Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Kinder, Gentler - But Still Long - Council Meeting

Well, the first Costa Mesa city council meeting of the new year proved to, indeed, be a kinder, gentler event than many in the recent past.  New Mayor Jim Righeimer ran the meeting crisply, with almost the perfect mix of business and humor.  He enlisted the help of his fellow council members and the public to keep things moving briskly.  I don't want to heap too much praise on him or he might get a big head... oh, wait... too late.

The evening began with three VERY special presentations.  Costa Mesa Police Officer Jon Smith - who had been honored on the lawn of the Police Headquarters earlier in the day when the yellow ribbon that had wrapped the trunk of a large ficus tree on the lawn was removed after Smith safely returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan - presented Righeimer with an American Flag that had flown over Afghanistan.

Then Righeimer honored two young maintenance workers from the South Point Apartments who saved the lives of two women who had been trapped in a burning apartment building.  Arturo Hernandez and Gerald Rodriquez broke in a door and literally carried the two women to safety.

And then Righiemer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger presented awards to members and coaches of the Estancia High School Eagle football team for their victory in the annual Battle Of The Bell - the cross-town rivalry with the Costa Mesa High School Mustangs.  Coach Mike Bargas spoke briefly about his team and their accomplishments.

Fewer than a dozen folks rose to speak during Public Comments on issues as diverse as improving an entrance to Fairview Park; the successful Snoopy House event; the concern of residents of Bethel Towers about the pending renovations; the proposed new Fairview Park parking lot; the pending recall of Mayor Righeimer and the new, more civil attitude, which was punctuated by a word - or maybe it's two words - left hanging in the air by former mayor Eric Bever having to do with bovine excrement.  Apparently some things will never change.

During his segment CEO Tom Hatch brought a full bag of tricks that had accumulated for a month, since the last meeting.  He updated us on the progress of the consultant for the city General Plan update.  He told us that they plan to provide even more specific information on the Warrants that presently appear as part of the Consent Calendar.  He also mentioned that in the special study session on January 29th two important issues will be discussed - the unfunded liability issue and the 2.5@55 benefit enhancement, and invited the public to attend.  I'll remind you.  He then invited Chief Tom Gazsi to make a short presentation on the status of our School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

Gazsi told us that the CMPD aggressively trains for protection of probable targets - schools, shopping centers, athletic events, etc.  He told us that recently retired SRO Jess Gilman returned on a part-time basis in a reserve officer role.  He also told us that on Monday he hired four (4) new police officers - the first hired since 2008 - and that four more will be hired this month.  He's working closely with Dr. Fred Navarro, Superintendent of Schools for the Newport Mesa Unified School District on SRO plans.

Then, after a little pep talk by Righeimer about what items on the Consent Calendar are supposed to be, members of the council promptly pulled half of the items for separate discussion.  During a discussion of the Warrants Mensinger said, paraphrasing him, that when he requested the Warrants be included in the Consent Calendar he didn't expect them to be pulled for separate discussion.  Gee, I guess that means we want transparency, just don't dare ask any questions about little things like how much we're spending on legal fees.  He mentioned those specifically.  Too late, Steve - you opened that particular Pandora's Box and you're just going to have to live with the consequences.

By the time we finished the Consent Calendar it was 7:55 p.m., nearly an hour after we should have been discussing Public Hearing #1, the item for which most of the remaining crowd was patiently waiting.  But, instead, he jumped to New Business #2, the discussion of the SR-55 Improvement Study - apparently so the half dozen OCTA folks in attendance could get on their way.

Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman made a brief presentation of the history of this project, then turned it over to a representative from OCTA, who explained the remaining process.  From this point forward a detailed technical analysis will be performed, then the process will return to the city to arrive at the "preferred local alternative".  Cost estimates for the four remaining options ranged from $9-14 million for Alternative #2, the Transportation System Management option that included signal synchronization and adding a couple partial lanes to $9-25 million for option #3, Vertical Terminal Enhancement and a whopping $306 - 373 million for the Cut and Cover choice.  And, of all the options, that final one would have the greatest business impact by far.

After a nearly 20 minute break at 8:35 we finally got to the Public Hearing on the proposed closure of the Anchor Trailer Port.  It is proposed to remove the existing mobile homes and trailers and build 40 live/work units ranging is size from 1952 to 2000 square feet.  Representatives of the proposed new owner were present to present their plan for the relocation of the existing residents, more than half of whom showed up for the meeting.  Nineteen (19) people stood to express their concern about the process and their apprehension - distrust, actually - of the plans being proposed.

Many of us who have been observing council activities for more than a short time remembered back nearly a decade ago when two trailer parks - El Nido and Snug Harbor - were closed by the owner to build a medical office building.  That process was long, late and rancorus over many months.  The presentation by the proposed owners and by Celeste Brady representing The City in this matter as a member of the law firm of Stradling, Yocca Carlson & Rauth was thorough.  Brady made it very clear early on that the council has NO discretion in this matter.  They can only find that the applicant did or did not follow the state law in this matter - which she told us they did and even exceeded the requirements, too.  In fact, they were working with the 24th version of the Closure Impact Report (CIR), each of which were prepared after input by residents and city staff.

Still, the conversation went on and on and on and was finally passed after the council squeezed concessions out of the applicant and Mensinger wondered what the penalty would be if they DID NOT pass the action.  I could see Brady flinch when he asked the question.  Well, gee, Steve - I guess that would get us saddled with yet another law suit because of a boneheaded council action!  The guy really is obtuse.  And, as it turns out, he has a friend who is a resident of the trailer park who he apparently is now moved to "help" - whatever that means.  The applicant will offer significant financial incentives and assistance to the residents, including relocation counseling.  The council finally took their vote - 5-0 - at just before 11 p.m., then took a short break while all the interested parties filed out.  The meeting commenced at 11:05.

Now we were on New Business #1, the Fairview Park Wetlands Boardwalk Project.  In a nutshell, we have just about finished creating a wetlands area of Fairview Park but most of it would not be visible to visitors from the trails around the perimeter.  So, the staff wants authorization to move forward to plan a series of boardwalks that will enable visitors to walk above the wetlands and safely see the wildlife and plants included therein.  The cost for the planning and design phases is $100,000 and the total project may cost $1 million.  The seven remaining residents in the chambers heard the council approve moving forward with the plan.

Finally, at 11:25, the final item on the agenda, New Business #3, Council Authorization for the Implementation of Security Camera System Upgrade and Expansion For City Hall and Lion's Park, was heard.  Among the questions asked were just who the "authorized staff members" are that will be permitted to view these video recordings.  Apparently, in the case of the Lions Park tapes, that would be police personnel.  Some conversation suggested that members of "city management" will be permitted to view the City Hall tapes.  We were assured that none of the cameras will be trained on working areas, only common areas like hallways, parking lots and entrances to the building. 

Finally, at 11:47 p.m., we were done.  So, despite his best efforts, Righeimer was still not able to get us on the road home early last night.
The next meeting will be next Tuesday, January 15th.  That's going to be a tough one for the staff, since it only gives them a couple days in which to prepare the necessary staff reports.  Such is life in the new, kinder, gentler City of Costa Mesa.

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Blogger just wondering... said...

I am betting the camera contract went to Righeimer's good buddy who has a surveillance business. They had his cameras on the senior citizen busses around town for awhile. Oh no...wait! That would be cronyism!

1/09/2013 07:19:00 AM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

I think you are too hard on Councilman Mensinger concerning his asking what the consequences of not approving the trailer park issue. Geoff, he knew the answer already! He was just getting it out to the public. Many, if not all, lawyers do this everyday in court. You need to be a little kinder and gentler also. Mensinger did no harm in asking and he let the public get informed on a question some may have had. That is good, not bad.

1/09/2013 07:43:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

crow hunter,
Watch the tape... If you do, you'll clearly see that he was ticked-off because a friend of his was involved he wanted to "help" her. Watch the tape...

1/09/2013 08:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

I was pleased with the way the mayor ran the meeting last night. Everyone - speakers and all the council members - were treated not only with respect, but empathy. "Long" isn't so bad when it is acrimony-free.

There is only one suggestion I would make to the mayor - please refer to Ms Leece with the same title, "Council member", that you use for everyone else. It was not done dismissively, but it was noticeable.

1/09/2013 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

why watch the tape? I watched the meeting! it is good to get the info out and that happened to be the time to do it. since i was watching meeting and not there I could not ask that question. Good that Mensinger asked it for me (us)

1/09/2013 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

crow hunter,
I guess we'll just have to disagree. If you were, in fact, watching the meeting then you saw Celeste Brady tell the council several times that they really had no choice - no discretion. Well, that apparently is like waving a red flag in front of a bull for Mensinger - he doesn't like ANYONE to tell him NO on anything. Had he somehow been able to convince two more council members to basically give the state the finger and vote no on the issue (unlikely) it is certainly very likely that a lawsuit would have been lodged.

Here's an interesting thing to consider. The council, early in February, will appoint new Planning Commissioners. Do you suppose a council member might withhold support for an applicant if that person doesn't agree to somehow block the project that would replace the trailer park? Petty? Infantile? Vindictive? Possible? Would you describe it as such? I would.

So, we'll just see how far this goes. The new project is EXACTLY what the old and new council majority has been salivating for. Stay tuned.

1/09/2013 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

yes, I WAS , in fact, watching the council meeting. why all the second guessing? and another poster has added the word cronyism with no proof. we are starting to slide down the slope. In a week or two, probably back to normal. I will be called a troll for even posting here,then a puppet if I agree with the men, and on and on. As for the project,as you say, there is nothing for the men to do to stop it so why blame them and speculate they have been salivating for it? I am not sure if I am reading your comment for comprehension. It seems you say they will only appoint someone against this project to PC but then say they have been salivating for the project? I do not follow this reasoning even after rereading. Wait for it.....the attack on me for being stupid is coming. make it good.

1/09/2013 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous ricco crowe said...

who owns the land? what are his/her rights and responsibilities? appoint PC slots who know how to make such findings in law. nuff sed

1/09/2013 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

crow hunter,
So, your objective here is to just pick a fight, huh? OK...

I don't necessarily think you're stupid, but we clearly view things through different prisms. You give Mensinger the benefit of the doubt - I don't. You think he would never be vindictive but I think you're wrong.

I didn't say he WILL only appoint someone who marchs to his tune, only that it's something to watch. Do I believe he has that kind of petulant vindictiveness within him? Yep. Will he flex his muscles that way in the upcoming appointments? Maybe.

As to the project, they cannot stop THIS part of the process, but it's a long way from a done deal. We'll see how it goes before the Planning Commission.

1/09/2013 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

my apologies for seeing it differently. I still don't follow how, as you say, they have been salivating for this project but want to kill it. Sounds like a no win situation being set up here.
As for PC appointments I would think Byron would get one. He has the skills and was a supporter of the men. Don't think Clark will make it if his term is up. He has knowledge but doesn't seem to work as hard as Fitzy did and not near the work ethic of Colin, Jeff, and Rob. They get out there and meet the applicants, have vision, and are not mere button pushers. Clark is solid in other ways so maybe he hangs on. Harlan can skip this round obviously. The union he speaks of so often in his columns are not impressed. btw, McEvoy sure looked foolish last night didn't he? Talk about a guy who wants TV time! That sure didn't help his cause. Too bad, thought he had some potential but he still thinks the Banning Ranch deal was done and he apparently doesn't trust Naghavi's judgment on the matter.

1/09/2013 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger just wondering... said...

Crow just confirmed my suspicion. You're right, I have no proof, but after your comment, I no longer need it. You confirmed it for me.

1/09/2013 05:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Troll Tracker said...

just wondering wrote:
"Crow just confirmed my suspicion. You're right, I have no proof, but after your comment, I no longer need it. You confirmed it for me."

"Loose lips sink ships" is now:
"Loose keys, everyone sees."

1/09/2013 10:05:00 PM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

"jw" and "tt: u live in a fantasy world apparently. I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I still don't follow what Geoff says about the men salivating for this project and wanting to kill it. whatever that confirms in your head so be it. very strange.

1/10/2013 07:22:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

OK, one last time...
For years several versions of the city council has been looking for projects like the one proposed to replace Anchor Trailer Port, which seems to conform to the plans in the Westside revitalization plans created a decade ago. The economic dip caused developers to pull back on those kinds of projects. The project does seem to be a good one, and would (will) likely get support from the Planning Commission and council.

Mensinger now seems to have a personal interest in one of the folks that will be displaced - something that came as a surprise to him Tuesday night. Once he realized he actually knew someone that would be displaced he took a different, more intense kind of interest in the proceedings and, even though our contract lawyer told the council SEVERAL times that they had no discretion, he floated the idea of NOT voting to move forward. Because the applicant not only met the necessary criteria but actuall significantly exceeded it, such a rejection may have resulted in one more lawsuit CAUSED by councl action.

And, since Mensinger and the rest of the council will appoint new Planning Commissioners (maybe) on Tuesday they MIGHT, as part of their screening of applicants, test their willingness to squeeze the developer - who Mensinger apparently, from his actions, believes is not treating the residents of the park fairly.

That's it.. If you don't get it now I can do no more.

1/10/2013 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

ok, got it. I see now -you think it is a good project. Not knowing that before I thought you were being negative on the project when you said the men have been salivating for a project like this and was saying that as another put down on them. (you know, kick the poor residents out so their developer friends -who are hoping to become OWNERS of the property-can make some money and perhaps line the men's pockets) See, it just takes a little communication! I see also that Genis thinks the developer is not treating recent arrivals fairly.

1/10/2013 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

OK, but I think you mis-read or mis-heard Genis. Her problem was with the CURRENT owner and his representatives on site at Anchor. THEY, not the buyer, are the ones who misrepresented the issue to the newer arrivals. I didn't ask Genis, but I interpreted her attitude through her questions and answers that she is OK with the deal being offered to the residents.

1/10/2013 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous crow hunter said...

i think u are correct sir.

1/10/2013 06:09:00 PM  

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