Thursday, August 01, 2013

Righeimer Meets, Listens on Rehab Homes

For the second Thursday evening in a row Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer met with Eastside residents in one of his "Meet the Mayor" gatherings to hear what they had to say and attempt to provide encouragement and answers.

The most recent meeting, held on the front lawn at the home of Carrie Renfro on the corner of Orange Avenue and Buoy Street, found more than sixty (60) residents and other interested parties gathered to tell Righeimer of their concerns about the proliferation of rehabilitation homes in the neighborhood and to hear him speak of the City's strategy for managing the problem.
About a third of those present spoke out, expressing their concerns.  For the most part they went away encouraged, but unfulfilled.  I'm not going to attempt to present you with a word-for-word account of the hour or so Righeimer spent with a very effective question and answer event, but I'll give you my take on it.  You can read Bradley Zint's coverage of the event in the Daily Pilot, HERE.
In addition to Righeimer, the meeting was also attended by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick, Planning Commissioner Tim Sesler, Assistant CEO Rick Francis, Communication Director Bill Lobdell, Head of Code Enforcement Willa Bowens-Killeen, Code Enforcement Officer Mike Tucker (his responsibilities include rehab homes), City Inspector Randy Buck and Costa Mesa Police Sergeants Matt Grimmond and Vic Bakkila.
More than two dozen residents spoke with concerns ranging from fear for their safety because of the influx of rehab home residents concentrated in their neighborhood; health issues caused by plumes of cigarette smoke; noise and foul language emanating from the homes; safety of their children; crowds of as many as 25 men just wandering the neighborhood; large group meetings at the homes; thefts from vehicles; vandalism and more.
Most wanted to know what the City could, and will, do about these issues.  Righeimer explained, in a nutshell, that the City's options are limited by the restrictions placed by state and federal regulations, but that we, the city, are working on solutions.
He explained that all group homes must be treated uniformly or we could be accused of discrimination.  He told the crowd that right now Costa Mesa has 104 rehab homes, which represents 23% of the total in Orange County, and that 50 of those are state licensed.  When asked, he confirmed that the number does NOT include group homes for the elderly.
He explained that the city needs more tools to combat the problem and that a revised Nuisance Ordinance is on the way - it may be presented to the council at the meeting on September 3rd.  Some will recall that an earlier cut at a Nuisance Ordinance was pulled off the table for modification.
He also said we need regulations in place regarding the configuration of group homes so city staff can enforce the rules.  When a resident asked him if we had the staff necessary to enforce the new ordinance and regulations Righeimer said, "We will add whatever staff it takes - you can count on it!"  This, if true, marks a very significant shift in his views as practiced since he took a seat on the council a couple years ago.  During that time he has refused to budge on requests to increase public safety staff to meet the barest of minimal standards as recommended by consultants and prior chiefs of police.  We can only hope this is not another one of his "I didn't really mean it" moments - like when he recent told the audience in a council meeting that the charter committee would decide whether we need a charter or not.  It turns out that he didn't mean that - he just blurted it out.
I give Righeimer credit for putting this meeting together so quickly, responding to an issue clearly very important to many Eastside residents, but the broader community as well.  He came prepared to listen to complaints and concerns knowing that he didn't have solutions to offer, yet.  He referred interested parties to visit the City web site to express concerns, or to call him directly on his cell phone - one of his lovely daughters passed out his business cards to members of the audience.  He also referred us to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page on the City web site, HERE.
He was on a roll at the meeting, mixing light banter with sincere concern and attentive listening.  He managed to hold it together -  except for one incident, when he reverted to type.  As he asked the audience to attend council meetings and ask questions and express their concerns, he referred to folks who speak regularly at the meetings - he described them as "nice people" - but told the crowd that they, the council, don't hear enough from other members of the community.  He said those "nice people", for example, include some who support the employee groups who stand and complain about high legal fees after they sued the city which caused the fees to increase.  He conveniently, again, forgot to mention that it was the malfeasance of the council - and his leadership specifically - when they neglected to follow their own rules that caused the employee group to sue the city to protect their rights.  Nobody called him on that, so the crowd left assuming he was right. Too bad.  And he hasn't even officially declared his run for re-election yet, either.

Thanks to Carrie Renfro for hosting this useful event, and to the five dozen of our neighbors who turned out to express their concerns and asked questions.  I hope to see them at council meetings in the future.  The next one is next Tuesday, August 6th at 6:00 p.m. in City Council chambers.  It will be one of those "don't blink" meetings, with nothing at all on the agenda, HERE, except the Consent Calendar.  Plenty of time for Public Comments...

Before I forget, one person asked when the next General Plan Update meeting was scheduled.  It's August 21st at 6:00 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center adjacent to the Police Department headquarters building at 99 Fair Drive.  That was an excellent question because these kind of issues should be considered in the General Plan update.  Mark your calendars and bring your questions in three weeks.

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Demise Of Another Charter City

Tuesday, July 30th, a commentary appeared in the Wall Street Journal - the best thing I read every day - by a gentleman named Bill Nojay, identified as a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the 133 District in upstate New York.  The commentary was titled, "Lessons From a Front-Row Seat for Detroit's Dysfunction" and, if you're a subscriber to the WSJ, you can read it HERE.  Assuming some of you are NOT subscribers, I'll give you my take on this very interesting and timely piece.

Mr. Nojay, then a contractor, served for eight months as the Chief Operating Officer of the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT).  He launches his message with the following paragraph:
"Since Detroit declared bankruptcy on July 18, the city's crippling problems with corruption, unfunded benefits and pension liabilities have gotten the bulk of airtime. But equally at fault for its fiscal demise are the city's management structure and union and civil-service rules that hamstring efforts to make municipal services more efficient. I would know: I had a front-row seat for this dysfunction."

He goes on and on, describing the frustration of being confronted with a new problem each day, finding a solution, but being prohibited from implementing the solution due to the complete dysfunction of the government in that city.

Nojay discusses the inability to get critical repairs done because vendors often refused to do the work because they had not been paid for previous efforts.  Because of the widespread corruption in the city, the Detroit City Council approved payment of virtually all the bills - a fact that he describes as "obstructionism".  He tells us, for example, " While I was at the DDOT, roughly 10% of bus-fare collection boxes were broken. In another city, getting a contract to buy spare parts to repair these boxes would be routine. The City Council publicly expressed outrage that we didn't fix the fare boxes, since the city was losing an estimated $5 million a year in uncollected fares."  He explained that the contract to fix those fare boxes sat, untouched, for nine months in the City Council offices!

He expressed frustration at sitting for five hours waiting to discuss a minor traffic matter while the City Council members debated whether to authorize the demolition of individual vacant and vandalized house, one by one.  He tells us there are over 40,000 vacant houses in Detroit.

He described the frustration of being stifled when attempting to hire outside lawyers to fight injury claims filed against his department incidents that allegedly occurred on his buses.  The claims, whether fraudulent or not, were routinely paid without investigation.  He says, "But we were blocked by city charter provisions prohibiting any city department from hiring outside counsel without the approval of the Detroit City Council."

After regaling us with more stories of the dysfunction and administrative gridlock that faced him and other department managers in Detroit he closes with this statement: "The last thing Detroit needs is a bailout. What it needs is to sweep away a city charter that protects only bureaucrats, civil-service rules that straightjacket municipal departments, and obsolete union contracts. A bailout would just keep the dysfunction in place. Time to start over."


I write this today as a reminder that a charter form of municipal government isn't necessarily the solution to all perceived or actual problems a city might have.  While a carefully-crafted, locally-specific charter CAN be a tool of good governance, it can also be a conduit for governmental mischief.

We have only to recall the recent calamity in the City of Bell, where an unscrupulous City Manager, Robert Rizzo,  took advantage of an unsophisticated, uneducated, easily-swayed city council and an inattentive electorate to run roughshod over the city.  Only 450 voters cast ballots in the municipal election that created the City of Bell Charter.

But, as you look around our state, you'll see other cities in deep financial difficulties who are seeking protection from bankruptcy courts to solve their problems.  Vallejo tried that and, several years out, not much has changed in that city.  Stockton and San Bernardino are also on the cusp of "bankruptcy salvation", but few informed observers think that's going to fix their problems.  One common thread among those cities, and many others teetering on the brink, is that they are charter cities, where the protections provided to Costa Mesa as a General Law City were no longer available to them.

The lesson to be learned here is that, before we rush headlong into yet another charter fiasco, the residents of this city should carefully consider what's at stake, now and further downstream.  The electorate resoundingly rejected Jim Righeimer's Charter less than a year ago and yet he ignored the will of the people and almost immediately brought that concept back.

He forced the creation of a charter committee, which is theoretically going to create a charter without the baggage his had.  He promised from the dais that he would have NO involvement with the process of creating a new charter, yet appointed a majority to the committee that echoes his views on a charter to the extent that several have recently expressed concern about the slow pace of the process and suggested that the committee simply take his proposal from a year ago - the one that was thrashed at the polls - and do some subtle tinkering to it.  What's the rush?

The City Council could have chosen to have a Charter Commission - 15 members of the community elected by the voters to put together a proper charter - one that would NOT be subject to City Council approval. To date, no member of the committee has yet defined the problems that the city faces that a charter form of government would fix.  That's what makes this process so laughable.

Even more frustrating is the fact that, regardless what kind of charter this committee eventually cobbles together and submits to the City Council for approval and placement on the ballot for the voters of this city to consider, the council is NOT BOUND by any rule anywhere to actually accept what the committee proposes.  They are free to toss out their work product and present to the voters whatever THEY want - including a clone of Jim Righeimer's Charter from a year ago.

There is a push by some, including some impatient members of the Charter Committee, to move the process along more quickly - I presume to try to get a charter on the June Primary Ballot, when many fewer voters take the time to cast ballots.  There is a law pending in Sacramento, however, that would forbid any charter actions to appear before the voters except on the General Election ballots.  Righeimer and his pals want to force this new charter onto the primary ballot if at all possible.  In my opinion, NO charter effort should appear anywhere except on the General Election ballots, period!  Righeimer could show good faith if he came out publicly and said he'd prefer it if a charter effort were to appear on the November ballot next year.  That would permit his spokespersons on the committee to throttle back their "hurry-up" effort and do a proper job with a charter.

So, those of you with even the slightest interest in this process should try to attend the Charter Committee meetings to see for yourselves just how this process is moving along.  You'll have a chance to address the committee in Public Comments at the start of each meeting, so you can tell your neighbors who are part of that group just how you feel, and why.  There's not much at stake here - only the future of our city, for goodness sake!

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
                                                                                -Edmund Burke

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Costa Mesa Finance/Information Technology Director Bails

The City of Costa Mesa, in an entry on their web page, HERE, announced to day that Bobby Young, Director of Finance and Information Technology, will leave the city on August 23rd for a job in the private sector.

This is NOT good news for the City, but is probably GREAT news for Bobby Young.  He's among the hardest working staffers in the city and, from my perspective, has done an admirable job of trying to keep up with the ever-shifting and sometimes unreasonable demands placed on him and his staff by the current council majority and respond to the inquiries of members of the public.

We here at A Bubbling Cauldron wish Bobby the very best and thank him for his dedication and professionalism over his 13 year tenure with the city.  He's a good man.

Sadly for those of us in the city, Bobby's departure is just the most recent of senior staffers who have chosen to move on.  Starting wherever you like - with City Manager Allan Roeder retiring shortly after this council majority was seated, to Kim Brandt and Terri Cassidy leaving to Newport Beach, Peter Naghavi recently retiring to the south of France and now Young.  There are many more that could be listed - we may do that at a future date.  All that institutional knowledge and skill will be deeply missed.

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Mayor Announces "Special" Neighborhood Meeting Thursday

Mayor Jim Righeimer, fresh off an apparently successful Eastside "Meet the Mayor" event last Thursday, has called for another one on Thursday, August 1, 2013.

According to the information on the City web site, HERE, this event will be held at another Eastside location to "listen to concerns about rehabilitaiton homes in Costa Mesa and to discuss the city's strategy in dealing with these properties.  Representatives from the Costa Mesa Police Department, Code Enforcement and other city departments will also be in attendance."

This meeting will be held at 198 Buoy Street, on the corner of Orange Avenue, near the intersection with Bay Street.  See map below.

Apparently the neighbors in this particular neighborhood are very concerned about the proliferation of rehabilitation homes nearby and want to vent about it, and want to know what the City is going to do about it.

This doesn't surprise me at all.  Ever since Newport Beach cracked down on their rehab home problem, operators of such facilities just moved up the road and purchased dozens of relatively inexpensive Eastside homes and turned them into residential rehab facilities - sometimes many in the same neighborhood.  And no wonder, since these kind of facilities are just like printing money.  I'm told by those "in the know" that some facilites charge "residents" - or their insurance companies - in the area of $30,000 per month per resident!  Yikes!

In case you're interested, a quick Google search turned up some interesting information.  According to one site, HERE, there are at least 33 such facilities doing business in our city.  Several seem to be headquartered in the 2900 block of Bristol Street, with satellite locations throughout the City.  For a quick look at just a few of them click HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Let me be clear... I don't for one second deny the need for such facilities.  What bothers me - and many other folks in our community - is that they seem to be clustered within neighborhoods in our city and have a very dramatic negative affect on their neighbors.  It's like the way some mining operations used to do business back in the middle 1800's.  A single miner would find a few flecks of gold in a stream and, before you knew it, large organizations would come in and use hydraulic pressure (water) to destroy the hillsides to gather a few more flecks of gold.

I don't think this is what our mayor had in mind when he frequently said he wanted Costa Mesa to be more like Newport Beach... but, then again...

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Remembering My Friend, Again

Today would have been the 72nd birthday of my dear friend, Larry Moore.  Long-time readers know that I've honored the memory of my friend every year since his untimely death the end of 2003.  Rather than subject you to those rememberances here, just type his name in the search box at the upper left corner of this page and you'll be shown most of what I've written about him over these many years.

Suffice it to say that he was my BEST friend since we were five years old and his memory deserves to be honored.


A Day In The Life Of The CMPD

As most readers here know, recently the Costa Mesa Police Department introduced new crime statistics, available to the public at a link on its web site, HERE.  This is fascinating information, which can be seen in a couple permutations and sliced several ways depending on what you choose to see, including maps with color-coded crime locations throughout the city.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to provide a little different experience for you.  I cut and pasted one day's worth of "Calls For Service" below, so you can quickly scroll down through the list and get a feel for what a typical 24-hour period is like for the men and women of the CMPD.  I think you'll be able to read the entries - I didn't include the addresses and some other information, but you can go to the web site and find most of that info for yourselves.

I think it's important to understand that the CMPD is attempting to keep us safe with vastly diminished resources when compared to a couple years ago.  For example, it was just over two years ago that the Jim Righeimer-led council decided to abandon the A.B.L.E. helicopter program - THE model program for all municipal helicopter programs throughout the country.  In addition, the authorized sworn officer strength today is down from 164 at its peak to 131 today - still well below the staffing levels recommended by the city-hired consultants AND Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley.  And, it's my understanding that we have nowhere near that 131 level actually on the job.  We may be at least 10% below that number today.

This is compounded by the fact that it is increasingly more difficult for The City to recruit officers.  Hundreds are screened to find one person qualified to hire in a process that takes months.  And, that fact is exacerbated by the fact that it is anticipated that dozens of highly skilled officers may opt to retire within the next several months.

There seems to be a willingness by the current council majority to place the safety of every resident, business and visitor to our city in jeopardy, ignoring the fact that crime is up in our city and brushing aside any suggestion that more boots on the ground will make the city safer.  This arrogant disregard for our safety is likely due to a long-harbored animosity for law enforcement by one or two members of the council.

Recently a new blog has popped up in town.  It's published by an old fella who regurgitates the party line in the most boring of ways and is heartily-endorsed by the current power elite in the city.  No, I don't mean the grumpy old guy - The Mouth From Mesa North.  This is another old guy with too much time on his hands and, apparently, no capacity for original thought.  He recently posted an entry dismissing the need for additional police resources like swatting a fly perched on his baloney sandwich.  That's a shame...

So, take your time and just scroll down through a day in the life of the CMPD, below.  It might help give you a little perspective on what it's like to be a cop in our city.

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