Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Library Plan and General Plan Land Use Updates

At a Special Study Session Tuesday beginning at 4:30 p.m. what was left of the Costa Mesa City Council heard staff reports, comments from residents and provided staff direction on each of the two items on the agenda.  Approximately 60 people showed up for the meeting.  Only Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilwoman Wendy Leece attended.  Councilwoman Sandra Genis was absent due to illness and Gary Monahan, as mentioned in an earlier post, decided to stay at his pub for a fundraiser instead of attending this study session.  Righeimer, as he announced that fact, suggested that the audience adjourn to Monahan's bar after the meeting to support Kaiser and Woodland Schools.  So, now we're publicizing bars from the dais... nice.

First up was the plan - nobody said where this idea came from - to convert the Neighborhood Community Center (NCC) into a library and convert the nearby Donald Dungan Library into a community meeting venue.  The representative from KAL Architects gave a detailed presentation about how the new facility would be laid out, more than doubling the existing library space.  The staff report is HERE.

Ten residents spoke on the issue.  Members of the Costa Mesa Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library supported the idea.  Others urged caution, suggesting that there was no compelling reason to do this at this time and we had no idea of the costs yet.  One speaker suggested that the Mesa Verde Branch library should not be overlooked as talks of improving library facilities moves forward.  Many spoke expressing concern about the displacement of the organizations which use the NCC for regular meetings.  At an earlier meeting one member of the council implied that the NCC was underutilized.  However, the staff report listed all the current users groups - 42 in all.  Of those one, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, rented space 141 days last year.  Another four groups rented space from 50-74 days, three rented space from 22-32 days, nineteen rented space from 9-18 days and the remaining fifteen users rented space from 1-4 days.  According to CEO Tom Hatch and Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau, every effort will be made to assist those displaced find meeting quarters.

Supporters bemoaned the fact that, due to a perceived lack of commitment by the city, there was an  inability to come up with community financial support and the opportunity was lost to build a new, first-class library near the City Hall complex.  It would have cost an estimated $50 million.  Righeimer said, "If we don't do this now it will never happen."  He then, in one of those stream of consciousness rants for which he is becoming infamous, he said we could do this for "$4-6 million, under $10 million", and that he was all for it.  So, what we have here is a guy who pretends to be a fiscal conservative yet approaches a major project like this like a drunken sailor buying drinks for the house!  I mean, what the heck - four million, six million, ten million - what's the big deal, right?  Geez!  The staff was given direction to come back with a Request for Proposals to spend somewhere in the amount of $100,000 for further architectural work.  For more on this, see Bradley Zint's Daily Pilot article HERE.

After a third of the crowd departed, leaving around 40 people in the auditorium, they tackled the second item on the agenda - the General Plan Update - Land Use Alternatives.  The staff report is HERE.  Consultants from MIG (Hogle Ireland) led the way with a snazzy PowerPoint presentation covering eight (8) separate and distinct areas where changes to the General Plan are recommended.  They emphasized that 85% of the city will be unchanged.  The eight areas are:

Area A - Business Park Overlay
Area B - Segerstrom Home Ranch
Area C - Sakioka Lot 2
Area D - Residential Overlay
Area E - Corridor Mixed Use
Area F - Westside Overlay
Area G - Newport Boulevard Mixed Use
Area H - SoBECA

After the presentation more than a dozen folks stepped up to express concerns about some of the changes.  Seven Westside business owners addressed the council, expressing concerns about the probability of being squeezed out of their locations - some of whom had been there for more than four decades - by the implementation of so-called Live/Work housing units contiguous with industrial uses.  John Hawley of Railmakers - a long-time metal fabricator supporting the local boat businesses - led the way.   Also speaking was Roger MacGregor, who built boats that carry his name at his five acre Westside location on Placentia until - anticipating the squeeze - he recently moved his thriving and world-renowned business to Florida,
where it was welcomed with open arms.  He now rents out his space to smaller businesses who also face the specter of being forced out by incompatibility of uses caused by a new, very expensive Senior Living facility next door.

Residents also stepped up to complain that, among other things, the sentiments expressed to the consultants who conducted several community outreach meetings last year seemed not to be acknowledged nor reflected in the presentation.  Several of them attended all the meetings - I attended all but one - and I agree.  There seemed to be a major disconnect between what the consultants had consistently been told - no more increased density housing - to what was being presented last night.

The final speaker was Mike Balsamo, representing the Building Industry Association - a trade group of more than 1,000 builders. He suggested that Costa Mesa was on the right track - what a surprise, considering the recent developments being considered in the city - and that the "Millennials" want things like Live/Work units because they are marrying later and having families later.  None of that made the business owners very happy, though.

During his comments Righeimer said he had attended 4-5 of the outreach meetings - I don't recall that being the case - and he said there were only 10, 12 or 30 people attending and there was no "outcry" about density.  Well, he didn't attend the meetings I attended, because there was, indeed, an outcry about what appeared the plans for more high density housing.  And, once again, he plays fast and loose with the numbers!  He launched off into a rant about the state needing to do more to attract businesses to California - while he was in the process of putting together a General Plan that will squeeze out existing businesses from Costa Mesa!  He cited diminished "trips" in several of the areas discussed, but Gary Armstrong - Director of Economic Development - and Ernesto Munoz - Director of Public Services - acknowledged that the statistics used for those "trips" were estimates, not the result of specific, costly traffic studies.  So, we're now pulling numbers out of the air and basing major planning decisions for the future of the city on them.  Yikes!

I won't attempt to discuss each element in detail.  You can read the staff reports and the proceedings were shown live on CMTV and will be available for viewing in the local outlet rotation and also via streaming video shortly.  Watch it yourselves for the details.

The staff was sent away with instructions to expand the contract of the consultants to do a broader program, to include:

Conservation Element
Safety Element
Noise Element
Open Space and Recreation Element

According to the staff report, this plus Focused Zoning Update and additional Great Reach (outreach) Events will cost nearly $150,000 and the process will stretch into the first part of next year.  The staff will bring back the request for the increase at a future meeting.

The Study Session, normally a couple hours, stretched to nearly four this time because greater opportunity was provided for public comments on each item.  That was a good change on the part of the mayor.... that's "one", for those keeping track.  And, the meeting likely would have run even longer if Genis had been there.  This stuff is right in her wheelhouse and she'd have had significant contributions to make.  As it was, Righeimer read her short prepared statement into the record without comment.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Singeing Supervisor Candidate's Digits

Last night the four candidates for the Orange County 2nd District Supervisor race met at the Costa Mesa Community Center and were grilled for a fast-paced hour by Barbara Venezia and her merry mob of interrogators - Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, City Editor Alicia Lopez, Orange County Register columnist Jack Wu and Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana, Jr.

 Board of Equalization Vice Chair Michelle Steel, Coast Community College District Board member Jim Moreno, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, and Huntington Beach City Councilman Joe Carchio endured this edition of the now-famous Feet To The Fire Forum - the seventh in the series - and all walked away without the need of resuscitation.

Steel brought with her an enthusiastic crowd of admirers, who were planted front and center fully a half-hour before the event began.  Support for the others seemed sparse and scattered by comparison.
The "format" - described by some as Jerry Springeresque - was rapid and random, with some candidates being able to fully answer questions and others not so much.  As has been the case in previous events like this one, interrogators talked over each other and candidates and some were left with their hands in the air as the questions moved on without them.
That being said, at the end of that whirlwind hour I suspect most in the audience of around 100 souls  had a pretty clear idea of each of the candidates.  I notice several other political players in the room, including some of the young cadre of OC GOP up-and-comers.  Supervisor Todd Spitzer was there, but termed-out John Moorlach - who's seat is in play for this election - was not.  And, our matriarch of Orange County politics, former Assemblywoman, State Senator and Secretary of Education Marian Bergeson, attended this one, too.
Canalis led off the questioning by asking each of the candidates whether, if elected, they would forgo their pensions?  Steel said yes.  Moreno gave a long answer about trying to use it to fund necessary programs.  Mansoor said he "probably would", then danced around the issue, stating that he was not "independently wealthy" - a slam at Steel.  Carchio said he had done so in Huntington Beach and saw no reason to change.
The question then turned to whether they would support a move to remove Supervisor's pensions.  Only Moreno answered that one, and then only partially, before the conversation got sidetracked into a broader "pension" dialogue.  Santana attempted to get each of them to answer specific questions, but they each dodged them like a ring full of bullfighters.  Moreno said pensions are "a horrendous problem".  Mansoor said he led by example - indicating that he didn't take any pay raises while in Sacramento.  That, of course, didn't answer the question.  Carchio discussed his experiences in Huntington Beach.
The issue of the beleaguered CalOptima program came up.  Several of the candidates didn't seem to have done their homework on it so the discussion sank.

Mansoor was asked why people who supported him just two years ago for his current seat should support him now for this move, speculating that they might worry that he would jump again in another couple years.  He said, "I can respect that", but that he was supporting Huntington Beach councilman Don Hansen for this role, then he chose not to run, so he felt there needed to be someone with strong roots - again alluding to Steel's perceived carpetbagger status.  He indicated that "we need someone who can hit the ground running." - meaning himself.
Jack Wu, during that discussion, made an oblique reference to Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer, talking about how Mansoor appointed him to the Planning Commission only a short time after he moved to Costa Mesa from Fountain Valley.  The discussion was frenetic, but Mansoor was clearly rattled by that one.  He said something curious about Righeimer "being able to walk over from Fountain Valley."
Each managed to include a little personal history, including Carchio.  His verbal resume seemed tailor-made for the job of Supervisor.  He's been on the Huntington Beach City Council, lived in Orange County 35 years, coached baseball and football, is the Chairman of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), is in the PTA, on the board of the Orange County Waste Management Board, the Vector Control Board, California League of Cities and many others.  I got exhausted just listening to the list.
There was an amusing exchange when Mansoor was asked why he was running when Carchio was running.  He said he "liked Joe, but I don't think he can win."

At that point Moreno discussed his background working as a Deputy Supervisor in Los Angeles County for thirteen years - part of his 35 years in that county government.  He also spoke of his time on the Coast Community College District Board for the past 7 years, during which more than 60,000 students received degrees or transferred to other schools.
At one point each candidate was asked to tell the panel how much money they had in their campaign war chests, excluding personal loans to it.  Their answers were:
Carchio - $75,000
Mansoor - $100,000
Moreno - $40,000
Steel - $550,000

Yes, that is NOT a typo... Steel has more than a half-million bucks to spend!  Mansoor told the crowd that he's been outspent in every race he'd ever run in and won them all.

A RECORD OF..... ?
When asked about his accomplishments in Sacramento Mansoor was unable to point to any bill of his that had passed - he apparently forgot the one that took the word "retard" out of the official Sacramento lexicon.  Funny, because that was it - his "accomplishment".

And on and on... it was much like watching doubles badminton, with candidates taking giant whacks at the shuttlecock, only to have it drop softly at the feet of the opponent.  Still, it was entertaining and you'll soon be able to watch it on Newport Beach Television and, if they provide a DVD to CMTV, on that station, too.

I came away with the following impressions:

Michelle Steel is probably a very smart woman and probably really knows her subject matter, but she has a problem communicating it in memorable sound bites.  She has a gigantic war chest and likely will outspend all the other candidates combined.  That doesn't make her the best choice, though.  There's this whole "carpetbagger" perception issue and the almost slobbering embrace by the OC GOP hierarchy that just doesn't seem to square with her actual qualifications.  Early in the race and my mailbox seems to have something from her campaign every day.

Allan Mansoor, a brand new father, seemed very defensive and was clearly the most aggressive candidate on the stage.  His not-too-subtle barbs aimed at Steel demonstrated to me that he thinks she's the one to beat.  He's in the unenviable position of having decided to bail out of his current gig with no apparent fall-back position if he loses to her.  And, virtually all the big name GOP support is going to Steel.  Having watched him in action for more than a decade I can say that Mansoor is, well, Mansoor - an affable, not very smart and ineffective politician who seems very uncomfortable with that role in life.

Jim Moreno has a lifetime of public service, including some very relevant experience working for an LA County Supervisor - whom he did not name, by the way.  His experience on the Coast Community College Board is also impressive.  He was not rattled last night during the verbal food fight we witnessed.  I came away from the evening thinking he was probably a pretty steady hand.

Joe Carchio - a man whom I've never met before - had the best "resume" of the bunch.  His experience seems to perfectly position him for this job - he actually does know Orange County.  He's held several elected and appointed positions simultaneously and, apparently, successfully and he managed the chaos the best last night.  He was unflappable.  I don't know what kind of a council member he has been in Huntington Beach, nor am I familiar with his other contributions as a member of other boards, but I'd like to know more.  If I had to vote today, based only on what I know about the candidates right now,  I'd vote for him.

So, another Feet To The Fire Forum in the can.  The next one is way, way out in September, on the 18th, when the Costa Mesa City Council candidates will get their chance to be spindled and toasted on the campus of Orange Coast College - a new, larger venue.  Thanks to Barbara Venezia and her team for another enlightening, entertaining evening.  Again, I found myself wanting more...

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Land Use and Libraries - A Study Session

While we're all getting our "stuff" together to rush out to either the Planning Commission meeting tonight or to the Feet To The Fire Forum where supervisorial candidates will be slowly roasted on a spit, we need to pause for a moment and consider the Special Study Session called by the Costa Mesa City Council tomorrow to discuss two very important issues in our city - Land Use Alternatives and the proposed new library where the Neighborhood Community Center is presently located.

This meeting, which begins tomorrow, Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, has some important long-term ramifications for us to consider.  That being said, I doubt we'll see more than a couple dozen people in the auditorium, especially considering the early start time.  We already know stayed-too-long-at-the-dance councilman Gary Monahan won't be there because he told me last week that he's got important business in his "gin mill" - that's the term he used as an "in-your-face" remark.  Yep, his presence is required for a fundraiser for a youth group, so he won't be attending this study session.  That's OK, Gary... your priorities have been very clear for the past three years.

The first item on the agenda is "Authorize the issuance of a request for proposal for the architectural planning and design of the proposed library at the Neighborhood Community Center".  You can read that staff report HERE.  You can also see conceptual drawings by the architect, KAL architects, HERE.  Basically, this plan flips the current Donald Dungan Library, located adjacent to the Neighborhood Community Center, with the NCC.  The NCC would be the location of a much larger, more advanced library and the current library - about a third the size of the NCC - would become meeting rooms.

It's going to be interesting to hear how the staff plans to manage the relocation of the 45 annual user groups when this re-construction takes place.  And, while I see that we're going to be paying the architect $100,000 to do his drawings, I didn't see any kind of estimate of the actual cost of this project - or where we're getting the cash.

The second item on the agenda, General Plan Update - Land Use Alternatives.  Read the staff report HERE.  Also click on the several attachments and graphic displays that are at the end of the staff report.

One of the interesting elements of this report is that we're told that only about 15% of the city will be impacted by the changes suggested.  The issues are complex, but the graphics provided help - a little.  I did note that, on page 3, under Area D: Residential Overlay, there is this interesting sentence: "The Overlay would also increase development opportunities on underutilized motel and commercial properties."  Hence, the discussion TONIGHT by the Planning Commission on motels.

And, the discussion tomorrow will also include the fact that the consultant we retained, MIG (Hogle Ireland) is going to need more money to complete the work.  Not saying that's not necessary, but I'm going to be interested to hear the discussion.

And, for those of you who cannot attend the early meeting, CMTV will be televising and streaming live beginning at 4:30 tomorrow.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Festering Wound Ripens...

It's been a couple weeks since Mayor Jim Righeimer, in a fit of pique, called me (and four others) out by name during the Council Members Comments segment of the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on April 15th.  If you want to relive that magic moment, click HERE, for the Daily Pilot coverage, including the short video clip of his rant.

Since that evening we've seen lots of reaction.  Folks have lined up on both sides of the issue - some pillorying me and others praising me.  The two other grouchy old bloggers in town immediately - after they awoke from their naps - posted critical comments.  No surprise there.  If you want to read what they wrote you'll have to find them on your own.

I wrote about the experience early the next morning, HERE.  A week later I wrote about dictators, in general, HERE.  I responded to Righeimer's published demand for an apology with a little commentary in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  The original Daily Pilot article has generated more than 100 comments.  My original blog entry had a couple dozen and when I posted it on Facebook that entry generated more than 100 comments, too.  And, a source of special amusement for me, my comment on the Facebook thread that started this whole controversy has seen the "likes" that drove him so nuts double since Righeimer made such a big deal about it.

Even though both men have blocked me, I've seen screen grabs from Mayor Righeimer and his buddy, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger that mention me by name relative to this issue.  Righeimer suggested in one entry that I have smeared his wife and family.  Hmmm. Wonder how he came to that conclusion?  Then, again, he tends to throw them out there as shields for criticism when he's worried about it.  That certainly shows you something about his character, doesn't it?  He also suggested that he and his sycophants pray for me.  I'm trying to imagine that... it makes me smile when I contemplate the difficulty they must be having with that assignment. 

Mensinger suggests that I "take a cue from" Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently recently spoke critically of the holocaust.  Now THAT is interesting, since Abbas has been a holocaust denier for more than three decades and has vowed to destroy the state of Israel.  So, Steve, what message would you have me learn from this man, exactly?

Over the weekend, during breaks from chores and quality moments with my lovely and very patient wife,  I occasionally gave this some thought.  Certainly, nobody would like to be compared to the most notorious dictator in modern times.  I understand that.  I certainly didn't say Righeimer was a Jew-killer, just that he acted like a guy who was.

In fact, my opinion is that our mayor behaves like a dictator as he goes about doing what he perceives to be his job as mayor.  When I compared him to another strutting dictator 75 years ago in Germany I was using the strongest message I could think of at the time to define his behavior.  Subsequently, I thought Benito Mussolini might have been a better comparison, since Righeimer kind of looks like him.  That satisfied nobody, apparently.

Then, over the weekend, a friend shared a December 31, 1995 archived Los Angeles Times article, HERE,  that seems to have some relevance.  Mentioned in the article are Scott Baugh and Dana Rohrabacher, both of whom are strong supporters - mentors, actually - of our mayor.  Both Rohrabacher and Reverand Lou Sheldon - a HUGE OC GOP supporter at the time - are quoted in that article.  The use of the words "Nazis" and "Gestapo" should evoke the same kind of response by Righeimer, right?  So, let me ask you... is this relevant to the issue at hand?  Shall we consider the fact that folks with whom our mayor walks in lock-step politically conjure up similar images to make a point?  Just askin'...

And, in case you're wondering.... No, I do not intend to apologize to the mayor for what I wrote.  As Anna Vrska told him at the very end of that council meeting - when addressing his rant and her support of my right to make that comparison just before he tried, unsuccessfully, to shout her down - "I suggest you be a big boy and suck it up."  I've got a feeling that before this campaign season is over what I wrote on that Facebook thread may not be the worst thing written about the mayor this year.

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