Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Charter Scheme Gets A Workin' Over

The Costa Mesa City Council meeting last night was, as anticipated, a shorter meeting than has become the norm in recent months.  Those dozen of us left in the auditorium when the mayor announced it to a close left just after 10:00 p.m.  That was nice for a change.  You can watch the recorded meeting on Streaming Video HERE.  Use the "jump-to" feature - click on the title of the entry - to go immediately to an issue that interests you - like the Charter discussion, for example.  Take a deep breath - it's probably going to take you longer to read this entry than the meeting ran last night.  Sorry about that.

However, the meeting, though brief, was not without drama and entertainment.  There were no presentations and there had been no closed session, so the 70 or so interested parties in the audience at the beginning had a chance to see Mayor Jim Righeimer exercise good judgment for one of the few times during his tenure and permit all thirteen speakers who turned in cards for Public Comments to speak at the beginning of the meeting.  His recent dictatorial edict would have shoved the final three to the very end of the meeting.

The Baker's Dozen spoke on a variety of issues.  Former council candidate and Westside homeowner Chris McEvoy scolded the council for their propensity to approve High Density Housing developments, and chided Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilman Gary Monahan who, along with Planning Commissioner Colin McCarthy, pledged to reduce traffic during their campaigns two years ago.  He presented a graphic showing the concentration of recently approved projects.  Resident Sheila Paflin joined his complaint about High Density Housing a little later.

Robin Leffler corrected the record - documenting the misspeaking of Mensinger at a recent meeting on the Metro Point development - for which he was a major player for the developer at the time.  She suggested he work harder at telling the truth.  He spends so much time on his phone on the dais that he often misspeaks himself because he doesn't know what's going on up there.

Al Melone, once again, addressed Dog Park issues.  Resident Barry Fisher (sp?) expressed frustration trying to locate current, valid information about the Memorial bricks at Harbor Lawn Cemetery.


Long time resident Chuck Perry - a big-time supporter of Mensingers - stepped up and asked for something to be done about a possible cross walk between the new Senior Housing development at Harbor and Adams across Mesa Verde Drive East, and other issues.  He attends many meetings and, apparently unhappy with the criticism directed at his pals, said he's tired of having to "choke down this swill".

Uber activist and volunteer Cindy Brenneman wondered just when the city might begin to see the savings promised with the implementation of the new ambulance deployment by cutting out the private transport ambulance service (CARE) - who just happens to be a campaign contributor to the mayor.

Activist and announced council candidate Harold Weitzberg addressed a recent narrowly-distributed public notice about the move afoot to change the Municipal Code eliminating the noticing required when a two-story development is being planned next door.  Apparently, this issue appears on the Planning Commission agenda for next Monday.  I suspect they will have a pretty good crowd for that one.

Activist and former council candidate Sue Lester wondered about an item on the Consent Calendar - she did not subsequently pull it, but someone else did - that listed the payments to groups for pouring beer at the 60th Anniversary celebration.  This event - nearly a year old now - continues to be a festering boil regardless how much the City leadership tries to gloss it over.  Lester observed that, even IF everything was on the up-and-up, it just LOOKS bad and erodes resident's confidence in their elected leadership.  She also mentioned the Ethics Policy that the majority on the council recently blew off as another example of a confidence-eroding act.

Tamar Goldmann chided the council for their recent act of "picking on" the owner of the Sandpiper Motel and complained that because the Mayor had refused to permit timely hiring of new police officers, they - and the fire fighters - were working long, stressful overtime hours.  She cited several recent heroic events by those first responders.

Activist, former councilman and announced council candidate Jay Humphrey addressed the recent movement to force motel owners to abandon providing affordable units, citing no benefit to the city.

Beth Refakes, a member of the Military Affairs Team, reminded us that they are collecting contributions of goods for the adopted Marine 1/5 battalion during its deployment to Australia.

During Council Member Comments Sandra Genis thanked all involved for the excellent Memorial Day service, complimented the Lions Club for the successful Fish Fry and clarified issues involving the Banning Ranch development - it's a Newport Beach project - and the difference in value to the city of ownership units as opposed to apartments.

Wendy Leece  addressed a variety of issues, including the 60th Anniversary payments, echoed Tamar Goldmann's concern for the health and safety of the community because of the stressful hours being worked by the Police and Firefighters. She thanked the mayor for permitting her to attend a recent Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force meeting and said she was encouraged by what she heard.   She told us the Senior Center Board and the City Staff are working on a smooth transition for the Senior Center to be managed by The City.  She also reminded us of the Relay for Life event at Costa Mesa High School on June 14-15.

Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger had nothing to say.

Mayor Righeimer, however, took up the slack.  He refuted comments made by speakers earlier, and talked about the new plans for the Costa Mesa Motor Inn - the site of the greatest number of calls for service by public safety and code enforcement personnel.  He spoke of the increasing property tax valuation by turning that 136-unit motel into 136 apartments.  He also spoke about the Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force, and transitioned into a glowing report about the new Costa Mesa Connect app for Smart Phones.  He held up HIS phone - maybe the biggest such device I've ever seen - which he obviously had at-the-ready because it still had the charger plug attached.  He told us how easy it was to report offenses to the proper authorities and mentioned the ability to take photos, etc.  I just wish he'd used the proper name.  Several times he misspoke the actual name of the app.  For the record, it's "Costa Mesa Connect" and is available free from your app store.  I have it and like it a lot.  it includes good City information in addition to being able to bust your neighbors for grass that is too long or noisy kids - you know, all that neighborly stuff we're concerned about.  He did caution us to not put "discriminatory information" in our entries.

CEO Tom Hatch, looking none-too-rested after a week off, addressed the following issues during his report:
1 - The 60th Anniversary Celebration volunteer beer-pourers, citing that the organizations they represent get paid, not the individuals themselves.  Each is required to pay $30.00 for training before they can participate.  Hatch acknowledged that there was a problem with the process of deciding who should be permitted to participate.  There is NO policy for such a selection process.
2 - The construction at the terminus of the 55 Freeway - it's a CalTrans project, which, when completed, will become a City project to install new monument signage.  Upon affirmation with Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz following an inquiry by the mayor, he confirmed that the bottleneck will persist through the busy summer traffic season.  This is BAD news for the folks on the Eastside of town, who will certainly get a lot of cut-through traffic as a result.
3 - There will be a meeting on Wednesday, June 11 in the Emergency Operations Center from 4-5:30 where the City Staff will meet with motel and other lodging operators to discuss the current status of code enforcement and rules.
4 - Tuesday, June 10, there will be a joint study session with the Planning Commission to discuss their goals for next year.
5 - He discussed a recent meeting with leaders of Coast Community College District, Orange Coast College, Newport-Mesa Unified School District and the Orange County Fair and Event Center where items of mutual interest/concern were discussed.  Apparently plans for a Parking Structure at the Fairgrounds site are moving forward.
6 - He discussed OCC Security issues
7 - Regarding the Group Homes issue, he encouraged community support and interest.
8 - He reminded us about the upcoming July 4th holiday, and that applications are being accepted for block parties.
9 - He said he was not prepared to discuss the Dog Park issue - responding to Al Melone's concern - but that staff would be working on it.
10 - He then invited Police Chief Tom Gazsi to the speakers podium to introduce the new Automatic Emergency Defibrillators that will now be carried in every marked police unit and some detective vehicles, too.

Righeimer then used his bully pulpit to go an a mini-rant about the ambulance program and the private transport of patients, citing that the City pays nothing for the private transport - the contractor bills the person transported.

Two items were pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion later.  Leece pulled item #4, HERE, the agreement with the Fairgrounds for traffic support during the month of the Fair.  Cindy Brenneman pulled #3, the Warrants.

The first Public Hearing dealt with the renewal of the agreement with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Only one member of the public, Perry Valantine, stepped up to express concern about the proper auditing of the funds generated to the group, citing the CVB's involvement in the 60th Celebration.  Hatch told us that tighter controls are now in place, and pointed to the list of planned expenditures that are part of the staff report.  The council approved the item on a 5-0 vote.

Interestingly, it was mentioned that Monahan wanted to be removed as liaison to the CVB, and Mensinger said he wanted to stop being the liaison to the Vector Control Board - Leece immediately volunteered for that role for her remaining few months on the council - she held it for a couple years.

At 7:35 we got to the BIG item on the agenda - the second and final mandatory Public Hearing on the proposed Charter that was cobbled together by the appointed committee over nearly a year.  Someone said 26 meetings had been involved.  There were still five dozen members of the audience when this discussion began.  Monahan asked for confirmation that there would be NO vote on this item at this meeting - which was confirmed by contract legal advisor and former City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow, who had been one of the legal advisers to the committee during the process.

Several members of the committee were present during this presentation/discussion, and a few of the spoke on the issue.  I also saw facilitator Pastor Mike Decker in the audience.

Early in the discussion Genis complained that there was no compilation of comments and suggestions from the public that had been presented to the committee over all those months.  She observed that one might attempt to cull them from the minutes of the more than two dozen meetings, but that task proved to be much too time-consuming.  She was frustrated by that lack of captured community input.

Wendy Leece expressed her view that this was unnecessary - that the public had spoken quite emphatically when they defeated Measure V less than two years ago.  She also asked for clarification on the Prevailing Wage issue, to which Barlow indicated the Vista case will be working its way through the State Supreme Court.

Then came the Public Comments segment that saw 27 members of the public step up to speak on the Charter in general or on specific segments of it.  Five (5) speakers (18.5%) - including three members of the committee - supported the draft Charter.  Twenty-two (22) speakers (81.5%) spoke against it.

The five who spoke for it were committee members Gene Hutchins, Ron Amburgey and Bill Fancher plus Righeimer/Mensinger loyalist Chuck Perry and boot-licker supreme, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick.
  • Hutchins took about two seconds to launch into his mantra that a Charter would have prevented the "unfunded pension liability" problem we have now.  However, nobody had demonstrated that to be true over all the months of deliberations.  There was much speculation, but no proof.  
  • Amburgey said, "the Charter isn't just for the council." - whatever that was supposed to mean - then supported what "Hutcherson" said - you'd think he'd know the guy's name after all those months, wouldn't you? - and complained about people continuing to bring up the 60/40 defeat of Measure V.
  • Fancher, apparently responding to the allegations of a stacked committee, said "Nobody asked me my position" before he was appointed.  Really?  OK, Bill.   
  • Perry said he's OK with the Charter if it will save the City money.  
  • Fitzpatrick did his "I rise in support of this issue" thing, attempted to discredit the emphasis place on the 60/40% defeat of Measure V.  He's pathetic!
Among the twenty-two speakers who are against this Charter were committee members Harold Weitzberg and Mary Ann O'Connell, who formed what amounted to a strong, articulate minority during most of the meetings.
  • Rather than go on the defensive last night, Weitzberg suggested that whatever official mailers and other notifications that will be presented to the public WHEN the council majority votes to place the Charter on the ballot be absolutely neutral, and that two members of the committee should be delegated to respond to questions members of the public might have.  He volunteered to present the opposition viewpoint.  He suggested only a single mailing - maybe two, maximum.
  • O'Connell indicated that, even after all those months of discussions, she still sees no need for a Charter.  She cited several examples of issues that can be addressed under our current form of government, and gave statistics to demonstrate just how little actual money would be saved by implementing the Prevailing Wage section of the Charter.  She suggested that before a decision is made to go forward that an neutral independent auditor be retained to assess the fiscal impact of this Charter.
Retired City Planning Executive Perry Valantine used an analogy of a parent trying to trust a young boy with responsibility and continually being disappointed when he failed to keep his word.  He suggested this council has behaved much the same way as that theoretical boy, so should not be trusted with the car keys after all his misdeeds.  He was correct and I smiled.

Newcomer to the political process, Laurene Keane, stepped up and reminded us of Measure V, suggested the current Charter is full of mine fields and also reminded us that the vast majority of California cities are NOT Charter Cities.

James Bridges referred to this Charter as "Son of Measure V" - wonder where he heard that? - and told us of conversations he'd had with Righeimer and Mensinger on the issue.

Flo Martin told us of "googling" "California Charter City Law Suits" and other issues, and cited the millions of hits generated by that search.  She also searched for Jones Day, the law firm that has made millions off our city recently and has dragged the City of Detriot into bankruptcy.

Terry Koken, as only he can do, serenaded us with a reprise of his "Righeimer's Charter" ditty from two years ago.  There was not much smilin' going on on the left side of the dais.

One of the more interesting presentations was by former council candidate Chris McEvoy, an outspoken anti-charter advocate.  He presented a graphic - shown here - to support his suggestion of the folly of another Charter scheme.

Robin Leffler referred to the hundreds of suggestions offered by the public during the discussions on Jim Righeimer's Charter two years ago, and suggested that, once again, suggestions from the public were being ignored.  She pointed out to the very limited public outreach and little notification of the hearings, unlike two years ago, when it was all you heard from City Hall.  She suggested that an elected commission to study a charter would fix the shortcomings of this appointed body.

Tamar Goldmann suggested that Koken's song was accurate, and that this was about "local control".  She defined "local" as the "council majority" and "control" as "absolute".

One of the more interesting speakers was a fellow who stepped up and identified himself as "Speaker #29".  He never did identify himself, but reminded the mayor that he cannot require him to identify himself without violating the Brown Act.  He then spoke of having been a member of the Jones Day law firm, described Righeimer's actions with this new Charter effort as "electorate shopping" - trying to find a weak-willed (my term) electorate that would finally buy his program.  And, he mentioned section #806 - the stake in the heart of this document.  This speaker was Orange Juice Blogger, Greg Diamond, who just lost in a bid for the Orange County District Attorney slot held by Tony Rackauckas.

Among the other speakers against this Charter were Margaret and Charlie Mooney, Cynthia McDonald, Sheila Paflin, Greg Thunnel, a young woman from Roseville, CA, representing a group of Iron Workers Union Business Cooperatives, Cindy Brenneman, Teresa Drain, Katie Arthur, Sue Lester and former councilman Jay Humphrey, who attended most meetings and has found no benefit to the City with this proposed change and wondered when was the last time something could be added to the proposed document before the council votes on it.

You'll notice many familiar names listed above.  There are also a few new ones.  The familiar names are those folks who actually DO take the time to study issues and to address the council and commissions when they feel it is appropriate.  Many of them are those who will stay past midnight to express their opinions after the mayor bifurcated the Public Comments.  Many of them are folks who have been chided and vilified from the dais by the mayor and others in the majority.  And yet, they take the time and risk insults and criticisms to express what they feel are valid opinions based on an analysis of the facts available.

The discussion continued with Righeimer asking Barlow to clarify when items can be added or changed.  She said they could be added right up until they take the vote on whether or not to place it on the ballot in November.

 Genis wondered why commissioner compensation was not addressed in the document and suggested that a Code of Ethics should have been included.  She also pointed out what, in my humble opinion, are the twin poison pills in the current Charter - sections 104 and 806.  These sections basically give the City Council authority to do ANYTHING they want as long as it does not violate the state constitution or existing law - ANYTHING!  In subsequent conversations NO mention was made about removing those sections.

Leece wondered why we just cannot put section 600 that deals with Retirement benefits into the Municipal Code and be done with it.  The answer was that future councils could remove or modify it.  OK.. and?  She said this Charter gives "unbridled power" to those in charge.  See Genis comment above.

Then Mensinger said, "I want to make a motion", only to be reminded that there would be NO motions made last night.  See - he just doesn't pay attention!  He suggested, flat out, that the reason Measure V was defeated was because "a lot of people didn't understand it."  Then he said this time around, "a lot of people do understand it."  He referred to the election process being completed that day as why we need a Charter - because we have single party rule in Sacramento.

Righeimer started his little rant by saying, "This is really all about money."  Gee, no kidding!  He went on to talk about "tens of millions of dollars" being at stake.  Gee, no kidding!  I can only imagine the dollar signs rolling around in his head as he said those words.  You think he's giving away the farm to developers today?  Wait until he has ABSOLUTE control of the city with this Charter!  Then he tried to tinker with some of the verbiage in the draft.  He ended his little speech by thanking the committee, saying they did a "phenomenal job".  He said, at the end, when they voted "all but two voted for it."  Well, duh!  That's what happens when you stack the committee!  And you were surprised?  Puh-leeze!

The conversation came around to the potential mailings.  Several speakers had addressed this and Genis reaffirmed that any communication coming out of City Hall on the Charter should be neutral - not a sales brochure to sell the Charter.  Some suggested one or two mailers.  Mensinger wanted four (4)!  Barlow said she will return with more options.  The discussion stopped at 9:40 - a little over two hours after it began.

Item #4 from the Consent Calendar, which addressed the CMPD support proposal for the Orange County Fair, generated some interesting conversation and it seemed for a moment that Righeimer might attempt to suggest the CMPD abandon their plan to provide traffic support because of staffing shortages.  He seemed to be trying to get Sergeant Wadkins to admit that problem, but he simply advised the council of the CMPD contingency plans and the issue was approved 4-0.  Monahan had long bailed out - probably because of the OC GOP election party going on in the room above his pub.

The other items, the Warrants, were pulled to address the 60th Anniversary beer payments.  Cindy Brenneman pulled it and spoke, as did Sue Lester, Teresa Drain and Robin Leffler.  Genis and Leece affirmed that tighter rules need to be implemented.

The evening wrapped up with the irrepressible Terry Koken gracing us with his second ditty of the evening.  For your listening pleasure, I'll let Mr. Koken wrap up this edition... Sing it, Terry.

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

The dictator clearly needs some time off. He should skip the next meeting, and we can just pay Richard Simmons to come and read the pro-charter mantra/rap/rant we've all heard a million times before.

6/04/2014 04:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

A small correction: the lady was not representing a labor union. She clearly said she represented a group of construction contractors who pay prevailing wage to their workers and object to "fly-by-night" (her phrase) contractors who pay less than prevailing wages.

6/04/2014 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike O'Reilly said...

Jim Righeimer is nothing more, and considerably less, than a jumped-up house salesman. And he's now the mayor? Holy sh*t.

6/04/2014 11:29:00 PM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

What a waste of money, time and effort to dig up the charter issue? The council simply thinks the voter got it wrong and the next time they wont be as dumb. Im amazed they insist 60% is not a bigger percentage than 40%... that they feel they won. In my book 60% in a Democracy is called a majority. The charter is defunct and not adopted, that's called a loss. The voter got it right in 2012 and it is a shame all that money will be wasted for another lame attempt to subvert the will of the people...hopegully this time Righeimer will get the boot along with the charter.

6/05/2014 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous OCLonghair said...

If the redevelopment of the hotel property only gives us 16% of $850,000; does that minimal increase in tax revenue cover the City's costs associated with a project (community) that size.

Once again Jim throughs out HUGE numbers and then mumbles what the true revenue will go to our coffers.

6/05/2014 11:09:00 PM  

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