Friday, May 14, 2010

Fairgrounds Radio, Library Forum and Civil War

Back to the Fairgrounds issue. We now have less than one week until our elected leaders will wing off to Sacramento again to present the City's proposal for the acquisition of the Orange County Fair and Events Center to State representatives. They will be working night and day to get the proposal finalized and approved at their council meeting on Tuesday.

To be brought up to speed on this whole issue, Saturday - tomorrow - local radio station KOCI, 101.5 FM will host a roundtable on the subject. Moderator Troy Davis will preside over the event that, as of this writing, will include City Manager Allan Roeder and Councilman Gary Monahan. Other participants are pending.
NOTE: Former mayor Sandra Genis, President of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, has been added to the panel. This should make for lively discussion.

You can also hear this event on your computer via a live audio stream at (you may have to click that link twice) starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. No video stream will be available. This program will be archived for later listening. I'll provide you with that link when I receive it.

Roeder and Monahan have been up to their eyeballs in the negotiations on the Fairgrounds sale, so the information they provide on Saturday should be the most up-to-date available anywhere. Thanks for the good folks at KOCI 101.5 FM for this important public service.

Also on the Fairgrounds Sale subject, today Barbara Venezia had an interesting column in the Orange County Register on this issue, HERE. You can see her short video interview with a clearly weary Roeder below.


Later Saturday, at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park), the Costa Mesa Library Foundation hosts a Community Forum at which architectural students from Orange Coast College will present their visions for a new central library with conceptual drawings and models.

This event runs from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. and there is no charge.


And, if that's not enough fun, the Civil War is going to be re-enacted at Fairview Park on Saturday and Sunday. If you're in the mood to see battles re-fought, smell black powder and mingle with folks in 150 year-old garb, Fairview Park is the place for you this weekend. Good luck with parking... I can think of at least one local resident who will probably feel right at home there this weekend.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Faces Of The Budget Dilemma

Costa Mesa's study session Tuesday afternoon and evening was memorable for many reasons. First of all, due to the huge turnout, it was moved from Conference 1A to the City Council chambers. Second, even though speakers were permitted only 2 minutes each, it took 38 minutes to dispense with all those who chose to address the council. Many of those speakers were city employees... more on that later. You can watch the streaming video of the study session HERE.

Recognizing that most of the folks in the audience were there to hear about the budget, the council wisely moved the two agenda items dealing with that subject to the front of the line.

Grant Administrator Lynda Jenkins spoke in defense of her job, one of those on the list for elimination. She explained that she had been responsible for more than $5 million in grants. She expressed concern that positions that are revenue generators were being cut. She requested a review of council policy 300-1, to see if some modification can be made to provide medical benefits for those laid off.

Similarly, City Buyer Don Stocker, another employee with a job in jeopardy, stood at the podium and quantified the value of his position and criticized the process by which the positions recommended for removal were determined.

Fire Protection Analyst Susan Guzetta, a single mother of two and candidate for layoff, reminded the council that within the last year she brought before them an array of fees that, if they had been adopted, would have paid for the fire prevention bureau. Her department will lose 60% of it's personnel over the next few months.

Officer Kelly Benjamin, who said she works the front desk at the Police Department and whose job apparently is NOT in jeopardy, spoke with passion on behalf of those who she said were afraid to speak out. She recommended charging for ticket sign-offs and increasing the charge for police reports. (An interesting sidebar - I attempted to contact Benjamin today to compliment her on her passionate presentation and ran up against a Police Department firewall. Twice I was refused the opportunity to speak with her - the message that was relayed to me was that she was "forbidden" to speak with me - and was referred to Lt. Bryan Glass, or rather, his voice mail. Three hours later and I'm still awaiting his call.) UPDATE: As timing would have it, Lt. Glass called me five minutes after I published this. He told me that Benjamin certainly was not "forbidden" to speak with me or anyone else, and that her comments are viewed as very positive by the Police Department. I accept his explanation and asked him to relay my thoughts to Benjamin.

Nearly a dozen people rose to speak on behalf of Animal Control Officer Yolanda Macias, whose job is on block.

Parks and Recreation Chairman Mike Brumbaugh stood to offer his concerns for public safety if the proposed staff reductions are imposed.

Resident Mike Berry offered the observation that the entire budget shortfall could be resolved if the city could simply convince every employee to share the cost of their retirement and medical benefits by paying half the cost. That may be true, but the term "fat chance" pops to mind.

His spouse and perpetual budget watchdog, the perky Judi Berry, presented charts showing revenue decline and suggested a 10% across the board pay cut.

Larry Likens, president of one of the city employee associations, rose to express chagrin that no one from the City had contacted his organization about possible participation in a resolution of the financial problems. I guess I was surprised, too, if that's a fact. He indicated that there is a lot of resentment among the employees. Gee, Larry, no kidding!

Community activist Cindy Brenneman expressed the personal loss to be experienced by the departure of the positions in question. She recommended raising the Business License Fees and the TOT.

City Manager Allan Roeder led off the presentation of the budget by stating, "Today is the presentation of the preliminary budget for 2010/2011 and I can tell you that the presentation we make today is unlike any in this city's history." Later he said, "We have been reducing the budget, every element in the budget, for the better part of the last three years. We have used every trick, every tool in the book, to possibly reduce the cost of government without reducing services and without laying off employees. We take a lot of pride in accomplishing that." He said, "We've not raised taxes in the past twenty years. I don't think there's another public agency in this state that can make that claim."

Roeder told the council that the management and supervision of the city does not take any pride in presenting this budget. He said, "There are no good choices in the budget before you."

He went on to explain the recent history of how the city got to it's current situation and mentioned that, over the past three years, it has been necessary for the city to draw down it's reserves by nearly $35 million to a point where the welfare of the city is in jeopardy if further reductions are made. He explained that declining revenues are the culprit, including a decline in Property Tax revenues for the first time in his memory.

He affirmed that the budget being presented at that time is simply a point to begin the discussion and debate. He said, "This is not a budget like any budget we've presented in years past." He stated that, "..the ability to find other areas of a non-personnel nature to cut in this budget are going to be next to impossible."

Roeder, his throat tightening with emotion, said, "This is something each of us takes extremely personally. It is not a business decision, and as I've said, layoffs are not a budget strategy, they are a financial consequence."

Budget and Research Officer Bobby Young then took over and gave an overview of the preliminary 2010/2011 budget. You can read and/or download the entire 230+page preliminary budget on the city web site HERE. The preliminary operating budget dropped by 1%, to $110,715,911. The capital improvement budget is down 22.46%.

Young said 52% of the appropriations are allocated to protection of persons and property - fire and police,etc. 73% of the appropriations are salaries and benefits.

Since the General Fund makes up 87% of the budget, Young focused that segment. Comparing projected 2010/2011 revenues to expenses we end up with a General Fund deficit of $16.4 million.

Young indicated that, two days following the council's budget study session, there is a Community Budget Briefing on Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in Conference Room 1A and that the Public Hearing and Adoption of the budget will take place on Tuesday, June 15, 2010.

Roeder, in a preamble to the prioritization exercise, indicated that the recommended reductions presented to the council tonight only gets the city about half-way. They would result in a savings of $8.4 million. That leaves $8 million left to attempt to reconcile. He indicated that they were looking at shifting expenses to the Redevelopment Agency where legally possible, even though the State just raided Redevelopment Agency funds again last week. He also said communications are proceeding with each of the employee bargaining units. From my view, it's unlikely that those communications will result in enough savings to save jobs, though.

The meeting went on for another 90 minutes - three hours total. If you're really interested in how this meeting went, click on that link I provided to you and hear what each speaker and council member had to say for yourself. To paraphrase Meredith Wilson's lyrics from the musical "Music Man", we got trouble right here in River City, er, Costa Mesa and there are no easy solutions this year. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leadership Template Reprised

Four years ago, while using my previous blog host, I wrote the following little ditty. The recent actions by some members of the Costa Mesa City Council jogged me into going to my archive and resurrecting this one for your reading pleasure now. You can pick your own favorite leader - that actor fella over there is one of mine...

Tuesday, May 9, 2006
A Leadership Template
Since the campaign season looms on the horizon, it's time for us to begin considering what the next few months hold for us as a covey of candidates start jockeying for position in the race for our votes in November. Of course, opinions differ on just what constitutes a good candidate for city government. Each of us, based on our background, bias and expectations, may have a different take on that subject.

I suspect most of us in Costa Mesa would just like to have people on the city council we can trust, who are willing to work hard on important issues and calmly debate them with their peers to do the best job possible for all residents of the community. We will likely gravitate toward candidates who share our values and goals for the future of our city.

As I consider candidates who will vie for my vote I use a kind of mental template against which I compare their qualifications. My template presently includes the following characteristics, not necessarily in order of importance:

INTELLIGENCE - I want a candidate with the intellectual capacity to understand the complex issues that will come before the council. That doesn't mean any candidate must be an "expert" in municipal government - we have an excellent city staff to help them navigate through the process. It does mean that any candidate I will consider must have demonstrated, either through academic achievement or professional accomplishment or both, that he or she has sufficient gray matter to do the job.

LEADERSHIP - I want a candidate with proven leadership experience. This doesn't necessarily mean military leadership, although that would be acceptable. Heck, in recent months a little combat command experience might have come in handy. I want a person to whom others look for guidance and direction. I want a person who has demonstrated the skills necessary to guide the discussion of complex and controversial issues and arbitrate resolutions.

ENERGY - I want a candidate with the energy and stamina to do the job. That doesn't necessarily mean youth. I wouldn't consider a young person based simply on age - just as I wouldn't discount an older person for the same reason. I want a person who has shown, through recent accomplishments, that there's sufficient fuel in the tank and horsepower under the hood to take on the tasks ahead.

VOLUNTEER SPIRIT- I want a candidate who feels our city is important and has demonstrated, through significant community involvement, a willingness to make it even better by volunteering time and energy to worthy causes.

VISION - I want a candidate who shares my vision for the future of this city. We don't have to agree on everything, but I want a person on the council who shares my core beliefs and has the skill to prioritize the challenges ahead so they can be met with success. I want a candidate who understands that Costa Mesa is not an island - it's part of a broader regional entity, the needs of which must be considered as critical issues are debated. I want a candidate who has a vision to lead this city into the future, not permit it to regress by espousing half-century old philosophies on social issues and pandering to the darkest side of a few people in this town.

COMPASSION - I want a candidate who wants to make our city a place for anyone willing to work hard and contribute to our society, regardless of ethnicity or religion. I want a candidate who will repudiate those who advocate exclusion of groups because of race or national origin.

EVEN-HANDEDNESS - I want a candidate who is willing to listen to all residents with courtesy and compassion and who will try to negotiate each issue to a fair, just conclusion for all residents, not just a vocal few.

MATURITY - I want a candidate who has the maturity to lead our city of well over 100,000 souls into the next decade. Typically, this maturity comes from time spent in the trenches, learning from experience. It's highly unlikely that I will feel comfortable entrusting the future of our city to the whims of the youth among us - those with the attention span of a gnat.

That's my list - at least part of it. I'm sure other elements will be added as we begin to see who the real candidates will be this year. I'll leave it to create your own, personal list and to do the homework necessary to make an informed choice in November.



Monday, May 10, 2010

Council Picks American Fairs & Festivals!

At their special council meeting this afternoon the members of the Costa Mesa City Council decided to team up with the partnership of American Fairs and Festivals/Advanced Real Estate Services over Facilities Management West as the Number 1 ranked proposer as they move forward in their quest to acquire the Orange County Fair and Events Center from the State of California.

With that decision made, they will now continue to burn the midnight oil to negotiate with American Fairs to see if a satisfactory agreement can be reached in time to present the City's proposal to the State by the 20th. If those negotiations fail they will turn to Facilities Management West.

The open session of the meeting began a half-hour late, at 4:30, and the next half-hour was spent hearing public comments. Of the eleven speakers, all but two spoke in favor of American Fairs and Festivals. Guy Lemmon, President of Facilities Management West spoke on behalf of his offer. During his presentation - extended beyond three minutes by council vote - he mentioned that an element of Comcast-Spectacor, the organization they hope to use to help manage the Fairgrounds if they were the successful bidder, is Ovations Fanfare, which has been providing food and beverage services at the Fairgrounds since 1995.

The other comment was by a gentleman named Ron Granados, representing his company, Granados Partners, which he described as a bunch of ex-Disney guys. He encouraged the council to tell the State they couldn't come up with an offer in the time presented. It was clear that he wanted a shot at buying the property himself. He said it was worth $150 million and would be a nice place for such things as a Vatican Library, a water park, hotels, a permanent Cirque du Soleil and one item that I'm sure caught the attention of a couple council members - a Latino Hall of Fame. Talk about the kiss of death! Following public comments they moved to a closed session meeting.

The council emerged from their closed session at 6:05 p.m. and City Manager Allan Roeder announced the results of the ranking of the proposals. The recommendation is to select American Fairs & Festivals as number 1 ranked proposal and Facilities Management West, Inc. as the second.

During their comments, Mayor Allan Mansoor said he had "concerns", but wouldn't elaborate beyond indicating that they still didn't know where the money was coming from, but it seemed clear that other issues were on his mind. When the vote was taken it passed 3-1, with Wendy Leece, Katrina Foley and Gary Monahan voting "yes" and Mansoor voting "no" and Eric Bever being absent. City Attorney Barlow later reported that Bever bugged out of the closed session at 5:17 p.m. - shortly after they convened. No reason was given - maybe he just decided (again) that he didn't want to be involved.

A 3-1 vote with one absence hardly shows a unified position by our elected leaders. Because Mansoor was obviously irritated by the process, it makes one suspicious about what motives he might have for voting against the selection of American Fairs and Festivals as the first choice. Some have suggested that Jim Righeimer may be exercising his political influence over Mansoor. Since it was reported that Riggy wanted to "blow up" the process, could it be that what we're seeing here now is him lighting the fuse of that bomb?

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