Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chief Gazsi Addresses The Chamber

Last Thursday Costa Mesa Police Chief Tom Gazsi addressed a group of civic and business leaders at the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce breakfast and, according to several reports from the event (I did not attend), left the audience with a generally positive view of the future.  The following observations are a paraphrased homogenization of several reports from the scene.

Gazsi discussed the rising crime rate, indicating that certain types of crimes are going up - property crimes, in particular are up 14% over last year - but that our overall crime rate is still lower than in the early and mid 1990s.

He told the group that the department has been diminished by 20% and that our city, along with virtually every other in the state, has been impacted by what he referred to as "AB109 releases" - criminals released from California prisons due to overcrowding.  He told the crowd that last year at this time we had 60 officers on patrol and that number is down to 50 this year.  The scheduling change he implemented in February, blending four 10-hour days and three 12-hour days, has helped.

He told the group that the School Resource Officer (SRO) program - Officer Jess Gilman shown here -  that was suspended near the end of the school year will be reinstated when staffing levels permit.  He apparently didn't give any specific date when that would occur.  Presently there are 11 officers out with "on-duty injuries" and my sources elsewhere tell me that the actual total number of officers nor presently on duty for any reason may be 14 or higher.  The SRO program is a critical element in the programs to head-off gang activities in the city, so we can't be without it for very long. (photo credit to the Orange County Register)

As an aside, Chief Gazsi had authorized three separate recruitment efforts - as was reported here in an earlier post.  The City is currently looking for experienced officers for lateral transfers, Reserve officers who have completed the required academy training and - until very recently - brand new recruits who would be hired, attend the police academy then be assigned to a training officer.  That particular recruitment effort has been suspended.  It had generated over 1,000 applicants - many more than it is possible to properly screen, particularly since the CMPD is not authorized to hire ANY full-time officers until the issue of a second pension tier is resolved.  However, the hopper is full if and when that situation changes.  Keep in mind that, in the case of new recruits, we're looking at more than a year before any of them hit the streets as fully-qualified officers and that the CMPD anticipates as many as 20 retirements within the next 18 months.

Back to the breakfast...

Chief Gazsi expressed gratitude for the use of the Huntington Beach helicopter, even though it's in a limited capacity.  He explained to the audience that, because he has spent virtually all his law enforcement life working in Newport Beach before becoming Chief of Police in Costa Mesa, the A.B.L.E. program was always part of his professional experience so he clearly understood the value of that program and was sorry to see it be disbanded.  He apparently mentioned visionary chiefs before him - Roger Neth, Dave Snowden and Bob McDonnell of Newport Beach - who created, nurtured and understood the value of that program.

Gazsi apparently was very complimentary to his boss, City CEO Tom Hatch and for the support he gets from the City Council.  He mentioned how valuable it is to have men like Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold - also a Newport Beach veteran with whom he had a long working relationship - as peers on the job.

He apparently also spoke of new technological advances that will soon be launched to help provide the community with more information more rapidly.  Some of those were a "crime mapping" tool to show crime hot spots in real time and a tool that displays crime statistics by geographic area, both of which will be available to residents for online access.  He also mentioned something about software called NIXEL that provides an application for smart phones that will permit receipt of alerts by the public.  I may be getting this garbled since it's coming from a few sources, but it all sounds pretty exciting and forward-thinking.

Personally, I think Costa Mesa is very lucky to have Tom Gazsi as our police chief.  Since taking the job a year ago he has become a calming influence on the department, has implemented structural changes that seem to more effectively utilize the available manpower and has shown the mature, strong leadership so necessary during this stressful time.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Harlan and Genis Both Hit The Mark

These days, when all traditional media outlets are struggling to remain timely, relevant and solvent, we here in the Newport-Mesa are fortunate to have the Daily Pilot as our local newspaper of record.  The past decade has been very difficult for all local newspapers and the Daily Pilot is no exception.  That period  has seen tremendous pressure on the management of the Times Community Newspapers - the umbrella under which the Daily Pilot operates - by the parent, The Los Angeles Times and its parent, The Tribune Companies.  Management at the Daily Pilot has undergone frequent upheavals and reporters have moved on, being back-filled by others who must learn the turf to become proficient in providing us with the important news of our area.  Today it operates under the steady hand of John Canalis.

One constant during this time of transition, however, has been a cadre of local columnists, each of whom has had an up-close and personal perspective to their slice of our area and they reported on that slice with their own style and flair.  Names like Joe Bell, Peter Buffa, Fred Martin, Byron de Arakal, Steve Smith, the long-winded Judge Jim Gray and others have given us the value of their insights - some better than others.

This weekend one of the most recent of these local columnists, Jeffrey Harlan, presented to his readers what may be one of the most finely crafted essays on an important issue as any seen on those pages.  Those of you who do not read the Daily Pilot can find this essay, Process is king in city government, HERE

I'm not going to rehash Harlan's column - it really needs to be read start to finish for the full impact of it.  I must say, though, that this particular essay should be required reading as we head into this political campaign season, and particularly for those who have even the slightest interest in Jim Righeimer's Charter.

I will attempt to lure you into reading this column by giving you just a few phrases from it - to pique your interest.  These phrases may seem curt and crass out of context.  Trust me, you'll feel differently after you read the entire essay.  So, here are just three snippets from the essay to provoke you:

"First, the councilmen are afraid."
"Second, the councilmen are driven by control and ego."
"Third, the councilmen are just plain lazy."

OK, got the picture?  It sounds like something I would write, right?  Believe me when I tell you that it is MUCH better written than I could ever do.  Enjoy it.

The Daily Pilot also provides an excellent forum for community input in the form of their Mailbag and Commentary segments.  This weekend, former Mayor Sandra Genis presented a commentary on those pages that deals with the ill-advised agreement the council signed with the proposed developer of the Banning Ranch.  That essay is titled, Council sold Costa Mesa short on Banning Ranch project, and can be found HERE.

Genis, who recently announced her candidacy for a seat on the city council in November, served this city with distinction for two terms on the council - including a stint as mayor -  beginning in 1988 and has remained an activist in municipal affairs ever since.  A Stanford-educated land use planning consultant by profession, she may be the smartest person in the room when it comes to those kinds of issues and is certainly one of the hardest-working, most detail-oriented you'll find when it comes to issues involving this city.  She was, for example, the president of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society and a driving force behind getting the bogus sale of that property quashed.

Her essay this weekend asks some very thought-provoking questions - I'll let you read them in context.  She speaks of "an Orwellian twist", gag orders and such.  Take a few minutes and read her views.

These two essays by Harlan and Genis will give you a very good idea of what this council campaign may be like.  It's going to be the three lock-step lemmings, Steve Mensinger, Colin McCarthy and Gary Monahan, spouting the OC GOP party line versus those within the city - long-time residents with impeccable credentials - who don't want to see our community become a fiefdom controlled by a political ideology directed by others outside our city.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, July 20, 2012

Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group Hosts Safety Meeting

My friends in the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group are hosting a Neighborhood Watch meeting on Monday, July 23, 2012 beginning at 7:00 at the Lighthouse Church, 301 Magnolia Street.  The flier for this event is below.  Just click on the image to enlarge it for easier reading.  I've also provided a map to help you locate the venue.

The reason for this event is the rising crime rate in the city and, on the Eastside in particular.  Representatives of the Costa Mesa Police Department will attend to provide current statistics and helpful information for us all.  Diane Hill of United Neighbors will also attend to advise us about her group activities.

While targeted at the Eastside, anyone is welcome to attend.  Please tell your neighbors because in these days of limited law enforcement resources we all need to be more alert to things going on in our neighborhoods.


If you have questions there is a number at the end of the flier that you can call.  See you there.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, July 19, 2012

City Responds To Banning Ranch Payoff Criticism

Today the City of Costa Mesa posted a page on the City web site, HERE, in an attempt to respond to the firestorm of criticism leveled at the City Council for their action last Tuesday night in which they ignored the comments of 35 residents and other interested parties and proceeded to accept the $4.4 million dollar "mitigation" fee from the developers of Banning Ranch.  You'll recall that a petulant and frustrated Mayor Eric Bever muttered his now-infamous bovine excrement comment half-way through the comment section of that issue Tuesday night.  I've presented that little segment for you here again.  Turn your volume all the way up and you'll hear him say, "I'm going home", then the other comment.


  Get Microsoft Silverlight

No matter how crass, crude and disrespectful the mayor and other council members are to those folks who take the time to study the issues, interrupt their lives to attend the meetings and brave the chides from the dais to speak their mind, the council is obligated BY LAW to hear public comments on these issues.  If they don't like it - and clearly they do not - in the words of our potty-mouthed Mayor Bever, "Tough Luck!"

Take a few minutes to read over their response and tell me if you're satisfied that Costa Mesa's interests were well-represented by them in this matter.  I know how I feel...

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Frustrating Marathon Meeting

As I've said many times before, when the Costa Mesa City Council keeps on talking after midnight nothing good comes from it.  Last night was no exception.  When the final item was completed I dragged my old body out of my chair at 12:40 a.m. and headed home - exhausted!  Even after the controversial change in the appeal process was dropped and the equally controversial bicycle ordinance was removed at the last minute and re-scheduled for two weeks hence, it was a long, long meeting.

At their council meeting last night they arrived late - a longer-than-anticipated Closed Session delayed them - it took them a few minutes to get into the meat of the meeting.  The  Presentations segment included Dane Bora and Brad Long of Costa Mesa Television being named Employees of the Month, and rightfully so.  Those two hard-working guys put a positive face on Costa Mesa with their professionalism, good spirit and quality product.  They are creative, reliable and excellent ambassadors for our city.  Now, if we could just get them some good equipment - that hamster's getting tired!

One interesting element of the meeting last night was the fact that, in addition to two council members who are running for election in November - Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan - the audience also included many of the announced candidates, too.  Sue Lester, Marshall Krupp, Harold Weitzberg, John Stephens and Sandy Genis all attended and each spoke on important issues - in some cases, many issues.  At one point Monahan angrily chided some of them for "politicizing" issues and told them to leave that for the campaign trail and not in council chambers - then turned around and did precisely the same thing.  Politics... ya gotta love it!

They finally got around to Public Comments at 6:30 and that stretched until 7:30, as 21 people rose to speak their piece - or tried to.  Mayor Eric Bever had another hissy fit and tried to stop a speaker because he thought what he said wasn't relevant.  The final speaker, Cindy Brenneman, set him straight, though.  She told him and the rest of the council that they should just let the speakers say their piece and not have to have the last word.  Several members of the council constantly toss comments at speakers as they leave the podium - Bever is one of the worst offenders.  Brenneman told them to just stop it, then turned to depart.  Bever - in a perfect example of the problem - muttered something like, "I guess we'll hear about the Solar System at the next meeting."  All that was missing was a drum rim shot! The crowd cheered.

Many of the speakers heaped high praise on the council for their courageous and strong stance against Alternative #3 in the OCTA plan for widening the I-405 Freeway, and correctly so.  For them to take such a strong position against the favored option may cost us down the road in our relationship with the OCTA.

Perhaps the highlight of Public Comments - until Brenneman lit into the council at the end, that is - may have been long-time resident Terry Koken's little story about his friend, Raja and his difficulties with the English language.  It was all a segue to announce the formation of "Politicians For Irresponsible Government" - P.I.G.!  He gave the council this sheet in honor of their induction into the organizations.  Smiles filled the auditorium.  Little did we know that the subsequent events that evening would validate this "honor". (Click on image to enlarge)

Before we even got to the real meat of the evening, during Council Member Comments, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer got off one of many lines last night that still ring in my ears this morning.  Speaking of the announcement of much lower returns than expected by CalPERS said, "We need to start off-loading employees that have these pensions that are unsustainable."  It's like he was in the melon business, deciding to dump a crop before it begins to rot!  That set the tone for the evening.

In an evening of memorable moments, resident Tamar Goldmann may have delivered one of the best by accident.  While chiding the council for out-of-control legal expenditures - we paid Jones and Mayer more than $111,000 last month - she was talking about using "in-house" attorneys and inadvertently referred to our contract attorneys as "outhouse" attorneys.  Guffaws erupted throughout the chambers as she realized her malapropism,  chuckled, then recovered her train of thought.  More than a few of us thought she might be onto something...

It was well after 8:00 p.m. before they even got to the Consent Calendar, those items that are expected to be voted upon in one vote.  Not last night.  Only 3 of the eight items on the Consent Calendar went without discussion.  They sifted through the issues and shoved #5 - the Banning Ranch Traffic Mitigation issue - out until the end, figuring it might take awhile.  Boy, were they right!

However, #8, the proposal to raise the pay level of Reserve Police Officers to $33.00 per hour, generated more heat than light.  Nine speakers addressed this issue, including a couple council candidates who accused the current council of using this scheme to dismantle the CMPD.  Of course, those comments generated angry comments from the council.  In fact, Gary Monahan went ballistic at the end - a rant worth watching.  Righeimer got off a couple more memorable comments.  He said, "The police have never been told no once in their life."  He then emphasized his philosophy by saying, "This council will not have more officers with the pension plan we have today." It was at that point that he accused commenters of "politicizing" the issue.  The issue passed, 5-0.  You can read Joe Serna's Daily Pilot piece HERE.

An interesting sidebar on that discussion - Righeimer may have violated the rules for Closed Sessions when he told the audience about the offer the City had on the table in very specific terms.  Negotiations are supposed to be private between the two parties.  We'll see how that shakes out.

Finally, at 9:15, they got to the final item on the Consent Calendar - #5, the Traffic Mitigation Fee for the Banning Ranch.  You can read Thy Vo's piece in the Orange County Register, HERE.  There were still well over 100 people in the auditorium at that time.  After a brief description of the issue by Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman, the parade to the speaker's podium began.  When it stopped more than 90 minutes later 36 people had spoken - only one in favor of accepting the fee.  That was restaurateur John Ursini, a terrific guy whose family owns the Newport Rib Company and is a huge supporter of municipal issues, primarily youth sports-related events.  Based on his comments, I'm not sure he really understood what the actual issue was last night.

Speakers from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach clogged the lines in the aisles at the sides of the auditorium.  That's Bever's edict. No more calling folks up to speak based on their completion of speaker's cards.  Nope, if you're going to speak in Eric's court, er, meeting, you just have to drag yourself to a line and wait your turn - like prisoners in a chow line.  And, he demands that you wait until he acknowledges your existence before speaking.  And, since he doesn't require speaker cards to be completed and didn't require speakers to identify themselves, the minutes are laced with misspelled speaker names.  This is yet another curious facet of the Bever regime.  He's a fanatic about the accuracy of the minutes of meetings, sending them back time after time for revisions, and yet he institutionalizes failure by his actions.  But I digress...

The speakers ranged from concerned to emotional to frustrated to angry to downright mad.  The aforementioned Terry Koken, for example, got the council's attention by slamming a slab of wood with a wrench, making a loud "crack", then proceeded to read them the riot act with his personal volume turned to HIGH.  Greg Ridge told the council it was too soon for this deal and used a Winston Churchill story to imply that we, the city, were prostitutes who had just negotiated our "price".

Several speakers carried the theme that it was too soon for this deal because the project had not yet been approved in Newport Beach or by the Coastal Commission.  Every council candidate present addressed this issue, including lawyer John Stephens who pointed out deficiencies in the agreement and advised the council NOT to approve it.  Robin Leffler told the council this was a good deal - for Newport Beach and the developer.  Newport resident Jim Mosher pointed out what a bad deal it was for Costa Mesa by describing the kind of arrangements being made in Newport.

Finally, after much discussion by the council and staff, just before 11:00 p.m. the council voted, 4-1 - Leece voted NO -  to accept the fee agreement, but to clean up some of the "mistakes" and add a CPI escalator in it.    As the crowd filed out, many of them loudly calling for a recall, Bever was heard to mutter, "Go home!"  Ever the class act. 
And now we had the rest of the agenda ahead of us and it was almost Wednesday!

The only Public Hearing item went fast and was completed at 11:15 with staff directed to work with two of the folks present to sort out the apparent differences with the fines involved.

New Business #1, the issue of the "performance audit" requested by Mensinger some time ago, probably should have been an item for a Study Session.  That's how this discussion went, with Assistant City Manager Rick Francis fielding the questions and guiding the discussion.  The issue will be "tightened up" and returned for further consideration the first meeting of August.

The issue of providing fee waivers for certain "Green" issues - solar systems and charging stations for electric vehicles - went smoothly but Bever said he couldn't support waiving fees in a time of fiscal distress.  They accepted the staff recommendation, selecting the alternative that provided for a 50% fee waiver but extended the program through the end of the next fiscal year instead of December.  Bever vote NO, citing his unwillingness to waive fees in these difficult financial times. (Remember that at the end of this post)

Next up was the Request for Proposals for the Telecommunications Technical Services for Emergency Equipment.  This should have been pretty straightforward, but it ended up being bizarre.  The staff recommended rejecting the RFP response as insufficient and to pursue shared coverage with other agencies.  Apparently, with the departure of a staff member to Tustin recently, we have only one person qualified to install the plethora of emergency electronics in our vehicles.  According to Lieutenant Bryan Glass we're looking for a replacement for him now.  After much discussion, Righeimer moved that the RFP response be rejected, that we continue to seek other municipal partners for this service and to maintain the layoff notice.  Part of the staff report was to rescind the layoff notice.  The motion was later amended to instruct staff to seek a replacement for the departed staff member.  So, we have one guy doing this work, we need to have him continue to do it, we are not going to outsource the job but Righeimer demanded that the layoff notice remained in place!  The vote was 4-1 with Monahan voting NO. 


Think that was strange?  Even stranger was the fact that Bever, noticing the clock had struck midnight during the middle of the discussion, called for a vote to either continue or not.  The vote was 4-1 to continue - Bever voted NO.  So, he was apparently all set to cease the discussion midstream, forgo the discussion of the business license tax - which has a tight time line - and go home!  Unbelievable!

The final item on the agenda - which began at 12:05 -  was the continued discussion of the proposal to place an increase in the Business License Tax on the November ballot for the voters to continue.  This fee structure - which has not been significantly changed since 1985 - was actually implemented in 1961.  Only the fee levels were tinkered with during that two-dozen year period and NOTHING has been done since.


Righeimer had sent Finance  and Information Technology Director Bobby Young back to the drawing board after a previous meeting to come up with a plan similar to that used in Newport Beach, where their tax is based on employee headcount.  There was insufficient time for that to happen, so the staff recommended that the item be removed from the track to put it on the November ballot and that they gather the data to provide a proper report so the council can make an informed decision.  That sounded logical, but in the alternate universe that Righeimer operates in, that was not to be.

He insisted that Young just pull numbers out of the air - call a couple companies, get some numbers and base a staff report on that.  This is another of his Fire-Ready-Aim moves that always bites us in the posterior.  He said we need to get this on the ballot in November, so the discussion went round and round. 


Finally, at 12:30, we got an inkling of the real truth of this issue.  One of the final speakers on this long, long night was former Planning Department executive Perry Valantine.  During his comments he asked if any of the council members had signed a pledge against any new taxes.  If so, then they'd already made their decision before hearing any of the discussions and the public has a right to know that.  He received no response, but the issue became clear in a few minutes

Mensinger said he'd rather see us focus on collecting the taxes already due from folks who don't pay them and the handwriting - graffiti, in this case - was clearly on the wall.  Monahan continued by saying, "I have no interest in moving forward with this - never really have."  He went on to list the taxes which he, as a businessman, paid.  He looked over at Righeimer and said, "Sorry, Jim, but I wouldn't be supporting this no matter which one of the proposals you bring forward."  You got the impression that he really wasn't sorry.  Bever chimed in and said, "Thanks for sharing that, member Monahan, I feel the same way.  There you have it, Mr. Hatch.  No special meeting necessary."  And with that he adjourned the meeting!

And, as jaws dropped among the remaining few attendees, we all realized that we'd been snookered all along.  Since it takes 4 votes to place an item on the ballot, this item died a quick death - as though someone had deftly and quietly slit its throat. 

As a taxpayer and a resident of this city for nearly four decades, I'm really steamed about this.  Your city council - driven by the agenda of the Orange County Republican Party and its "no new taxes" mantra - has chosen to forgo picking up gold nuggets in the bottom of the stream to please their political masters.  When not one of the council members responded to Valantine's inquiry we suspected what was about to happen.  When there was not a single member of the business community present for this meeting after Chamber of Commerce President Larry Weichman promised a packed house last week, I knew something was up.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if this wasn't just orchestrated purely for the theatrics of it.

This is the most egregious abuse of power I've seen since the Charter fiasco began.  Our city has been described by Righeimer and his minions like Colin McCarthy as being in dire financial condition - tottering toward bankruptcy - and this council refuses to give the voters of this city a chance to help steer it back on course by demanding a change in the way business license taxes are calculated, knowing full well the staff couldn't pull together the numbers.  And also knowing full well that they didn't have the votes anyhow.

This could have been simple.  They didn't have to demand hundreds of staff hours be used, and many consultant dollars spent, to come up with an elaborate formula.  The current structure has a maximum business license tax of $200.  Each year we receive around $800,000 from this revenue source.  If the structure was just quadrupled across the board - with a maximum of $800 - the city could have received revenue of $3.2 million!  That's enough to fill a lot of potholes and hire more police and firefighters to keep us safe.  Or, to apply to that unfunded pension liability they keep yapping about.   I doubt you could find a single businessman in the city who would seriously balk at that change.

This meeting, with the incivility displayed by Bever and the dishonesty by the other council members on this particular issue and their unwillingness to seriously negotiate the pressing labor issues based purely on political dogma, may be the low water mark for such meetings in my personal memory.  I'm ashamed of them.  Only Wendy Leece seems to be trying to serve the people of this city - the others serve a different master.

Several folks have told me they heard Bever mutter the words "That's Bulls**t" during the meeting.  Between phone calls and my attempt to finally get this posted I've not been able to find it.  Let's have a contest to see who can find that point in the meeting.  First person with the answer - and specific site on the web feed - gets to say something nasty about Bever here.  WE HAVE A WINNER!  CONGRATS TO READER JERRY GARCIA OF COSTA MESA WHO FOUND THE CLIP.   TURN YOUR VOLUME UP, LISTEN CLOSELY AT ABOUT 10 SECONDS IN.

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Labels: , , , , , , , ,