Friday, April 18, 2014

Raucous Feet To The Fire Forum Last Night

Well, we were promised a "television talk show" style format by the host, Barbara Venezia, but none of us expected it to be a Jerry Springer Show!

The abbreviated program - 60 minutes instead of the advertised 90 - was marked by some pretty aggressive interrogation by the journalists on the stage and some equally aggressive verbal sparring among the participants, too.  There were no fist-fights or chair-throwing, but the exchanges between
candidates became strident many times.

All the candidates for the 74th Assembly seat being vacated by Allan Mansoor attended this forum - apparently the first time all five have been at the same venue.  Three Republican men - Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry, Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper and Emanuel Patrascu who works for Assemblyman Travis Allen - were joined by two Democrat women - Educator Anila Ali and recent convert from the Republican Party, businesswoman Karina Onofre.
The interrogators for the evening - Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis, Orange County Register columnist and Republican activist Jack Wu, Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana, Jr. and Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez - came prepared and didn't let the candidates off easy with their questions.  Venezia, as moderator, kept the ball rolling.
The "crowd" was less than hoped for - somewhere around 100 people rattled around in a room prepped for at least double that number.  Still, the crowd of partisans and other interested parties was attentive and, at times, quite vocal.
The event was covered by reporters for the Daily Pilot, Orange County Register and The Voice of OC, plus Costa Mesa Television was on hand to record the event for future viewing on the public access channels of all cities covered by the Assembly District.
 Jill Cowan (Daily Pilot), Scott Martindale (OC Register), Brad Zint (Daily Pilot)
As I looked around the room I saw Costa Mesa City Council candidates Harold Weitzberg, Lee Ramos and Tony Capitelli, plus Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Sanitary District Director Arlene Schafer, too.  And, Police Chief Tom Gazsi also made an appearance.  Late in the program Mansoor and his lovely and VERY pregnant wife arrived.  He is scheduled to attend the forum for the 2nd District Supervisorial seat being vacated by termed-out John Moorlach on April 28th - about the time she is due to deliver their first child.  A highlight of the evening for me was a chat with the grande dame of local politics, Marian Bergeson.
I thought Curry came off as the most composed, professional  candidate on the stage.  The former Newport Beach mayor, a seasoned pro, knows how to answer the questions briskly and when to keep quiet.  The rest of the more junior candidates had trouble with that part, frequently talking over one another, making it very difficult to sort answers from the noise.

The two Democrat women, in my view, finished 4th and 5th if the evening was to be graded. Ali, a teacher from Irvine with no political experience, clearly articulated her answers, but didn't have enough of them.  Onofre was much more frenetic with her answers and, while attractive and engaging, lost much of the crowd when she complained about not receiving respect from "elderly" members of the audience.  Neither of them have raised any significant funds for their campaigns.

While on that subject, Curry has accumulated the biggest war chest - somewhere around $250,000, including money he loaned to his campaign.  Harper was quite nebulous about his funds - he said somewhere between $30,000 and
$50,000.  Patrascu said he had $100,000 on hand.
Ali also shot herself in the foot late in the meeting when she spoke in glowing terms about Barack Obama.  Muffled boos were heard throughout the room.  It's important to understand one's audience in these situations.

Because of the free-form, talking-over-each-other format it was difficult to understand the answers to many of the questions.  During a very unusual exchange we did learn that Onofre is both Pro-choice and Pro-life!  Yeah, nobody I spoke with later could figure that one out, either.  Nick Gerda of the Voice of OC was first up with coverage of the event, HERE.  His summary will help you with specific answers gleaned from his front-row seat.  HERE is Brad Zint's Daily Pilot coverage, posted online at 11:30 Friday.
When asked how each would deal with the Sacramento politics, which is tilted extremely to the Democratic Party side on issues, none of the candidates had good answers - even the Democrats.  We know the Republicans will have a tough go of it - Mansoor's lackluster tour has demonstrated that for us.

Quite honestly, because so few of the candidates were able to offer concrete, specific answers to tough questions we were left to form judgments about their qualifications by the WAY they navigated through answers.  Again, in my mind's eye, Curry came out ahead of the pack, with Harper a distant second, followed by Parascu.  There seemed to be very little enthusiasm from the crowd for the two Democrat women.  A couple people muttered "None of the above" as they made their way out of the room.
So, that's one forum under our belts.  On to the next one on April 28th - same time, same place.  Costa Mesa City Council Candidate Forums will be scheduled once the field is locked-in.  The Feet To The Fire Forum for that group will be held on September 18th on the campus of Orange Coast College.  More on that one as the day draws near.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Feet To The Fire Forum Tonight

This is the chance for you to see all the candidates for the 74th Assembly seat being vacated by Allan Mansoor grilled by a panel of local journalists!

Tonight, Thursday,  at the Costa Mesa Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park), Barbara Venezia and her band of interrogators will put on a show for us all.  Doors open at 6:30 and the program runs from 7:00 - 8:30.  That's still plenty of time for us old folks to get home to bed early.  To learn more click HERE. See you there.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Council Meeting Wrap-Up

OK, now that the drama of last night is behind us, kind of, HERE, let's talk about the real business of the city and what was, or was not, accomplished at the City Council meeting last night.

It's important to note that the meeting ran less than three hours, due in great part to the fact that two of the items on the agenda - the long-awaited and, in my view, much-overdue Ethics Policy and the proposed development of 240 apartment units at 125 East Baker Street - were pulled from the agenda.  Each of those items, when they finally appear before the council, will likely suck up a lot of time with discussion and public comments.  I suspect by pulling them from the agenda last night we saved ourselves a couple hours - at least.

There were three "presentations" last night.  First, Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff spoke to tell us of the current status of the John Wayne Airport agreement extension, and asked for the support by the City of the upcoming Environmental Impact Report.  This chart (click on it to enlarge it) shows the modifications to the agreement that have been proposed.

Next up was Lisa Telles from the Transportation Corridor Authority (TCA), which operates the Orange County Toll Roads.  She told us that the 51 miles of Orange County Toll Roads will no longer accept cash payments as of May 14, 2014, and we will have three options as of that date:
  1. Continue to use the FasTrak transponder, which provides the least costly toll charges.
  2. Establish an ExpressAccount with the TCA, which reads your license plate and either deducts from a prepaid account (like the FasTrack) or sends an invoice.
  3.  Use One-Time-Toll, which permits the billing ONE TIME of a toll charge using information taken from the auto license record.
You can learn all about the options at the TCA website, HERE.

The third was a presentation to Code Enforcement Officer Mike Tucker and members of the Grace Fellowship Church for their proactive assistance to an elderly resident who was in danger of incurring significant fines due to the condition of her property.  Tucker contacted the church and volunteers cleaned up the place.

Ten speakers stepped up to the podium for Public Comments, causing Mayor Jim Righeimer to remark that he "didn't even have to shuffle the cards".  Few smiled at the remark.

Former City Council candidate Chris McEvoy covered a range of issues, including questioning the need for a Charter; stifled public participation; rehab homes; the DG Trail and observing that, following a little rain, Fairview Park has burst into color.

Council majority supporter and long, long, long time resident Chuck Perry praised the council for recent street work, then suggested attention be given to parking issues adjacent to the new soccer fields at Vanguard University.

Flo Martin intended to present a PowerPoint presentation regarding the life-saving event for her son, but didn't get the information to the City Clerk in time, so just gave us a - to use a Chick Hearnism - "words-eye view" of the event.  It was very moving.

Beth Refakes reminded us of the collection of goods for the City's adopted Marine battalion, the 1/5, which has deployed to Australia, HERE.  The Military Affairs Team, of which she is a member, will collect the stuff and deliver it to Camp Pendleton, which will then have it transported to the 1/5.  She also spoke of the recent 60th Anniversary Committee meeting and looked forward to resolution of pending issues.

Sue Lester mentioned employee Lorna Lyttle, who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan and CMPD Sergeant Vic Bakkila, who recently was promoted to Full Colonel in the Army Reserves.  She also mentioned the Ethics Policy, and the fact that a 2011 Management Audit called for the establishment of such a policy and, here we are, three years later, and it still has not been produced.  She also mentioned the periodic Ethics Training conducted by our contract law firm and noted that neither Mayor Righeimer nor councilman Gary Monahan have yet received that training.  I'm not surprised...

Kathy Esfahani, representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, spoke about the decision the previous night by the Planning Commission to reduce the number of long-term stay units at the Sandpiper Motel.  She cited the great need for such housing and bemoaned the fact that we will lose such units when there is no other option available in the city.

Cindy Brenneman, who identified herself as one of the "Dirty Dozen" - the dozen people who regularly speak before the council that Righeimer derided recently - spoke of the "Pump In" at Goat Hill Junction at Fairview Park this weekend, the Community Run on the 25th, car show on the 26th, the Relay For Life on the 31st and the fact that CMPD Officer Kha Bao is "kicking butt" in the current "distracted driving" campaign.

Allan Katz asked for a crosswalk on Victoria near Victoria Health Care - timely, since the new pavement is just about to be striped.

Robin Leffler spoke about the 60th Anniversary meeting and hoped that some light will eventually be shined on the financial morass.  She cited improprieties in the way checks were authorized and asked the City to get to the bottom of it.

During this segment Gary Monahan - he actually spoke during this meeting! - observed that the Medical Marijuana issue was alive again and that he would be staying on top of it to "see what we can do".  He cited Oregon and Colorado.  Funny - he remains virtually mute for months, then a drug issue perks him up, so to speak.  Interesting, no?

Righeimer addressed the Affordable Housing issue, citing that it's not an easy problem to solve.  Duh!  Responding to criticism, he said, "Just because they don't agree with you doesn't mean they don't listen to you."  Really?  He spoke about the motels, indicating that they were "never intended to be long-term stay places."  He said "Nobody's going to get kicked out!"  He mentioned being a speaker at the "graduation" at the Orange County Rescue Mission and almost teared-up talking about it.  He said, "There's a little God going on here, but I can't talk about it."  Then he did his melt down as mentioned in my earlier post.

Mensinger didn't contribute much, except to agree with Righeimer's meltdown comments.

Sandy Genis commented on the Pump-In.

Wendy Leece agreed with McEvoy about the stifling of speech, defended my rights and got interrupted by Righeimer on the issue.  She observed that the Ethics Policy is overdue and that we should be following Roberts Rules of Order - timely, since Righeimer had just violated them.  She spoke about the motel issue and the Costa Mesa Senior Center, indicating that a sub-committee of the Senior Board will be studying how to work effectively with the City.  She also mentioned the Freedom Committee and former mayor Jack Hammett and his involvement in it.

CEO Tom Hatch, during his segment, told us:
  • The Ethics Policy needed some fine tuning.  
  • He told us there would be the first Public Hearing on the Charter in City Council Chambers at 7:00 on April 22nd.  
  • There will be a Study Session on April 29th on General Plan Land Use Element and some Library concepts.  
  • On May 13th there will be the first Budget Study Session of this year.
  • The 60th Anniversary Meeting went well.  He and Chairman Mike Scheafer are going to prepare a report.
  • A video clip introducing the Costa Mesa Connect Application for smart phones was shown.
  • Another video clip showing the reunion of Costa Mesa Firefighters and paramedics with the little girl whose life they helped save not too long ago was also shown.
  • He mentioned that the Preserve Our Neighborhood Task Force will meet soon.  I'm told that meeting is Thursday.  He commented on the very costly legal battle Newport Beach is involved in regarding rehab homes in that city.
Because Public Hearing #2, the 240-unit apartment complex planned for 125 East Baker Street in an industrial zone, was pulled and continued to May 6th, three members of the public were permitted to speak on it with the proviso that they could NOT speak on it again.  We'll see how that works out.

Public Hearing #1, the vacation of a sliver of city property on Fullerton Street was handled in short order.

New Business #1, the Appointments to Committees was up next.  This was VERY interesting.  Two of the three committees with appointees were not at all controversial.  The Finance Advisory Committee is another story, though.

The council voted, on 5-0 votes, to appoint Frank Davern to the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, replacing David Stiller, who passed away recently.  They also voted, 5-0 to place John McQueen as an alternate on the Historical Preservation Committee.

When it came to the 8 positions on the Finance Advisory Committee, liaison Mensinger recommended the following people:
Jeff Arthur
James R. Fisler
Christopher Graham
Robert Juneman
Tom Pollitt
Richard A. Riva, Jr.
Terry Shaw
Colin P. Smith
Howard Hull

You'll note that there are 9 names on that list.  Hull did not get his application in on time, so Sandy Genis questioned why he should be considered at all.  When Mensinger was asked to read the names again before the vote he DID NOT include Hull's name, but something Righeimer said led folks to believe Hull was among those selected.  You may recall that Hull was a lightning rod for controversy in the 60th Anniversary Celebration Kick-Off event.  A call late this afternoon to Brenda Green, City Clerk, confirmed that Hull was on her list of nine (9) people selected.  Curious, indeed.

Some may recall that Righeimer was the beneficiary of similar largess.  A few months after he dragged his carpetbag to town from Fountain Valley he applied - very late and well past the deadline - for an opening on the Planning Commission.  Allan Mansoor stiff-armed his loyal foot soldier, Paul Bunney, not once, not twice but three times and, instead, appointed Righeimer.  We presume it was political payback for help Dana Rohrabacher gave to Mansoor during his re-election campaign.  Righeimer was Rohrabacher's campaign manager for that one.  Now we have the rules ignored for Hull.  Then, again, that's how they roll...

New Business #2, HERE, the Master Plan screening of a plan for a live/work project at 2026 Placentia moved through briskly, although there was conversation about parking - nothing new about that - and open space.   During a conversation about the parking vs. open space Monahan stated that he'd rather have the parking than open space.  The developer will move forward and this project will likely next appear before the Planning Commission sometime soon.

The two "trailed" items from the Consent Calendar were next.  Item #6, HERE, the request for "resident only parking" on Center Street between Placentia Avenue and Wallace Avenue, turned out to be more interesting than anticipated.  Legendary restaurateur Wing Lam, who's original Wahoo's Fish Taco restaurant is across the street, attended the meeting and spoke with some consternation about the prospect of eliminating the parking along Center Street during his normal hours of operation.  After a good deal of conversation the decision was to support a modified version - with resident-only parking authorized from 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. and the staff will monitor it and bring it back to the council in 3-4 months with a report.  It passed 5-0.

The remaining item was #10, HERE, the participation by Righeimer, Mensinger, Hatch, Economic Development Director Gary Armstrong and an undetermined number of other city staffers at the annual International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) in Las Vegas, May 18-20 this year.  So far, nobody has presented any evidence that the participation the last two years has resulted in ANY new businesses coming to Costa Mesa.  No good answers were given to the question and no definition of who and how many other staffers will be attending was given, but the council voted, 5-0 to authorize the participation.  No firm costs were provided, either.  Seems like a curious way to run a city, er, business, er, city... whatever.

The most entertaining part of the meeting came at the very tail end, when Anna Vrska stepped to the speaker's podium for the continued segment of Public Comments.  During her presentation, in which she asked about a leaked memo regarding the Friday Night Lights Football controversy and the Ethics Policy,  she came to my defense and Righeimer attempted to quash her comments as he did with Leece earlier.  Vrska, however, was having none of it.  She refused to yield her time to him, telling him, "No, you don't!" as he tried to interrupt her.  It made me smile as she finished her comments and stepped away before the meeting was adjourned just before 9:00 p.m.

In case you wish to view the streaming video of the meeting, rants and all, you can click HERE.  You'll find Righeimer's initial rant about me at 1:03:20.  It runs for about three minutes.  You'll find his interruption of Leece at 1:09:32.  You'll find the exchange between Righeimer and Vrska way down at the end at 2:45:30.

Oh, yes... in case anyone ELSE has the question... NO, I am NOT going to apologize to Righeimer.  Thanks for asking.

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Righeimer Freaks Out!

OK, let's get this out of the way first.  I'll write about the remainder of Tuesday night's council meeting separately because there is much to discuss and this will distract from that information.

Tuesday night, during his turn at bat in the Council Members Comments segment of the meeting at just about 7:00 (In case you want to look it up on the streaming video or the recorded replay on CMTV) Mayor Jim Righeimer absolutely flipped out and used the power and authority of his bully pulpit - a perfect term, by the way - to criticize ME, specifically and by name, for something I wrote about him as a comment on a thread on Facebook about his "Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force" last week.  The person who generated the original comment, paraphrasing,  postulated that residents who wanted to know about the task force couldn't because it was not subject to the Brown Act and the meetings are not announced - held in secret was the phrase used.  No reports, no minutes, etc.  Mine was the first comment.  Here's that comment:

This is how they roll. Create a"task force" - no open meeting law compliance required-then meet in secret and hatch(pun intended) plans to focus "enforcement" on specific types of groups. 75 years ago this is what another strutting dictator did in Germany. "transparency" seems to be a one-way mirror fro these guys!

I subsequently corrected the typo at the end to "for".

Last night Righeimer took offense to being compared to Adolf Hitler - You'll note I never used the name - and went on to describe him as someone who killed six million people.  He ranted about having a family and on and on, getting madder by the second.  He was stunned that I had been considered #19 on the Daily Pilot list of the most influential people in our community!

Righeimer demanded an immediate apology from me - in person - and apologies from the four people who had the audacity to "like" the comment - and read their names, too! 

It's interesting that, since he's blocked me on Facebook, he cannot actually see what I write.  Someone else did a "screen shot" and sent it to him.  He read it almost verbatim.  He DID NOT read the last sentence about transparency, which really was the punch line.

Immediately after that, during her segment, Councilwoman Wendy Leece began to mention that I had the right of free speech when Righeimer came unglued again, interrupting her and demanding to know if she thought it was OK for him to be compared to someone who killed 6 million people.  To her credit - I'm sure it took all the composure she could muster and that she relied on years of teaching petulant children - she did not get into an argument with him.  She just calmly sat there, bit her tongue until he finished his rant, then completed her thoughts.

At the very end of the meeting he almost ignored the final speaker of the evening, Anna Vrska, who had filled out a card and had waited patiently for her turn to address the council.  Right off the bat she criticized Righeimer for his rant about me and said she agreed with me.  Immediately he tried to bully her, demanding to know if she thought it was OK that he was being compared to someone who killed 6 million people.  Vrska, however, was not going to be bullied - again!  She told Righeimer not to interrupt her and they actually got into a shouting match before he relented and shut his yap.  It was a joy to watch. 

If Righeimer took offense at being compared to a 20th Century dictator, so be it.  I used that reference because, since he took office, he's conducted himself EXACTLY like a dictator.  His behavior has been chronicled here at length.  Last night he demonstrated, one more time, just how capricious he is with rules - even those he instituted unilaterally.  At the end of the meeting, during the discussion of the proposed "resident only parking" on Center Street, he permitted several residents to step up to speak.  In fact, he invited them to speak AFTER the public comments segment for that issue had been closed, even though none had filled out speaker cards and had, apparently, not intended to participate!  He did NOT require them to fill out speakers cards.  Councilman Gary Monahan chided him for it at the time, but Righeimer just shrugged it off.  He only follows rules that please him, when it pleases him.

Maybe I should not have compared Righeimer to Adolf Hitler.  In fact, the more I think about it, a better comparison might have been Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator of the same era.  Here's a phrase from the Wikipedia page about him: 
 "After destroying all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes, Mussolini and his fascist followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one party dictatorship."

What do you think?  "secret police" - maybe that fifth floor Code Enforcement group that does his personal bidding?  "outlawing labor strikes" - sounds like the kind of relationship Righeimer has established with our labor organizations, doesn't it?  "series of laws" - Well, where do we begin with that one?  The Nuisance Ordinance; the Excessive Use of Resources Ordinance; his unilateral stifling of speech at council meetings by bifurcating Public Comments, and on and on.  Righeimer's behavior has been dictatorial from the get-go and is only getting more so as the weeks pass.  He demonstrated that last night when he interrupted Leece and tried to interrupt Vrska.

And, by the way, back on September 29, 2013, Dennis Popp - you know, that "kinder, gentler" blogger as described in the Daily Pilot profile of him last year - wrote an entry on his pathetic, pandering blog, HERE in which he describes the by-partisan grass-roots organization Costa Mesans For Responsible Government (CM4RG) as behaving like Nazis!  Where was the outrage then, Mr. Mayor?  Popp - that pontificating pile of partisan puffery so roundly praised by you and your sycophants - is much more overt in his comparison and yet you apparently support him and his role as campaign manager for your hand-picked campaign companion, Lee Ramos.

Since I know Mayor Righeimer reads this blog I will now address him directly.  Mr. Mayor, here's the deal.  I AM NOT going to apologize to you for my characterization of you on that Facebook snippet.  In fact, I have affirmed that characterization here.  If you don't like criticism you're in the wrong business.  You CHOSE to be a politician and with that choice comes criticism.  What's that old phrase?  "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen!"  

Your reaction is just one more classic example of your attempts to intimidate and stifle folks who disagree with you.  Be advised, Mr. Mayor, it's not working.  All you're doing is demonstrating to EVERYONE just what a shallow, vindictive person you are - one who is certainly not worthy of the public trust granted to you as a member of our City Council.  

In fact, Mr. Mayor, I demand an apology FROM YOU to me and to the others you called out last night, for abusing the power of your position to chide members of the public - your constituents - and for trying to deny me rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Your behavior was unacceptable for a public official.

And, by the way, Mr. Mayor, don't bother unleashing your ex-brother-in-law/lawyer on me again.  As you and your sidekick, Steve Mensinger, know, that didn't work the other times you tried it and it won't work this time, either.  I understand the SLAPP laws, as you know. 

There's only one way for you to avoid criticism, Mr. Mayor... stop doing stupid stuff.  Of course, it may be too late for that.  Stop trying to run this city like it's your own little fiefdom.  Follow the rules established to protect the rights of the residents of this city.  Stop your attempt to take over absolute control of my city with yet another bogus attempt at a Charter - the residents already resoundingly told you they don't want a Charter less than two years ago.  If you don't want people to compare you to a dictator, just stop acting like one... it's really that simple.

OK, back to you, my loyal readers.  Do you think he'll pay attention?  Nah, I don't either, but I guess we'll see.  One of his sycophants, Jim Fitzpatrick, recently posted on a NextDoor thread that "we don't need listeners", so I guess that answers the question.  Thanks to all of you who have communicated your support on this issue.  It's very interesting to sit in the back of the auditorium and have the mayor of your city criticize and vilify you in front of more than 100 people and who-knows-how-many watching on television at home.  I hope Righeimer's behavior won't discourage any of you from continuing to participate in the process.  As I've said many times before, this is going to be a very contentious campaign season and it appears that Mr. Righeimer is already feeling the pressure.  Maybe he'll decide to NOT run again - he has until August 8th to make that decision.  We should be so lucky...

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