Friday, August 19, 2011

Some Positive Stuff For Your Weekend

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 20th, will be the kick-off for Costa Mesa Pop Warner Football. Here's the flier for the event. Stop by Jim Scott Stadium and see the program your City Council just authorized $10,000 to cover an obligation t
he group has with the School District. Go watch your tax dollars at work.


Personally, later that day I'm joining our family in celebrating the first birthday of my grand-nephew, Benjamin O'Brien Teacher, seen here at a recent Taco Thursday gathering.

And here w
ith me last winter watching some football on television. He's going to be my "football buddy" for years to come.


All of this will be preceded by a birthday dinner tonight with my baby sister Cheryll (her's is today) and her hubby, Victor, who will join us at a favorite local restaurant, followed by cake and candles at our home where we will fully immerse ourselves in huge slabs of my mother's recipe chocolate cake. Yum.

Have a great weekend.

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Homeless Task Force Meeting

Here are some tardy, random observations from the Homeless Task Force meeting I attended on Wednesday:

*After many, many, many months, progress is slow - the term "glacial" comes to mind.

*Current Chairman of the group, Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Jeff Mathews, seems perfectly content to allow facilitator Larry Haynes to run the show. He spoke maybe a dozen words during the meeting.

*And Haynes does "run the show". He seems to be taking the discussions where HE wants them to go instead of letting the discussion among the members chart the course. I must state, however, that without his leadership this task force would be going nowhere.

*At this meeting they finally got around to crafting a preliminary definition of just who is a "Costa Mesa Homeless Person". This is important because only "Costa Mesa Homeless People" will be eligible for whatever benefits come out of this process - as yet undefined.

*After all the identification and sifting of homeless people is completed based on the template being refined now, we will still be left with a knot of chronic homeless folks who don't fit the criteria of being a "Costa Mesa" homeless person.

*Plans for those individuals is unclear, although Mathews was heard to mutter "jail" during the discussion. Bus tickets out of town was also mentioned.

*Some of the task force members carry into the mix the very significant burden of personal bias.

*The task force is using as guidelines programs in place in Pasadena and Ontario.

*It was interesting to learn that Costa Mesa DOES NOT have a homeless Latino problem. That tidbit of information had a couple long-time Westside activists in the room shaking their heads in disbelief.

*I've attended half the meetings and, so far, it seems that the sub-committees formed early on are not doing much. They seem not to be meeting and not reporting progress on any areas of their assigned responsibilities. (In an earlier meeting I attended, then-chairman Steve Smith scolded sub-committee chairwoman Judi Berry for her efforts and demanded she and her team go back out and do their canvassing again. Berry quit the next day.)

*The task force will present a progress report to the City Council on September 6th. That should be interesting.

*They have scheduled a lunch time workshop on Housing Options for September 9th.

*They have scheduled a Saturday workshop on October 15th to prioritize goals and strategies.

*They will present yet another progress report to the City Council on November 15th.

*Despite having no meetings scheduled for November and December, on January 18th the Homeless Task Force Plan will be presented to the Homeless Task Force. What? How does that work?

*On February 21st the Homeless Task Force Plan will be presented to the City Council.

OK, BUT...

I'm left with some lingering apprehensions.


First, based on what I've heard so far, we are not going to solve the "Costa Mesa Homeless Problem" 100%. As long as there are private agencies providing services to homeless people and others there will be homeless people in Costa Mesa. And, as long as they are here and continue to complicate the lives of residents they will be an issue to be "dealt with".


Larry Haynes is a VERY smart fella with a wealth of background in the "managing the homeless" issue and certainly seems to be the right guy to be the "facilitator" of this group. His "Mercy House" is among the leaders in this "industry" - and Jim Righeimer is on the board of the organization. Perhaps, just because I don't trust Righeimer, I'm apprehensive about what might be in this for him, Haynes and Mercy House as the plans for funding solutions to the homeless problem begin to materialize.

From the beginning Haynes placed himself in charge of "data" and, as he stated Wednesday evening, "..without data we don't have anything".

I found myself thinking "And he who controls the data controls the agenda".

So far, those few members of the Task Force that seem to be driven by a personal agenda have not been effective in swaying others in their direction. That's a good thing, in my view.

I'm trying to keep a positive thought about this process. Something MUST be done to address homelessness in our city and this task force is the only game in town.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Terry Matz, Adios

Word has it that today is the final day on the job for contract Interim Assistant City Manager, Terry Matz.


Matz has a long career in municipal governance and was retained by CEO Tom Hatch earlier this year to bring some much-needed expertise to help with special projects. He's been working three days a week for the most part.


In his most recent assignment Matz was the project manager for the Orange County Fir
e Authority proposal to take over Fire and Emergency Medical Services for Costa Mesa. From all appearances he did a fine job.

Hatch has been actively recruiting a permanent replacement for himself but, according to Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell, has not yet made a final decision. So, Matz' departure means one less contractor at City Hall. He will return to his retirement, leaving behind a job well-done.

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Fox Business News And Homeless Task Force

In the immortal words of Roseanne Rosannadana, "Never Mind". Two minutes after I posted this entry this morning Interim Communication Director
Bill Lobdell sent me a note indicating that Fox Business News has canceled their parking lot pontifications today. Darn!


Today, we are told, Fox Business News will set up shop in the parking lot of Costa Mesa City Hall as part of their traveling dog and pony show throughout California, during which they are interviewing various individuals relative to the crisis in State and local government. I don't know who, from Costa Mesa, will be interviewed since our media hog, Jim Righeimer, is in China trying to find someone in the "empty city" of Ordos to talk with.

I understand that his sidekick, Steve Mensinger, has been the contact guy with Fox, so maybe he will get his face on the national news and give them his version of the crisis myth. That should be interesting. Do you think he'll be able to get through a one-minute segment without smirking?
Will he have his posse of Estancia High School football players huddled around him for support?

And, it begs the question, where's the mayor? Has Gary Monahan been so marginalized - something many have observed in recent weeks - that Costa Mesa is going to be represented on national television by a guy who got only 3 votes to gain a seat on the city council instead of the mayor who has more years on the council than any other person? Is Monahan too busy pulling beer taps - as was the case on St. Patrick's Day - that he can't be the face and voice of the city on national television? What a truly sad commentary on what has happened to our city, where the personal agenda of one or two men now drive the course of this city, disregarding the voter's choices.


So, if you're cruisin' past City Hall today - we don't know what time they will be there - stop in to say howdy to the folks at Fox Business News.

After all that fun the Costa Mesa Homeless Task Force will hold its meeting at the Emergency Operations Center (between City Hall and the Police Department) beginning at 5:30 today. I'm planning on attending this meeting since I got another close look at some of the homeless folks in our city as I worked my way through them to attend Wendy Leece's Town Hall meeting last Monday evening.

On the agenda tonight will be:
Best Practices - City of Pasadena
County of Orange 10 Year Plan
Definition of a Homeless Costa Mesa Resident
General list of ideas to reduce homelessness

Tentative time line for future meetings.

I wonder if we can get the good folks from Fox to sit in on the meeting? That might be fun.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Two Sides Of "Transparency"

This afternoon we'll deal with two sides of "transparency", a word that has taken on a life of its own locally over the past few months.


Today Costa Mesa's Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell, issued a Press Relea
se, HERE, that announced to the world that a national nonprofit watchdog group, The Sunshine Review, awarded the City of Costa Mesa with a A+ transparency grade for the quantity and quality of public information available on the website. According to the press release, this places Costa Mesa in the top 1% of the more than 6,000 municipal web sites reviewed. The press release includes links to interesting segments of the web site and the most recent Sunshine Review of the site.

While I do not agree with many of the moves our current city council has been making, the emphasis on transparency in recent months is noteworthy. I've only been paying serious attention to city business for a decade, but we've seen more and better information in the first few months of this year - basically, since Lobdell came on board - than I can recall at any time in the past. The planned revamp of the city web site will, hopefully, make a good site even better and more user-friendly.

And, to add a little frosting to that cake, in his E-Briefing last week CEO Tom Hatch announced that there will soon be a wifi hotspot in the council chambers to facilitate the timely reporting by journalists, who presently struggle with slower internet connections while trying to make deadlines. This is also excellent news and yet another example of a city trying to make government more accessible. It is hoped that this new technological enhancement will be available by the September 6th meeting. And, no, it's not going to break the bank to provide this capability. Lobdell tells me that it will cost less than $2,000 for the installation - money well-spent, in my opinion.

However, while the presentat
ion of information to the public is admirable, the attitude of the City Council toward personal "transparency" is not. In recent weeks we've seen the mayor, Gary Monahan, attempt to stifle free speech of Terry Koken, a resident who presented himself at the speaker's podium to address his grievances in song. Combine that with councilman Eric Bever's obvious attempt to quash councilwoman Wendy Leece's ability to place items of interest to her and her constituents on the council agenda by trying to require more than one council member's approval and you see a very focused attempt to abridge the free speech guaranteed by the constitution and to disregard the opinions of thousands of voters who selected Leece - twice - for a seat on the council. And, of course, we have the actions on the dais where individual council members personally vilify and chide speakers before them in an obvious attempt to intimidate them and give them pause before they step up to address the council. This willingness to stifle dissent is more than a little upsetting. Yes, transparency is great, but, where the rubber meets the road, our municipal leaders leave much, much to be desired.


And, in an interesting bit of timing, Orange County Employee's Association
General Manager Nick Berardino - a recent appointee by Governor Jerry Brown to the Orange County Fair Board - sent out a note today announcing that Fair Board President Dave Ellis has rejected Berardino's attempt to establish a citizens oversight committee and to conduct a forensic audit of the Orange County Fair and Event Center. According to Berardino's note, Ellis refused to have the items placed on the agenda for the August Fair Board meeting.


Berardino will appeal to the Fair Board at the August meeting to vote to place those two issues on the agenda for the September meeting. When I spoke with Berardino about this issue earlier today I encouraged him to check the weather report for Hades on that date, because - considering political make-up of the board - unless a freeze is predicted, he has no chance of getting the board to go along with him. While I think it's a good idea to have divergent viewpoints represented on any public board, Berardino is going to find himself in the same position that Leece occupies today on the Costa Mesa City Council - a lone voice against an overwhelming majority.

If you attended the Town Hall at the Neighborhood Community Center last night
and drive a Scion XB - that boxy little cruiser, similar to the one in this photo - that is gold, bronze or orange in color, or you know someone with that kind of car at the meeting last night, please contact me directly using the email address on the profile page of my blog. I have very important information for you.

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Wendy's One-Woman Show

Monday night around 100 residents ventured to the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center to attend a Town Hall sponsored by City Councilwoman Wendy Leece. Leece reserved the Victoria Room which, as she observed, gave us a good view of the dozens of homeless folks hanging around the park. If your route took you from the library to the community center you were forced to step over and/or around several men sleeping on the grass between the buildings. It was a perfect preamble to a Town Hall on public safety.

I thought this meeti
ng went off well, especially for the first one. Leece carried the ball most of the night, although she did enlist support from volunteer organizations and members of the Costa Mesa Police Department and the Costa Mesa Fire Department for some answers.

She also provided an opportunity for Diane Hill of United Neighbors to present an overview of her community organizing activities and for the good folks who run the Costa Mesa Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to make a brief pitch, too.


Several members of the current administration were present. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, apparently taking time out from his China trip preparations, stopped in for an hour. His young sycophant, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ethan Temianka, left a little sooner. Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy attended with his young son. Planning Commissioner and Sanitary District Board member Jim Fitzpatrick stayed for a short while before wandering off into the evening. Councilman Steve Mensinger arrived early and stuck it out for the entire program. Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell was also present.


As mentioned earlier, this event WAS NOT taped by CMTV, which is a real shame. There was enough good information presented that home viewers would certainly have benefited from the chance to watch it.

Leece launched her program with a mini-history course to remind us all of the fr
eedoms we have and need to protect. Throughout the evening she provided some boilerplate safety information, but drove most of her program off the questions submitted that evening by attendees. She did not permit verbal questions, which probably kept the emotion of the evening down. The crowd was respectful and concerned. In my opinion greater care should have been taken while sorting the question cards.

There were way, way too many inquires about the burgeoning Medical Marijuana dispensary businesses around town. Most were redundant. We did learn that there are anywhere from 30-50 such businesses in town; that they are being visited by code enforcement and/or the police frequently, but selectively; that Federal laws are not being enforced and that we're currently embroiled in lawsuits with some of the dispensaries.


Another hot button issue for attendees apparently was the proliferation of half-way houses - drug and alcohol rehab facilities, of which there may be as many as 100 throughout the city. The police department attempts to monitor them to be sure they don't violate residency limitations. These facilities apparently are interwoven with the homeless problem in Costa Mesa and are part of the agenda being worked by the Homeless Task Force.


In response to a question about what kind of a promise she may have made to the OC GOP that has them so angry with her, she spent a good deal of time describing in great detail her falling-out with Scott Baugh, Chairman of the OC GOP and the circumstances that led to her being roundly criticized by him and the rest of the OC GOP hierarchy. Basically, she did what she felt was right for Costa Mesa - a view that Baugh apparently didn't like. Baugh's pal, Righeimer had departed by that time - I would have been curious about his reaction to Leece's comments.

A question was asked about the $10,000 donation given to Costa Mesa Pop
Warner Football recently, and wondered if other youth sports groups could expect similar generosity in the future. Leece's response was that, now that the precedent had been set, she didn't see how we could refuse any of them.


The out
sourcing plan was discussed and Leece opined that it is a good thing that the council policy - 100-6 - was identified and that we will now be following it. It will slow down the process and provide an opportunity for greater input by city staff. She said the council had been behaving recklessly with the outsourcing and that this change of pace should be helpful.

One audience member expressed concern for the duties of now-departed E
mergency Medicine Services Coordinator, Larry Grihalva, who provided a wide range of services to the city. Battalion Chief Diamond explained that he will be missed, and that most of the duties he had would be spread out among members of the Fire Department leadership and others would simply not get done.

A similar question was asked about the duties of the Fire Marshall, which we do not presently have. Diamond said the acting Chief, Kirk Dominic, would take up that slack.


Leece ended by reiterating a theme she followed throughout the evening. She said what's happened, has happened and that the city needs to learn from it and move forward. She encouraged eve
ryone in attendance to get involved, either through CERT, Diane Hill's United Neighbors and/or attend council meetings and write letters when they have concerns. Since she is termed out, Leece clearly was not campaigning last evening. She said, "We need to work together as Costa Mesans."


As an aside, I was pleased to be seated next to former Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden last night. He served this city for almost two decades as Chief and was instrumental in creating and implementing many of the excellent law enforcement programs in effect in Costa Mesa today. As most know, he is currently the Chief of Police in Beverly Hills. At a dinner in Beverly Hills on September 10th Snowden will receive the prestigious Jack Webb award for his 45 years of illustrious law enforcement service. This award is presented by the Los Angeles Police Historical Society. You can see the announcement at their web site, HERE. Congratulations to Chief Snowden for this well-deserved award.

If you attended the Town Hall at the Neighborhood Community Center last night and
drive a Scion XB - that boxy little cruiser similar to the one in this photo - that is gold, bronze or orange in color, or you know someone with that kind of car at the meeting last night, please contact me directly using the email address on the profile page of my blog. I have very important information for you.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

City Council Policy 100-6 & Town Hall

While out of town for a long weekend of birthday pampering by my sweet wife I tried to stay in touch with the important issues that were percolating here at home during my absence. Funny how things just don't seem to stop while I'm away.

The most disturbing issue i
s something I wrote about just before I left - the disclosure by the City of Costa Mesa that it would rescind the three "outsourcing" Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that had already been issued and that they, and all the other RFPs, would be individually evaluated by "Contracting Committees".


The stunning part of this announ
cement is that there is a seventeen-year-old council policy - 100-6, dated 8/15/94 - that provides very specific guidelines for the process required when contracting city services is anticipated - and that this policy had been very specifically ignored when the current council launched its bogus outsourcing scheme last March.

This policy, the link for which was provided in my earlier post, is copied verbatim below.

PURPOSE The purpose of this policy is for each department to develop a written “organizational vision” which comprehensively evaluates each operation within the department to develop the most cost effective and efficient method of providing City services. This continuous analysis of departmental operations is essential to providing the highest quality of City services at the lowest cost. This policy emphasizes Council’s desire to “rethink” service delivery to achieve optimum effectiveness and efficiency. This organizational analysis process will include consideration of contracting for services, and departmental reorganization and/or consolidation, and will be made a part of the City’s annual budget process. This policy provides guidelines for evaluating potential contracting of on-going City services on a long-term or permanent basis. It is not intended to apply to temporary contracts for short-term projects nor to contracts which are utilized to augment permanent staffing levels on a limited basis.

The financial instability of the State of California and the lingering effects of the economic recession have
significantly impacted Costa Mesa’s General Fund resources. To that end, the City Council has directed that greater emphasis be placed on the development of an operatio
nal master plan for each department which addresses short and long-range service delivery objectives.

At City Council’s direction a hiring freeze was implemented in July 1991. The purpose of the hiring freeze is to allow departments to analyze service delivery and to systematically achieve, through attrition, optimum staffing levels for each service provided by the City.

It is the policy of the City Council that the
hiring freeze be utilized as a tool to achieve long-term service delivery efficiency in each department. The City Council remains committed to treating all City staff in a humane and considerate manner. It is the City’s goal to achieve optimum service delivery through attrition whenever practical. Where practical, contracting for services
will be considered as a viable, realistic alternative to providing such services with City staff. The opportunity exists to look beyond our current organizational structure and to review options for downsizing and/or contracting service delivery. Additionally, new self-sustaining services may be considered for implementation utilizing either outside contract services or contracting in as was achieved by our staff with the in-house maintenance of our Police patrol vehicles.


Written proposals for contracting City services may be submitted fro
m any source through the appropriate Department Head for consideration by the City Manager for evaluation by the Contracting Committee for further study. The following is an outline of the basic process which will be utilized for evaluation of contracting proposals as they occur.

The Contracting Committee is comprised of three segments:

1. Project Responsibility/Facilitator

Finance Director
Personnel Director

Budget and Research Officer
Personnel Manager

2. Department Representative

Department Head, Manager, and/or Supervisor of service being evaluated.
Representatives from the service area being evaluated with the technical expertise and qualifications to knowledgeably discuss the contracting proposal.

3. Employee
Representatives designated by the appropriate employees’ association to evaluate and
provide input regarding the specific service being evaluated.

The contracting evaluation process is described below:

1. The entire evaluation team meets as a group. The appropriate department will review and
explain the components of their written contracting proposal. The Association representatives as well as the facilitator group will have the opportunity to ask specific questions of the department to clarify their understanding of the pro
posal under circumstances.

2. The team wi
ll work together to outline how to evaluate a comparable City effort to provide the same or similar services that would be required of the contractor at the same or lower cost.

3. The project facilitator will determine what, if any, additional back-up data and/or information is
required for evaluation of each contract proposal, and will direct the preparation of a draft analysis addressing the available alternatives for service delivery as outlined by the team. The options evaluated will include a “contracting-in” component, if deemed appropriate by the Committee.

4. The findings included in the draft analysis will be presented to t
he entire evaluation team.

5. Based
on the draft evaluation, a decision will be made if outside comparative data would be useful. For example, survey other cities that contract out for the same or similar service to estimate our expected contract cost. Determine the approximate staff effort that will be required to maintain and oversee each contract based on the experience of other cities.

6. Based on all of the data collected above, if contracting remains a viable option, the appropriate department will prepare a Request for Proposal (RFP) for contract services.

7. The appropriate department will provide a written evaluation of each option addressed by the
contracting team for service delivery.

8. The project facilitator will prepare an analysis of all of the alternatives available for service delivery including pro’s an
d con’s of each option for review by the City Manager and ultimate approval by the City Council.

9. City Council reviews each proposal and makes approval accordingly.

10. The affected department(s) implement the City Council’s direction.

Although I tried to keep my mind off this kind of stuff this past weekend, this was like the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla - impossible to ignore. I kept thinking about just how different the past five months might have been if the current Costa Mesa City Council had not just charged ahead like a herd of bulls in a china shop with their outsourcing scheme and had, instead, taken a more rational, reasonable approach. If they had, for example, discussed their plans with the employees through their bargaining units and followed this policy, it is very likely that none of the chaos and turmoil we've seen since St. Patrick's Day would have occurred. We might not have seen Mayor Gary Monahan effectively end his political career with his callous disregard for the tragedy at City Hall that day. We may not have seen seasoned, excellent employees leaving the city in droves. While we will never know, it is possible that Huy Pham may not have leaped to his death that dark day.

It's very difficult to not get angry about this now. Those of us who have been
watching this scenario play out understand that there are national political issues at play here, and that a big part of this council's actions are driven by a political imperative delivered by folks higher up the food chain - at the county, state and national level. That doesn't make it any easier to swallow, though.

It's hard not to get angry when we read that city officials describe this new revelation as a "bump in the road" (Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer) and "They knew from the beginning that there would be things thrown in their path." (Interim Communication Director Bill Lobdell). Really? Following city rules is a "bump in the road" and something "thrown in their path", like a spike strip to be avoided? The arrogance of these guys! With absolutely no humility I will remind you that I've been warning you about these jokers from the beginning. The current council, directed by Righeimer and his pal, Steve Mensinger, don't like to be bothered by little things like policies or other inconvenient rules. This is precisely what I expected to happen.


So, as Righeimer - the main perpetrator of this scheme - wings off to China today
on a week-long junket to dazzle the officials in Ordos - the million-person empty city - with his charm and business acumen, we wonder just how this new revelation is going to play out? We wonder if city officials knew of the policy and decided to strategically ignore it, assuming nobody would be the wiser? Did they roll the dice and try to jam the outsourcing scheme through without proper legal advice? We wonder if former City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow knew of this policy and based her advice to not proceed with the outsourcing plan on its existence? We wonder how the city's failure to follow its own, long-established policy will be viewed by the courts? And, finally, we wonder how the family of Huy Pham - the young man who has recently been characterized by some as a drug-addled, mentally-unstable slacker - might view this violation of city policies as being contributory to his death?

TOWN HALL TONIGHTWendy Leece's Town Hall tonight will deal with "public safety" and I have no doubt that the conversation will turn to the reduced staffing levels of the Costa Mesa Police Department - an arbitrary decision by the council majority based on numbers they pulled out of the air - and of the plans to potentially shift the Fire Department personnel to the Orange County Fire Authority. And, I expect the dismantling of the A.B.L.E. helicopter program might get some discussion, too. These moves are all part of the grand scheme by the council majority to look like pension reformers while simply destroying our once-proud city. I'll see you at the Neighborhood Community Center at Lions Park at 6:30 this evening.

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