Thursday, February 28, 2013

Meeting The Mayor - I Tried!

Well, you can't say I didn't give it the old college try.  Tonight, beginning just a few minutes ago at 6:00 p.m. Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer held his inaugural "Meet the Mayor" event at the Pitfire Artisan Pizza store on 17th Street - about a mile from my home.

I arrived just before 6 and found every parking spot occupied!  On the way in I noticed several of the "usual suspects" - folks who spend a lot of their time snuggled-up to Righeimer and his buddy, Steve Mensinger - entering the store.  In the parking lot, as I circled looking for a slot, I thought I saw Mensinger's vehicle, too.

Since I know the venue - a small room at the back of the restaurant which you reach by walking past the kitchen - it seemed futile to attempt to find a parking spot across the street somewhere and take my life in my hands crossing 17th Street to reach what would most likely turn out to be a strained situation.  So, I left.

I assume - nasty word, that one - that this event will be viewed as a success.  I just hope that some of the Costa Mesa residents who don't normally interact with Righeimer were able to find a parking spot so they can ask questions and get answers.  Perhaps some enterprising reporter will show up and provide us with a view of the event.  For those of you just getting home from work, there's still time for you to attend - the event is scheduled to run until 7:30.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Joe Nation Is The Bearer Of Bad News

The Grim Reaper showed up at the Costa Mesa City Council Special Study Session Tuesday night, but he was disguised as former Democratic politician now Stanford University professor Joe Nation.

In what turned out to be a more than two-hour long presentation to the council on the current state of Costa Mesa's pension obligation situation, he painted a bleak picture.  His slick, informative slide show can be viewed HERE.  When the whole presentation is available on the city web site I'll return and post that link here, too. (As promised, you can view the streaming video of the study session HERE.)  You can read Bradley Zint's take on the presentation in the Daily Pilot HERE, and Mike Reicher's coverage in the Orange County Register, HERE.

According to Nation, who has become the go-to guy on the pension crisis since he was drafted by his Stanford department chairman to fully-immerse himself in this issue, Costa Mesa's relationship with the CalPERS pension system is unsustainable and, unless dramatic, drastic steps are taken, it will saddle the current taxpayer's children with the debt.

He tells us that for our city, and most others around California, to dig themselves out of their pension difficulties it will require pension reform - changes in the pension formulas and two tiers with lower benefits for newer employees - and increase in revenues.  In the latter case, he suggested that a one-quarter cent sales tax increase would raise $5.5 million annually, which would close the gap less than one-third of the way.  He also suggested a parcel tax of $370 per household for every household in the city for the next twenty years.  He said that would resolve the shortfall.  He described that kind of approach as "uncommon, but not unheard of".  He told us that Oakland assesses such a fee - $1,200 - and "they are a lot worse off than you are!", which didn't give me any comfort at all.

Among the many interesting comments Nation made during his presentation went like this:
"A lot of people consider me a progressive or liberal.  I think that this is a progressive or liberal issue.  And I think it's a progressive or liberal issue because, if you don't deal with this, you as a city, not only will you not have police officers and fire at the levels that you need, you won't have a library, you won't have potholes filled, you won't have parks, you won't have anything you care about."

I left the meeting before Bobby Young presented his discussion of the "Fiscal Impacts of the 2.5%@55 Enhancement for Miscellaneous Group. I'm going to review his presentation on tape, but you can see his slide show HERE.

I did fast forward to the end of the meeting and watched Mayor Jim Righeimer's summation.  It didn't leave me feeling particularly good about the future.  He called for collaboration between the City and Employees to try to resolve the problem.  He said in no uncertain terms that this state-wide problem will not be fixed until it crashes, blaming it primarily on the unwillingness of the legislature and the CalPERS Board to come to grips with the true financial reality of the situation.  He did state unequivocally, "There's no way this is going to get paid off. It can't be paid off. That's another 15-18 million dollars a year.  There's going to have to be some movement from the state legislature and PERS to go ahead and change benefits going forward for existing employees.  That will not happen in the State of California until it crashes." He went on to say, "The situation is 'Where is Costa Mesa going to be when that happens?' and I, for one, am not interested in giving additional payments to PERS.  I don't mind putting it aside somewhere else, but I can't imagine sending them an additional 10-15 million dollars a year when it can just disappear tomorrow and we'll be tossed into the same category with everyone else."

So, are you feeling good about this now?  I'm not.  I encourage each of you to try to carve out the time to watch Nation's presentation, Young's presentation and, especially, Righeimer's summation.  The play schedule for this event on Costa Mesa Television - Channel 24 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on ATT U-Verse is below. Click on image to enlarge.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fitzpatrick To "Lead" the Planning Commission

Sorry, I must confess that I couldn't stifle a smile when I wrote that title.  But, yes, former and current Costa Mesa planning commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick - he of the contentious, costly, short tour on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board of Directors - was elected as Chairman of the commission at their special meeting last night.  His sidekick, Rob Dickson, was chosen as Vice Chairman.  There were no other nominations for either position.  Make of that what you will...
Before we get to the meat of the meeting, let me express personal reservations about just what kind of leadership Fitzpatrick will provide.  His tour on the Sanitary District board was marked with anything but leadership.  Quite the contrary, his tenure in that job was marked with divisiveness and forced the rate-payers to absorb thousands of dollars in legal fees to force him to follow the law.  I wonder just what kind of leadership a man so obviously willing to ignore solid legal opinions will bring to the Planning Commission?  It's going to make for some interesting watching.  Keep reading to understand why...

The most contentious item on the agenda of that special meeting was the consideration of a project near the west end of Victoria Street that calls for replacing the present church facilites with 17 detached, single-family homes on 1.4 acres.  The developer referred to the look as a "contemporary beach shack".  The development will have 63 parking spaces, which meets the current code, some of which will be underground parking spaces.  He also plans to excavate the property so the three-story units will look like two-story units from adjacent properties.  Whether you like the "look" - extremely vertical with flat roofs -  or not is a matter of personal taste.

A half-dozen speakers - I thought there would be more - stepped up and addressed concerns about traffic, the recommended exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the view being lost by one existing resident.  The commission and staff resolved all those issues with a clear discussion.  They can't, for example, rule on the "view" issue.

So, it then came time for Chairman Fitzpatrick to lead his group into their first vote and he demonstrated his "leadership" by asking the City Attorney, Christian Bettenhausen, if he could abstain!  His quote was, "I don't have any specific concerns, but I do have just some general concerns that I'd like a little more time on and I'd prefer not to vote no because I am in general support of this project.  Do I have the opportunity to abstain?"  Bettenhausen, after a long pause, told him he could abstain anytime he wanted.  So, in his first vote as chairman Jim Fitzpatrick decided to take a little vacation.  The commission voted to approve, 4-0.

Checking the Costa Mesa Municipal Code, Section 2-69 - Failure to vote says as follows:
Every councilman should vote unless disqualified by reason of a conflict of interest.  A councilman who abstains from voting acknowledges that a majority of the quorum may decide the question voted upon.  A councilman who is silent or inattentive and fails to vote without stating his abstention or without being disqualified shall be deemed to have cast a "yes" vote. Keep in mind that the code equates commissioners with council members in this context.

So, because he was too lazy in his first week after being appointed to do his homework or unable to articulate whatever concerns he had on the only item of substance on this special meeting agenda, Fitzpatrick just blew off his responsibility to vote on this issue.  It's going to be a very long couple of years if that's the kind of leadership we can expect to see from him.  Maybe we should withhold his $400 for February since he basically didn't do the job. 

It gets better.  The only other item on the agenda last night was the nominations for the Mesa Green Design Award.  Here's the definition of that award taken from the city web site.

"Purpose of Mesa Green Award:
To encourage green design and practice, in 2010, the Planning Commission added the Mesa Green Design Award to recognize exceptional “green” projects. The Mesa Green Design Award is presented as projects are nominated throughout the year."


That seems pretty straight forward, right?  Nominate a project that is exceptionally "green".  Good idea - and a concept that Fitzpatrick has championed for years since he considers himself a "Green Expert".  He used to write a column for the Newport Beach Independent online newspaper on those subjects.  So, which project did he nominate?  None!  Nope, he nominated a city staff member - Building Official Khanh Nguyen, whose name he mispronounced at least twice!  Now, Mr. Nguyen is a great guy, who reportedly does a great job, but he's not a "green project" by any definition of the word.  If Mr. Nguyen has made an exceptional contribution in the performance of his job and some sort of recognition is appropriate, let's find one that is correct, for goodness sake!

Watching Fitzpatrick during the meeting last night, and based on his only two decisions - both of which were bogus - I found myself wondering if he was distracted... or something else.  I don't know, but I do know that his first performance as Chairman of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission was a big FAIL!  I also have more than a little better understanding of what the members of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District had been dealing with.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Inaugural Mayor's Dinner Details

Today the City of Costa Mesa provided more information about the inaugural Mayor's Dinner that Mayor Jim Righeimer has been talking about for a few weeks.


This event, with the ironic theme "Costa Mesa Mayor's Celebration: The Art Of Leadership", will be held at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' Samueli Theatre on April 25th and includes a hosted reception, dinner and a Beatles tribute show.  Two Costa Mesans will be honored that evening with a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Mayor's Award.  Pre-dining entertainment will be provided by music students from Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools.

According to the press release, HERE, this event is presented by the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the South Coast Metro Alliance in collaboration with PBS SoCal.  Organizers hope to raise more than $30,000 for local arts programs: $10,000 each for the arts programs at Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, and $5,000 for PBS SoCal and Segerstrom Center for the Arts educational programs.  They have a nifty web site available with plenty of important informtion, HERE.

Personally, I think this is a GREAT idea to demonstrate that Costa Mesa is a town where the leadership actually supports more than just high school football.  I looked at the participation opportunities on the web site and hope each of you will pony up for this great event.  Sorry, but you'll have to attend without me - my Levi's and Reyn-Spooner shirts would be just a little out of place.

Those of you who think this is just another self-aggrandizement opportunity for Righeimer as he positions himself for higher office... well....

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