Friday, September 23, 2011

Kent Treptow - Walking Across America

Today I present to you a palate-cleanser - somet
hing with which you can flush your brain and come away feeling very refreshed. Today I give you the opportunity to wander across this wonderful country with my friend, Kent Treptow.

As some know, Kent - a Daily Pilot photographer for years - began a solitary stroll across the country a little over 100 days ago. He began in Maine and has reached the theoretical center of the country, in Kansas. Along the way he has been providing us with a blog record of this adventure. It has been fascinating reading.


Although he's a very skilled photographer, this has not been a photo essay per se. In fact, he didn't post many photos at all for the first month or so. The photo above was borrowed from his blog - I thought it was appropriate and hope he won't mind me using it to lure you to his site.


So, flush all this local politics out of your systems - forget about the hostile takeover of our city and the ouster of the Orange County Market Place from the Fairgrounds by vindictive political operatives... forget all the rancor. Spend some time this weekend visiting Kent's site. I've given you the link, HERE, and also on the right side of my home page. I could have just linked to the blog, but wanted you to see some of his fantastic local photos as you made your way there. The trip account link is at the left of his home page. I'll keep my link up until he completes his trek so you can quickly and easily keep track of his adventures.

Here are a few recent quotes from his blog, just to reel you in.

Early in my day I meet a couple who have been married nearly 70 years. Outside an old farmhouse on a swinging bench, holding hands, listening to the birds, dangling their feet. He’s humming songs to her, they’re both smiling. Souls woven so so tightly together you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. I think when one passes the other will go quickly, very quickly, because for one to live alone is to not live at all. The face of love is worn and gray, and very beautiful, and it’s smiling out from a porch near Burrton, Kansas.

Another day just walking. It starts off in a tiny no-name cafe, where I see the same cowboys I saw yesterday. They’ve all got on the same off-white cowboy hats, just dirty enough to tell they’ve been working and not just strutting down the street. Nice guys, very polite. I ask them what they’re doing today. “Chasing cows.”

I don’t think the church was haunted but a great thunderstorm passed overhead in the middle of the night that upped the creepy factor. Of course I had to sneak into the sanctuary to watch lightning flashing through the stained glass windows. Magic.




Thursday, September 22, 2011

Breaking News! Fair Board Votes To Oust TelPhil

Joe Serna at the Daily Pilot, HERE, has reported that the Orange County Fair Board, on a 6-3 vote, has decided to oust TelPhil Enterprises as the operator of the Orange County Marketplace on the Fairgrounds site, severing a more than four-decade relationship.

This story is still developing, but it is reported that former Board Chair, Kristina
Dodge, voted NO, along with two newbies - Nick Berardino and Gerardo Mouet. According to reports from the site, Dodge didn't join Chair Dave Ellis and the others in their vote to oust TelPhil because they were not in default of their contract.

According to a couple of sources, Board Chair Ellis said at the end, "Well, that's that! Let the lawsuits begin!" Clearly, he's among those in the Orange County GOP hierarchy more than willing to spend taxpayer money on lawyers.

It is also reported that Jeff Teller, the operator of TelPhil, addressed the board with heated, accusatory comments. I suspect Serna will flesh out the whole story in a modification of his brief tease posted in the past hour. Stay tuned...

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E-Briefing Subscription

Just a little reminder from Costa Mesa's Interim Communication Director, Bill Lobdell...


The very popular and successful E-Briefing may be accessed a couple different ways. You may go to the city web site and, up in th
e right center - beside the City name, enter your email address in the block marked as such as shown in my little image below.
Or, if you want to sign up now, just click HERE and enter your email address in the space provided.


Or, for those of you who live your young lives texting up a storm, you can simply text: EBRIEFING to 22828. I have no idea what that means, but I guess those of you with thumbs the size
of ham hocks do, so fire away.

Personally, I think this E-Brief
ing feature is an excellent communication tool. Each week it provides, in an easy format to read, loads of excellent information. So, sign up and let the information flow...

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Than 100 Trees Removed Today

As just about everyone on our part of the planet knows by now, this morning the City of Newport Beach, at the direction of City Manager Dave Kiff, commenced removing more than 100 Blue Gum Eucalyptus trees from the center median on Irvine Avenue from 17th Street/Westcliff Drive to 19th Street/Dover Drive. It was one of these trees that toppled last Thursday and crushed the car in which 29 year-old Haeyoon Miller was driving and killed her. You can read the most recent Daily Pilot article HERE.

The location of these trees is only a few blocks from my home, so
I visited the site this afternoon to observe the removal. By the time I got there - around 2 p.m. - almost all of the trees had been chopped down and removed from the site. I suspect that all had been removed by the time the crews from West Coast Arborists finished for the day. According to one man from WCA with whom I spoke, they will be finished with the job by Thursday afternoon, including grinding the stumps of all the extracted trees.


Here's a view taken by a Google Earth flyby from th
eir most recent archive of the area. You can get an idea of the scope of this project and a good idea of the size of the trees. The remainder of the photos are those I took this afternoon, which shows the extent of the demolition, the crews cutting down a tree, stumps being ground and Costa Mesa motorcycle officers standing-by to protect onlookers from injury.

At last night's City Council meeting I spoke briefly before it began with Peter Naghavi, then-Director of Public Works - now Interim Assistant CEO. He told me he had a meeting scheduled with Kiff in the morning to discuss the arborist's findings about the trees. He did not know at the time that Kiff had already made the decision to begin removing those trees first thing Wednesday, today. In fact, after the meeting began one member of the Costa Mesa Police Department present told me that Irvine Avenue was already blocked off.

During the meeting
Planning Commissioner and Sanitary District Director Jim Fitzpatrick - a fellow-Eastsider who lives only a few hundred feet from Irvine Avenue - addressed the council and, in an agitated state, complained that he shouldn't have to hear about the removal of the trees from the media - that he expected to get that information from our city first. While I don't disagree with him, all the parties who might have provided that information were attending the council meeting. That logic escaped him - no surprise.


After I visited the site of the tree removal this afternoon I contacted Dave Kiff, who filled me in on what he felt was a very urgen
t situation based on consultation with four separate arborists. Their consensus was that all the potentially damaging trees should be removed immediately. He had communicated directly with Gary Monahan earlier today and sent me a copy of his 2-page letter outlining his reasoning. I've provided an image of that letter below. If you have difficulty reading the letter just click on each page.

I was unable to reach Naghavi today to find out just what happened from the Costa Mesa standpoint. As indicated in Kiff's letter, a cooperative effort between Newport Beach and Costa Mesa to decide how to replace those trees will be undertaken soon. It is assumed that there will be resident input in this process.


Unknown at this time is the fate of the several dozen trees of the same species that are
presently growing along Irvine Avenue in Costa Mesa territory. My neighborhood, for example, was once 20 acres of sweet potatoes and was completely ringed by those trees, which were planted early in the century as wind rows to protect the farms from wind-blown erosion. It appears that most, but not all, are growing on private property. Many of them are in great need of thinning before winter, such as it is in these parts, sets in and we get soaked soil and wind storms.

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Another Marathon Council Meeting

Well, at least the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 20th, finished that day. This one only ran five and a half hours instead of two hours longer, as was the case with the last meeting. And, I'd like to tell you that better decisions were made because the clock didn't sneak past midnight - but I can't. There were some highlights, though, so I'll start with those. You can watch the 5 hour, 22 minute streaming video of the meeting HERE.

The council codi
fied its decision to re-name a city park for World War II hero, business and civic icon and role model for many in this town - Jack Hammett. Several options were available based on staff suggestions and Eric Bever - finally back on the dais - asked Hammett which one he preferred. Hammett said he liked the idea of the Civic Center Park, across the street from the Police Station, because he has spent so much of his life in and around the Civic Center. This is the potential site of a new Central Library if it is ever funded.


However, self-anointed Commander-in-chief, Jim Righeimer, dove in, ignored Hammett's preference and suggested re-naming the Farm Sports Complex for him. I'm not saying that's a bad choice - it's an excellent choice - but it made an almost perfect little ceremony more than a little uneasy, for Hammett and the folks in the audience. And, of course, it demonstrates just how obtuse Bever really is. The city is much better off when he's not on the dais. So, Jack Hammett will receive this much-deserved recognition and the youth of our city may learn a little more about one of the real heroes of our community.

At the tail end of the meeting last night, just before 11:30, CEO Tom Hatch that Public Services Director Peter Naghavi has been elevated to the position of Interim Assistant CEO and that Naghavi's strong right arm, Ernesto Munoz, will be moved into Naghavi's slot as Interim Public Services Director. Hatch, apparently, has been unsuccessful in finding a candidate for the open Assistant CEO slot and has decided to re-launch his search. Naghavi and Munoz will occupy those positions for the "next couple months", which I read to mean through the end of the year.

This is excellent news for the residents and employees of this city. Naghavi - the last remaining member of the senior staff who occupied his position a year ago - is a smart, solid performer and an effective leader. His presence on the 5th floor of City Hall - which has been filled for the most part with "outsiders" - may remove some of the "them versus us" stench that has permeated City Hall lately. And, of course, Munoz is a solid guy with a long track record of achievement in the city. This is a win-win for us, in my opinion.

The other good news is that councilman Steve Mensinger apparently has his texting/bladder problem under control because, except for the break, he only left the auditorium once during the evening. I couldn't tell if he was texting much last night, but I suspect Wendy Leece would have told us - again - if he had been.

Gary Monahan, titular Mayor, performed another of his agenda juggling acts and ended up shuffling the issues guaranteed to generate the most discussion - the three RFPs - to near the end of the meeting. By the time they got around to discussing these items from the Consent Calendar the crowd had thinned to mostly the "usual suspects", that small group of concerned citizens who take the time and energy to actually study issues and forgo a normal life to address their opinions to the council to help them make informed decisions. You know - those folks who are frequently vilified by members of the council who would just as soon NOBODY questioned their decisions.

The first of those RFPs to be discussed was the one for Jail Services. M
onahan invited folks to speak on that one, and told them to use that time to speak on the issues of general concern about all three RFPs at that time, too. When it got down to specifics real mayor Jim Righeimer took over. He immediately decided that the Evaluation Criteria designed to help review submissions on all three was wrong. Those Evaluation Criteria elements to be quantified were:

1) Qualifications of Firm and Key Personnel
2) Approach to Providing the Requested Scope of Services
3) Price Proposal
4) Innovative and/or creative approaches to providing the services that provide additional efficiencies or increased performance capabilities.

Each of those were to be weighted at 25% for the purpose of evaluation. Righeimer, in a near froth, demanded that they be re-weighted, giving 50% to #3, Price Proposal. The others were weighted as follows: #1 - remains 25%; #2 was re-weighted to 10% and #4 was changed to 15%. This almost guarantees that the lowest bidder, regardless of skills, qualifications, creativity and response to scope of service, will receive the job.

And, to further add to the intrigue, Righeimer demanded that all submissions be sent directly to former City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow at her office at Jones & Mayer in Fullerton, then subsequently transmitted to Hatch. This reeks of distrust of the city staff, especially since no good reason was given except by outsourced City Attorney Tom Duarte, who muttered something about providing confidentiality. The item passed, 4-1, with Leece voting no. She voted no on the others, too.


The RFP for the Video Production - which also passed 4-1, with the same provisions installed by Righeimer in the previous one - generated some very complimentary comments about our current team, Dane Bora and Brad Long. These men do an outstanding job, work long hours and are dedicated to providing an outstanding product for our city. In a city staff of outstanding employees, these two men arguably make the most visible positive impact on the residents. It's beyond me to understand why this function would be considered for outsourcing. As former employee and speaker Perry Valantine pointed out, since most of the budgeted costs - $200,000 - are covered by a grant, our current video production organization is the best deal in town - at $66,000 per year. The clue, however, comes in comments from Righeimer and Mensinger. Righeimer continues to yap about costs. It's clear that he doesn't want Bora and Long to be displaced - he just doesn't want to pay them as employees.


Mensinger stepped in a pile of manure when he, twice, suggested that Hatch and Duarte find a way to coach employees about how to become a bidder on outsourcing functions. It remains unclear whether this is an appropriate role for any city official, since no definitive response was given. It does, however, give us a peek into the peculiar mind of Steve Mensinger - who apparently has never met a rule he won't break if given the chance.

This man grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth in a shallow pond of a town in the Central Valley - his family ran the biggest building supply outfit in town and his aunt was the mayor. He was sent to USC, where he apparently graduated with a degree in Arrogance - with honors. That's the course where they teach you that you should never hear the word "NO" - EVER! In that course they teach you that the rules are for others, but not you. They teach you the art form of turning the glad hand into a stiff-arm, a pat on the back into a knife between the ribs and that a criticism must always be preceded with faint praise so your victim drops his guard.


The RFP for the Building Inspection Services also passed 4-1 and also with the same provisions required by Righeimer, although not without several commenters bringing up valid concerns - each of which were ignored.

The low points of the evening came during Council Member Comments, which began at 11 p.m. Mensin
ger led off and, among his comments, he included an indictment of our campaign financing policies. He's chagrined that if a person contributes $250 or more to a campaign, that candidate may not hear or vote on an issue involving that contributor. He described it as "surreal". Again, a rule designed to serve the public interest - but he doesn't like it and asked for our policy to be agendized for potential modification. He used a backhanded slap at Leece during his discussion - once again. A low-class guy is always a low class guy, I guess.

He also wants a audit and assessment of the TeWinkle/Estancia and the Costa Mesa High School Foundations and how they spend the money on schools. I wonder if he's as concerned about the finances of Costa Mesa United, of which he is a member of the board? In any event, he asked Hatch to find out about the audit and to post the finances on the city web site so the residents can keep track of those finances.

Righeimer was n
ext up, although I'm surprised he had any arrows left in his quiver after the several mini-tirades he spewed throughout the evening. His first request was so jaw-dropping that it is almost unbelievable. He asked Hatch to have "this new person who works for the council" - whoever that is - to send out freedom of information requests to EVERY city in the county, including the county, for compensation numbers for EVERY person that works for them! No vote was taken on this item, even though it will clearly take much, much more than 4 hours of staff time to accomplish and maintain this data. And, just what will he - or we - do with this avalanche of numbers?


His next rant w
as about getting the A.B.L.E. helicopters sold "right away" because they are a depreciating asset - "like ice cubes melting on the sidewalk on a hot day". He actually seemed surprised that they are not yet sold although three months ago he specifically instructed then-commander Tim Starn to hold off for 90 days before putting them on the market in case they could be used in a public/private partnership.

The next
item was his complaint about perhaps not recognizing the policy about approval being necessary for use of more than 4 hours of staff time! (See Above!) What a hypocrite! He was referring specifically to Wendy Leece's request for a policy on Ex Parte Communications - which he and Mensinger tried to morph and hijack into a "union only" rule. It failed, 2-2, when Monahan apparently decided to break with them on this issue for the good of the city. In this case, Righeimer wants to change the policy - he asked for it to be brought back - so the majority on the council can not prohibit a minority member from getting the staff time necessary to gather data and do analysis on an issue. On the surface, that sounds like a good idea, but I'm very, very suspicious about his motives. We'll see.


He then launched off into a rant about the recent Orange County Register article by Jo
n Cassidy that outlined Worker's Compensation claim information that was, apparently, leaked to him from someone inside the city. Righeimer demanded that this information be made public so we can know the extent of this situation. He said he didn't want to see names, but I had the impression that somewhere back in his mind the word "yet" was lingering. He asked Hatch to provide that information. This was clearly another attack on union employees.

Finally, he asked that Hatch bring to the next council meeting a method by which the council can enter into an exclusive agreement with one of the vendors for the operation of the TeWinkle Park Sports Complex that had been heard recently by the Parks and Recreation Commission. He says "we've got the cart before the horse" - I had to chuckle at that one, considering how we're handling the outsourcing - and that we need to have an agreement - "not that we'd sign an agreement with them" - from one of the vendors so we "know what's out there". Sure sounds like a guy you'd want to do business with, doesn't it? Geez!


Bever was next, and began by agreeing with Mensinger about campaign reform. He said, "I wasn't tainted by it and I don't believe former member Mansoor was either. I never took a dime of union money." That's really hysterical - that he actually believes that union campaign contributions are the only potential source of campaign corruption. However, he asked Hatch to put campaign reform on the agenda for a future study session.

Leece brought up the rear and presented some positive information about the recent Historical Society event at the Estancia Adobe and the very informative newsletter prepared and distributed by Diane Hill and her United Neighbors organization. She also mentioned that some crime numbers are up and gave the numbers. Interesting, both Mensinger and Bever assailed her for that. Mensinger pouted that he didn't have that information and Bever told her that they were incomplete and she should wait to close out the year before presenting this kind of information. What a crock! If our police department tells us certain types of crimes are up - as Leece said, robbery is up 11% from a year ago, burglary is up 5% and larceny and theft is up 12% - that's something that I, as a resident, want to know. I don't want to wait 4 months to hear about it, either.


Lest I leave you with too bitter a taste in your mouth, one of the
presentations made by Monahan earlier in the meeting was to Costa Mesa native Sharon Day, the United States Heptathlon champion for 2011. Sharon was a multi-sport star while in high school, a national champion in college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and has had a stellar professional career. I'm a huge track and field fan and have watched her career since her high school days. Her college coach is a personal friend, so I've followed her career closely. She's a person of whom every Costa Mesan can be proud. Congratulations to Sharon and her family.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Here We Go Again

Ah, once again, neighbors, it's time for another Costa Mesa City Council meeting. You will recall the last one - on September 6/7 - lasted from 6 p.m. on Tuesday until 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday and was laced with controversy and hostility. It won't surprise me if we get more of the same this time around. I've made a pass at the agenda for tonight's meeting and find plenty to chew on, depending on how the council decides to "manage" it. The fun begins at 6:00 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

A note for you high-tech observers. The council chambers is now wired for wi-fi. Use password "cmcouncil" to access that system for your smartphones and Ipads.

In the Consent Calendar section - which will be passed with one vote unless somebody yanks an item for individual discussion - includes some of the most interesting issues. Before I talk about some of those, though, be advised that one of the two Warrants that will be approved includes a payment to Jones and Mayer - our outsourced contract City Attorney - of $110,194.66. That's slightly less than the most recent previous months, but still spinning that counter at a rate much faster than anticipated when the budget was prepared. The City has begun providing, as part of the CEO's E-Briefing each week, a breakdown showing the amount of legal fees allocated to the General Fund (the budget) and which are applied to the Self-insurance Fund.

Also on the Consent Calendar are three outsourcing RFPs - Jail Services, HERE, Video Pr
oduction Services, HERE and Building Inspection Services, HERE. I don't really expect those to be voted on as part of the Consent Calendar. I expect each will be "pulled" for separate discussion, which may take awhile since so much is at stake.

For example, the Staff Report on the Jail Services RFP is 76 pages long! Those who think every council member will read every word of that report, please raise your hands. Yeah, me neither. We can barely get a quorum these days without expecting them to do their jobs, too.

It's going to be
very interesting to see what kind of discussions, if any, are generated by these reports. The council majority may simply just decide to release them to the public and see what comes back in response. We already know there will likely be responses to the Jail Services RFP - there were two to the previous version, which was recalled when somebody finally decided to follow the rules.

Most of the original 6-month layoff notices issued on March 17th were extended to the middle of November. Considering that these three RFP's won't be going out for proposal until the third week of September, it's unrealistically optimistic to expect responses will be received before the end of October, which leaves only a couple weeks for the City to evaluate them and make decisions before that layoff date rolls around. Every time I begin thinking that the City can't find any further ways to screw-up this process, Bingo!, they do.


Following the Consent Calendar the Council will morph into a joint session with the Red
evelopment Agency to consider three issues required by new state legislation that extorts money from municipalities in exchange for their ability to retain their Redevelopment Agencies. They then morph back to the City Council for the remainder of the agenda.

Under Public Hearings they will consider three items of special interest.

The first is an ordinance modifying the municipal code relating to residential second units, Granny units and accessory apartments, HERE. The 27 page staff report outlines the particulars, but one thing that caught my eye was that the new ordinance reduces the number of residential lots permitted to erect second units from 100% of all residential lots to 40%. If you're concerned, read the staff report.

The second is an ordinance dealing with sign regulations, HERE. Several VERY significant changes are being proposed, including a reduction in height of free standing signs
from 25 feet to 12 feet and a modification of the definition of mural or supergraphic signs which may make some vendors more than a little unhappy.

The third is a resolution ad
opting an on-line recreation registration system use fee, HERE. This one drags our recreation registration into the 21st Century and has a dazzling fee configuration and some questionable security issues.


Near the end of the meeting the council will consider the re-naming of an existing p
ark for former Mayor Jack Hammett, HERE. Among the parks being considered are The Farm Sports Complex, Brentwood Park, Del Mesa Park and Civic Center Park - the potential home of a new Central Library.


I don't expect this meeting to stretch until tomorrow, but one just never knows with this mob. Among the interesting things to watch for will be how many times Steve Mensinger leaves the auditorium during the session. We can't really expect him to go without outside communication via text and phone calls, can we? And, council watchers will be curious to see if Eric Bever finally shows up for this one. I hope to make it to this meeting, but will report on it whether I'm there in person or not.

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