Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Carmageddon" Observations (Amended)*

Just a few comments on "Carmageddon", the anticipated cataclysmic closure of the 405 Freeway in West Los Angeles and the traffic snarls that were supposed to follow.

Channel 11 has had a live streaming video camera set up all day and I've ducked in for a peek every once in awhile. You can view that feed HERE, (looks like Channel 11 took the camera down. When I checked at 3:30 Sunday it was only a blank screen. It was fun to watch while it lasted.) but it will require you to have Microsoft Silverlight software loaded. It might take a couple seconds to load... be patient.

This has been fascinating to watch. Right now, at around 2:20 p.m., they look to be finished with the demolition and are now beginning to load up the caravan of large trucks to haul away the debris. At this pace I won't be surprised if they finish well ahead of their 5:00 a.m. Monday deadline.


These video images reminded me of watc
hing a scene from Jurassic Park. The huge mobile jackhammers stretched to the sky - about 60 feet - chipping away at the south side of the Mulholland Bridge, surgically removing the concrete and rebar was like a dental technician removing plaque from your teeth. At one time there were 6 of those enormous machines working, three below and three on top, gracefully reaching out and tap, tap, tapping away.


They are gone now and more "prehistoric machines" are now scooping the rubble into piles so front-loaders can pick it up and deposit it into the trucks. Somewhere in the background I can still hear the tapping going on, so I assume some of the larger chunks still require pulverization before loading.

Check this out... it's a time lapse link showing the demolition. It's only 32 seconds, but a hoot to watch

Mulholland Bridge Demolition Time Lapse Video:

I hope this project continues as it has been going. I do find myself wondering if there will be little chunks of debris dropping onto the traffic come Monday morning... OUCH!


It's That Time Of The Year - Again

It's time for the Orange County Fair Again. A couple years ago some thought we might not see this day, but they were wrong. So, after divisive debate, countless legal battles, friends pitted against friends and alliances some folks knew could never work, Friday was opening day of the most recent iteration of the Orange County Fair. Early reports indicate the attendance is up 25% - a wonderful, welcome bit of news in this kind of economy.

But this year the Fair was actually kicked off by a very special event on Thursday. The brainchild of Fair Board Chairman Dave Ellis, the Fair hosted foster children from around Orange County as described in the press release, below:

“A Fair To Remember: A Celebration Of Our Children”
OC Fair Preview A Huge Success

Costa Mesa, Calif. (July 15, 2011) – On the eve of the 2011 OC Fair, more than 8,200 foster children, foster families and county social services staff enjoyed a “Fair to Remember: A Celebration of Our Children,” sponsored by the OC Fair & Event Center. Attendees were treated to a complimentary dinner, dessert, Peking Acrobats performance, carnival rides, the Ice Museum and overall Fair merriment.

“The goal of this event was to put smiles on their faces and provide a rewarding Fair experience for them. We wanted to show our appreciation of the foster care community for the service they provide to our county,” stated OC Fair Board Chairman David Ellis.

More than 100 elected officials, including Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach and Assembly Members Allan Mansoor and Jim Silva, joined OC Fair Board members and staff to serve dinner to the visiting children and families.

“I hope ’A Fair to Remember: A Celebration of Our Children’ becomes an annual event. The OC Fair is all about children, families and family-friendly entertainment,” said OC Fair & Event Center CEO Dr. Steve Beazley.

The event was underwritten by donations from the community and OC Fair vendors.

“This event would not have been possible without the financial support of Orange County and the hard work of Fair Board Vice Chair Joyce Tucker to help secure the underwriting funds. Orange County is a compassionate and caring community that provided nearly $100,000 in donations to give the kids a Fair to Remember,” concluded Ellis.

Donors included: Argyros Family Foundation; Ben's Asphalt; Deborah and Larry Bridges; Tony and John Ginger; Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation; Simon Foundation; Ovations Food Services; Ray Cammack Shows; R.A Industries, LLC; Glen & Mindy Stearns; Joyce and Tom Tucker; Allen and Susan Boerner; Namkung Promotions Inc.; Madison Materials; Ware Disposal; Centennial Farm Foundation; Cinquini Family Trust; Dale and Sandi Dykema; David & Christin Ellis Family Trust; Hensel Phelps Construction Co.; Victoria and Gil LeVasseur; Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Foundation; Manatt, Phelps & Phillips; Diana Martin; Carl F. McLarand’ OC Employees Association; Red Capital Group, LLC; Robert E. and Linda Yellin; Michael Berns; California Community Foundation; Larane Cinquini-Rodnick; Harry & Diane Rinker Foundation; Peter & Cindy Stephan Bergkvist; Bergkvist & Carter, LLP; Doug & Bonnie La Belle; Steve and Diane Beazley; EDB Consulting, LLC; Jerome and Lisa Hoban; Orange County Advocacy Group, Inc.; Betty Presley & Associates, Inc.; RBF Consulting; Kathleen Blomo; Gerard and Cherisse Goedhart; and Thalman & Associates.

The 2011 OC Fair, themed LET’S EAT!, is July 15 – August 14 and will bring 23 days of food, rides, exhibits, animals, music, action sports and fun, as well as the popular Super Pass (season pass), Pacific Amphitheatre Summer Concert Series, The Hangar and Action Sports Arena. The Fair is open Wednesday-Sunday. The OC Fair was ranked the eighth highest attended fair in the U.S. last year by Venues Today magazine.


One of the new features of this year's Fair experience is a collaboration between Costa Mesa TV and the Fair Staff called "@ The Fair", which is available for viewing on CMTV and on streaming video. Fair CEO Dr. Steve Beazley and CMTV's Dane Bora have teamed-up to present everything you want or need to know about this year's Fair. The link for the first edition of "@ The Fair" is available HERE. This looks like a great, easy-to-use resource for all those fair-goers who plan a big part of their summer around this month-long event.

For more information on all the entertainment, food and features available at this year's Orange County Fair, visit their web site HERE. The Fair runs from July 15th through August 14th, but is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. So, go to the fair and be the first person in your block to try this year's new culinary delight - Deep Fried Kool-Aid! What's next, Deep Fried Dust? Have fun...

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Grazin' With My Fellow Gray-Hairs

As promised, I write to you this evening to give you a report on the luncheon debate hosted by the League Of Women Voters at Coco's Restaurant in Fashion Island, Newport Beach today. As anticipated, it would have been difficult for you to pick me out of the crowd today because most of us in attendance had more than a little frost on top.

The crow
d of around 40 people, which actually pretty much filled the room, was focused and courteous as Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger stood toe-to-toe with their union adversaries, Orange County Employee's Association General Manager Nick Berardino and Communications Director Jennifer Muir.

The issue to be discussed was the pros and cons of outsourcing jobs in Costa Mesa. The format was comfortable. Moderator Elliot Wilson made the introductions and launched the event. It's my perception that most of the attendees were not Costa Mesa residents and, therefore, were not really up to speed on the issues. As relative neophytes on the issues they were fair game for anything being told to them that sounded good.

First Righeimer stepped to the microphone and gave the audience his by-now canned speech about what terrible condition Costa Mesa is in financially and how the union-negotiated pensions are primarily to blame. Then Muir stood and presented her views, which rebutted some of Righeimer's claims. Then the two of them stood together and answered a few questions posed by members of the audience.

Following them came Mensinger and Berardino, using the same format. They sparred back and forth, with Mensinger using his "we should run the city like a business" mantra and Berardino pleading the plight of the working man in America.

While this was going on we all enjoyed a nice special lunch and most of us didn't spill too much on ourselves.

Let me give you some of the highlights and my observations:

He made the smoothest presentation, by far. Of course, he should have been, because almost all of it comes from a script he's used over and over and over again on the radio, on television and during interviews for the past 6 months. There was really nothing new for me in his message, but some of it seemed to resonate with this group.

He complain
ed that he found the city in a financial crisis when he took office in January and, because of the union agreements in place, found himself with only two choices - layoffs or outsourcing. Really? What about negotiation? In response to a question about how much money outsourcing would save, he said, "Council knew instinctively that outsourcing would save money." That question - "How much will you save by outsourcing?" - came up time after time to both Righeimer and Mensinger and neither could answer it. The reason they couldn't answer it was because NOBODY HAS STUDIED IT!

Righeimer complained about the "unsustainable pensions" and used the t
erm "spiking" during the conversation - the first time I've heard that misleading word in these conversations. He referred to previous councils, that had approved the contracts, as suffering from "tone deafness". That's not the first time that one has been heard.

He complained about employee work schedules and told the crowd that the city didn't really know if anyone was at work or not because they didn't have a system to log them in. Of course, he failed to mention tha
t the variable work schedules are in place to provide staff flexibility and superior customer service - two concepts that are apparently alien to him.

He complained that we had no money for street maintenance and other infrastructure maintenance - a flat-out lie. Peter Naghavi, the Director of Public Service, has told them repeatedly that our streets were superior to most nearby cities
- a fact Righeimer conveniently ignores, even though the streets in his and Mensinger's neighborhood are currently being re-surfaced. He used the phrase, "In the good times we spent on capitol improvement and in bad times we spend on staff.", as though that's a bad thing.

When trying to compare municipal finances to those of private industry he said, referring to Costa Mesa government, "
Balancing the budget means that we spend every dime that comes in." That, of course, is a steaming pile of manure, but the audience didn't know any better.

When discussing outs
ourcing and responding to a question about what happens to the staff in units that are outsourced he said, "Companies that do outsourcing usually just come in and hire all the employees that have been doing the work at the same rate. They just don't have a pension, but usually have a 401K plan." Of course, this is a "fact" that he pulled out of the air - or from some much darker place. We don't have ANY idea what the outsourcing companies will do relative to our existing staff. We'd like them to offer jobs to the staff, but can't require them to do so. We might have a clearer idea about what the outsourcing market will demand if we'd issued any of the RFPs - but we don't because we haven't.

Muir stood and addressed the staff losses over the past couple years and spoke of the voluntary efforts they made attempting to help the city through the financial tough times since the nationwide financial debacle. She spoke of greater contributions to their retirements, deferral of pay increases and furloughs, which were de facto pay cuts. She spoke of the long and rich history of collaboration between the bargaining unit she represents and the city. She spoke of outsourcing and emphasized that any such plan should be done in a measured and thoughtful way. She also mentioned the City's recent penchant for hiring consultants on no-bid contracts and then extending them without bids - and looked directly at Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell sitting near her as she said the words.

She address the recklessness with which the co
uncil is attempting to restructure the city, and used the police department as an example, indicating the current plans will take it to "dangerously low staffing levels". She told the audience that the bargaining unit was willing to come to the table to discuss ways to resolve the differences, but were not willing to do that as long as the layoff notices were hanging over their heads. If the notices were recalled, the employees would sit down the next day. She mentioned the audit paid for by the OCEA and performed by one of the premiere auditing firms in the state that found $26 million available for general fund use. She wrapped her segment up by saying, "It's clear that this is about politics, not about balancing the budget."


A question was asked of Righeimer about how long he'd been in the city and why was Costa Mesa asleep at the wheel? He said the pensions caught the city off guard, then used some of his bogus fabricated numbers to make a point, indicating that the city had an unfunded liability of $468,000 per employee. He went on to say, "About the 5-year budget, we approved that last week." Well, that's a LIE. The council DISCUSSED a 5-year budget at a STUDY SESSION, where no action can be taken. They DID NOT approve a 5-year plan. That's where he and Mensinger get into trouble - they think that, just because something is discussed, it automatically becomes the policy - like they would do as presidents of companies in private industry. He went on to say, "You can only budget on what we know." No kidding! And how, prey tell, can you do a 5-year budget when you have NO idea what your income or expenses will be that far out?

Now it was Steve Mensinger's turn to speak. He gave a little of his personal history, including the fact that his grandmother was the first female mayor of Modesto, and mentioned his work
history with former Ambassador George Argyros.

He then launched into a little discussion of how the unions
were taking over the state and the cities and that the issue was control. He mentioned a previous councilwoman - he pointedly said he'd leave the name out - who voted in favor of these union contracts. He said Costa Mesa for years has spent 15% more than it took in and mentioned the term "Fund Reserve", which made me chuckle. There is no such thing. There are "reserves" and there is "fund balance". This is a perfect example of how he just doesn't do his homework and is actually confused by municipal finance. He talked about unions "buying candidates who will vote the way they want them to."


At one point he said he thinks "there is a place for unions" - I kept waiting
for him to tell us where that place was located, but he didn't. Then, before he handed the microphone to Berardino, he bad-mouthed him. Ah, Steve... ever the class act.

One of the amusing ironies
was that Mensinger, a staunch Republican, quoted Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel during his presentation. I couldn't see Righeimer to see if he cringed.

He began by giving a brief history of himself, coming from immigrant heritage and speaking of his grandfather and father frequently. He spoke about their quest for the American dream, then slid into a comparison of the current outsourcing plan to outsourcing done by American business where work is shipped abroad to places where children work for 16 cents an hour. He told the audience that his members retire on an average of $29,000 per year, not some outrageous number like the police and fire employees do. I thought that was a big strange, but that's what he said. He also fended off Mensinger and Righeimer's accusations that the unions had taken over California by mentioning the influence of oil companies and developers - motioning toward them at the time.

A member of the audience asked what about alternatives to outsourcing? Berardino mentioned the budget and offered again to return to the bargaining table. Mensinger said we "have to increase revenues." and I almost fell off my chair! When he repeated it I knew he was serious and that he'd strayed way off from the OC GOP playbook with that answer. He then mentioned the recent increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), and that it wasn't enough. He also talked about an increase in the business license fees, mentioning Nordstrom's specifically, and said you could "double their $200 per year or quadruple it to $20,000" and it wouldn't help. Did you get that? And you wonder why he has a hard time understanding municipal finance? The poor guy can't even do basic math, for goodness sake. I was recently chided by some when I criticized Mensinger for not being able to add 2+5 and get 7. Well, here's another example.

Later ano
ther person asked specifically what jobs were in jeopardy of being outsourced. Mensinger mumbled something about the Jail and Street Sweepers, but the questioner persisted. He couldn't come up with another job or unit of the 18 under consideration for outsourcing. He's either lazy or just doesn't do his homework. This is not a new characteristic - he's been that way on the dais on the Planning Commission and on the council.

During a discussion of pensions Mensinger said, "The current pension system is a Ponzi Scheme", but nobody pushed for an explanation.

During a discussion of combining the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa jail operations one audience member asked Mensinger, "If that happens, what happens to the Costa Mesa homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes that would be arrested and sent to the Newport Beach jail? Woul
d they be released onto Newport Beach city streets, near Fashion Island and the schools nearby?" His answer was,"Anybody from another city placed in the Newport Beach jail would be released in their own city." That, of course, is a LIE. When a person is released from jail in ANY city they walk out the door of that jail onto the city streets - they are not chauffeured by the police to their home city. It seemed unlikely that anyone in the room believed him.


One of the final questions asked about ONLY using public funding for municipal elections to avoid the influence of ot
her donors on the elections. Righeimer said the public doesn't want that. Most in the audience seemed to find that statement inaccurate.


As I left I tried to get the measure of the crowd, to see how they felt about the event. I knew that I didn't get any new information, except for the gaffes committed by some of the participants. Unfortunately, too many people wanted to know what I thought, so I couldn't break free to inquire of others. I did observe that several members of the audience lingered near Muir and Berardino and asked them questions following the debate. I don't know if anyone would have spoken with Mensinger and Righeimer because they bolted from the meeting as soon as it ended.


A couple mo
re observations... One very nice woman walked past me in the doorway of the room in which the meeting was held. It's a couple steps down into the room and it was pretty crowded, so moving around was dicey. She slowed as she passed and asked me if Mensinger was always that rude, referring to his participation in the debate. I said, "Unfortunately, yes." A minute later she circled back and approached me again to tell me that he, Mensinger, was one of the rudest people she'd ever met. She was sitting near him and, as she rose from her seat to depart, he elbowed her out of the way so he could leave. The word "chest-bumping" flashed through my mind. I apologized to her for him, and told her that behavior is not unusual.


It will come as n
o surprise to regular readers to learn that out-of-work Planning Commissioner, Sanitary District Board Member, self-anointed "green guru" and Mensinger sycophant Jim Fitzpatrick was at this luncheon, nattily attired in plaid shorts and a golf shirt. At the end of the meeting, while I was speaking with a couple ladies near the exit, he walked slowly past us although there was nobody in front of him to slow his pace. He then returned just a few seconds later, walked slowly past us back into the room, then swiveled back and walked slowly past us back out of the room. It was clear to me that he was on another of his clandestine recon missions, trying to hear what I was saying. I will remind you of him skulking behind a tree at the Feet to the Fire Forum last fall, as he tried to overhear the conversation among policemen in the parking lot. Someone should remind old Fitzy that he's not in Junior High School any longer.

I was left with the feeling that nothing new was covered at this debate. The whole thing is in litigation, so I was surprised that it actually came off. I'm not sure any of the folks at the meeting came away with good information - it seems unlikely to me. However, I'm grateful to the nice folks of the League of Women Voters for hosting this event. It was worth a try.


And, since the OCEA members refused to let the videographer Tanya Lyon from the Orange County Register tape segments of the proceedings, we have only a short, three-plus minute snippet plucked from the Register available for viewing. It follows here:

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Fairgrounds Sale Officially Dead

Well, it looks like the fat lady has finally sung for Facilities Management West. In an article by several Orange County Register reporters just after noon today and updated an hour ago, HERE, the State of California is apparently no longer interested in selling the Orange County Fair and Event Center. Of course, the timing of this news, on the opening day of the annual Orange County Fair, is fortuitous.

According to the Register article, FMW has no plans to file an appeal the ruling earlier issued by the 4th District Court of Appeals. So, this news effecti
vely drives a stake in the heart of FMW, and any other potential bidder for the Fairgrounds.

I'll be VERY interested to see how the Fair Board follows through with their revenue sharing proposal they pitched to the State earlier this year. I'll also be interested to see what new developments Board Chairman Dave Ellis and the CEO, Dr. Steve Beazley, plan to propose now that the lawsuit is out of the way and the path seems clear for them.


So, let's all enjoy the Fair this year. I can hardly wait to run over there and get some Deep Fried Kool-Aid! OMG! :-)

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Tuesday's Council Meeting Agenda Reviewed (Amended)*

The agenda for next Tuesday's City Council meeting is out and available for public scrutiny. So, since that's what we do here, I present to you some observations for your weekend mulling-over.

In the past the Consent Calendar of the agenda would barely get a notice. These items are, to use the City's term, "...considered to be routine and will be acted upon in one motion." Uh-huh... maybe a long time ago, but not these days. For example...

Item #4, Warrant Resolution 2378, HERE, contains the bill for Jones & Mayer. This month it is $117,783.34, which if projected out for a year would mean we're going to be paying our contract legal staff more than $1.4 million in this fiscal year. "But", you say, " this is just one month!" OK, except the past two months have shown the same rate. Even more interesting is that this council REDUCED the budget for Jones & Mayer to $800,000 from $1 million originally planned. Nothing in my observations of this council since they took office in January leads me to believe they will incur smaller legal bills for the city - quite the contrary.

Item #5, Vision Internet Providers, Inc., contains a lengthy analysis of various vendors and the rationale behind selecting this one to re-design the city web site. You can read the entire staff report HERE. My friend and fellow observer of issues at City Hall, Tom Egan, jumped the gun on this one and sent me his critique of this issue before I could even get this post prepared. Rather than post his comment later, (I'm not sure my blog host will accommodate such a lengthy comment) I've decided to simply give you his words of wisdom and insight as part of this post. Here's his take on this issue as he sent it to me early this morning, verbatim:

Speaking of something to be skeptical about … here’s something from city hall that smells fishy. (Don’t blame me; we report, you decide!)

Consider staff’s recommendation for the new, improved web site (Tuesday’s Consent Calendar, item number 5). True, the winner’s bid, recommended 9 – 0 by our evaluation committee, was nicely under the allocated $50,000 (as were several others of the nine bidders).

And true, staff negotiated some additional work that modestly bumped the “final” number for Vision Internet Providers, of Santa Monica, to just over the allocated $50 K ($50,320). And true, the city manager states that he’s got the extra $350 in his budget. So far, so good.

But now it gets sticky. Very sticky. Staff also recommends that Council authorize 40% for contingency! And there is literally no justification given for this huge amount. Nada. Zip.

Now, in anybody’s book, forty percent is an incredibly high amount to request for contingency. 5 or 10% is not unheard of, but 40%?

Perhaps this contingency amount is for uncertainty, but that’s hard to believe. Consider how little the following facts leave for uncertainty on the part of either the city or the vendor:
• The RFP was quite detailed – 12 pages.
• The RFP was copied almost word for word from another city’s similar procurement. How many surprises could our staff run into when another city has done the same work already and knew the actual costs?
• The contract is exhaustively detailed – 10 pages.
• The vendor’s proposal is 15 pages, indicating they knew enough to go beyond just parroting back the words of the RFP.
• Staff answered 57 questions from potential bidders. While some questions were duplicates, the large number implies that nobody held back from finding out what they needed to know (excepting, of course, any strategic holding back).

A further indication of fish, according to the Agenda Report, “The CEO will review all contingency items and report to the City Council related to any expenditure above $50,350.” Sounds reassuring, maybe, but he’s only promising to tell the council that he’s already spent the money; he isn’t promising to get council approval for each change-order use of the “contingency” fund.

The final poke in the eye, one especially painful for anybody who has believed the councilmen’s claim that the sky is falling and the city is broke, is the city manager stating, “If necessary, staff will move existing appropriations to implement any contingency needs.” So there’s so much money squirreled away that Mr. Hatch can easily come up with $20,000? Does that imply that the past few months of fiscal agony have simply been Kabuki Theater?

A skeptical take on this staff recommendation says that the real contract will be for at least $70,350, meaning that Vision I. P. will not have been the actual low bidder … by 40%. City hall, for some unknown reason, isn’t letting the public know why this particular vendor is favored with a contract 40% bigger than all his competitors thought it would be.
Shades of Tammany Hall! Is this a foretaste of future wheelings and dealings?

And you thought I was long-winded!

Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell saw Tom Egan's take on this issue and sent me the following information:
The much-needed redesign and re-launch of the city’s website was originally budget for $50,000. City staff was able to get the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitors Bureau to pick up $40,000 of that cost. In other words, the City is getting a state-of-the-art website that will greatly enhance transparency and citizen interaction at a cost to local taxpayers of $10,000.

The City is asking for a contingency NOT for cost overruns for the original scope of work, but for additional features the City may want to quickly add—specifically, interactive features that will allow residents and companies to do more business with Costa Mesa online (and eliminate a trip to City Hall). By making the transactions as easy as possible, the City will likely attract more revenue.

We had always planned the website rollout in two phases. With the contribution from the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitors Bureau, we wanted to have the flexibility to move more quickly if funds become available instead of having to go through another RFP process.

The next item on the Consent Calendar, #6, is the extension of the contract with Lobdell as Four Boys New Media for the remainder of the year for a total contract value of $120,000. You will recall he was hired quite rapidly just as the new council majority decided to outsource half the city staff back in March for $3,000 per week for 12 weeks. That subsequently got extended for another quarter plus. This extension will take him to the end of the year. Before you get all hot and bothered about this move, read the staff report, HERE. There can be no doubt that his presence at City Hall has been quite positive. Following his arrival the City has generated more usable information in a short period of time than I can remember happening in the past.

Item #7 is the extension of the contract with GrowthPort Partners for "employment-related professional support services" and extends the term to run through June, 2012 and an amount not to exceed $100,000. You can read that staff report HERE. Quite honestly, this one makes me a little uneasy since it's going to place a lot of authority in the hands of folks with no long-term commitment to the City. In particular is the portion that talks about their role in assessing the results of the outsourcing RFP's - if they are ever sent out and returned. I understand that CEO Tom Hatch may be overwhelmed with the volume of work laid on him by the City Council, but his organization chart shows no permanent staffers, only consultants or "interim" folks.

And that is just part of the Consent Calendar!

Under Public Hearings we have two interesting items to be discussed.

The first is the establishment of a fee for certification of correction of vehicle code violations. You can read the staff report HERE, but the nutshell version is that we don't charge to perform these certifications and most of our neighboring cities do, so we get lots of folks from other cities coming to our Police Department to get the certification done free. The proposal is to charge $10.00, which is about the middle of what other cities charge. We would NOT charge a fee for Costa Mesa residents who were cited by Costa Mesa police officers.

Public Hearing Item #2 will authorize the city to go after folks who have refused to pay civil fines for code enforcement violations. The total here is about $32,000. You can read the staff report, including the names and addresses of your neighbors in violation, HERE.

Under Old Business, the council will approve the new ordinance regulating Massage Parlors.

They will also consider two requests from youth sports groups. The first, from Newport Mesa Girls Softball, asks for a two year grace period. The second, from Friday Night Lights Flag Football asks for Group 1 Field User status.

Under New Business, the second item on the agenda is the discussion - and decision - regarding options for Fire Service Delivery. This lengthy staff report by Interim Assistant Chief Executive Officer Terry Matz, including the four attachments, can be viewed HERE. Cutting to the chase, Matz tells us there are significant savings to be had by picking one of the three options the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) has proposed despite the fact that shifting to that organization for Fire Protection will have some significant start-up costs. The discussion of this item should be VERY interesting. I'm going to be very interested in the take the leadership of the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association has on this report.

Next comes the report on the study underway on the next phase of the State Route 55 extension. You can read Public Services Director Peter Naghavi's staff report HERE. A consultant has been chosen to shepherd this next phase of the study.


Finally, the council will discuss canceling the scheduled City Council meeting of August 16th, citing limited activity anticipated at that time. You can read the rationale for that move HERE. Funny, with all the RFPs that still have not been released, you'd think there will be things for the council to consider. That would make the next meeting following the August 2nd meeting September 6th - the day after the Labor Day holiday weekend. That meeting will be the last one before the 6-month notices of layoffs expire. I can tell you that there will be a lot of very nervous city employees as we approach Labor Day without resolution of the outsourcing issues.

This should give you something to chew on while you're housebound this weekend due to the anticipated "Carmageddon" caused by the 53 hour closure of the 405 Freeway in West Los Angeles. Just hunker down with your computer and study these staff reports. Yeah, that sounds like fun, huh? Or, you could just go to the Orange County Fair, which opens officially today.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Outsourcing" Infection Spreads

A piece in today, HERE, tells us that the tiny community of Atherton, California, has become the most recent municipality to become afflicted by the infection known as "outsourcing".

Atherton, a very, very wealthy community of just under 7,000 residents, is located in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read about it in Wikipedia, HERE. Although less than 10% of its size, the demographics and wealth very much resembles Costa Mesa's neighbor, Newport Beach. The average home value is said to be more than $
4,000,000, and the family income in excess of $200,000.

According to and the article to which it refers from the San Jose Mercury News, HERE, Atherton is poised to layoff 30% of the staff tomorrow. There have been talks of strikes and, as in the case of Costa Mesa, a lawsuit has been filed to stop the outsourcing.

As mentioned in my previous post, tomorrow I will attend the debate between Jim
Righeimer and Steve Mensinger on one side versus Nick Berardino and Jennifer Muir on the other that may give me a sense of just how deep the infection is in our city. Sadly, we are not alone as this epidemic begins to sweep municipalities throughout the state, fanned by the rhetoric of local, state and national politicians with only their own political futures in mind.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Odd Tag Team Match On Friday

In what may be the most under-publicized event of its kind in recent memory, the League of Women Voters of Orange County will host a panel discussion this Friday at noon on the subject of Costa Mesa's restructuring. According to the article in the Daily Pilot this morning, HERE, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger will face the General Manager of the Orange County Employee's Association, Nick Berardino and their Public Relations representative, Jennifer Muir.

When I called to make my reservation I asked if the quartet would be fitted with boxing gloves, but was assured this would be a nice, civil discussion. Marquis of Queensberry rules will not apply. OK - if they say so.

Even more fun is the venue - Coco's Restaurant at Fashion Island, Newport Beach. How can I say this kindly... it's a place that caters to me - a geezer. I doubt very seriously we'll see many tattoos or body piercings on Friday and my silver hair will fit right in with most of the probable attendees.


I'm planning to attend and will report back later. I'm going to have the Newport Beach Police Department telephone number on speed dial, just in case this does turn out to be a slug fest. I'm grateful to the fine, concerned folks at the League of Women Voters of Orange County for holding this event.

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According to preliminary reports from the Orange County Register, HERE, the Costa Mesa Police
Department, in conjunction with Santa Ana PD, FBI, ATF, OC Sheriff's Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation completed a 32-month-long operation that snagged nearly 100 members of the Mexican Mafia and affiliates.

More information is pending and will be reported here when available.

Shortly after 1 p.m. I received more information from Costa Mesa Police Department

On July 13, 2011, members of the CMPD Gang Enforcement Unit and Special Operations Group, in conjunction with the FBI, ATF, and a number of other state and local agencies, served arrest warrants at four separate Costa Mesa residences as part of a joint-agency investigation. “Operation Black Flag” was a 2 ½ year countywide, federal investigation that originated with the Costa Mesa criminal street gang, “Forming Kaos”. This investigation uncovered direct ties to the Mexican Mafia prison gang throughout Orange County and involved sales of large quantities of firearms and narcotics, as well as conspiracies to commit violent acts by local gang members.

Since 2008, the Costa Mesa Police Gang Enforcement Unit spent countless hours directly assisting federal authorities throughout this highly complex and clandestine investigation. In the end, more than 99 federal and state criminal indictments, which include federal RICO violations, were obtained that resulted in the service of arrest warrants throughout Orange County and parts of LA County. Three main players from Costa Mesa were arrested, with an additional being charged who is currently in custody on a separate case.

Attached is the FBI’s Joint Press Release for “Operation Black Flag”. CMPDs collaborative efforts and reputation received rave reviews from all of the allied agencies involved in this long-term investigation.

I tried to provide a link to the long, long press release, but the system failed. So, you're just going to have to wade through the text below:


Federal indictments allege racketeering by criminal enterprises operating in Orange County, CA, Linked gang-related felonies charged at federal and state levels.

Over five hundred law enforcement officers and agents executed arrest and search warrants this morning marking the culmination of a multi-year investigation by the Santa Ana Gang Task Force that resulted in five federal indictments and various state felony charges for gang-related crime. Members and associates of violent Mexican Mafia controlled gangs who claim the streets of Orange County as their territory were taken into custody for their roles in crimes and criminal enterprises alleged to be responsible for carrying out offenses including racketeering, extortion, narcotics and firearms violations, assault and murder.

The results of today’s operation were announced today by representatives of the Santa Ana Gang Task Force member agencies, including: the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, André Birotte Jr.; FBI Assistant Director in Charge, Steven Martinez; Santa Ana Police Chief, Paul Walters; Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckas; ATF Special Agent in Charge, John Torres; Senior Special Agent Daniel Evanilla with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; Captain Les Gogerty with the Costa Mesa Police Department; and Orange County Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens.

26 of the 57 federal defendants were arrested during today’s early morning operation; while 25 were already incarcerated on unrelated charges. Six are considered fugitives and are being sought be members of the task force. In addition, eight of the state defendants were arrested today and three are considered fugitives. The remainder were already in custody.

Separate lists of the federal and state defendants are being made available on separate documents.

A federal grand jury in the Central District of California returned five federal indictments, the last of which was returned on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011. The federal indictments collectively charge 57 members or associates of the Mexican Mafia and the Forming Kaos street gang that claims its territory in the city of Costa Mesa. The five indictments allege a pattern of serious criminal activity ranging from drug trafficking to conspiracy to murder. Two of the five federal indictments charge violations of the federal racketeering statute, commonly known as RICO.

One RICO indictment charges a total of 28 defendants associated with an Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia, an organization led by Mexican Mafia member, Peter Ojeda. Ojeda was previously indicted in 2005 in the Central District of California and is currently incarcerated in federal prison serving time for his conviction in that case. The second Indictment charges an additional 17 defendants (11 with RICO) associated with the Forming Kaos street gang in Costa Mesa, CA, and details the gang’s extensive ties to the Mexican Mafia.

The three remaining federal indictments charge an additional 13 defendants with a variety of narcotics trafficking violations, including the distribution of heroine, methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as a series of firearms offenses.

In addition to the federal indictments, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has filed various charges in connection with the alleged murder and assault conspiracies, to include gang enhancements.

The two federal RICO indictments are further described below.

The Orange County Mexican Mafia (OC Mexican Mafia); Peter Ojeda Criminal Enterprise

The indictment charging members and associates of the Orange County faction of the Mexican Mafia, headed by defendant Peter Ojeda, alleges the defendants engaged in conspiracies to commit murder, extortion, conspiracies to commit extortion, and narcotics trafficking for monetary gain. The defendants, according to the indictment, functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise.

The Mexican Mafia
The Mexican Mafia is a powerful and violent prison gang which controls drug distribution and other illegal activities within the California penal system and on the streets of Southern California by organizing Hispanic street gang members for the purpose of establishing a larger network for the Mexican Mafia’s illegal activities. If a gang does not accede to the Mexican Mafia, the Mexican Mafia will assault or kill the gang’s members who are not in custody, as well as those members who are incarcerated within the California penal system. In addition to intimidation through direct assaults, the Mexican Mafia is also able to assert control and influence over gang members outside the penal system because gangs do not want their members in the penal system to be assaulted or killed, and because the gang members know that, if they are incarcerated, they will need the protection of the Mexican Mafia while they serve their sentences.

As a member of the Mexican Mafia, or “carnal,” defendant Ojeda maintained the primary leadership role among Hispanic street gang members in Orange County and his influence over gangs extended from the streets to the jail system. High ranking and intermediate level members of the F-Troop criminal street gang, as well as high ranking members of other Hispanic criminal street gangs, such as Delhi, Highland Street, Orange Varrio Cypress, East Side Santa Ana, Little Hood Santa Ana, McClay, Townsend, and Forming Kaos, made up the Orange County Mexican Mafia and assisted defendant Ojeda in exerting his influence over Hispanic street gangs and their members in Orange County, according to the indictment.

Ojeda ordered Hispanic criminal street gangs in Orange County to pay money as a “tax” or “tribute” which consisted of a portion of the proceeds the gangs earned from various criminal activities. In return, gang members were permitted to exert influence over their neighborhoods and territories and seek protection or assistance from the OC Mexican Mafia.

The indictment alleges Ojeda disciplined Orange County criminal street gangs and their
members who engaged in unsanctioned violence or did not pay taxes as required. The OC Mexican Mafia also disciplined any gang member who committed some act of disrespect to the organization, its members, or those protected by it. The discipline included “green lights” placed on the offender, meaning the gang or gang member would be physically disciplined or required to pay a “penalty”. The OC Mexican Mafia also disciplined members and associates of its enterprise and other gang members by putting them on a “Hard Candy” list, meaning the individual would be targeted for death by any member or associate of the OC Mexican Mafia.

Ojeda, who served as the unchallenged leader of the OC Mexican Mafia for decades, was transferred out of Orange County in 2007 to serve the federal sentence imposed as a result of his 2006 conviction in the federal Bureau of Prisons. At this time, another member of the Mexican Mafia, defendant Armando Moreno, attempted to take over defendant Ojeda’s leadership position in the OC Mexican Mafia and ordered Ojeda’s supporters to be placed on the “Hard Candy” list. Despite being incarcerated outside of California, defendant Ojeda maintained his leadership position in the organization and ordered those members and associates loyal to defendant Moreno to be placed on the “Hard Candy” list.

The girlfriends and wives of incarcerated members and associates are alleged to have been directly involved in the affairs of the OC Mexican Mafia and knowingly passed messages between members and associates of the OC Mexican Mafia. The indictment alleges these messages included “green light” and “Hard Candy” lists which resulted in individuals being targeted for assaults and murder.

The Forming Kaos (FC) Criminal Enterprise
The second RICO indictment charges members and associates of a criminal organization engaged in conspiracies to commit murder, assaults with dangerous and deadly weapons, extortion, conspiracies to commit extortion, and narcotics and firearms trafficking for monetary gain. This organization operated in Orange County and is known as the “Forming Kaos” criminal enterprise. The gang constituted an ongoing organization whose members functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objectives of the enterprise.

FK members operated and claimed territory in Costa Mesa, California, primarily on the westside of the city and guard their territory against any encroachment from members or associates of any other criminal street gang. The indictment alleges FK members have and are willing to engage in acts of violence, including murders and assaults, to defend their territory, which they mark or “plaque” or “tag” with graffiti. FK members are expected to retaliate through the use of violence, including murders and assaults, against anyone who assaults or kills another FK member, or disrespects FK or its members. Those invited to join FK are typically “jumped in,” whereby they are assaulted by two or more gang members for a limited period of time by other FK members in order to prove their toughness and worthiness to join the enterprise. Some members can be “walked in,” whereby they can bypass being jumped in if they grew up in FK territory or have family members who already belong to FK, or they can be “crimed in,” whereby they commit a certain amount of criminal acts on behalf of the gang to show their loyalty to the gang.

In an effort to protect FK territory from rival gang members and to carry out retaliation against anyone who assaults or kills or otherwise disrespects its members, FK members share firearms and sell firearms to fellow members. They also engage in the sale of firearms for monetary gain to maintain FK’s status.

FK exercises control over narcotics dealers within FK territory by requiring dealers to pay a
“tax” to the enterprise on a regular basis. In return for paying the tax, the narcotics dealers are allowed to distribute narcotics in FK territory without interference from FK members, and they receive protection from rival gang members seeking to assault them. FK members themselves also engage in narcotics trafficking and rely on narcotics suppliers in order to make money for use by the enterprise. Additionally, FK aligns itself with the Mexican Mafia and collects taxes from individuals seeking protection. Many FK members have tattoos depicting their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia, such as the number “13” and/or two bars and three dots, which represent the Mayan symbol for the number 13.

According to United States Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr.: "Today's charges demonstrate that the Department of Justice is committed to dismantling the Mexican Mafia and the street gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia. No member of the Mexican Mafia, and no gang member affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, is beyond the reach of the law. Working with our partners at the state and local level, we will bring gangsters to justice, whether they commit their crimes on our streets or in our prisons."

FBI Assistant Director in Charge, Steven Martinez, said, “The Santa Ana Gang Task Force put years of effort into this complex investigation to find those responsible for the gang violence plaguing Orange County communities, including two major criminal enterprises calling shots on the streets and from inside prison walls. The serious charges the defendants now face, including RICO, are a positive step in ensuring the defendants face the consequences for the abundance of crimes alleged.”

A dangerous criminal street gang has suffered a critical blow to its organization and to its ability to intimidate and extort residents in the Orange County area. The criminals targeted by this operation aligned themselves with the Mexican Mafia in order to ensure their stronghold on their territory,” said John Torres, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division. “Today’s operation has removed and insidious threat to the stability of our communities, and has sent a clear message to those individuals involved in gang activity that they will be pursued, prosecuted and removed from the very streets they seek to terrorize.

Senior Special Agent Daniel Evanilla with the CDCR said, “The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation-Special Service Unit is happy to have partnered with all of these agencies to again disrupt the criminal activities of the Mexican Mafia (EME) prison gang.”

Chief of Police Paul Walters stated, “This operation is a prime example of what multi-agency task forces can accomplish to keep our communities safe. The collaboration in this case included local, state and federal resources and will bring some dangerous individuals who were operating at a sophisticated level to justice.”

“Defendants who commit crimes to glorify their gangs and continue to commit serious crimes behind bars are some of the most dangerous individuals in our society. The only place they belong is in prison and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office is committed to keeping them there for the rest of their lives,” stated District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Lieutenant Mark Manley with the Costa Mesa Police Department said, “We’re extremely proud of our participation and the fact that this large-scale investigation will undoubtedly result in a blow to one of our more historically active local gangs, as well as the larger criminal enterprise throughout Orange County.”

Many of the federal defendants face mandatory-minimum prison terms ranging from 5 to 10 years, depending on the quantities of narcotics alleged and individual criminal histories, and maximum penalties of 20 years to life imprisonment. Federal defendants arrested today will make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana this afternoon.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Santa Ana Police Department; the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives; the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – Special Service Unit; the Costa Mesa Police Department – Gang Enforcement Unit; and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Multiple agencies assisted during today’s operation, including Garden Grove Police Department; Tustin Police Department, Los Alamitos Police Department; Seal Beach Police Department; Irvine Police Department; La Habra Police Department: Orange County Regional Narcotics Supression Program; California Department of Justice – Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement; Newport Beach Police Department and Orange Police Department.

The federal defendants will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office. The District Attorney in Orange County will prosecute defendants charged by the state.

The Santa Ana Gang Task Force is one of many FBI Safe Streets Task Forces throughout the United States, funded for the purpose of assisting local police in identifying and addressing violent crime in America.

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.

Media Contact:
FBI Media Relations: 310 996-3343
Orange County Sheriff’s Department: 714 904-7042
U.S. Attorney’s Office: Bruce Riordan: 213 894-0480
Orange County District Attorney’s Office: 714 347-8405
Santa Ana Police Department: Anthony Bertagna: 714 709-2043
ATF: Special Agent Chris Hoffman: 213 216-3622

As you read, the core of this massive action was based in Costa Mesa, in the gang known as Forming Kaos (FK). I suspect many of you have seen their graffiti around town over the years.

Kudos to the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department who were a key part of this huge sweep. The press release gives you all the information you need to know about this massive undertaking, and the coordination and execution by so many members of law enforcement from so many agencies.


One wonders how much longer our police department will be able to perform at such a high level now that the city council has decided that they are willing to put political expediency ahead of public safety by reducing law enforcement staffing to levels not seen in our city since the mid-1980s. This will be but one of the challenges facing new Police Chief Tom Gazsi as he takes the reins.

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