Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homeless And Budget Discussed

Early or late, almost any meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council these days proves to be entertaining. The Special Study Session held in council chambers beginning at 4:30 ended precisely at 7:00 and was, indeed, entertaining. It was also very frustrating at times.

First, Eric Bever failed to show up. I guess, in
his words, he "didn't sign up for this". Then Mayor Gary Monahan bailed out at 6:00 p.m. for some more important engagement following the first segment, the Homeless Task Force report, leaving barely a quorum. Then, a half hour later, the sometimes very obtuse Steve Mensinger - perhaps influenced by the recent visit of our Australian exchange students - went on a walkabout. He just got up and wandered out of the auditorium without saying a word, leaving Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young frozen in the middle of a word because Mensinger's absence eliminated the quorum. Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer called for a short break, leaving those of us left in the audience to chuckle among ourselves. "Clueless" was among the words that popped into my mind. The meeting re-convened five minutes later after Mensinger returned from making his telephone call or his bathroom break - whatever took him out of the room. Hmmm... I guess the world REALLY does revolve around him, after all.

The report of by the Homeless Task Force, led by Jeff Mathews and Muriel Ullman, was crisp and excellent. You can read the staff report HERE and the 137 page foundational document HERE. I won't try to re-hash the entire presentation, but will observe that much progress has been made in the year since this Task Force was constituted. Goal have been established and plans to reach them have been formulated. Many new ordinances would have to be created to cover some of those steps.


However, while the council members in attendance were grateful for all the hard work put in by the members and their leadership, one had the impression that they were no
t fully on-board with some of the things that needed to be accomplished. Perhaps that might have had to do with the lingering problem - after the homeless folks in our city have been sorted out and those who fit the definition created by the task force as "Costa Mesa Homeless" - those for whom support services will be provided - what happens to the remaining homeless people who don't fit the definition, but remain "homeless in Costa Mesa"? There were no good answers to that question, but bus tickets out of town were seriously mentioned.

CEO Tom Hatch also expressed s
ome concern that, in the process of implementing the plans, we might might end up only making things worse. The services that would be made available might attract even more homeless folks to our city. It was acknowledged that the weather, proximity to the ocean and services already in place ARE, to use a Mensingerism, "attractants". I agree with that apprehension. It seems entirely logical that if you create even more services and an infrastructure to manage this issue more homeless folks will descend upon our city. This, I fear, is going to be the crack in the foundation of this program that simply must be solved FIRST.

Mensinger, during the discussion of the homeless problem, said one of the str
angest things - of many - that I've ever heard him say. He said, "... I really don't think it should be the responsibility of our police department to go solve problems on private property - that's a function of the property owners." You could hear jaws dropping all over the auditorium! I wonder just what his definition of "public safety" actually is? His vision is, apparently, a hoard of private security officers hired by property owners to protect their individual investments. He went on to complain about having to "walk two miles" during a recent police department ride-along, looking for homeless people around businesses.


Before we get too far along here and I completely lose my sense of humor, let me give you a smile or two. As you may recall, Mensinger had anointed himself the "test case" for using electronic devices to replace the costly paper staff reports. He uses his own, personal Ipad instead of a pile of paper. I'm sure we all can see the possible upside of this - saving trees, etc. - but there's a huge downside, too. In Mensinger's case, it's the inability to follow along with the proceedings as he surfs the web and answers emails on the dais. Several of us in the audience heard his incoming email alert - a little "ping" - while he was attempting to follow along. And, at least a couple times, he asked such irrelevant questions that it was clear he had NOT been paying attention. I'm sorry this photo is a little blurry, but I just couldn't resist showing it to you because it shows the reflection of his Ipad in his glasses - a perfect representation of the problem. And, when he wasn't wandering off physically or mentally, he was taking jabs at Wendy Leece. The guy is a real schmuck! (Definition: an obnoxious or contemptible person)


Bobby Young provided a fairly pos
itive report on our Mid-year financial performance. You can read his staff report HERE. He told us that he is cautiously optimistic about the Sales Tax revenues that seem to be bouncing back from the dreary fiscal years of 08/09 and 09/10. The quarter that included last Christmas was up nearly 12% from the same period the previous year. He's projecting "only" just over 5% for the final two quarters of this year - an acknowledged conservative approach, but safe.

The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) is also trending upward on a similar track as the Sales Tax revenues are showing. He is projecting just over 2% increase for the final two quarters - again, a very conservative number. He didn't provide an analysis of Property Tax revenues because it seems to be flat and consistent with the budgeted numbers.

Young will be recommending revenue adjustments netting just over $340,000, with five areas adjusted upward and two down. Increases will be recommended for the TOT ($250,000); Cable TV Franchise Fee ($100,000); Solid Waste Hauler Franchise Fees ($250,000); Paramedic Fees - Advanced ($50,000) and Other Miscellaneous Revenues ($41,225). The two downward adjustments, Vehicle Code Violations (-$200,000) and Parking Citations (-$150,000), are directly related to the staff reductions in the Costa Mesa Police Department.

When the budget was approved last June there was a $970,000 "contingency fund" created from which CEO Hatch could pluck handfuls of dollars for un-budgeted items as they occurred. After a short discussion about one significant item that appeared to be mis-applied to this account, it looks like the City has spent a little more than half of this amount - $545,273 - in the first half of the fiscal year.

Righeimer went off on a mini-tirade about overtime costs. It seems the Employee Compensation Report was just made available, HERE, and he was, once again, ranting about the greedy public safety folks and their darn budget-busting overtime costs. He pointed out that "a couple of them earned over $100,000 in overtime". Well, I've gone over that report a couple times and I only see one. You can take a look yourself...

The problem here is that it is the policies of this council that caused this overtime to be
worked! They've refused to let the Fire Department hire any new employees unless they agree to re-open their contract and accept a second tier for their retirement. So, in order to provide for public safety, firefighters and their commanders MUST work overtime to cover the shifts.

In the case of the Police Department, Righeimer conveniently ignores that fact that they've refused to allow proper staffing, limiting it to 131 sworn officers (including 5 paid for with grant funding for 5 years) when all credible sources that they've contracted with for their expertise tells us that there should be AT LEAST another dozen officers for MINIMUM staffing. He also conveniently ignored that much of the overtime they show on their compensation report is money reimbursed to the city by events like the Orange County Fair, the Barrett-Jackson auction, etc. Nah, they won't talk about that because it doesn't fit their personal agenda. Instead, Righeimer portrays the public safety staff as a bunch of selfish, greedy laggards, interested only in retiring.


The area of greatest concern to me - and a few members in the audience - was th
e planned request to nearly double the amount in the Self Insurance Fund, from $932,008 to $1,832,008. This fund is where dollars are plucked from to pay litigation expenses. As most know, we've been blowing through that fund like proverbial drunken sailors now that the pricey law firm, Jones Day, is on board trying to quash the lawsuit filed by the employees to stop the outsourcing scheme.


Wendy Leece wondered where the January numbers were for Jones Day, since it seems their charges for January don't show up anywhere. Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte told her that he had the bills for review and approval and that they would be processed for payment shortly. You can read the legal bills paid so far this year HERE.

The requests for budget adjustments will be presented to the council for action at the sec
ond meeting in March, according to Young.

As an aside, I finally got a copy of the 5-year Forecast spreadsheet that was the
result of the exercise a few weeks ago when Righeimer and others simply plucked numbers out of the air instead of doing any kind of even rudimentary analysis and plugged those fabrications in five years out. The way things work with these guys, those numbers will soon be cast in concrete and be the working "bible" for all municipal financial activities even though a chimpanzee could have come up with something just as valid. That form is NOT available online yet, but I'll give you the link when it is.

Maybe, if you're a marginally skilled developer, you can get away with that kind of capricious fiscal management because, theoretically, you can just raise your prices if you have a shortfall. In municipal fiscal management, where a balanced budget is critical, your options are limited and usually involve cutting costs. "Costs" means people because that's where the bulk of the dollar are spent. I guarantee you that, if this crew stays on the council and based on what they've conjured up for the next five years, Righeimer's outsourcing scheme is only the beginning. It's going to be a bloodbath! The T-shirt Billy Folsom wore to the council meeting last week for the recognition of his 30 years with the city was right on the money. It read, "Ready, Fire, Aim" - an acknowledgment of the way these guys operate. It's a heck of a way to run a city.

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Anonymous highwayman said...

Did I see 100,000 dollars for the June Charter? Has that already been approved? My understanding is Mr.Young will not include things like costs or even employee estimate of savings until it is actually been approved.

I am sure in the past I have heard Mr. Young say he eliminated savings from employee contract contribution estimates because we didn't know if our employees would continue with the same contributions as they had been giving.

There seems to be a bit of inconsistency here if the 100,000 includes putting the Charter on the June ballot.

I know this charter Is a done deal for the June ballott. But I am saying let's be consistent. Unless of course this amount is actually money already spent or estimates of further expense for the Charter not including the ballot costs.

2/29/2012 07:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Barrt said...

I cannot believe the naivity and audacity of this blog sometimes. Blaming the City Council for outrageous salaries that our employees get? Are you serious? Those absurd salaries are the direct product of the unions who pushed, and hemmed and hawed to get what they wanted. The sky would fall if we didn't pay them. We wouldn't be safe unless we had $300k a year firemen! Give me a break. This list is insulting to the hard working people of Costa Mesa to see all of their money going towards greedy employees. I hope this list gets sent to every working house in this City to see how bad we are getting ripped-off.

2/29/2012 08:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Love the picture of Billy Folsom--our $94,000 a year mechanic. The first department that should be outsourced, just like most other cities have did years ago. Why is it taking so long to outsource this department. Most cities have figured it out. I guess when the lawsuit is finally won and the perjurer Helen Nenehdal has spent more taxpayer money on legal bills will we finally be able to start outsourcing some of these silly departments.

I did see the salary information, thank you Pot Stirrer for the informative link. It upsets me to see what our employees make. It's downright theft.

2/29/2012 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Grateful Costa Mesan said...

Thank God Mr. West is out there writing truth.

Someday righeimer will move on to disrupt another city with his extremism and this will all seem like a bad dream.

2/29/2012 09:12:00 AM  
Anonymous CM Whine Press said...

Phil/CM's "other" blogger disparaged Folsom with a crack about 94K/year.

If that's accurate, so what? Folsom earns it and it's not unusual for a master mechanic with decades of experience. The diesel guy at my brother's Ford dealership (So. Cal) gets almost twice that in the private sector.

NON-union by the way.

2/29/2012 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous OT needs reform said...

Geoff, take a look at the Fire MOU, and you will see where the OT comes from. Minimum manning/staffing requirements and the vacation/sick/OT merry-go-round. Those provisions were approved by Council, so all blame does not go to Fire or association leadership - they were successful at negotiating the obscene OT.

Very illustrative is how the SAFD union agreed to reduce minimum manning/staffing in Santa Ana from 63 to 48 when OCFA took over - they wanted to save jobs - public safety never, ever came into the equation.

Proof positive that minimum manning/staffing requirements are all about the OT and Righeimer is right on track.

2/29/2012 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

For all the people that are not happy with union salaries - what is your take on CEO pay ? Why are you harping on people making a middle class living and providing a service, yet nothing is mentioned about CEO's making x300-x350 the amount an average employee makes ? Billy works on all kinds of vehicles, how much should he be paid then ? The same as a 3 year mechanic ? There's no sense of proportion here at all.

2/29/2012 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

Phil - Lawsuit wouldn't have happened if Riggy didn't pinkslip people illegally. He got the ball rolling on that one, not the unions. And are you saying the unions shouldn't defend themselves againast an illegal practice and should just lay down and take it ?

2/29/2012 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Reform needed said...

I totally support the Council's efforts, including the charter. The main issues for me are local control, pension costs, OT abuse and outsourcing where it makes sense.

Regarding Folsom's salary - it is well deserved. He is a master mechanic who wears many hats and is an asset to Costa Mesa. So are our cops and firefighters. If we weren't paying obscene pension costs and massive fire OT, we could have more firefighters and officers if they were needed. But we're stuck paying retirement costs that are the equivalent of the entire personnel costs for almost half again of our police and fire departments. And that doesn't even factor in millions of Fire OT that is all because of minimum manning/staffing provisions. It is crazy.

2/29/2012 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

Once again, that lie is here, arising like a zombie, that somehow a charter is going to reduce pension costs.

A charter will NOT reduce what we owe to PERS for pensions earned by employees. Costa Mesa's contract with PERS cannot be broken by a charter, only a bankuptcy can do that.

A charter is not needed to establish a two-tier system, reducing pensions for new hires. The City Council has already set this in motion.

A charter has absolutely no effect on pensions or pension obligations.

2/29/2012 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous harriet said...

PHIL'S remarks about our dedicated, city employees enrage me. Helen has given so much of herself to help her fellow city employees, she deserves accolades not accusations that hinge on defamantion of character. Billy deserves every penney he earns with his long history with our city and his expertise in repairing everything from motorcycles, to cars, to fire trucks. We are talking about a well rounded, broad spectrum knowledgeable employee that would need multitudes to replace. His T shirt saying is right on point.

2/29/2012 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Bada Bing said...

Eleanor, the charter allows the City to outsource functions.

If you have less Pers employees, you have a lower pension obligation.

See the math?

2/29/2012 04:05:00 PM  
Anonymous simple math said...


You are wrong... if you get rid of the PERS employees the city immediately must pay CALPERS all liabilities. The cost is in the tens of millions. So you pay for the now gone employees and the new ones... gee, I wonder if that is a fiscally conservative move?

2/29/2012 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike M said...

Bada bong - charter does nothing for pensions already owed. Get with the program and stop the lies.

2/29/2012 06:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

A charter is not needed to outsource functions. Costa Mesa contracts with Costa Mesa Disposal for trash pickup. I have seen people mowing grass in Costa Mesa city parks using trucks with a private company logo. Costa Mesa contracts with private firms for building plan checks. Costa Mesa contracts with private companies for paving and other construction projects. We are a general law city, and contracting out has never been a problem.

2/29/2012 10:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Quit Whining, Phil the Shill said...

Phil, I don't get you. You complain about Billy who actually does work at the City of Costa Mesa as a master mechanic with a ton of certifications, but have no complaints about the hiring of Lobdell, the spin doctor who updates Facebook and writes biased press releases for a salary of $150k, or Joyce, who really doesn't have a specific job but gets paid the same as Lobdell. Then there is Francis who was hired to appease Moorlach and then the promotion of Nhagavi to a position he has absolutely no clue how to do. All these new executive employees are were hired before the new two tiered pension program. If you are going to be critical of salaries and pensions, at least be consistent.

Righeimer whines about overtime, but does not work with his chosen Police Chief on solutions. The city had an opportunity to contract with OCFA, but nothing happened. Why is that Phil? Maybe you should talk to your buds on the council and ask them these questions that concern you, instead of whining on Geoff's blog.

3/01/2012 08:06:00 AM  
Anonymous George Zipp said...

Wouldn't the overtime for the police and fire department go away if the council allowed them to hire more people? These new people would be hired at a lower pension rate which is what the council wants and then the big overtime pay would be reduced?

3/01/2012 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

George Zipp said...
Wouldn't the overtime for the police and fire department go away if the council allowed them to hire more people? These new people would be hired at a lower pension rate which is what the council wants and then the big overtime pay would be reduced?


Sure, but that would show Riggy's extremist political agenda to be just that. No crisis, no extreme measures needed. The city would return to normal and the disruptors would have to move on.

3/01/2012 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Billy is wort it said...

AMS Automotive Schools states that in 2011, the median annual salary of master mechanic is $60,000 to $100,000. Master mechanics employed by Ford dealerships also receive an array of benefits including medical coverage, 401k plans, vehicle purchase plans, paid vacations, discount vehicle financing, personal computer purchase programs and performance incentive program compensation.

3/01/2012 09:48:00 PM  
Anonymous so worth it said...

Master mechanics are the mechanics with extensive experience and years of dedication to the field. Master mechanics can earn well over $100,000 a year, sometimes up to $120,000 a year. However, these salary ranges aren't the normal averages and exist only with a small percentage of BMW mechanics. There is a tiered rating system for BMW mechanics. A C-tech is the lowest tier, but can earn up to $40,000 a year. A B-tech can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000 a year. An A-tech, otherwise known as a master mechanic, can earn up to $120,000 a year. A trainee can expect to earn anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 a year, until the completion of BMW STEP training and certification.

3/01/2012 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Whats a "mechanic" at Jiffy Lube make?

3/04/2012 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Manny hates Moe & Jack said...

The last time I checked those " mechanics",(if you want to call them that) were nothing more than sales people in overalls. All they do is try and upsale you on everything. They are useless and should not be brought into the City discussion about highly trained & dedicated employees.

3/06/2012 08:40:00 AM  

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