Friday, October 25, 2013

LAKE (Costa)FOREST(Mesa)

In case you missed it, Nick Gerda over at the Voice of OC had an interesting piece yesterday about Peter Herzog, a councilman down in Lake Forest who threw a hissy fit and resigned.  That's pretty big news, but the bigger news is the letter he left behind.  You can read Nick's piece HERE, and the fascinating letter HERE.

As you read down through Herzog's letter I suspect you'll get the uneasy feeling that this sounds all too familiar - and way, way too close to home.  Apparently, such is life among the political players within my Republican party.  Sigh....

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chairman de Arakal Explains His Skate Park Views

Even though the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission was not scheduled to hear the issue previously on the agenda, HERE, involving the proposed new rules for the Volcom Skate Park at TeWinkle Park, one interested party showed up at the meeting Thursday night to address the issue and was permitted to speak during the Oral Communications segment of the meeting.

The speaker was Rocky Evans, who identified himself as an engineer and frequent skater at the skate park.  He encouraged the commission to not change the rules to reduce the number of skatable hours each day, citing the probable over-crowding of an already busy facility and also that some children who take lessons during the hours planned to be cut would miss out on those opportunities.

Chairman Byron de Arakal thanked him for his comments and then read the following statement into the record.  At the end he encouraged Evans to be part of the solution to the issue and encouraged him to contact City Staff.

Here is de Arakal's statement:
I apologize to our park rangers, our police officers and the community. I had hoped tonight to begin reviewing options to make Volcom Skate Park a safer place for the skaters who use the park and follow the rules, and for our dedicated Park Rangers and Police Officers who place themselves at risk enforcing the municipal codes that govern the Volcom Skate Park.

One of those options – which I had hoped to discuss tonight with the public and my fellow commissioners - is shortening the park’s hours of operation to noon to 8 p.m. during school year weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during school year weekends.

Apparently, a handful of folks think the planet will stop spinning on its axis if Volcom Skate Park moves from a 12-hour day to an 8-hour day. Shortening the hours, I was told, won’t solve the problem. No kidding. But what it would do is reduce by 4 hours the opportunity for skaters to use our city facility sans safety gear in open defiance of our municipal code. Equally important, it would reduce by 4 hours the risk exposure our Park Rangers and Police Officers encounter when attempting to cite defiant skaters.

Now there seems to be a mentality simmering in some quarters out there that says since the city is technically in compliance with state law governing skate parks operated by public entities, we should do nothing else. We should let it go.

Frankly, I’m dumbfounded by that thinking. In my opinion Volcom Skate Park is the most hazardous public park facility in the city. I witness young children to grown adults – often by the dozens at one time – flying around a confined space that’s nothing more than concrete and metal with edges and drops. And yet we satisfy ourselves that by the word of our municipal code and the signage at Volcom Skate Park we’re legally ‘covered’.

That’s not good enough in my book. I don’t want to be sitting on this Parks Commission when that one, helmetless kid takes a dive and suffers some traumatic head injury or worse. It is, in my opinion, irresponsible for Costa Mesa to operate Volcom Skate Park without requiring – not just by the word of law, but by the deed of enforcement – the use of safety gear by all who use it. For me, it has nothing to do with ‘risk management’ or ‘technical compliance with the law’ and everything to do with common sense and helping our residents stay safe when using a city facility.

So, I again pledge to our park rangers and police officers that we will – in consultation with staff, the police department and the community – develop and implement a comprehensive solution to make Volcom Skate Park a safe place for all who wish to enjoy it, and for our Park Rangers and Police Officers who are sworn to uphold the laws of this city. Whatever that solution is its basic message must be this: If you want to skate at Volcom, wear your gear.

We were left with no idea when, or if, this issue will appear before the commission again for consideration.  From his comments above, it is clear that Chairman de Arakal is serious about resolving what has become a deteriorating situation at the skate park.  I suspect there will be some serious meetings between stakeholders, including representatives from the skate league that uses the facility, to hammer out a solution.  Stay tuned...

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Charter Committee Glacier Continues Its Slow Progress

Attending yet another meeting of the Costa Mesa Charter Committee, the group appointed by the City Council to prepare a charter whether we need one or not, was another very frustrating experience.  I'd missed the last two, so I had to re-acquaint myself with the ponderously slow pace that this group takes as it slogs its way toward the creation of a document for the City Council to consider some time next year.

This was the ninth meeting since the committee began its task late in June and every one has been like watching sap run.  Progress comes slowly for this group.  Tonight only nine of the thirteen members were present, so some decisions that might have been made were tabled until a later date.  To give you an idea of the "progress" they've made, here's the text of the elements of the Charter on which they've tentatively agreed upon so far:

As you can see, this includes language rejecting the payment of so-called "Prevailing Wages", the text of which was finally agreed upon at the last meeting.  During the meeting last night there was a short discussion about the need for this language in light of recently-passed Senate Bill 7, which changes the rules regarding Prevailing Wages and imposes severe penalties for Charter cities that fail to comply.  The committee decided to just leave the language in until they see if there will be a legal challenge to SB 7.

The issue of City Council Compensation was discussed at length, but no real decision was made.  That conversation will continue at the next meeting in November.  Opinions varied widely as the group kicked it around, ranging from some who thought they should be paid nothing to those who thought they should be paid more.  Some thought they should have no pension while others disagreed.  Funny, nobody mentioned that a previous council approved a pay cut, which remains in effect today.  Each council member currently makes $904.40 per month, plus amounts for Medical and Pensions added to that number.  Nobody expressed what they thought the council SHOULD make, though.

Near the end of the meeting the group began discussing Unfunded Pension Liabilities, laying the groundwork for a thorough discussion at the next meeting.  Presently they have insufficient information to proceed.  Members want specifics about the actual scope of the unfunded liability issue.  Following that discussion the plan now is to wait for the Pension Oversight Committee to hear a presentation by a representative of CalPERS within the next couple weeks, then have the Finance Director and, perhaps, the Chair of that committee, make presentations to the Charter Committee.  It's likely those presentations will take place in their December meeting.  Because of holiday scheduling they will only meet twice more before the end of the year.

Don't get me wrong when I complain about the pace of these meetings.  From the beginning the committee chose the methodology and are sticking with it.  I think most of the members arrive prepared to do the work, although a few clearly have not done their homework before the meeting.  That leads to some bizarre discussions in which the conversations seem to go round and round in a never-ending circle.  And, one or two of the members seem to be in an almost perpetual state of confusion.  They chose to put the tough issues up front, so it's likely that progress will come more quickly as they move into theoretically less controversial issues over the next few months.  We'll see.

Among the questions asked late in the meeting was one that dealt with the schedule they are on.  Members wanted to know when they had to have their work product ready for the City Council to consider in order to get it on the November, 2014 ballot.  Although no definitive answer was given, Attorney Kim Barlow did say that it must be ready for submission no later than 95 days before the election, which would mean the end of July next year.  Prior to that, though, there are two public hearings that are required, which backs it up further.  Based on the way the last Charter scheme was handled, it's likely that this group will have to get their job done by February or March to make the ballot next year.  The pace that is being followed makes that time frame very tenuous.

The committee meets next on November 13th and then on December 11th.  We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that progress will be made by then.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parks and Recreation Commission Meeting Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Thursday, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will hold its scheduled meeting beginning at 6:00 in City Council Chambers at City Hall.  You can read the agenda for that meeting HERE.  I see no discussion on the recent Fairview Park parking lot/tot lot issue on the agenda.

As you scroll down through that agenda you will notice that the most controversial item, #10d, which dealt with the proposed modification of hours of operation and posting of signage at the Volcom Skate Park at TeWinkle Park has been removed from the agenda.  That issue has been controversial in recent months because of several unfortunate incidents involving misbehaving skaters - usually adults - who have failed to follow the rules and had run-ins with Park Rangers and members of the Costa Mesa Police Department.  Before the issue was removed from the agenda I read the proposed agenda item, which you can also read HERE.

As you can see as you read through it, part of the plan to improve operations involved shortening operating hours and posting of signage that, if enforced, would put tremendous peer pressure on skaters.  If ONE skater misbehaved city personnel could shut down the park to all.

I'm not a skater - never have been and likely never will be - but I've had many young neighbors who enjoy the sport and have enjoyed their experiences at the Volcom facility.  However, it seems to me that the facility is too small for the existing demand and it permits very young skaters to be in the mix with older, much more proficient skaters.  That frequently leads to trouble.  And, of course, there's the issue of skaters not wearing the required safety equipment - elbow and knee pads and a helmet.

In my opinion, much of this could be resolved by carving out small segments in otherwise lightly-used neighborhood parks and install "beginner's"facilities - a small bowl, a grind rail, etc., - to take the pressure of Volcom.  There are probably a half-dozen parks where such facilities could be easily installed at a reasonable cost.  Young skaters could develop their early skills without the danger of being run-over by older skaters. 

In the meantime, there is no word as to when this issue will be brought before the Parks and Recreation Commission for consideration.  I suspect Parks and Recreation Chairman Byron de Arakal  and Recreation Manager Bob Knapp would love to hear your views on this issue.  You can reach Knapp by email at or by telephone at 714-754-5052.

The remainder of the agenda tomorrow involves mostly tree removal requests, a request for a memorial plaque and a discussion Streetscape and Median Design Standards, HERE.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Costa Mesa Charter Committee Meeting Tomorrow

The Costa Mesa Charter Committee meets again tomorrow, October 23, 2013 beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) near the Costa Mesa Police headquarters.  You can read the agenda for that meeting HERE.

Scheduled for discussion, under "Governance" are "Firewall between CEO and Council Members", HERE, local control in decision making, and "Compensation of Council Members and top management", HERE.

If you're interested, you can also review the comments submitted by committee members to the other members via the City Clerk, HERE.  These comments are anonymous - curious practice - but it does give you a sense of the views of some members.

Snowbound, I missed the past two meetings of this committee, which made some "progress" when it finally cobbled together language regarding the Prevailing Wage issue.  However, since that decision Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 7, which severely penalizes cities - including Charter cities - if they fail to pay prevailing wages on certain projects.  It will be interesting to see if this issue is discussed tomorrow - it's not on the agenda.  Since two members of the public who regularly attend the meetings, Charles Mooney and Mike Harmanos, published letters to the editor in the Daily Pilot today, HERE, addressing this issue, I suspect it is likely that one or both of them may choose to address it with the committee during their two-minute Public Comments opportunity.

In my opinion, going forward with any consideration of a charter at this time is a colossal waste of time.  The cornerstone of the plan for this change in municipal governance as espoused by its primary sponsor, Mayor Jim Righeimer, was to save the community tons of cash by eliminating the Prevailing Wage requirement.  Whether that would have been the case has become a moot point now.  In my view, there is no longer any reason to abandon the protections provided to us as a General Law city - not that there ever was in the first place.  Although I hope rational folks within the City government will realize the folly of moving forward with this process and call it off, I doubt that will happen.  No, these volunteers and the folks facilitating their actions will just plow forward to present a document to the council that will have virtually no chance of passage if it reaches the November, 2015 ballot.

So, if you enjoy watching sausage being made by a committee that is usually cordial and compatible, although their opinions differ greatly on key issues, join us at the EOC.  It's my understanding that the last meeting included some fireworks that caused one member to storm out in anger.  See you there...

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Chip Espinosa's "Listening Report"

One of the interesting facets of taking a long vacation when you normally spend most of your waking hours following city activities and reporting on them, is that all kinds of stuff happens when you are away that, for a variety of reasons, you just cannot respond to until you return.  Such is the case of the much-delayed Chip Espinosa "Listening Report".  So, here's my take on it...

A couple minutes before the close of business on Wednesday, October 9th,  - about the time my wife and I found ourselves finally extricated from the blizzard that killed more than 100,000 cows, closed over 300 miles of Interstate Highway and knocked power out over a multi-state area for much of a week - City CEO Tom Hatch transmitted the final report to the entire city staff via an email transmittal.  You can read the text of the document HERE

In his transmittal email Hatch acknowledged that most of what is in that report - which apparently gathered dust on his desk for four months while it received a little massaging -  will not be news to most city employees and council members, but he says it identifies areas where "we can improve".  He also says he would be forming a team of "managers and employees to discuss the next steps we need to take as an organization to build on this report".

He acknowledged that "not every concern that was raised can be accommodated or addressed specifically to everyone's satisfaction".  Near the end of his transmittal he wrote this paragraph:
"My hope is that this process will serve to promote a better sense of unity in our organization.  I strongly encourage those who read this report to challenge themselves to use the report to improve upon our current circumstances and move forward and focus on our legacy of top notch public service we have embodied for generations. This will mean, as Mr. Espinoza pointed out, that we lay aside self-protecting behaviors and embrace self-giving behaviors that consider varying points of view, encourage vulnerability and promote accountability.  I also want to highlight what Mr. Espinoza stated on page one of the report – 'The report’s power will be severely compromised if turned into a tool for creating discord or greater polarization.'"  That emphasis is mine.

The Daily Pilot reported on this publication HERE.

As you might expect, the reaction from employees was less than enthusiastic.  The Costa Mesa City Employee Association (OMCEA) published entry in their "Costa Mesa Works" web site on the Listening Report, HERE, and CMCEA President Helen Nenadal published a commentary in the Daily Pilot this weekend, HERE.

I must say that this is familiar territory for me.  During my working life I've participated in more than a few of these exercises, both as an employee and manager.  Based on my personal experience on both sides of the equation, these kinds of programs can be very valuable tools, but should not be undertaken lightly.  In every case, when one of these exercises is undertaken it creates an anticipation - and expectation - in the minds of the employees that something positive is going to come from it... that their working lives will become substantially better as a result.  Unfortunately, that's not always the case.  I fear that this will be the case with the City of Costa Mesa.

In order for their things to get "better" there needs to be "buy in" at every level - management, employees and at the executive level - in our case, the City Council.  Based on recent past history with this council, I just don't see that happening.  Read that sentence above I highlighted in red.  Do you see this council participating in that part of the exercise?  Nah, neither do I, particularly since I understand that one of them didn't bother to take part in the exercise at all.

Why do I say that?  Well, this exercise was completed before the council presented its offensive contract offer to the CMCEA - certainly not a conciliatory move on its part, for sure.  Neither was their rejection of the CMCEA offer to partner with The City in new processes to help make things work better.  I fear that the toxic, divisive nature of the relationship between the employees and the City Council majority is so pervasive that significant change is not possible without a change in the council make-up.  When it comes to employee relations, the council majority - in just about three years - has done almost everything wrong.  They violated their own rules when they issued layoff notices to more than 200 employees, forcing them to sue The City to protect their rights.  Two of them have actually sued all the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department, for goodness sake!

I hope I'm very wrong about this.  The City certainly needs some healing to take place, but it's a two-way street.  Nothing good will happen if this council majority continues to run roughshod over their own rules and make unreasonable demands of the employees.  I just don't see a couple of them "laying aside self-protecting behaviors and embracing self-giving behaviors", do you?  It won't take long for us to find out.  Hatch will form his committee, they will meet and we'll see.


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