Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Father's Day, Guys...

Once again we'll all gather to smother our fathers with love this one day of the year... showering him with goofy gifts and gorging him with decadent BBQ... it's the perfect holiday, especially for those of you who are "first time fathers" this year.  Enjoy it.
Most years since I've been publishing this blog I've written about this day and have told you stories of my father and friends who became de facto fathers to me.  I think I like the one I wrote in 2007 the best, HERE.  If you want to read the rest, just go to that search box in the upper left corner of this page and type in "Father's Day".. you'll get most of what I've written.

Those who have followed these pages know that my father, Robert J. West, was an uncomplicated, hard-working man.  I wrote about him in that linked item above.  He's been gone more than three decades and I miss his guidance every day.

This year Father's Day is especially tough for me because my dear neighbor, Wayne D. Stanfield, passed away a couple months ago.  He's shown here with his wonderful, loving wife, Barbara, who died three years ago.  I've written about him many times.  He has been my friend and mentor for nearly four decades.  And, as if his passing was not loss enough, today escrow closes on the home we saw from our kitchen window all those years, putting a final, painful exclamation point on the loss we feel.  It's our understanding that the buyers will lease it out for a few months while preparing plans for a new home on that beautiful, big lot, then scrape most of the existing structures and foliage down to dirt and start over with a home of their own design.  Such is life...

We here at A Bubbling Cauldron wish every one of you a very Happy Father's Day.  We hope you remember to tell your fathers just how you feel about him and the impact he's had on your lives.

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Did Righeimer Violate The Brown Act?

Let me preface what I'm about to write by stating that I think Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch is a great guy and has done a good job since replacing Allan Roeder a little more than two years ago - particularly under the circumstances under which he's had to operate.  Not only should he be getting a raise per the terms of his contract, HERE, but he should be paid hazardous duty pay retroactively from the day he took the job!

Late Thursday afternoon the Daily Pilot ran a commentary by Mayor Jim Righeimer (with some help from in-house spinmeister, Bill Lobdell) titled, "Tom Hatch is again leading by example".  You can read it HERE.  In that piece Righeimer tells us that Tuesday his council will vote on whether to give Hatch a "modest raise" for the excellent job he's done over the past two years.  He also tells us that it's Hatch's "first pay increase" since taking over the job early in 2011.  He also said, "it's well-earned and overdue".  I guess so - he should have had a raise last year by the terms of his contract.

Then he goes on to list for us what Hatch will gain and give up in this process, none of which has been discussed in any kind of an open session.  All these conversations have taken place in closed sessions and, by divulging them to the public now, Righeimer may have violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, HERE, which is designed to create transparency in government and establishes some very inflexible rules about divulging confidential information.  Section 54963 (a) of the Brown Act states, "A person may not disclose confidential information that has been acquired by being present in a closed session authorized by Section 54956.7, 54956.8, 54956.86, 54956.87, 54956.9, 54957, 54957.6, 54957.8, or 54957.10 to a person not entitled to receive it, unless the legislative body authorizes disclosure of that confidential information."  To my knowledge there has been no authorization by the City Council to disclose this information - information it has not yet voted on.  The Brown Act  goes on to describe the nature of such violations and remedies, which could include disciplinary action and referral of the violation to a grand jury.

And, Mike Reicher in the Orange County Register published an article discussing the very same information, and refers to a "report" issued by The City, but I'm unable to find such a report on The City web site.  HERE is the link to Reicher's article, but you must be a subscriber to access it.

Righeimer tells us that Hatch will be getting a 5% raise - $10,368 - taking his annual salary to $217,656, and that he will also be receiving an increase in his car allowance from $477 per month to $650 per month AND a "technology allowance" of $250 per month.  The raise and those other items will be retroactive to February 1st, 2013 - a curious date, since Hatch started his job in March of 2011.  The way I calculate it - $10,368 $864+$173+$250 X 5 months - Hatch will get a lump payment of nearly $54,000  $6,440 in addition to his next regular paycheck. (Told you to check my math!  Sorry about that!)

Righeimer also tells us that Hatch is giving up some benefits, too.  He's giving up half his sick days that will cost him over $5,000 per year.  He's also giving up two weeks vacation that will cost him over $8,300 per year.

Further, he will see a reduction in his primary sick bank from 480 hours to 221, which potentially costs him over $27,000.  Add that to the other two items above and he's giving up more than $50,000 - at least.

Earlier Righeimer told us that Hatch "volunteered" to pay the maximum legally allowed - 40% - to his pension, but we don't know what that actually means, dollar-wise.

Here's what I think... just my opinion, based on the facts as I understand them.  I think Righeimer DID violate the Brown Act by divulging information that was the confidential content of closed session meetings.  I think he did so in haste, on the one hand showboating to praise Hatch for his work and, on the other, set him up as a martyr, so he and his pals can point to Hatch's "sacrifice" when they finally begin negotiations with the General Employees.  Those employee contracts expired the end of March, yet they just keep on doing their jobs...

It will be interesting to see what other parts of Hatch's current contract were changed in this negotiation.  Was, for example, his nine-months severance package modified?  Why didn't he get a raise a year ago?

It will be VERY interesting to see what impact this commentary has on the morale of the employees of our city.  I'm also curious about how this will be received within the community... we'll see, I guess.

I'm exhausted, so please check my math and let me know what you think...

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

General Plan Update Workshop Tonight

I neglected to mention that there will be another Workshop for the Costa Mesa General Plan Update happening today.  The meeting, in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) adjacent to Police Headquarters next to City Hall, is scheduled to run from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.  You can read the agenda for this meeting HERE.

The General Plan is the map the city will use to plan development into the future in our city.  It's a critical document that requires significant community input to be done correctly.  Tonight is one of those few opportunities you'll have to hear what's going on and to provide your views.

It's likely that you'll also have a chance to meet our new Economic and Development Director/Deputy CEO, Gary Armstrong, who started to work Monday.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fire Rings Meeting Tomorrow


A reminder to all you fire ring fans... the South Coast Air Quality Management District is holding an informational meeting - seeking input and providing facts - on the Great Fire Ring discussion tomorrow, Thursday, June 13, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Jamboree Road in Newport Beach beginning at 5:30 p.m.  You can read all about it HERE.

In a related story, Amy Senk at the Corona del Mar Today blog reported this morning that my old pal,  Newport Beach City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle,  has come out in support of the fire rings in Newport Beach.  You can read Senk's report HEREIt seems like this issue has polarized that community... it's kind of fun to watch from over here in Costa Mesa!

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1st Annual Delgadillo Memorial Shoot-out


Friday, June 14th, a college fundraiser for the children of former Costa Mesa Police Detective Mike Delgadillo will be held at the Prado Olympic Shooting Park in Chino.  It will be followed by a BBQ at the Pierce Street Annex in Costa Mesa.  The announcement below provides all the relevant information. 

Details on the venues can be found at and This is a very worthy cause, so all you shooters out there who want to help out and have a fun day on the range contact Kelly Vucinic at 714-349-3076 or
 (click on image to enlarge)


A Balanced Budget (So Far) And Happy Homebuyers

When Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch addressed the City Council and the VERY small crowd assembled in council chambers in the early minutes of the second budget study session Tuesday afternoon and said that he and Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young would be presenting them with a balanced budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year I thought to myself, "Wow, another early evening!"  Silly me!

The new budget is just under $132 million ( Up .55%) and includes more than $18 million in capital improvements.  Hatch told us this budget does NOT use fund balance and, in fact, has a small surplus to be applied to our reserves.

This study session, scheduled for 90 minutes as a preamble to a Special City Council meeting at 6:00, actually stretched to more than twice that long.  It was 7:35 before that meeting ended and the new one began.  Read Bradley Zint's Daily Pilot coverage HERE.  Here's what took so long...

Hatch began by referring to a memo from Young and Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz that was part of the staff report, HERE.  As you can see, it posed eight questions asked at the earlier study session and provided answers to all of them.  We learned, for example, that this new budget contains just under $2.5 million in consulting services, of which General Legal Services makes up $650,000 - and that doesn't count litigation costs, which are buried in the Self Insurance Fund deep in the bowels of the budget.

We also learned that there are 467 full time budgeted positions, of which 46 were considered vacant when the budget was prepared.  Based on current staffing levels, there are 43 vacant budgeted positions citywide.  However, during the discussion we learned that a dozen of those positions are in the Fire Department and will be eliminated as part of soon-to-depart Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's restructuring and redeployment plan for that organization, so the "actual" vacancy number is 31.

At one point the conversation turned to the staffing levels of the Costa Mesa Police Department, and the service levels we're experiencing.  Wendy Leece reminded us all that the authorized staff level was slashed by the council two years ago despite the strong recommendations by our consultants, Management Partners, and then-chief Steve Staveley.  Their recommendations were 136 sworn officers but certain members of the council insisted we follow an irrelevant formula that indicated 125 was the proper number.  That's where we ended up, plus another half-dozen "grant" officers. That grant expires in a couple years.  So, our authorized strength is 131.

Hatch attempted to"mitigate" the issue by telling us that public safety isn't just the police department's responsibility - we all must do our part.  He talked about the increase in non-sworn personnel that took some of the load off the sworn staff.  He talked about the progress made by the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force and the impact of the two new code enforcement officers that report to the Executive Office.  He did acknowledge that police staffing is actually around 121 officers today.

He sought support from Chief Tom Gazsi, who stepped to the speaker's podium and gave us a little history of the department staffing levels, and the organizational configuration from the early 1990s forward.  He spoke of Governor Brown's realignment releases as a result of AB 109, and how the shuffling of inmates back down the food chain resulted in more former prisoners on the streets today.  Gazsi acknowledged that when the economy turned down beginning in late 2007 the police staffing was permitted to reduce, which may have been short-sighted in retrospect.  He stated that it may be time now to consider re-evaluating the necessary staffing levels to keep the city safe.

Gazsi mentioned the close cooperation the CMPD has with the Orange County Probation Department - that a probation officer is in our city at least two days a week, helping to keep track of our probationers.  He also told us that the CMPD presently has 122 sworn officers and is in an aggressive recruitment mode trying to fill vacancies and get officers hired anticipating what he described as a probable 40% attrition rate over the next four years!  In recent months we've lost a significant number of command staff members to retirement and other seasoned officers continue actively seek jobs in other departments - like Beverly Hills and Newport Beach. Yikes!

Gazsi told us that recruitment is difficult these days as most other police agencies are also attempting to recover lost positions that were left vacant due to economic considerations.  As examples of this difficulty in recruitment he told us that the City of Orange recently tested 2,000 recruits and hired 4.  In that same time frame Newport Beach tested 1,000 and hired 2.  Human Resources has hired a recruiter to work specifically on the police recruitment effort.

Despite all the upbeat conversation about technological tools now available to help fight crime - crime mapping, for example - I came away from that discussion VERY concerned about our ability to hire and train sufficient officers to actually meet the law enforcement requirements over the next few years.

For his part in this discussion, Mayor Jim Righeimer seemed to sometimes speak in tongues.  At one point he said that, as far as public safety is concerned, "we will do what we have to do."  He then told us that adding more cops isn't going to solve the crime problem!  What?!  He told us that "adding millions and millions of dollars isn't going to 'move that line'".  I give up!  His anti-cop bias is just too much to bear.  And he makes absolutely no attempt to hide it, either. 

On a more positive note, Righeimer asked to have the $1.2 million earmarked for improvements to the council chambers audio/video facilities - subsequently deleted from the budget - broken into two pieces for the council's consideration next week.  It sounded like he wanted to include about $250,000 of that money in the budget this year.  Dane Bora and Brad Long may be smiling right about now.

During the discussion of the budget councilwoman Sandra Genis observed that we seem to have plenty of money for party planners and PR people, but not so much for public safety.  I couldn't help but smile...

There was a significant amount of time dedicated to the debate about lights in Fairview Park.  Genis and others feel that it is necessary to open the Fairview Park Master Plan to change the rules BEFORE any lights are installed.  Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger told us it's all about the kids and their safety - that they have a hard time finding their parents cars without lights - ignoring the fact that Fairview Park is a "dawn-to-dusk" park.  Folks are not supposed to be there after dark unless there is a special event going on - like the "Concerts In The Park" series.  Eventually it was decided to fund the lights in the budget and assign the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee the task of evaluating the need as part of their efforts.

During his little push for lights Mensinger described Fairview Park as "one of the biggest sports complexes in the city".  A few of us in the audience were scratching our heads on that one, since the park has never before been described as a "sports complex" - it's a predominantly passive park with a couple of long-established uses - the Soaring Society and Model Trains - that might be described as non-passive.  I think what we heard was what was rattling around in his head - his own personal wish list for that park - more fields, more lights and more paved parking areas.  He's a developer, after all.  You might recall that I reported that two of his appointees to the Fairview Park Citizen's Advisory Committee, Ron Amburgey and Brett Eckles, said much the same thing at the first meeting of that group last week.

It became very evident to me as I watched and listened to the discussion that Mensinger is maneuvering to get lights in areas that will provide overflow parking for events at his beloved Estancia High School.  It was also crystal clear that he is absolutely inflexible in that goal, regardless what anyone else thinks.  Watch the tape when it becomes available and tell me what you think.

Speaking of Mensinger, although Hatch presented a balanced budget, near the end of the discussion he piped up and said he wanted to add two more things to the numbers.  He wanted (1) to fund low cost fee youth basketball, track and volleyball after school programs at all elementary schools.  He estimated that might cost around $90,000.  And, (2), he wanted a flag football program at the middle schools, for $30,000.  That's right - he just threw another $120,000 into the mix for Hatch to try to manage.

Finally, nearly two hours into the study session, we finally got to Item #2, the Community Development Block Grant Allocations.  You can read the staff report HERE.  The short version of this presentation is that Mensinger doesn't want to fund social service activities with this money.  He wants to put it all into capital improvements!  Hatch had already slashed funding from several of the organizations and activities recommended by the ad hoc committee charged with evaluating them.  In fact, most of the organizations most highly rated using the scoring table provided by the city council were completely defunded!  In fact, of the $141,750 available for use, Hatch recommended only $95,500 be utilized.  Later it was decided to defund Elwyn and Youth Employment Services for another $17,000 which, when added to the previous $46,250, made Mensinger's capital improvement kitty increase to $63,250!

At 7:15 we got to Item #3, the CDBG and HOME funds, HERE.  This program is used to disburse federal funds for housing rehabilitation via grants and loans.  In a nutshell, the council decided to eliminate the Neighbors-to-Neighbors program, hoping that some private organization(s) might pick it up.  They also eliminated the ill-used Tool Rental program.

The total CDBG funds available is around $1.3 million and the total HOME funds is just over $330,000.  These numbers will be included in the final budget next Tuesday.

FINALLY, at 7:35, we got to the Special City Council meeting called to consider modifying our current Homebuyer Assistance program.  Looking at the size of the staff report, HERE, I thought we were heading for another late night.  However, attorney Celeste Brady provided a crisp staff report with the help of an individual who will benefit from the changes recommended.  The short version is that folks who bought a home using our funds as a second mortgage cannot, under the rules in place today, refinance their first mortgage unless the home value is assessed at greater than the new loan amount plus our 2nd mortgage.  The discussion was brief and the council voted unanimously to modify our program to make it possible for some buyers - based on an evaluation by Hatch and relevant industry experts - to be able to take advantage of new rates.  We were outta there at 7:50!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Leece Vs. Mensinger On Business License Fees

For those of you who do not subscribe to the Orange County Register, last Wednesday, June 5th, two commentaries by Costa Mesa council members appeared side-by-side on page 6 in The Current, the Register's Costa Mesa/Newport Beach supplement that appears Monday through Friday.  If you missed it and DO subscribe to The Register, it is still available in the online archives of The Current.

Under the headline, "Keeping Costa Mesa Out of the Red", commentaries by councilwoman Wendy Leece and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger presented their views on the issue of possibly increasing the Business License Fees in response to a much-needed revenue source as the City faces a $12 million budget deficit - which will be discussed in the Study Session this afternoon beginning at 4:30 p.m. in City Council chambers.  You can also view it live on CMTV.

I cannot provide you with what Leece and Mensinger wrote word-for-word without violating The Register's copyright, but I will give you a few comments and my opinion of the issue.

Leece begins her commentary with this  question, "Which should be more binding, a pledge given in a campaign or the duty to serve Costa Mesa and make the best decision considering all the facts?"  She then goes on to explain that, in her view, the City Council should ask the Finance Advisory Committee to study the current Business License Fee structure and recommend alternatives that might generate new revenue for the city.  She explained, as many of us already know, that the Business License Fee structure in Costa Mesa has not changed since 1961.

Anticipating the council majority rejecting her suggestion, she wonders, "Why wouldn't the council majority want to have the committee analyze this?  Or have they already decided they know what is best without looking at all the facts?"  She then ends by saying, "Reminds me of the saying, 'I've made up my mind, don't confuse with the facts.'"

In fact, this item was considered as part of the Consent Calendar at the meeting on Tuesday, June 4th 2013.  The staff report on that item is HERE.  Leece "pulled" it for separate discussion and, as she tried to give her reasons for doing so Mayor Jim Righeimer attempted to quash her comments, stating that this was, "just a simple Consent Calendar item that only requires a yes or no vote."  Of course, he was way, way out of line by doing that.  He did allow public comments and Mensinger to comment and the item was passed on a 4-0 vote, with councilman Gary Monahan voting NO.  So, the Finance Advisory Committee WILL study this issue and report back to the council at some date in the future.

In his adjacent commentary Mensinger began with this observation, "As Calvin Coolidge once said, 'Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.'"  He then asks, "So what is necessary?"

His next statement is bizarre, so I'll include it verbatim.  He says, "The purpose of a business license is to determine whether a business is operating within the applicable federal, state and local laws.  It ascertains that businesses maintain a safe environment for the general public.  It also ensures the location is properly zoned for the activity to be conducted."  Actually, the purpose of the Business License Tax - that's what it is, a tax - is to generate revenue for the City, some of which MAY be used to regulate the businesses through fire, police, code enforcement and monitoring of use permits and the like.  The rest goes into the General Fund to provide for public safety and pave streets.

Mensinger, condescendingly uses the term "the usual suspects" when he implies that advocates of an increase in the Business License Fee are doing so "to pay for ever-increasing public pension costs".  Once again, he demonstrates the disdain he holds for the many residents who study the issues and take the time out of their busy lives to step up and speak to the council on them.  It's clear that he thinks he knows what's good for us, and we shouldn't dare to challenge his views.

He goes on to say that, before hiking fees, "we first should make sure that the current system works and that each Costa Mesa business has a license."  I fully agree with him on that issue.  Until the  City recently purchased software to aid in the analysis, there was virtually NO attempt to insure that (1) all businesses in the city are licensed and, (2) those that are licensed are paying proper fees.  Mensinger mentions the purchase of that software in his piece.  Our municipal code provides for penalties for unpaid taxes, so tracking down and billing scofflaws could result in a one-time revenue jump.

That, however, does NOT mean the Finance Advisory Committee shouldn't proceed with their assignment and do an analysis of our current structure and make recommendations to the City Council on whether they feel adjustments are in order, and how those adjustments should be made.

Mensinger closed his piece by stating, "We can all agree that Costa Mesa is a great place to do business. Let's keep it that way.", assuming a modest Business License Fee would change that perspective.  During her presentation Tuesday night Leece read, in part, a letter from Ed Fawcett, Director of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, that suggested we, in fact, should study the issue before placing it on the ballot.  Apparently Fawcett isn't too worried about the results of a study.

Daily Pilot columnist Jeffrey Harlan recently wrote a commentary that discussed this issue, HERE.  He addressed these two commentaries from his perspective as a Costa Mesa resident and professional land planner.  I think you'll find his observations interesting.

Last year, when the issue of increasing the Business License Fees came up, the staff presented the council with some options to consider, one of which spoke of a highest fee of $10,000!  That single comment, in my humble opinion as an observer of these meetings, drove a stake in the heart in the effort to consider alternatives to our current structure.  That number was pulled out of the air as an example, but the results were catastrophic.

I hope the members of the Finance Advisory Committee will do their homework and actually study this issue as directed by the council.  I'm sure they won't come up with anything quite as draconian as that "$10,000" number.

In my opinion, anyone who holds a business license in Costa Mesa should be required to pay at least a minimal fee, whether they have income or not.  It costs the city money to process the applications for renewal and those costs should be covered 100% by the fee.  That might mean a minimum fee of $25.00 - $50.00.  The committee can evaluate that.

Then, they could simply recommend quadrupling the remaining fee structure, with a maximum fee of $800, up from $200.  These fees have remained stagnant for more than a half-century and I doubt if those in the highest brackets - the Nordstrom's, Sax Fifth Avenue, Tiffany and the like - will balk at $800.  Such a modest change could generate more than $3 million in additional revenue for the city and allow us to hire more police officers and fully staff the fire department, for example.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this analysis proceeds, and what kind of recommendations the committee generates.  They have plenty of time for this project - an increase in the Business License Fee must appear on a General Election ballot and the first one available is November, 2014.

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