Thursday, April 18, 2013

Costa Mesa Charter Study Session Next Tuesday

The City of Costa Mesa finally released some information on the study session CEO Tom Hatch mentioned during his comments at the council meeting last Tuesday.  You can read the information HERE.  When the agenda for that meeting is available I will post the link to it here.  The meeting will begin at 4:30 on Tuesday, April 23rd in council chambers at City Hall. NOTE: Agenda staff report available HERE.

As you can see, there are six items on this press release that will be covered during the study session.  They are:

1 - Should the City conduct a Charter drafting process?

2 - If so, should the City use a Charter Committee or Charter Commission to draft the proposed charter?

3 - Under state law, a Charter Commission is comprised of 15 members.  However, if the City Council opts for a Charter committee, how many committee members should  be appointed and how should they be chosen?

4 - Should the City appoint an independent facilitator to assist in drafting the proposed charter?  If so, who should serve as the facilitator for the Charter Committee or Charter Commission?

5 - Who should serve as legal counsel for the Charter Committee or Charter Commission?

6 - What is the timeline for drafting a proposed charter?

The meeting will be televised live on CMTV, Channel 3 on Time Warner Cable and Channel 99 on ATT U-Verse and live streaming on the city website (

So, fasten your seatbelts!  Here we go again...  However, this time they're actually proceeding as they should have the first time around - when Jim Righeimer tried to jam his idea of a Charter down our throats with a process that was botched almost every step of the way.  The result was an overwhelming rejection of his charter scheme.  Let's see how this one goes.

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What's Wrong With My Republican Party?

Chris Emami, over at the OC Political Blog, has presented us with a fascinating window into the minds of two very influential Orange County Republican politicians - Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry and OC GOP Treasurer Mark Bucher.

Bucher, as some know, is - or was- related to Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer by marriage and has been his running buddy on anti-union political issues for decades.  They hatched the failed "Paycheck Protection" scheme together.

I think you'll find the audio Q&A between Bucher and Curry quite illuminating and worth the time it takes to listen - just under 30 minutes.  You'll get a real feel for what's wrong with my Republican Party these days.  You'll hear Curry use the terms "Stupid Politics", "Holier than thou", etc.  You'll hear Bucher praise Righeimer as a "principled person" - please try to keep a straight face.

Go to the OC Political site, HERE, and click on the audio file.  Have fun.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Short Meeting, But Plenty Of Fun


OK, so I'm not always right!  I thought we'd be out of the Costa Mesa city council meeting at 9:00 last night, but the meeting didn't end until 9:12 p.m.  Oh, well...

The meeting began on a very positive note with the presentation of the Mayor's Award to long time residents and de facto Costa Mesa historians, Mary Ellen and Art Goddard.  The presentation included a short, but fascinating, Powerpoint show by Goddard, who gave us the thumbnail version of Costa Mesa's history.  Kudos to this well-deserved recognition.

Next up was Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, who gave an update on the status of negotiations on the flight regulations at John Wayne Airport.  He gave an overview of the current proposal and requested help from Costa Mesa leaders and residents when the Environmental Impact Report is released within the next couple months.  Basically, the proposal will extend the curfew until 2035, gradually step up flights per day to 95 by 2026 and also step up the caps on passengers from 10.8 million today through 2020, 11.8 million by 2025 and 12.5 million from 2026 to 2035.

Council member comments were generally brief and to the point.  Sandra Genis asked about the payment to consultant Joe Nation, wondering about just what kind of questions he is supposed to be answering, and from whom - staff, residents, council or all of the above.  She also expressed concern about the type of businesses we're trying to lure to our city, indicating that we've got plenty of fast food places.

Wendy Leece gave a short commentary on the Senior Center and encouraged those eligible to take a tour of the facility and consider joining up.  She also expressed concern for the number of liquor licenses in the city.

Gary Monahan had nothing to say.  Did I mention before that he seems to just be sleepwalking through his job lately?

Mayor Jim Righeimer, not surprisingly, took exception to a comment by a resident on the loss of the A.B.L.E. helicopter program, regurgitating the same old stuff he said when he first announced his intent to dissolve it.  He alluded to side conversations with Newport Beach officials - the first time we've heard about that.  Previously we assumed the decision to abandon A.B.L.E. was unilateral - which was confirmed by Newport Beach officials at the time.  His little mini-rant included this statement, "We're very safe in the city.", a curious comment since calendar year 2012 had an increase in crime of over 15% and we've had a spurt in violent crimes over the past couple weeks.  But, gee, if he says we're safer, then we must be, right?  Somebody has a bad case of selective memory.  He also called for CEO Tom Hatch to investigate a way for the city to begin charging "problem motels" for calls for service.  It sounds like he wants to arbitrarily establish what is an acceptable number of calls for service, then begin charging businesses when that number is exceeded.  Really?  And, of course, he hawked his Mayor's Celebration, scheduled for next week.  I understand there are still plenty of seats available for those of you who wish to hear him pontificate about his "Art of Leadership".  Geez!

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger suggested that Hatch and Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce come up with a name for "the bridge to nowhere" - the bridge over Placentia Avenue at Fairview Park - as part of the 60th Anniversary Celebration.  In response to a public comment about the "rat and mosquito season" coming up, Mensinger told us that he's on the Vector Control Board, so just give him a call and he'll send some guys out.  What a guy!

Hatch was full of good information during his part of the program.  He told us that there will be a special study session next Tuesday, April 23rd, to have a "charter discussion", that might include a discussion of using a "facilitator" to help with the process.  Hatch said the meeting will discuss whether we want to have a charter or not, etc.  That's the first word we've had on this subject.  The meeting begins at 4:30 in council chambers, as far as we know right now.

He also told us that Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's office is eager to help when they can.  Hatch enlisted them to help secure Home Funds.  He also told us that the renovation of The Tower on 19th - formerly known as Bethel Towers - is moving forward.  And, there will be a study session soon to discuss the proliferation of ABC licenses in the city.

He reminded us that the Costa Mesa Community Run is coming up - the same weekend of the Fish Fry.

BUSY MAY(Amended)
Hatch told us that May is going to be a busy month.  He said the Fire Department deployment model will come before the council again in May.  It's about darn time!  Fire Chief Tom Arnold has had that thing ready to go for months!  The council will meet with the Planning Commission on May 13th to discuss goals and the Parks and Recreation Commission the next day, May 14th, for the same purpose.  On Wednesday, the 15th, there will be a workshop on the General Plan.  Then, the very next day - Thursday, May 16th - there will be a Town Hall event to introduce the community to the 60th Anniversary plans.  Whew!  More on those meetings as the dates draw near.

He had new City Clerk Brenda Green introduce her new Deputy City Clerk - Patricia Bravo-Valdez - who has solid experience and education for the job.  She worked as City Clerk in Maywood and Deputy City Clerk in several cities.

That took us to the Consent Calendar - this time with 14 items to be considered.  Only a few were pulled for separate discussion.  Resident Martin Millard pulled items 4-7 - the street improvements including lots of long-overdue work on Red Hill.  He suggested that the City should use the money to tear down slums and make pocket parks instead.  Remember that as you drive down Red Hill.

Resident Robin Leffler pulled #11, the Ticket Policy, for discussion.  As it turns out, we have no choice about this policy - the state government requires it.

Leece pulled #14, the Economic Development trip to Vegas for Righeimer, Mensinger and an entourage of city staffers.  Much discussion was held on the value of such events.  Righeimer set us straight, though, as he gave us a brief history of his schmooze-fests at previous such events.  They finished those discussions and we were all ready for New Business #1 at 7:45.

The discussion of the 60+ unit development that will be build adjacent to the proposed development where the Anchor Trailer Port is currently being vacated.  The operations will be folded together.  Some concern was expressed by Genis and Leece about these "live/work" units actually becoming just another bunch of rentals.  Nobody gave any reason that couldn't happen.  Size and availability of parking was also an issue.  However, this is just a screening process, so the real nuts and bolts of this development will be fleshed out with the staff and Planning Commission, since many deviations from the norm will be necessary to make it work.

At 8:25 we finally got to the final item on the agenda - the appointments of individuals to various committees and the Senior Corporation Board.  Since I predicted a 9:00 departure time, things were looking bleak.  As it turned out, they actually blitzed right through this process.

I, and others, assumed the council majority would stack the committees with their cronies, so we expected this process to be anticlimactic.  It was actually more interesting, and entertaining, than I expected.

First, Righeimer permitted public comments.  Ernie Feeney stepped up to complain about the requirement for each appointed member of the Senior Corporation Board to fork over $500 if appointed.  She read into the record a letter from then-mayor Gary Monahan in which he guaranteed that the $500 requirement would be dropped.  It has not been - at least not officially - so the announcement of three openings included that reference.  Later the announcement of the recruitment dropped that requirement.  The upshot was that when this issue was discussed the council, following Genis' lead, decided to open a NEW recruitment that clearly did not include the monetary requirement.  No closing date for applications was discussed, but I suspect it will be a month or so.  In the meantime, Righeimer expressed hope that the members whose terms have expired will stay on the board until new members can be seated.  Feeney is one of those, as is Kathleen Eric and Judi Berry.  On to the rest.

The first committee up was the Cultural Arts Committee, with 9 members and 2 alternates.  There are 6 vacancies open.  Genis, as the liaison to the committee, nominated the following people:
Kathleen Eric 
Lisa Grant
Frank Gutierrez
Edwardo Iniestra
Monica Morita
Debora Wondercheck
Alan Remington (alt)

All were approved on a 5-0 vote.

Next up was the Historical Preservation Committee, with 9 members and 2 alternates and 5 vacancies.  Leece, as the liaison, chose all four candidates:
Rich Cantillon
Pamela G. Crenshaw
Dave Gardner
Gary Parkin

They passed on a 5-0 vote.

Next was the Housing and Public Service Grant Committee (formerly the 3R committee), with 9 members and 2 alternates and 6 vacancies.  Mensinger is the liaison, but the poor guy had a heck of a time trying to figure out the numbers.  There were 7 applicants for 6 vacancies, but he just mumbled and fumbled and seemed to be totally befuddled by the process.  It was more than a little embarrassing.  Finally, in order to get the thing finished, other council members helped him along and they chose the following folks on a 5-0 vote:
Denise R. Dew-Bennett
Brett D. McDonell
Christian Eric
Eric Vu
Jeff Mathews
Yvonne Rowden

Next came the first of two brand new committees - the Pension Oversight Committee, which will have 9 regular members.  There are 9 vacancies.  Righeimer assigned himself as the liaison and decided arbitrarily that each council member would nominate one person and, if a second was received, a vote would be taken.  The nomination then passed to the next member.  It began with Leece, then Genis, Righeimer, Mensinger and Monahan.  Sounds fair, right?  Well, I'll tell you how it went and you decide.

Leece nominated Teresa Drain.  Genis seconded.  She was rejected on a 2-3 vote - all the guys voted no.
Genis nominated Ralph Taboada.  Monahan seconded and he was selected, 5-0.
Righeimer nominated Jeff Arthur.  Mensinger seconded and he was selected, 5-0.
Mensinger nominated Gene Hutchins.  Monahan seconded.  He was selected, 5-0.
Monahan nominated Rick Kapko.  Mensinger seconded.  He was selected, 5-0.
Leece nominated Charles Mooney.  Genis seconded.  He was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Genis nominated James Bridges but received no second.
Righeimer nominated Kent Mora.  Monahan seconded.  He was selected on a 4-1 vote.  Leece voted no.
Mensinger nominated Tim Sesler.  Monahan seconded.  He was selected, 5-0.
Monahan nominated Shawn Dewane.  Mensinger seconded and he was chosen on a 3-2 vote.
Leece nominated John Stephens.  Monahan seconded.  He was chosen, 4-1, with Mensinger voting no.
Genis nominated Jay Humphrey.  Leece seconded.  He was rejected, 2-3.  The boys voted no.
Righeimer nominated Gary Parkin.  Leece seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0.
Curiously, no alternates were chosen

See a pattern here?  Every candidate (7) nominated by the male majority was chosen.  Only two candidates nominated by the female minority were chosen. Most of the selections didn't surprise me.  Neither did the rejections.  I was surprised that Stephens was chosen, although I'm pleased that he was.  Maybe it was because his name was misspelled on the roster.

Finally we got to the last item, the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, with 9 members and two alternates. 9 vacancies existed.  Righeimer nominated Mensinger for the liaison and he balked a little, wanting Genis to join him as co-liaisons.  That was rejected, but Genis promised to be at every meeting.  The process was the same as previously.  Here's how it went:

Leece nominated William Burke.  Genis seconded.  He was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Genis nominated Dr. Richard J. Mehren.  Leece seconded.  He was chosen, 3-2, with Righeimer and Mensinger voting no.
Righeimer nominated Terry Cummings.  Monahan seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0.
Mensinger nominated Brett Eckles.  Monahan seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0.
Monahan nominated Steve Smith.  Mensinger seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0
Leece nominated Jay Litvak.  Genis seconded.  He was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Genis nominated Judy Gielow.  Leece seconded.  She was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Righeimer nominated Anna Vrska.  Leece seconded.  She was chosen, 4-1.  Monahan voted no.
Mensinger nominated Ron Amburgey.  Monahan seconded.  He was chosen, 4-1.  Genis voted no.
Monahan nominated David Stiller.  Genis seconded.  He was chosen, 3-2.  Righeimer and Mensinger voted no.

Next came selection of two alternates.
Leece nominated Laura Rakunas.  Genis seconded.  She was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Genis nominated Stephanie Remington.  Leece seconded.  She was rejected, 2-3.  The guys voted no.
Righeimer nominated Lee Ramos.  Mensinger seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0.
Mensinger nominated Dennis Popp.  Monahan seconded.  He was chosen, 5-0.

Recognize the pattern?  Every candidate nominated by the male majority (8) were chosen.  Only one nominated by a female was chosen.

So, off we go to the Charter Study Session next Tuesday.  So many questions...  That ought to be fun.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fairgrounds Drama Continues - CEO Resigns!

Will the drama at the Orange County Fair and Event Center ever stop?  This morning The Voice of OC reports that Jerome Hoban, CEO of the Fairgrounds, has resigned to take a similar job with the Alameda County Fair.  Read the Voice of OC entry HERE.

I won't attempt to regurgitate what is in that entry, but will observe that this is only the most recent "interesting" event at the Fairgrounds since the new Board has taken control.  Watching this all unfold over the years, one gets the strong impression that there's much, much more to the whole attempt to sell off that asset by the previous board - the one headed by Dave Ellis.

It's going to be very interesting to watch this play out, and to see just what the District Attorney Tony Rackakus will do with the information recently provided to him by the Fair Board-approved committee.  Could the not-to-faint whiff of corruption be mingled with the fragrance of animal waste over there?  We'll see...

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Costa Mesa Man Blows Himself Up

In a drama that apparently began Sunday evening, a man who lives in the Mesa Verde section of Costa Mesa killed himself with some kind of an explosive device - early reports are a pipe bomb - after an earlier visit by emergency personnel because neighbors reported him laying on his lawn.  He apparently refused help at that time and returned to his home.  A short time later neighbors called 911 again after hearing an explosion.

The event occurred at 3152 Bermuda Avenue, at a home that is very obviously ill-kept.  Windows are covered with tin foil, as is the garage door visible on this photo.  News reports last night and this morning included neighbor interviews that described the dead man, Kevin Harris, as a "loner" and a "strange guy".  Reports from the scene indicate that the explosion that took his life did extreme damage to his body.  He blew himself to smithereens!

It's our understanding that many public safety agencies have been on the scene since last night, and that it now includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Harris apparently has left behind an online manifesto titled "The Picker" - some 18,000+ words - that can be read HERE.  It's our understanding that Mayor Jim Righeimer attended the site both last night and again today - and crossed the crime scene tape.  Of course, I guess that's OK, since he has relatives in the midwest that are police officers.  What an arrogant guy!  The police should have slapped the cuffs on him and put him in the back of a patrol car!

The Daily Pilot is on the scene and filed a report earlier, HERE.  More on this as information evolves.  At this time none of the residents that were evacuated from the neighboring homes have yet returned.  Reports vary as to the number - 12-16 homes have been described as evacuated last night.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Brief (Or Maybe Not) Council Agenda Tuesday

The Costa Mesa City Council will hold its next regular meeting in council chambers at City Hall Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.  Actually, there will be a closed session to discuss labor negotiations and litigation beginning at 5:00 before that one.  You can read the agenda HERE.

The regular meeting has an interesting agenda, which has already apparently been changed since first announced Friday afternoon.  The Consent Calendar, which had fifteen (15) items on it, now only has 14.  The 2012 Annual Review of the Costa Mesa 2000 General Plan, item 15, has been lined through - which we assume means it has been yanked from the meeting.

Following the presentation of the latest much-deserved Mayor's Award to Art and Mary Ellen Goddard for their work with the Costa Mesa Historical Society, public comments, council comments and the CEO comments they will turn to the above-mentioned Consent Calendar.

As I said, it contains fourteen (14) items which, theoretically, may be voted upon in one vote.  That doesn't happen often, so let's review the items as they appear on the agenda.  This one includes more than $130,000 in legal fees (# 2 and 3), more than $6.3 million in street repairs (Items 4, 5 and 6), almost $1 million in traffic synchronization projects ( #7 and 8), an independent audit for $125,299 (#9), guidelines for retiring police officers to purchase their weapons (#10), the new Ticket Policy (#11), alcohol sales at the Fish Fry and at TeWinkle Park (#12 and 13) and the most recent boondoggle for certain elected officials for a conference in Las Vegas. (#14).  More information below.

#1 is a request for yet more alcohol licenses.  No staff reports are available

#2 is Warrant #2467, HERE,  a document listing checks recently generated by the system.  They include payments to law firms Jones and Mayer ($112,607.16) and Stradling Yocca Carlson and Rauth ($15,430.51).

#3 is Warrant #2468, HERE, and includes a payment for helicopter service by the City of Huntington Beach (#29,484.00) and Liebert Cassity Whitmore for legal services ($4,280.00)

#4 is for concrete repair near John Wayne Airport for $843,700, HERE.

#5 is for street rehabilitation for Red Hill Avenue for $3,687,155, HERE.

#6 is for more Red Hill rehab. $1,840,000, HERE.

#7 is for signal sync. at Baker and Placentia, $580,000, HERE.

#8 is for signal sync at 17th Street and Victoria Street, $480,570, HERE.

#9 is a two-year contract for an independent financial audit, $125,299, HERE.

#10 is for guidelines for retiring police officers to purchase their department-issued weapon, HERE.

#11 is the oft-delayed Ticket Policy.  It's curious that this one may be voted on without discussion, HERE.

#12 deals with the sale of alcohol at the Fish Fry, HERE.

#13 is for beer sales at TeWinkle Park for a special event, HERE.

#14 is for the approval of Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger (and city staff entourage) to attend an Economic Development Conference in Las Vegas, HERE.  I'd kind like to hear what kind of return on that investment we received from their participation last year before sending them off to Sin City again.

#15 was to be that General Plan Review, but it is apparently canceled.  You can read that staff report HERE, though.

If the council blitzes through the Consent Calendar it's very possible we will hear New Business #1, the development of a 22 unit live-work at the site of the old Anchor Trailer Port, HERE, by 7:30 or so.

Finally, New Business #2, the Committee and Board appointments will be discussed as the last item on the agenda.  There are 73 (plus 3 late submissions) candidates 36 open positions.  You can read that agenda item HERE.  You can read the complete list of Committee and Applicant Information HERE.  Each committee or board has a separate list of applicants.  I'll list them below, along with the number of openings/applicants.  Just click on the title to go to the staff reports.

Cultural Arts Committee (6/18)
Historical Preservation Committee (5/4)
Housing and Public Service Grant Committee  (6/7)
Pension Oversight Committee (9/19)
Fairview Park Citizen's Advisory Committee (7/27)
Costa Mesa Senior Corporation Board (3/3)

It's going to be very interesting to see how these appointments play out.  Will the council continue to stack the committees with their cronies?  We'll see Tuesday night.

It's very possible we'll be out of the building by 9:00 p.m.

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Dave Ellis Attacks Bob Ooten - Really?

On March 30, 2013 Costa Mesa Sanitary District Director Bob Ooten published a commentary in the Daily Pilot, HERE, in which he defined his decision to forgo the stipend he would normally receive for his service on the board as a way to offset some of the costs the District incurred during their legal challenge to Jim Fitzpatrick's claim that he was entitled to hold a seat on the Board despite two separate legal opinions that holding that seat and one on the Costa Mesa Planning Commission formed a conflict.  You may recall that this fiasco went on for months before Fitzpatrick finally resigned his Sanitary District Board seat rather than continue the legal wrangling.

Over the weekend OC GOP uber-operative Dave Ellis penned a letter to the Daily Pilot that just dripped in sarcasm, challenging Ooten's sincerity in his earlier commentary.  You can read his contribution to the "Smart Ass Hall Of Fame" HEREI'm trying to figure out what would prompt Ellis, who is NOT a resident of Costa Mesa nor is a ratepayer of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, to exercise his limited, but caustic, critical skills on a mild-mannered, sincere public servant like Bob OotenI mean, what's his interest in this issue?  Does he have a dog in this fight?

As I considered that question I realized that Ellis is a cohort of Buck Johns and Fitzpatrick has recently been shilling Johns' EB-5 visa plan to wealthy Newport-Mesa residents.  In fact, Fitzy's recent communication on the subject described Johns as a "Titan of Industry" - not a surprising description for a bootlicker like Fitzy to use for one of his benefactors.  For more on the Ellis/Johns relationship, just Google "Dave Ellis+Buck Johns".

We need a little perspective here.  You need to know that Dave Ellis - who prefers me to refer to him as "David Ellis" - fancies himself a kingmaker locally.  He's presently a member of the 32nd Agricultural District Board of Directors - the Orange County Fair Board - and apparently was one of the major players behind that group's attempt to buy the Fairgrounds on the cheap a few years ago.  Following a long investigation by a group approved by the current Fair Board, that issue has been delivered to the Orange County District Attorney's office.

Ellis has also long been involved in local politics, representing many local politicians in their quest for office - including current Newport Beach councilwoman Leslie Daigle in her campaign when she was challenged by current Orange County Register columnist Barbara Venezia.  Venezia dropped out of the race when the Ellis-directed campaign began attacking her husband's business.

Let me provide you with some interesting reference material about Dave Ellis.

On 11/28/2002 Anthony Pignataro authored a piece in the OCWeekly titled, "Backstabber (Ellis screws friends and enemies alike)", HERE.

In 2007 the Newport Beach Voices blog offered  an entry titled "King David Ellis of the Orange County Fair," HERE.

Early in March, 2011, Vern Nelson published an item on the Orange Juice Blog titled, "Who is Dave Ellis?  A Portrait of our Fair Board Chairman", HERE

In June of 2011 Chasen Marshall published an entry in the OCWeekly titled, "David Ellis Opens Up About the Fair Board Foundation, the Appraisal and His Reputation", HERE.

And, just a few days ago, published an entry that includes references to Ellis titled, "DA Advisor Entangled In Second Political Prosecution", HERE.


I make no claim about the "facts" provided in any of those links, but they may give you a view of Dave Ellis and his modus operandi that might be helpful to you as you try to answer that question above: "What's his interest in this issue?I wondered, for example, whether Buck Johns has retained him to attack Ooten for his part in the challenge to Fitzy's position on the Sanitary District Board.  It's just a question that seems reasonable to ask under the current circumstances.

I can tell you one thing, though, from personal experience.  Don't let that smiling face, above, fool you - Dave Ellis is not a guy to trifle with.  I've found his sense of humor limited to only those clever comments he authors - like his attempt to pillory Ooten in his most recent public pronouncement.  He doesn't take kindly to criticism.


History tells me that I will soon have a communication from Ellis, complaining about this entry and accusing me of trying to defame him - kind of like what he did to Ooten.  Of course, I've done nothing of the sort.  I've just provided information from my personal experience with him, an opinion of his attack on Ooten and links to information that will help you with some perspective on him.  He has my number...

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Waves In Mesa Water's Little Pond

More than a few of you probably don't read the Orange County Register in print, which means you didn't see Mike Reicher's excellent piece above the fold in the Local section today, Sunday.  And, unless you've decided to pay for it via the Register's recently-announced Paywall, you can't read it online, either.  That's a shame.  However, if you DO have access to the Register online - like me - you can read Mike's article HEREJohn Canalis, editor of the competing Daily Pilot, described this article as "strong enterprise" in a Twitter feed.  So, since you probably can't read Mike's work, I'll give you a taste of it without (hopefully) violating their copyright. *Early Tuesday, 41613, Mesa Water President Jim Fisler sent me the following link to a blog entry by their former PR consultant, Laer Pearce, providing his view (spin?) on this issue.  Thanks to Fisler for this information:


Mike's opening paragraph will give you a little bit of the flavor: "Native American musicians blessed the 'ancestral waters,' valets parked cars for the 150 'VIP' guests and $50,000 event planners passed out catered custom cookies shaped like water drops and redwood trees - $1,500 worth of cookies"

He goes on from there to describe "Mesa Water District's lavish spending on marketing and communications.", including "undergoing a $500.000 branding campaign, including a name change and redesigned logo."  By now you've probably got the feel for the article.

He tells us that, while raising rates, Mesa (the new name) has increased its communications spending by 300% in four years - a $1.25 million annual budget that "dwarfs those at similar water districts."

Apparently Mesa paid PR consultant Laer Pearce nearly $270,000 in total consulting fees since beginning talks in 2008, including $85,000 specifically for branding.  They stopped using Pearce in December and plan to issue a new request for proposals for public relations consulting support.

By all measures Mesa is a financially strong organization, but we wonder why they feel it's necessary to spend so much on public relations - to let people know who they are.  Reicher says, "A customer survey in 2012 found less than one-third of surveyed ratepayers could identify the district by name."  He quotes Mesa's Communications Manager Stacey Taylor as saying, "There's a big void.  It showed a lack of connection with the community."

Reicher tells us that "in 2009 the Board of Directors voted to increase rates by 25% between fiscal years 2010 and 2014".  He quotes district officials as stating the money to be received by the increased rates "is needed to maintain its AAA credit rating".  However, Mesa has "about $23 million in reserves and the Orange County Grand Jury issued a report last year recommending districts use excessive reserves to pay down debt."

To further illustrate the financial condition of Mesa Water, Reicher provided a little chart showing the top ten most highly compensated members of the Mesa staff - - each earn over $150,000 including benefits - starting with General Manager Paul Schoenberger at over $315,000  and includes Taylor at the number 3 spot, with more than $194,000 in total compensation.  You can find out more information about Mesa Water at their website, HERE, and specific information about the compensation program HERE.

Reicher's last paragraph leaves his readers with an interesting quote from Communication Manager Taylor.  He quotes her as saying, "Yes, we're a monopoly public utility, and customers don't have a choice," Taylor said, "but does that mean we want people grumbling about their government?"  That should make us all think just a little about how Mesa is spending OUR money.

I hope these snippets will cause you to jump off your couch, abandon watching the final round of the Master's Gold Tournament, and go buy a copy of the Sunday Register at your local convenience store.

Reicher's article is only the most recent of many critical publications about Mesa Water District.  In February former Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook published a scathing commentary on the SurfCityVoice blog titled Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up The Tab, HERE.

SurfCityVoice Blog publisher John Earl has long been a watchdog on water issues in our region, focusing on the planned Poseidon desalination project in Huntington Beach.  Last month he published two very critical essays on his blog concerning Mesa Water, HERE and HERE.


Late last month Costa Mesa resident Jay Litvak published a commentary in the Daily Pilot that asked, "What is Mesa Water Up To?", HERE.  And resident Howard Hull - one of the cadre of true believers who hover around the power elite in Costa Mesa - published a snarky rejoinder to Litvak in the Daily Pilot last week, HERE.

Personally, I think a little light on Mesa Water and the other small, special districts, is a good thing.  I'm not so sure that Mesa anticipated the kind of attention they're getting when they decided to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a PR campaign so folks would know who is delivering their water.  It might be one of those "be careful what you ask for" situations.  We'll see...

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