Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fun With Finance

For the first time in many months I attended the meeting of the Costa Mesa Finance Advisory Committee this afternoon at City Hall.  Most of the members were in attendance.  Only Chairman Shawn Dewane and Steve Mensinger were absent.

I attended because the items on the agenda, HERE, were interesting.  There was plenty of room in Conference Room 1A - only four residents attended this meeting.

Gary Armstrong, Director of Development Services/Economic Development and Deputy CEO, provided a briefing for the committee covering the current state of affairs in Economic Development in Costa Mesa.  Basically, there isn't much going on, although there was a lively discussion for 45 minutes on the subject and Armstrong provided several very useful handouts to the committee.

It was generally agreed that having so many of our financial eggs in one basket - South Coast Plaza - isn't a good idea for the long-term financial future of the city.  Presently, sales tax revenue represents about 50% of our revenue and South Coast Plaza is a huge chunk of that.  If we lost that revenue Costa Mesa would go back to being known as Goat Hill.  During the conversation CEO Tom Hatch responded to a question by stating that he'd prefer to see Sales Tax represent only 25% of revenue because it's a volatile revenue source.

Committee members asked Armstrong and Hatch what kind of plans the city has for broadening our economic foundation - what are we doing to attract new businesses and what kind of businesses are we targeting.  The answer, stated a couple times, was that we're basically doing nothing because we don't have staff to put on the project.

Armstrong mentioned that we have very few big parcels available for development in the city - Segerstroms Home Ranch site and the Sakioka Farms site are the only two mentioned.  Those seem earmarked for high density residential development - not exactly what the committee was hoping to hear.  He also mentioned the 240 apartment development approved by the Planning Commission last night, which doesn't do anything to improve the renters/owners ratio in the city, which is about 60/40%.

A discussion was held about the cost of housing in Costa Mesa and how it affects the ability to attract young families.  Armstrong indicated that Eastside housing sales have now reached the $1.7 million level.  That would be the house across the street from me, in a neighborhood where there are currently three homes on the market over $1.4 million. The house across the street from me sold for $1.4 million last year and the new owner tore it down and has begun building a new home on the site.  One member postulated that there will NEVER be affordable housing in the city.

Others speculated about attracting high tech and the bio-tech businesses that help keep Silicon Valley so stable.  Armstrong and Hatch concurred that those kind of businesses typically demand some very serious financial incentives and that Costa Mesa has historically not been interested in doing business that way.

It was generally agreed that more needs to be done to spur economic development in the City.  Armstrong defined the administrative process for new businesses and provided several handouts used to attract them.  Committee members opined that more should be done to retain existing businesses.

Then the conversation turned to the discussion of the Ethics Policy, presented by new Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau.  She presented a Draft of a proposed policy for the committee to review and offer comments.  I won't try to present the entire document here, but I will give you a flavor for it by providing the segment titles.  I'll give you the entire preamble, though.  It reads thus:

The residents and businesses in the City of Costa Mesa are entitled to have a fair, ethical and accountable local government that has earned the public's full confidence for integrity.  The proper operation of democratic government requires that decision-makers be independent, impartial and accountable to the people they serve.

The City of Costa Mesa has adopted this Ethics Policy to promote and maintain the highest standards of personal and professional conduct in the City's government.  All elected and appointed officials, City employees, volunteers, and others who participate in the City's government are required to adhere to this policy, understand how it applies to their specific responsibilities, and practice these values in their work.  Because we seek public confidence in the City's services and public trust of its decision-makers, our decisions and our work must meet the highest ethical standards and demonstrate the highest levels of achievement.

The eight segment titles of the Ethics Policy are:
  1. Act in the Public Interest
  2. Respect for Government Structure and Process
  3. Conduct
  4. Comply with the Law
  5. Conflict of Interest
  6. Use of Public Resources
  7. Confidentiality
  8. Development Projects
  9. Gifts and Favors
  10. Positive Workplace Environment
  11. Compliance and Enforcement
OK, no guffawing out there!  I'm sure a few of you either raised your eyebrows as you read through that list, or flat out laughed.  Many of us have observed actions by elected officials over the past couple of years that seem not to pass muster based on these titles.

According to Letourneau and Hatch, this is nothing new.  Every two years the City Attorney holds a workshop for all elected and appointed officials plus City department managers to refresh their memories on this policy and EVERY city employee must read and sign it when they are hired.  Letourneau, in response to a question, said that even if an employee doesn't sign it, he is still responsible for knowing and following this policy - it's part of the new-hire orientation packet.

I looked for a draft of this policy on the City website, but am unable to locate one.  I'm sure it will become part of the official record as the staff presents it to the City Council for adoption.

During a discussion of Future Agenda items Assistant Finance Director Colleen O'Donohue discussed the recent implementation of an online Business License Renewal system and told the committee that on April 21st they will launch a New Business License online program.  The online renewal program is working fine.  The discussion also revolved around finally determining just how many businesses in the city are NOT paying their fees.  Apparently that will take coordination with a county and/or state database, which is not yet set up. 

The meeting was adjourned around 5:30 in memory of my friend, David Stiller, who was a member of this committee and the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.  Today the City sent out a reminder that applications to fill Stiller's positions on both these committees are due no later than Monday, March 31, 2014.  You can read the details HERE.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Finally, at least some of these people see the benefit of trying to get business, LARGE BUSINESS into Costa Mesa. Its about time. There is no reason we cannot attract a design center, which brings with it several satillite businesses, or some of the Hoag medical business, or aero space industry or even some entertainment type stuff, such as studios. We need some heavy hitters in the business department. Glad to see they are at least in agreement that SCP should not be what we rely on for revenue. Finally!!

3/25/2014 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Heart for Costa Mesa said...

But...an existing aerospace facility at the end of Whittier was just approved for residential small lot development. The commercial property on the corner of Harbor and Wilson will be...high density residential. Several light industrial and commercial properties on Placentia...also rezoned and approved for dense residential small lot development. Ditto on Superior. So they call some of it live/work development, but the workspace has all the features of a nifty little self-contained unit all ready to rent out.

Actual planning is a foreign concept to the so-called Planning Commission. Now the “people in power” have been eroding the Small Business/Light Industrial base that we have. Costa Mesa has a long history of saying yes to outsiders, and no to thoughtful planning and development for the betterment of the city.

Elect people who won’t sell us out.

3/25/2014 10:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Has anybody noticed that Rig-bot Fisler's been real quiet since the OCR story came out about him billing $207. to attend the meeting honoring local Olympians?

The online trolling brand isn't so strong..

3/26/2014 05:41:00 AM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

in light of this new info (?) is there a way to get a moratorium on some live/work (still don't think this will be used at advertised) development that is completely inappropriate for surrounding neighborhoods? ie 3 story townehomes right next to r1 residences with roof decks, balconies and all the noise?? i seriously doubt these would be built on eastside. i pay just as much property and sales tax as them and it's not right! not to mention being built on placentia with all of the egress/ingress dangers?

also, how did huntington manage to get hundai's national headquarters building there?? and c.m. getting rid of an aerospace business to put in apartments? this all seems soooo counter intuitive to me. what about that huge building for sale next to the 405? i wish i knew more about what is done to attract business here--- we have so much potential for medium sized companies. most would fit perfectly on the westside (in light industrial areas) and bring in real jobs. if we are not careful the westside will become like nb peninsula with lots of dumpy tall box houses that are a nightmare for owner occupied residences there. they are expensive to buy then just end up as rentals for partiers who feel they pay enough rent to do whatever they want. loud parties all night and all week long! in the meantime being trashed inside and out. c.m. needs to be careful what it wishes for!

3/26/2014 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

I have an idea for Mr. Hatch. Instead of spending money on no-bid contracts for Righeimer's friends like Cognify and KB Consulting, why not direct some of that toward financial incentives for some real organizations that create jobs?

Oh, wait. That's not how we do things in Costa Mesa.

3/26/2014 11:53:00 AM  

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