Saturday, October 04, 2014

A Problem Without A Solution

Tonight I bring to your attention an issue that has been bobbing around Facebook for a couple days, so it won't be new to some of you.  Still, this is an important issue and should be discussed.

Most of you registered voters have received your Sample Ballot by now.  This booklet presents the opportunity to study the issues and candidates that you will be voting on next month.  Many folks will mark their sample ballot ahead of time, then drag it with them to the polling place so they can reduce the amount of time they spend marking the actual ballot.  Before I decided to vote absentee - mailing my ballot in - that's exactly what I would do.

This time around we have a dilemma, and one for which I see no solution.  I refer you to page 7 of your Sample Ballot, on which you will find several local issues we will contemplate next month.  The last item in the upper right corner, I find Measure P, the non-binding, advisory issue placed on the ballot at the behest of Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer to, theoretically, take the pulse of the electorate on the contentious issue of establishing High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes on the I-405 Freeway from basically the northern Costa Mesa border to the Orange County/Los Angeles County line near Seal Beach.  He presumes that an overwhelming vote in support will somehow convince Governor Jerry Brown that the HOT lanes scheme should be abandoned.  Signatories on the item, in addition to Righeimer (running for re-election) are Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper (running for Allan Mansoor's soon-to-be-vacant Assembly seat); Westminster Councilwoman Diana Carey; Mansoor (running for Supervisor John Moorlach's seat) and the termed-out Moorlach himself.

Here's what the item looks like on your sample ballot and, in theory, what it will look like on your actual ballot.  You will be asked to vote Yes or No on the item.  Look very closely at the item and ask yourself how you will vote.
OK, have you decided?  Do you see the dilemma?  This item, written by the City of Costa Mesa staff - presumably by a member of our "crack" contract legal firm, Jones and Mayer - presents you with an issue you simply cannot resolve - how to mark your ballot.

The problem is that it gives you two (2) questions, not one.  The bold type following the words "Advisory Measure" asks you, "Should Toll Lanes Be Built on the i-405 Freeway?"  If that's as far as you read - as will likely be the case with most voters - and you agree with Righeimer and city officials along that freeway corridor, you will vote an emphatic NO!  Ah, but read further...

Next comes this question, not in bold type, "Do you agree with the Costa Mesa City Council, which unanimously opposes the establishment of toll lanes on the I-405 Freeway in Orange County?"  Assume for a minute you still feel the same way about toll lanes on the 405.  You will certainly vote YES!

The problem here is that the ballot measure asks you two (2) questions and, regardless your opinion about toll roads on the I-405, it is an impossible issue to answer!  If you don't want toll roads on the I-405 you would answer NO to the first question or YES to the second.  If you want toll lanes, your votes would be reversed.  Except, you can only answer ONE of the questions.

If you turn to page 39 of your sample ballot you'll find the "Impartial Analysis By City Attorney" - the same folks who composed this question on the ballot.  At the bottom of the analysis they tell you that a YES vote means that you agree with the council and a NO vote means you disagree.  OK, fess up now - how many people do you know who actually read that analysis and the arguments for and against the issue?

This is an important question because seeking clarification by doing that research on the sample ballot will lead you to learn that two sitting Costa Mesa council members oppose the question, even though they voted with the majority to oppose toll lanes on the freeway!  Sandra Genis and Wendy Leece signed the argument against this issue.

Earlier this week, after a friend brought this thing to my attention, I wrote to Costa Mesa Chief Executive Officer, Tom Hatch, with copies to City Attorney Tom Duarte and Communication Director Bill Lobdell, asking for an explanation and what their plan was to manage this issue.  Having received no response, I wrote a second time Friday, asking for a solution and wondering if whomever botched this would be fired.  So far, still no response.

And, of course, the great irony about this is - your vote on this issue doesn't make a darn bit of difference!  Governor Brown is quoted in the argument against this issue as stating, "the advisory vote... has no legal effect whatsoever...we should not make it a habit to clutter our ballots with nonbinding measures as citizens rightfully assume that their votes.. have legal effect."

In that same argument Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President John Coupal calls nonbinding advisory measures a "glorified opinion poll", and says they are "damaging to the electoral process."  He added, "In an era where voter turnout in California is at an all-time low, why would we want to do something that fosters the notion that votes are meaningless?"

So, why is this issue even on the ballot?  I'll tell you what I think.  I think this was just another way for Righeimer and some of his pals to get their names in front of the voters one more time on November 4th in an election that will be a watershed moment in their careers. 

And, of course, placing this issue on the ballot did cost money - taxpayer money.  I'm told somewhere around $12,000...

So, that's it for now.  Enjoy your weekend - it's going to be a hot one - just like it probably was on the 5th floor of City Hall this week as this issue was discussed.

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Eastside Neighbors Forum A Success!

OK, folks... that's it!  No more political forums this cycle!  Whew!  Thursday night my friends of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group held the final City Council candidate forum of this campaign season and, if our casual post-event poll is any indication, it was a rousing success.

Every person with whom we spoke following the event felt it was run well, with fair, relevant questions and even-handed moderation with enough latitude for audience reaction.  We saw no evidence of harassment of those in charge this time around, unlike two years ago when Jim Righeimer read the riot act to the hosts and moderator because he felt Steve Mensinger had been unfairly treated.  It was bullying at it's worst and we wrote about it at the time.

The President of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, Jeff McConville, got things moving promptly at 7:00 p.m.  By that time the room was full and folks were standing in the back.  Part of the rear wall was eventually opened up to provide more seating.  Based on information provided by the sponsors, we estimate that between 250 and 275 people attended the event.

Many of the attendees were residents.  I recognized them from past events.  Some were not - I recognized little knots of Republican Party operatives scattered throughout the crowd.  They became active cheerleaders during the evening.  That's OK - it's politics.  It's not ancient Rome, where the emperor can be swayed to give a "thumbs down" to a combatant by the voice of the crowd.

The moderator for the evening was Costa Mesa resident, lawyer and former council candidate two years ago, John Stephens.  He ran the event crisply, with just enough light-hearted reminders to the crowd about proper etiquette so as not to stifle the enthusiasm.

The format was NOT a debate format. As it played out, there were a total of thirteen (13) questions posed.  Three (3) candidates - and only three - had one minute to respond to the question.  There was NO back and forth, nor was there any interrupting of candidates by other candidates.  Stephens cautioned the candidates about that at the beginning.

Following the event some folks wondered if some candidates got off easy, not being required to answer the same number of questions as others.  Well, here's how it went.  Al Melone, Tony Capitelli, Jay Humphrey and Rita Simpson each answered six (6) questions.  Katrina Foley, Jim Righeimer and Chris Bunyan answered five (5).  Candidate Lee Ramos, as previously announced, did not show up for this event, even though the sponsors left a space at the table for him, just in case he changed his mind.... he didn't.

The questions covered the gamut of important issues in the city currently.  They included questions about the Charter; Pensions; Public Safety; Development; Fireworks; Sober Living Homes; Medical Marijuana; Fairview Park; Banning Ranch; the General Plan; Legal Expenses; the formation and appointments to commissions and committees.

I am NOT going to try to give you every answer to every question.  As you know, the City of Costa Mesa chose NOT to have CMTV cover this event so it was recorded for later viewing by a private contractor, Terry Wall, who will have it up and ready to view early next week.  When I know where to find it I'll let you know. And, Barry Friedland and his Costa Mesa Brief team were on hand to do before and after interviews, just as they did at the recent Feet To The Fire Forum.  I'll let you know when that video is available for viewing, too.  He sweet-talked me into participating this time - an act I'll probably regret, depending on how he edits my words.

My impressions of the evening.... The event was well run.  The questions were timely and pertinent.  Each candidate was treated with an even hand and provided exactly the same amount of time to answer questions.  Stephens, as the moderator, had just the right touch dealing with the candidates and the enthusiastic crowd.  The room as configured turned out to be too small.  Even with part of the back wall removed more than 30 people were left standing against the remaining wall.  This was, once again, the best forum of the series this year.  McConville and the committee for the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group are to be commended for an excellent event - again.

My impressions of the candidates....  (Bias Alert!  I don't like the way Righeimer does business, which certainly affects my views on this issue.)  I thought Katrina Foley and Jay Humphrey demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues to which they responded.  They presented a mature style one expects from persons who have, literally, "been there, done that".  In my view they are clearly the best choices for City Council this time around and their performance last night affirmed that for me.

Chris Bunyan, once again, did a fine job of mixing the responses to the questions with pointed explanations of how he felt Righeimer had failed and would fail if permitted to continue on the council.  He offered some good ideas and pointed out Righeimer's mistakes when the opportunity presented itself. 

Tony Capitelli, with his VERY pregnant wife, Julie, smiling up at him from the first row, did another credible job.  I like him a lot.  He's trying to sell himself as a bridge-builder between the generations and a voice of moderation.  However, through his employment as a representative for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, I think he just might be a "Righeimer-in-waiting".  He says no, but....

Al Melone continues to demonstrate insufficient knowledge of the issues, shooting from the hip on several answers.  And, I've seen him in action before the city council, where he has demonstrated a serious lack of patience that likely would transfer to his seat on the dais if elected.

Rita Simpson, the poor dear, has NO grasp of important issues facing the city, including those she holds as the cornerstone of her campaign - the Charter and Unfunded Pension Liability.  Her answers were taken from a script, from which she read throughout the evening.  I had the impression that if someone asked her how she's feeling these days, she'l likely have to refer to a manual before answering.  I cannot give her any support in this race.

My views of Jim Righeimer are well known.  He has demonstrated to me during his term on the City Council, and particularly while serving as mayor, that he is NOT a consensus-builder.  Far from it!  He operates exactly like a dictator.  He not only does not have an open mind when it comes to public input, he has overtly stifled it with many initiatives while in office.  His pro-development bias will only serve to increase density throughout the city - and particularly on my Eastside.  His proclamation that, when faced with motel owners who had what he thought were inflated ideas of the value of their property, he would bury them in police, fire and code enforcement that they would soon reconsider that value.. the goal was to have it sold to his developer-buddies, who would then benefit from special zoning to permit high-density housing at the site.  He said that very thing at the forum last night.
His stubborn unwillingness to hear the voice of the voters when they rejected his Charter two years ago and move forward with another, more onerous version this time around only amplifies my view of him as a dictator.  I shudder to contemplate a Charter like the one currently proposed in his hands, where he, through his methods and tactics, has systematically dismantled a once-proud city government, instead choosing to use very expensive consultants and outsource whatever he can.  His overt hatred of public employee associations has blinded him to fair negotiations which has resulted in severe service declines throughout government.

Righeimer has orchestrated the dismantling of the Costa Mesa Police Department - once the high-water mark for law enforcement agencies in our region.  It was a place where officers in other jurisdictions wanted to work because it had an outstanding reputation and because of the forward-thinking leadership of the department and the city.  No more.  Righeimer has caused the department to suffer serious staff shortages when he ignored the best professional opinions available to him in the form of hand-picked consultants and by the creation of a toxic workplace - one in which police officers are not only not appreciated, but vilified and sued by the elected leaders of this city.  He exacerbated that toxic atmosphere by refusing to let the Police Chief begin hiring replacements quickly enough to stop the bleeding of decades of experience to other agencies.  He caused officers to consider early retirement rather than stay on the job.  He, personally, has made every resident, business and visitor to the city less safe.  He cannot mutter excuses on this issue - he is responsible and is undeserving more time on the dais.  He has chosen pothole repair over public safety.  During recent discussions about the status of the Police Department he cavalierly said, "We're gonna be just fine.", while crime is on the rise and sober living homes are popping up like mushrooms throughout the city.  He frequently tells us that crime is because of the people who live here, yet he has created an environment that actually attracts criminals and depletes our protection from them.  Is that REALLY the kind of guy you want making major decisions about the future of our city?

Righeimer crows about previous councils "blowing through $35 million in reserves", but conveniently forgets to remember that those self-same councils had the foresite to build those reserves so they could be used when the economy went in the tank.  He crows about how neglectful councils in the past were responsible for the rapid increase in our unfunded pension liability, choosing not to mention that it was the economic downturn and resultant poor performance of the CalPERS investment portfolio that caused the unfunded liability to rise so dramatically, not only in Costa Mesa, but throughout the state.

Righeimer bleats about spending $40 million paving streets that he said had been neglected.  Well, those streets were on the schedule for re-paving long before he dragged his carpet-bagging carcass across the border from Fountain Valley.  He accelerated the paving schedule by using dollars saved by reducing the city staff to precarious levels - where service across the board has suffered and consultants have been used to try to hold things together.

He, almost single-handedly has caused our legal fees to rise astronomically during his tour on the council.  Apparently, to him having many lawsuits is just a cost of doing business.  That, apparently, is how he has conducted his business life, so he feels no remorse about burdening the city with astronomical legal fees because of his actions.

It was his action in 2011 to attempt to illegally layoff nearly half the so-called "miscellaneous employees" that began that parade of legal difficulties. We're still paying lawyers on that fiasco.  And, of course, poor Huy Pham leaped to his death that Saint Patrick's Day.

On his watch the now-infamous 60th Anniversary Celebration scandal erupted and remains unresolved, even though the city paid off the man responsible for creating and overseeing the event.  His minions claim the issue is resolved - an opinion not supported by the investigators in the District Attorney's office, which has not yet generated a report.  As demonstrated by that event, he uses the Conference and Visitors Bureau as his own personal slush fund.  And, while proclaiming to be a fiscal conservative and budget hawk, he creates a $1 million piggy bank in the form of his CEO's contingency fund, where his whims can be funded without much oversight.

Do you remember when the Conference and Visitors Bureau funded a junket for Righeimer and others to a city in China touted as a "business developement opportunity"?  What ever came of that  "business"?  As far as we have been told - zip, nothing, nada!

And, how about those annual city-funded jaunts to Las Vegas where Righeimer takes an entourage of city staffers to drum-up business at a shopping center trade show.  How many businesses have relocated to Costa Mesa as a result of those trips?  Any?

Speaking of pensions and oversight, he created a committee - stacked with his pals - that meets frequently to try to figure out how to solve the pension issue.  One of the very first things that group did was hear a presentation on Municipal Bankruptcy by one of its members.  Even though his cronies continue to meet, Righeimer has frequently acknowledged that we, the city, cannot resolve the pension issue alone - it's a state-wide issue.

Righeimer has proven to be an untrustworthy person even before he took office.  He was part of the group that tried to sell the Orange County Fairgrounds and manipulated the process to get his cronies assigned to the advisory committee considering that move.

And, do you remember the attempt to privatize the TeWinkle Sports Complex?  That happened only a couple years ago, yet it has left an open, festering wound of distrust behind.

Last night, during a discussion of Fairview Park, he arrogantly said that "nobody cared about Fairview Park until we tried to do some improvements over there.", and referred to the playground near the end of Pacific Avenue.  He might just as well spit directly in the face of Native American groups who care about the history of that site and every resident who enjoys Fairview Park for what it is - an oasis of natural beauty in our city.  It's that kind of an attitude from which the creation of the now-infamous decomposed granite trail springs.  That "I know what's good for you, so don't question me." attitude is what makes him such a dangerous person in a leadership position in our city.  He and his cohorts don't much like rules - at least other people's rules - so they just ignore them and/or make up new ones.

An example of that is his full-court press on development in the city.  His developer buddies gripe to him and his cronies about how hard it is to build projects with all those darn rules designed to protect the character of our neighborhoods and the sanctity of our homes so, all of a sudden, we have a Small Lot Ordinance which codifies the elimination of those protections that have made Costa Mesa an appealing place to live for six decades.  Now we will be seeing six homes where there once was one and tenement-style stacked homes springing up in industrial zones, occupying contaminated land sites, taxing the infrastructure - water, sewer, streets, etc., - and blocking those precious ocean breezes so many so-called improvers have touted for decades.  His cronies, placed in positions of great power without the maturity to handle it, vindictively threaten to punish the Sanitary District by recommending developers contract with other trash haulers for new developments.  All this is done for Righeimer's developer-pals, who will jump into town, build their onerous projects, then skip right on out of town again, leaving these disasters in their wakes.

On Righeimer's watch the Banning Ranch development, which would dump virtually ALL it's residential and retail traffic onto Costa Mesa city streets, has been given a free ride.  Although the project is in Newport Beach, negotiations for traffic mitigations fell far, far short of what is really necessary to do the job.  Again, his priorities are NOT the residents of the city, but his developer pals.

In recent months Righeimer led the charge to reject the establishment of an Ethics Policy when, based on that 60th Anniversary scandal, such a policy is clearly appropriate and necessary.  Do you really want a guy at the helm of our city who holds ethics in such low regard?  I sure don't!

Righeimer has told us many times recently that he's willing to stand on his record.  That's great news for those of us who have watched him in action.  His record alone should disqualify him for further consideration for a seat on the City Council.  I will NOT be voting for Jim Righeimer and hope you won't, either.  Neither will I vote for Measure "O", the bastard son of Measure V, Jim Righeimer's Charter.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

ANOTHER Great Day!

This morning, beginning at 11:00 a.m., the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, The Orange County MarketPlace and the Orange County Fair and Event Center hosted the Public Safety Recognition BBQ event at the Fairgrounds.

This annual event is one small way for the community to say "Thank You" to those men and women who provide Fire, Police and 911 Communication service to our community.  I was honored to attend, and to have the chance to tell those folks how grateful I am for their contributions.  It was a nearly perfect event... more on that blemish later.
There was food, entertainment, enthusiastic cheerleading by the Orange Coast College Cheer Squad - there were young bodies flying everywhere! - raffles and just the right number of short speeches.
Many firefighters, police officers and 911 staffers attended, both on duty and off.
Miss American Beauty, 2014 attended and certainly did brighten up the place.

Chamber of Commerce President Ed Fawcett made a brief, moving speech at what will be his final such event.  He's leaving the job before the next one.
The current City Council was represented only by Wendy Leece, shown here being greated by Officer Kha Bao, our most decorated DUI enforcer.  I guess I'm not surprised that none of the men from the City Council failed to show up.  Mayor Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Mensinger certainly may have felt a little uneasy in the presence of the men and women they are suing.  And, of course, Gary Monahan was pulling beer taps.

Time to mention that only blemish - in the person of Planning Commission Chairman and Riganista sycophant, Jim Fitzpatrick.  He came waddling in well after the event began, snatched a plate of food, then bent the ear of the lovely representative from Southern California Edison for fifteen minutes before seating himself with fellow Riganista, Mesa Water District President Jim Fisler - shown below apparently playing a game with Police Captain Rob Sharpnack.  Please remind me of this image the next time he refers to me as "Potbelly"... :-)
Candidates for City Council Katrina Foley and Jay Humphrey attended and made it a point to mingle and thank the public safety folks for their service.  Former mayor Mary Hornbuckle - presently the President of the Coast Community College District Board - attended.  This image of her speaking with Humphrey certainly did make me long for the good old days, when the adults were in charge of the City, and the priorities were what was best for the city, not developer buddies.
City CEO Tom Hatch was not present, but his Assistant, Rick Francis, attended.

Fire Chief Dan Stefano and Police Chief Tom Gazsi both attended and helped participate in the short recognition of the VanEs and DeFluiter families for the recent difficulties their families have faced.  Special recognition will be provided to them.
This was another terrific event, at which the strong ties among those who provide us with public safety services were evident.  Thanks to all those who participated today to make this such an outstanding event, and a very special thank you to the men and women who work hard every day of the year to keep our community safe.  I had a chance to chat with many long-service staffers and some of the new folks, as well.  We are very lucky to have such a wonderful cadre of public safety professionals working on our behalf.  Too bad the elected leadership can't seem to recognize it.

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