Friday, January 24, 2014

Sanitary District Wants To Hear More...

Last night the Costa Mesa Sanitary District held its regular monthly meeting at a larger venue, the Neighborhood Community Center, in anticipation of a large crowd.  They were correct.

More than forty people gathered to hear the deliberations of the current scheme to change the way we recycle so-called "Organics" - green waste and food scraps.  There were two items on the subject on the agenda and, between the two, a half-dozen individuals rose to speak about them.
I saw many familiar faces in the crowd tonight, but some new ones, too.  I've attended both of the workshops designed to provide information to the ratepayers and each one had a good turnout.  More than 100 people have attended those meetings, plus the meeting last night.  However, during her turn at the microphone, resident Beth Refakes reminded the Board that the turnout was still well short of their survey number last year, and suggested further outreach meetings to reach more ratepayers.  Some would-be politicians attended, but stayed only long enough to be seen, then left.

Resident Phil Morello, an owner of Westside rental units, spoke twice and continued to express concern that some of the details of the change had not yet been sufficiently fleshed out.  He also expressed concern that the Costa Mesa Sanitary District was interested in being the first district to use this new technology/methodology.
Long-time resident Flo Martin addressed the Board, expressing support for this change.  She told of using a 3-can system at another home she owns on the Central California Coast, indicating that not only was it NOT inconvenient, but that the community took great pride in their recycling efforts.
After hearing all the speakers and discussing the issue among themselves, the Board decided to shove the decision on the new process off until their meeting late in February.  In the meantime, more workshops would be held, hopefully in different parts of the City, so more ratepayers can hear the story and offer input.  That meeting will likely be held on February 25th at a venue to be determined.

I've heard the presentation - twice.  I've asked questions and heard others concerns and the responses to them.  Yes, there are still some nagging details to be addressed, but none should be deal-breakers.  This change, which puts the Sanitary District at the forefront of new waste handling technology, marked what certainly appears to be an inevitable step.  The state is mandating severely greater percentages of recycling - from 50% to 75% - and no more landfills will be permitted.  This change will cost just over $500,000 per year to the district - and, thus, to the ratepayers.  The Board will have to decide how to cover those costs.  Current surplus could be used to smooth the transition for a few years.
We are guaranteed by CR&R Environmental Services that we will have the lowest rates.  If they bid this kind of project to another city or district at a lower rate, the CMSD will receive that rate, too.

Concerns were expressed about the number of truck trips throughout the city.  That question was finally answered to my satisfaction.  Instead of a 9-truck fleet picking up our trash now, there would be 10.  Six will pick up the regular trash and four, the Organics.  The increase in truck miles would be about 10%.

Still unresolved is the need for multiple "carts" on trash day.  It is most acute in multi-unit situation - like Morello's - but those will be handled on a case-by-case basis.  AND, people can simply opt out of the program and continue to handle their trash the way they do now.  That seems impractical in the long-term, but it's possible under this system.

Old Barry Friedland was on hand last night to tape the meeting.  You'll soon be able to watch it at Costa Mesa Brief on YouTube, along with the previous workshop.  He's doing a good job and his videos are worth a watch if you have the time.

I'm glad the Board chose to do a little more outreach.  I hope people will view the presentations that are available on the District web site, HERE and HERE.  I also hope they will attend the future workshops and/or send their questions and concerns to the General Manager, Scott Carroll.

Based on what I have been told so far, I think this step is inevitable and worthy of doing it right and being among the first to take advantage of this giant technological step - even if it means I have to change the way I scrape the debris off my dinner plate.  The remaining unresolved questions are going to be addressed, hopefully to everyone's satisfaction.  I expect the Board will vote to approve this new step and the contract involved the end of next month.  If they soften the impact on each ratepayer by using some of their reserves to do so, all the better.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Righeimer - Megalomaniac

The word for today, kiddies, is Megalomania.  According to online dictionary sources, megalomania is defined as:
1. A psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of wealth, power, or omnipotence.
2. An obsession with grandiose or extravagant things or actions.

 Yes, your mayor - once again - has been demonstrating that he just cannot control himself when a television camera is involved.  For example, two weeks in a row he has presented himself before the cameras on the Fox Business Channel, HERE, and HERE, with self-serving complaints about his lawsuit against our Costa Mesa Police Department.

As part of those video clips the following images of former CMPOA President Ed Everett appear on the screen.  I've frozen them for you, since they skip past pretty quickly.  I think that word they were trying for in the first sentence is "decimated"... although...

It's funny, isn't it, that Righeimer just can't get to wait to get his jowly countenance all over national television to plead his case for his personal lawsuit, but could barely produce a feeble correction to the lie he made from the dais two weeks ago.

On a much happier note, as a sign that the economy has finally turned around so even the most chronically unemployed among us are finally getting jobs, I'm happy to report that we finally have "full employment" on the Costa Mesa City Council dais!  Yep, that's right... sources tell me that Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger is finally among the employed again.  Maybe now he'll have less time to prowl the halls at 77 Fair Drive now that he's getting a paycheck.

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Progress And Angry Frustration Mark Charter Meeting

Nearly two dozen visitors observed as the Costa Mesa Charter Committee, facilitated by Dr. Kirk Bauermeister and Dr. Mike Decker, met again Wednesday night to continue the long, slow march toward having a document ready to present to the City Council by the end of February.  And the stress of their task is beginning to show.

The items discussed last night were:
  • Outsourcing
  • Sale of City-Owned real estate
  • Unfunded Pension Liability
  • COIN
The agenda was juggled a little to accommodate a presentation on our current Pension situation by Jeff Arthur, Chairman of the Pension Oversight Committee.  Arthur presented a group of slides explaining pension jargon and some significant numbers.  As of 6/30/12, our unfunded pension liability is at $228,000,000.  He showed charts, none of which are suitable for duplication here, showing the growth of the obligation, and also mentioned some possibilities the Charter Committee may wish to consider for inclusion:
  • Prohibit retroactive benefit increases
  • Council supermajority for increases
  • Vote of the people for increases
He also suggested that the City review PERS status annually and have PERS provide 30 year projections.

The committee discussed Arthur's numbers at length and speculated about things that might be done in a Charter and acknowledged that there is NOTHING they can do about the current unfunded liability.  They came up with a statement requiring voter approval for any increase in pension/other retirement and post retirement health benefits.  It's unclear just how that might be implemented, so it will be discussed further at the next meeting - on February 12th in Conference Room 1A at City Hall at 6:00 p.m.

They moved on to Outsourcing.  Bob Ooten, current member of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board of Directors and a man with decades of experience managing operations with the Orange County Sanitary District presented his views on the value of Outsourcing earlier during Public Comments.

Following a lengthy debate the committee came up with the following language for the Charter on this issue:

The City may enter into a contract for any services unless limited by the constitution of the State of California.  The City shall periodically review its existing operations and services to consider whether said operations and/or services may be performed as, or more, efficiently and effectively by a third party.  Any contract entered into pursuant to this provision shall be ratified in accordance with the procedure set by the City Council. 

They briefly spoke about the Sale of City-Owned Real Estate and left the following statement to be discussed further, if necessary:

The sale, conveyance or exchange of any real property owned by the City shall require supermajory approval of the City Council.

They also briefly considered the following language for the Charter:

All powers of the City shall be vested in the City Council except as otherwise provided in this Charter.

The then moved on to COIN, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's much-ballyhooed and as yet untested scheme to improve transparency in labor negotiations,  and a discussion of whether it should or shouldn't be placed in a Charter.  At this point the tensions between some members that had been building began to manifest themselves.  Sharp comments between Harold Weitzberg and Kerry McCarthy and Weitzberg and Tom Pollitt marked the discussion.  Frequent references to "the unions" rankled Weitzberg and the comments seemed more political than helpful.  At one point Weitzberg corrected Pollitt's remark that a "union-backed council" approved recent pension increase decisions - reminding him that the council majority that approved those changes was not "union-backed".  Pollitt lost it!  His face turned beet red, he slammed his fists together, jumped up, turned briefly toward Weitzberg, then spun on his heel and stormed angrily into the small kitchen room and slammed the door behind him.  He returned about a minute later, apparently calmer, but left the meeting promptly after it ended shortly thereafter.  That was the worst moment of all the meetings so far and doesn't bode well for future meetings.

Member Bill Fancher also complained to Decker and Bauermeister about being ignored, and that it took 20 minutes for him to be recognized to make a statement or ask a question.  I didn't see that happening, but he might have thought it did.  Again, another tense moment.  Clearly, the stress of this process is getting to some of the members.  Only Mary Ann O'Connell was absent tonight.

I suspect the next couple meetings could get interesting as the committee begins to tighten up the language they've created.  They've almost finished their agenda and appear to be on  schedule for that end of February date to present their work product to the City Council.  We'll see on February 12th.

Off to the Costa Mesa Sanitary District meeting Thursday at 5:30 in the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park) to hear the Board discuss their Organics Recycling scheme and see if they actually vote on it.  It's possible they will commission more community outreach meetings like the two already held to further gauge community sentiment for this costly, inconvenient change in the way our trash is handled.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Council Meeting Wrap Up

Last night the Costa Mesa greeted Australian exchange students, approved the 2013-2021 General Plan Housing Element, heard plans for 89 dwelling units on the Westside of town, approved a fee for Excessive Use Of Resources and approved the addition to a dozen new employees to a critically depleted staff.  Read Jill Cowan's Daily Pilot article HERE.

I attended the first hour of the meeting before departing for a memorial service for my dear friend, former Daily Pilot columnist Joe Bell.  By the time it ended the council meeting was over, so I'm gleaning my observations from the replay available online, HERE.

Before I left, during Public Comments resident Sue Lester stepped to the speaker's podium and asked, actually demanded, that the city release the information dealing with the 60th Anniversary celebration, which had been promised by January 15th.  In response, CEO Tom Hatch said they hope to release the information by Friday, but then did a serious tap-dance, indicating that if they missed that date they would provide regular updates.  What?!  That sounds very much like he expects to miss the date, and not by a little bit.  I agree with Mayor Jim Righeimer's comment - it's time to get this overwith and behind us.  I don't agree that we should rush release the documents IF they are still part of an ongoing investigation.  Getting to the bottom of this mess is more important than early release of documents.

The Excessive Use of Resources fine of $360 per call over the pre-determined number by the formula the staff created was approved on a 3-1 vote -  voted no.  It was amusing to watch Genis try to get specifics on just HOW this fee was reached.  Righeimer sparred with her on the dais - a completely inappropriate action on his part.  Her discussion was directed at Assistant CEO Rick Francis, but Righeimer hijacked the discussion.  One motel owner - a Costa Mesa resident and long-time operator - decried the fee and predicted a diminished number of calls for service by motel operators.  He feared a very serious event as a result.

Around 8:30 CEO Hatch presented the request for a dozen additional staff members.  He told us that four years ago we had 611 authorized positions.  The current budget included 466 authorized slots, twelve of which were eliminated by the Fire Department redeployment model.  He indicated that technology and other efficiencies will allow a cut of another six slots, taking the total today to 454 authorized positions.  He indicated that we are currently at a bare minimum of staff to provide good services.  Also in his preamble on this item he said, "We're going to continue as we move forward to look at each position as it comes open to see whether or not we absolutely need to fill it.  We're going to look at restructuring at times if necessary.  And we're going to look at contracting, and using temporary help and consultant whenever needed help to fill in the gaps."  He also indicated that they'll be coming back to the council for more possible additions in Development Services.  He wants $600,000 in General Funds to meet the need for the 12 positions in this fiscal year.  In response to a question by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, concerned about getting back to the 611, Hatch told him that, with the approval of these 12 slots, we would still be 145 positions short of the 611 with a similar mission.

Mensinger threw Hatch a couple curve balls when he asked about specific populations in specific police department slots - Park Rangers and Community Services Specialists.  Hatch dove into his budget book and gave him partial answers, which the impatient Mensinger seemed satisfied with... strange.

Righeimer alluded to a conversations he has recently had with Chief Tom Gazsi - one of which apparently took more than 3 hours over breakfast one morning - to resolve issues.  Seems peculiar, since Gazsi works for Hatch, not the mayor.  Anyhow, the council passed the issue with very little discussion of other positions or the new department being proposed, 4-0.  It will be interesting to see who fills that brand new Assistant CEO/Administrative Services Director slot.

By the way, sources tell me that the Buyer position is a critical addition.  Apparently, we ran with nobody at the wheel in Purchasing for a couple years except a well-intentioned and over-worked part time clerk.  I find myself wondering if that may have contributed to whatever problems there may have been with the 60th Anniversary Celebration costs - no oversight!  I wonder what the investigation will reveal on that subject?

So, off we go to the Charter Committee meeting this evening at the Emergency Operations Center at 6:00 to hear, among other things, what Pension Oversight Committee Chairman Jeff Arthur has to say about possible solutions to our alleged pension crisis.  More on that later.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Of Staffing, Charters, Waste And Trees

Presuming you all are thoroughly thrashed from the football games on Sunday and are resting up on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Observed) on Monday when you read this, here's what's on the calendar in the City of Costa Mesa for the rest of the week.  As an aside, I did pick both winners Sunday and missed the point differential on each game slightly.

I've previously written at length, HERE, about the City Council meeting at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 21st, HERE.  I won't belabor it, except to observe, once again, that the issue of creating a new department and adding a dozen new staff members - including four (4) police officer slots and another senior executive on the 5th Floor - should make for an interesting discussion.

On Wednesday, January 22, 2014 the Charter Committee will meet again beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) near the Police Headquarters as they begin to finalize the unnecessary document (my opinion).  You can read the agenda HERE.  If you're actually interested in the progress, or lack thereof, that's being made, read further in the agenda items.  Item #6, the minutes of the January 8th meeting, HERE, is particularly enlightening.  Item #8, A, B & C on Outsourcing, Sale of City Owned Property and Pensions, HERE, is full of good information.  Item #8D, HERE, is the COIN Ordinance.  Item 8E, HERE, is communication from committee members and can give you a little insight into how they present their views to their colleagues.  Also on the agenda, Jeff Arthur - Chair of the Pension Oversight Committee - will make a presentation to this committee.  Join me as we watch this committee gather momentum to present a finished document to the City Council by the end of next month.

Thursday gets a little complicated.  There are two important meetings scheduled at the same time.

The first is the regular meeting of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Board of Directors.  Anticipating a crowd too large for their little conference room at District Headquarters, this meeting has been relocated to the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park) and will begin at 5:30 p.m.  The full agenda is HERE.  The crowd is expected to attend to hear the Board's decision on the new proposed Organics Recycling plan proposed by our contract trash hauler, CR&R Environmental Services.  That agenda item, #13, is HERE.  If you want to refresh your memory, you can review the two slide shows on this issue HERE and HERE.  I've attended and reported on both of the workshops and plan to attend this meeting, too.  It is possible that more workshops will be scheduled and a vote on this item delayed for a month.  We'll see.

The other meeting being held that night is the first meeting of the new year of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission.  That one begins at 6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers.  You can read the agenda HERE.  There are two interesting items on the agenda.  Item 6a, HERE, is the discussion of Adult and Youth Contract Instructional Proposals.  The other one, back again for the Commission's consideration, is Item 8a, HERE,  the removal of what amounts to a small urban forest on Yukon Avenue.  The last time around there was much heated discussion by residents of the area and there's no reason to anticipate anything else Thursday night.  I'll probably tape that meeting and report on it later.

So, off we go on another busy week in Costa Mesa.  As Dane Bora says during the Costa Mesa Minute - "Something's always happening in Costa Mesa."  Boy, ain't that the truth!

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

City Council Meeting Agenda

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 begins a busy post-MLK, Jr. holiday week when the Costa Mesa City Council will hold the second meeting of this new year in Council Chambers at City Hall beginning at 6:00 (A Closed Session precedes it at 5:00), and there's no way to predict the length of the meeting.  You can read the full agenda HERE.

The Consent Calendar is relatively short and looks non-controversial.  There is only one warrant, #2507, HERE, and not a lot on it to be anxious about.  I do note that we paid the following:
  • Dougherty & Dougherty Architects $3,761.50 for design work on City Hall and PD entry way.  
  • IntelliBridge Partners, LLC $10,069.51 for Purchasing Assistance (See New Business #3, below).  Keyser Marston Associates, Inc. $9,780 for professional services.  (They work on the homeless housing stuff for us).  
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore $3,378.90 for legal services (they are our contract negotiators).  
  • US Bank for $20,867.37 for Miscellaneous Procurement Card Purchases.  Seems like a lot of "miscellaneous" stuff.  
  • Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau $167,025.42 for November.
  • David Volz Design $28,268.39 for several items, including two charges for "Fairview Boardwalk Project" - a project that has been quashed by outside agencies.
  • Beyond The Office Door, LLC $9,982.82 for a Chair, Sofa and Table!  For Whom?
  • FTOG Inc $2,745.00 for an Interim Buyer (see NB#3 below).
  • Scientific Resource Surverys, Inc. $9,905.50 for Fairview Park Cultural Assessment.
The previous agenda had five (5) warrants on it, which can explain why this one was a little thin.


The only Public Hearing on the agenda is the approval of the General Plan Housing Element, something that MUST be done soon or we will be forced to revisit this issue every four years instead of eight, as is now the case.  That agenda item is HERE.  This work product is the result of numerous meetings, dating back to last spring, including several public workshops and a booth at the 60th Anniversary Celebration, at which community input was gathered. 

There is no Old Business on the agenda, but there are three New Business items listed.  The first, HERE, is a General Plan screening request for an 89-unit development on Whittier Avenue which includes several live/work units.
The second New Business item is the so-called Excessive Use Of Services Ordinance - the club Mayor Jim Righeimer plans to use to flog "problem motels" into submission.  You can read the staff report HERE and the method of calculating the charge for that excessive use HERE.  At $360 a pop beyond your authorized number of calls, it won't take long for motel owners to feel pretty darn oppressed.  I'll be watching for the first lawsuits to hit us on this issue - probably no later than March.

The final item on the agenda, New Business #3, HERE, is the proposed reorganization and addition of a dozen new positions, including the creation of yet another Assistant Chief Executive Officer position!  This one will also hold the tag of Administrative Services Director.  I covered this item at length in a previous entry, HERE.  City Hall sure seems to be getting top heavy these days!  And, yes, this proposal would add four more police officers, bringing the total authorized to 136.  However, we're a long, long way from that many pairs of boots on the ground today.

This is just the first of several meetings this week.  I'll cover the others in another post.  In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the football playoff games.. I know I will!  Broncos over the Pats by 6.  Seahawks over the 49rs by 9.  Enjoy!

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