Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Unified Voices on I-405


In the press release shown below Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever joined other elected civic leaders to oppose Alternative #3 and unanimously support Alternative #2 as the Preferred Local Option for the expansion of the I-405 Freeway between Costa Mesa and the I-605. 

COSTA MESA, CALIF.—Five Orange County mayors and a mayor pro tem jointly signed a letter today that details their united opposition to an option pushed by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) requiring the installation of toll lanes on the 405 Freeway from Seal Beach through Costa Mesa.

Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Westminster have come together to oppose Alternative 3, which would use taxpayer funds to build toll lanes as part of a major expansion of the 405 Freeway in Orange County. The cities endorse Alternative 2 as the locally preferred option. That plan would improve traffic flow by adding more general purpose lanes but not require tolls.

Mayors Eric Bever (Costa Mesa), John Collins (Fountain Valley), Troy Edgar (Los Alamitos), Michael Levitt (Seal Beach), Margie L. Rice (Westminster) and Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer will submit their letter (see attached) to each member of the OCTA’s Board of Directors. City representatives will speak at the OCTA’s scheduled public meetings on the proposed expansion on Aug. 13 and Sept. 24.

The city councils of Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Seal Beach and Westminster recently have voted against the toll-road Alternative 3.

Alternate 2, which is unanimously supported by the six cities most affected by the proposed freeway expansion, essentially adds two lanes both north and southbound between Euclid Street and the 605 Freeway.

The OCTA Board is expected to select the “locally preferred alternative” at its Sept. 24 meeting, and Caltrans is scheduled to make the final decision in the fall.

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They're Back! (Amended)*

You will recall that, back in May, I told you about a probable infestation of our City Council meeting by outside agitators from the Orange County Young Republicans, HERE.  We'll, they're back at it again.

In an Action Alert sent out this week those rabid young misguided folks are being asked, once again, to flood our city council chambers at the meeting tonight - when the council WILL vote to place Jim Righeimer's Charter on the November 6th ballot.

This time the flames of this Action Alert are being fanned by a guy named Dave Everett, HERE, who apparently recently left his position as Executive Director of the OC GOP for a position with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).  In correspondence provided to me he exhorts the troops to rally at City Hall at 6:30, luring them there with the promise of pizza and a chance to visit the Fair.  Well, the Fair is dark on Tuesdays, so these gullible, easily-manipulated young folks will be disappointed.  That's a lesson they'll learn more than once in their young lives if they don't begin thinking for themselves instead of following the OC GOP script.

Speaking of which, in his correspondence Everett asks these young people to wear RED shirts in a show of solidarity - they wore black last time - and tells them that he will provide them with SCRIPTS to read to the council.  Oh, yeah, Young Republicans... just leave your brains at home... we'll provide everything you need - pizza and a script!

In his correspondence Everett says, "
For ABC, we are trying to get charter's up and down the state for cities, so that our members are not excluded from bidding on contracts for those cities...".  It looks to me like Everett has become the reincarnation of Kevin Dayton - the shill for the ABC who almost incited a riot in council chambers back in February, HERE and HERE.
I've mentioned many times that the changes being attempted in Costa Mesa by Jim Righeimer and his pals on the council are actually being guided by marching orders from Scott Baugh and the OC GOP.  Here is yet another example of them trying to influence the APPEARANCE of broad public support for these schemes.  One could interpret this as a recognition by the current council majority that this bogus scheme does NOT have broad community support so they're trying to stack the deck purely for appearance purposes - to make it appear that folks who will actually be impacted by Jim Righeimer's Charter are supportive of it.  Personally, I find it offensive that these guys think it's necessary to import agitators with no skin in the game - especially when NOTHING that will be said tonight is going to change the fact that the four members of the council WILL vote to place the charter on the ballot.

If you plan to attend the council meeting tonight - it begins at 7:00 p.m. - I suggest you plan to arrive a little early if you want to have a seat.
  Everett has rallied his young troops for 6:30.

I had a chuckle when I read the Action Alert mentioned above because they linked to two of my previous posts and referred to my blog as a "liberal blog".  Me, a lifelong Republican, being painted by the FAR RIGHT wing of my party as a liberal makes me smile.  These guys just keep doing the same things over and over again, failing every time, and getting closer and closer to the cliff of irrelevancy.  If they don't soon change their tactics the Republican Party in California will be only a memory - and that's not a good thing for any of us.

I'll report on the meeting later tonight.  See you there.


By the way, despite several telephone calls,  at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon - less than 6 hours until the Charter meeting time and less than 5 hours for the Special closed session at 6, the City still has NOT shown the two council meetings on their schedule of events on the City home page.  Instead, they continue to show the following image.  So much for transparency, huh?

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Costa Mesa Charter Vote Tomorrow

Just a reminder that the Costa Mesa City Council will meet at 7:00 Tuesday in council chambers to vote on whether to put Jim Righeimer's Charter on the November 6th ballot or not.  There is NO chance they will NOT put it on the ballot.  You can read the agenda HERE and the final (so far) version of the Charter HERE.

For those residents interested in this issue - the second-most important issue in the history of this city - you can join your neighbors to hear the discussion, watch the council majority ignore the pleas of those who have studied this bogus document and see a sample of how draconian the governance of this city will be if they get the power that this document provides to them.

It is interesting to note that, despite how the City touts itself as being the most transparent city around, the information about this particular meeting has been curiously missing or misleading.  For example, the most recent glossy marketing flier sent out to every Costa Mesa home shows the start time for this meeting as 6:00 p.m.  There actually has been a meeting scheduled for that hour - a closed session about labor negotiations and legal problems - but the charter hearing is at 7:00.

And, on the City's brand new web site, over on the right side where you can click on the Community Calendar tab to get the upcoming schedule of events, when I did that over the weekend and as recently as 3:30 Monday it shows the following.  Note - NO mention of EITHER council meeting.  I've called City Hall twice today about it and it has not been fixed.  Transparency is more than a word.

So, I'll see you all there tomorrow evening to watch what is being foisted off on us as the "democratic process" take place.  Yep, we'll see a charter document cobbled together by one man to meet his personal political agenda be sent on it's way to the unknowing voters of this city.

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A Day For Remembrance

As many of you who have been reading these pages know, each year on this day, July 30th, I write about my best friend, Larry Moore.  Today would have been his 71st birthday.  If you're tired of hearing about it, just click away from this page.
Larry was my best friend for 57 years.  We were closer than most brothers from the age of five.  He was hospitalized from injuries he received when he crashed his motorcycle on a remote desert road early in November, 2003 and finally succumbed to those injuries on December 19th, 2003.  I was at his side throughout that time, helping make decisions to, hopefully, bring him back.  It was not to be...

HERE is a link to a piece I wrote about him a few years ago that includes a commentary published in the Daily Pilot shortly after he died.  The message I wrote then remains relevant today. 
My pal was a proud member of the Los Angeles Police Department and for the last half of his 31-year career he ran the athletic programs at the Police Academy.  He loved his work and the men and women of that department.
He was also a singer, formed a band and performed on television.  I recently stumbled across a YouTube video of one of his original compositions that he recorded back when we were in our late teens.  Enjoy it.  Happy Birthday, amigo.  I miss you very much.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Read Along And Watch His Nose Grow

Did you ever have one of those projects that seemed so overwhelming that you just didn't know where to begin?  Well, tonight I'm facing that challenge as I contemplate how to respond to non-elected councilman Steve Mensinger's commentary presently appearing online in the Daily Pilot and will likely be in print over this weekend.  You can read it HERE.

There is SO much in this commentary that cries out for rebuttal that it just makes my head spin.  But, even though this has already been a long day, I'm going to give it my best shot.

Right off the bat Mensinger, in his attempt to criticize Jeff Harlan's most recent column, HERE, basically agrees with him that he and his council-majority buddies don't follow the traditional governmental process!  That admission alone validates much of what has been said here over the past 18 months and should certainly provoke folks to investigate further.  To him, though, it's no big deal.

He justifies that behavior by beginning with, "...past councils neglected Costa Mesa's infrastructure needs to feed the public employee pension beast they created.That's a lie!  Past councils directed the staff to do assessments of the roadway infrastructure and come up with a plan to improve the conditions.  That was done and progress was being made toward that goal.  However, the economic downturn that began in 2008 and included the failure of Lehman Brothers - costing Costa Mesa $5 million in invested dollars - cause the council and staff to re-trench and re-prioritize.

He says, "...past councils burned through more than $30 million in reserves because they refused to properly right-size City Hall given current economic realities.Lie #2.  Previous councils and senior staff, in their skillful management of resources, built up those reserves specifically for the kind of catastrophic financial situation in which we've found ourselves.  And, before Mensinger was appointed, those folks began - to use his term - to "right-size" City Hall by offering retirement incentives, using furlough days, freezing any pay increases and, eventually, downsizing the staff by approximately 30% while attempting to maintain service to the residents of the city.

He says, "...past council policies have led to more than $250 million in unfunded pension and retire health benefits.Lie #3.  It's the economy, stupid!  The kick in the teeth we all felt when the economy went south was also felt by the CalPERS program.  Their management model failed to produce the returns necessary to maintain funding of the programs, so the City - along with EVERY other city participating in the CalPERS system - had to fork over lots of dollars.

He says, "So yes, this Costa Mesa council has been different.  We have put residents first.Lie #4.  Far from putting the residents first, this council - the one that only took 3 votes to place him on - has done exactly the opposite of his claim.  They have refused to negotiate in good faith with the public safety organizations and, as a result of their "no hiring without a second pension tier" mandate, have required them to work long, long hours to keep our streets safe.  They violated their own rules and arbitrarily attempted to impose 6-month layoff notices on half the city staff - which resulted in the tragic death of Huy Pham and has caused chaos and millions of dollars in legal bills in this city for the past 18 months.

They arbitrarily imposed a police staffing level that reduced the manpower levels to those not seen since the 1980s, ignoring the solid advice of their highly-qualified consultants on the issue AND the best advice from Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, who finally resigned in disgust.  Through their ignorance, incompetence and stubbornness they attempted to impose a work schedule on the police that caused chaos in the ranks and service levels to suffer.  It was finally overturned by Chief Tom Gazsi.

A year ago they arbitrarily shut down the AirBorne Law Enforcement Program (A.B.L.E.), which served our community and neighboring communities for more than 4 decades and had become the model on which all other municipal airborne organizations were based.  Despite the fact that A.B.L.E had enough money in the bank to operate for two more years without taking a cent from either Costa Mesa or Newport Beach, Mensinger's council forced the closure of operations and the sale of all the equipment.  We ended up paying $13,000 per month for almost a year for a hangar we didn't use and got fire-sale prices for the helicopters.  Now we're paying $700 per hour for less-than-reliable service from Huntington Beach and the council crows about it.

Their intransigence about that second pension tier has prohibited Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold from implementing his revolutionary restructuring plan that will save the city millions annually when it's finally installed.  And, that same intransigence has prohibited us from hiring replacements and has caused hundreds of hours of overtime to be worked by the fire staff - something that the council has  used as an example of "greedy public employees".

Despite their demands for a second pension tier and draconian belt-tightening via their outsourcing scheme, they authorized the hiring of several senior level managers - some jobs given to people who had no background in that kind of work and in positions that didn't previously exist - in the Chief Executive's Office without any formal recruitment effort and before the second tier could be implemented.  That kind of cronyism has continued to the present time.  While every other part of the organization has contracted in size, the CEO's office has doubled.  Of course, 18 months ago I joked that their perfect organization model would be CEO Tom Hatch and a half-dozen contract administrators.  Maybe that's where we're heading after all.


The list goes on and on and on.  If that's their definition of "putting the residents first" you know we're all in big trouble.

Mensinger goes on to list, with bullet points, other issues he feels rebut Harlan's characterization of this councils actions.  He says that, "while sticking to the best governmental processes..."  Well, remember in the beginning he admits they didn't do that!

His bullet points are that his council:

"Passed the first two balanced budgets (without the use of reserves) in recent memory."  He conveniently forgets to mention that they gutted several organizations and programs to do that.

"Hired and promoted seven new executive level leaders, remarkable for the fact that they live in the city they manage.
And this, in his alternate-universe kind of thinking, is a badge of accomplishment?  He neglects to mention that we didn't NEED many of those jobs and that most of them went to people with no appropriate backgrounds without a competitive recruitment effort.

"Poured more than $20 million in infrastructure for the 2012-2013 fiscal year alone."  He conveniently neglects to mention that much of that work was already on the schedule, that they sacrificed public safety staffing to accomplish it and then dismantled the city street crew that would have done much of the work in a more cost-effective manner.

"Has taken a stand against the unsustainable demands of public employee unions, bringing sanity back to the city's fiscal policies."  First of all, we DON'T have any employee unions in this city.  We have employee associations, which do NOT have the authority to perform job actions - strikes, for example.   When you start from a foundation of ignorance, everything else you say is suspect.  "Taking a stand" is one thing, but the failure to negotiate in good faith because the OC GOP leaders don't want you to is entirely another story.

"Explored the viability of outsourcing various city services, identifying millions of dollars in annual savings by both privatizing services and delivering in-house services more effectively."  That term, "explored", is much too benign.  What he means is, "We took a meat ax to the established procedures, prematurely issued more than 200 layoff notices, caused a kid to take his own life, had the then-mayor demonstrate his callousness by not attending to our business - he attended to HIS.  We had wave after wave of layoff notices issued, which tore the scab off that wound a half-dozen times for hundreds of staffers as the council actions caused millions in legal bills to be racked up by one of the most expensive law firms in the country, working with an open-ended contract."  His little exploration has now potentially saddled us with an international firm to run our jail that has recently become notorious by failing in their $60 million assignment at the London Olympics.  Oh, yeah, this foray into outsourcing has turned out to be just dandy.

"Has made Costa Mesa one of the most transparent cities in the country and nation, according to the Orange County Register, Orange County Grand Jury and the national Sunshine Review."  Well, maybe.  Some of the "transparency" initiatives have improved information flow and some have not.  For example, the new website - a $50,000 expense that may or may not have been necessary - is a long way from being easy to use.  And, where the rubber meets the road, in those areas that are important, like the timely distribution of agendas for city meetings, it seems like those are slower and slower being revealed.  Friday, for example, the agenda notification about next Tuesday's special council meeting on Jim Righeimer's Charter didn't get sent until almost 8:00 p.m.  That's well short of the mark for timeliness.  And, the new telephone system is not customer-friendly at all!  With the reduced staffing we've become accustomed to delays in call-backs, but the new system seems to stiff-arm you every step of the way.  Of course, we recently tossed aside the Information Technology Manager position and the person who had held it for a decade.  How does that make any sense at all?

"Has developed a charter that, if put on the ballot and passed by the voters in November, would take back local control from Sacramento politicians (the current charter was developed after seven months of public input and literally hundreds of suggestions by Costa Mesa residents)."  I'm glad he saved that load of manure until last.  First of all, the way Jim Righeimer's Charter reads today, the only ones having "local control" will be him and his cronies.  It is packed with his pet projects and is devoid of effective controls to prevent abuse, corruption and misbehavior by those in charge.  Mensinger lies when he says  that it was developed with public input.  Anyone paying attention knows that nearly EVERY suggestion from the public for modification of the charter document Jim Righeimer personally crafted by cutting and pasting random phrases from a variety of sources was ignored.  Not only ignored, but ignored accompanied by snide, derisive comments from the dais, as well.  No, the document they will vote to place on the ballot
Tuesday is Righeimer's baby, designed to satisfy his masters in the OC GOP and to finally get some of his vindictive, anti-employee schemes codified somewhere after decades of failure.  Don't let Mensinger or anyone else try to convince you that this charter is good for our city - it's not.

As I've said MANY times, I'm not against considering a charter for our city.  While three-quarters of California cities DO NOT have charters and enjoy the considerable protections provided by the state as General Law cities,  25% do work under the Charter form of government.  However, because they can permit mischief - as witnessed by Bell and Vernon - it is essential that charters be carefully created using the full intellectual and moral resources available in the community. That means a commission or committee charged with the creation of the document using significant public input so the final product actually meets the city's needs.  It does NOT mean a skimpy, inadequately safe-guarded, self-serving document created by one man.

Over the next few months the voters of this city will have several opportunities to observe the candidates for city council.  There are presently nine people in the race and Mensinger is part of a slate that has been touted by the OC GOP for months - even before any of them had announced their candidacies.  Mensinger, Colin McCarthy and Gary Monahan will almost certainly be teamed to run against all comers and will likely be the recipients of lots of outside financial support.  As you consider the candidates remember Mensinger's commentary and how he played fast and loose with the truth.  When he received three votes from the council and accepted his appointment to replace Katrina Foley on the dais he told the audience that what he really wanted to do was be a coach.  Well, I hope the voters will help him reach that goal in November by providing him with plenty of spare time to pursue it.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Final Vote On Charter Tuesday

Very late this afternoon the City of Costa Mesa posted the agenda for a Special City Council meeting Tuesday evening, July 31, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers at the Costa Mesa City Hall.  The Costa Mesa City Council will hear any final thoughts on Jim Righeimer's Charter before voting to place it on the November 6, 2012 ballot.  You can read the staff report on this debacle HERE.  You can read the latest version of the Charter from the staff report, HERE.  You can also read much more on the subject at the City web site Charter Page, HERE.  Apparently this meeting will be preceded at 6:00 with yet another special Closed Session meeting to address labor negotiations and more litigation that's anticipated.  No surprise there!

I suspect we'll see many familiar faces step to the speaker's podium to, one last time, present their views to a disinterested City Council.  The council, bored, will ignore them and likely then vote, 4-1, to place the issue on the November ballot.  That will come to no surprise to anyone paying attention.

Since it has been clear from the very beginning way back the end of last year when Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer first dredged up this subject that he had his own ideas about what SHOULD be in his charter and he wasn't about to be swayed by those who actually care what happens in this city and take the time to research issues and present their view to the council.  Nope, it was going to be HIS WAY from the beginning.

Tuesday speakers will speak, council members may retort and in the end - baring another clerical error - the charter will be on the ballot.  This leaves only one alternative for those of us who oppose it - to defeat it at the ballot box.

Because we have a very contentious city council race ahead of us, Jim Righeimer's Charter will undoubtedly be a major point of discussion as we move toward November.  Letters will be written, names will be called and, with any luck at all, a majority of the voters will see this move for what it is - an attempt to take over our city and install a very flawed Charter as the primary tool of governance that will be used to run roughshod over the rights of the residents of this city.  Righeimer continues to fabricate crises to support his view that, to "save the city" he needs the right tools.  Well, this "tool" is like handing a lock pick to a burglar!  This tool is designed to permit those in power to simply make up the rules as they go along.  We've watched this current council have problems following the rules for the past eighteen months, so trying to imagine what they will try to do with the new, virtually limitless power this flawed document will provide to them shakes me to the bone.

So, let's get this vote behind us so the time-consuming work of convincing the electorate of the deficiencies of Jim Righeimer's Charter can begin.  We'll have just over three months to convince the voters that, while a Charter form of governance isn't necessarily a bad idea, THIS CHARTER IS A TERRIBLE IDEA that should be soundly rejected in November.  Recently the press has been full of stories of malfeansance by leaders in Charter cities, where the voters obviously placed too much trust and power in the hands of elected leaders that proved unworthy of that trust.

As Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan so deftly pointed out last week, HERE, if a charter is a good idea for our city, then it should be a properly created document, using the considerable talents available in this city in the form of a Charter Commission elected by the voters.  That commission would be charged with carefully constructing the document that will become our de facto municipal constitution, will include input from the community and have safeguards built into it to prevent fraud, corruption and other malfeasance in perpetuity.  There is no rush to accomplish this process, which is what's happening with Jim Righeimer's Charter.  It's being rushed through the system simply to pad one person's political resume.

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