent - probably out stringing up another illegal sign to match the new on hanging on his pub) to proceed with the 7 point plan presented to them for consideration. You can review those seven items by reading my last post, and click on the links to the staff report and the list of vacancies provided within it, too.

None of the council members offered solutions to the immediate problem of balancing the current fiscal year budget, but a couple gave us a hint of how they will be thinking as the 2010/2011 budget is deliberated within the next few months.

Wendy Leece, for example, suggested we take a close look at the Airborne Law Enforcement program (ABLE). It currently costs the city well over $2 million a year to operate and we share costs with Newport Beach and Santa Ana. She suggested we look at ways to cut back service - and costs, and also recommended seeking out other partners.

She also suggested that we more aggressively ticket cars parked on streets where sweeping is scheduled as a revenue source enhancement.

She also used an interesting, but not original, term - "There are no sacred cows". I found myself thinking it was a curiously ironic statement to make, considering her penchant for frequently overlaying her personal religious beliefs on the proceedings and in light of the brand new "In God We Trust" sign hanging on the wall behind her. Certainly, Wendy, there are some sacred cows! Yeah, I know... she didn't mean it that way, but she's such an easy target that I just had to say it! I think the fact that she seems willing to consider EVERYTHING to balance the budget is significant.

During the deliberations City Manager Allan Roeder, who teamed up with Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young for the presentation, made the following statements. In response to a suggestion that, to balance the budget, layoffs might be in the near future he said, "Layoffs are a consequence, not a strategy." He meant that, since roughly 70% of our municipal budget is made up of salaries and benefits, layoffs - while a logical choice - would only be used if no other methodology to reduce costs could be found. He went on to say, "Our first priority is to serve the public." Anyone who has ever worked with him knows that he means that with every fiber of his being.

I thought it was interesting that, when Katrina Foley asked him how he planned to deal with the loss of two senior staffers in his own office - one third of his staff - he acknowledged that both he Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch were busily re-learning old skills and some new ones, too. He seemed unwilling to request the council permit him to fill either of the vacancies created by utilization of the early retirement plan.

Of course, The Mouth From Mesa North stood before the council a couple times last night to berate them for the terrible job they were doing of balancing the budget. Little credit was given to the staff for the plans they suggested earlier in the year that resulted in savings in excess of $22 million! No, The Mouth - the guy who just likes to hear himself talk - used his alloted time to chide, scold and insult the council and offered no constructive solutions. What a windbag that guy is!

One thing was clear after the discussion was held and the vote was taken - there is no flesh left on our municipal skeleton. Any future cuts will mean losing a limb. Both Eric Bever and Leece asked Roeder to come back to them with a list of non-essential services for them to consider. That is going to be a very, very interesting list.


On a much more positive note, early in the meeting Parks and Recreation Chairman Kurt Galitski presented a letter from the local AYSO group committing over $180,000 toward lighting fields 5 and 6 at The Farm Sports Complex! This is a terrific gesture, but was met with muted enthusiasm, to say the least. Thanks to the good folks of AYSO for their concern and for their money.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

How Deep Is The Budget Quicksand?

At the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 2nd, City Manager Allan Roeder and Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young will present to the council their assessment of the city's current fiscal condition, and their 7-point plan to help resolve part of the current situation.

You can review the staff report HERE. In a nutshell, it tells you that the 10-point plan approved last year was successful even though some of the strategies did not yield the results hoped for. It did result in savings of $22 million for this fiscal year.


However, the economy continued to tank, resulting in a shortfall of $9 million for this year, hence the need for the 7-point plan. That plan is defined as follows: (savings noted in bold parens)

1. A freeze on filling all current vacancies (except Police Patrol, as needed, and Sworn Fire to meet minimum manning) ($500,000);
2. A freeze on Capital Outlay Purchases and Capital Improvement Projects using General Fund Revenues ($1,467,000);
3. A moratorium on new programs and services, expansion of existing programs and services, and new projects requiring General Fund support (0);
4. A review of Equipment Replacement Fund reserves ($1,450,000 +$1,700,000 ins. premiums);
5. Initiation of discussions with Employee Associations regarding wages and benefits (0);
6. Preparation of tax schedules with alternatives and supporting resolutions for the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and Business License Tax for the November 2010 ballot (0); and
7. Submission of all Programs and Services to the City Council for budget prioritization (0).

This plan will provide savings of $5 million, leaving the current fiscal year $4 million short. You can review the details of the plan in the staff report. It's clear from the tone of the staff report that layoffs seem very likely in the near future. It's also clear that recommendations will be made for increases in the Transient Occupancy Tax and Business License Tax, but those can't happen until next November and only by a vote of the electorate.

One attachment to the staff report is entitled "Service Impacts From Vacant Positions" and can be found HERE. This one will pop your eyes open and make you realize just how extreme our fiscal condition has become. It lists, by department, the positions presently vacant and the impact of not filling them. As you sift through that information you'll get a better idea of just how extremely troubled our fiscal situation actually is.

Tuesday's council meeting has all the earmarks of being one of those long, painful experiences that will test the mettle of our elected leaders and the staff. The difficult decisions made last year, while admirable, don't come close to those that will be necessary in near term - and this is just to balance the current fiscal year budget. The other shoe waiting to drop is the next year's budget. The discussions for that budget are scheduled to begin soon.

If you review the staff report and have suggestions for the council to consider, email them immediately or call City Hall with your suggestions. Now's the time to be heard.

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