Thursday, March 31, 2011

Geoff & Steve - Conjoined Twins

Last weekend, frustrated by recent events in Costa Mesa - the low-point of which was the St. Patrick's Day suicide by Huy Pham on the day he had been called in to work to receive a 6-month layoff notice along with more than 200 of his peers - I sat down and wrote a long - too long - commentary and sent it off to the Daily Pilot editors for their consideration. I received word later that they planned to publish it on Wednesday. You can read it HERE.

I did not know that non-elected city councilman Steve Mensinger had su
bmitted a commentary with what amounted to an opposing view at about the same time. I was advised by the editors of the Daily Pilot that mine would appear Wednesday in print and Mensinger's would appear Thursday and that they would be paired in the online editions, which is just what happened. You can read Mensinger's piece HERE.

When I read Mensinger's contribution I found myself wondering if he had actually written it, or did recently-hired PR consultant Bill Lobdell create it for him as part of his assignment to "create a communication structure that will make Costa Mesa the most transparent government in the nation"? I've read some of Mensinger's work in the past and this one was much more polished, even though not without gaffes. For example, he referred to "RFPs" as "Reports for Proposal". I'd expect a guy who, although an appointee to both the planning commission and the city council, to know that acronym is for "Requests for Proposals". However, history has demonstrated that "close is good enough" for him and his cronies.

Both of our commentar
ies have spun the old Daily Pilot hit counter like slot machines gone berserk. At this writing each has well over 50 comments posted although in the case of my commentary, a dozen of those comments are by one lunatic so in love with his "skill" that he just kept blathering on and on, serially posting drivel that meant nothing at all.

I really don't have a problem with being conjoined with Mensinger's commentary - I think it's good for the community to have a chance to view and consider opposing views of the same issue in real time.

Since the tragedy on St. Patrick'
s Day, when Mayor Gary Monahan was appropriately criticized for not showing up at City Hall to evaluate the situation and to console staffers, the media attention on Costa Mesa has been white-hot. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer has been omnipresent on local and national television and on the radio in a campaign reminiscent of Allan Mansoor's "anti-illegal alien" media blitz a few years ago. I wouldn't be surprised if the same strategists planned both campaigns. Some of that attention has painted this issue as a "unions vs. politicians" event, the perception of which was exacerbated by Orange County Employee Association President Nick Beradino's display of cell phone photos of Monahan in his kilt, having a rousing good time while the folks at City Hall were in shock.

And that was further e
xacerbated by a professionally-created video ad, using clips of Monahan and the bogus press conference called the day after the tragedy, being distributed locally on cable TV this week. The media has, once again, covered this like a blanket and have tried to find the group responsible for its creation - a group called "Repair Costa Mesa". The ad is available on the group's web site, HERE.

About that "group"... I used quotation marks because it is my understanding that this a group of residents from neighborhoods all over the city who were
concerned about the method and pace of the changes the current city council were trying to impose on the city and wanted to "do something" about it. The only names associated with the group that have been made public are former mayor Sandra Genis and outspoken activist Greg Ridge. Former Fountain Valley councilman Gus Ayer's name was connected to the video by a union representative, but he has adamantly denied any involvement in its production or distribution. It is my understanding that the launch of the video ad was made by Ridge, operating on his own without consultation nor approval by the rest of the group. The media and members of the opposition are frothing to get the names of the others in the group.

In my opinion,
the ad - while powerful and accurate in the presentation - was a bad idea. Clearly, there has been a huge backlash - not only by those you might expect to hear from in the Monahan/Righeimer/Mensinger camp, but by members of the broader community, as well. Enthusiasm apparently dulls memories, because this is similar to the backlash that occurred when the Costa Mesa Police Association began hauling the anti-Righeimer ad trailer around town last fall.


Don't get me wrong. I think Monahan made a couple huge mistakes two weeks ago. First,
when he chose to stay at his pub pulling beer taps and celebrating what he told a television crew was, "the biggest day of my life" instead of going to City Hall to evaluate the situation and console the staff - as any good mayor would have done - and second, when he approved and participated in the press conference-that-wasn't-a-press conference the next day. That one could have, and should have, simply been done with a press release. Instead, they gathered a small gaggle of "credentialed media" in a cramped, hastily-created press room in a conference room on the 5th floor of City Hall and had CEO Tom Hatch read a prepared statement. The four council members in attendance then filed out before the cameras, ignoring the requests and demands of the media members for comments.

In attendance at that press conference was new PR guy, Bill Lobdell, so one must assume he had some part of this fiasco. Perhaps this was a way of setting the low water mark for transparency - a spot from which things can only get better. I guess we'll see.


As I watch the current elected leaders push their agenda, bully the staff, manipulate
the "facts" to accommodate their dogma and ignore the advice of their professional staff as they go about destroying our city, I cannot help but think of my friend, Bruce Garlich. Tomorrow, at 2:00 at Pacific View Memorial Park, many of his friends and family will meet at a memorial service to remember our friend and to offer words about his selfless volunteerism and true leadership in our community. I will miss my friend's wise counsel and compassion and find myself wondering what his views would have been about what is happening in his city today. Rest in Peace, my friend.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wa'sup With The Fairgrounds?

The boiling tumult that was the sale of the Orange County Fair and Event Center (Fairgrounds) has been on simmer for the the past couple months awaiting resolution of the legal challenges to the sale and to see if New/Old Governor Jerry Brown will use his executive power to halt the sale.

Parties on all sides of the issue - it's not really a two-sided issue, more like a parallelogram - have quietly jockeyed for position in the arena of public perception, hoping to be viewed as the "real" savior of the Fairgrounds. Jaded members of the public seem unwilling to buy any "I'm really a good guy" argument at this time, but we'll see.

Sandra Genis' Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society remains poised to pounce if it looks like the sale will go through. Over the past couple years Genis has spent countless hours lobbying with government officials at the local and state level trying to quash the sale.


Potential owner Facilities Management West recently issued a pre
ss release in effect telling the world that they are good guys and would be good stewards of the Fairgrounds if the sale goes through. Since President Ken Fait's little tirade before the City Council many months ago folks are having a hard time conjuring up the image of him as a benevolent owner.

Last week the management of the Fairgrounds, through their CEO, Dr. Steve Beazley, issued a couple press releases. The first, HERE, issued on March 24th "announced several forward-looking endeavors to enhance partnerships and profitability" and went on to talk about its relationship with Barrett-Jackson, including a new 85,000 square-foot exhibit hall to be used for the car auction. It also addressed the plan to find a partner for an 8,500 seat Pacific Amphitheater concert venue - we're assuming this would be a covered building that would deflect any future "noise" issues.

The second, HERE,
issued the same day, announced the Fair Board affirmation of its belief that the 32nd District Agriculture Board actually owns the 150 acre site and pledged to halt the sale. The Fair Board has apparently unleashed it's legal counsel toward that end. This is good news.


Then, today, OC Weekly Chasen Marshall gave us his most recent view of the whole Fairgrounds issue, HERE, and actually got Fair Board President David Ellis
to speak for attribution! Be still, my heart! Ellis actually is quoted by Marshall, when asked about the stealth non-profit creation that was at the cornerstone of the controversy nearly two years ago, as saying, "I'll be the first to admit I was in the middle of all that..." You can read the rest of his quote in the article at the link I provided.

At the end of Marshall's piece today he announced to the world that my friend, Byron de Arakal, has been retained as a public relations consultant by the Fair Board. I've known about this assignment for a little while, but withheld comment until it was officially announced - I guess we're at that point now. I've teased my pal about this assignment since we first began talking about it. Much like Bill Lobdell's assignment with the City of Costa Mesa, Byron is going to have his hands full with this one regardless which way the sale goes. I've teased him about being a "corporate make-up artist", alluding to that old "lipstick on a pig" analogy. One thing I think we can anticipate is crystal clear communications coming from the Fair Board while Byron's onboard. We'll see...

And, the fate of the Orange County MarketPlace remains in doubt. Operator Jeff
Teller may find himself odd man out regardless which way the sale is resolved. It's clear from public pronouncements that Facilities Management West feels (felt?) that they could operate the upscale swap meet better. And, Teller is currently in "negotiations" with the Fair Board about problems with his rent. The drama continues...

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bruce Garlich Service Set For Friday, April 1, 2011

As mentioned in an earlier post, HERE, Bruce Garlich was the President of the Costa Mesa Senior Corporation Board of Directors at the time of his death, March 22, 2011. He has also been an active participant and leader in the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club, Lions Club, Costa Mesa United and many other organizations. His was truly a life well-spent.


A memorial service for Bruce has be
en scheduled for Friday, April 1, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. at Pacific View Memorial Park and Mortuary, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Corona del Mar.


The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Bruce's name to the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club, P.O. Box 10297, Costa Mesa, CA 92627. Here's the link to the web site:

Cards may be sent to Greg Garlich, 18641 Demion Lane, Huntington Beach, CA 92646.

A reception wil
l be held following the service at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, 695 W. 19th Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92627 beginning at 4:00 p.m.


Well, my friends, it became necessary for me to delete the embedded video clip of "A Good Man" by EmersonDrive because some clever person or organization inappropriately found a way to overlay a banner link for the ad recently credited to the non-existent organization, "Repair Costa Mesa", denouncing Costa Mesa mayor Gary Monahan onto this video.

I chose that clip because of the message, which was summarized in the refrain, that I felt described my friend, Bruce Garlich, so perfectly. Here are the words to that refrain:


The service for my friend on Friday, April 1st, was a lovely affair. The chapel at Pacific View was packed by a standing-room-only crowd - well over 150 people - who heard many funny and poignant stories about our friend. He received a fine send-off. Thanks to all who attended and participated.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Redevelopment Agency Fails To Act

When is an emergency not an emergency? When the elected leaders of our city choose to ignore the best professional advice of the city staff and elect to leave at least $1.3 million on the table for the state to scoop up if its weekend session results in the passage of Redevelopment Agency legislation.

This afterno
on a dozen residents saw the Costa Mesa City Council - four of them, anyhow, because Eric Bever was absent AGAIN - meet as the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency to discuss whether or not to have the RDA "pay back" monies available as interest on a loan made by the City when the RDA was first formed almost 40 years ago.


This issue seemed like a no-brainer. The staff brought it to the Agency as an emergency item - notice was made barely 24 hours before - because the state legislature is very close to passing bills that would freeze RDA funds and then reach out and snatch them away, to be used for "education". The staff recommended, in the clearest terms possible - so clear that even I understood them - that they were looking for an authorization to transfer funds immediately back to the City before the State could grab it.

The amount in question, $1.3 million, was the minimum amount available
. If the state passes its issues as "urgency" items they go into effect immediately. That requires a 2/3 vote. If they pass with only a majority - a slam dunk - then the bills would go into effect July 1, 2011 and it's possible the City would receive additional Property Tax revenues into the RDA - perhaps another $700,000 - that would be available for repayment of the loan interest. If the RDA didn't vote to capture this money we may, effectively, be leaving the money on the table for the State to snatch away.


However, th
e Agency - led by Jim Righeimer - chose to do NOTHING and thereby left that money in jeopardy. The funds available now could have been applied to our shortfall and aid in balancing the budget this year. That money could save the jobs of a dozen employees.

So, the message they sent is loud and clear. The majority on this city council really DOES NOT care about the financial stability of our city. Nope, they are just playing politics with the lives of employees and safety and security of the residents. Every dollar that brings us closer to a balanced budget erodes their bogus argument that we are in a financial crisis. This afternoon they turned their backs on cash that is available right now.

And, as each meeting comes and goes, it's becoming more clear to me that they don't give a darn about the opinion of the staff. Nope, they've already got their minds made up on these critical issues and are not going to be diverted from their path by facts. If the facts interfere with their dogma, the dogma is going to win every time.


I guess I'm left tonight wondering just when the regular, normal hardworking f
olks in this city are going to wise-up to these clowns? When will they realize that the future of this city is in jeopardy? Will it be when the crime rate climbs because, as Mayor Monahan said recently, "There are no longer any sacred cows"? Will it be when the graffiti remains on buildings and walls for weeks because the outsourced crew couldn't get around to it? Will it be when gangs begin to take over neighborhoods because the staffing of the police department was cut drastically? Will it be when folks requiring emergency medical aid die before the help arrives because we closed fire stations and understaffed those that remain? What's it going to take?

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Emergency Council Meeting Today?(Amended)

There's word going around town this morning that the City Council may call an emergency meeting at 4:00 p.m. today to pull back to the city a more than $10 million loan it made to the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency several years ago. There has been no official announcement of a meeting by the city yet.

We assume this is in response to the threat of Governor Brown yanking all Redevelopment funds back to the state to balance its budget.

This was discussed recently in a joint meeting of the City Council and Redevelopment Agency. Presently the city receives a good interest rate on the loan, which is scheduled to continue to be paid well into the next decade. If this loan is called it would mean an immediate infusion of funds into the city coffers and the RDA would have to find another source of funds at the current market interest rates - which are much lower than our loan.

Once again, this emergency meeting is an example of this council working at a pace which makes it almost impossible for residents to follow and understand what they're doing. If this meeting is, indeed, held, residents are encourage to attend and insist that the funds be used to balance the current budget and to hold off funding anything else until the 2011-2012 budget can be fully-vetted.

More on this later as the story evolves. I'll let you know more when I know more...

Thanks to reader OCProgressive for this heads-up. The Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency - the City Council in a fancy dress - HAS scheduled a meeting today. You can read the agenda HERE.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fair Board Puts On The Gloves

At it's meeting today the 32nd District Agriculture Association - The Orange County Fair and Event Center Board of Directors - decided to take a more aggressive posture regarding the pending sale of the 150 acre site.

Their press release, issued today following the meeting, makes it clear that the Fair Board is willing to fight the sale and have authorized its legal council to do so. The second paragraph of that press release provides a policy statement as follows: " The 32nd DAA is the owner of the OC Fair & Event Center. As owners of the OC Fair & Event Center, the Board has authorized its legal counsel to initiate appropriate legal action including but not limited to intervention in the pending litigation, to prevent the sale of the fairgrounds as a public asset."

The release went on to say, "The Board also announced several strategic partnerships & capital improvements to the property, including discussions with Barrett-Jackson for plans to build
a permanent facility for the popular collector-car auction, a fortified partnership with the Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau and a public-private partnership to expand the Pacific Amphitheater."

Board Chairman David Ellis stated, "The Board is focused on a strategic vision for the facility. Realizing that vision means building out the 2003 Master Plan and developing public-private partnerships so we can continue to provide world-class facilities, programs and events." He added, "The potential sale makes it difficult to move forward with facility improvements, the development of public-private partnerships and creates an air of uncertainty for our employees and the community."

Fair President and CEO Steve Beazley expressed this vi
ew, "The OCFEC has proven itself to be successful as a public asset in the fulfillment of its mission to 'Celebrate Orange County's Communities, Interests, Agriculture and Heritage'. We bring a unique blend of public accoutability and private sector entrepreneurship to the management of this facility, which is reflected in the programs and events we have been providing to the public over the last 120 years. That is a tradition we believe is worth continuing."

In my view, this is good news. The Fair Board obviously feels it is the proper owner of the Orange County Fair and Event Center and are moving aggressively to protect that ownership and keep the site as a Fairgrounds a public asset.


Regardless how you feel about the events that have brought us to this point, and whether or not you feel the current Fair Board is the right group to take the Fairgrounds forward, the fact that this group is willing to fight with all their resources to keep this historic and valuable community resource a public asset is certainly a step in the right direction.


It's hard to tell what kind of a reaction Governor Jerry Brown will have to this announcement
. Since the Fair Board works at his pleasure, it's possible he could just fire them all and appoint another group. The strains of attempting to balance his budget might make him take extraordinary steps... we'll see.


Lobdell As A Lightning Rod

Blog commenters, both here and on the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register comment threads, have whipped themselves into a frenzy about the hiring of journalist Bill Lobdell by the City of Costa Mesa as a communications consultant. The frothing seems to be generated in equal portions by his reported salary - $3,000 per week for 90 days - and the fact that he's been an investigative reporter/columnist for the Daily Pilot recently.

Let me pause here to state that Bill Lobdell is a friend of mine. Our relationship
is somewhere between "go-get-a-drink-together" buddies - which we are not - and "Facebook friends" - which we are - but I've come to know him a little bit in recent years. I admire his skills as a writer - his highly-acclaimed book, "Losing My Religion - How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America - and Found Unexpected Peace", is a fascinating story of his journey to and from religion, regardless how you feel about religion as a subject. He was editor of the Daily Pilot at a time when he and then-publisher Tom Johnson salvaged what was a sinking local newspaper. His journalistic skills are without challenge.

Lobdell left his management position at the Daily Pilot and became the religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, which led to his book. When he left the Times he had some kind of a brain-burp and joined convicted con-man Barry Minkow as the investigative arm of Minkow's scheme to expose perceived malfeasance in public companies - and make a profit by short-selling the stock. Fortunately, Lobdell severed that tie shortly before Minkow was, once again, indicted for his actions. His recent stint as a columnist for the Daily Pilot has produced some very interesting work and has allowed him to demonstrate his reporting and writing skills again.


All that being said, when I heard that Lobdell was being tapped by Costa Mesa as a communications cons
ultant - to "create a communications structure that will put Costa Mesa on a path to being the nation's most transparent government.", according to Chief Executive Officer of the City, Tom Hatch in a disastrous press conference late last week - I found myself shaking my head in disbelief. Bill's a terrific writer and reporter, but I don't think there is anything in his background that would prepare him for this assignment. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Based on the reaction to his assignment since the announcement, it seems to me that Lobdell's first job has been to become a lightning rod - a person that attracts the heat and noise and deflects it from those individuals more properly the target of the rancor, the members of the City Council who have created the current crisis in our city. If he keeps getting zapped like this it's probably going to hamper his effectiveness in the assignment described above in Hatch's statement.

There is no doubt in my mind that the City of Costa Mesa needs a very heavy dose of public relations attention. Part of that, however, is keeping the elected officials from m
aking stupid statements and running off like self-serving loose cannons, trying to puff-up their personal media presence for future runs for higher office. Yeah, I mean Jim Righeimer, who seems to have been omnipresent in the media for the past few weeks. And that includes Gary Monahan, who is quoted in the Daily Pilot this morning in an article about cutting the Police Department by 20 officers, stating that there are "no sacred cows anymore". That statement may demonstrate just how out of touch Monahan is with the city staff, which is still reeling from the tragedy of St. Patrick's Day. Who knows - maybe Monahan is just striking back because of the well-deserved criticism he received when he remained at his pub to pull beer taps in his cute little skirt rather than tend to the job as mayor. Regardless, those are the kind of actions and statements that will make Lobdell's job virtually impossible.

Another big part of this quest for "transparency" certainly must include dissemination of facts, not convenient fabrications, by our elected leaders. Righeimer has, for example, been spewing falsehoods to anyone who will listen when he talks about our pension dilemma. In my opinion, that transparency they allegedly are seeking will never be achieved when Righeimer and his sycophants are permitted to misrepresent the facts for personal political gain. Also in my opinion, I think Bill Lobdell has zero chance of shutting them up.


So, I wish my friend well in this assignment. People can gripe about what the city is paying him, but - as I told him - if he is able to accomplish the goal established for him he will be worth every cent and then some.

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