Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Brief Budget Study Session Yields Bombshells

In what may be the shortest City Council Study Session ever, this afternoon the Costa Mesa City Council heard all they needed from Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent on the city's mid-year budget performance in 45 minutes flat!  Actually, it would have been much shorter but for Mayor Jim Righeimer's direction near the end.  More on that in a minute.. wait for it.

You can read the staff report HERE, which also includes links to some very interesting attachments.  I covered those and provided specific links in my previous entry, but here they are again:  (Just click on the name)
1. Analysis and Recommended Uses of the FY2012-13 Surplus
2. Mid-year Budget Report Summary—General Fund
3. General Fund Revenue Chart
4. Budget to Actual Analysis—General Fund Revenues
5. General Fund Total Expenditure Chart
6. General Fund Salary & Benefit Chart
7. Budget to Actual Analysis—General Fund Expenditures
8. Contingency Funds

As you can see from the photo, the crowd was "sparse" - a kind way of saying that virtually nobody gives a rat's rear end about the condition of our finances.  Only four residents showed up.  They, plus sixteen city staffers and two journalists, were in the auditorium .  I counted myself as a resident.  Councilmember Wendy Leece was absent.  Unfortunately, this is pretty typical of these kind of meetings.  In years past when Allan Roeder would conduct a "Community Budget Workshop" following the approval of a budget there would typically be three or four residents in attendance.  This meeting was televised live on CMTV, but the recorded version is not yet posted.
 Dunivent spoke of the budget surplus and showed charts that were not part of the printed agenda report.
He gave us examples of his recommendations for the use of the surplus.
He spoke of the anticipated increase in projected revenues.
And how those funds might be used.
And he guided a discussion of anticipated expenditures in this year's General Fund budget.  Again, for specific details read the attachments linked above...

However, the most interesting part of the evening for me came at the end, right around 5:00, as council members chimed in with their thoughts.  CEO Tom Hatch, when pressed for more details on issues, kind of acted like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan challenged him to produce some specifics on a few issues.  Monahan said he wanted, "hard numbers, not hunches."

Then Righeimer began his little exposition by starting with this sentence fragment, "The City is fifty-some years old..."  Really?  After all the turmoil about the 60th Anniversary Celebration and he still doesn't know how old the City is?!  How is it possible that he can be so vacuous?  Good grief!  He just keeps on having these "Linda Blair" moments - he opens his mouth and out comes his stream-of-consciousness "guacamole".

Now that he had my attention he went on to tell us that he wanted us to consider increasing Park Fees and Planning fees and establish Undergrounding Impact Fees and a Library Impact Fee - all of which would be levied on developers who come before the city to build stuff!  Yep, that's what he said!  In fact, I'm going to paraphrase him - you can check it when the video feed is available - he said, "As the economy goes up we need to put a little drag on that." - meaning take advantage of developer interest in the city to squeeze more dollars out of them - which, of course, would just be passed on to buyers of their homes, etc.  I guess that's his strategy to attract young families to the city - slap so many developer fees on new homes that only the rich can afford them.

That "Undergrounding Fee" is interesting.  Those who pay attention will recall that former Mayor Allan Mansoor also floated that scheme - to underground all utilities throughout the city -  a few years back.  At the time, based on numbers from the utilities involved, it was projected to cost in excess of a half billion dollars!  A couple years later that estimate was bumped up to a cool Billion!  I can't even begin to guess at what it might be now.  And that was just the city costs - the homeowners would have to pay for the utilities to go from the street to their homes.  Righeimer prattled on about a "utility districts" - like Newport Beach has done in the past.  Well, that idea was also blasted out of the water several years ago and it sure isn't going to fly now.   I'm getting very tired of him trying to morph Costa Mesa into Newport Beach or Irvine with his elitist, let-them-eat-cake attitude.  If that's what he wanted when his political career stalled in Fountain Valley (that means when the voters rejected him) he should have moved into one of those cities, not Costa Mesa.

More on that "Library Impact Fee"... he also said that he wants to set aside "a couple hundred thousand" to investigate the possibility of moving the Donald Dungan Library at Lions Park into the Neighborhood Community Center - which he implied was underutilized with "a few meetings and birthday parties on the weekends", and then use the current site of the library as a "nice, round meeting room".  Now, that's one of the strangest things I've ever heard him say - and that's saying a lot!  It's my understanding that booking space at the Neighborhood Community Center has been very difficult lately.  Monahan chimed in to say that it should be a state-of-the-art library with heavy emphasis on computers, etc.  The only reason I can think of for Righeimer to want to basically shut down the Neighborhood Community Center is because it provides a venue for discussion of important issues - and those discussions never work in his favor.

So, in a year where we anticipate Righeimer will run for re-election, today he - theoretically a conservative Republican - advocated for the establishment of two (2) brand new assessments and increasing several others.  I'm not sure if he has completely lost his mind, but he's sure going to lose support of his pals in the OC GOP by recommending fee increases!  Who knows - maybe we're witnessing political suicide...

This is going to be a VERY interesting year in Costa Mesa...

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Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

The budget is critically important, it is a policy statement of what the current city council's priorities are that speaks louder than any ordinance or resolution. More people would come if more people could come! 4:30 just is not a possibility for most residents. That to me speaks volumes as well. If the city council wanted the public to be involved in this process, the meetings would be at a time when it was possible.

By the time the budget comes to the regular council meeting, all the interesting discussion has taken place, the presentation is usually abbreviated, and many changes have been made.

2/12/2014 12:04:00 AM  
Anonymous CMTaxpayer said...

I’ve been telling you all along. They are NOT fiscal conservatives. JR & SM just can’t help themselves. They aren’t running the city like a business that wants to sstay in business. They are fiscally inept and frivolous.

2/12/2014 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

The Newport Mesa Tea Party, and Costa Mesa Taxpayers Association will have some difficulty twisting themselves around those priorities, but I have faith in them. Somehow they'll be able to back their boy and his fiscal insanities they're really good at that particular hypocrisy.

2/12/2014 06:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I would love to see the power lines go under ground, as they are just so ugly. Have you taken a good look at the lines around Harbor at about Wilson and all down Wilson? They look like crap. But I don't see how, with these idiots in office that we will ever be able to afford putting those underground. That would be a lifetime project and they'd have to spend millions on a consultant and bring in their buddy developers, etc. it's a shame.

Oh yeah, these guys are not fiscal conservatives!

2/12/2014 07:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

Robin Leffler makes an important point about the timing of the meeting. They don't care what we think or want.

That said, there is no logic or main thread that holds the actions of the Council together and to, that smells of Brown Act violations. If the other men hadn't been informed of Righeimer's new plan, there would have been a reaction - mild surprise in the least.

I suppose there is a common thread - the laws don't pertain to them!

2/12/2014 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger orangemath said...

Costa Mesa would be improved by moving utilities underground. Mr. Righeimer should be thanked for bringing up the issue.

To criticize him for suggesting raising fees closer to a reasonable level is merely to suggest he isn't lockstep with the Tea Party. I think that is a compliment.

If the city spent money to repave the streets near Harbor and Mesa Verde it would be a good thing. Good streets are generally an issue both Republicans and Democrats once supported together.

Costa Mesa will become a better place when criticisms aren't merely "if he says red, I say blue or if he says blue, I say red." This style hurts us all.

Certainly, I don't support Mr. Righeimer on his despicable gang-up on the Senior Center, but I strongly support his suit against the police who tried to frame him? This is an extremely serious issue of the highest importance! To attack him on ideas of value - just to attack him - is wrong-headed and simply wrong.

We must get past pettiness in the name of politics. This isn't naiveness, but an acknowledgement of the corrosiveness of such pathetic public discourse.

2/12/2014 09:25:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...


As I said in the post, to underground all utilities in Costa Mesa would cost THE CITY at least a BILLION dollars, and that doesn't count the cost to the individual property owners. The last number I had for my property was north of $15,000, but that's now probably exceeded $25,000. Sure, the City would look great with all those nasty wires gone. However, I attended all the meetings where the So. Cal. Edison folks spoke. When asked if it's easier to maintain the wires our undergrounded cables he was unequivocal - the wires were easier, by far, to maintain.

Sure, paving streets is great.. who would be against it? Nobody, right? However, your pal, the mayor, takes credit where none is due... the paving projects were already scheduled. Yes, they pushed some forward - by finding money made available by staff departures and unwillingness to permit timely hiring. Interesting tactic... you allow the PD, for example, to budget for "x" number of positions, then refuse to let them hire and, voila! Found money!

Yes, it's important for the fees we charge to be in line with the costs needed to provide the services. But he's talking about NEW fees - the Undergrounding Fee and the Library Fee - to be gouged out of the developers who, in turn, pass the cost on to the consumer - those "young families" he's allegedly trying to attract to the city.

I do understand your comment about corrosiveness, but you certainly cannot expect the members of the public - taxpayers and voters in this city - to stand idly by as these guys destroy our city, can you? Really?

Thanks for participating - as always, your comment enhances the discussion.

2/12/2014 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger valan2 said...

Here's my guess at the plan:
1. Righeimer asks for studies of library/NCC swap and fees for undergrounding etc., takes credit in re-election campaign.
2. Consultant is hired for the studies, which take nine months to complete.
3. Righeimer is re-elected to Council (I REALLY hope to be wrong about this part!).
4. Studies show all proposals to be infeasible, and the ideas are dropped.
5. Consultant who did the studies is hired - without open recruitment - as new Deputy Public Services Director.
6. Back to business as usual.

2/12/2014 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Oh Dennis...what Costa Mesa should be, could be, and used to be is a done deal. Righeimer rode into town and politicized us. There is no escaping that now. Almost everyone agrees on the basic issues.Get your wife to run and we can hammer out the differences.....

2/12/2014 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

so is this supposed to be "small government", or small minded government?

2/13/2014 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

Last night I dined with library expert and we discussed the plan announced by the Mayor and Councilwoman Leece. I am not quoting here (it was a long dinner), but this is what I learned from the "schooling" I got last night.
1) We are part of the OC Library (OCL), which is a special district.
2) Under the OCL's arrangement, the city owns the buildings and the OCL pays to fill them and run them and controls their use, hours, etc.
3) It is the OCL that dictates which buildings it will serve and what the content will be.
4) Costa Mesa already has a tech center library. It's rented space in a strip center at Bristol and Paularino.
5) The Mesa Verde branch cannot be expanded as is because it is not ADA compatible, and to get it to code would require razing it and starting over. But, would the OCL want a bigger library there, since it serves a small section of the community?
6) For a community our size, it is doubtful that OCL would want 4 libraries, so it would require the tech center close, leaving the north side of town with no facility.
7) If you try to compare our facilities (proposed and standing), we will not be like Huntington Beach or Newport Beach because they are not part of OCL.
8) We could drop out of OCL, but then the city is fully responsible for the buildings, the content, the staff, management and maintenance. Big $$$.
9) Since OCL runs the libraries, the city cannot dictate use and decide in advance that the new set up at the community center would be shared use. That is determined by OCL. Shared use requires late night staff that OCL would be reluctant to pay for.
10)Before ANY of this is done, an independent feasibility study has to be done and those costs are generally borne by the city.

I do not know if any of this was considered by the mayor and Ms. Leece, but from your report, Geoff, it seems to be another case of Ready, Fire, Aim.

2/14/2014 09:31:00 AM  

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