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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Krupp Calls A Press Conference

Costa Mesa City Council candidate Marshall Krupp today announced a press conference on the steps of Costa Mesa City Hall on Wednesday, August 1st at 4:00 p.m.

In the press release announcing the press conference  titled "Marshall Krupp Initiates Nominations Process for Election to the Costa Mesa City Council", he cites the recent Banning Ranch Mitigation Agreement, the "ill-conceived Proposed Charter" and what he calls "a continuing strategy by the current majority on the City Council to dismantle the Costa Mesa Fire Department and the Costa Mesa Police Department" as reasons for his candidacy.

Since Krupp has stated in the past that he would withdraw from the race if he couldn't attract broad support from within the community and since the broad-based grass roots organization Costa Mesans For Responsible Government just announced their support for Sandra Genis, Harold Weitzberg and John Stephens this week, we wonder if this press conference might be to announce his withdrawal from the race.

Krupp has brought a lot of energy to the campaign so far and has some ideas worth considering.  However, none of his messages have been delivered with brevity, so if you plan to attend this event bring a snack... it could be a long afternoon.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

CM4RG Announces Candidate Endorsements

In a press release this afternoon the group, Costa Mesans For Responsible Government, announced the candidates they will endorse in the Costa Mesa City Council race.  Their complete press release is at the end of this post.
Although they undertook a thorough vetting process to arrive at their endorsements - dozens of their membership voted on this issue - the results really did not surprise me.  The candidates selected are former mayor Sandra Genis, attorney and long-time Costa Mesa resident John Stephens and entrepreneur and activist Harold Weitzberg.  They all are members of CM4RG.  That, in my opinion, does not degrade the importance of this endorsement. 

Costa Mesans For Responsible Government has been portrayed by supporters of the slate of candidates that includes two incumbents and a planning commissioner as some kind of a fringe element - a bunch of loose cannons.  That, of course, is far from the truth.  This group, cobbled together more than eighteen months ago in response to their concern for what they saw happening in our city, is made up of hundreds of residents that cover a broad range of political viewpoints - including some of my fellow Republicans.  This group may be a perfect example of the old saying, "Politics makes for strange bedfellows."  I suspect the process they went through to arrive at this list of endorsed candidates may have been very much like herding cats. 
It's my understanding that Steve Mensinger, Colin McCarthy and Gary Monahan - the three candidates touted by the Orange County Republican Party - as well as newcomer Al Melone were NOT vetted by the group.  In fact, the first three are a big part of the reason CM4RG exists.

The CM4RG candidates, in my view, are individually strong candidates with their own special skills and history of accomplishments.  I believe they will make this campaign season especially interesting. 

I'm not sure what these endorsements will do, if anything, the candidacy of Sue Lester and Marshall Krupp at this time.  Krupp has given very strong indications that if he was unable to garner wide, strong community support that he would withdraw from the race.  I guess we'll soon see.  August 10th is the drop dead date.


From my standpoint this process got a whole lot easier today.  I simply will not vote for anyone with a surname that begins with an "M".

So, let the games begin...


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Costa Mesans for Responsible Government Endorses Three Candidates for Costa Mesa City Council

Costa Mesans for Responsible Government (, a grassroots, non-partisan organization formed to encourage and promote high levels of openness, accountability, integrity, and responsiveness in our City Government, endorses Sandra (Sandy) Genis, John Stephens, and Harold Weitzberg for Costa Mesa City Council in the upcoming November 2012 election.

"We are pleased to have three strong candidates who oppose the city charter in its current form and who have the ability to communicate the change needed in Costa Mesa city government," said Robin Leffler, President of CM4RG.  "Our endorsed candidates have strong professional backgrounds and thoughtful, common-sense solutions for Costa Mesa.  

We believe Sandy Genis, John Stephens, and Harold Weitzberg will work well together because of their common values, in-depth knowledge of the city's operations, land development, local, state, and federal laws and how they affect residents, taxpayers, local businesses, and city employees.  We understand they will focus on public services to protect the residents and businesses and promote the smooth operations of our city.  They have the experience and willingness to deal with complex budget issues in a collaborative and constructive way. Finally, Sandy, John, and Harold have proven that they will do the right thing for the right reasons.  We could not be more pleased."

CM4RG established a non-partisan, three-tier process to select quality candidates, based on several criteria.  These included prior involvement in Costa Mesa issues and institutions, education and professional experience, ability to win in a highly competitive election, and a high level of agreement with CM4RG’s mission and policy positions.

An elected committee conducted personal interviews.   A panel of dedicated volunteers observed these interviews.   Then a summary of answers from each of the candidates was prepared presented to an appointed group of CM4RG members assembled to represent our broad based demographics, including every major political party and area of the city.  The group of CM4RG's non-partisan, grassroots members was presented with a choice of 5 candidates interviewed.  After group discussion a secret ballot was cast.  The vote was unanimous for Sandy Genis, John Stephens and Harold Weitzberg. 
CM4RG was formed in early 2011 to return Costa Mesa to an open, responsible, transparent government that is responsive and accountable to its people.
For more information about Costa Mesans for Responsible Government and how you can support their efforts, go to Join us on Facebook at and on Twitter at
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Harper Lights, Online Fees, Bike Racks In Parks

This evening, in their July meeting, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss several interesting issues.  The meeting begins at 6:00 in City Council Chambers at City Hall.  You can read the complete agenda HERE.

Perhaps the most contentious issue they will address tonight is that of placing portable lights on the soccer fields at Harper School.  The staff report his HERE.  It's my understanding that many neighbors close to Harper School will be on hand to let the commission hear their views.

Another controversial issue is the fees currently charged for online registration for recreation programs using the Active Net program.  Read that staff report, including attachments, HERE.  There are many who feel the charges are out of line, particularly when used for one-time events with low participation fees.

Also on the agenda is the issue of bicycle racks in city parks.  That agenda is HERE.  When the city council recently made it illegal to lock bikes to rails, posts and other structures somebody forgot about our parks.  How does that happen?  Anyhow, according to the staff report, there are only 38 bicycle parking places in our 29 parks!  The issue tonight will be to consider several alternative bike racks for placement within our city parks.

Perhaps the most interesting item on the agenda is the final one, the Recreation Division Report, HERE.  The numbers in that report are VERY interesting and gives you a real feel for how much are parks and other recreation facilities are actually used by the residents of this city.  This will be new Recreation Manager Bob Knapp's first chance to present this report.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Leece Files For Re-hearing Of Banning Ranch Payoff

Have you seen a portly lady kind of humming to herself?  Well, she hasn't begun to sing yet, at least not as far as the Banning Ranch payoff to Costa Mesa is concerned.

Even though the Newport Beach City Council voted last night, 6-0, to approve the project - read Mike Reicher's article in the Daily Pilot HERE -  and the Costa Mesa City Council voted last week to accept almost $4.4 million from the developer to theoretically pay for the impact of their project on several Costa Mesa intersections and roadways - see Joe Serna's Daily Pilot article HERE - it's not over yet.

Right at the end of the business day Monday Costa Mesa councilwoman Wendy Leece filed for a re-hearing of the decision made by her peers at the meeting on July 17th.  The documents were accepted by Interim City Clerk Brenda Green and we understand this item will very likely appear on the agenda for the council meeting scheduled for August 7, 2012.


I'm not going to attempt to post the entire package of papers involved, but I will give you a thumbnail of the  five issues being used for this re-hearing.

1 - Newport Beach is already requiring Newport Banning Ranch to take responsibility for street improvements in Costa Mesa.

Comments at the council meeting on July 17th that asserted MUST enter into the agreement before other approvals were granted or Costa Mesa would lose the opportunity for any mitigation.  A review of the Draft EIR determined that was a false assertion.

2 - Newport Beach is requiring Newport Banning Ranch to complete the street improvements or provide all funding to Costa Mesa within five years of project approvals whereas the agreement allows more time.

In the mitigation measure there is the following statement:
"The payment of fees and/or the completion of the improvements shall be completed during the 60 months immediately after approval.  Approval refers to the receipt of all permits from the City of Newport Beach and applicable regulatory agencies."

The agreement stretches those payments out over a much longer period.

3 - The street improvements listed in the agreement do not fully reflect the improvements identified in the DEIR.

The lack of full information regarding improvements could possibly allow less than the full improvements needed.  This information was neither discussed nor presented to the City Council on July 17th.

4 - Under the Coastal Act, projects must have adequate public services, including streets.

Sections of the Coastal Act outlines the requirements.  This information was neither discussed nor presented to the City Council on July 17th.

5 - The Agreement makes a false assertion.

Section 5.1 of the agreement states that the DEIR does not identify any other adverse impacts on the City, environmental or otherwise.  However, the DEIR (p. 4.12-23) states otherwise.

"Impact Summary: Thresholds 4.12-1 and 4.12-4: Significant and Unavoidable. With the implementation of MM 4.12-5, which provides funds to resurface 17th Street west of Monrovia Avenue and 15th Street west of Placentia Avenue with rubberized asphalt if required by an updated noise study. If mitigation is required, noise level increases to sensitive receptors adjacent to off-site roadways would be reduced to less than the significance criteria prescribed by the City of Newport Beach. Feasible mitigation has been identified to mitigate the noise impact to residences in the City of Costa Mesa to a less than significant level. However, because the City of Newport Beach does not have the authority to mandate the implementation of mitigation in the City of Costa Mesa, the impact is considered significant and unavoidable."  

The agreement does not include the suggested mitigation measure for noise impacts in the City of Costa Mesa.  Thus, as stated in the DEIR, significant and unavoidable impacts will occur in Costa Mesa, contrary to the statement in Section 5.1 of the agreement.

So in a couple weeks we'll find out if the City Council will re-hear this issue.  It will make for an interesting evening, for sure.

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Council Calls Special Meeting Tomorrow


The Costa Mesa City Council called a Special Meeting of the council tomorrow, Wednesday, July 25th, in City Council Chambers at City Hall at 4:30 p.m. to discuss labor negotiations. This will be a Closed Session, so the council will slip out of the chambers once the roll is taken and the item is read and deliberate in a private venue.
There's no way of telling how long that meeting will go, nor will we know if there will be anything for the contract City Attorney, Tom Duarte, to "report out".  I'll report if there's anything TO report.


We do know that the Parks and Recreation Commission holds its meeting at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow in the council chambers.