Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantastic Feet To The Fire Forum

Well, that was fun!  The eighth Feet To The Fire Forum is in the can and it was a hoot!  Costa Mesa Television (CMTV) was on hand to film the event and it will be available for viewing via streaming video and in the regular play list early next week.  I'll let you know the schedule and provide you with the link when it's available.  It will be worth the 90 minutes it takes to watch it.  You can also read Nick Gerda's account of the evening in the Voice of OC, HERE, for more details.**Note:  Our friends at KOCI radio broadcast the event live and have the recorded audio available for your listening pleasure HERE
Held at a terrific venue - the Robert B. Moore Theatre on the campus of Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa - this event had all the elements we've come to expect from Barbara Venezia and her crew and more!  The questioning was focused and Venezia ran a tight ship, not letting speakers stray too far afield with their answers.  And some of the sparring between candidates was "spirited", to say the least.
The venue seemed perfect for this event.  The auditorium holds 900 people and I think it was about one-third full.  The lighting was good, the sound was good and the crowd was both attentive and, at times, raucous.  Unfortunately, one woman - sitting about four rows directly behind me - threw a little damper on the event as she heckled and shouted out through most of the meeting.  I couldn't identify her, but those who had close contact with her trying to get her to be more respectful said she was probably drunk... she sounded like it, anyhow.

The crowd was filled with partisans for many of the candidates.  Based only on a couple of outbursts I'd have to say Jay Humphrey had the most supporters in the room, although both Tony Capitelli and Chris Bunyan evoked some cheers, too.  Only Mayor Jim Righeimer seemed to generate jeers from the crowd.  Al Melone, Lee Ramos and Rita Simpson evoked few cheers from the crowd.
The format was pretty free-flowing, with Venezia and her cohorts - Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez and Voice of OC Managing Editor Norberto Santana, Jr. sharing the questioning.  Orange County Register columnist, Jack Wu, is honeymooning and didn't make this event.
First, a couple general observations.  For me, the biggest surprise of the evening was the dismal showing by candidate Lee Ramos.  He seemed ill-prepared for the evening - and this will be his only appearance at a forum during the campaign.  His answers were vacuous, even on those issues about which he had special knowledge - like Fairview Park, for example.  He seemed to just be marking time up on the dais.  He was cordial and spoke in broad platitudes about the need to get along, yada, yada, yada.  Methinks the boys of the OC GOP are asking themselves why they supported him about this time.

Simpson, in my view, actually did better than Ramos - something I never expected in a million years.  She still has no clue about almost every important issue in the city, but she did better than old Lee.  Al Melone was slightly better than Simpson, but still came up with some very strange comments.
Righeimer had lots of answers but, from the tone of the crowd, I'd have to say that most were not persuaded by his answers on many issues.  He was pretty thoroughly pummelled throughout the evening.  It only took six minutes before he attacked absent candidate Katrina Foley during the question about housing density.  He fell into his chant about previous councils "blowing through reserves" shortly thereafter with a predictability that is astounding.
It appeared that Righeimer had the toughest time last night.  He's the only candidate in attendance with a track record and, as a result, many of the questions about municipal subjects were those he's either presently dealing with or has been responsible for.  I was not surprised that the questions seemed to be tightly focused on him for awhile.
Righeimer was asked about the planned Orange Coast College expansion - he recently made a big deal about it and held a community meeting on the driveway of a home near the campus.  He said he'd met with OCC President Dennis Harkins and has no problem with the expansion as long as it stays within the footprint of the college.  Jay Humphrey observed that the City has no authority on this issue, and that the college had three community meetings and had actually listened to the concerned of contiguous residents and were working to resolve those concerns.  Righeimer tried to interrupt him - again, quite predictably.
On the issue of the Santa Ana/Colleen Island annexation and related development within that island - another recent hot-button issue - Righeimer tried to dance around the issue, indicating that the city didn't even have a development plan before it yet.  He tried to deflect criticism of the 6,000 square foot lot size vs. the county 7,200 minimum by stating - without attribution - that Newport Beach just did a similar process.  During the discussion Humphrey reminded him and the audience that the developer had been working with the City for TWO YEARS on their plan before the annexation was broached!

Santana brought up the now-notorious 60th Anniversary debacle and wondered "what went wrong"?  Specifically, he brought up the settlement with former Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce, who had been on paid administrative leave for most of a year before receiving a settlement of $170,225 recently.  Righeimer attempted to deflect responsibility for the mess, indicating that a senior finance person violated the policy by approving payments without proper authorization.  This is NEW information to most following the issue and made us curious about just whom Righeimer meant with that accusation, and what action, if any, is being taken on that front.  He also said the settlement was approved on a 5-0 vote, which would have occurred during a closed session.  He said proper procedure was not followed.   (I found myself thinking about HIS mess with the 200+ layoff notices that were issued by not following proper procedure).

Capitelli indicated he didn't have enough facts to offer a valid opinion. Ramos said it was carelessly done.
Lopez brought up the subject of sports fields and Fairview Park.  Ramos, who is a member of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, almost knocked me out of my chair when he said he'd like to see the park stay the way it is!
The question of restoring the old method of managing Public Comments at council meetings was broached.  Bunyan blamed it squarely on Righeimer, who tried to justify bifurcating the comments segment by indicated that people waiting to do business before the council shouldn't have to wait until after midnight!  The crowd was not happy about that answer.  Humphrey referred to his previous tenure on the council and said, "we never had that kind of a problem."  Bunyan, Capitelli and Humphrey indicated the change should be reversed.

The subject of Rehab Homes took a lot of discussion.  Righeimer mentioned that Newport Beach has already spent over $3 million on it and it's still not finished.  Venezia asked the panel what they would do.  Bunyan mentioned the City of Orange ordinance.  Righeimer said there's an ordinance coming before the Planning Commission next week that will begin to address the issue, but that folks in rehab facilities are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so lawsuits are sure to follow.  Humphrey reminded Righeimer that Wendy Leece had proposed an ordinance like that in Orange two years ago, but the council chose not to do anything with it.  Venezia observed that Costa Mesa seemed not to learn from Newport Beach's problem and speculated that the cities should have combined their efforts on the subject.  Ramos indicated that the subject was fracturing the city and that we need to come together to resolve it.  Well, duh, Lee!  Capitelli was concerned about acting in haste and fighting a losing battle.
Next up was the subject of Public Safety - specifically, the Costa Mesa Police Department.  Canalis prefaced it with a summary of the current status of the CMPD - 108 sworn officers out of an authorized strength of 136 and only 50 on patrol.  Humphrey corrected the record, indicating that of those 108 officers, at least 16 are out injured.  He also observed that the hostile attitude between the CMPD and the council majority has created many departures.  Righeimer brushed off the "50 on patrol" as always being at that level.  Bunyan mentioned the lack of lateral transfers into the CMPD, also blaming the hostile work environment.  Melone expressed concern that by 2015 we would only have a bunch of rookies on the CMPD.  It was also observed that many of the speciality units - Vice, K-9 and Narcotics have been de-staffed.  Nobody had a quick solution to the issue except to move more quickly with the staffing problem and to change the toxic atmosphere so lateral transfers could be attracted.
Canalis asked Righeimer why, in the interest of harmony, did he and others not just drop the lawsuit against the CMPOA.  Righeimer said he just wanted to get the parties to be deposed under oath.  He said that the police association had hired a private detective to catch a council member in a compromising situation as a move of EXTORTION!  Well, I'm thinking that there really has been NO evidence to that fact and that he might just have put his foot into his mouth.  I'm sure members of the CMPOA will be watching that tape next week to affirm what he said, and what legal remedies might be appropriate.
The question of pension sustainability was broached.  Most candidates agreed that it was not sustainable, but none offered workable solutions.  Santana postulated that spending 65% of the budget on safety positions was extreme.  Most agreed.  Ramos said he thought 80% was more realistic!  What?  Humphrey indicated that CalPERS had high returns the past two years, which was helping to resolve the unfunded pension liability.  Righeimer observed that only when cities began to file for bankruptcy would the State do something about it.  Did we mention that his Pension Committee has already had a workshop on municipal bankruptcy?  Ramos suggested four possible solutions: 1) Raise taxes; 2) get Sacramento to work on it; 3) Use Bonds and 4) Increase property taxes.  Melone felt current employees needed to pay more.
Homeless was up next.  Lopez wondered what happened to the proposal to create transitional housing at Civic Center Park.  Capitelli, who deals with homeless issue, said the city blew it when considering it because it was not zoned for that kind of use.  He said Mercy House has identified 10 locations in the city that would work, but couldn't identify even one of them.  Humphrey mentioned converting existing motels - or portions of them - into Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units for transitional housing.  Capitelli said the issue is complicated.  Righeimer mentioned the facilities that attract homeless folks here - the food and medical care outlets.  Melone said we need to work on the mental illness issue.

When asked for a yes or no answer on whether they would support Medical Marijuana sales in Costa Mesa, only Simpson and Melone said no.

The subject of the recent labor agreement was discussed and Santana wondered if it was all worth it just to outsource street sweeping?  Righeimer defended the agreement, indicating that millions will be saved.  He said the average salary for miscellaneous employees is $105,000, then amplified that it included all benefits, including health and retirement.
When the evening ended most folks with whom I spoke, or overheard, seemed to agree that it was a success.  Righeimer's little knot of supporters were NOT happy with the evening.  In fact, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger was observed raking Lopez over the coalsRemember two years ago when Marnie Primmer - the moderator at the Eastside forum - was chastised for aggressive questioning of Mensinger.  What is it with these guys?  Twice now they've picked out the woman in the group to chastise!  If this was the NFL they'd be benched or fired, for goodness sake!

So, as a wrap-up... in my humble opinion the candidates last night finished:
1) Humphrey - we liked his maturity and reasoned responses
2) Bunyan - for his challenging of Righeimer all night and solid responses
3) Capitelli - for his calm demeanor and preparedness
4) Righeimer - because the other three below were so much worse
5) Melone - ranked low because of the strange things he comes up with
6) Simpson - finally, not the worst candidate on the dais
7) Ramos - because he is...
Kudos to Barbara Venezia and her team for an excellent forum.  We're glad we attended and learned a lot.  We suspect most in the audience felt the same way.  Oh, yes - thanks to those of you who sought me out to say hello last night.  It's always nice to meet the readers...

I look forward to the next candidate forum early next month.  My friends of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group also put on a good event.  We know Ramos won't be there, but the question is, will Righeimer show up?

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Anonymous JanetF said...

Thanks, Geoff, for your always dead on reporting - it was a really entertaining night, and I just about cheered when Ramos indicated that he would like to see Fairview Park stay as is.

I thought the heckler should have been removed altogether - other than her, most everyone was reasonably well behaved.

9/19/2014 05:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Nyquist said...

Sitting in by radio wave up here in Siberia, if words were bombs,the Mayor would be vaporized...Tough room...Reminded me of throwing a "Blanket Party" in the Army...

9/19/2014 05:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Why does Riggy hate Costa Mesa so much?
Why does Mensy bully women?
Mensy sees the writing on the wall.
The Newport Bosses are out of patience with both of these buffoons. No patience = no money or support.

Jay Humphrey did an excellent job, and will help bring the city back from the present disaster.

9/19/2014 06:31:00 AM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Lee Ramos is the 60th celebration of Council Candidates. At the end of this election many will say, "we spent how much on that?", and " where did all that money go?".

9/19/2014 06:47:00 AM  
Blogger Honeyman said...


Your review is right on per usual, but I might give Bunyan the Gold and Jay the Silver, only because I just loved the way Chris was leveling Riggy any chance he got.

I was curious to finally see Ramos and I have never heard a person talk so much and say so little. He was talking in complete generalities and honestly seemed to be blabbing off the top of his head. The 80% remark was amazing. It's like he wanted to show he was "stronger on police" than the others on the panel, so he came up with a bigger number, with absolutely no thought or reasoning how to achieve that amount within the budget. He's a stooge.

I thought the panel wasn't very good, honestly. Missed a few easy follow-up lobs, especially to Riggy. But I did like Barbara and wasn't sure I would. I thought she was fair and kept the evening rolling.

See ya' in 2 weeks!

9/19/2014 07:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Geoff, you forgot to mention that Righeimer was caught taking campaign money from owners of the rehab facilities. He sites he potential of a lawsuit for the reason he won't try to stop them, but now we know the real reason. $$$$$$ He didn't want to answer the question right off, he had to be forced by the audience. Very telling. Granted, he said he returned it, but we see no evidence of that. Talk about a conflict of interest....

Some other observations:

Also, I was disappointed when the issue of pension sustainability came up, that one of the most important things we can do to manage our pension problem until it is brought into a better range, is to bring businesses to town. Half of our store fronts and a good share of the industrial buildings are empty. Businesses in town is what makes our economy healthy. More can be made from businesses than the measly property taxes brought in by these high density monstrosities. Yet, not one person mentioned the importance of strengthening our economy.

It was ridiculous how Rig butted in and interrupted the other speakers all night. It only took minutes before that started. Wasn't it the first question asked even?

Rig also indicated that he would gladly dismiss his lawsuit if..yada yada yada. We know this isn't true. It is a device to try to drain the funds of the CMPOA. This man couldn't tell the truth if he had to.

Rig said crime is down. That is a lie. Crime is up sharply, but the numbers are being manipulated by the city before they are put on the city website. In fact, the woman who posts the numbers regularly, is so angry over it, she has quit. So don't believe that silly mantra either. Rig lied his way through the entire program. WITH A STRAIGHT FACE

9/19/2014 07:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

P.S. Geoff, love the Ramos photo after that sentence!

9/19/2014 07:42:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

The inference that Stevie bullied Ms. Lopez brought to mind another incident:

Is he trying to get into the NFL??

9/19/2014 08:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

Bunyan blew me away - he was very impressive, well informed and not afraid to challenge Righeimer.

I think this town needs some fresh blood and perspective, and he brings that. I really liked Capitelli, too - until he said he supported a charter. He didn't necessarily say he supported THIS charter, but that was a deal breaker for me regardless.

And at the risk of ticking some people off, I thought the crowd, besides the heckler, could have shown a little more decorum. I realize it's a 'fast and loose' sort of event, but the booing and hissing, etc., doesn't help the candidates much.

Then again, it was only 100 or so people, so it doesn't really hurt either.

9/19/2014 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger valan2 said...

Did anyone else notice that one of Righeimer's major stated objections to the OCC development plan was that it proposed a four-story hotel overlooking the College Park homes across the street? It made me wonder why he seems to think it's OK to approve three-story homes with roof decks (like a fourth story) right next to homes on the Westside - with not even a street in between.

9/19/2014 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

Stevie and Riggy also bullied, yelled at and photographed several ladies and their kids during a picnic with homeless folks at Lions Park years ago. The ladies felt intimidated and threatened and ended up leaving the park with really bad memories of the event.

9/19/2014 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Next time, the sleepwalker needs to have his crony, Nurse Popp, bring an oxygen tank...

9/19/2014 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


In the spirit of Election time, might I ask if you know any more details on the Steve White issue? I know he was found not guilty of stealing/destroying the $2 election sign? It was my understanding that he was either fired from Costa Mesa. Has there been any follow up? Apoology (I know, a good one)? Has he filed any sort of suit against the City or his accusers? Thanks for the info and always, very good work!

9/19/2014 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Mike, reliable sources tell me that White was forced to resign long ago and that, so far, no civil suit has been filed. Thanks for asking.

9/19/2014 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Thanks Geoff for a great report.
I wish the FTF forum was available for viewing now.

As usual Riggy lied- Jay and others called him on it.
I hope the CMPOA can countersue Riggy for libel now. "Extortion" my foot! His attorney can't even prove they have a connection to any of it.

What is it with Riggy and Mensy picking on a female questioner at a candidate forum?
Do those misogynist jerks think it's their place to dictate the format and questions that will be asked?
What arrogant, self serving buffoons they are.
Small wonder they are called dictators.

9/19/2014 12:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Mike, I agree. Bunyon was impressive last night. If this were a different time/election I would be tempted to vote for him. In this particular election, I want to see experience in the office because, well, we haven't had any and there is a lot of messes to clean up. So this time around I think its going to take Foley and Humphrey to get things cleaned up. But Bunyon certainly will have his day. So will Capitelli. If it wasn't for his being in favor of this charter, and his employer, he'd have more support.

So Mensinger was trying to bully the female interrogator after the forum, huh? So predictable. *tsk* *tsk*

9/19/2014 12:06:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Bunyan did do well last night , so I give him the Best Actor Award. As for a candidate he's just not qualified enough. Even his work with the banning ranch Defenders was all hat and no cattle. When the Sierra Club set up a task force the Defenders couldn't be found or organized. They had to start a Banning Ranch Conservancy to take the reins and that group has done an amazing amount of work . Where has Chris been these last four years? He's never been seen at any meetings or community organizing events.He hasn't attended any forums. Was completely absent during the last election, and literally fell off the map during the most tumultuous years this city has ever endured. Ive never even seen address the council once to voice his views, yet here he is now to save us all? As soon as the lights go off for the forums the campaigns are getting on the ground. Mail, walkers, get out the vote, phone banks, and the whole kebang. Chris has no campaign. He's not viable, but he will pull votes and help Righeimer. Vote for Katrina Foley and Jay Humphrey. Two experienced candidates who can help get the train back on the tracks. I would love to see Chris apply for a commission seat, Tony too. They have strong voices, but they need more municipal experience before I'd vote for either one. The big surprise last night was Lee Ramos....what an empty chair that was.

9/19/2014 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

Not so fast on Ramos...the cheering cut off the rest of what he started to say, I'd have to check the tape, I'm pretty sure he said "but..." and didn't get to finish.

If he said he would like to see Fairview Park stay just as it is, period, I'll lead the cheer. Lets see if he'll commit at the next Fairview Park Advisory Committee meeting.

9/19/2014 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Smokey said...

Overall, it was a good forum, nice venue, small-ish audience. I left as the self-aggrandizing of a certain candidate got to be too much for me. Dare I say Barbara could use a new partner for asking the questions. Q.s need to be directed to ALL the candidates.
Thanks, BC, for your complete report.
On to The Eastside!

9/19/2014 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

1. Excellent report and comments. Valan2, you are, as usual, right on.
2. Righeimer has the right to have subpoenas issued to depose parties and anyone who may have knowledge of the facts of his lawsuit. What he said was pure BS.
3. Bunyan is smart and young. He has a future in CM. But only Humphrey and Foley can beat Righeimer this time around. I just hope Bunyan doesn't take enough votes from Jay and Katrina to return Righeimer to office.

9/19/2014 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

There was a lot of good in this Forum. Overall, I’m glad I went. Your reporting (and incidental commentary), Pot Stirrer, is excellent. Thank you for all your hard work. I also appreciate all the hard work and time the organizers put into it.

There were, however, two Forum management issues that should be mentioned, because they mightily detracted from the good.

One was they let Righeimer butt in and talk over other candidates AND EVEN THE QUESTIONERS. I often had to restrain myself from shouting out, "CUT OFF HIS MIKE!" Maybe they just wanted to give Rig space to be appreciated in full flower, but it seriously cut into time for the other candidates to show their stuff, and, in that, I felt shortchanged.

While consistency in a politician is something people generally demand and applaud, being a consistent jerk is not something politicians used to want to be seen as. Righeimer is consistent; he treated everyone up on the stage the same way he treats everyone in council chambers: like dirt.

The other is that the mikes and sound system were inadequate. Those with soft voices like Lee Ramos and Rita Simpson, who are apparently unaccustomed to public speaking, could barely be heard when facing forward, and were completely unintelligible when turned away to the right or left from their lapel mikes.

9/19/2014 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

Tom, I was sitting in the fourth row and heard every word Ramos and Simpson said very clearly. You didn't miss a thing.

9/20/2014 09:20:00 AM  

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