Friday, January 10, 2014

Short Planning Commission Meeting Monday

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission, under the dynamic leadership of Jim Fitzpatrick, will hold what may be one of the shortest meetings in recent memory on Monday, January 13, 2014 beginning at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers.  You can read the agenda HERE.

Of the six (6) Public Hearings on the agenda, the first three will be pulled from the calendar and item #5, a conditional use permit to see beer, wine and distilled spirits at 751 Baker Street, Unit A will be continued to January 27th.  It is related to #4, HERE, the revocation of conditional use permits at 3033 Bristol Street, Suite G.  The only other item is #6, a request for variances to install an ATM kiosk.

The most interesting reading may be the Code Enforcement Update, HERE.  It gives you a chance to see which neighbors have been zinged by Code Enforcement, and how they responded to that zinging.

The next day the Planning Commission will meet with the City Council in a joint study session to discuss the General Plan Visioning issue, which I wrote about earlier in the week.  You can read that agenda item HEREAccording to the information on the City web site, this meeting will be held beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 14th in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), adjacent to Police Headquarters.

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Righeimer Admits He Was Wrong!

In my post wrapping up the Costa Mesa City Council meeting last Tuesday I mentioned that Mayor Jim Righeimer had lied about the Costa Mesa Police Department NOT being understaffed.   His exact words were, "Our police department is fully funded. We are looking to hire people that we need.  We are NOT understaffed.  We are fine with that issue there." (that emphasis is his - he emphasized the "NOT")

Today, in a letter to the editor in the Daily Pilot today, HERE, Righeimer admitted that he didn't tell the truth during the council meeting last Tuesday.  As you will read when you click on that link, the mayor's brief letter acknowledges his error.  He says, "At last Tuesday's City Council meeting, I made a statement that our Police Department was not understaffed.  I misspoke."  He went on to expand on it and to apologize for any confusion his misstatement might have made.

OK, I'm glad he corrected the record, but it will only reach those of you who can read the Daily Pilot.  If he's serious about the statement he made early in that meeting that it's a new year and there's a new attitude, he needs to clarify the record at the next City Council meeting on January 21st - right at the top of the meeting.

A word of caution.... this doesn't mean that we shouldn't pay attention to what he says in the future.  He has a long history of misspeaking himself, like when he said from the dais that the Charter Committee would determine IF we needed a charter.  He later recanted that statement, since HE had already decided that we need a charter.  When he launches off on one of his stream-of-consciousness rants on the dais you just never know what he's going to say, so we pay attention.

That being said, I'm glad he stepped up this time.  I'm just disappointed that he had to in the first place.


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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Chief Snowden Rebuts Righeimer

At the Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night Mayor Jim Righeimer - a man who has demonstrated that he is anti-police since he moved to town and emphasized that point when he filed a lawsuit against the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department - in response to a speaker's comment, angrily told the audience that the CMPD is NOT understaffed.  Many of us knew that he, in a typical knee jerk reaction, fudged the facts.  Heck - he flat-out lied!  Not only is the CMPD critically understaffed, but later CEO Tom Hatch also told us that the total city staffing is down from 611 to 410 presently, and that there are 40 positions being actively recruited.  We've lost senior staffers in droves, taking with them years of training, skill and institutional knowledge.  We now see the result of that loss every day, and at every meeting, when staff just doesn't have the time - and, in some cases, the horsepower - to meet the service demands.  The result is that major segments of the organization, and major projects, are being run by contractors - consultants with no long-term commitment to The City.  Righeimer commanded Hatch to provide information on just how many people have left for other jobs.  He may regret that move.  He's not going to like the answer.

Today former Costa Mesa Police Chief - and current Beverly Hills Chief - Dave Snowden sent me a note for publication.  The following is his response to Righeimer's comment:

If anyone truly believes that CMPD is not under-staffed as the Mayor stated last night they haven't been paying attention. Righeimer knows that the PD is understaffed and that it is mostly due to the actions of he and his other two cronies on the dais. They led the exodus of officers to other agencies and retirement! Officers are being force drafted for 16 hour shifts right now to cover vacancies. That is insane! In 2003 the PD had an authorized staff of about 164 sworn officers. Today they are lucky to have 100 officers available to protect the city. For the first two years or more of Chief Gazsi's tour of duty he was not allowed by Righeimer and his pals on the council to even recruit to fill the vacancies! They are now actively recruiting. Then I find out that Righeimer and Mensinger are suing the POA! What a wonderful recruitment tool that is. CMPD is and always has been a remarkable department with the finest officers in OC. It saddens me to see them working in such unsafe conditions because of low staffing levels and with a complete lack of support from the city council majority.

I was very happy to see most of the department at the recent department photo shoot and at the 60th Anniversary celebration at the PD. Chief Roger Neth and I were invited to attend both events by Chief Gazsi. We were also asked to speak, which we did. While I was speaking, I was looking at the helipad. That reminded me of another stupid decision made by this council majority. They voted to disband the best airborne law enforcement JPA on the planet. Yet another chip off the foundation that built the city’s safety record.

Last Friday, I along with members of my department and many from CMPD, attended the funeral of former CMPD officer Gabe Coyoca. I hired Gabe in 1996 when I was CMPD’s chief and I hired him again in Beverly Hills in 2005. Sadly, he passed away after a short battle with leukemia after being exposed to chemicals while working as a narcotics detective. It was a sad day, but I couldn’t help being moved by the presence of so many fine, proud officers from both departments who were there to honor a fallen comrade. 

If any officer is either seriously injured or, God forbid, loses their life because of an inability to field a safe complement of officers to insure their safety, I will hold this council majority DIRECTLY responsible. 

 Snowden is a man who guided the CMPD for seventeen years and is responsible for helping to build it into one of the finest law enforcement organizations in the state.  He holds the City of Costa Mesa dear to his heart and is deeply distressed with what has been happening over the past three years.  He is shown below at the recent 60th Anniversary Party for the CMPD with current Chief Tom Gazsi and former Chief Roger Neth.

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Charter Committee Turns For Home

The Costa Mesa Charter Committee met Wednesday night for their first meeting of the new year and made good progress toward their goal of presenting a finished document by the end of February.

Guided by facilitators Dr. Kirk Bauermeister and Dr. Mike Decker, the committee briskly moved through a couple of pending items with a collegial approach to the decision-making process.
In the case of Council Members compensation, the committee overwhelmingly resolved to include in the Charter a segment providing for an annual stipend of $25,000, a portion of which could be used to purchase health care coverage if individual council members chose to do so.  In an interesting sidebar, announced City Council candidate and committee member Lee Ramos expressed concern that candidates need to know what they're signing up for - meaning himself and others running this year.  I smiled.

They then moved on to the subject of Budget Reserves.  After significant discussion, on a 9-2 vote, they resolved to place a strong statement about the need for having healthy emergency reserves, but NOT to include any requirement within the Charter document itself.

Following a break they took up, once again, the issue raised by member Hank Panian - to consider the possibility of foregoing property tax revenue in the interest of tax equity.  His contention was that new buyers were being unfairly taxed base on current property values when compared to homeowners who purchased before 1975 - and the advent of Proposition 13.  This issue had been discussed in two previous meetings, but any decision was withheld until staff provided them with relevant data.  Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent gave them most of what they asked for in a format that made it easy to understand.  Among the more interesting statistics provided were that 14% of Costa Mesa city parcels are based on 1975 or earlier assessments.  69% are assessed at the land base values between 1980 - 2000.

As a result of the analysis of this information and serious discussion, the committee overwhelmingly - on a vote of 10-1 - decided NOT to address this issue in the Charter.  I must state that during all the discussions on this issue over three meetings the committee worked hard at fleshing out the possible value of this idea with civility and respect.  It was given a fair hearing from my perspective in the Peanut Gallery.  Read Brad Zint's piece from the Daily Pilot HERE.

They also addressed the Charter Review issue again, assessing two choices for wording in the Charter as possibilities.  They ended up with a hybrid of both that reads as follows:

"Every 10 years, the City Council shall form a Charter Review Committee to review the existing City Charter and determine whether any amendments, modifications or repeal of its provisions are necessary.  The City Council may, at its discretion, appoint a Charter Review Committee at any time."

They began a discussion on the Unfunded Pension Liability issue again.  According to member Gene Hutchins - also a member of the Pension Oversight Committee which met earlier Wednesday - that committee is not prepared yet to provide information that would be helpful to the Charter Committee.  Regardless, after some discussion, it was decided to ask the Chairman of the Pension Committee, Jeff Arthur - who sat in on part of the meeting last night -  to make a presentation to the Charter Committee at its meeting on January 22nd.

The work schedule for that meeting will include Outsourcing, City Owned Land, the Preamble and a review of the document.  It's likely that, with three more meetings remaining in their schedule, they will be prepared to present a document to the City Council by the end of February.  We'll see...

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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Reminder: Sanitary District Organics Recycling Workshop Saturday

Just a friendly little reminder for you that the Costa Mesa Sanitary District and their trash hauler, CR&R Environmental Services, will be holding the second of their workshops to introduce their plan to change the way we - and they - handle our so-called Organic Waste.

The workshop will be held starting at 9:00 a.m. at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue, Costa Mesa (Lions Park).  Here's a hand map for you:

Also, you may wish to view the presentations scheduled for that morning ahead of time to help you frame any questions you might have.  Those can be found HERE and HERE.  If you have trouble opening those links they are also available at the Costa Mesa Sanitary District home page, HERE.

The first workshop was well-attended and I know the officials from the Sanitary District are hoping for a similar turnout Saturday morning.  You can read what I wrote about the first one HERE.

This is an opportunity for you to ask General Manager Scott Carroll and representatives from CR&R questions about this very significant, and expensive, change to the way we all handle our waste.  See you there.

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Short Meeting Ran Very Long - Again

What should have, and could have, been a short Costa Mesa City Council meeting stretched out until almost midnight Tuesday.  I guess we should be grateful that it actually ended the same day it began.

As a preamble to the meeting around 50 people assembled on the porch outside council chambers at 5:30 in a rally for Supportive Homeless Housing - a subject that has been much in the news lately.  Among those attending were Churches Consortium's Becks Heyhoe, shown here with Daily Pilot reporter Bradley Zint.  Many other familiar names in the affordable housing world locally attended and chanted for housing for the homeless until the council meeting began.

The actual meeting began on time to a fairly full auditorium and, following three short presentations, ten speakers address the council during the Public Comments segment.  Half of those, including Larry Haynes, Executive Director of Mercy House, spoke on the Supportive Housing issue.  Frequent commenter Tamar Goldmann addressed the upcoming General Plan Visioning meeting coming up next week and reminded the council that, during the previous General Plan meetings, most members of the public made it very clear that they wanted less density in new projects.

In an amusing moment, one old fella - a guy I occasionally refer to as The Mouth From Mesa North - stepped up and praised those anonymous people who defiled the federally-protected vernal pools at Fairview Park last year!  He went on to say that he thought they should receive an award - and dinner at a local Irish Pub - for their innovation.  Chuckles were heard throughout the auditorium as this sad human being demonstrated just how out of touch with reality he has become.  It's very apparent that not all the synapses in his his alleged Mensa Mind are firing properly and now reduces his value to the community to be the only source of information on black-on-white crime and racial purity.

Activist Sue Lester complimented the Costa Mesa Police Department on the success of its 60th Birthday Party, and the Fire Department on its successful Santa Letter program.  She also mentioned that the Costa Mesa Classic - the golf tournament fund-raiser hosted by Costa Mesa United - was to be held on the 20th, but she couldn't find anywhere to sign up as a volunteer on the website.  She also suggested that while the police department is understaffed as it is, perhaps only one officer should be detailed to the council meetings.  Mayor Jim Righeimer jumped right in to say the police department is NOT understaffed!  Of course, it IS understaffed and has been for most of his tenure on the council.  Just saying it's not so doesn't mean that's true.  But then, that's his M.O. - he blurts things out on the dais that sometimes have no resemblance to the truth and figures nobody will notice.  Wrong, Jimbo!

During Council Member Comments Wendy Leece apologized for the City not vetting the controversial Civic Center Park site more thoroughly, and for not doing outreach to the contiguous community first.  Righeimer blathered on about not voting on the Civic Center Park site because he's on the board of Mercy House - one of the organizations that would build the Supportive Housing units. You know, the old "It's not my fault" song and dance.  He told us it was the New Year and time to start with a clean slate.  I guess that meant he'd be more civil - but that pledge didn't even last through this meeting.  No surprise.

Another amusing moment came as he pointed out that 40 Costa Mesa homes hosted 83 Marines for Christmas this year - but he kept referring to them as "soldiers" and had to be corrected several times.  Of course, every Marine in the audience cringed.

During his time Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger spouted off about his waddling, er, walking group which he refers to as the Costa Mayberry Walking Group, had covered every street in the city - over 600 miles.  He ignored Lester's inquiry about volunteering when he also talked about the Costa Mesa Classic, which he said is "full".  I guess that's good.

The clock showed 7:07 when CEO Tom Hatch took his turn to address issues.  He mentioned the success of the Snoopy House event and that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District has indicated an interest in partnering with the city in summer sports and arts and crafts programs.  Addressing the staffing issue, he told us that the city now had 410 active employees, down from a high of 611 and that Human Resources were actively recruiting for 40 open positions.  This is what he told us at the last meeting.  He also told us again that he will be coming to the City Council for increases in staffing levels in several departments, including the Police Department and Public Services.  He talked about the upcoming two General Plan meetings on 1/14 and 1/28.

Then Hatch sprung the news on us that the Operational and Financial Audit of the Costa Mesa Senior Center had been completed and that he'd met with officials of the Senior Center to discuss it.  He said it was bad news, and that it was available for review on the City web site.  You'll find the summary HERE and the 50 page report HERE.  At that point Righeimer jumped in with both feet, stating that the report was atrocious and unacceptable.  He said, "This council is not going to let it (the Senior Center) go down!"  Indeed, according to the report from Management Partners, who did the $26,500 audit, the Senior Center is teetering on the brink of financial insolvency.  Read Bradley Zint's report in the Daily Pilot, HERE.  I've scanned the report briefly tonight - the Senior Center is in big trouble.  It's going to be VERY interesting to see how this plays out.

Next came the Consent Calendar and 11 of the 17 items were pulled for separate discussion, meaning they would be addressed at the end of the meeting, so anyone even vaguely interested in them would have to wait, and wait, and wait.. again.

At shortly after 7 p.m. they got to Public Hearing #1, the LED lights and signage issue for Metro Point.  Mensinger recused himself.  Ten people rose to speak on both sides of the issue and the light provider, Milton Solomon, made a presentation and answered questions.  I'm not exactly sure what he's trying to explain or demonstrate to Righeimer in this photo...  Retired employee Peter Naghavi represented the applicant, Arnel, in this process.  His expertise on this project when it was being designed and built gave him special institutional knowledge.  After 90 minutes of discussion and micromanaging by Righeimer the council finally approved a modified version of the plan on a 4-0 vote and the council took a short break.

When they reconvened at just before 9:00 they took on the controversial Excessive Use of Services Ordinances that was before them for a second reading.  This is the ordinance that will permit charging "lodging establishments" - hotels and motels - a fee when certain thresholds of calls for service are exceeded.  This, of course, is just the latest club Righeimer intends to use to beat the operators of "problem motels" into submission - or out of town.  It surprises nobody who has been watching this process, particularly when Righeimer has previously openly said he wanted to help the owners to reach a more realistic idea of the value of their properties so they would be receptive to  selling them at a reasonable price!  You may recall that he told folks at one council meeting that we might have to buy up some of those properties then sell them at a loss on the open market.  That means his developer-buddies could snatch them up at below market prices and build high-density housing units!

Nineteen (19) people spoke to this issue during the public comments segment, many of whom were owners, operators or aligned with some of the "problem motels".  From the comments they made it was clear that they understood exactly what was happening to them and a couple lawyers in their group, including Winston Wang of the Taiwan Hotel and Motel Association, made it clear that there were legal options ahead.  Not a single person rose to speak in favor of this scheme.  I found it interesting that a lawyer from the ACLU stepped up and expressed concern.

Several residents addressed this plan, including Jean Forbath - a legend in Costa Mesa charitable circles.  She expressed concern that some of these motels under siege were, in fact, homes to families that might be forced out on the streets.  Others were concerned about what appeared to be the discriminatory nature of the ordinance and predicted more legal troubles for The City.  The public comments segment ended more than an hour later.

Then the council members began their debate, and it went round and round.  Some members told stories of their ride-alongs with inspectors, indicating they were "appalled" (Righeimer) at what they found.  During one little rant Righeimer looked squarely at some of the operators in the audience and told them, "We will not tell you how to run your properties, but we will charge you the fee for excessive service!"  He then went on to say, "If you're getting 400-500 calls for service I really do want you out of business!"  Can't get much clearer than that, can you?

Leece and Genis echoed some of the concerns expressed by other speakers - that this ordinance would discourage legitimate calls for police or fire service and could result in someone being hurt - or worse.  Genis complained about not getting information she needed from staff.  She said she'd been "stonewalled" and told by "the 5th floor" that she didn't need that information for more than a week.  This is more than a little distressing, since she probably does the best analysis of complex issues of anyone currently on the dais.

Gary Monahan, peeved at the way things were going, read the definition of "nuisance" into the record.  I'm not sure why, because that didn't seem to be the issue.  Eventually, the male majority carried the day on a 3-2 vote.  I was disappointed, once again, by what appeared to be shoddy staff work by the city attorney, Elena Gerli.  She seemed ill-prepared to answer some obvious questions.

Finally, at 10:50 p.m., we began to hear the Consent Calendar items!  Each of the five Warrants had been pulled and each was discussed individually.  Each time the legal fees were a main point of concern by one or more speakers.  Tamar Goldmann, Greg Thunnel and Anna Vrska asked many relevant questions and made pointed comments.  Each was passed on 5-0 votes.

Items 8, 9 and 10 - all tract maps for new developments - were heard as a group and passed, 5-0.

Item 13, the use of contract project management for a major construction project, was briefly discussed and passed, 5-0.

Item 14, the extension of Interim Information Director and Consultant Contracts were also briefly discussed and passed, 5-0.

At 11:25 we finally got to hear from those five people who were carried over in Public Comments.  We don't know the actual number who got shuffled to the end because Righeimer didn't tell us.  I know of at least one who, once again, had to leave before he had a chance to speak because he uses public transportation.  Chris McEvoy wondered about the threshold for vandalism prosecution and alluded to probable Brown Act violations by council members while on the Planning Commission.  Suzanne Shaw spoke about a city tree that needed to be replaced but she would be charged $700 to do it.  And, she was VERY angry about the splitting of the Public Comments and waited all that time to tell the council just how she felt.  Can't blame her.  Robin Leffler also complained about the split comments and challenged Righeimer's comment about the CMPD being fully staffed.  Greg Thunnel questioned our use of Jones Day as a law firm, mentioning that they took Detroit into bankruptcy.

Finally, at 11:40 p.m., we adjourned!  If the first meeting of the year is any indication of things to come, it's going to be a very, very long year.

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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Harmanos Cancels Press Conference

Resident Mike Harmanos postponed the press conference he scheduled on City Hall steps this afternoon because it conflicts with a rally in support of Costa Mesa Homeless planned at the same time and at the same place.

No information was provided about any future date for his press conference.

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Special District Pay Under Scrutiny

The Orange County Register, which protects its work product with a pay wall, continues to provide some excellent investigative reporting.  The OC Watchdog group has done some serious digging into many important Orange County issues over the past several years.

Last weekend Teri Sforza, a tenacious and thorough reporter, provided us with a couple interesting articles on Orange County Special District pay and benefits.  The first, for those of you who subscribe to the Register, is titled, "Special Districts: For most, pay tops $70,000", can be found HERE.

Sforza tells us that, of the 30 Orange County Special Districts, the Orange County Fire Authority has the highest average compensation at nearly $148,000.  She then goes on to tell us that there was much consternation in her newsroom when she pointed out that the second-highest was the Orange County Sanitation District, at $126,000.

What she didn't specifically mention, but certainly caught my eye, was the fact that third on the list was little old Mesa Water at just over $110,000.  This is especially interesting when you consider that Mesa Water has recently decided to raise our rates again!  The other special district that serves much of our area, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District,  is well down the list at number nineteen.

As part of the article Sforza provided us with the following chart.  Click on the image to enlarge it for easier reading.  Interesting numbers, no?

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