Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Short Meeting Ran Very Long - Again

What should have, and could have, been a short Costa Mesa City Council meeting stretched out until almost midnight Tuesday.  I guess we should be grateful that it actually ended the same day it began.

As a preamble to the meeting around 50 people assembled on the porch outside council chambers at 5:30 in a rally for Supportive Homeless Housing - a subject that has been much in the news lately.  Among those attending were Churches Consortium's Becks Heyhoe, shown here with Daily Pilot reporter Bradley Zint.  Many other familiar names in the affordable housing world locally attended and chanted for housing for the homeless until the council meeting began.

The actual meeting began on time to a fairly full auditorium and, following three short presentations, ten speakers address the council during the Public Comments segment.  Half of those, including Larry Haynes, Executive Director of Mercy House, spoke on the Supportive Housing issue.  Frequent commenter Tamar Goldmann addressed the upcoming General Plan Visioning meeting coming up next week and reminded the council that, during the previous General Plan meetings, most members of the public made it very clear that they wanted less density in new projects.

In an amusing moment, one old fella - a guy I occasionally refer to as The Mouth From Mesa North - stepped up and praised those anonymous people who defiled the federally-protected vernal pools at Fairview Park last year!  He went on to say that he thought they should receive an award - and dinner at a local Irish Pub - for their innovation.  Chuckles were heard throughout the auditorium as this sad human being demonstrated just how out of touch with reality he has become.  It's very apparent that not all the synapses in his his alleged Mensa Mind are firing properly and now reduces his value to the community to be the only source of information on black-on-white crime and racial purity.

Activist Sue Lester complimented the Costa Mesa Police Department on the success of its 60th Birthday Party, and the Fire Department on its successful Santa Letter program.  She also mentioned that the Costa Mesa Classic - the golf tournament fund-raiser hosted by Costa Mesa United - was to be held on the 20th, but she couldn't find anywhere to sign up as a volunteer on the website.  She also suggested that while the police department is understaffed as it is, perhaps only one officer should be detailed to the council meetings.  Mayor Jim Righeimer jumped right in to say the police department is NOT understaffed!  Of course, it IS understaffed and has been for most of his tenure on the council.  Just saying it's not so doesn't mean that's true.  But then, that's his M.O. - he blurts things out on the dais that sometimes have no resemblance to the truth and figures nobody will notice.  Wrong, Jimbo!

During Council Member Comments Wendy Leece apologized for the City not vetting the controversial Civic Center Park site more thoroughly, and for not doing outreach to the contiguous community first.  Righeimer blathered on about not voting on the Civic Center Park site because he's on the board of Mercy House - one of the organizations that would build the Supportive Housing units. You know, the old "It's not my fault" song and dance.  He told us it was the New Year and time to start with a clean slate.  I guess that meant he'd be more civil - but that pledge didn't even last through this meeting.  No surprise.

Another amusing moment came as he pointed out that 40 Costa Mesa homes hosted 83 Marines for Christmas this year - but he kept referring to them as "soldiers" and had to be corrected several times.  Of course, every Marine in the audience cringed.

During his time Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger spouted off about his waddling, er, walking group which he refers to as the Costa Mayberry Walking Group, had covered every street in the city - over 600 miles.  He ignored Lester's inquiry about volunteering when he also talked about the Costa Mesa Classic, which he said is "full".  I guess that's good.

The clock showed 7:07 when CEO Tom Hatch took his turn to address issues.  He mentioned the success of the Snoopy House event and that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has indicated an interest in partnering with the city in summer sports and arts and crafts programs.  Addressing the staffing issue, he told us that the city now had 410 active employees, down from a high of 611 and that Human Resources were actively recruiting for 40 open positions.  This is what he told us at the last meeting.  He also told us again that he will be coming to the City Council for increases in staffing levels in several departments, including the Police Department and Public Services.  He talked about the upcoming two General Plan meetings on 1/14 and 1/28.

Then Hatch sprung the news on us that the Operational and Financial Audit of the Costa Mesa Senior Center had been completed and that he'd met with officials of the Senior Center to discuss it.  He said it was bad news, and that it was available for review on the City web site.  You'll find the summary HERE and the 50 page report HERE.  At that point Righeimer jumped in with both feet, stating that the report was atrocious and unacceptable.  He said, "This council is not going to let it (the Senior Center) go down!"  Indeed, according to the report from Management Partners, who did the $26,500 audit, the Senior Center is teetering on the brink of financial insolvency.  Read Bradley Zint's report in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  I've scanned the report briefly tonight - the Senior Center is in big trouble.  It's going to be VERY interesting to see how this plays out.

Next came the Consent Calendar and 11 of the 17 items were pulled for separate discussion, meaning they would be addressed at the end of the meeting, so anyone even vaguely interested in them would have to wait, and wait, and wait.. again.

At shortly after 7 p.m. they got to Public Hearing #1, the LED lights and signage issue for Metro Point.  Mensinger recused himself.  Ten people rose to speak on both sides of the issue and the light provider, Milton Solomon, made a presentation and answered questions.  I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to explain or demonstrate to Righeimer in this photo...  Retired employee Peter Naghavi represented the applicant, Arnel, in this process.  His expertise on this project when it was being designed and built gave him special institutional knowledge.  After 90 minutes of discussion and micromanaging by Righeimer the council finally approved a modified version of the plan on a 4-0 vote and the council took a short break.

When they reconvened at just before 9:00 they took on the controversial Excessive Use of Services Ordinances that was before them for a second reading.  This is the ordinance that will permit charging "lodging establishments" - hotels and motels - a fee when certain thresholds of calls for service are exceeded.  This, of course, is just the latest club Righeimer intends to use to beat the operators of "problem motels" into submission - or out of town.  It surprises nobody who has been watching this process, particularly when Righeimer has previously openly said he wanted to help the owners to reach a more realistic idea of the value of their properties so they would be receptive to  selling them at a reasonable price!  You may recall that he told folks at one council meeting that we might have to buy up some of those properties then sell them at a loss on the open market.  That means his developer-buddies could snatch them up at below market prices and build high-density housing units!

Nineteen (19) people spoke to this issue during the public comments segment, many of whom were owners, operators or aligned with some of the "problem motels".  From the comments they made it was clear that they understood exactly what was happening to them and a couple lawyers in their group, including Winston Wang of the Taiwan Hotel and Motel Association, made it clear that there were legal options ahead.  Not a single person rose to speak in favor of this scheme.  I found it interesting that a lawyer from the ACLU stepped up and expressed concern.

Several residents addressed this plan, including Jean Forbath - a legend in Costa Mesa charitable circles.  She expressed concern that some of these motels under siege were, in fact, homes to families that might be forced out on the streets.  Others were concerned about what appeared to be the discriminatory nature of the ordinance and predicted more legal troubles for The City.  The public comments segment ended more than an hour later.

Then the council members began their debate, and it went round and round.  Some members told stories of their ride-alongs with inspectors, indicating they were "appalled" (Righeimer) at what they found.  During one little rant Righeimer looked squarely at some of the operators in the audience and told them, "We will not tell you how to run your properties, but we will charge you the fee for excessive service!"  He then went on to say, "If you're getting 400-500 calls for service I really do want you out of business!"  Can't get much clearer than that, can you?

Leece and Genis echoed some of the concerns expressed by other speakers - that this ordinance would discourage legitimate calls for police or fire service and could result in someone being hurt - or worse.  Genis complained about not getting information she needed from staff.  She said she'd been "stonewalled" and told by "the 5th floor" that she didn't need that information for more than a week.  This is more than a little distressing, since she probably does the best analysis of complex issues of anyone currently on the dais.

Gary Monahan, peeved at the way things were going, read the definition of "nuisance" into the record.  I'm not sure why, because that didn't seem to be the issue.  Eventually, the male majority carried the day on a 3-2 vote.  I was disappointed, once again, by what appeared to be shoddy staff work by the city attorney, Elena Gerli.  She seemed ill-prepared to answer some obvious questions.

Finally, at 10:50 p.m., we began to hear the Consent Calendar items!  Each of the five Warrants had been pulled and each was discussed individually.  Each time the legal fees were a main point of concern by one or more speakers.  Tamar Goldmann, Greg Thunnel and Anna Vrska asked many relevant questions and made pointed comments.  Each was passed on 5-0 votes.

Items 8, 9 and 10 - all tract maps for new developments - were heard as a group and passed, 5-0.

Item 13, the use of contract project management for a major construction project, was briefly discussed and passed, 5-0.

Item 14, the extension of Interim Information Director and Consultant Contracts were also briefly discussed and passed, 5-0.

At 11:25 we finally got to hear from those five people who were carried over in Public Comments.  We don't know the actual number who got shuffled to the end because Righeimer didn't tell us.  I know of at least one who, once again, had to leave before he had a chance to speak because he uses public transportation.  Chris McEvoy wondered about the threshold for vandalism prosecution and alluded to probable Brown Act violations by council members while on the Planning Commission.  Suzanne Shaw spoke about a city tree that needed to be replaced but she would be charged $700 to do it.  And, she was VERY angry about the splitting of the Public Comments and waited all that time to tell the council just how she felt.  Can't blame her.  Robin Leffler also complained about the split comments and challenged Righeimer's comment about the CMPD being fully staffed.  Greg Thunnel questioned our use of Jones Day as a law firm, mentioning that they took Detroit into bankruptcy.

Finally, at 11:40 p.m., we adjourned!  If the first meeting of the year is any indication of things to come, it's going to be a very, very long year.

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Blogger Joe said...

We believe Righeimer is a very clever guy, but as a mayor/council member, basically incompetent. We've seen the same pattern over and over: He rushes in with some half-baked scheme, attacks some group, then lawsuits result with no net gain to the city.

Attorneys all over get millions in fees. Citizens are told the police department is not understaffed, yet crime keeps going up.

We need to help these locusts move on come November.

1/08/2014 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

If we are not understaffed in the police department, then why is Hatch going to the council for more staff? Of course its understaffed. We don't even have a police dog anymore. WTH?

Now that Righeimer once again has opened his big mouth and made it clear that he is targeting the hotel/motel operators, it is clearly discrimination. Good luck now trying to fight that in court. This guy is clearly an idiot.

Righeimer isn't looking good these days, kind of taking on the same pallor that Gary has. Those diet cokes must be taking a toll.

Again, its clear also to others that our legal bills are shady. This is starting to become apparent to many other now. Good. Its time this city had a financial audit by an outside group. There are no systems for financial control. No wolves are in charge of the hen house. This needs to stop.

1/08/2014 08:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Terry Koken said...

**Whew**. I didn't attend, because I had some programming mods to insert. Guess I'm glad I didn't, at this point, as I got a lot done; probably more than the council did.

As an aside, you have a line of text out of place; it should go just before Peter Naghavi's name, and is found at the end of the paragraph.

1/08/2014 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Friendly Neighbor said...

Thank your, Geoff, for your summary of the meeting. I was watching online and if the council had an online forum I would post the following:
1. The live feed picked up inappropriate comments, very clearly, from somewhere off camera, but near a mic. Not respectful, per council instructions, at all, and broadcast live online to the community.
2. Regarding the Excessive Use of Services Ordinance: many speakers raised legitimate concerns, many of which could be summed up by the fact that is there any proven analysis that this will alleviate the "problems" encountered by our "problem" motels/hotels? Won't these problems (police calls) just be spread around to more public places, such as parks and libraries, and other businesses, such as bars, trailer parks, 7-11, Norms, etc.?
3. Is it possible that one reason there might be increases in police calls is a direct result of the decrease in police staff which prevents our CMPD from implementing more pro-active and preventative crime programs?
4. If the whole point of this ordinance is to save money how is that going to be possible with the increased paperwork/staff time to process the fees, the impending lawsuits and possible increase in crime throughout our city?
5. I don't have the answers but I do think Costa Mesa, once known as the "city with a heart", needs to be at least a city with a brain and really analyze carefully before rushing major changes through our local council.
6. Lastly, I noticed in the police logs that most (?) of the local crimes and calls occur near the many liquor stores and bars, some of which have extremely long hours of operation (20 hours per day, in some cases). Still, its the motels that are the root of the problems?

1/08/2014 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Friendly Neighbor,
Thank you for bringing up the fact that most of the crimes and calls occur near liquor stores and bars.
The motels are being singled out to get the property they sit on.

Righeimer starts the new year with a whooper
" The CMPD is not understaffed" and completes
his abrasive banter with a threat to put the motels out of business.
What a charmer this guy is!
He also loves the sound of his voice, using 20+ minutes to say something that can be said in two, three sentences.

Happy New Year- it's time to get Righeimer out.

1/08/2014 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Yep. When you google "Law of the Instrument," the little mayor's picture comes up:

"The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow's hammer, Gavel or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

No, lunkhead Stevie, we're not talking about football.

Hey- didja all hear Fisler's declared war on those he calls "haters"- citizens who oppose his masters in the council majority? Funny! Glass house and all that..

1/08/2014 01:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Eileen Truxton said...

Mr. West, thank you for your summary of the CC meeting. I watched it on my computer and completely agree with your coverage I do have one quick question, just in case I missed it, was there a presentation of Mensinger's newly announced Simon Scholarship program? When he touted it in the DP, I looked into it. It appears to be offered in cities where the developer has shopping centers and other properties. Since I couldn't find any Simon-backed developments in Costa Mesa, I was curious if this might be putting the cart before the horse. Steve was careful to only say he's instrumental in bringing it to Newport Mesa. He never mentioned the School District giving approval. Does any one know more details, or was it another phony press release similar to the Sunshine Award for transparency?

1/08/2014 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Papa Smurf said...

PD not short staffed - Righeimer is living on planet Zinctar! I heard Patrol staffing was 140 short shifts from around thanksgiving to the 1st of the year just to reach minimum staffing levels. Just keep re-arranging the deck furniture Jim and don't pay any attention to the cold water.

1/08/2014 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Did anyone hear the RIGmeister's proclamation, when explaining the Mercy House way of dealing with the homeless, that "government" either "can't do anything" or "can't accomplish anything". ?? There's a red flag!

1/08/2014 07:07:00 PM  
Anonymous now is the time said...

I watched the meeting on line and had to back it up a couple of times to confirm I heard what I thought I heard at several different points. The mayor appeared to use a play on words in reference to the PD saying they were fully funded. Funding (which I don't believe is enough to cover the number of officers that are actually needed) and staffing are two totally different things. Patrol must be staffed (albeit at minimum staffing) for the safety of the community....all other areas of the PD are at bare bones, most less than 1/2 of what they were when fully staffed. The mayors response to the suggestion that it may not be necessary to have 2 officers at council meetings and in doing so it could possibly relieve the OT being required of officers was that the Chief knows what his staffing needs are. Really? Because I remember more than one Chief telling this council it was a mistake to lower the number of officers to less than 125 and they didn't listen. It seems their views did not change until they finally accepted the fact levels were dangerously low and it was only going to get worse. Only then was the Chief allowed to begin recruiting. Reality is it's too little too late but Chief Gazsi and his crew continue to carry on

1/09/2014 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you Geoff for covering the meeting, and thanks to everyone spoke at the public comment session. Indeed, the ordinance is filled with deceptive info, unreliable data, and ulterior motives, and very few options are available now to fight this injustice.

I'd admit that a couple of the hotels will need some adjustments to make the operations more efficient to enhance the assets and health & safety aspects; however, ordinances should not be designed to manage 1 or 2 operations. Righeimer stated that "If you're getting 400-500 calls for service I really do want you out of business!" In the list of calls over 200, 40 addresses were listed, 4 hotels, 12 retails, 13 parks, 8 apartments, 2 schools and 1 library made on it. The most calls to a hotel was 568, then 352, 261, 214. The top 4 on the same list were: South Coast (1,552), Lions Park (1,086), Harbor Center (877), Pinebrook Village (614). Are hotels the problem as Righmeir claimed?

Well, when Genis wondered that the list did not support the claim the hotels were the problem as the ordinance claimed, the male members jumped in and said that the stats included patrol and non-nuisance calls, so the stats is not apples to apples. Well, the hoteliers asked the City for studies that supported the claim, and Genis also requested the same after the 1st Reading in Dec, yet the list did not surface until 1/6/2014. WTH? Is this how public policy should be made? Based on 1 man's opinion?
Per Franis, counts to quantify the nuisance call stats were manual, by staffs' review of the log based on codes. This arbitrary way of ID events can hardly qualify as support, as review will be different as the reviewer changes.
The biggest issue is on discrimination. When public services segregating the people and treated unfairly, IT IS DISCRIMINATION. Righeimer Team may claim that this is to stop the bad businesses, this fony claim can't even hold water as pervious paragraph had stated. If so call "stop the bad businesses" stands, why not apply it to ALL businesses citywide? Is it because there are only 30 hotels in the city and only 14 of them could be affected by the low call allotment? Or one of the team member operates a bar and shouldn't be affected? Or is it more convincing to pass it without the whole city at rage to his decision to cut PD?
My goodness... I must said, this is a big lesson learned on government, the best illustration on policy making and utilization of legislation.

1/11/2014 11:05:00 AM  

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