Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Feet To The Fire" Is Back!

Mark your calendar!  On April 17th Barbara Venezia and her merry band of "Feet To The Fire" interrogators are back and ready to rumble again.  This first one turns the heat onto the candidates for the 74th Assembly seat being vacated by Allan Mansoor.

This series of forums for candidates for public office ALWAYS provides some fascinating peeks into the minds of the candidates as the interrogators dig and probe, trying to provide reasons for us to vote - or not vote - for one or more of the candidates being grilled for 90 minutes.  You may recall that it was at one of these forums candidate Leslie Daigle doomed her campaign for State Assembly.
(Click image to enlarge)

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Burglar Caught In Short Order

Another win for the depleted staff of the Costa Mesa Police Department this week.  According to a press release yesterday, early Monday morning - around 2 a.m. - rookie CMPD officer Jake Jacobi and his partner, James Brown, were cruising along Harbor Blvd. looking for suspicious activity.  Jacobi observed a bicyclist who appeared to be trying to evade them.  They made a stop for a minor violation and discovered that the bicyclist, Luis Morales, was on probation.  He admitted to possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
However, Morales was found to be holding more than just drugs.  He was also carrying numerous items of women's gold jewelry.  Morales was arrested and the officers met with fellow officer Jodi Schmidt at the police station to compare notes on a residential break-in for which she had taken the report less than four hours earlier.

The short version of the story is that the jewelry Morales was carrying was identified as the items stolen earlier at the burglary on Maple Street.  Although worth about $2,000, several items were priceless to the owner - family heirlooms given to the her as a family tradition.

Morales was booked at the CMPD Jail for burglary in addition to the drug charges.  He was later transported and booked at the Orange County Jail in Santa Ana with bail set at $20,000.  CMPD detectives made arrangements with the jewelry theft victim so she could later claim her stolen belongings.

Kudos to all involved.  Despite running with a skeleton crew, the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department continue to serve the community at a high level of professionalism and proficiency.


In a sidebar, I also received a notice that the team from the Newport Beach Police Department finished 1st in their division and 5th overall in the Baker-To-Vegas Challenge Cup Relay event last weekend.  The NBPD team consistently does well in this event - a grueling relay that begins 24 miles outside Baker, California and ends the next day in Las Vegas.  The 20 runners finished in an impressive 14 hours, 54 minutes.  Some may know that my pal, Larry Moore, created that event 25  years ago while he was on the Los Angeles Police Department and conducted it until his untimely death ten years ago.

Unfortunately, because of our severely depleted staff, the Costa Mesa Police Department was unable to send a team to this event.  Some might say, "Well, so what?  We pay them to be cops, not run."  That's true, but this event is run on their own off-duty time for the teamwork and spirit of the event, and to represent their city - OUR city.  This event has teams from around the world and life-long friendships have been made among the competitors from different parts of the world through the competition.  It is my hope that Costa Mesa will soon be able to field a team in this event - it will be one sign of a healthy department once again.

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More Vandalism At Model Train Site

As many of you already know, around the first of March there was very significant vandalism done to the site of the Orange County Model Engineers facility in Fairview Park.  Valuable rails were stolen, part of the infrastructure was destroyed and other damage to the tune of around $9,000.

A call went out for help replacing the damaged items and the public responded in a big way, offering replacement for items stolen and cash.  Plans are afoot to install a security system at the site, but that kind of installation takes a little time and a lot of money.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, there has been more damage reported over the past few days.  Picnic tables and benches were destroyed and control boxes were damaged.  And, what appears to be gang graffiti is now being left.

Because of this new possible "gang" element to this equation the OCME is very concerned that their site may become part of a gang turf war, which would cause potential harm to visitors.

The Costa Mesa Police Department, of course, has been notified and will be working on this issue.  Sadly, the gang detail is now down to 2 officers from six, when it was especially effective.

In the meantime, if you're in the area at night and see activity please immediately call the police. 

As an interesting sidebar, the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee will soon consider possible options for that segment of the park - the Southeast Quadrant.  There are some on the committee who seem determined to add playing fields to that section of the park.  It will be interesting to see what impact of this vandalism might have on the deliberations of that committee over the next few months.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fun With Finance

For the first time in many months I attended the meeting of the Costa Mesa Finance Advisory Committee this afternoon at City Hall.  Most of the members were in attendance.  Only Chairman Shawn Dewane and Steve Mensinger were absent.

I attended because the items on the agenda, HERE, were interesting.  There was plenty of room in Conference Room 1A - only four residents attended this meeting.

Gary Armstrong, Director of Development Services/Economic Development and Deputy CEO, provided a briefing for the committee covering the current state of affairs in Economic Development in Costa Mesa.  Basically, there isn't much going on, although there was a lively discussion for 45 minutes on the subject and Armstrong provided several very useful handouts to the committee.

It was generally agreed that having so many of our financial eggs in one basket - South Coast Plaza - isn't a good idea for the long-term financial future of the city.  Presently, sales tax revenue represents about 50% of our revenue and South Coast Plaza is a huge chunk of that.  If we lost that revenue Costa Mesa would go back to being known as Goat Hill.  During the conversation CEO Tom Hatch responded to a question by stating that he'd prefer to see Sales Tax represent only 25% of revenue because it's a volatile revenue source.

Committee members asked Armstrong and Hatch what kind of plans the city has for broadening our economic foundation - what are we doing to attract new businesses and what kind of businesses are we targeting.  The answer, stated a couple times, was that we're basically doing nothing because we don't have staff to put on the project.

Armstrong mentioned that we have very few big parcels available for development in the city - Segerstroms Home Ranch site and the Sakioka Farms site are the only two mentioned.  Those seem earmarked for high density residential development - not exactly what the committee was hoping to hear.  He also mentioned the 240 apartment development approved by the Planning Commission last night, which doesn't do anything to improve the renters/owners ratio in the city, which is about 60/40%.

A discussion was held about the cost of housing in Costa Mesa and how it affects the ability to attract young families.  Armstrong indicated that Eastside housing sales have now reached the $1.7 million level.  That would be the house across the street from me, in a neighborhood where there are currently three homes on the market over $1.4 million. The house across the street from me sold for $1.4 million last year and the new owner tore it down and has begun building a new home on the site.  One member postulated that there will NEVER be affordable housing in the city.

Others speculated about attracting high tech and the bio-tech businesses that help keep Silicon Valley so stable.  Armstrong and Hatch concurred that those kind of businesses typically demand some very serious financial incentives and that Costa Mesa has historically not been interested in doing business that way.

It was generally agreed that more needs to be done to spur economic development in the City.  Armstrong defined the administrative process for new businesses and provided several handouts used to attract them.  Committee members opined that more should be done to retain existing businesses.

Then the conversation turned to the discussion of the Ethics Policy, presented by new Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau.  She presented a Draft of a proposed policy for the committee to review and offer comments.  I won't try to present the entire document here, but I will give you a flavor for it by providing the segment titles.  I'll give you the entire preamble, though.  It reads thus:

The residents and businesses in the City of Costa Mesa are entitled to have a fair, ethical and accountable local government that has earned the public's full confidence for integrity.  The proper operation of democratic government requires that decision-makers be independent, impartial and accountable to the people they serve.

The City of Costa Mesa has adopted this Ethics Policy to promote and maintain the highest standards of personal and professional conduct in the City's government.  All elected and appointed officials, City employees, volunteers, and others who participate in the City's government are required to adhere to this policy, understand how it applies to their specific responsibilities, and practice these values in their work.  Because we seek public confidence in the City's services and public trust of its decision-makers, our decisions and our work must meet the highest ethical standards and demonstrate the highest levels of achievement.

The eight segment titles of the Ethics Policy are:
  1. Act in the Public Interest
  2. Respect for Government Structure and Process
  3. Conduct
  4. Comply with the Law
  5. Conflict of Interest
  6. Use of Public Resources
  7. Confidentiality
  8. Development Projects
  9. Gifts and Favors
  10. Positive Workplace Environment
  11. Compliance and Enforcement
OK, no guffawing out there!  I'm sure a few of you either raised your eyebrows as you read through that list, or flat out laughed.  Many of us have observed actions by elected officials over the past couple of years that seem not to pass muster based on these titles.

According to Letourneau and Hatch, this is nothing new.  Every two years the City Attorney holds a workshop for all elected and appointed officials plus City department managers to refresh their memories on this policy and EVERY city employee must read and sign it when they are hired.  Letourneau, in response to a question, said that even if an employee doesn't sign it, he is still responsible for knowing and following this policy - it's part of the new-hire orientation packet.

I looked for a draft of this policy on the City website, but am unable to locate one.  I'm sure it will become part of the official record as the staff presents it to the City Council for adoption.

During a discussion of Future Agenda items Assistant Finance Director Colleen O'Donohue discussed the recent implementation of an online Business License Renewal system and told the committee that on April 21st they will launch a New Business License online program.  The online renewal program is working fine.  The discussion also revolved around finally determining just how many businesses in the city are NOT paying their fees.  Apparently that will take coordination with a county and/or state database, which is not yet set up. 

The meeting was adjourned around 5:30 in memory of my friend, David Stiller, who was a member of this committee and the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.  Today the City sent out a reminder that applications to fill Stiller's positions on both these committees are due no later than Monday, March 31, 2014.  You can read the details HERE.

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A Long Evening Of Contrasts

It was a long and interesting evening as the Costa Mesa Planning Commission met Monday night at what could have, and probably should have, been a fairly short meeting.  Alas, it was not to be.

The meeting started on a very positive note, with Code Enforcement Officer Mike Brumbaugh introducing the "team" that helped get him the Planning Commission Design Award.  It was peculiar for a city employee to receive an award that typically is reserved for a project that included something particularly meritorious or special.  I'm not saying that recognition was not due, it just seems that the particular award they chose to use to do it was odd.

Regardless, Brumbaugh and his "team" of fellow code enforcement officers, city staffers and residents plus vendors who offered reduced prices for things like paint, are to be commended for their hard work late last year on their clean-up of a section of the Mission/Mendoza community.
Next up was Public Hearing #1, the issue with a hookah lounge in the north part of town.  The applicant, shown, was doomed from the beginning when he chose to represent himself without help  and didn't serve his cause well when his version of events didn't square with the staff reports.  In fact, not only did the commission vote unanimously to deny his request for additional hours, Colin McCarthy was so peeved at him and the circumstances that he suggested the staff investigate using the Nuisance Ordinance to punish him for consistently violating his operating permit.

Contrast that with Public Hearing #2, the extremely professional presentation made by the partners who operate the Wild Goose Tavern on 17th Street who want to nearly quadruple the size of the facility and create a new two-story building to house tenants and their administrative operations.

Not only was their presentation crisp and on point, but they trotted out 19 speakers to support their plan, a big chunk of the approximately 30 supporters in the auditorium.  Only three people spoke to oppose it.  Among those who spoke in favor of the project were Shawn Dewane of Mesa Water, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Don Harper and Rhonda Rohrabacher - the Congressman's wife - who sat in the audience with one of their triplets, both busily working on laptops while waiting their turn during the two-and a half hours it took for this item to be completed.

It was clear from the staff report and presentations that this was a good project, but one that is severely under parked.  A great part of the discussion revolved around ways to mitigate that problem.  Unfortunately, the numbers are not even close, as commissioner McCarthy pointed out several times.

The partners, Mario Marovic and Andrew Gabriel (shown), produced a plan to mitigate the parking issue by requiring mandatory valet parking use at peak hours on the busiest days.  Both Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and Vice Chair Rob Dickson admitted that they were looking for a way to be able to approve this project, even it doesn't come close to providing enough parking.

Finally they decided to condition the project to require the owners to manage the parking issue or be subject to losing the use of their patio for dining - that would change the parking requirement ratio. The applicants agreed with that and all the rest of the requirements and, barring an appeal to the City Council, will move forward with the project.  The commission voted favorably, 4-1, with McCarthy voting NO because of the parking issue.  I give him credit for sticking to his guns because, as he stated a couple times from the dais, we have under parked commercial projects all over Costa Mesa.

Even though there is much trepidation about the parking issue, I hope the owner's make it work.  While I have not been to this restaurant, EVERY person with whom I've spoken about it raved about it.  I imagine the city staff will be closely-monitoring the parking issue once the new construction is finished and the restaurant has had some time to work out the kinks.

The final item on the agenda, Public Hearing #3, the 240 unit apartment complex at 125 Baker Street in the northeast part of town, took another 90 minutes to wrestle with.  This project, in an area of town that was built as commercial/industrial and presently is the site of an aging commercial building and directly across the street from a manufacturing plant, has been in the works for awhile.

This project exacerbates the out-of-balance ratio of renters vs. homeowners, which Fitzpatrick doesn't seem at all concerned about. One of the owners, Joe Flanagan (shown) presented a strong case for the project.

Only four people rose to speak on the issue and were equally split in favor or against the project.  One of them - a businessman who works in that area - spoke of that section of town being in "transition", with churches and schools recently replacing industrial uses.  He thought it was a good project.  The other three spoke of how this contradicts the General Plan, which requires all developments over four stories to be north of the I-405 Freeway.  And, they mentioned, at the meetings for the updating of the General Plan, there was broad support for limiting density throughout the city.  This will increase the density in that section of town dramatically.

According to retired former City of Costa Mesa employee Peter Naghavi, who was one of the representatives of this project speaking to the commissioners, the traffic in that part of town will actually improve because of this project.  The developers are installing critical traffic signals near their facility, plus the cars are going the opposite direction from this site in the morning and the evening.  The meeting tonight was to consider five separate motions - each of which were passed unanimously by the commission before ending the meeting without discussing their Goals.

We ended the meeting at about 11:35 p.m.... Ugh!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Meetings This Week

Tonight, Monday, March 24, 2014, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission will meet for the final time this month beginning at 6:00 in City Council Chambers at City Hall.  You can read the agenda report HERE.

There are three Public Hearings on the agenda.  The first, HERE, is the recommendation by staff to deny a conditional use permit for a hookah lounge at 3033 Bristol Street, Suite F.

The second, HERE, is the proposal to dramatically expand the existing bar/restaurant (Wild Goose) from 1,335 square feet to 5,185 square feet as part of a new two-story, 8,720 square foot multi-tenant retail/office building.  The request asks for three (3) conditional use permits, one (1) minor conditional use permit and two (2) separate deviations from normal parking requirements.  This is just one more under-parked project being requested by out-of-town developers.

The third public hearing is for 240 apartments on East Baker Street in what is now an industrial zone, HERE.  As this project has inched its way through the process several business owners near the location have expressed concern about having residential units so close - right across the street - to their businesses.  Those businesses generate noise and there is concern that residents of apartments so nearby may, in the not too distant future, may be so bothered by it that they may demand changes be made to those businesses.

Also on the agenda is an update on the Planning Commission Goals, HERE.  It makes for some interesting reading.

The Finance Advisory Committee meets on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 3:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1A on the First Floor of City Hall.  According to the published agenda, HERE, there will be a presentation by Development Services/Economic Development Director, Gary Armstrong and the presentation of the new Ethics Policy by new Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau.

On Thursday, March 27, 2014, at 6:00 p.m. in council chambers, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission will hold its monthly meeting and it appears, from the brevity of the agenda, HERE, that it might be a short one.

There are no public hearings nor Old Business items and only two (2) New Business items on the agenda.  The first, HERE, is a tree removal request on Ceylon Drive that the staff recommends denying.

The second, HERE, is the proposal of a 5-year extension of the agreement with the Harbor Soaring Society for the use of a segment of Fairview Park where that organization has been a good steward of the property since 2007.  I think the staff recommendation is a good one and expect it will be approved by the Commission.

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