Friday, May 16, 2014

What Does The Agenda For Tuesday's Council Meeting Tell Us?

The Costa Mesa City Council will meet again next Tuesday, May 20, 2014 in City Council Chambers at City Hall for the next installment in government by imperial decree.  The closed session will begin at 4:30 and the open session is scheduled to start at 6:00 p.m.  The closed session - held in Conference Room 5A -  involves conferences with negotiators for all three of the employee organizations - the Costa Mesa Police Officers Association (CMPOA), the Costa Mesa City Employee Association (CMCEA) and the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association (CMFA).  You can read the entire agenda HERE.

There are no presentations presently scheduled so, after Public Comments, Council Member Comments and the report from CEO Tom Hatch, the Consent Calendar will be considered.  Typically, items on the Consent Calendar are of a routine nature so may be handled in one single vote.  That hasn't happened in a long time, though.  If someone - a staff member, council member or member of the public - requests an item be pulled for separate discussion Mayor Jim Righeimer has decreed by royal edict that those items be trailed until the end of the meeting.  That means if you are concerned about an issue you'd better pack a lunch and bring a pillow.

Items of interest on the Consent Calendar include #3, Warrant 2515, HERE, which shows us payments that have been made recently to vendors.  I'll give you just a little taste with a few that caught my eye.

  • Apple One Employment Services - $5,930.24 for nine separate entries for temporary employees for Planning, Development Services and Recreation.
  • Albert Grover & Associates, Inc. - $78,517.01 for "Baker/Placentia TSSP" for February and March
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $14,543.00 for legal services for the 60th Anniversary Investigation and more.
  • Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth - $18,270.00 for legal services
  • Accountemps - $2,874.51 for Finance temporary help
  • Government Staffing Services, Inc. - $2,200.00 for Project Management Temporary Services
  • Jones Day - $2,280 for CMCEA legal services thru 2/28/14
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $8,570.00 for PD labor negotiations and CMCEA Labor Negotiations
  • Melad & Associates - $5,490.00 for Bldg Permit Technical Services
  • Meyers Nave - $2,600.94 for Fairview Park legal services
  • Scientia Consulting Group, Inc. - $3,823.75 for IT Service
  • Woodruff Spradlin & Smart - $1,115.70 for legal services for Benito Acosta v City! Still?!

You'll note that we spent nearly $50,000 on legal expenditures on this warrant, including another $1100 on Benito Acosta - former Mayor Allan Mansoor's gift that just keeps on taking, and taking - a decade later.

Number 5, HERE, is a group of resolutions regarding the November elections.  The staff report is interesting reading.

Number 6, HERE, is for architectural and engineering services for modification of Fire Station #4 to accommodate larger apparatus.

Public Hearing #1, HERE, is the appeal of the Planning Commission's recent revocation of the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel on Newport Boulevard that allows extended occupancy of rooms at the facility.

Old Business #1, HERE, and #2, HERE, involve the second reading for the 240-unit apartment complex at 125 East Baker Street.  Despite the fact that the city has roughly 60% rental residents and 40% owners, the City Council seems determined to pass this project in a commercial/industrial zone.  This will almost certainly drive adjacent industrial businesses away in the very near future.  So much for being "business friendly"!

New Business #1, HERE, is VERY interesting.  This is a General Plan Screening request to develop a 236-unit residential development at the site of one of Mayor Jim Righeimer's "problem motels" - the Costa Mesa Motor Inn.  This is request to re-zone the property from General Commercial to High Density Residential, permitting 59 dwelling units per acre.  Some will recall that the mayor has stated quite boldly that it was his goal to cause owners of "problem motels" to take a more realistic view of the value of their properties.  Well, apparently his plan has sufficiently bludgeoned the owner of this particular property that he is now considering a change in use.  Former Development Services Director Don Lamm will apparently make the pitch for what is being called "Costa Mesa Luxury Apartments".  Here we  are again with more apartments - this will make nearly 600 discussed at this meeting Tuesday.

The last item on the agenda, HERE, is the renewal of the user agreement with the Harbor Soaring Society (HSS) for 5 years.  If approved, this is a good decision by the council.  The members of the HSS have been good tenants and good stewards of their little slice of Fairview Park.

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Costa Mesa Firefighters Battle San Diego Fires

The City if Costa Mesa issued the following press release today regarding the participation of Costa Mesa Firefighters on the multiple fires south of our city in San Diego County.

"Eight Costa Mesa firefighters have deployed to San Diego this week to help put out a series of wildfires.

On Wednesday, Battalion Chiefs Kevin Diamond and Tim Vasin were asked to supervise an Orange County strike team (made up of five engine companies from neighboring fire departments) that was dispatched to San Diego. Their team worked for more than 24 hours straight on the San Marcos fire and continues to help with fire-fighting operations there.
Also on Wednesday, Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw was dispatched to the Tomahawk Fire at Camp Pendleton.

On Thursday, Fire Captain Chris Coates led Costa Mesa Engine 84 (with Engineer Steve Savage and Firefighter/Paramedics Trail Blincoe and Travis Johnson) as part of another Orange County strike team sent to the San Marcos fire.

And Thursday afternoon, Fire Captain Bruce Pulgencio was activated for military deployment effective today in his role as a helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army Reserve to assist with the water dropping operations for the San Diego fires. 

"The bottom line is that Costa Mesa Firefighters are actively engaged in firefighting operations with firefighters from throughout the region to help mitigate the extreme fire conditions and damage that is taking place in San Diego," Fire Chief Dan Stefano said."

This is the way things work in the public safety arena.  Neighboring cities assist each other when calamities such as these horrendous fires occur.  As a resident of this city, I'm proud these men do their duty supporting fire fighting efforts in nearby communities.
This kind of activity should be considered when our City Council considers the current budget and labor negotiations.  Right now the Costa Mesa Fire Department is a dozen (12) positions short, with the city administration unwilling to fill any of them until the new deployment model is in place.  We've written about this before.  It has chosen, instead, to abandon six of those slots and "fill" the remaining vacancies with overtime.

In my view, this is a peculiar approach.   Particularly when those men and women who - when the overtime demanded of them is considered - work practically two jobs, are later chided as "greedy firefighters" by elected leaders.  Several times over the past couple years reference was made by Mayor Jim Righeimer to "$350,000 firefighters" - obviously referring to Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw, who worked over 4,000 hours in 2012 leading the men of the Costa Mesa Fire Department who were defending our city.  This kind of clueless crap comes from a man whose idea of "risk" is driving his SUV while it's dirty!

The new deployment model as originally proposed by Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold called for six new paramedic vans, with five being deployed and one held in reserve.  Presently, although we now actually have those six $200,000 vans, only two have deployed.  And, the deployment model has morphed into one in which two of them will be held in reserve and only 4 deployed.  I don't understand how this makes any sense.

The kind of catastrophic event we see today, where we are asked to help other communities in need, demonstrates exactly why we need to be filling our fire fighting vacancies and fully implementing the planned re-deployment model!  We need to provide safety for our community without requiring our firefighters to work thousands of overtime hours to accomplish that goal.  If that means we pave a couple fewer streets next year, so be it!

Kudos to Fire Chief Dan Stefano and the men and women of the Costa Mesa Fire Department for their tireless efforts on behalf of our city and of the broader community.  We should be proud of them all.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Costa Mesa Announces 2nd Charter Public Hearing

Today the City of Costa Mesa announced the date of the second mandatory Public Hearing on the Charter that was submitted to the City Council for its consideration earlier this year.  That meeting will take place in City Council Council Chambers as part of the regularly-scheduled council meeting on June 3, 2014.  You can read the announcement HERE.

Public Hearings on the agenda are scheduled to begin at 7:00, although the meeting itself begins at 6:00.  The council may consider whether or not to place the Charter on the November ballot no sooner than 21 days following this Public Hearing, which could be at its meeting of July 1, 2014.

For more information on the process that produced this Charter click HERE.  To read the actual Charter document click HERE.

The Charter - a product of many months of meetings by the committee and thousands of hours of staff time - was submitted to the City Council in March.  The Charter Committee was hand-picked Mayor Jim Righeimer's majority and stacked heavily in favor of a Charter from day one.  I attended most of the meetings, heard the discussions and observed the interactions among the members.  It was a time-consuming, expensive, interesting, yet unnecessary, exercise because the cornerstone reason Righeimer used to command this committee to be formed to resurrect his dead-and-buried Measure V from two years ago - Prevailing Wage - has been rendered virtually inconsequential by subsequent legal opinions.  Most of the rest of the issues addressed in the Charter are already possible under our current form of government.


Only 25% of California cities operate with a Charter form of government.  The rest - including Costa Mesa for the past 60 years - are General Law cities, which operate just fine utilizing the protections from abuse by unscrupulous local politicians provided by that form of government.  The City of Bell - the most notorious recent example of Charter abuse in the hands of Robert Rizzo - provides us with a contemporary example of just what can go wrong with that form of government.  Not only does this Charter remove many of those protections under the guise of giving the city more "local control", it is akin to placing a loaded gun in the hands of a child.

So, if you care about this issue, please read through the Charter document and let your City Council know how you feel by writing to them or by attending the Public Hearing next month and tell them your thoughts.  The council majority - which clearly already has its mind made up or they wouldn't have authorized this process last year after Jim Righeimer's Charter was so soundly thumped at the polls in 2012 - will hear you, but probably won't listen to what you say.  That's certainly something to think about when considering placing even more power in their hands.

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Budget Workshop Wrap-up

The Budget Workshop conducted by City CEO Tom Hatch and Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent Wednesday evening was certainly worth the time.  They were supported by another half-dozen staffers, ready to answer specific technical questions.
Although the staff was prepared to go through the PowerPoint presentations from the Study Session Tuesday night, most, if not all, of the 9 residents present at the workshop had been to that meeting and had seen the presentations.

Q &A
Instead, the workshop ended up being a lively Question and Answer session that stretched to nearly double the scheduled 90 minutes.  Hatch fielded most of the questions and did so with much patience as those of us present tried to get some clarity on important budget issues.  It's our understanding that the meeting will be available for later viewing via streaming video and on CMTV.

Resident, activist and announced-council candidate Harold Weitzberg took the lead and attempted to get straight answers on the Police Department staffing/recruitment issue.  Hatch attempted to provide information that was a little confusing, but Weitzberg kept pulling the conversation back to some very basic issues.... 1)What is our current authorized sworn officer strength? (136).  2)How many officers do we presently actually have fit and available for duty? (98-100)  The difference is the actual vacancies (25) and those "injured on duty" (10-12).  These numbers are fluid - two more officers are leaving the end of this week, for example.  3) How many recruits do we have in the process (11). 

Midway through the discussion Police Chief Tom Gazsi happened by and joined the conversation.  He affirmed what Hatch had been telling us - that we have 11 candidates in various stages of recruitment/training and that he, Gazsi, was preparing offers to two more candidates.

However, due to the known attrition - retirees and departures to other venues - it will take a continuous recruitment/training effort to bring our actual, boots-on-the-ground, strength back up to 136 - probably averaging 4 recruits a month for a year.  In the meantime, officers continue to work long overtime hours to fill the safety needs of the city.

A question was asked about how long are recruits required to stay with the City.  Hatch's answer was that there is NO requirement, even though we pay to train them.  Many observers thought that was short-sighted, even though Hatch says it's the norm for most law enforcement agencies locally.  There was talk of signing/retention bonuses and Hatch implied that was something he'd like to pursue.

Gazsi stressed that, in our recruitment process, we exceed the minimum requirements, doing our best to hire candidates with the physical stamina, emotional stability and maturity to be successful.  He told us, in response to a question, that recruits tell him that they chose to apply to Costa Mesa because they were treated the best - with respect and dignity, encouraged and were provided with the best information.

The discussion then turned to the Fire Department and the new ambulances that are part of former Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's deployment model.  Hatch referred us to a staff report from the May 7, 2013 council meeting, HERE, in which Chief Arnold's plans were discussed at length.  None of the attendees at this meeting had a copy of that report at the time.

Questions were asked about the problems of putting all the new ambulances into service.  Right now, even though we have six (6) brand new ambulances, only two are in service.  In fact, the model they plan on implementing will only place four (4) of them into service with the remaining two (2) held in reserve.  Arnold's original preferred model includes using five (5), with one in reserve, to be used when the others are being serviced.  I had, and still have, a problem with two units - a half-million dollars worth of new equipment - sitting around in storage somewhere.

Questions of staffing remain amorphous, depending on when signal prioritization is implemented and on the future of Fire Stations #1 and #6.  #1 is in need of major repairs - Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger told us at the study session Tuesday that it should be rebuilt - and maybe relocated.  The closure of #6 remains a sticky issue - the original proposal included that act in the potential savings numbers.

It also included savings from the cancellation of the current private transport ambulance service contract with CARE Ambulance - a contributor to Mayor Jim Righeimer's campaign in the past.  Hatch, again, toe-danced around that issue, explaining that it MIGHT be in the plans for the future.  Funny, I was sure it was in the plans from the beginning.

Hatch told us that of the 12 vacant positions being held open, six job slots were being covered by overtime.  I reminded him that the Fire Department was already working horrendous overtime hours - to which he responded that most of that was Captains and above.  A look at the 2013 Employee Compensation Report, HERE, shows that of the first 200 or so entries - pages 1-8 - most are in the Fire Service.  As you scan down the list look at the column titled Overtime Hours.  You will find many firefighters - not just command staff - working hundreds, if not thousands, of additional hours.  Keep in mind that a typical work year is around 2080 hours.  Some of those folks work nearly two complete jobs!  This is not good for their health and for their family lives, either.  We should not be building a deployment model that depends on large numbers of overtime hours to fulfill!

Mention was made that, in the case of both Police and Fire, mutual aid or automatic aid between surrounding departments is traditionally part of any deployment model.  Because we are so short-staffed in both departments today it's difficult for the Costa Mesa units to hold up their end of the sharing equation.

Further, we understand from other sources, that there are plans afoot for a couple neighboring cities to, possibly, close down fire stations that have been part of our shared response activity.  Hatch said he will have that investigated first thing this morning.  It's impossible for Costa Mesa to accurately create a deployment model if the shared resources are in question.

Questions were also asked about the display of our legal expenses.  Currently, it is very difficult to reconcile what we are told is being budgets for legal expenses - basically, the costs for Jones & Mayer ($803,000) with the actual legal expenses we see showing up on the Warrants at virtually every council meeting.  Hatch and Dunivent agreed that there needs to be a better way to reflect the actual legal costs.

As we discussed the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget, questions were asked about "carry-over projects", like the plan in the current fiscal year to do a major renovation/enhancement of the audio/visual equipment in the City Council chambers.  That project was funded to the tune of $1.6 million in this fiscal year.  We were told it will begin soon and will be carried into the new fiscal year if necessary.

Other questions were asked about the Information Technology Replacement Fund that was authorized by the City Council for this  and subsequent budgets to accumulate cash for the systematic replacement/upgrading of our technology infrastructure.  The current number - $100,000 - was arbitrarily chosen as a starting point.  Dunivent and new Information Technology Director Steve Ely will be assessing this situation and make recommendations to the council for modification of the accumulation rate.

Hatch, in response to a question, spoke of the new Buyer position which will have the sole responsibility to assure that everyone follows the proper purchasing procedures - without exception.  He also spoke of hiring a new Purchasing Supervisor.

A question was asked about the "takeover" of the Senior Center, to which Hatch confirmed the budgeting of a half-million dollars for physical changes to the building and for programs and management of them.  A question was asked about the Albert Dixon Foundation funds.  Hatch said it was a separate non-profit organization that had supported the Senior Center in the past, but that he didn't know what the future held.

The meeting adjourned just before 8:30 and most seemed to feel satisfied with the results.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A First Peek At The 2014/2015 Budget

Tuesday evening the Costa Mesa City Council held a study session at which Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch and Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent unveiled their preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2014.  You can read the entire 362-page document HERE.  Late in the meeting Hatch committed to have several more hard copies of the Budget prepared and made available for review/check-out in the City Clerk's office.  Four of the five council members were present.  Gary Monahan was absent.

It was a sparsely-attended event, where staffers outnumbered residents nearly 3-1, but there was good information to be heard by the dozen residents who did make it,  and some of the discussions were enlightening.  I did see announced council candidates Harold Weitzberg and Jay Humphrey in the audience.  I didn't see Lee Ramos, Tony Capitelli, Katrina Foley or Chris Bunyan.  Dunivent is obviously an old pro and his presentation was effortless and thorough.  For the straight scoop on the meeting read Bradley Zint's excellent coverage HERE.  Theoretically, both PowerPoint presentations used last night, as well as a couple of the handouts, will be available on the City website soon.

Here's the short version.... we have a balanced All Funds budget of just a hair under $140 million, up just over 6% from the previous year.  The General Fund Budget is projected at $109.4 million, also up 6%.  We will spend almost $20 million on Capital Improvement Projects, which is slightly less than what we will spend on Retirement - $20,799,000, which is up more than $15%.

Both Sales Tax and Property Tax revenues are projected to be up by 3.39% and 2.01% respectively.  Those two revenue sources, if the projections hold, will result in revenue of almost $75 million or about 68% of the General Fund Budget.  The budgeted number for Consulting is $3.3 million, up 55%.

We learned that the Employer contribution to the CalPERS rates have jumped again.  The following chart shows what percent of payroll the City pays, by employee group:
                          FY 13-14    FY14-15
Miscellaneous   27.383%     29.783%
Fire                    45.618%     47.292%
Police                 38.542%    41.456%

We learned that the headcount will go from 466 employees by the end of this fiscal year to 476 by June 30, 2015.  This number is down from a high of 611 at the peak, before the economic downturn.  The Fire Department will be down 12 positions, and their budget is down 6.51%.  The Police Department will be up 4 positions and their budget is up 9.54%.  The CEO's office will be up 3 and his budget is up 20%.

We learned that the City will spend more than $500,000 on the Senior Center - $200,000 on capital projects and the remainder on support - staffing, consultants, etc., as the city takes over the operations of that distressed organization.

Of that $19,421,001 budgeted for Capital Improvement Projects some of the big ticket items on the list of 40 selected include:
  • Citywide Street Improvements - $4,256,307
  • Citywide Storm Drain Improvements - $2,090,000
  • Placentia Avenue Medians - $1,150,000
  • Neighborhood Community Center/Library Development - $1,000,000
We learned that Fire Station #1 is badly in need of repairs or replacement, but there is no money in this budget for that project.  We learned that we have all six new paramedic ambulances, but that only two of them have been deployed.  We are unable to deploy two more (two will apparently remain in reserve) because staffing is still short of what is necessary.

We learned that, when it comes to public safety staffing, some senior city staffers and some council members tend to speak in tongues.  A big deal was made of the fact that we have 136 sworn police officer positions authorized - just what Management Partners recommended three years ago.  Although Hatch did a major tap dance around the issue, he never did tell us that we have 25 vacancies and a dozen officers injured, many of whom may never return.  He didn't really tell us of the impact of the known retirements and pending departures to other jurisdictions.  Basically, the number of cops on duty today has not been this low since the 1980s.

We learned that councilwomen Wendy Leece and Sandy Genis didn't think THEIR priorities had been reflected in this budget document.  She suggested to Mayor Jim Righeimer that, rather than attempt to read her mind, there should have been a forum for the council members to formally express their individual priorities BEFORE the budget was cobbled together.

We learned that Righeimer continues to crow about all the street paving that has been done on his watch, conveniently ignoring the fact that much of it had already been planned before he took office.  He also ignored the fact that dollars used for some of those repairs came at the expense of public safety positions not filled.

We learned that Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger guaranteed to library activist Mary Ellen Goddard that, "I'm committed - you will get a library".  I guess that means he'll fork over the estimated $40 million it will take for a brand new library.  Or, if he's going to do it on the cheap, he'll pony up the estimated $6 million it will take to convert the Neighborhood Community Center into a library.  What a guy!

We also learned that Mensinger is too lazy to actually open up the budget document and look for answers.  In fact, although he portrays himself as a "budget guy", he appears to just be making it up as he goes along.

So, today, Wednesday, May 14th, Hatch and Dunivent will hold a community budget workshop in Conference Room 1A beginning at 5:30 p.m. for 90 minutes to answer in detail any questions residents might have about the budget.  See you there.

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