Friday, May 25, 2012

Mansoor/Rush Debate Roundup

Republican Assemblyman Allan Mansoor and freshly-minted Democrat challenger Rob Rush debated important issues before an attentive crowd at Laguna Beach City Hall Friday night.  Newport Beach councilwoman Leslie Daigle - also a candidate for the new 74th Assembly seat, was a no-show.  She notified the hosts earlier in the week that she would not attend.
More than 80 people, predominantly senior individuals, paid close attention as Mansoor and Rush responded to questions provided by the crowd.  Once again, it was strange to be one of the young people in the room, but I digress.  The event, produced by the League of Women Voters and others, was well-run and turned out to be very informative, if the tone of the crowd following the program is any indication.  Moderator Joan Hake and her team of question screeners and timers did a fine job of keeping the event moving along briskly, but with flexibility where it was required.  There was no cheering or jeering at this debate - a very pleasant change.
Through the nearly 90 minutes of the program both Mansoor and Rush responded comfortably to more than 30 questions.  If there was ANY personal animosity between them it certainly did not show.  When they disagreed with each other they did so with maturity and professionalism.  Several of us wondered if that same cordiality would have existed if Daigle had shown up for the event.  Our guess was no, it wouldn't.

Mansoor, a far right Republican and Rush, a centrist Democrat, agreed on many more issues than I expected.  Two areas where they had very different views were on abortion and same sex marriage.  Mansoor is pro-life and does not support gay marriage.  Rush is pro-choice and does support gay marriage.  Although those subjects were mentioned more than once, they did not dominate the discussions.   

I won't try to provide a detailed analysis of every response, but will give you impressions of the evening.  My first impression was that both men came prepared and didn't fumble or stumble on answers.  The questions posed to them were done with courtesy and each answered with clarity and no hint of sniping at each other.

A main theme ran through many of Mansoor's answers - Pension reform - including buying "Air Time" and pension spiking -  is key to solving many of the problems in Sacramento and throughout the state.  It was a constant drumbeat through the evening.


Both men disagreed with Governor Brown's fiscal program and didn't like the idea of raising taxes on folks making $250,000 per year.  Curiously, both dodged a question about what, specifically, would they do to help the 74th Assembly district, instead addressing issues that were statewide concerns.  Rush mentioned schools and Mansoor spoke of Pension Reform - again.

They disagreed on whether illegal immigrants should be permitted to be tested for and receive California Drivers Licenses.  Mansoor said no and cited his legal immigrant parents.  Rush said yes, and cited the safety elements of having properly licensed individuals on the roads.

They disagreed on the need for more gun laws.  Mansoor says we have plenty of gun laws and Rush felt they were too lax, citing the ability for a person to acquire 9-10 guns a year.

When asked what causes gridlock in Sacramento they had different answers.  Mansoor said "special interests".  Rush blamed it on the extreme right and lefts inability to compromise to get things accomplished. 

When asked whether they support two items on the ballot - Props 28 (term limits) and 29 (cigarette tax increase) - they had different answers.  Rush supported the term limits issue and had not made up his mind on 29, citing relatives who had died from cancer.  Mansoor opposed both.  He felt 29 would just funnel money to Sacramento that might be spent out of state and, regarding term limits, he felt they should be eliminated altogether.


Both men opposed re-opening the San Onofre Nuclear Plant, citing the age and shabby safety record.

When asked what should be done to lower tuition in state colleges Mansoor cited Pension Reform and Rush mentioned, among other things, Prop. 13.  Unfortunately, that's a subject that is near and dear to most in the room.  He was referring to Prop. 13 as it applies to business properties, not private residences.  That part of his message was not clear until much later.


When asked about increasing revenues Mansoor said we need to change the things that are driving jobs from the state and again mentioned Pension Reform. Rush suggested further examination of expense cuts and, again, cited Prop. 13 - and again the crowd squirmed.  When asked whether they would sign a "no new taxes" pledge, Mansoor said yes and Rush said no.

Both men opposed the new early-release program that is dumping convicted criminals into the counties and cities because the state prisons are full.  Mansoor expressed that there should be "no unfunded mandates" - programs foisted off on local jurisdictions without a funding mechanism in place.  And on and on it went. 

In closing Mansoor reminded everyone that his door is always open - a phrase that permeated much of his dialogue Friday night.  Rush plans to meet with as many groups as he can to continue to get the pulse of the district.  He reminded the crowd that his strength is negotiation and a willingness to compromise to solve problems. 

How would I score the participants?  Well, after much contemplation, I would have to say it was a draw.  As almost everyone knows, I'm not an Allan Mansoor fan, but he did well in this venue.  Bob Rush continues to show me that he has skills and more to be tapped.  If he landed in Sacramento I have no doubt that he could be an agent of change.  I can't say that about Mansoor.  He's had two years to show us something and has failed to do so.

 I believe this is the final opportunity for the three candidates to discuss issues face-to-face before the election on June 5th.  Leslie Daigle missed a huge opportunity Friday night.  Instead, she
gets a big ZERO for not showing up.  I'll be mailing my absentee ballot on Tuesday and there will not be a check mark beside her name.
Interestingly, neither man had visible support from their Orange County party hierarchy.  Rush has not received the endorsement of the Democratic Party of Orange County, but Mansoor is the fair-haired boy of the OC GOP which is pumping a lot of money into his campaign.  Although each had an entourage of supporters and, in Mansoor's case, staff - none of the power players showed up.  I'm not sure how to interpret that.
Now we'll see how the money being thrown around in this campaign will affect the results.  Daigle, as most know, has received a huge influx of cash from Charlie Munger from northern California - around $500,000 so far.  She and Mansoor are trading hit pieces almost every day.  Rush is spending MUCH less and it's very difficult to measure the impact he's having.  Since this is the first time we will have an open primary, cross-ticket voting may play a big part in determining which two of the three will be left standing on June 6th.  We'll see...

In case you might be wondering what other folks are thinking about this race.  You can read my friend, Bruce Krochman's views from his blog, Civil Thinking, HERE.  And, you can read Jean Hastings Ardell's thoughts in her column in the Newport Beach Independent, HERE.

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Memorial Day, 2012

As you celebrate this long holiday weekend please take the time to stop and remember the reason you can have your family gatherings, cook-outs and enjoy a peaceful day.  Remember the men and women who gave their lives to make it possible.

I've written about this holiday every year for awhile.  You can read what I wrote last year HERE and in 2010 HERE.  And, if you follow the links, you can step back even further.

I wish you all a very safe holiday weekend.  If you live in Costa Mesa please remember that the CMPD will be tightening up motorcycle safety enforcement - the second consecutive Saturday they've done it to try to make our streets safer for us all.

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Special Study Session Wrap-up


The Special Study Session yesterday - the second in a series of three that had been scheduled this month - provided some good information to the few of us who attended.  I hope more of you had a chance to view it live on CMTV or will view the streaming video when it's available or catch it on taped replay.
We learned that the long-delayed improvements of the present terminus of the SR-55 Freeway at 19th Street - the "SR-55 Gateway Improvement Project" -  has found funding so the City needs to move forward in the upcoming fiscal year.  It will cost around $500,000 to make the improvements recommended.  You can read the staff report, which includes examples of proposed monuments and landscaping plans, HERE.

Those improvements are a new monument welcoming those visitors stalled in traffic as they come out of the ditch to Costa Mesa as well as some very significant landscaping enhancements.  Most of the council members didn't like the staff's choice of a monument, so it's back to the old drawing board.  It was generally agreed that the language should probably say, "Welcome To Costa Mesa - City Of The Arts".  There was no definitive solution to what language, if any, might be placed on the back side of the monument for folks to view as they departed up the freeway.  As I listened to the discussion I thought, perhaps, a simple "Drive Safely" might work.  Regardless, we'll hear more about this project soon after the staff massages the monument style a little.

The second item on the agenda was an update of the Street and Alley Pavement Needs.  Public Works Director Ernesto Munoz presented a very thorough, professional report for the council.  He revisited the March, 2011 Pavement Management Overview, then updated the numbers based on the improvements made since that time.  You can read the staff report HERE.  The graphics included will be helpful.
The City uses a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to determine the condition of our streets and roadways.  It's a scale that ranges from 0 to 100.  Since the first presentation of this PCI the condition of our streets have improved from 77.6 to 79.7.  Here's a little chart that will help you understand the PCI levels and shows the improvement.

The city is also concerned about the condition of the alleys around town.  Using the PCI, the chart below shows the progress being made with them.

From a funding standpoint, most street and alley improvements are made using state and federal funds.  In order for us to continue to improve the status of our roadways and alleys, to bring the roads to 85 on the PCI and eliminate every "Poor" alley,  beginning in the budget year 2013/2014 it will be necessary to supplement those funds with other funds - General Fund dollars - to the tune of $4.7 million for streets and $1.4 million for alleys - $6.1 million annually.  Where those funds come from is the BIG question facing this - and future - councils.

The council then heard the report on the City's Master Plan of Drainage.  You can read that staff report HERE.  Again, there are some major problems throughout the city when it rains.  The conclusion from the staff report tells us that it will cost at least $16.5 million to resolve every drainage problem and that solving the "hot spots" - those predictable and critical areas where flooding occurs - will cost $4.1 million to fix.  Typically, drainage fees for new development and redevelopment are used and coordinated with federally and locally funded street improvement projects.  A lack of grant funds available has caused there to be insufficient funds available to rapidly correct all the drainage problems in our city.

The next Special Study Session will be held next Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 4:30 in council chambers.  Expect the council to continue to address infrastructure issues in anticipation of the 2012/2013 budget process.

A sidebar from the meeting Thursday.  Several of the council members made reference to the term "wish list" as the meeting progressed.  They take offense at the suggestion that some of the projects on their 5-year plan are, in fact, "wishes" not "needs".  Wendy Leece expressed the hope that the council will attempt to balance their wishes for infrastructure improvements with the needs of public safety - police and fire - and other services that the residents expect.  Based on their universal lack of response to her observations, I don't have a very good feeling about how this budget process is going.  The only place there is money to fund the "wishes" is in the bucket that holds the dollars for the "needs" - the pay and benefits of the employees of the city.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Study Session On Capital Projects Today

This afternoon, beginning at 4:30 in City Council Chambers, the Costa Mesa City Council will hold another pre-budget Special Study Session.  This one will cover more capital projects.

On the agenda are three items: (click on the title to read the staff reports and the attachments)

SR-55 Gateway Improvement Project - Monument Sign Option

City Street and Alley Pavement Needs Update

        Pavement Management Overview (3/8/11)

        Alley Priority List
City's Master Drainage Plan Update

I'll report back later on what progress or direction is given on these important issues.

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Huy Pham Plaque Request Denied

I guess it really didn't come as a surprise to me that the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission denied the request from the Costa Mesa City Employee's Association, through its President, Helen Nenadal, for a plaque honoring former employee, Huy Pham, to be placed adjacent to the tree planted on the City Hall lawn in his honor earlier this year.

Following a very short discussion, led by Jim Righeimer protege' Ethan Temianka, the commission voted to deny the request, 3-1, with commissioner Dan Vozenilek voting against the motion.  Vice Chair Dean Abernathy was absent.

The thrust of the argument against approving the request was that there was already such a memorial plaque - and tree - located at the Estancia Adobe and, as the hemming and hawing continued around this very delicate issue, it was clear that some on the commission felt there should not be a plaque for a former employee who committed suicide.  The discussion proceeded as though the commissioners were walking on egg shells, apparently not wanting to anger staff members with this decision.

I don't know if an appeal to the City Council is possible in this case, nor do I know of Nenadal and her organization will choose to exercise that option if it exists.  I guess we'll see soon enough.  Personally, I think I understand both sides of this issue.  The employees want a remembrance of their dead compatriot on the City Hall grounds to honor his memory and the elected leaders of the city don't want a reminder of his death - the flash point of the turmoil that has existed for 15 months and counting - placed so "close to home".

In other actions, the commission approved the elimination of the "weekly pay" option with a "monthly pay" option for the R.O.C.K.S. program.  According to the staff presentation, a very low percentage - 2-3% - of the participating parents pay on a weekly basis.  Each of the more than 700 participating parents were contacted.  There was no correspondence on the issue and nobody showed up at the meeting to address the issue.

Separately, one speaker representing a youth soccer program spoke earlier to complain about being charged a $5.00 "convenience fee" for online payment of field rental.  In his case, his group pays $20.00 hour for fields which amounts to around $20,000 per year.  This charge is levied for EVERY HOUR of field use, which effectively amounts to a 25% increase. 
Curiously, he was the only person to speak on this subject - I would have expected other youth group representatives similarly affected to present their complaints at the meeting.  Temianka was surprised and very upset at this charge and during commissioner comments suggested that this be "fixed" by the council.  Unfortunately, since the issue was not agendized for last night the commission couldn't take any action on it.  Staff will review this situation - it seems to be a case of an unintended consequence slipping through the cracks - and will likely either bring it back to the commission for their July meeting or present it directly to the City Council sooner for possible modification of its policy.

The commission also spent a split second considering the 2012-2013 Capital Improvement Program (CIP).  They made no comments except for Temianka's apple-polishing echo of the party line, thanking the council for their leadership.  If I closed my eyes I might have thought I was hearing Jim Fitzpatrick speaking!


This afternoon is another Special City Council Study Session at which three CIP-related issues will be discussed, the city Master Plan of Drainage, the SR-55 Gateway Improvement Project and the City Street and Alley Pavement Needs Update.  More on that later.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Parks & Recreation Commission Meeting Tonight

Just a friendly little reminder that the Costa Mesa Parks & Recreation Commission holds their bi-monthly meeting tonight in Council Chambers at City Hall at 6:00 p.m.

Highlights will be:

  • A discussion of the placement of a memorial plaque in memory of employee Huy Pham on the City Hall lawn adjacent to the tree placed in his memory earlier this year.
  • Changing of the fee payment options for the Recreation On Campus For Kids (R.O.C.K.S.) program
  • A review of the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for the upcoming fiscal year.
Be there or be square... or you can watch it live on CMTV, Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable or Channel 99 on ATT U-Verse.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Daigle Dodges Debate, Again

On Friday, May 25, 2012 several civic-minded groups including the League of Women Voters are hosting what was supposed to be a forum for the three candidates for the new 74th Assembly District.  It was anticipated that all three, Leslie Daigle, Allan Mansoor and Bob Rush, would be on hand for an evening of lively debate beginning at 7:00 p.m. and running until 9:30 p.m. at the Laguna Beach City Hall, 515 Forest Avenue.

Unfortunately, Daigle informed the hosts that she WILL NOT be in attendance at the event Friday night.  She apparently provided no reason for her absence, leaving some of us to speculate.  After all, it's that time of the year, isn't it?

Some will recall that Daigle didn't perform well at the Feet To The Fire Forum a couple months ago.  You can refresh your memories by reading what I wrote at the time HERE and HERE.  That second one includes the exchange I had with her following the forum in which she seemed to blame everyone but herself for her poor showing.

I'm not going to try to figure out her strategy.  She's paying big bucks for that advice, or someone is.  Martin Wisckol, in the Orange County Register recently, HERE and HERE, tells us that Charles Munger, Jr. - a physicist and chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party - through his independent expenditure group, Spirit of Democracy California, has provided nearly $500,000 for Daigle's campaign.  I've seen many of her campaign pieces hitting my mailbox over the past week or so and also saw at least one television ad.

Maybe Daigle thinks that's all she needs to do - spend other people's money and duck the physical contact part of campaigning.  This isn't the first such forum she's avoided.  If she's so put off by confrontation, how in the world is she going to be an effective member of the California Assembly as a member of the minority Republican Party?  We all know what a miserable job Mansoor has done in Sacramento - how do we expect Daigle to do a better job when she won't even debate her fellow candidates?

So, I'll drag my old body down to Laguna Beach Friday night to hear what the other two candidates have to say and report back to you sometime over the weekend.  In the meantime, it's getting easier all the time for me to decide where I'm going to place my "X" on the ballot for the 74th Assembly District seat.  The top two vote-getters in the primary on June 5th will compete for the seat in November.  If Daigle doesn't change her tactics I doubt she'll be on the ballot then.  We'll see...

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League Of Women Voters "Charter" Luncheon

Last Friday, May 18, 2012, Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and former Mayor Sandra Genis responded to an invitation by the League of Women Voters to make a presentation on the proposed Charter for Costa Mesa that will appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot.  This event took place at the about-to-be-defunct Coco's restaurant at Fashion Island in Newport Beach - it shuts down on May 29th.

More than 50 people gathered in the small room to enjoy a lunch and hear from Righeimer and Genis.  I may have been one of the youngest persons in the room.  I suspect the average was around 75.  That's not bad.  The members of the League, while a very senior group, are quite active and engaged in political activities.  They were respectful, attentive and asked good questions.

This was not a "debate" per se.  Righeimer spoke first for about 10 minutes, then responded to questions from the audience for another fifteen.  Then Genis spoke and answered questions - many of them the same ones that Righeimer answered.

Because it was not a "debate", I don't think anyone "won".  Based on the responses from attendees, I think both parties provided valuable information to this group - most of whom knew nothing about Charter cities beforehand.  Those of us who have followed this subject from the beginning didn't learn anything new.  We heard Righeimer spout the same old mantra - local control, managing contracts without prevailing wage, etc.  And, we heard Genis set him straight on some of those misrepresentations - again.

I thought it was interesting that Righeimer brought an entourage with him.  Steve Mensinger and Bill Lobdell also attended.  And, several concerned Costa Mesa residents - Robin Leffler, Eleanor Egan, Jay Humphrey, Perry and Pam Valantine and Katie Arthur - also showed up and provided questions.  All in all, it was a very civilized meeting.

However, the proverbial "rubber meets the road" on June 5th - election day - when the first Public Hearing on this Charter will be held as part of the regularly-scheduled City Council meeting beginning at 6:00 in Council Chambers.  I'll write about that again as we get closer.  We'll find out then if anyone has tried to slip any changes into the document or if it is still the onerous, hastily-contrived, self-serving piece of garbage that Righeimer tried to foist off on the voters this spring.

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Monday, May 21, 2012

A "Light" Schedule This Week

There are only two scheduled official Costa Mesa meetings scheduled this week so it seems almost like a vacation. 


On Wednesday, May 23, 2012 the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will hold its bi-monthly meeting in City Council chambers beginning at 6:00 p.m..  This is the first meeting under the guidance of new Chairman Kim Pederson and normally would deal with mostly fairly mundane issues - requests for tree removals and raised sidewalks.  This meeting has plenty of that, but also has some potentially provocative subjects on the agenda, too.  You can read the entire agenda HERE.

For example, on the Consent Calendar there is a request by the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA) for the City to accept the donation of a memorial plaque in the memory of Huy Pham, the young man who leaped to his death from the roof of City Hall on March 17th, 2011 - the day he and more than 200 of his fellow-workers were to receive layoff notices.  You can read the staff report HERE.  It includes links to an image of the proposed plaque and the location proposed - adjacent to the tree placed in Pham's memory on the lawn at City Hall earlier this year.  Since the plaque does not conform to the standard established by city policy AND because the commission previously approved last year another tree and plaque in Pham's honor at the Estancia Adobe, the approval of this request is no slam-dunk.  There are those in City Hall who would prefer NOT to be reminded of Pham's death. We'll see how this goes.

There are no Public Hearings, but there is one interesting Old Business item - the proposal of the creation of a "Landscape/streetscape Beautification Award Program".  You can read that staff report, and the attachments, HERE.

Under New Business there are several tree removal requests to consider, plus two items that may draw a crowd to the meeting.  Item "e' is a report requesting "Replacing the Recreation on Campus for Kids (R.O.C.K.S.) Weekly Fee with a Monthly Fee".  According to the staff report, HERE, only 5% of the users pay weekly, so this change would replace the weekly pay option with a monthly pay plan.

Item "f" is a "Review of Proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 Through 2018-2019."  This issue is a little out of sync because the current City Council seems intent on micro-managing every element of the budget, but Capital Improvements in particular.  The staff report can be read HERE.  Part of that report is a schedule for more than $20 million in projects  directly from the ORIGINAL Preliminary Budget - the one Jim Righeimer tossed back in Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young's face two weeks ago.  Since then the council - led by Righeimer - has since ADDED items to the CIP budget and those ARE NOT reflected in this exhibit, the staff is going to have to present this issue as a moving target - one that is changing all the time.  In fact, the next day - on Thursday - the council will meet in another Special Study Session to discuss the CIP budget in more detail.  And, once again, it will be without the input from either the Planning or the Parks and Recreation Commission.  It's a pretty curious way to run a city.  But, maybe not so curious when you consider that this council majority gives no indication of caring what ANYONE else things on ANY subject.  They're going to do what THEY want to do, PERIOD!

On Thursday, May 24, 2012, as mentioned above, the City Council will again meet in a Special Study Session to discuss the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year Budget and a few other items, too.  For example, the Drainage Plan - originally scheduled for discussion last Thursday - was shoved off to this meeting after three hours discussing other subjects.  No official agenda is yet available, but I won't be surprised that a meeting that begins in Council Chambers at 4:30 runs until 10:00 that night.

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