Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Charter, Density And Failure To Show

The Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night, as always, presented some interesting moments.  I thought we might have an early evening - maybe even getting out of there by 8 p.m. or so.  HA!  HA, I say!  Silly me!

 (Rear: Kevin Tobin, Andrew Smith, Ron Amburgey, Sawyer Pendleton, Mike Decker.  
Front: Harold Weitzberg, MaryAnn O'Connell, Hank Panian, Brett Eckles, 
Kirk Bauermeister, Yolanda Summerhill, Lee Ramos, Kimberly Hall Barlow, Gene Hutchins.  
Missing are members Bill Fancher, Kerry McCarthy and City Clerk Brenda Green)
The evening began with a short reception for the members of the Charter Committee in Conference Room 1A.  Mayor Jim Righeimer, using his best stand-up routine, presented each member in attendance with a certificate thanking them for their participation.  I've included a few shots that turned out from my vantage point in the back of the room.
Then I scampered into the council chambers just as the meeting was moved to Conference Room 5A for a Closed Session for labor negotiations with the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association.  As it turned out, since Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger must recuse themselves because of their bogus lawsuit against the men and women of the CMPD, and council member Gary Monahan was a no-show, the meeting was first trailed to the end of the regular meeting, then cancelled altogether.  I know Monday was St. Patrick's Day and we all know that Monahan's pub was really humming, but he still has a responsibility to the city.  Seems that he manages to forget that around this time each year.

The regular meeting began as scheduled with a nice presentation to and by Werner Escher of South Coast Plaza.  Executive Assistant to CEO Tom Hatch, Kelly Shelton, presented Escher with a birthday cupcake to celebrate his 83rd birthday and the audience sang Happy Birthday to him.  He, in turn, presented a facsimile check for more than $14 million, which represented the amount of sales tax revenue South Coast Plaza generated for our city last year.  During his comments Escher said it's looking even better this year.  That amount represents just about 14% of our General Fund revenue.
Public Comments were, as always, an adventure.  The first 10 of 13 cards were read and off we went.  It began with the irrepressible Terry Koken - after presenting a check to Police Chief Tom Gazsi for safe transmittal to the Orange County Model Engineers - speaking the mayor, referring to the lawsuit, and suggesting that he might be in need of psychiatric help, or maybe a frontal lobotomy.

Eastside resident Lisa Morlan, whom Righeimer recently appointed to his Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force, (which he mis-identified as the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force) stepped up and demanded to know why citations issued to some Group Homes had been dismissed, and showed some charts with statistics verifying the fact.  She waived a pseudo-traffic ticket and wondered - looking at Chief Gazsi in the audience - if she might get IT fixed.  She also suggested that the Task Force of 5 men and 2 women was a little off-balance and suggested that a few more women be appointed - preferably some who live near group homes.

Debbie Koken addressed the Banning Ranch Conservancy Town Hall Thursday evening at the Neighborhood Community Center, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m., where the community will be updated on that piece of land.

Greg Thunnel chided the council for missteps beginning two years ago which, he postulated, have led to our unfortunate circumstance today.

James Bridges, who has been shut-out of the early edition of Public Comments for several meetings, said he felt like he'd won the lottery, then reminded the council that the meetings are for the people, not the council.

Flo Martin, a 47-year resident, gave the police department a tip of the hat, gesturing to Gazsi in the audience.

Al Melone, former council candidate and dog lover, suggested we try to recruit cops from out of state - from cold confines.  His logic is that our temperate climate will help attract good candidates.

Bill Burke thanked the council in advance for paving his streets, since he's off to Tibet for a little hike later this month.

Chris McEvoy addressed Fairview Park and Westside development and the impact on residents with added parking issues and traffic.

He was the last speaker - the final card drawn was for Jay Humphrey, but he declined to speak.  Of course, the mayor didn't permit another speaker to step up - he just moved right to Council Member Comments - and the remaining three speakers were trailed to the very end of the meeting.

Sandra Genis addressed Eagle Scout Christian Redman's project in Fairview Park last weekend where he and volunteers planted new foliage in a specific area during a blazing hot day.  She wondered about Righeimer's Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force, and whether it was governed by the Brown Act and how much staff time would be taken to support it.

Wendy Leece expressed concern about the status of our police department and asked Hatch for a report.  She was especially concerned about not being able to hold the closed session meeting when the current contract expires 6/30/14 and we now have the COIN process to follow. (I found myself wondering if we had our $300 per hour lawyer cooling his heels waiting for a meeting to happen for five or six hours with the meter running).  She also addressed the rumors about the City's involvement in the Costa Mesa Senior Center, indicating flat out that we are NOT taking the Center over.  We'll see...

When he spoke Righeimer addressed the group home issue briefly, addressed his task force and the $7 million in capitol improvements being planned.  He also told us he took a tour of industrial businesses with John Hawley, who owns Railmakers on the Westside.  Righeimer actually seemed amazed that we had such an eclectic mix of businesses over there.  Where the heck has he been for his short tenure in the city?!  It was almost like one of those Huell Howser "Gawllee, Louie!" moments.

Mensinger had not much to say at all.

It was Hatch's turn and he briefly addressed the Task Force, indicating it will be handled much the same way Leece's Town Halls had been handled over the past couple years.  He then turned the meeting over to Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz, who provided a fifteen minute report on several items from the Consent Calendar that involved spending $6.6 million on street work.

Hatch then continued by telling us that the staff is getting close to completion of the Ethics Policy, which will then be passed on to the Finance Committee for review.  He praised the six Costa Mesa Police Officers who recently received the MADD Century awards.  Unfortunately, he mis-identified the only woman officer in the group.  He spoke of the police staffing issue and said he'd sent an email to Chief Gazsi that day addressing some temporary solutions, and that the recruitment team is working aggressively to hire more police officers.

Then Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent walked us through the new program of renewing business licenses online - a first step to being able to apply for and renew them online.  In response to an inquiry we learned that currently the City has 9,762 active business licenses but 11,442 on the books in total.  Righeimer suggested somehow tapping into the Board of Equalization records to ferret out businesses that are operating without a license.

Now came the Consent Calendar and I had high hopes that, since Munoz gave a comprehensive report on about half the items, we might make it through with none being pulled.  Humphrey asked that, since Munoz report was so clear in folks minds, any of those items pulled be addressed immediately instead of being trailed.  Righeimer said it looked like a short meeting so they'd handle them all immediately - then changed his mind when several others were pulled.  That action requires a concurrence of the other council members, but he just ignores the rules.  So, instead of 75 people hearing those issues, only a dozen who were left in the auditorium at the end had the advantage of hearing about them.  And, once again, people had their opportunity to address grievances stifled.

Old Business #1 was the second reading of the Small Lot Ordinance, the discussion of which began at 7:48 p.m.  Then, after an hour of discussion and public comments, the item was continued because it looked like it would be a 2-2 vote (Monahan was still absent).  Ties mean an issue fails.  No date was set for the next hearing.

Finally we got to New Business #1, the Charter.  Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow told the council that she needed direction on how to move forward with the Charter and whether or not to dissolve the committee.  Several speakers addressed the issue - none were supportive of the charter and reminded the council that a similar document failed, 60% - 40% less than two years earlier.  Barlow told the council the necessary timetable that needed to be followed to get the Charter on the November ballot.  It was decided that the first public hearing will be on April 22nd and the second one to follow no sooner than 30 days later.  There was NO word on any kind of community outreach planned as was done the last time.  Nor did any member of the council challenge segments of the Charter.  And, interestingly, the council (Righeimer) directed that the committee remain intact, "just in case we need them again."  Well, this could prove to be problematic, since as long as they are intact they are governed by the Brown Act and are strictly forbidden to discuss their task among themselves unless in a posted meeting.  An interesting sidebar:  For a moment during the discussion Leece sounded very much like she was going to move to reject the Charter.  Righeimer began sputtering, "You mean, after almost 10 months...?"  Nothing came of it, but it made me smile...

A little past 9 p.m. the Consent Calendar trailed items were heard.  Anna Vrska used #3, the Warrants, as a platform to address Righeimer's behavior, citing the Benito Acosta ruling which found part of our Municipal Code to be unconstitutional.  She didn't finish, so completed her comments during the trailed public comments segment.  She basically told Righeimer that his behavior could lead to yet another lawsuit.

During the trailed Public Comments segment Assembly candidate Anila Ali addressed the council, introduced herself and her candidacy.  She had turned in the very first speakers card at 5 p.m. and got shuffled to the back of the line, but stuck around anyhow.

Gay Royer told the council of abuse an elderly, ill neighbor had at the hands of the Code Enforcement folks.  After hearing the story Righeimer suggested that we had a fund to help folks like him.  Leece and Genis indicated they'd never heard of it, and asked for a report.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:45 in memory of my friend, David Stiller.  It was a lovely gesture for a man who had given so much to the city in the form of volunteer hours on committees and commissions.

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Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Just reading the Planning Commish agenda. Boy, just gets more crowded. Sure the people behind the Wild Goose will be thrilled with that expansion. 70 parking spaces required, 48 approved. Where are the other 20 cars going to go? 20 foot setback required, 7 proposed. Rubber stamp it, who cares!

Then there's the five story apartment complex and parking structure on Baker. That'll do wonders for traffic over there.

It's a great time to be a developer in Costa Mesa. What is more dense - the people running the show, or the city itself?

3/19/2014 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I can answer that Mike

3/19/2014 11:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Thanks, Coffee...but you know it was a rhetorical question!

3/20/2014 06:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

The mayor kept saying that the small lot ordinance and all the other development was necessary because people want to live in Costa Mesa. I do not reject the argument that we are a desirable place to live, but one would have to suppose "they" want to live in the city they see now, not crammed in a box with almost no air space between buildings and hearing every word uttered next door, with no open space for their children (unless they are on a sport team), no parking for their children's and guests' cars and choking traffic. we are building a city that will attract no one.

The city should invest in market research or focus groups before some omniscient council members intuit our way into blight.

3/21/2014 08:16:00 AM  

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