Friday, January 17, 2014

Homeless Housing Workshop A Success

Last night Costa Mesa City Council chambers was the site of the Homeless Supportive Housing Workshop - a meeting designed to present information to, and gather opinions from, residents of the City on this issue.  It succeeded.

The auditorium held more than 100 people, eager to hear about the City's plans to provide some kind of Supportive Housing as one piece in the Homelessness puzzle.  The audience was attentive and respectful as City staff, consultants and residents expressed their views.  Unlike City Council meetings, where Mayor Jim Righeimer rules with an iron fist, expressions of support and appreciation - clapping - were not stifled.  It was a nice change.

Assistant Chief Executive Officer Rick Francis kicked things off, then handed the ball to Righeimer, who first apologized to the members in the audience from the local area, indicating that the City dropped the ball by not doing public outreach before announcing that the Civic Center Park might be the venue for a Homeless Housing Project.  He then gave a mini-pep talk and said he would stay in the audience as long as he could before he had to go tend to his daughters.  He did just that.  He stayed through the entire nearly 3-hour long meeting, sitting near the back of the room, watching, listening and tinkering with his phone through the entire event.


Consultant Kathe Head from Keyser Marston Associates, HERE, presented a thorough slide show to the audience and answered spontaneous questions from the audience.  From my vantage point, it appeared that most members of the audience learned some new information.  She explained the formation and goals of the Homeless Task Force, and described the City's multifaceted approach to resolve Homelessness in Costa Mesa within 5 years.

Head cited several studies - none of which were from California - that implied that it costs less to house a homeless person than it does to deal with them on the streets.  She explained "Transitional Housing", and described the benefits to the community of such housing.

She also covered in great detail the five options the City sees available to it:
  • Option #1 - Motel acquisition and conversion
  • Option #2 - New Construction of a Project with 100% of the units provided to homeless tenants
  • Option #3 - New Construction of a 50% homeless and 50% very-low income households project
  • Option #4 - Acquisition and renovation of existing apartment buildings
  • Option #5 - Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program

In the recent past we've been told that there were NO properties available for purchase that might fit numbers 1 and 4.  However, Head told us that there may now be one or two motels "shopping to be sold".  I guess Righeimer's bludgeoning has had some effect.  So, the rule of governance in Costa Mesa appears to be just beat the crap out of someone until they go along or get out.  Nice...

Head, who described herself as a "numbers person" closed her nearly hour-long fast-paced presentation by describing some of the financing options for several of the options.  Eyes glazed over around the room, but many people nodded in agreement as she spoke and some asked pertinent questions.

Then, at 7:15, Francis opened the meeting up to comments, indicating that each speaker would have three minutes - the City Clerk was in the front row timing them.  That led to a parade of more than three dozen speakers, each of whom stepped up and expressed their views.

We heard from several residents of the Monticello development that is contiguous with the Civic Center Park express support both for and against putting Homeless Housing at that site.  Each side made strong presentations of their views and opinions.  We were later told by Francis that the Civic Center Park site is no longer being considered.

We heard from long-time resident, activist and former Daily Pilot columnist Flo Martin about her personal experience being homeless, twice, during her post-World War II life in Europe and Canada.  It was clear that she felt strongly that we simply must DO SOMETHING about this issue.  Her preference was Option #2.  She clearly touched many in the audience with her story.

Long-time community activist Jean Forbath attended and spoke, stating that she was proud of the City for taking these initiatives and thanking the current City Council and the staff for moving forward with this process.

City Council candidate Tony Capitelli, a strong advocate for Homeless Housing, attended with his wife, Julie, and stepped up to briefly address the audience and staff, citing a "sense of urgency" to keep moving on this process.  No, he didn't use this as a campaign stop.

Resident Phil Morello stopped whispering loudly to his knot of Westside cronies long enough to step up and described his background as a long-time Westside activist and suggested that we "get it right" and should consider one of the Eastside motels as a possibility.  He also expressed concerns that HUD housing funds might be used to house illegal aliens - muttering could be heard around the auditorium.

Becks Heyhoe, Director of the Churches Consortium, has been on the leading edge of the battle to resolve Costa Mesa Homelessness and also spoke briefly, thanking all those who attended the workshop for their interest and participation.

One of the last speakers was Russ Carter, a long-time activist on Homelessness issues.  He stepped up and acknowledged he was ready to scold participants for their views, but that he couldn't.  He, also, expressed admiration for the participants in the workshop on both sides of the issue and the process in general.

Just before 9 p.m. Francis wrapped up the meeting by telling the remaining members of the audience - it had thinned considerably to around 60 people in the nearly three hours it took to reach that point - that their comments would be reviewed and archived for the City Council to consider.  The meeting had been taped, probably not for replay, but for archival purposes.  Councilwoman Wendy Leece, literally and figuratively a lame duck - she's hobbling around on a recently-replaced hip and is in the last year of her term - attended most of the meeting and paid close attention to the speaker's views.

It's not clear what the next step will be.  If the Civic Center Park site is out, then I presume the staff may attempt to pursue purchasing a motel site that has begun to weaken their resolve to fight City Hall.  It's funny how passing ordinances aimed directly at one type of business - the Nuisance Ordinance and the Excessive Use of Services Ordinance - plus the waterboarding effect of constant Code Enforcement and Police attention can weaken one's resolve, isn't it?

So, until the Homelessness issue is resolved, you may want do what some speakers suggested - get to know some of the homeless folks in town.  A pastor from the Lighthouse Church - across the street from Lions Park, which has become ground zero in the homeless issue - suggested we do just that.  Heck, apparently one woman has begun giving them housing in her home!

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Costa Mesa To Reorganize, Add Staff (Including Cops!)Amended***

A funny thing happened last night as I was about to head to City Hall for the Homeless Supportive Housing Workshop - more on that in another post.  I thought I'd check my email one last time and got hit with a whopper!

I found the announcement that the Costa Mesa City Council will, at its meeting Tuesday, January 21st, consider creating an entirely new department and add a dozen people to the municipal headcount - including four (4) new police officers!  You can read the announcement HERE.

Yeah, I know... it caught me off guard, too.  As you will read in the press release, this will result in an annual cost of $1,640,000.

Some will recall that only a few short years ago the city headcount was 611.  Today it is down to 467.  Part of that change was as a result of departures due to the economic downturn and enhanced retirements to save the city cash.  However, this current council majority has been vindictive and irresponsible by not permitting departments throughout the city to fill vacancies promptly.  As a result, we've seen excessive numbers of overtime hours and service declines in many areas.

And this council majority has made more work for the staff through many of their actions - a dramatically increased number of committees, for example - each of which requires many hours of staff preparation and attendance.

Even more fun is the rationale used to justify these new positions.  For more detail on that I went to the staff report for the item on the City Council meeting agenda, HERE.  There we find the roster of new positions being requested:
  • Senior Maintenance Worker (2)
  • Public Right of Way Coordinator
  • Assistant Chief Executive Officer/Administrative Services Director
  • Deputy City Clerk
  • Human Resources Analyst
  • Buyer
  • Battalion Chief - Administration
  • Police Officers (4)

OK, let that sink in a little and we'll take it from the top.

The two Senior Maintenance Workers are necessary because the current depleted staff cannot keep up with the workload.  We used to have seven (7) people in that department - now we have 2.5!  They've tried to back fill with overtime and contractors.  Didn't work.

The Public Right-of-Way Coordinator is a brand new job, apparently necessary to keep up with the demand to identify and resolve potential hazards on our streets and sidewalks - downed branches, raised pavement, etc.

The position, Assistant Chief Executive Officer/Administrative Services Director, would oversee a large segment of City government functions as listed in the staff report:
  • Human Resources/Risk Management
  • Labor relations/managment of the COIN ordinance
  • Internal employee development/communications
  • Development and implementation of a comprehsensive employee training program
  • Employee recognition programs
  • Assist with the general management and oversight of the organization
  • Senior Center oversight/management
  • Parks and Community Services Department oversight
  • Library-services contract/facilities development and management
  • Assist with development of the City's economic development program with Development Services
  • Manage and/or conduct the internal review/audit annual process
  • Assist all departments with efficiency and effectiveness studies
Well, now, this one requires more than a little dissection.  For example, this job looks like it's tailor-made for Tammy Letourneau, who has been a contract consultant through Management Partners for virtually the past three years.  According to the staff report, to have a contractor do the work listed above would cost $265,000 for one year.  The salary and benefits for this proposed position would be "only" $249,000, saving us a whopping $16,000.  I'm sorry, but I'm just a little skeptical about this one.  I am NOT saying Ms. Letourneau is not competent...

Also, as you look down the list you'll see - tucked right in the middle - a reference to "Senior Center oversight/management".  Well, right now the only people authorized to "manage" the Costa Mesa Senior Center is the Senior Corporation Board of Directors - an entity separate from the City.  Having read the entire recent audit - performed by Ms. Letourneau and her team, by the way - there's no doubt in my mind that there's a plan afoot to take over the whole operation.

Don't get me wrong... I'm all for operational efficiency and management effectiveness.  The creation of this position just makes the organization chart at City Hall a whole lot more top-heavy.

The next position makes me smile.  It's for a new Deputy City Clerk, apparently necessary due to the huge number of public records requests.  I'm guessing that most of those are due to major screw-ups by the current City Council majority.  Once again, the consequences of their ham-handed attempts to micromanage the organization show up in a demand for more staff to manage the fallout.

Similarly, the need for another Human Resources Analyst is due to the large number of recruitments being worked right now.  I'm not saying we don't need that position filled, but the reason for the need can be traced directly to the actions - and inaction - of the current City Council majority.  The toxic work environment they've created at City Hall has chased good, long-term employees out and resulted in the need to back fill positions.  And, particularly in the case of the police department, their vindictive stubbornness kept the Chief from recruiting replacements for known retirements, which was only exacerbated by skilled, trained officers bailing out to other departments because of the atmosphere the council majority created.

The need for a Buyer doesn't surprise me at all.  The staff report doesn't provide us with a history of that organization, but we've lost several good people in recent years.

The restoration of a Battalion Chief/Fire Marshall also doesn't surprise me.  The Fire Department has had a leadership vacuum for several years, with remaining staff trying to fill the void - and being criticized for it because it took thousands of hours of overtime to do it.  This position clearly is necessary and should permit our new Fire Chief to effectively manage his organization.

The addition of four additional sworn Police Officer positions, while welcome, is certainly at least two years too late.  If the council approves those positions on Tuesday it will be two years before we have trained officers in those slots, on the streets.  You can thank the council majority for that.  And, even with the addition of those positions, the sworn officer complement is still well short of the most conservative staffing recommendations by the council's own consultant and former chiefs Dave Snowden and Steve Staveley. (Following the publication of this information I was advised by City representatives that, if the four police officer positions are approved, it will bring the total authorized full-time sworn officer positions to 136 - the minimum threshold recommended by consultant Management Partners during their assessment of the Police Department, but still short of the 140+ recommended by Staveley and Snowden.)

Oh, yes... the City also plans to create a new department - Parks and Community Services  - which apparently will have no fiscal impact on the organization.  Makes one wonder why they're doing it in the first place.  I guess we'll find out, huh?  This one will report to the new Assistant CEO/Administrative Services Director position, above.

The dialogue on this item next Tuesday - it's the last one on the agenda - should be worth the price of admission alone.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014


We've just been advised by City Hall that the venue for the Homeless Supportive Housing Workshop this evening has been moved to CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS from the EOC.  The meeting is still scheduled to run from 6-8 p.m.  Information on the City website has been amended, HERE, to show this clarification.  See you there.


CMPD Out Of Baker-To-Vegas Relay

Earlier this week I learned of yet another consequence of the short-sighted, vindictive attitude taken by the current Costa Mesa City Council majority toward the Costa Mesa Police Department.  I learned that, due to the severity of the current staffing situation, no members of the CMPD will participate in the annual Baker-To-Vegas Challenge Cup Relay that will be held late in March.  You can read about that event HERE.  As some may already know, my best friend for 57 years of our lives, Larry Moore, was the co-creator of this event and served as its Race Director up until his passing a decade ago.  You can read about the race history HERE.

It's true.  For one of the very few times in the past two decades a Costa Mesa Police Department team will NOT be among the 8,000+ runners from around the world participating in this grueling event.  Despite the best efforts of Chief Tom Gazsi and his command staff, because we have so few officers on the street - extraordinary numbers of overtime hours being worked and officers not normally assigned to patrol duties out on the streets, trying to keep the city safe - it is simply not possible for the CMPD to field a team this year.  Officers participate in this race on their own time, but staff shortages will keep that from happening this time around.

Several of our neighboring cities participate each year.  Newport Beach, for example, does exceptionally well in this event.  Competition and camaraderie have been the watchwords of this event, with friendships and working relationships forged during the race that last a lifetime.

So, we have yet another reason to tell Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan, just how you feel about them ignoring their own consultant's recommendations and the advice of highly respected senior law enforcement leaders - former Interim Chief (twice) Steve Staveley and legendary former CMPD Chief Dave Snowden - and cutting staffing to levels unseen in our city in nearly three decades.  You can tell them how you feel about them refusing to permit Chief Gazsi to even BEGIN the lengthy recruitment process to fill existing and anticipated vacancies for upcoming retirements for more than two years, putting us way, way behind the curve.

You also can thank them for creating such a toxic work environment - including suing the men and women of the CMPD - that lateral transfers OUT of the department accelerated and exacerbated the recruitment dilemma.  We are NOT a safer city due to their actions.  As former Interim Chief Staveley - shown here -  said in his letter of resignation, "They are, in my opinion, incompetent, unskilled and unethical." Please take a moment out of your busy day to drop them a note to let them know how you feel.

In the meantime, the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue to show up for every shift, sacrifice irreplaceable family time to work the overtime demanded of them and do their very best to keep the residents and visitors to our city safe.  We should all thank them for their efforts on our behalf.
(Click on Image To Enlarge)

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Homeless Supportive Housing Workshop Thursday (Amended!)


The City of Costa Mesa will hold a workshop for those interested in its efforts to identify Supportive Housing for Costa Mesa's burgeoning homeless population tomorrow, Thursday, January 16, 2014, from 6-8 p.m. at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) adjacent to the Police Headquarters at 99 Fair Drive CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS.  You can read the agenda for that meeting HERE.

Some will recall the firestorm of concern that was generated when the City announced late last year that the Civic Center Park, across the street from Police Headquarters, had been identified as the probable site for a Supportive Housing facility to aid Costa Mesa homeless.  Surrounding neighbors were up in arms - it was one of those "pitchforks and torches" moments.

In response to that outcry TWO workshops were scheduled for this week - today and tomorrow - both in City Council Chambers in anticipation of a huge turnout.  When the City recanted its commitment to use Civic Center Park - they "took it off the table" - the furor died down, the Wednesday meeting was canceled and the one tomorrow was scheduled for the EOC.  Actually, that smaller venue works well if the crowd turns out to be small - 75 or less.

Costa Mesa Homelessness has been in the local media a lot lately.  A few days ago Becks Heyhoe, Director of the Churches Consortium, published a moving commentary on the pages of the Daily Pilot, HERE.

Then, in his own commentary, HERE, Rick Campo addressed the recent departure from Costa Mesa of the Illumination Foundation, an organization attempting to help homeless folks in our city at one of the so-called "problem motels" that Mayor Jim Righeimer seems so intent to destroy.  Apparently, based on published comments by city officials, the mission of the Illumination Foundation didn't blend well with whatever plan the City has for dealing with the homeless.

Last week, Jean Forbath, a highly-respected long-time activist,  member of the Costa Mesa Housing Coalition and former executive director of Share Our Selves, also published a commentary, HERE, addressing the Excessive Use Of Services Ordinance recently passed as another arrow in the City's quiver to deal with homelessness.

So, we'll see what the City and the cadre of local homelessness activists and organizations have in mind as potential resolutions to this issue.  See you there.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Catching Up - Planning, Visioning and Waste

Did you miss me?  I've been taking a breather for a couple days, recovering from football overload last weekend.  So, let's catch up on things that have been going on in our little slice of heaven.

Monday the Costa Mesa Planning Commission held its first meeting of the year and, as I told you earlier, had a very abbreviated agenda.  They knocked that meeting out in less than an hour!  They shoved the three items involving problem motels off into the future sometime; continued a request for a conditional use permit for a liquor license until their next meeting on the 27th; revoked two CUPs for the same license at a different location and approved an ATM kiosk on 19th Street.  The meeting probably could have been wrapped up in much less than an hour, but Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick apparently had a case of "Righeimeritis" - he just loves to hear himself talk!

Tuesday evening the City Council and Planning Commission met in a joint study session in the Emergency Operations Center to hear information from the staff and consultants on the General Plan Visioning exercise, and to hear the public offer their views.

The staff and consultants offered a brief PowerPoint presentation and had handouts of other Vision Statements from other cities for review by the officials present.  The guests had them, too.
This meeting was attended by nearly 60 people, including staff, consultants, council members, planning commissioners and residents.  Unfortunately, as far as I could tell, only 16 residents made up that group.
Seven people stepped up to address the group, 6 of which were residents.  The other was the head of the Building Industry Association.  Most of those have attended several of the previous General Plan meetings and offered their views.

There were some interesting moments.  Councilman Gary Monahan, for example, said, "I'm not a big visioning person because things change."  He said he wasn't sure we needed a "cultural section" of the Vision section.

Wendy Leece spoke next and took exception to Monahan's comment about the "cultural section", since we are, after all, The City Of The Arts.  She suggested, among other things, that a reference to Education in Costa Mesa be mentioned, as well as churches and service organizations.
Sandra Genis said she tended to agree with Monahan long-term and that this is a plan for land use and circulation.  She indicated it's important to balance the land use with the needs of the residents and that, while visitors to our city are important, residents must come first.

Steve Mensinger agreed with much of what had been said earlier, and cited the need to retain and nurture the individual neighborhood identities.  He also stressed the need for preservation of historical sites and information.  He cracked me up when he said, "The community is like a business.", and again stressed the need to attract younger families.
 Jim Righeimer said this is a "view from 40,000 feet".  He stressed the need to get ahead of traffic issues - things planned from the 1980s and 1990s just didn't happen.  He also agreed with others that "walkability" and "bikeability" are important, they are not "more important" - as others had said - than car transportation.  I was amused when he was in the midst of downplaying the importance of bus transportation in the city just as an active member of the community and occasional columnist for the Orange County Register came walking in late - having missed his bus!

Commissioner Jeff Mathews offered the profound statement that "We have to be very smart and careful as we go forward."  That was it...

Colin McCarthy expressed concern that the individual statements prepared by the staff and consultants used "passive verbs".  He's looking for more forward-looking language.  He thought the work product was "great".
Rob Dickson told us he attended several sessions and that the information provided at this meeting captured a lot from the others.  He gave credit to former mayor Eric Bever for hatching a plan for Harbor Blvd.

Jim Fitzpatrick told us "I get excited about visioning and good planning."  He then launched into praise for his Broadway Project. I thought he might pull a  muscle as he patted himself on the back.
The entire meeting was videotaped by CMTV and will be available in the playback roster soon.  In addition, there was a contemporaneous transcription of most comments which, it appeared, might be soon available for public review.  It was a worthy effort and ended in an unbelievable 65 minutes!

Next action on the General Plan is the vote by the City Council on the required Housing Element at its meeting on January 21st.  If they miss that window it could mean that we will be required to review and revise the Housing Element in four years instead of eight.

More on the plan by the Costa Mesa Sanitary District to change the way we will be required/requested to handle our so-called "organic" waste in the future with a plan that will add twice as many trucks to our streets, make us handle food scraps differently and cost more than $500,000 annually.  You will recall I wrote about the latest Workshop, conducted last Saturday, HERE.  Well, the Sanitary District Board announced late Tuesday that its meeting of January 23rd has been relocated to the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park) because of the anticipated public interest in the issue.  The board will discuss the possible implementation of the new plan at that meeting, which will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Incidentally, the last workshop was recorded by Barry Friedland and is now available for viewing on his Costa Mesa Brief YouTube channel, HERE.  I've given old Barry (he hates it when I refer to him as such) a bad time because of the one-sided political nature of his site, but this is one for all to see and I applaud him for his growing skill at putting together some pretty good video.

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