Friday, September 13, 2013

Public Safety Rally Tuesday At City Hall

Just a reminder that our friends at Costa Mesans For Responsible Government (CM4RG) are holding a community rally in support of Costa Mesa public safety personnel next Tuesday, September 17th, in front of Costa Mesa City Hall from 5 - 6 p.m.  This is the evening of the City Council meeting and it will be in a Closed Session meeting during that hour.

Costa Mesa public safety organizations - Police and Fire - have been under siege by the current city council majority for a couple years.  The council established unrealistic staffing levels and wouldn't let the departments hire replacements in anticipation of departures/retirements for most of that time.

For months the council refused to permit the City to hire a permanent Fire Chief, leaving a tremendous leadership vacuum in that department.  We were without a Chief, Deputy Chief and Fire Marshall and, after he spoke out in response to a question from the council, the Emergency Medical Technician Coordinator had his position eliminated and he was gone - poof!

Interim Chief Tom Arnold - retired Deputy Fire Chief from Newport Beach and a Costa Mesa resident -  was finally able, after multiple presentations, to convince the council to change the deployment model and use emergency medical equipment instead of fire trucks for most calls - but that process took month and was like pulling teeth to get the council to agree.  They only agreed because that deployment model requires fewer fire staff and potentially saves a lot of money.  And, now - after years of vacancies in the senior leadership ranks -  there is finally a recruitment going on for a new, permanent Fire Chief.

During that time, in order to keep us safe, fire department personnel were required to work hundreds of hours of overtime each year.  One battalion chief had to work over 4,000 hours in one calendar year.  But, rather than thank him for his tireless dedication and for sacrificing valuable family time, he became the tip of the spear of derision by certain councilmen, who portrayed members of the CMFD as greedy.  And, despite all that, the firefighters and their depleted leadership staff continued to provide coverage to keep us safe.

In the case of the CMPD, we are currently at staffing levels not seen for decades.  The current authorized sworn staff is 131, down from 164 just a few years ago, and yet the population of our city grows and the demand for services increases.  And yet, your council arbitrarily pulled staffing level numbers out of the air without ANY way to support them.  Today we have fewer than 110 officers ready and able to report for duty.  By early spring of next year, when considering all the planned retirements between now and then and the known planned departures to other police agencies, it is very possible the CMPD will only be able to field fewer than 100 officers to protect us.

The two top elected officials in our city, Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, have sued your police officers for a situation that appears unrelated to them, claiming severe physical and emotional distress and an inability to earn a living.  This lawsuit is the exclamation point on more than two years of rancor between Righeimer, in particular, and the CMPD.

And, despite all this, Chief Tom Gazsi and the remaining men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue to do their jobs in a very professional way.  They show up, suit up and do the job we pay them to do - protect and serve us to the best of their ability.

So, a big thank you to the Costa Mesans For Responsible Government for organizing this event.  I hope each of you and your friends and neighbors will take an hour out of your evening to join them in this show of support for the men and women who protect and serve us every hour of every day.

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Residents Anxious About Change At General Plan Meeting

Last night I attended the General Plan Update Workshop at the Neighborhood Community Center along with three dozen of my fellow residents, many of whom were attending their first General Plan Workshop.  This workshop focused on Land Use, although someone brought some bogus handouts and distributed them, apparently trying to hijack the conversation.  Didn't work. You can read the agenda for the meeting HERE.
We were shown a wide array of charts showing demographic and other info.  Here are the images of those charts.  I apologize for the quality of some of them.  They are photographs of the charts and the glare was hard to overcome.

Following the orientation by the consultants and Gary Armstrong, Director of Economic and Development Services, with the information on those charts we began a group exercise which involved responding to a series of twelve questions, soliciting our view of Costa Mesa in 2030 or thereabouts.  It sounds easy, but several of us had difficulty separating what we wanted to see from the way things are today and the trends set in motion by the current government of the city.
We were asked to consider the following statements and decide if we would,
(1) support each one,
(2) definitely NOT support it or
(3) MAY support it if....
That "if" resulted in the most discussion.  We would support the proposition if a particular set of circumstances were met, etc.

1 - Costa Mesa is a vibrant, engaged community that embraces its history, values its eclecticism, and promotes economic growth that sustains high quality of life.

2 - Costa Mesa will always be an inclusive, mulit-generational, and economically and ethnically diverse city.

3 - Costa Mesa is a community of distinctive neighborhoods, where young families, families with school-age children, singles, and seniors live in a mix of housing types.

4 - Costa Mesa will not become stagnant, the city will change over time to anticipate demographic shifts and respond to demands of its populace.  At the same time, these changes will respect and preserve the historical context and character of our city while adapting to meet community needs.

5 - A healthy economy means a healthy community.  Costa Mesa will continue to foster conditions that create a healthy and diverse economy, one that retains and attracts new businesses and industries, supports the tax base, and sustains the ability of the City to provide high quality services for all residents, including expanded housing opportunities at all income levels.

6 - Costa Mesa's retail districts will continue to provide a welcoming diversity of shopping opportunities, from a thriving small-town downtown feel to eclectic, placemaking gathering spots; and from auto-oriented boulevards to an internationally recognized shopping mecca.

7 - Costa Mesa will promote and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit, welcoming incubator businesses that grow the economy.

8 - Costa Mesa recognizes its long-term obligations to provide parks and open spaces for residents in all life stages.  The City will continually enhance established parks and recreation facilities and encourage a diversity of flexible new spaces to meet evolving needs.

9 - Costa Mesa will incorporate sustainability principles into planning activities and decisions, thus fostering good environmental stewardship and an improved environment for future residents and businesses.

10 - Costa mesa is a City of the Arts: a "place" to experience and enjoy visual and performing arts and cultural events.  The City fosters creativity and cultivates cultural enrichment and lifelong learning.

11  Pedestrian, bicycle and transit connectivity are as important as private automobile accommodation.  Costa Mesa's road network will be retrofitted to put local mobility needs first. New developments and public spaces will be designed with transit, pedestrians, and bicycles in mind.

12 - As a city served  by freeways and regional travel corridors, Costa Mesa recognizes that vehicles moving through Costa Mesa often are headed to other destinations.  Traffic will be managed in a manner that ensures local mobility needs are not compromised and that Costa Mesa's growth and productivity are not stifled.

I cannot compress more than an hour of conversation into a few lines on this page, but the discussions were spirited, to say the least.  The consultant, Laura Stetson, seemed particularly impressed with the quality of the questions and the thought that went into them.  Folks expressed concerns about density and possible extreme modifications of our parks, for example.  A good deal of time was spent discussing development in a built-out community and how we serve what clearly is an aging population.


Quite honestly, the way things are trending in our city - which is being run by developer-friendly men on the city council and planning commission - changes are coming that will directly contradict many of the wishes I heard expressed last night.  For example, the Small Lot Ordinance will certainly adversely impact many of our neighborhoods by increasing the density of housing units and the resultant impact on the infrastructure - roads, sewers, etc.

We eventually discussed the first ten and ran out of time.  However, the remaining two deal primarily with transportation and circulation, which will be the subject of the next workshop on September 18th at 6:00 in the Emergency Operations Center near the Police headquarters.
While this exercise was worthwhile and the data collected by the consultants and staff will be useful in constructing a "vision" statement for the General Plan, I think I may have chosen the wrong meeting to attend last night.  It's my understanding that the Jim Righeimer "Meet The Mayor" Fairview Park Improvements event was a lot more fun.  I'm told by those who attended that the mayor was pretty darn uncomfortable with the questions by the 80 or so residents who met with him at the end of Pacific Avenue.  Remember, he brought it on himself when he begged for someone to host his event at the last council meeting.  However, I'm told that good old Barry Friedland was on the scene filming the event, so we will soon be able to see it all - unedited, if Friedland is true to his word - and in living color on his YouTube page, Costa Mesa Brief.

So, that's it for this week.  Next week, however, will start with a bang - the council meeting Tuesday and the rally for Costa Mesa Public Safety folks beginning at 5 p.m. in front of City Hall.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Costa Mesa Employee Group Makes Offer

Today the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA), met with officials from the City of Costa Mesa and made its initial proposal to the City.  CMCEA President, Helen Nenadal, is quoted as saying,

The City’s employees have made a proposal that conveys our desire to work collaboratively with the City.  Our proposal focuses on partnering to help make Costa Mesa work better, work more efficiently, and deliver the best service possible to the community. It also includes some common-sense reforms aimed at improving accountability and transparency for the public. We truly hope the City will consider our proposal in the same spirit of collaboration.

The proposal actually consists of eleven (11) separate elements, which I'll summarize here.
1 - A two-year term, commencing 9/1/13.

2 - Establish a Citywide LEAN program to improve methods in City government.

3 - A wage increase each year tied to General Fund Revenue.

4 - Significant modification of Sick Leave program.

5 - Increase employee contributions to CalPERS pension.

6 - Establish employer/employee working group to develop and implement a Costa Mesa Employee Wellness Initiative.

7 - Modification of work schedules where feasible.

8 - Partner on Transparency, Disclosure and Accountability, with new language proposed for the MOU.

9  - Formalize Christmas/New Year's closure.

10 - Continuity of Service - No Layoffs except in the case of "catastrophic fiscal emergency".

11 - Delete Article 1.9 of the MOU which contains acknowledgment that the parties have complied with all term and conditions of prior MOUs.  CMCEA is unwilling to acknowledge such compliance by the City and proposed deleting the Article.

The complete text of the proposal can be found HERE.

While I continue to hope the association and City will find common ground in this very critical negotiation, nothing in the recent past encourages me that this will happen, particularly in light of the initial offer by the City.  The elected leadership of this city has given clear indications over the past two plus years that they do not consider the cmployees - any of them - as partners nor collaborators.  They obviously consider them as adversaries, to be vanquished and punished.  I do not expect this negotiation to go well, but hope I'm very wrong.

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CM4RG Calls For Rally For Public Safety

The Costa Mesa citizens group, Costa Mesans For Responsible Government (CM4RG) has called for a rally to support Costa Mesa public safety personnel next Tuesday, September 17, 2013, at 5 p.m. in front of City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

The press release issued today by Harold Weitzberg, Communications Director for CM4RG, says as follows:

9/12/13 Costa Mesa – Costa Mesans for Responsible Government is organizing a RALLY TO PROMOTE PUBLIC SAFETY in front of City Hall on Fair Drive on Tuesday, September 17th from 5 to 6 p.m. The purpose of the event is to build public awareness of residents’ concerns for public safety, the status of current staffing levels and the impact of political acrimony on quality recruitment for our police force and rising crime in Costa Mesa.
According to CM4RG President, Robin Leffler, “The current staffing levels of the police force are down, and crime is up. There are indications reported in the press and from other sources that the recruitment efforts are being negatively impacted by acrimony, litigation and the rhetoric being promoted by the men on our City Council.
She went on to state, “If you are a young recruit or a police officer at another city looking for a future, you want to go to a city where there is an opportunity for long term professional growth and security. You want to know that the City Council supports and appreciates you. That does not appear to be the climate that has been created by this City Council majority” 
This multi-year acrimony has to stop for the good of Costa Mesa’s residents. We are asking our City Council members to take the lead in this by dropping the mayor and mayor pro tem’s politically and personally driven lawsuit and to promote Costa Mesa as a home and future for high-quality police personnel not just through words, but through their actions.” 
Residents are being asked to create their own hand made signs and meet at 5 p.m. on Fair Drive on the 17th. More information about the event and the citizens concerns can be read on the organization website at

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CMPD Solves Hamilton Street Murder!

The Costa Mesa Police Department, in a press release a few minutes ago, announced that it had solved the murder Monday of John Kubat, a Costa Mesa resident, at 536 Hammilton Street.

According to Jeremiah Dobruck's Daily Pilot article, posted just minutes ago HERE, officers took Christopher Ernest Leovy, 34, of Los Angeles into custody for suspicion of killing Kubat.

Leovy is a transient, living in Costa Mesa since the beginning of the year.  More infor will be forthcoming as provided by the CMPD, but I must say that solving a murder in 48 hours is pretty darn good police work.  Kudos to all involved, and thanks, one more time, for keeping us safe.

For the most recent update go HERE.  A tragic story!

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So Many Meetings, So Little Time

Today presents another of those much-too-frequent scheduling issues in Costa Mesa - two important meetings scheduled simultaneously.  Of course, it creates a huge problem for those of us actually paying attention to what's going on in the city these days.  Such is life...


Tonight, scheduled from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park), the city will host the most recent General Plan Update meeting.  This one is billed as "Land Use 2" and is designed to elicit community input in this very important process of defining the city's vision of where we're going for the next several decades.  You can read the information on the General Plan Update on the city web site, HERE.

Also beginning at 6:00 p.m., way over on the far Westside of town, is the most recent of Mayor Jim Righeimer's "Meet the Mayor" events, which I mentioned in an earlier entry, HERE.  Unfortunately, both the Daily Pilot and I got the address wrong.  The location of this event is at 2303 Pacific Avenue, where it ends at Fairview Park.  Parking is going to be at a premium in that neighborhood tonight, so keep that in mind if you plan to attend.  Homeowner Jordan Strickland volunteered to host this meeting at the last council meeting.  It is anticipated that many of Strickland's neighbors that would be affected by the planned improvements in that section of Fairview Park - the new parking venue, the children's playground, etc. - will be discussing these issues with the mayor at length. 

And, it is almost certain that his personal videographer, Barry Friedland, will be on site to capture the magic of the moment to be memorialized - conveniently with an election just over a year away - for all to view on YouTube at his site, Costa Mesa Brief.  I don't know about you, but this campaigning under the guise of community outreach is getting just a little old, particularly since it demands so much staff time to support him at these gigs. 

In any event, if you plan to attend and want to park close I suggest you arrive early.  Of course, you COULD just park over on Canyon Drive - there's plenty of parking adjacent to the Waldorf School - and take a short stroll on "user-defined" trails to the location.  Here's a map to 2303 Pacific Avenue.

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Slooooow Progress At Charter Committee Meeting

Well, the grumpy old fella from Mesa North was correct.  Watching the Costa Mesa Charter Committee attempt to cobble together a document is akin to watching grass grow.  You can read the agenda HERE.

A dozen people observed the proceedings.  Three spoke during the brief Public Comments segment.  Resident Robin Leffler expressed concern that the foundational question - Should Costa Mesa consider becoming a Charter City, and why? - has not been addressed.  She expressed the opinion that, having watched the last couple meetings drag slowly along, perhaps if that question is answered first it might make their process easier to manage.

Resident James Bridges echoed much of what Leffler said and suggested a little wider focus instead of working on small, specific areas of the charter.

Former councilman Jay Humphrey mentioned that he had been criticized at the last meeting because he brought up the City of Bell as an example of a problem charter city, so he promised not to do so again.  Instead, he assured the committee he would talk about other charter cities that are in trouble, like Vallejo, Vernon, San Bernardino, Stockton, Victorville, Vernon and Temple City.

The committee finally launched into their agenda - a discussion of possible wording for a Preamble for the Charter.  One would have thought this might be a pretty quick process, but NOTHING happens quickly with this group.  That was followed by a discussion of a section describing "Powers" of the charter.  After a very long time they ended up with this language: (click to enlarge)


They then launched into a discussion of Public Contracting, and tried to select language for that segment.  They went around and around, and finally agreed to permit member Kerry McCarthy to massage some of the preferred language, submit it to the legal staff for review and present it at the next meeting.  They got further snagged in a definition of establishing standards, procedures, etc.  They left that one on the table because of a potential conflict in the earlier segment.

They struggled with a discussion of Openness as impacting public contracts and finally worked their way to the hot-button issue of Prevailing Wages.  Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz presented a very quick staff report and advised the committee, using a chart he prepared for the discussion, that of the $18 million in public contracts scheduled for this fiscal year, more than $14 million MIGHT have been impacted if the City didn't have to use prevailing wages.  He could not give them more information because of the need to have staff time authorized by the city council.  Several members of the committee expressed the need for more numbers, so they could accurately assess the need for a change.  This issue will be thoroughly vetted at the next meeting in two weeks.


I must observe that this issue evoked very partisan reactions among the committee members.  Those who were not in favor of a charter in the first place may have been overwhelmed by the large number on the committee who are clearly, and vocally, supportive of using the charter to get rid of the prevailing wage provisions.  Preliminarily, it certainly looks as though the Prevailing Wage issue will be included in the Charter.  We'll soon find out.  The next meeting is at the same place - the Emergency Operations Center - at the same time - 6:00 - on September 25th.  I expect a raucous meeting that evening.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

91101 And Another Middle Eastern War


Today, September 11, 2013, we mark the 12th anniversary of that horrible day on September 11, 2001 when nearly three thousand Americans lost their lives when cowards crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon and a fourth plane was crashed in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania to avoid another Washington, D.C. tragedy.

I've written about this each year since I began my blog and every year this exercise drags back into the forefront of my mind the horrific images many of us saw unfold that morning.  One of the ones that sticks with me the most is the image of dear little Christine Hanson, just over two-years-old at the time, who was killed with her parents that morning - their bodies shredded and vaporized as the building imploded.  There are so, so many more...

You can read what I wrote for the past several years by clicking on these links:

You can also read the Wikipedia entries about Patriot Day - the official name of this date has now been changed to Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance - HERE.

You can read the Wikipedia account of the events of that day a dozen years ago HERE.

And, you can read the CNN Memorial site for the victims of that day HERE.  I've had it on my homepage for many years, so you can click on it any time you wish in the future.

And, the raw numbers from and as a result of that day will stagger you, HERE.

As our president prepares to, perhaps, launch us into yet another Middle Eastern military adventure, I think it's very appropriate to stop for a second and consider what the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been all about.  We should never forgive and never forget.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Small Lot Ordinance (SLO) Discussed

At a joint study session of the Costa Mesa City Council and the Planning Commission, in the cozy confines of Conference Room 1A, a packed house heard the staff proposal for a Small Lot Ordinance (SLO) discussed for 90 minutes.  You can read the staff report HERE.

All the council members and planning commissioners attended as well as CEO Tom Hatch, Assistant CEO Rick Francis, Development Services Director Gary Armstrong, Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz, contract City Attorney Tom Duarte, Communication Director Bill Lobdell and Principal Planner Minoo Ashabi, who took the point on the presentation.  All the audience seats were occupied and several other chairs were brought in for an overflow crowd.  The proceedings will be available for viewing on CMTV and recorded streaming video soon.

Interested parties were permited to address the council and commissioners and a half-dozen stepped up to do so.  They were equally split between residents and those with developer ties.  The residents expressed concern about parking and density.  Those with developer ties complimented the staff on this ordinance, stressed easier financing and looked forward to working with the city on projects in the near future.

As you will read in the staff report, the objective of this new ordinance is to "regulate the development of single-family detached homes by providing specific zoning requirements for this type of housing development."   As I said in an earlier post, it looks like this ordinance took most of the gripes about variances and other exceptions to the rules expressed by developers in the recent past and codified them to facilitate more development.  The staff report contains 13 items that will change in our current codes.

While many aspects of this new proposed ordinance were discussed, the conversation kept getting hijacked by a discussion of parking, despite the fact that the staff report was very, very specific on the issue.  You can't get any clearer than this statement, early in the staff report: "It should be noted that no changes to the City's parking requirements are being proposed within the small lot ordinance."  And yet all those very smart people around the table just kept getting off track.  Of course, I guess I understand their concerns - Costa Mesa is notorious for under-parking projects.

A significant part of the discussion addressed the very common practice of loading up our garages with "stuff" and parking our cars outside.  The staff recommended that, in lieu of Homeowners Associations, any such projects use "Maintenance Agreements" - a much less formal type of rules.  It suggested that each of those demand the garages be used for cars, not storage.  We'll see.

I'm not going to attempt to replay every word in that 90-minute meeting, but the upshot of it was that the staff will bring to the Planning Commission a fine-tuned version of the ordinance for its consideration at a Public Hearing, and that would then be passed along to the City Council for adoption.

At the end of the meeting I saw none of the developers in attendance frowning.  I did see more than a few residents still concerned about this ordinance.  Keep in mind that this ordinance will NOT affect areas of the city zoned R-1 - residential.  It only applies to projects in areas zoned R-2 or greater.  I suspect we will see a pretty sizable crowd at the Planning Commission meeting when this issue is presented.


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