Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day - 2012

The past few years I've given you some personal views of Father's Day and told you more than a little about my own father and other fathers in my life.  You can read those entries HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  That last entry was about Eric and Ben.  Well, Eric is a father for the second time, with Finn joining big brother, Ben just in time to celebrate this year.

As I've said many times before, my father, Robert J. West, was an uncomplicated man.  He was hard-working and honest and was surprised when other folks he encountered were not.  He led by example and devoted his life to his family and friends.  Not only was he my mentor, scout master and friend, he was the man against whom I measure myself every day.  He died much too soon and never saw a single letter to the editor, commentary or blog entry that I've written.  I think he's looking down now and is probably happy with what he sees.  I hope so.

I hope every father who reads this today has a wonderful day, surrounded by the ones they love.  Every one of them deserve it.


Today I'm going to leave you with  some words from my friend, Byron de Arakal, (shown below with his four great children Jeana, Lee, Melanie and Daniel) as quoted in Tom Johnson's most recent "Fair Game" column in the Orange County Register's The Current edition dated June 13, 2012.  You can read the entire column HERE.  When Johnson inquired about Father's Day with some of his friends, Byron responded thus:

"I'm not a big Father's Day guy.  This probably is not what golf courses, pubs and cigar lounges want to hear, or even other fathers (who use Father's Day as a hall pass to visit golf courses, pubs and cigar lounges). My perfect Father's Day is the small 'f', small 'd' variety. It's all the little instances that take place in the unfolding of a day or over the long haul of years that affirm I didn't take a gargantuan whiff as a father. It's the 'Thanks, Dad' from one of my four spectacular kids when they solicit my advice. It's the hugs from my sons and daughters that come sometimes for a reason and other times for no reason at all. But mostly my perfect father's day lives in my children every day. It's in their character, in the dreams and goals they have for their own lives, in their wins and even losses, and it's in how they treat others and one another. Really, father's day is every day for this dad."

Happy Father's Day To You All

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Final I-405 Improvement Project Meeting

Thursday night more than 200 people filled the venue at the Fountain Valley Senior Recreation Center to hear from the team from the OCTA, CalTrans and Parsons Corporation give their pitch for the proposed I-405 Freeway Improvement Project.  While most of the folks in the audience last night were from Fountain Valley and Westminster, there were a few of us from Costa Mesa and other communities impacted by this plan.  Costa Mesa Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman was on site last night and is seen below discussing one of the plans with former Costa Mesa employee Carol Proctor, currently a Fountain Valley Planning Commissioner.  Former Costa Mesa councilman Jay Humphrey was also present and asked some important questions.
I saw many of the same players from the organizations responsible and their act has gotten a little more polished since the first one ten days ago.  Unfortunately, they didn't have many more answers this time around.

Kevin Haboian from Parsons was, once again, the moderator of the event.  He did a good job with his presentation and this time they allotted much more time for the Question and Answer period.  It stretched well over an hour and most questions were handled well, although I suspect most of those who asked them came away not fully satisfied.

Among the questions asked, again, was why Alternative #2 couldn't be morphed into a plan to use one of the two lanes added as a second carpool lane instead of a general purpose lane.  It seems like a doable option if CalTrans is willing to put the squeeze on the carpool lanes as they traverse under the Fairview Street bridge.  Once again, the answer left most uneasy, since it seems like a much less onerous solution than the dreaded Alternative #3.

ALT. #2
There was a little murmur in the room last night wondering if Costa Mesa would support Alternative #3 if a way could be found to implement it without demolishing and replacing the Fairview Street bridge.  I thought that was interesting because the construction chaos involved in destroying and replacing that new bridge seemed to be the main complaint about that option.  That, and the fact that Jim Righeimer couldn't use the HOT lanes to get to John Wayne Airport.

I find myself wondering where the Segerstrom family is on this issue?  They, along with the good folks at IKEA and the SoCo site, stand to potentially lose some significant business as folks in the HOT lanes just blast right past Costa Mesa heading to points north or south.  It seems to me like the City may lose some significant sales tax dollars from this scheme.

Former Fountain Valley councilman Gus Ayer posed a tough question.  He wanted to know when the public was going to be able to vote on this new scheme, since that was one of the provisions of the original Measure M bill.  He came away without the answer he was seeking - there would be no new vote.


OCTA CEO Will Kempton tried to field a few questions - including the one posed by Ayer above.  He tried to answer the "where's the money to do this?" question by telling us that there is around $600 million in Measure M funds presently available and that more will be accumulated as this project moves through the process.  He also said that Bonds would be used for the difference and that there would be revenue from Alternative #3 that would help pay the costs.  The more I heard the more it became clear that the revenue stream to be generated by #3 sure seems to be the primary driving force behind the OCTA strong push for that choice.
Kempton did say, however, that they will consider extending the time for public comments for a couple weeks, which will give anyone interested in making a statement to do so.  As was the case at the previous meeting, a court reporter was available to take a dictated statement and forms were also available for folks to write their comments on the spot.  Of course, we can also leave email comments at the link provided on the OCTA website for this project, HERE.  Those addresses are at the end of this post again.


There was significant conversation about the proposed sound walls and the OCTA sound consultant tried to assuage concerns.  I'm not sure he succeeded.  And, nobody addressed the fact that most of the current landscaping along the 405 will be sacrificed to the widening project.  Decorative sound walls will be used instead.

Of major concern for Fountain Valley is the plan for them to lose three or four thriving businesses as part of this plan and the sales tax dollars that would go with them.  That didn't sit well with anyone from that city based on their comments during and after the meeting.  I hadn't much thought about it, but maybe we could lure those businesses to Costa Mesa if they are ousted in Fountain Valley.  Maybe somewhere along Harbor Blvd...

Again, for those interested, you can view to informative videos on this project HERE.

The chart above shows the milestones for this project.  The OCTA invited comments - at the meeting as dictated to a court reporter - and by mail to:
Smita Deshpande
Branch Chief - Caltrans District 12
"Attn: 405 DEIR/DEIS Comment Period"
2201 Dupont Drive
Suite 200, Irvine, CA 92612

Or by email to Christina Byrne, Manager of Community Outreach, or reach her by telephone at 714-560-5717.  So, pick up the telephone, sit down at your computer or send a letter letting the folks at the OCTA how you feel.  Now is the time...


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Thursday, June 14, 2012

General Plan Advisory Committee + Fitzy Replacement (Amended)**

In a press release today, HERE, Costa Mesa Director of Communications Bill Lobdell announced that the City has launched a recruitment for nine members and two alternates for the General Plan Advisory Committee and a separate, but simultaneous, recruitment for a short-term replacement on the Planning Commission for recently resigned commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick.

Applications must be received by 5:00 p.m., Friday, June 29, 2012.  The Planning Commission, using as it's authority a provision in the Planning Commission bylaws, will make the Fitzpatrick replacement at its July 9th meeting.  See the press release for other details.

**NOTE:  After some confusion dealing with a misinterpretation of the Planning Commission bylaws,  it has finally been determined that - as I suspected earlier -  the Planning Commission DOES NOT have the authority to appoint a replacement for Jim Fitzpatrick.  The process will apparently be that the recruitment for his replacement will take place as planned.  The Planning Commission will review the applications at its meeting of July 9th and make recommendations to the City Council, who will choose Fitzpatrick's replacement from the applicants at its meeting of July17th.

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Final I-405 Improvement Meeting On Thursday

For those of you who missed the first three Open House/Public Hearing opportunities conducted by the Orange County Transportation Authority regarding the proposed widening of the I-405 from the 73 toll road to the I-605, the final meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 14, 2012.  The meeting is scheduled for 6:00 - 8:00 p.m., with the formal program to start at 6:30.  Following that 30 minute presentation there will be time to review the displays and ask questions of experts on this project.  It will be held at the Fountain Valley Senior Center, 17967 Bushard St., Fountain Valley.  I've provided a map below. (Click on map to enlarge)


I've written about this project several times before, the most recent of which was my summary of the first meeting at Orange Coast College on June 4th.  You can read about it HERE.  You can also visit the OCTA website for the project HERE and view two videos that will be helpful to understand what's happening HERE.

Of the three alternatives proposed, Alternative #3 seems to be the most problematic for Costa Mesa.  There seems to be NO benefit to our city with this alternative, which adds an additional General Purpose lane AND a High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane.  It is that HOT lane that creates the problem, since it will require the demolition of the fairly new Fairview Street Overpass Bridge and will also require a significant change in one of the Harbor Blvd. ramps, too. 

In addition, folks using it will find it VERY difficult to access Costa Mesa from either direction because of the lack of access lanes too and from the HOT lane.  Of course, the OCTA likes #3 because it will provide a revenue stream to offset the costs of the project.  At the meeting I attended they seemed unmoved by the complaints by Costa Mesa residents, concerned about the tremendous impact of that choice on their lives.  Heads of three homeowners associations located in close proximity to this proposed development have come out strongly against this project, and Alternative #3 specifically.

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission has taken a very firm stand against Alternative #3, Mayor Eric Bever has apparently written a strongly-worded letter to the OCTA opposing that choice and the City Council will address it at the next council meeting on June 19th - apparently to approve some kind of resolution against this alternative.  Here's what it would look like.

ALT. #3
If the I-405 must be enhanced to handle the anticipated traffic, then Alternative #2 seems to be the most reasonable for Costa Mesans.  That choice retains the existing carpool lane and adds two more General Purpose lanes. 

ALT. #2
Whether you plan to attend the meeting in Fountain Valley Thursday or not, input to the OCTA is due soon.  The final determination of the preferred alternative will be made by the OCTA Board in July.

The chart above shows the milestones for this project.  The OCTA invited comments - at the meeting as dictated to a court reporter - and by mail to:
Smita Deshpande
Branch Chief - Caltrans District 12
"Attn: 405 DEIR/DEIS Comment Period"
2201 Dupont Drive
Suite 200, Irvine, CA 92612

Or by email to Christina Byrne, Manager of Community Outreach, or reach her by telephone at 714-560-5717.  So, pick up the telephone, sit down at your computer or send a letter letting the folks at the OCTA how you feel.  The clock is ticking...

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mr. Disingenuous

First, class, a little English lesson.  Today's word is DISINGENUOUS, which means "lacking in candor".  More on that later.

At last evening's Costa Mesa City Council budget study session, which was to be the final chance for the residents of this city and the council to flesh out the 2012/2013 municipal budget.  It was the final chance to step back, take a look at how our precious financial resources will be applied over the next fiscal year.  It was the final chance to try to reach that precarious balance between providing important public services - police, fire, recreation, planning, etc. - and paving streets, maintaining storm drains and keeping our parks clean and maintained.  The council will vote on the budget next Tuesday, June 19th.

While it's clear that the current majority - driven by the whip of Jim Righeimer - has chosen to prioritize infrastructure over public safety, last night they had a chance to step up and make our schools safer - and they failed.


Last night, near the end of the fairly short meeting - just over an hour long, HERE - Steve Mensinger was discussing the School Resource Officer (SRO) program and complaining that it had been reported that the SRO programs had been canceled.  He then went into a little interrogation of CEO Tom Hatch about the actual current staffing for that program and determined that it wasn't fully staffed anyhow - implying that not so much fuss should be made about pulling the cops out of the schools early.  He THEN told us all that he, and the council, STRONGLY supported an effective SRO program and that he felt even more should be done.  Then he stopped.

Mensinger missed the boat.  Tuesday was the FINAL study session at which council members and others could suggest changes to the budget.  He, as a member of the council - albeit an appointed member - could have pushed his peers to re-allocate funds to insure that the SRO program remained intact, or even enhanced.  Instead of 2 officers he could have decided that we actually need four (4), and worked with the council to find funding for them.

Actually, he wouldn't have had to look too far, since this council has begun a practice of, to use Joe Serna's great phrase, squirreling away money in little pockets here and there - "just in case".  They could have decided that the $500,000 they earmarked for "problem motels" would be better spent funding the SRO program.  Or, they could have peeled a few bucks from Hatch's slush fund.  They could have done that last night.  That just means shifting dollars from one slot in the spreadsheet to another.  But, no - they didn't do that.  Nope, the disingenuous Mensinger used his time to warm up his campaign stump speech to see if more than three people will vote for him in November.  It's all about politics, not what's right for the residents and visitors to this city.  This is certainly something we should Remember In November.

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Balancing The Budget With Bodies

At its Study Session Tuesday night the Costa Mesa City Council, and those few of us in the audience, heard the staff inform the council that the budget being proposed is balanced by slashing staff.  You can read Joe Serna's coverage in the Daily Pilot HERE.


In a nutshell, under the proposed Budget (All Funds) the City will have estimated revenues of $126,854,473 and proposed expenditures of $132, 676,130, meaning that $5,821,657 of the Fund Balance must be used to meet the proposed obligations.

Most of the time we just talk about the General Fund Budget.  This current budget shows a deficit of nearly $1.2 million.  The staff report and attachments, HERE, provides an explanation of how Hatch and his staff plan to balance that segment of the budget.  A big part of the problem reaching a balanced budget is the State's decision to close Redevelopment Agencies and raid those funds.  It's going to be painful.

For example, the loss of RDA funds means the loss of $660,000 in salary dollars, which will mean the layoff of four (4) individuals plus three (3) others for a total of seven (7) in that area alone.

And, as you will see on Attachment A, seven (7) presently vacant - or soon-to-be-vacant positions will be eliminated.  On the bright side, two additional code enforcement positions will be authorized.

And, the City has decided to abandon the In-House Street Rehabilitation Program to save more than a half million dollars next year.  That means three (3) Senior Maintenance Workers will be cut for more than $220,000 in salary and benefit costs and another $334,000 in materials (asphalt) and street grinding costs.  CEO Hatch said every effort will be made to find other positions in The City for those folks.  Steve Mensinger suggested the two Code Enforcement slots, but it is unlikely that those folks would bring the right skill set to those jobs.  It's a great irony that the mantra of the current majority for the past 18 months has been fixing infrastructure and now we slash the in-house crew that does just that.  Curious, to say the least.  I guess I'll look for campaign contributions from paving companies on certain candidate's forms.

This budget includes more than $20 million in capital projects, representing 15% of the total budget.  This, of course, was the goal of this council - to "fix" stuff.  And, they're stashing $500,000 aside just in case one of the "problem properties" (motels) comes available.  And, of course, they've got another $1 million in Hatch's slush, er, contingency fund again.  That's kind of like your piggy bank... if they want a special project done they just direct Hatch to dig into that little pot for some cash.

No mention was made, except by Wendy Leece, about the probable decline in service as a result of this budget.  For example, the Costa Mesa Police Department is now running below their current authorized sworn officer strength and, according to Hatch, will immediately launch a recruitment campaign to try to fill open slots.  This process, which involves significant expenditure of time for screening and testing PLUS a successful tour in the Police Academy before a new officer can begin functioning, is way, way behind the curve.  It takes anywhere from 12 to 18 months from start to finish and we anticipate large numbers of retirements well before that window is closed.  AND, according to this council, they can't hire anyone new until a 2nd pension tier is in place... and we're sure not there yet.

Same with the Fire Department.  Interim Chief Tom Arnold's re-structuring plan sounds very workable - it would reduce the number of firefighters from 87 to 81.  However, we are presently nine (9) short, so we'd have to hire three new firefighters to meet that staffing level and we've got the same problem - the council refuses to permit new hires until a 2nd pension tier is in place.

In both those cases, with the CMPD and CMFD, it means more overtime required to provide safe coverage in our city.  And, this council just loves to criticize our public safety folks as greedy when they earn large overtime numbers to help keep our city safe.  You may recall Steve Mensinger's recent bonehead remark about "Christmas In July" when referring to the overtime our police folks must work to support the Barrett-Jackson Auction and the Orange County Fair.  He, and the majority on the council, fail to recognize that our public safety folks would prefer NOT to work all that overtime - they have families that would like to see them occasionally.  But, because the council has its heels dug in, overtime is demanded.

So, according to Hatch's staff report, the budget will be "balanced" by making the changes he outlined, including eliminating 15 positions.  The council will take a final vote on this budget next Tuesday, June 19th.

During the discussion several council members implied that the public safety organizations have refused to sit down and discuss changes in their contracts - specifically the 2nd tier pension plan.  This is false, but that doesn't keep them from saying it.  And, since two of them will be running for another seat on the council this summer and fall, you can expect that lie to be repeated over and over and over.

As has been the case at most meetings, one or more of our council members have exhibited ignorance, insensitivity or flat out stupidity in their comments.  Last night was no exception.

At one point, when addressing the head-count reduction over the past few years caused by the economic downturn that began in 2008, Mensinger observed that it went from 650 to 450.  Of course, Hatch had to correct him.  The high head count was 611 a couple years ago and it is now 433 according to staff Monday.  But what the heck, Steve, what's a few dozen people one way or the other!  Just a little - to use his favorite word - disingenuous, wouldn't you say?  Talk about ignorant arrogance!

Following a brief comment by Wendy Leece about being concerned about public safety, Mayor Eric Bever had this exchange with Hatch:
"Mr. Hatch, would you say that this council, to a person, is dedicated to keeping this city safe?"
"I'd, ah, this council obviously more than not will speak for themselves and I would be, ah, I think from my seat as the CEO public safety is vital.  We don't, as a management team, we don't see that just as the police department responsibility or a fire department responsibility but the entire organization needs to support the police and fire operations and what they do, how they use more none-sworn personnel or creating a neighborhood improvement task force that looks to solve problems and take them out of the police department's hands and provide a broader level of support to them.  The fire department is what the organization can do and we're doing some of those things.  We all need to work as a full organization to meet all those needs as we move forward."  I loved that last sentence...  I smiled...

Perhaps the most painfully truthful statement made from the dais last night was appointed councilman Mensinger's observation as he attempted to justify the budget cuts, "I hope the general public understands as they listen to this, the truth is somewhere in between what you hear up here and the document that you're looking at and I think everybody needs to be aware of that."  So, if you take what he says at face value, we can't trust the staff NOR the council!  Unbelievable!  I know he likes to hear himself talk, but truth would be a very nice addition to his rhetoric from time to time.

If this council passes this budget it will be a VERY clear statement to all residents, business owners and visitors to our city that they have chosen to prioritize streets and infrastructure and put public safety on the back burner.  I don't know about you folks, but I think they've got their priorities reversed and I fear some of us may suffer because of it.  Is that REALLY what YOU want?  Crime is already on the rise...

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fewer Cops Equals More Crime

As you may have read in a previous post, my Eastside Neighbors threw a wonderful picnic last Sunday.  Lots of fun chatting with new and old friends and watching all those happy children playing games and eating slabs of watermelon... a good time.
However, during the day I had a chance to chat with some folks who are not particularly happy with how things are going in our fair city.... some of those have been the victims of crimes recently and they're beginning to ask questions about why this seems to be happening all of a sudden.
For example, one person at the picnic told me that there's been a recent rash of car burglaries on the Eastside over the past few days.  In fact, he emailed me a photo he took of one car, apparently the day after the driver's side window was smashed and the contents of the car taken.  According to reports, these seem to be crimes of opportunity.
Another fellow - a long-time resident who lives just a couple blocks from me - had his home burglarized during a very narrow window in time when he and his wife were both out on their exercise routines.  And this was a strange crime... the thief took some cash, but not a single piece of the wife's jewelry, which he had dumped on their bed.  However, he DID take new and in-use toothpaste tubes and men's toiletries!

It's hard to know what's causing this spike in these crimes, but it's common knowledge that since our neighbors in Newport Beach have cracked down on rehab homes several have opened up in Costa Mesa - and particularly in the Eastside neighborhoods where this crime is now occurring.  We need more information to confirm that link, but....
We already know that crime is up - WAY UP - in the north part of town.  Diane Hill, via her United Neighbors email blast, provides a periodic update on crimes in that part of town that really gets our attention.  You can read more at her website, HERE.  Our friends in Mesa Verde, Mesa North, Halecrest and Mesa del Mar are reporting similar auto burglaries.  I suspect we're going to be hearing more about crime numbers city-wide very soon.  We just hope Mayor Eric Bever can handle the news.  Some will recall that a year or so ago when interim crime stats were presented he got all huffy and demanded better numbers!

I do know that the City head count is down to 433 - it was 611 two years ago.  I do know that the Costa Mesa Fire Department would be unable to implement Interim Chief Tom Arnold's restructuring plan today because his department is nine (9) staffers short of the number required to implement it.  I also know that the CMPD is operating beyond thin these days, which has required the extraction of our two School Resource Officers (SROs) back into  other assignments.  The CMPD is now working with many fewer officers than the 131 authorized by this council.  And that number is approximately 20% below the staffing levels recommended by consultants they hired and by at least one former police chief.  In fact, it is my understanding that the actual number of sworn officers on the job today is smaller than when former Chief Dave Snowden took over the department more than two decades ago!  I do know that we now have several officers recovering from on-duty injuries and that we also recently lost a couple others who departed the department.  I do know that agencies like Anaheim, Newport Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach are actively recruiting for THEIR police departments.  And, I DO KNOW that it takes from 12 to 18 months to recruit, qualify and train a new police officer, so even if our current council got over their hissy fit about not permitting ANY public safety staffers to be hired until a 2nd pension tier is in place, we are more than a year away from having those cops on the street.  Feeling safer today?  I'm sure not!

Later this afternoon the City Council will hold a study session devoted entirely to the budget, with the goal of being able to cobble together something approaching a balanced budget before the council meeting on June 19th, when they are supposed to have a document ready to approve.  I expect we may be hearing just how many jobs will be lost in order to fill potholes and pave alleys on the accelerated schedule Jim Righeimer seems to be demanding.  I find myself wondering how many residents will actually show up this afternoon beginning at 4:30 to address their concerns to the council.  I guess we'll see.

I hope any of you reading this that are concerned about the public safety of this city will take the time to let your council know where YOU feel their budget priorities should be as they prepare this new document.  Give them a call, write them an email or step to the speaker's podium and let them know how you feel.  And don't feel too bad if it seems like they're ignoring you... they do that all them time.  And there lies the problem...

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