Saturday, September 25, 2010

Righeimer's Outlandish Obfuscation(Corrected)

I was going to let my two previous posts Friday ferment over the weekend so you could just relax and not worry too much about your blood pressure. Then, late that afternoon, the editors of the Daily Pilot published a commentary by Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer, first on the OC Now blog, then shortly thereafter on the Daily Pilot blog. It will appear in print in the Daily Pilot Saturday morning. You can read the full text from the OC Now blog HERE, which includes my knee-jerk reaction in the form of a comment.

Before I dissect Righeimer's drivel for you I must make a general comment. This is the worst piece of self-serving obfuscation I've ever seen published by a local public official. It's clear from reading Righeimer's rant that he's throwing up a smoke screen to try to distract Costa Mesa voters from his misbehavior at the DUI checkpoint a week ago. That being said, let us move forward.

Right off the bat Righeimer begins with a lie. He states, "At 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23, 3,200 commuters sat in an unnecessary traffic jam because the Costa Mesa Police Department decided to run a sobriety check point at a primary intersection to the off-ramps of the San Diego (405) Freeway at Harbor Boulevard." Well, Righeimer had the date off by a full week! That DUI checkpoint occurred on Thursday, September 16th, 2010. And his assertion that it was "unnecessary" is not for him to say - it's up to the city management and the police department, not some frustrated, multiple-loser hack politician. NOTE: I received a telephone call from the editor of the Daily Pilot at 9 a.m. Monday informing me it was THEIR fault that the date was incorrectly stated in Righeimer's article. Righeimer apparently said "last Thursday" in his submission and the Associated Press Style Book requires them to use the actual date, so the editor got it wrong. I apologize to Righeimer for saying he lied about this date.

He goes on to gripe about being delayed getting to the Estancia High School football game, which I can certainly understand. However, he didn't have a son playing in the game and his inconvenience that evening was no greater than the other 3200+ drivers slowed by the checkpoint. And yet, he was the only one who felt he should attempt to exert his "authority" by jumping out of his car and confronting the officers on duty there at the time.

In his fourth paragraph he states, "I decided to ask some difficult questions of the officers conducting this ill-advised check point. They are not used to citizens questioning their authority, which I think is a healthy thing to do." Just who does Jim Righeimer think he is, for goodness sake? That paragraph alone - and there are many more to come - demonstrates an almost unbelievable arrogance. Sure, if a resident is upset at an event like the checkpoint he can certainly make his views known through the proper channels - which does not include haranguing officers on duty. He can contact the Watch Commander or the Chief of Police and vent his spleen, but for him to interfere with officers performing their duties is well beyond any authority his warped little mind perceives himself to have. He's the Chairman of the Planning Commission, not the heir to a throne! He's lucky the police didn't slap cuffs on him for interfering with officers in the performance of their duty and throw him in the back of a police cruiser!

Then he says, "My concern for the public's safety has become a political toy for our police union." Horse manure! The police union representatives have every right to call him out when he interferes with operations in progress.

Then Righeimer begins to blow the smoke. He tries to convince us that he's being persecuted by the Costa Mesa Police Unions because he's against their salaries and pensions. Clearly, this is an attempt to deflect attention to his transgressions that evening.

He tells us that he "received dozens of calls and emails from people who were tied up in the traffic jam. They witnessed near-collisions of automobiles." Well, according to the police logs for that evening, there were NO traffic collisions at that site during the checkpoint.


He asks, "If former police chief Dave Snowden had pulled over to question a DUI checkpoint at rush hour next to the freeway, do you think we would be having this conversation?" Well, of course not! Chief Snowden is an outstanding law enforcement leader, held in high regard for his nearly 20 years of service in Costa Mesa who now holds the same job in Beverly Hills. He wouldn't charge up to officers doing their job and start yapping at them. Trust me, Mr. Righeimer, I know Dave Snowden and you're no Dave Snowden!

Further on he asks, referring to Police Union President Allen Rieckhof, "Would Rieckhof have orchestrated a bunch of cops at last week's council meeting to speak out against me?" Yet another lie from Righeimer! Rieckhof spoke to the council about Righeimer's behavior and the Vice President of the Police Union, Dana Potts, delivered a very touching account of his painful, personal loss - of his fiance and their unborn daughter - to a speeding drunk driver two decades earlier. That's it - TWO police officers spoke on this issue, not "a bunch". Yes, there were around a hundred officers in the auditorium, but they were there, dressed again in white t-shirts, to show solidarity during the current budget negotiations. You can watch the streaming video of that meeting by clicking HERE, then selecting the City Council meeting of September 17th. Rieckhof's and Potts' comments come early in the "public comments" segment.

Righeimer then tells us that he has a meeting scheduled with the City Manager AllanRoeder and Police Chief Chris Shawkey Monday morning to "find a solution for when and where to place DUI checkpoints that are both safe and productive." Talk about nerve! What gives him the authority to demand such a meeting and, particularly, since the City Attorney is investigating his behavior at the checkpoint at this time? It seems to me that the City Manager and the Police Chief need to cancel that meeting until the full facts of the incident at the checkpoint are sorted out. Otherwise, it certainly looks like Righeimer is getting preferential treatment - something he obviously expects.

It is a truly bad idea for Roeder and Shawkey to meet with Righeimer on this issue. Instead, based on the volume of comments on that particular DUI checkpoint that have been published in the local media, I suggest that a Town Hall meeting be held, open to all Costa Mesa residents who wish to express their views on the subject in general - to provide guidance to our elected and appointed leaders. Righeimer's voice is no more valuable in this discourse than yours and mine. Clearly, many of the other 3,200 people delayed in that particular checkpoint will have a view to present.

He goes on to tell us of his familial connections to law enforcement - as if that might somehow mitigate his behavior. Sorry, Mr. Righeimer, you have to earn the authority you seek - it is not some kind of Midwestern birthright.

Then, after a couple paragraphs providing more smoke in the form of alleged pay and pension numbers, and considering that we're talking about a DUI checkpoint here, he begins another paragraph with this outlandishly ironic sentence: "Someone must have been drunk when they negotiated Costa Mesa's current pension deal." Now, that might be something he'd mutter to a crony while sucking suds at Gary Monahan's pub, but for a city official to make such an outlandish, demeaning published public statement only demonstrates the desperation he's feeling and the complete lack of common sense, maturity and responsibility one expects - no, demands - from a person in his position. Shame on you, Jim Righeimer.

Before blowing more smoke about pensions costing after school programs he says the following: "Here is the bottom line. This is not about a DUI checkpoint. It's about the public employee benefits and overtime and out-of-control pensions." Again, horse manure! This issue IS about the DUI checkpoint. Righeimer is only trying to cover up his actions by changing the focus of the discussion.

I know we have problems with our current municipal budget. Negotiations continue - and a special city council meeting has been called for 5:30 Monday, September 27th, for a closed session discussion by the council on that very subject. The city is in a very deep hole again this year - we are more than $9 million short of balancing the budget. All the meat has been trimmed from our municipal skeleton and now we are forced to decide the painful question of which extremities must go - an arm, hand, foot, leg - to keep our city solvent. Righeimer's self-serving, dishonest and inflammatory rhetoric at this point in time only makes those negotiations more difficult.

This whole "DUI" issue, and Righeimer's response to it, only drives home more clearly just why voters in this city and others, election after election, have found him unworthy of being elected to public office. Even though the candidate pool for the Costa Mesa City Council race is thin this time around, I will NOT vote for Jim Righeimer. I'd much rather take my chances with a smart, honest, dedicated, hard-working neophyte like Chris McEvoy than a self-serving, conniving, dishonest, carpetbagging political hack like Jim Righeimer, who feels somehow entitled to a seat at the big table because he's part of the Orange County Republican hierarchy, is Dana Rohrabacher's sidekick and was a supporter of Mayor Allan Mansoor. Nope, Righeimer's delusions of grandeur and his arrogant abuse of power are not for me, thanks.

I'm about half-surprised Mr. Righeimer didn't flash a bogus "Mike Carona sheriff's badge" and pull a gun on the police that night and demand they withdraw from the checkpoint. I know he used to have a concealed weapon carry permit at one time, plus was one of Carona's badge-carrying "favored few".

My suggestion to Mr. Righeimer is to take his lovely wife, beautiful daughters and warped visions of a political dynasty and haul his political gypsy caravan out of Costa Mesa. He needs to find a place where he thinks he can get away with public misbehavior, lying to the public and abuse of power and bulldoze his way to a seat of authority there.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Triangle Square LED Lights Withdrawn!

Costa Mesa planning officials confirmed to me this afternoon that Greenlaw Partners, owners of Triangle Square, and their consultant - former mayor Peter Buffa, under whose watch Triangle Square was built - have withdrawn their request for LED lights at that beleaguered shopping mall.

You will recall that the Jim Righeimer-led Planning Commission approved the LED light displays, but their decision was appealed by Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Leece. The hearing on that item was recently continued to the first meeting in October on the 5th. Apparently the applicants can withdraw this request without the restriction of having to wait at least 6 months before re-submitting it for consideration again.

This news will certainly make my Eastside neighbors happy. No issue since the discussion of expanding Newport Blvd. has energized my part of town as much as this one has - and correctly so.

We don't know what precipitated the decision by Buffa and his clients, but it may have been due to the tremendous outpouring of resident opposition PLUS the recent negative press being heaped upon Righeimer personally for his actions a week ago at the DUI checkpoint. Buffa is a very, very savvy politician who can read the political tea leaves with the best of them. Aways with his finger in the wind, Buffa likely knows trying to jam through a very unpopular issue immediately before a election where several of the decision-makers are deeply immersed in their own campaigns could doom the project.

I won't be surprised at all to see this plan re-surface in a less-onerous version following the elections - perhaps the first of the year when the new city council and planning commission members are seated. Personally, I agree that Triangle Square needs SOME kind of signage to draw folks to it. I just think the planned 10X96 foot sign overlooking the terminus of the 55 Freeway at 19th Street and Newport Blvd. was overkill.

Regardless, kudos to my neighbors in the Eastside of Costa Mesa for their activism on this issue.

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Final Costa Mesa Candidate Forums Confirmed

The remaining three candidate forums involving the Costa Mesa City Council candidates have been confirmed. Two of the three are going to be very unusual events - something not seen in these parts in my recollection. They will be what I've called "hybrids" - an unusual mix of participants.

Next week, on Thursday, September 30th, the highly touted Media Feet To The Fire Forum involving not only the Costa Mesa candidates but those running for Newport Beach City Council as well, will be held at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Airplane Park). According to the Mistress of Ceremonies, the irrepressible Barbara Venezia, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the event is scheduled to run from 7-9. The panel of interrogators will include Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit, Voice of OC Editor-in-chief Norberto Santana, Jr., Newport Independent publisher (and former Daily Pilot publisher) Tom Johnson and Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis.

According to Venezia's column, HERE, the candidates are encouraged to come in casual attire - she tells us neckties will be snipped! She promises a kind of "homey" atmosphere - a stark change from most forums where rigid rules are enforced. Issues of common interest to the two cities will be discussed, which will likely include Banning Ranch, John Wayne Airport, the School District and the islands of unincorporated areas in dispute between the two cities. This event will be covered by Newport Beach Television, who will subsequently provide a tape to Costa Mesa TV for showing in their rotation and will also be available online on both city web sites. Should be fun...

The second forum, sponsored by Costa Mesa United, will also take place at the Neighborhood Community Center on Wednesday, October 6th and will run from 6-8 p.m. This forum will include Costa Mesa council candidates and also Newport-Mesa Unified School District candidates, as well. We're told by the sponsors that the discussions will involve issues of common concern to both Costa Mesa and the School district - defined as Academics, Athletics and Activities.

Costa Mesa United Board President Gordon Bowley will moderate this forum, which will include a panel of community leaders, and be recorded by CMTV for later viewing. To our knowledge, there has never been this kind of candidate forum in the past, but it has the potential to be very informative and may be the only chance we have to see the school district candidates in action.

The remaining forum will be hosted by the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group on Thursday, October 14th, also at the Neighborhood Community Center. According to the latest information I have, doors will open at 6:30 for a "meet and greet", with the formal program running from 7-8:30. There will be a subsequent chance to chat with the candidates until 9 p.m. This forum will be moderated again by Eastsider Marnie Primmer.

Unfortunately, due to budget and staffing constraints, there will be no television coverage of this event - the final pure council candidate forum of this campaign cycle. The sponsors had the opportunity to shift their forum to the City Council chambers, where it would have been televised live and also been placed in the rotation for later viewing, but they chose to stay at the community center. So, if you want one last chance to see your candidates in action you'll have to attend this one in person.

So, mark your calendars for the final three chances for you to hear what these candidates have to say on important issues that will affect us all. There will only be a couple weeks remaining following the final forum until the election and absentee ballots will likely be mailed out by then.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Police Union Demands Transparent Report on Riggy

Tuesday's Costa Mesa City Council meeting, expected to be fairly uneventful and brief, was neither.

The closed session, in which the council contemplated the current negotiations with the employee bargaining units and a late addition to the agenda - the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center - ran very long, so the open session didn't begin until around 6:35. However, the full house - packed once again with t-shirt-clad members of Costa Mesa public safety unions and their supporters - remained calm and orderly as the clock ticked on.

Following a very sentimental and popular presentation of the Mayor's Award to long-time youth sports advocates Ed Baume and Chuck Perry, things began to heat up during public comments.

Among the first speakers was Allen Rieckhof, President of the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association, who demanded a prompt and transparent investigation of the encounter Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer had with Costa Mesa police officers last Thursday night at a DUI checkpoint. Both Mona Shadia in the Daily Pilot, HERE, and Jon Cassidy in the Orange County Register, HERE, produced thorough reports on this presentation.

Shadia quoted Rieckhof as saying, "I can assure you that an investigation will show that none of my members did anything wrong and acted professionally in the face of a man who used his appointed position and thug-like tactics to impose his will." It sounds to me like Rieckhof may have already heard the audio tapes made that evening. Based on comments made by a few of the officers in the audience Tuesday night, there seems to be no doubt about who was telling the truth in the earlier Daily Pilot article.

Detective Dana Potts, the Vice President of the police association spoke next and shared a very painful, personal story about the loss he suffered at the hands of a speeding drunken driver twenty years ago. His pregnant fiance and their daughter were both killed in a car crash. Potts was obviously very angry at Righeimer for his behavior at the DUI checkpoint and provided some statistics directed at him for his education. He closed his passionate presentation by pointedly wondering why Gary Monahan was absent from this particular meeting. Monahan is a pub owner who has reportedly challenged the placement of DUI checkpoints near his bar in recent months.

Righeimer was not in attendance at the meeting Tuesday night, but Cassidy contacted him later and quotes him as follows: "I will continue to ask the tough questions. It is part of the democratic process. I do not care if they bus in a thousand cops with manufactured anger. I will not be intimidated." Manufactured anger? Is it possible for Righeimer to be any more arrogant? This issue boils down to Righeimer's word against those of several Costa Mesa police officers - he's basically calling them liars.

City Attorney Kim Barlow affirmed that she, indeed, has launched an investigation into the incident, but didn't indicate when we might hear the results. During the evening when the opportunity presented itself, I spoke with both Chief Chris Shawkey and City Manager Allan Roeder about this issue and told them that this investigation is time-sensitive. There's an election in just over 40 days, so the public will be poorly served if this investigation drags on and on. Both men assured me that it will be handled expeditiously... we'll see.

In other actions, former mayor Sandra Genis' request for a re-hearing of the CEQA resolution on the Fairgrounds Sale, after much discussion, the council voted to "receive and file" it. Part of the reasoning was the fact that Genis' has also requested a re-hearing of the Fairgrounds Lease, which is scheduled for the next council meeting on October 5th. That agenda item will provide a chance to revisit the entire issue.

The other major issue discussed Tuesday was the re-visitation of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program demanded by a couple of NIMBY residents from the Mesa North neighborhood where two distressed homes are being purchased and renovated with the intent of selling them to moderate income families via the city's First Time Homebuyer's program. Among the complaining neighbors was our old buddy, Mr. Grumpy himself, The Mouth From Mesa North, who crawled out of his cave to, once again, present his views to the council on a variety of issues - including this one. During the presentation Katrina Foley asked Assistant City Manager Tom Hatch how much staff time had been required to prepare this report. His response was "around 40 hours", but couldn't give a dollar estimate, nor could he provide a guess about the legal expenses necessary. Because of very significant potential legal liabilities involved if we pulled out now, the project will continue.

As we move forward in the days ahead I will continue to be in touch with the City Attorney's office on the investigation of the Righeimer/DUI issue and report back to you.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Budget, Fairgrounds, Riggy & Cops

Today's Costa Mesa City Council meeting looks to be fairly routine with the exception of a second closed session item added to the agenda late Monday afternoon. That was yet another discussion of the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center. It's curious that this item, the subject of which has gotten much notoriety since the recent Fair Board meeting, should be added at the last minute. Wonder what that's all about?

One of the agenda items in the open session will be former mayor Sandra Genis' request for a rehearing of the council adoption of a resolution finding that the proposed lease agreement for the Orange County Fair and Event Center to be categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Apparently Genis feels that because the report supporting that eventual vote was not made available until immediately prior to the meeting commencing, interested parties had insufficient time to review and comment. We'll see.

The other item on the closed session agenda deals with the current negotiations with four of our five employee bargaining units. You will recall that at the last council meeting members of the public safety employee union and their supporters and families - including kids in strollers - flooded the council chambers dressed in white t-shirts to show support for their group. It made an impression on at least one council member - Katrina Foley took photos of the crowd from the dais with her cell phone and posted those photos on her Facebook page. I will not be surprised if there is another similar demonstration at this meeting.

As you likely know, the City of Costa Mesa is in deep guano budget-wise again this year. After slicing and pruning projects and services and, eventually, staffing levels last year the City is left with very little to work with except wages and benefits - or further staffing cuts - in order to make up the remaining $9 million deficit in the 2010/2011 budget.

At this time the negotiations with the employee unions - always a strained process - are reaching critical stages. We hope there will be some kind of a resolution soon.

In the meantime, the shadow of the upcoming election looms over those negotiations. Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer has already set the tone for a rancorous campaign battle with the unions by repeatedly stating his opposition to employee wage and benefit plans and implying that he would go after those plans once elected. It is assumed that the public safety organizations will actively campaign against Righeimer until the election November 2nd.

Which makes Righeimer's encounter with members of the Costa Mesa Police Department at a DUI checkpoint not far from his home last Thursday evening that much more unfortunate. Joe Serna in the Daily Pilot provided us with the only local media coverage of that situation, HERE. When you visit that site you'll find more than 30 comments posted to it, both pro and con, plus nearly half that number posted on my previous entry. It's been many months since any subject has generated so many comments on the Daily Pilot blog.

Monday I formally requested that copies of any audio and/or video recordings of Righeimer's encounter with the CMPD be made available for listening. City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow replied to my request by stating that she must first determine what, if any thing, will be subject to release. She promised to get back to me soon. We'll see how that goes.

In the meantime, however, there lingers the fact that the opinions of the CMPD officers involved in the event have a very different recollection than Righeimer does. Hence, there is now an investigation being conducted by the City Attorney.

I think the City Council meeting Tuesday is a fine place for concerned residents to present their views of this event to the council members. After all, Righeimer was appointed by them and is responsible to them for his actions as a city official - the capacity he apparently felt he was acting within last Thursday evening. Remember, the issue is NOT whether there should have been a DUI checkpoint at that location at that time of the day. That's an entirely separate issue - one that can certainly be addressed with Police Chief Chris Shawkey and City Manager Allan Roeder. The issue here is Righeimer's apparent attempt to use political muscle to have the checkpoint abandoned, including - according to Serna's report - invoking Chief Shawkey's name. If that, indeed, happened - and those recordings will answer that question - then Righeimer clearly stepped well beyond any authority his position as Planning Commission Chairman holds. Now's the time to let our elected leaders know how you feel.

Because the election is only a few weeks away, and because many of us will use absentee ballots to make our selections, we hope City Attorney Kim Barlow will expedite this investigation and report to the public her findings. All of us are entitled to know the true facts of this event and whether or not - as one writer has implied - Righeimer violated the law by interfering with a police officer in the line of duty. We are entitled to know whether Righeimer was just one of more than 3,000 drivers inconvenienced by this checkpoint or - as a couple writers have implied - this was some kind of a grand plot by the CMPD to inconvenience Righeimer. As preposterous as that sounds, a couple people have expressed that view in the last 24 hours.

Some will say we should wait for all the facts before we speak up on this issue. Well, time is critical with the election looming. I think we should express our concern for the early release of the facts now, not later. Now is the time to speak up.

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