Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fairgrounds Sale Scab Ripped Off Again

At the meeting of the Fair Board last Thursday morning the panel charged by the Board to investigate the proposed scheme to purchase the Fair Grounds property a couple years ago on the cheap presented their findings.  You will recall that the effort, in which several members of the Fair Board at the time formed a foundation to purchase the 150 acre Fairgrounds site, was quashed due, in great part, to the efforts of now-councilwoman Sandra Genis in her then-role as President of the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society, HERE.

Norberto Santana, Jr., Managing Editor of the Voice of OC, first announced this move in an entry on January 17th, early in the morning, HERE.  He followed up after the meeting with another one, HEREMike Reicher of the Orange County Register covered the event HERE and Bradley Zint covered it for the Daily Pilot HERE.  Read all those articles and you'll get a pretty good feel for what transpired on Thursday.

As you will read, calls were made for a forensic audit of the process of attempting to sell the Fairgrounds.  Major players were former state legislator Dick Ackerman and then-Fair Board President David Ellis, among many others.  When this first came up back in 2009 Ellis presented a long list to the Fair Board of individuals he insisted MUST be interviewed if the Board was to have a clear idea of what transpired in this drama.  That list in below.
As you can see, it looks like a list of everyone who ever muttered the words "Fairgrounds Sale".  I suspect Ellis knows that his challenge to interview all those people would be virtually impossible, particularly since the committee formed to do it had no subpoena power nor any authority to guarantee truthful responses.

One thing that's missing in these articles is a mention of the role current Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer played in this scheme.  We know of his participation in "Save The Fair" web site, HERE.  We also know that his commentary in the Daily Pilot under his "Rigonomics" byline back in June of 2009 may have been one of the first mentions of this scheme, HERE.  Personally, I'd like to know more about his involvement.  I'm curious because it was clear at that time that he was likely participating behind the scenes.  Some will recall that ill-fated mistaken voice mail message left for a local reporter instead of community stalwart Rick Kapko informing Kapko that he was a lock to be a member of the Costa Mesa Financial Evaluation Committee before his appointment had been affirmed.  That kind of stuff makes many of us curious.

It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.  Certainly, there are many questions left unanswered.  I find myself wondering just how far this Fair Board will wish to pursue it.  It is logical to speculate about potential legal sanctions if, for example, the State Attorney General decides to actually investigate this matter.  There is, of course, the cloud of conflict of interest hanging over that possibility, since the Attorney General is, in fact, the counsel for the Fair Board.  I guess we'll see.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Harlan Calls For Vision

Daily Pilot Columnist Jeffrey Harlan, in a column that will appear in print this weekend, makes a very prescient point - that the City of Costa Mesa lacks a vision for the next 60 years.  You can read his excellent column HERE.

Harlan's position - that the update of the Costa Mesa General Plan is an excellent place to begin constructing that vision - is right on the money.  Following his lament that we missed an opportunity to develop a community-wide vision prior to the November election, he postulates that "with the dust firmly-settled, we can finally come together and have the conversation in earnest."

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that dust has, in fact, firmly-settled.  Based on the behaviors demonstrated by the council majority during the most recent council meetings following the election, I'm not convinced they are ready or willing to reach out to the broader community to help construct that 60-year vision.  It seems to me they are much more concerned about their own, personal short-term goals rather than stepping up to look into the future of this community.

I encourage each of you to read Jeff Harlan's column and contemplate how you might participate in the construction of such a vision.  It takes a little work - a little exercise in looking beyond your own small slice of this community - but it will be worth it.

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Oops! Costa Mesa Council Takes A Mulligan

Perhaps anticipating the Costa Mesa Classic Golf Tournament on Monday, the Costa Mesa City Council will, effectively, "take a Mulligan" after it inadvertently voted last Tuesday evening to appoint current Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy to the vacancy created the day before by the abrupt resignation by commissioner Ed Salcedo.

Following the meeting Interim City Clerk Brenda Green further researched the California Government Code - specifically section 54974 (a), which you can read HERE -  and found that, despite contract City Attorney Tom Duarte's assurance to the council that it was appropriate to select a replacement for Salcedo last Tuesday night, the code requires at least 10 days between the official notice by the clerk and the appointment.  You can read the City press release on this issue HERE.

So, even though very few people I've spoken with think McCarthy will not be re-appointed, the application period for persons interested in filling Salcedo's remaining two years on the Planning Commission will be extended until 5:00 p.m Thursday, January 24th.  The council will then select from the applicant pool - all the previous candidates plus those who throw their hats in the ring by Thursday evening - at their next regular council meeting on February 5th.  They will also fill the four open slots on the Parks and Recreation Commission that evening, too.

Just when you think things can't get any more bizarre.... don't blink!

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

60th Anniversary Committee Making Progress

The latest meeting of the Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary Committee Thursday night showed excellent progress.

The meeting, chaired this time by Vice Chair Melinda Lowery with the absence of Chair Mike Scheafer, again broke into sub-committees to further flesh out budget issues and begin working on time lines.  Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce, on hand to help answer questions, will compile the results of these efforts and coordinate the activities next Thursday, at what may be the final meeting of the month for the group.

Tentative budget numbers compiled by the individual sub-committees indicate a financial requirement of somewhere north of $270,000 for all anticipated events.  Those numbers will be fine-tuned by Joyce and the committee and the whole package will be presented to the City Council at it their meeting on February 5th.

From our observations of the planning going on over the past couple weeks, the volunteers and staffers assigned to this task are working hard with very good progress.  After all the planning is finalized and the council signs in with comments and financial commitments the real hard work begins.  That's when more volunteers will be required to help the committee complete the events being planned.

As stated last week, folks and organizations interested in volunteering for one or more of the various events should contact Christine Cordon at City Hall by email at or by telephone at 714-754-5121.

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Application Period For Parks Commission Extended

Last Tuesday the Costa Mesa City Council, apparently dissatisfied with the number and/or quality of the candidates who had applied for one of the four vacant slots on the Parks and Recreation Commission, instructed the staff to push the selection process out to a future meeting.  At the time resident Harold Weitzberg asked if the application period would be re-opened.  In the subsequent conversation that ensued it was unclear to me whether that happened.

 The answer, confirmed by Interim City Clerk Brenda Green this morning, is yes - the council re-opened the application period, which will extend until Thursday, January 24th - a week from now.  I may have been the only person who didn't get it Tuesday night, because a couple of new applications have been received already.

So, the council will have more candidates to add to the previously-submitted eleven (11), which is now down to ten because Auto Club lawyer Timothy Sesler was appointed to the Planning Commission Tuesday.  Until the council appoints more commissioners the Parks and Recreation Commission cannot meet due to a lack of a quorum - only Dean Abernathy remains since Kim Pederson's term has expired.  That means the people's business will be put off until March, the next regularly-scheduled meeting of the commission.

I've looked over all the applications submitted previously and found at least a half-dozen who certainly seemed qualified.  What doesn't show on the applications are the political allegiances that apparently form part of the selection criteria for some members of the council.  Some will recall that when former Parks and Recreation commissioner Ethan Temianka - who resigned to fill the Mesa Consolidated Water District seat to which he was elected last November -  was considered, his singular qualification was that he had played on some Costa Mesa fields.  Oh, yes - he did share a business address with Mayor Jim Righeimer, though.  During the meeting Tuesday Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger complained about having insufficient time to contact and interview all the candidates after receiving the application packet.  I guess it takes quite a while to make the rounds and see who's willing to kiss your, er, ring.

In a more perfect world each elected council member would have the right to appoint a commissioner to each commission.  However, with the resignations and staggered council terms that sometimes get tossed askew by resignations and appointments, that "perfect world" just doesn't exist.  I'm not so politically naive that I don't understand why a council majority will want to stack the commission deck to suit their personal political agenda.  However, it's a shame that, for example, Sandra Genis - the highest vote-getter, by far, in any recent election - will not get the opportunity to select commissioners who may be more in tune with her philosophy.  Such is life when local elections - which in theory are non-partisan - get politicized.  Today it's cronyism over qualifications.

So, to those residents who are in a hurry to have the Parks and Recreation Commission hear your plea for a tree removal or address paving over part of Fairview Park, you're out of luck until March. Sorry about that.  The council majority has played loosey-goosey with the appointment process for a couple years.  In fact, Righeimer is the poster boy for this kind of manipulation.  You will recall that, when he was appointed to the Planning Commission after only being a resident of the city for seven months, he failed to submit an application within the prescribed time limit.  That didn't stop then-mayor Allan Mansoor from appointing him and rejecting his loyal foot-soldier, Paul Bunney three times to do it.  During the council meeting Tuesday Righeimer said that they could appoint anyone they wanted.  Of course, that's not true.  Each appointee has to be verified as a registered voter in the City first.  Again, the rules are for somebody else with these guys.  Contact your council members if you want to complain.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So Much For Collaboration and Cooperation!

A jovial, glad-handing Mayor Jim Righeimer started out the evening with some very worthy, very impressive presentations and wrapped it up by demonstrating that, underneath that smiling, back-slapping facade, the same old carpetbagging political operative still lives.  He and his pals on the council majority, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and councilman Gary Monahan, demonstrated that they've got the power and plan to continue to use it.

First, the good stuff.  Costa Mesa High School Cheer instructor Kori Johnson, 2012 Cheer Coach Of The Year, was honored.  Her charges, the young women of the Costa Mesa High School Cheer Squad, have been performing at a high level for the past several years and this year will compete for the de facto national championship. 
Then the remarkable young men and women of the Estancia High School Drama troupe were honored for their accomplishments this year, which will culminate this weekend when they perform their recent production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream at a competition that will determine a "champion", much like football playoffs.  Under the guidance of instructor Pauline Maranian, these talented young people have performed some of the most challenging plays imaginable this past year, including the highly-acclaimed The Crucible.

Then Diane Pritchett, Executive Director of the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau and Ed Fawcett, President and CEO of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce gave a brief presentation of the plans being developed for the Mayor's Dinner celebration.  This will be a major fundraising event in support of local high school arts programs and sponsorship is being sought from businesses and members of the community.  The event will be held on April 25, 2013 at the Samueli Center.

During Public Comments a dozen people rose to address a variety of issues with the council.  Half of them were residents of the controversial Anchor Trailer Port, who explained to the council that there were still problems with the plans being proposed for the relocation of the residents of that facility.  Righeimer tasked the city staff to sort out the apparent discrepancies between the agreement last week and what the residents are now telling them.

Chris McEvoy stepped up to remind Mayor Righeimer and the council - and all the members of the audience - that he is proceeding with a recall effort against Righeimer and asked for help.

A fellow named Jeff Archer - who sure sounded like a surrogate (shill) for the council majority - stepped up with a flashy PowerPoint presentation on the City's pension liability.  Unfortunately, his presentation did not include the most current data from CalPERS, which told us today that their investments increased by 13% this past year.  However, his presentation gave CEO Tom Hatch the opportunity to tell us that the presentation on the Unfunded Pension Liability, previously announced for January 29th, will now be held on February 26th.

One grumpy old guy plucked an item from the Consent Calendar that dealt with the repair of an alley on Fillmore Way to launch into another of his "drain the swamp and the alligators will leave" rants.  He wants to use the money for the proposed repairs with some of the $2.5 million in unanticipated surplus funds to buy "barracks-style apartments", bulldoze them and build parks or parking lots.  There were several alley projects on the Consent Calendar but he just discussed the one that includes a neighborhood populated primarily by Latinos.  Interesting, no?

At around 8:00 p.m. they finally got around to New Business #1, the appointment of Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission members.  Right off the bat they made a curious move - deciding to push the appointment of the Parks and Recreation Commission members off to the next council meeting even though they had eleven (11) applicants for the four available positions.  In a strange bit of back-peddling, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger muttered something about not having had enough time to talk with all the applicants, then reversed course and said he knew most of them.  Looking down that list and having read their backgrounds it certainly seems there were plenty of folks from which to choose.  I counted at least six of them who are well-known to the council.  So, because they failed to do their jobs, the Parks and Recreation Commission will not meet this month.  They have only one remaining member, Dean Abernathy.  There are three vacancies from resignations and Chairman Kim Pederson's term ends next month.  So, the residents of Costa Mesa will not have a Parks and Recreation Commission meeting until the end of March.

Then the real fun began.  The council then address the issue of having not two, but three, Planning Commission vacancies to fill.  As reported here Monday night, Ed Salcedo resigned Monday night.  Much discussion ensued about the legality of considering his vacancy, but upon the advice of contract City Attorney Tom Duarte, they voted to ignore a city policy and proceeded with the nominations and appointments.  Wendy Leece voted NO on that issue.

During the public comments portion resident Robin Leffler expressed hope for a demonstration of the new collaborative, cooperative attitude by allowing the ladies to participate and influence the decisions on this subject.  Righeimer took exception to her observations and said "I can't tell you what to say." after criticizing her for "doing the man/woman thing".  He then said the decisions should have nothing to do with "genitalia"!  Yep, he did... watch the tape.

Interim City Clerk Brenda Green then described the process and allowed the council members to select slips of paper to determine the order of selection.  It turned out that Sandy Genis was #1, Leece was #2, Righeimer was #3, Mensinger was #4 and Monahan was #5, but we didn't know that until they began their nominations.  They decided to fill the two 4-year positions first, then the remaining 2-year slot, replacing Salcedo.

Genis nominated former Planning Commissioner Eleanor Egan and received no second.

Leece then nominated current Planning Commission Vice Chair Sam Clark and Genis seconded the nomination.  His selection failed, 2-3, with only Genis and Leece voting for him, and a loyal Republican soldier fell by the wayside.  And the handwriting was on the wall.

Righeimer, without batting an eye, then nominated Jim Fitzpatrick and moans could be heard throughout the auditorium.  Righeimer, Mensinger and Monahan all praised Fitzpatrick for his courage and dedication.  Genis and Leece both criticized his nomination, citing his judgment for things he's written and posted on blogs and his character during the last election.  He was chosen on a 3-2 vote.

Mensinger nominated Tim Sesler, the thin-skinned Auto Club lawyer, who has become an outspoken supporter of the current power structure in articles in the Daily Pilot and elsewhere.  Sesler was not present.  He was selected on a 3-2 vote, with Leece and Genis voting NO.

Finally, Monahan nominated current Planning Commission Chairman, Colin McCarthy, for the 2-year term.  I'm not sure what that means.  Some might interpret it as a backhand slap at McCarthy, who may have gotten himself on the wrong side of the power elite during the last election.  Regardless, McCarthy was elected on a 5-0 vote.

When all was said and done, the boys had their way and it was clear that they have no intention to offer any kind of an olive branch to the women on the council.  That's really too bad.

It was after 8:00 when the council considered New Business #2, the re-naming (and re-tasking) of the Investment Oversight Committee - to become the Finance Advisory Committee.  Genis had a question for Duarte about the propriety of the re-tasking part, since the title of the agenda item only mentioned the new name.  Duarte said the title and the "Recommendation" section should be considered as a whole.  I found myself wondering how many people ever thought of that in the past.  Most would expect the title of the agenda item to give a clear snapshot of the issue.  Anyhow, they moved forward with a lengthy discussion, then voted to move forward as recommended with the deletion of the 5th and 6th bullet points at the bottom of the first page.  Mensinger also proposed a future discussion of the creation of a budget and pension committee, which will become a subject at a future study session.

New Business #3, the Purchase of Business License Software, was given a thorough discussion and the council approved the $55,000 expenditure.  It is assumed that the implementation of this new software will significantly improve the processing of business licenses.  The vendor chosen also offers modules for other essential processes that could be folded in later.

Finally, under New Business #4, Approval of Mayor's Appointments to the Boards of the Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau, Transportation Corridor Agency and the Orange County Vector Control District, Righeimer added an exclamation point to his muscle-flexing performance last night when he assigned only members of the male majority to those assignments - removing Wendy Leece from her role with the Vector Control District despite her plea to be retained.  Mensinger took a swipe at her for her attempt to step aside in favor of former mayor Arlene Shafer two years ago - the dot on that exclamation point.  Monahan - who stepped down as mayor last year citing too many business and family conflicts - was appointed to both the Conference and Visitor Bureau AND the Transportation Corridor Agency, both of which take up a lot of time.  And, interestingly enough, the TCA assignment includes a $120 stipend per meeting according to Monahan.  The Vector Control District stipend is $100 per month.

So, although the meeting ended early - just after 9:30 - it ended on less than harmonious terms.  As you know, I had hoped for the council to walk the walk after expressing an intention for a kinder, gentler atmosphere.  It took only three meetings to demonstrate that was only talk.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Numbers To Make You Smile

Today we have a bunch of numbers that may make you smile if you're concerned about the fiscal well-being of Costa Mesa.

In a press release today, HERE, The City announced that the fiscal year which ended June 30, 2011 the city had a $2.5 million surplus - thirteen times greater than the original estimate earlier this year.  You can download the entire Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR) HERE - all 163 pages of it - for all the details.  This, of course, is wonderful news and it leads to all kinds of speculation about just how that money might be spent.

For example, one grumpy old fella around town thinks it should be used to tear down "slums" - apartment buildings where mostly Latinos live - and build parks in their place.  That seems like an "investment" that serves only those among us who view the Latinos living in those apartments as something to be scraped off your shoe.

Others - perhaps some developer-friendly councilmen, for example - may wish to buy what they've described as "problem motels" and sell them at a loss to developer buddies.  You'll recall that now-mayor Jim Righeimer suggested that very thing a few months ago.

Or, maybe there might be those who will take a look at the diminished city staff and say, "Hey, maybe we should do something for them!"  After all, there have been no pay raises for city staffers since 2008.  In fact, many have experienced a negative cash flow because they contributed more to their retirement and took enforced furlough days.  Maybe we should look at ways to reward them for their diligence and loyalty in the face of  turmoil and hostility over the past couple years.

Of course, there will be some of you who will leap off your couches and scream something like, "They don't deserve a pay raise!  Just look at their retirement!"  That, of course is irrelevant, but you'll scream it all the same.  In fact, most of the city employee units have negotiated changes and a state law that went into effect January 1st - AB 340 - reduced the rest.  Go ahead - scream anyhow, if it will make you feel better.

And, while we're talking about it, CalPERS announced that they had the best return on their investments - 13% - since 2006!  You can read about it in a Los Angeles Times article, HERE.

The City Council will hold a special study session on Tuesday, January 29. 2013, at which the condition of our pension liability will be discussed.  It will be interesting to see how these "good numbers" will be massaged and manipulated to meet certain political goals.

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