Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Group Homes, Seniors, Fireworks And Me!

Well, neighbors, to say that the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last night was "interesting" wouldn't even come close!  I fear this entry may end up being a little convoluted, but stick with me..  If you want to invest five hours you can watch the entire video of the meeting provided by our friends at Costa Mesa Television HERE.  I carved out a segment at the end for your viewing pleasure, below.

Before the meeting convened there was a little rally on the Council Chambers porch.  Several residents met and donned white t-shirts with a controversial image on the back.  They also had a large banner that they displayed for passing motorists along Fair Drive.  The issue generated discussion within the chambers later.  The image was from a half-page advertisement that appeared recently in the Daily Pilot.  Several officials complained that it bore no attribution - you couldn't tell who paid for it.  It turns out that the Costa Mesa Police Association paid for it, and also provided the t-shirts.

There was a pretty good crowd in the chambers when the meeting began - around 100 souls in the seats.  When you do watch it you might end up thinking you're watching the "A Bubbling Cauldron Show".  Thanks to all those kind folks who mentioned my blog during their comments throughout the meeting.  At least one councilman - Gary Monahan - got a kick out of it.

For the first time in awhile the meeting began without a presentation.  I guess Mayor Jim Righeimer's gardener must have been busy somewhere else.  Maybe the guy who washes his car was also tied up.  Fear not... I imagine his own special clerk at Stater Bros. will soon be honored for her diligence and public service and a proclamation naming a "day" for her will soon be read into the public record.  What a power-hungry megalomaniac!

The first segment of Public Comments - there were more than ten speaker cards submitted, so - as has been the case for many months - that segment was bifurcated and nearly half the speakers were forced to stay until the bitter (that seems like the right word in this case) end.  On the positive side, at least they got to speak in the same day - the meeting ended just about 11:30 p.m.

The first speaker was a guy who identified himself as Newport Beach resident Joel Bernstein and said he was a regular at the meetings.  Well, I attend virtually ALL the meetings and this was the first time I've seen his ponytail in the auditorium.  He then went on to praise Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick for his recent commentary in the Daily Pilot.  The almost uniform retching among audience members could be heard throughout the room.

Todd Fowley (sp?) began to speak on Fireworks, but was re-directed to the proper time.

Greg Thunell provided a definition of Hypocrisy for the City Council - it seemed right on point.

Cindy Brenneman - love you, girl - used her time to plug this blog, A Bubbling Cauldron.  She was the first of many who did the same last night.  I'm very grateful to you all.

Riganista Gene Hutchins - a member of the Charter Committee and chanter of the one-note-samba of Unfunded Pension Liability - sucked up valuable airtime praising Righeimer and talking about how the Charter will lead to Pension Reform.  It won't, but he just can't seem to come to grips with that fact.

Karl Ahlf, proudly wearing one of the aforementioned t-shirts, stepped up and expressed concern about the Police Department.

Robin Leffler dressed down the council, and the mayor in particular, for taking credit where none was due.

Terry Koken stepped up and sang yet another little ditty to the council.  This time it was ballad defining the word "Righeimer".  The mayor was not smiling...  Koken, following his short musical interlude, used the remainder of this time to acknowledge that, under the Righeimer regime, the people had the right to speak, but not the right to be heard.

Beth Refakes' presentation was a high point.  She spoke and showed photos of some of her recent interactions with our adopted Marine battalion at Camp Pendleton - the 1/5.  She spoke of the candy drive for their kids at Halloween.  She told us of the recent gown donations and the results.  She also showed photos of the recent return of the 1/5 from deployment in Australia.  She and staffer Dan Baker attended that event.

David Kincaid provided a scrambled version of our financial history and predicted financial doom for the city.  Thanks for that, David.

Chuck Perry was the final speaker and he complained about the Volcom Skate Park, said we need another one at Lions Park, that the Bethel Towers renovation was finished (that's not the name of the place, Chuck!) and that he was looking forward to Senior Center activities.  Then, pandering to his pals on the dais, he said the "city is looking great!"  To his credit, he didn't tell us he was running for a seat on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board.  One might not know it was him if you saw his signs, which just say "Perry".  Confusion reigns, since his brother, Art, is already on that board.

During Council Member Comments Righeimer led off with some rambling rant about the council setting direction and the staff finds the dollars for projects.  What?  He then spoke about the current street enhancements underway on East 17th Street, which have apparently generated a significant email and telephone avalanche to him by concerned residents.  Folks are concerned about the placement of the center medians and the adverse impacts they seem to be having on drivers and shoppers.  This is my neighborhood, so I understand their concerns.  There have been several accidents and mishaps during this project and many other near-misses.  In an attempt to calm the angry neighbors he told us it was going to get better because "Over time property owners will consolidate the properties and, thus, require fewer driveways."  Yep, that's what he said!  And, to further smooth things over, he told us it would only take 10-15 years.  Wow!  I feel better already!  Good grief!

He spoke of the Senior Center, indicating that the membership was nearly 1,000 now, and praised Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau.

He then told us that CalPERS had recently informed the City that they were increasing the city's contribution by 50%, from $20 million to $30 million.  Ah, the slight whiff of municipal bankruptcy is wafting through the air...

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger took time off from texting or whatever he was doing looking down into his lap to praise Estancia High School Footballers for their victory over Costa Mesa High School in the Battle of the Bell last weekend.  He asked CEO Hatch for a report on the Vet's Hall project.

Sandra Genis praised the staff for their expertise in finding grant funding for the many projects throughout the city.  She reminded us that the council cannot increase taxes - only the voters can.  She referred to the increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) two years ago which raised our tax from the lowest in the county - 6% - to 8% and provides us with about $2 million in revenue each year.  She corrected a misstatement by Hutchins about the Charter - he had said 2,500 people could change it - and reminded the audience that 2,500 people could petition the council to change something.  (Righeimer, as he so frequently does, interrupted her inappropriately).  Genis then reminded the voters to get educated on the issues before they cast their ballots.


Wendy Leece spoke briefly about Consent Calendar items - she wasn't going to pull them - the Bicycle grant and the Warrant item for the design of the council chambers.  She stressed the importance of the Orange County Vector Control Board - she represents Costa Mesa on it - and the importance of being aware of standing water because of the rise in West Nile virus and other mosquito-born illnesses.  She also addressed the homeless issue and wondered of a section of Fairview Developmental Center - the state-owned property that is diminishing - might be used for housing.  She also expressed concern for the current status of the Police Department and observed that virtually nothing is being done about paying down the Pension issue.

Gary Monahan made a big deal about finally having something to say - he acknowledged me as he began to speak - Thanks, Gary!  He reminded us of the World Series, which began last night, and pointed out his San Francisco Giants visor he wore throughout the meeting.  He spoke of the 1989 Earthquake that interrupted the series that year and mentioned that he had been there and is still rattled (pun intended) when he thinks about it.  He was serious.
He then told us that one of the two Medical Marijuana petitions had qualified and the second one probably would qualify for a vote of the people.  On November 18th the council will hear about the first one - at least.  He indicated that he was going to tinker with his rebuffed ordinance and bring it back for another consideration by the council.  He said that having one - or more - special elections could cost the city $150,000 - 200,000 EACH unless they could be consolidated.  He mentioned the possibility of combining three items on the same ballot sometime early next year.

Then, perhaps because he doesn't usually have anything to say during this segment, he put his foot firmly into a pile of manure.  He began addressing Measure O - the bogus Charter scheme - and acknowledged that he had to be careful not to campaign for it from the dais.  He took a breath and then did EXACTLY that!  Fortunately, City Attorney Tom Duarte, who sits next to him, was paying attention and stopped him before he rolled around in the dung pile.  He mentioned that I would be happy about it - I waved to him with a "thumbs up!"  He went on to complain about the ad in the Daily Pilot that showed Costa Mesa police strength comparisons - those shirts mentioned above showed the image he was concerned about.  He said the Daily Pilot is running a clarification about it.  He also talked about 17th Street and the Bicycle Education Grant.

CEO Tom Hatch had little to say during his comments.  No mention of the "fix it" communications being sent out to inform the public about the Measure P ballot gaffe.  He spoke VERY briefly about the Chamber design costs and the Bicycle education grant, indicating that NO Costa Mesa dollars were involved.

Items3,7,8 and 9 were pulled from the Consent Calendar.  9 will be re-posted for a future meeting.  The other three would be discussed at the end of the meeting - another dumb Righeimer edict.


Promptly at 7:00 the council began hearing Old Business #1, the second reading of the so-called Group Home Ordinance.  You can read the staff report, including the text of the ordinance, HEREElena Gerli, Deputy City Attorney from Jones and Mayer, made the presentation again.

Monahan confirmed that this ordinance deals only with these kind of facilities in R-1 zones, not R-2.  The R-2 issue will be dealt with immediately following the enactment of this ordinance.  Gerli told us it was better to have a separate ordinance for those kind of facilities to avoid negative litigation results on the R-1 sites.  More lawsuits coming up, folks!

During the discussion it was affirmed that this ordinance DOES NOT touch those places with 6 or fewer residents and a manager because they are treated like a "family".  The discussion among the council members stressed the intent to NOT penalize "good" operators, but to force the "bad" operators to change their ways or move on.

Thirteen members of the public spoke on this issue and it's difficult to categorize the group of them.  Some, like the first speaker, Barry Fisher, pleaded for the council to help her and her neighbors.  They have several group homes in her vicinity and have suffered with the impacts for fifteen years.  If we assume this ordinance will help with that problem, then you would put her on the "in favor" side of the ledger.  Several others expressed concern about the "problem" but were not sure this ordinance would solve it.  Some felt it should be shelved pending the inclusion of the R-2 properties.


Resident Ann Parker gave some perspective, discussing the recent hit-and-run accident in which a person on a bicycle was killed by a drunk driver, who, as it turns out apparently is a counselor for one of the very group home operators under discussion!  He was found to be drunk, had drug materials in his car and has a previous conviction.

According to acquaintances in the audience who follow this issue closely, there were many group home operators in the chambers for this issue.  A few of them, or folks representing them, spoke, too.  Paul Dumont, representing the Sober Living Network, spoke critically of the ordinance, stating, "Obviously, your City Attorney doesn't understand sober living law."  He further endeared himself to the council by telling them "you're not deep-pocketed enough", referring to Newport Beach's pending litigation that may be heard by the United States Supreme Court and, according to reports, have spent north of $3.5 million on the case.  Dumont may be right... we'll soon find out.

Another lawyer was the last to speak - Mary Helen something,  tough name to understand - and referred to some specific sections of the ordinance that she guaranteed would be problematic for us.  She has been involved in the Newport Beach litigation, so is familiar with that case, and Sober Living Law, specifically.  She encouraged the council to NOT pass the ordinance.

The council continued the discussion with Monahan giving the opinion that this is not a new issue, and recounted a personal experience with a group home near his church several years ago.   He said it "bugs" him when people think this is politically driven.  He said, "I think it's a very, very fine ordinance."  That, from our great legal scholar, the pub owner.  Good grief!

Righeimer wondered why we can't do something because there's a manager required on site 24/7.. isn't that a business?  Gerli cited the murkiness of the law in that regard and reminded us that the recovery business is a $35 billion a year business, with plenty of cash to spend on litigation.

When the conversation came around to Mensinger he said, "I'm sitting here in disbelief.  We all have family issues.", implying rehab family members.  Hmmm... I don't.

Monahan said "We're not outlawing group homes, just regulating them."


Righeimer reminded all that operators have 90 days to apply for the permit and at least a year before they have to be in compliance.  So at 8:15 the ordinance passed on a 4-1 vote, with Leece voting NO.

Instead of doing the right thing and taking a break while half the audience noisily filed out, Righeimer launched directly into the next item on the agenda, Leece's proposal for a modification of the Fireworks ordinance.  I must state right here that I thought this had ZERO chance of being passed.  I'll save you the mystery - 100 minutes later the council voted, 4-1, to Receive and File this issue.  Leece voted NO.

During the discussion there were more than a few memorable moments.  Twenty-seven (27) speakers addressed the issue, most of which were proponents of fireworks sales.  They all emphasized the need to support youth activities through the sale of fireworks, citing percentages of annual revenue upwards of 40%.  That is NOT an insignificant number and I understand their angst about possibly losing fireworks sales as a funding source.

Koken didn't sing to this issue, but did tell a story of visiting relatives "down south" in St. Louis, where they blew up stumps in a field as a form of celebration.

More than a few people stated they LOVE fireworks, but a week of explosions from illegal fireworks is just excessive and causes all kinds of problems with pets, many of whom must be drugged to make it through the time.  Jay Humphrey was one who said he loves fireworks, but that his 94 year-old Alzheimer's-afflicted mother-in-law lives with them and is very disturbed by the long duration of the explosions.  She lived through World War II and the Korean War, so the explosions apparently jog some fearful memories for her.  He said, tongue-in-cheek, that he could take a cue from some of the pet owners and drug her for a week, but that didn't seem like a good idea.

Nobody spoke against safe and sane fireworks - only the duration and what was described by some as a mask for illegal fireworks.  Speakers addressed the inability of the police department to arrest violators because it requires the officer to see the infraction.  Chief Tom Gazsi addressed that, too.

Once more Righeimer demonstrated his lack of an even hand on the reins when he permitted, unilaterally, John Kelly - Vice President of TNT Fireworks - to speak well-beyond the three minute mark.  Throughout the evening Righeimer had been keeping tight control over speakers, permitting only the slightest extension of time.  Not so with Kelly - a major contributor to campaigns.  He cited other city's "solutions" to the illegal fireworks problems - all of which require a greater police presence than we can presently muster.

Near the end speaker Tamar Goldmann criticized Mensinger for his interrogation of Leece early in the discussions - demanding to know who was on her "little study group", demanding to know when they met and where, etc.  Eventually Leece acknowledges that the only folks in the group were those who had contacted her, complaining about the fireworks.  No members of the youth sports organizations nor the industry participated.

Monahan moved to receive and file - there was no second.  The discussion continues.  Genis explained she was disappointed that we felt the need to discharge the fireworks over such a long period of time.  She, and many others, felt the discharge of the fireworks should be restricted only to July 4th, but the sales could precede that date by a few days.

Mensinger, apparently forgetting he is in a public forum and not some locker room, admitted firing guns in the air to celebrate the 4th.  He then complained about having to pony up $150,000 for youth sports activities.  I found myself wondering how many in the audience and viewing at home would feel sympathetic toward his plight.  He said, "Anything that doesn't vote gets cut."  That's an echo of something he said before.  Then he said, referring to the illegal fireworks, "Responsibility is up to the individual and we, as a community, have to solve that."  Really?  What the heck does that mean, Steve?

He moved to receive and file and Monahan seconded it.  Righeimer opined that we have to find a way to get rid of illegal fireworks and that, "If we don't stop illegal fireworks we're going to lose legal fireworks."  Sounds accurate.


Leece offered a substitute motion, restricting fireworks to July 4th, selling for five days and including the seven suggestions included in the staff report.  It received no second.  The original motion to receive and file passed, 4-1.  Leece voted NO.  We took a ten minute break - finally!

At 10:05 Recreation Manager Travis Karlen presented the proposal to form a Senior Commission to study and advise the council on issues involving the senior population, HERE.  I've said before that this should be a committee, not a paid commission.  There were only a few of us left in the chambers when this was begun. Goldmann, 39 year resident and senior, expressed concern that, among other things, the staff at the Senior Center and in City Government responsible for this operation were so young and used to dealing with children's issues that they may not relate to senior issues.  Seemed like a good observation to me.


Refakes, who has been active around the senior community with her mother, observed that there were no qualifications listed to be a member of the commission.  She also opined that, if it was a commission, it should properly meet in council chambers where the proceedings could be taped for viewing by a broader audience instead of being held at the Senior Center every other month.

There was almost no other discussion of this issue and, at 10:19, the majority first rejected - 3-2 - a motion made by Leece and then voted, 4-1, to approve the staff recommendation with the addition that applicants must live in the city.  Leece voted NO.

The Consent Calendar items were then considered. Goldmann had pulled the Warrant, Item #3, to discuss the contract payment to Lilley Consulting - more than $21,000 - and extended it out to a yearly figure and reminded the council that the original contract was for $100,000 and has now been extended a couple times to nearly $500,000!  (She mentioned A Bubbling Cauldron again)  It passed, 5-0.

Item #7, the Bicycle training item, was pulled by Jay Humphrey, who agreed with the idea.  It passed, 5-0.


Item #8, the General Plan amendment for the Santa Ana/Colleen Annexation property, generated a lot more conversation.  Several speakers stepped up to address this issue, which actually was a done deal.  The General Plan amendment is necessary, but didn't really have to be done right now.  Some of the speakers suggested it was done before the election so the folks affected wouldn't have a voter voice. Goldmann suggested it represented Re-zoning without representation.  Humphrey expressed disappointment that it was a Consent Calendar item - that it should have been an Old Business item.  It was passed, 3-2, with Genis and Leece voting NO.

At 10:40 the remainder of the Public Comments were called.  I've carved out that segment of the meeting for you to watch on the clip HERE.  It's only about 20 minutes long and will be worth your time.  Watch it now, or read what I wrote and circle back, but watch it... You'll be glad you did.


First up was Sue Lester, wearing one of those t-shirts, and explained that the CMPOA provided them.

Mary Spadoni spoke about the police department and referred to Righeimer's recent campaign flyer implying that he came from a law enforcement family.  She researched the town in question and found that it has a population of about 14,000 people and 30 cops.  She read from that city's police chief's report, which addressed drops in crime stats because they have fewer cops!  She cited the fact that we only have two motorcycle officers, not twelve previously.  As a result, DUI arrests are down significantly.  There were 961 last year and only 283 so far this year!  Her point was that all the gloating about dropping crime isn't supported by the facts.  She suggested that, if Costa Mesa had the same ratio of cops to residents we should have about 270 police officers, not the just under 100 presently.

Humphrey, citing the proximity to the election, encouraged EVERYONE to vote.

Goldmann mentioned A Bubbling Cauldron again - I blush - and criticized the Charter.


Then Steve White, who had been at the meeting the entire time and was clearly agitated, stepped up.  You will recall that he's the former city employee arrested a couple years ago for allegedly stealing a $5.00 campaign sign based on a stakeout by Mensinger and a private investigator.  I wrote about it HERE.  Well, after losing his job and being prosecuted, earlier this year he was acquitted of the crime, HERE.  He wondered why he's still out of work, and compared himself to Dan Joyce, who received a payout.  He also told the council that he has a video record of a city employee stealing signs from HIS property and the property across the street.  HERE is the link to that short video.  I can't identify the person, but I'm told that others have, indeed, identified her as a code enforcement employee.  After his three minutes White stomped away from the podium and Righeimer, demonstrating his bullying, no-class attitude, shouted after him that he could authorize the release of his personnel files and everybody could see why he was fired.  Well, we understood he resigned, so that's interesting all by itself.  Watch the video.


Teresa Drain criticized the way Bill Lobdell and Joyce were hired and, again, demanded a forensic audit of the 60th Celebration.  She also told Righeimer that she and her neighbors didn't appreciate being called 'shakedown artists".  She was not a happy person when she stepped away.

Ann Parker complained that the council "doesn't listen to us".  She told them they have caused chaos and mentioned that Righeimer's campaign had received almost $28,000 in services from a PAC that had just received an infusion of $150,000 from Disney.  Does anyone remember that Mensinger's wife works for Disney?  Parker wondered to Righeimer if he would listen to her if she had $28,000 for him.


Cindy Black also mentioned A Bubbling Cauldron (I blush again) then showed a graphic of where Righeimer's Campaign Contributions came from.  Interesting...

"BIG FAT..."

Finally, a very angry Anna Vrska stepped up and chided Righeimer for not reading the name she'd placed on the speaker card.  She apparently wrote, "Jim Righeimer is a Big Fat Liar!" on the card instead of her name.  She then launched off on a tirade about the Self-Insurance fund being overdrawn and wondered why (hint: that's where we pay legal claims from).  She demanded to see the policy that determines the configuration of meetings with city staff - she felt overkill when she asked to meet with Letourneau and ended up with four or more staffers present.  She wanted the documents supporting the expenditure of legal time on the Medical Marijuana Ordinance.  She close with an observation that referred to Righeimer as the trash needing to be taken out.  Watch the video.

When you DO watch that clip, at the very end you'll hear Monahan observe, "I just want to tell Geoff you're awful popular tonight."  Yeah, well... what can I say? ;-)

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Anonymous zennymoon said...

Oh Jeff you were so popular last night but the mayor didnt give you a plaque? last night at council, I felt the energy of hope, hope for victory and change. Mensinger was surley about the tshirts from the police association and OCEA, we all embraced both. I beseech the God of Justice to shine on Costa Mesa November 4

10/22/2014 08:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Thank you, Cindy Black, for the excellent graphic depicting where Rig's campaign money comes from. That is an eye opener.

I am also quite saddened to see a city code enforcement person stealing signs. That had to have been under direction by (can you guess who?) I hope charges are filed.

10/22/2014 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Did you see Andrew Smith's comments? He is starting to sound very strange. Seriously odd. Almost like early onset dementia? Something ain't right with that boy.

I wish I could post that pie chart Cindy made showing 50% of Rig's campaign money come from developers.

50% from developers; 25% from PACS (probably largely developers); misc stuff, only 4% from individuals and 1% from his appointees. There are some other areas, small percentages, but it sure tells a story, doesn't it?

10/23/2014 07:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Papa Smurf said...

I hope Mr. White filed a police report. Looks like a slam dunk - petty theft caught on video. Would be worth it to find out who ordered her to do it.

10/23/2014 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Great job, Geoff!
Heck yes you're popular!
Thank you for the kind words regarding Karl.

This was the final CM CC meeting before the election.
The residents' anger and frustration was very evident here. Four years of Righeimer control have taken its toll on our city.

Let me see- it's OK to falsely accuse Mr. White of ripping up campaign signs, a charge he was acquitted of BUT- it's OK for one of Riggy's "code enforcement" team (these new guys- where are their certifications and state licensing?) to pull out campaign signs for Humphrey/ Foley and 'No on O' on PRIVATE property?
It's bad enough Riggy and his team harassed Mr. White's family.
Now they are taking campaign signs from his private property as well as his neighbor's property?

This is Righeimer's Costa Mesa.

Jay Humphrey and Katrina Foley for CM City Council.
NO on Measure O

10/23/2014 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Papa Smurf,

Both Mr. White and his neighbor need to file a police report.
This is both trespassing and theft.

10/23/2014 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gericault said...

Everybody is missing Righeimers most egregious "slip", of the evening. Where he yells at Mr. White that , If you'ld like your personnel file released, you can see why you were fired".
As a Council member and even as Mayor , Righiemer has no right to view anything in Mr. Whites personnel file. But by his own public declaration he basically admits that he has seen or has first hand knowledge of what is included in it.Even if he was aware of what is in it , he has a responsibility to never disclose it in public. Does anyone see another Righiemer lawsuit coming down the tracks? I think he unwittingly just helped Mr. White immensely.

10/23/2014 03:35:00 PM  
Anonymous pjcbs627 said...

Just received my mailer on which the city spent money to correct the wording on a ballot measure that doesn't even count

10/25/2014 04:27:00 PM  

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