Thursday, November 07, 2013

Raucous Meeting Accomplishes Little

You know, as I left the City Council meeting just before midnight Tuesday I thought nothing could top it for pure political theater.  I was wrong, and I only had to wait about 20 hours to realize it.

Last night the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meeting at the Neighborhood Community Center was one for the ages.  You can read the posted agenda HERE to follow along.  Because of the multiple presentations planned, as well as what looked like a pretty packed agenda, I estimated there was no chance for the committee to wrap up their business in the 90 minutes scheduled.  In fact, it took more than double that time, finishing just after 9:15 p.m.

And I wasn't the only one who anticipated a special meeting.  The official videographer for the current power elite in Costa Mesa, Barry Friedland, was there and ready to record the event.  I must give old Barry credit - his YouTube Channel, Costa Mesa Brief, HERE, has a growing number of fairly well done video clips of his politician buddies.  He expects his recording of this meeting to be available for viewing by early next week.  I'm not sure he'll upload it all, since it was over three hours long.  I'm looking forward to seeing how he edits it.

And, Barry and I were joined by more than 100 attendees last night, clearly a record for this committee.  It was an interested crowd, which I can only describe as favoring keeping Fairview Park as it is - with no playing fields.  That's not a guess - it was easy to measure the sentiment of the crowd when they responded to member Anna Vrska's presentation, which I'll discuss now.

Ms. Vrska has been a thorn in the side of some of the committee members almost from the day it was formed.  She's young, articulate, very smart and works hard at gathering facts before making decisions.  Her presentation was supposed to be about Youth Sports Data, and she did briefly touch on that subject, but only to admit that the City was unable to provide her with sufficient historical data because of software and database changes made it impossible to retrieve much historical data.

She began her presentation about 6:05 p.m. and by the time she had completed it at 6:20 most of the other members of the committee were fuming.  She used most of her time explaining the difficulty she had getting responses to records requests.  Later attorney Yolanda Summerhill, shown here with committee member David Stiller, said that she had caused the staff to expend 40 hours on her requests, including at least 10 hours with Vrska personally.  This is very unusual because council members must get permission from the council as a whole if they anticipate a request they might generate would take more than 4 hours of staff time.

Back to Ms. Vrska... she opined that the committee has the cart before the horse - that there should be an assessment of whether anything needs to be done with Fairview Park BEFORE embarking on this mission.  She is a great gatherer of statistics, so she quoted numbers of people who had spoken before the city council on this issue over the past several months, citing numbers that indicated almost all the speakers wished to have Fairview Park left as-is.

She cited a litany of reasons not to proceed - mixed messages sent by Mayor Jim Righeimer, for example.  She also criticized the method used to hire consultants SRS, Inc. to do work on Fairview Park assessing the cite of the proposed new tot lot and parking turnaround.  I won't go into great detail because you'll be able to see it for yourselves on Costa Mesa Brief.

The biggest bombshell she dropped, though, was her claim that there may be bias in the composition of the committee - that she was the only woman and many of the men on the committee were friends with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger - who just happened to be sitting very near her.  As I looked around I could see faces turning red among certain of those committee members.  She also quoted a fairly recent column by Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan, which likely also got some of the members blood boiling.  And then she was finished and the crowd gave her long, long applause.  That was how I measured the sentiment of the crowd.  More fun was to follow later, though.

Then the committee heard from Dr. Steve James, a professor of archaeology from Cal State Fullerton who has worked at Fairview Park in years past and was standing in for the scheduled Sylvere CM Valentin.  Dr. James' presentation was crisp and accusatory, citing failings on the part of the City of Costa Mesa in their responsibility to maintain and manage Fairview Park.  These dozen slides give you an idea of what he said.

Next up was the team from consultant SRS.  Paul Chase, who provided his background and some history of Fairview Park.  His brief presentation was interesting and professional.

Then came Dr. Henry Koerper, a archaeologist with more than 30 years teaching the subject at Cypress College.  He, too, had done significant work in Fairview Park for decades and provided us with more fascinating history of the region.

Then, at just after 7:00 p.m., came SRS Project Manager Connie "Destiny" Colocho, who provided us with a brief PowerPoint presentation of their plans, shown on the five slides that follow here.
For the next 45 minutes we heard from a parade of 22 people (23, if you count Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bob Graham, who jumped up at the end of the speaker line to offer a view), nine (9) of whom expressed the view that part of Fairview Park should be dedicated to playing fields.  All the rest opposed that kind of infrastructure.  Watch old Barry's tape next week to hear their words.  Several youth sports organizations were represented in that line of speakers - football, baseball, soccer, rugby and Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Byron de Arakal - shown here in the cap with Recreation Manager Bob Knapp -  gave us his view that the city is chronically short of playing fields, particularly lighted fields this time of the year, and that something MUST be done.  The committee listened patiently to the speakers.

By now it was 8:00, a half hour past the scheduled stop time and they were nowhere close to a stopping point.  And, this is where the real fun began.  This was the opportunity for committee members to ask questions of the earlier presenters, and some did so with pent up anger.

Vice Chair Steve Smith was first up, taking exception to some of Vrska's earlier comments and, in response to her claim of gender bias, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King's statement about the content of a man's character, not the color of his skin.  I thought that was peculiar, but he was angry.  He asked her why she chose to investigate the field use when there are many other issues with the park.  She responded that it seemed to be the way the committee was heading so she wanted facts.  She said the information the committee had wasn't sufficient to make good decisions and, in response to his statement about the demographics on the committee, she provided statistics that demonstrated that women are severely under-represented on most city committees.


Brett Eckles challenged some of her numbers and she admitted, based on subsequent conversations, that she needs more information.  She tried to apologize to John Rubright of AYSO 120 for not contacting him personally during her canvass of youth sports organizations.

Dennis Popp, the "other" gray-haired, portly blogger in town, condescendingly challenged her statement that the committee was made up of friends of the mayor pro tem, to which Vrska asked, "Am I wrong?"  Popp said he would be proud to be a friend of the mayor pro tem.  He didn't answer the question.  They went back and forth and she told him she wasn't saying he was a puppet, but that the committee was compose mainly of like-minded people and, except for her, all men.


Lee Ramos demonstrated his disdain for her claims of the demographic deficiency of the committee by addressing her angrily in Spanish.

When it was Vrska's turn to question presenters she asked Dr. Koerper if the fact that he had originally been the one to delineate the boundaries of one of the Native American sites at Fairview Park wasn't a conflict of interest since he would be assigned the job of basically confirming his own findings?  After some discussion the answer was no.

Chairman Richard Mehren asked the consultants from SRS if the "capping" - the method of covering sensitive artifact locations with layers of dirt and sand to protect them - wouldn't adversely affect the water flow to and from the vernal pools nearby.  After some discussion Director of Public Works Ernesto Munoz clarified that SRS would not be working in that area.

Vrska then, again, tried to explain the problems with the hiring of the consultants and attorney Yolanda Summerhill pulled her up short, telling her that the legal department had reviewed the process by which SRS was chosen and it passed all the checks necessary.

At this point Mehren, who has kept a fairly low profile as Chairman of this group, made a statement to the group in which he criticized the City for it's poor management of Fairview Park, citing the decomposed granite trail, a recent track meet, parking on protected areas by visitors to an event at Jim Scott Stadium and more.  He cited the current involvement of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and state officials.
Following that the major agenda item - discussing which kind of new features might be appropriate for the Northwest quadrant of the park - was a disaster.  Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia tried to winnow down the 35 suggestions created in July, listed below, to determine which definitely would NOT be appropriate for that quadrant.  Mehren then asked how many had actually walked that part of the park, stating that they couldn't make an informed decision if they had not walked it.  That threw the entire discussion into a tizzy and the result was that they put it off until their December meeting.
(click on image to enlarge it)
During their individual reports Eckles thanked Vrska for her report, then complained about members slamming people, taking the discussion off track.  Popp told us that, as a male nurse, he was frequently in the minority and that gender didn't seem to make a difference in the decision-making of his groups.  He said some were "real dunderheads who made stupid decisions", and made a semi-tasteless joke about them being mad when he only had to use the toilet infrequently.  Funny how much you can learn about people if you just let them talk...

Vrska reiterated that she was offended that she was the only woman on the committee.  She said she didn't intend to make anyone angry, but maybe the truth hurts.  When she attempted to discuss the SRS hiring again Summerhill shut her off.  When Vrska referred to her attendance at the Youth Sports Council and indicated that she felt very uneasy there Steve Mensinger awoke from his hibernation to reject that characterization, stating, "that's not accurate!", and followed up by saying she had been welcomed and treated with respect.  I found myself wondering how Mensinger knew how Vrska felt at those meetings.

Then Ron Amburgey, who had been sitting near Vrska all evening, had his turn and he unloaded on her, telling her she was totally out of line.  He said to her, "You're probably the least knowledgable person about the city on this committee.", as if that had anything to do with the issues at hand.  You could practically see steam coming from his ears.  He complained about her statistics, so she offered him her pile of papers and told him he could check her numbers.

OK, if you stuck with me all this way then you know that this was one of the most disfunctional meetings I've ever seen.  After three hours, much of which was filled with invective and recriminations, absolutely NOTHING was accomplished except we met dueling consultants and heard from nearly two dozen stakeholders.  The work plan for this committee is exactly where it was when the evening began.

The next meeting of this committee will be on December 4th and, as of this time, they won't meet again until February since the first Wednesday of January is the 1st.

And, the final shoe to drop in this very strange evening was that Dr. Mehren - who has served as Chairman on this committee and on the previous version for two decades - was reamed by Mensinger and some of his "friends" at the end of the meeting.  Pathetic!

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Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

You stay classy, Costa Mesa. What a joke this city has become.

11/07/2013 06:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

It's coming to a head. Mensinger and his gang know that ocgop can't control the feds as they finish their investigation of the illegal trail. Resign now Steve. Focus on Pop Warner and spare your family the humiliation.

11/07/2013 06:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Why would anyone ream Dr. Mehren? He is absolutely correct that the city has done a horrible job of protecting that park and it is coming back to haunt us. Ann is correct on all counts. The other members may think she knows less about this situation, but I contend that through her research, she actually knows more than the rest. She is the only one with facts and documentation to back it up.

11/07/2013 07:02:00 AM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

wow... you really are the energizer bunny of blogging! thank you so much for your hard work and reporting.

11/07/2013 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Anna Vrska; profile in courage? I can only imagine she's a little fed up with the committee in some way or another and is trying to understand her opposition. I can see Ron Amburgey speaking, his response reminds me of a grumpy old fart who doesn't like any informed opposition, especially from an educated woman.

Anna appeared to have really attempted to make lemonade out of lemons from her stats search; yet had a bit of sour stuff left in her from the task and overall experience on the committee. I can his response to the stats Anna hands to him, if her ever took her up on the offer: Ron would say "What are numbers and what do they have to do with statistics?"

11/07/2013 07:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Harold said...

I greatly appreciate the effort and intelligence that Anna brought to the meeting. As I have experienced in other meetings with some of these same individuals, there is a proclivity to not "confuse the issues with facts". I commend Anna for her strong presentation and I also commend Dr. Mehren for listening attentively during all of these meetings and upon a determination of facts, stated his opinion.

We can solve the lack of fields and lights very simply.

All we have to do is take two of the long Fairways on the Costa Mesa Golf Course and convert them to lit, multipurpose playing fields. I am sure that if people can think they can avoid can fill in and level the topography of Fairview Park, they can figure out how to carve some space out of the driving ranges and holes of the Golf course and reconfigure the land to keep two 18 hole courses.

11/07/2013 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous LoveMyGarden said...

Ms. Vrska did a wonderful job of remaining composed while the angry old(er) guys attacked her. Looking at the other committees, she is correct in that this committee is disproportionately male. There were 27 applicants for this committee, 22 males and 5 females. Other committees, with the exception of the pension oversight committee, have a greater male to female ratio.

During the question period, the committee members could have told Anna thanks for her hard work, but they disagree with her conclusions and then engaged in a civil discourse. Instead they chose to raise their voices to her, including Mr. Munoz, who caused me to cover my ears because his yelling into the microphone hurt my ears. The Council majority and the members of this committee feel it is okay to show their disdain with anyone who does not share their opinions by attempting to bully and intimidate. Being involved in youth sports does not give them a license to allow their “enthusiasm” to overpower their sense of decorum.

As far as Mr. Mensinger’s comment that Ms. Vrska had no reason to feel intimidated by the members of the sports organizations, his body language said more about his real feelings than his words. At the committee meetings I’ve attended, he has always sat about 3 feet from her (more distance than between he and Mr. Graham) and hasn’t made any attempt to make eye contact with her. This isn’t someone who wants to her friend. In fact, seating a large man with a reputation for bullying people next to Ms. Vrska is probably intentional. As someone who has watched the evolution of feminism, this meeting was a pretty sad statement in how far the equal treatment of women has come.

11/07/2013 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Wasn't Vrska a Righeimer appointee to the committee? If so, then this is yet another example of Righeimer's incompetency- he can't even stack his own deck.

11/07/2013 08:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

Just imagine what would have happened without Anna Vrska on this committee. The FOM (Friends of Mensinger)would by now have approved wholesale destruction of endangered species habitat and archaeological treasures, replacing the public park with sports fields, and general destruction of a jewel of our city. Bravo Anna!

11/07/2013 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

There was a lot of subtext to this meeting that seems to go unnoticed by the council majority and its minions. There were approximately 100 people in the audience, but the Charter committee gets about 8 (most of whom were present last night, too). I read this as many people are worried about the misuse of the park and don't care about a charter. But the subtleties are missed and the mayor continues his campaign to do the opposite of what his constituency wants. Anna, I believe, spoke for the majority.

11/07/2013 09:55:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

So someone presents researched facts and logic to the public, and the majority, through the city attorney and their most loyal supporters, denigrates and mocks her. The result is no accomplishment and a lot of unnecessary drama.

This meeting is a microcosm of politics in our town, and required reading for the 20,000+ who voted against Measure V.

This is an article for your Hall of Fame, Geoff. Cannot thank you enough.

11/07/2013 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

"Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts."
Henry Rosovsky, Economic historian (1927 - )

11/07/2013 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Of all the meetings regarding all the issues I have suffered through over the last several years....last night ranked up there in the top five. The Fairview Park saga is going to have many more twists and turns.
I have to laugh at a Mensinger watching things spin "out of control" if he ever understood any of the protections and mechanisms in place to protect the park from misguided elected officials such as Righeimer and himself.
Poor, Ernesto , twisting in the wind and trying to please his masters, by skirting rules, regulations, municipal protocols, and professional practices thrown to the breeze.
Potstirrer failed to mention the last exchange between Simmons and Ernesto regarding the $650,000 lights. The lack of CEQA , the need to amend the master plan, and the roles still left to play by many more layers of oversight . At the end of the day, those lights will be there to illuminate a sadly roped off illegal DG path. $650,000 that could have been used towards artificial turf or other uses to expand sports facilities throughout the city , wasted over Steve's Path.

11/07/2013 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Gericault is correct... in my sleep-deprived state I did neglect to mention what was probably the most important part of the meeting last night - Dave Stiller's exchange with Ernesto Munoz about Steve Mensinger's scheme to spend $650,000 taxpayer dollars for lights in a dawn-to-dusk park. Munoz defined the process that will have to be followed. Once the design and environmental studies are completed the proposed project will be presented to the committee, then on to the Parks and Rec. Commission before hitting the council for final approval. The Fairview Park Master Plan will have to be amended to permit the installation of the lights.

Gericault is correct - those budget dollars could be spent on much more productive projects throughout the city. It's obvious to those of us paying attention that the lights are a preamble for more extensive parking in the park to facilitate greater fan turnout at Jim Scott Stadium and, perhaps, at Pop Warner activities at the Waldorf School field.

Those of us who attended the meeting last night are very lucky we didn't get "slimed" in a "Mars Attacks" event - with heads exploding in rage.

11/07/2013 12:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Orv Amburgey loved Costa Mesa and did everything he could for it most of his life.

What would he think today about the alliance his son has made with those who would ruin this city?

11/07/2013 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Again I must say, Bravo!
From what I have seen on video and heard of Ron
Amburgey,he looks and sounds like an obnoxious bully. He fits right in with Mensinger and Righeimer.
It is very troubling and questionable why the city chose to do business with SRS.
Connie Boardman warned us in the comments to a DP article on Fairview Park,of the damage and fines SRS had incurred when they worked on Bolsa Chica. Yes, Connie Boardman, the mayor of Huntington Beach warned us that SRS was not a reputable company whatsoever.
And then the city hires them anyway- WHY?
Harold is correct- Why not portions of the golf course for a playing field?
Also, why not use existing fields on the Westside? I've driven by empty fields at noon on a Saturday. What is up with that??
Anna Vrska is to be commended for her excellent work and spine standing up to a barrage of bullies who insulted, mocked and scorned her. They don't act like adults, they act like second graders. Ron's insult was the worst, which isn't surprising.
Bravo, Anna!
And Thank You!, Geoff for your tireless reporting and attending all important meetings in our city. You have a lot more energy and stamina than I do.

11/07/2013 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for going and writing such a great post.

Did your doppelganger Popp stick up for Vrska or Mehren when they got bullied?

This is the guy who claims to be CM's "King of Civility," so what did he do or say when these citizens were attacked?

11/07/2013 06:00:00 PM  
Anonymous JanetF said...

I must've left just before Mr. Mehren's "reaming". As far as I'm concerned, he and Anna Vrska were the heroes of the evening. The conscience of the committee.

And learning that the major issue with lack of sports fields isn't lack of sports fields, but lack of LIT sports fields was illuminating (pun intended) ... seems that would be a great use for that $650,000 lighting - don't you think?

I did get a better idea of individual personalities last night.

Geoff, thank you. As usual, your accuracy is dead on (you could give lessons in note taking). Hope you got a nap today - I was surprised to see your post when I checked in at 4am ... and couldn't wait to get home from the office tonight to see what everyone else had to say.

11/07/2013 06:59:00 PM  
Anonymous jrs36 said...

USF&W were in the Park today 11/7 doing what they called a criminal investigation of the DG path. They were asking who, what, where and when.

11/08/2013 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous jrs36 said...

it was 11/8 sorry pls edit my post

11/08/2013 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Jrs36: thank you. This is what we have been waiting for.

11/09/2013 03:45:00 PM  

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