Thursday, January 08, 2015

Fairview Park Committee Chairman Resigns!

At the end of a meeting of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee Wednesday evening, following three hours of contentious public comment and spirited discussion between the members of the committee, Chairman Dr. Richard Mehren - the man who was largely responsible for the City of Costa Mesa acquiring the Fairview land originally and who was the chairman of the first Fairview Park Advisory Committee for seventeen years in addition to manning the helm of this committee for nearly two years - abruptly resigned.
(Dr. Richard Mehren (right) shown with Vice Chair Steve Smith)
Dr. Mehren, who has been very clearly in favor of keeping Fairview Park in a natural state and obviously opposed to any of the schemes proposed to convert all or part of it into active sports venues, chose to close the meeting with a prepared statement, part of which included a comment that it "was something I've wanted to say for some time."  As we leaned forward to hear because many of the members of the audience and the committee were already in departure mode, Mehren said, "This committee should never have been called the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, it should have been called the Fairview Park Mayor's Advisory Committee because the mayor stacked it with six members who were in favor of playing fields."  And with that he gathered up his papers and left the room, leaving dropped jaws behind him.  As Mehren departed one audience member near me muttered that "At least one of them has some balls."  I had to smile because that "mayor" - now Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer - was at the table as primary liaison to  the committee for the first time.  I suspect he was not happy.
 (Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer on left)
According to Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill, who provides staff legal support to the committee, the committee members must select a new Chairman at their next meeting.  The City Council must now decide whether to replace Mehren and the process to be used.  When member David Stiller, who was not in favor of playing fields in the park, passed away last year the council replaced him with Frank Davern, who is in favor of playing fields.  Mehren's departure has the high probability of further shifting the balance on the committee if another person favoring playing fields in the park is chosen.  It all may be moot, since this committee has almost wrapped up it's assignment after nearly two years of meetings.
As anticipated, even without Mehren's departure, this meeting had plenty of other drama.  First, it played to a standing-room-only crowd.  Seats were provided for 100 people, but more than 150 packed the venue until one of the walls was removed late in the proceedings to provide seating for them.  Bradley Zint of the Daily Pilot and Jordan Graham of the Orange County Register were in attendance.  You can read Zint's article HERE.

During the Public Comments segment of the meeting that began shortly after the six o'clock start time, more than three dozen people spoke.  More than 90% were clearly against placing any playing fields within the boundaries of the Southeast Quadrant - or anywhere in the park, for that matter.  Those who spoke in favor of playing fields were representatives of youth sports organizations, each of whom bemoaned the dearth of adequate fields within the City.  A few acknowledged that the shortage was actually of lighted fields for the most part.  That issue is NOT within the purview of this committee's scope of work, although it is foundational to the attempt to snag some of the land within the park for fields.
Many of the speakers have become regular attendees at these meetings and spoke with gusto and concern.  There were more than a few new faces, though, who addressed the committee with passion and trepidation.  One young fellow, James DeLaO, marched right up to the microphone, held it in his hand and told the committee that, while he was a baseball player, he didn't think there should be playing fields at Fairview Park.  Interestingly, his father later spoke and advocated for fields in the park.  

One interesting speaker early in the segment was Vicki Snell, new Newport Mesa Unified School District Trustee for Area 1, which is part of Costa Mesa.  She had the unenviable task of delivering to the committee the letter signed by District Superintendent Dr. Fred Navarro and Board President Martha Fluor, which I mentioned in my earlier post, HERE.  A copy of the letter is contained in that entry.  As it turns out, the letter may not have been what it appeared to be, according to Snell.  It appears that Navarro and Fluor may not have actually understood what this meeting was all about, and what the charter of this committee actually is.  After her brief 3-minute presentation she was asked by Vice Chairman Steve Smith to step back up and read the letter into the record in it's entirety, which she did.  A later speaker, Laurene Keane, told us she had been in contact with Fluor during the day and affirmed that the letter was not what it appeared to be.  Of course, that's problematic, since we have the two highest ranking people in the school district firing off a last-minute missive to the committee, city council and Parks and Recreation Commission without a clue.  I suspect they, did, in fact, understand what they were doing and may use this event to leverage some kind of change - monetary or otherwise - in the Joint Use Agreement.  We'll see.  I've been told by some sources who should know that the City should probably be contributing substantially more to the District for maintenance of fields than is presently prescribed in the JUA.

By the way, 4/5 of the Parks and Recreation Commission were in the room during this meeting.  Chairman Byron de Arakal and Commissioner Don Harper were in the audience and Dean Abernathy and Bob Graham were at the committee tables.  I did not see Commissioner Kim Pederson.
 (Byron deArakal (right) shown with Estancia Principal Kirk Bauermeister)

Suggestions from speakers included carving up part or all of one of the two municipal golf courses to use for playing fields.  Others suggested the pending availability of all or part of the Fairview Development Center as possible venues for sports fields.  Still others suggested that any attempt to carve up segments of the park would likely violate the trust deed in force from the purchase.  Others observed that artifacts from Native Americans were all over the park and properly assessing them and mitigating possible damage could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Resident and almost councilman Jay Humphrey spoke to the committee and reminded them of the legacy they will be leaving for their children, grandchildren and their children, too.  He suggested anything that would place hardscape - paving, etc. - would damage that legacy.

Professor Patricia Martz - a frequent attendee to these meetings and archaeologist of some renown - reminded the committee of protected areas within the park and, specifically, within the Southeast Quadrant.

Kim Hendricks, a teacher with a passion for the park, again spoke and quoted from the current Fairview Park Master Plan to remind the committee of the constrictions they're working with.

At about 6:35 Mehren arbitrarily decided that speakers would now get only two minutes instead of three because it was his intent to begin the business part of the meeting promptly at 7 p.m.

Among the subsequent two dozen speakers was Flo Martin, who suggested that we "follow the money", then spoke of the Great Park boondoggle and of the near loss of the Orange County Fairgrounds and TeWinkle Park to private developers

Public Comments ended at 7:15.

Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia then gave an overview of the process to get to this point and described the remaining six items to be discussed last night.  The committee would consider each of them and decide if more staff analysis is necessary for further consideration or to just not move forward with the item.  The six items to be considered are these:
 1 - Baseball/Softball Facilities
 2 - Soccer/Football Fields
 3 - Multi-use Athletic Fields
 4 - OCME Track Expansions/Improvements
 5 - Basketball/Handball Courts
 6 - Roller Hockey Surface

Then member Ron Amburgey - who was one of two members who originally had most of the 35 original items place on the list - suggested that all six should be considered at one time.  After some discussion by the committee it was decided to split the items into three distinct groups for consideration.  Those would be items 1-3 in one group; item 4 by itself and items 5 and 6 as a group, so that's how they then proceeded.  Before they began public comments Mehren told the committee and audience he felt all the items violated the Fairview agreement and would vote NO on all of them.  The crowd cheered.

Sixteen people spoke during the "comments" segment of the discussion of items 1-3, although several used their time to speak on broader issues that they couldn't cover earlier due to time constraints.  Sometimes the will of the people seems very much like water.  Even though you might attempt to dam it up, it can usually find a way past that dam.  They spoke of the loss of habitat for animals in the park, the use of water to grow playing field grass, the damage grading would do to Indian artifacts.  One speaker reminded the committee that splitting the elements for discussion won't mitigate the damage done.  One speaker, who said he was a tribal leader of local American Indians, spoke vehemently against any development in the park and, at one time, looked directly at Righeimer with a comment about development.  Righeimer brusquely told him to "speak to the body" - ever the class act.  The ratio for and against fields in this segment was the same as earlier.

After more than 20 minutes of public comments the committee then began discussing those three items.  Smith reminded them that the 8 o'clock hour was approaching, so the time was extended to 8:30.  It would later be further extended to 9:00.  Brett Eckles - a strong advocate for playing fields - tried to be the voice of conciliation and asked for compromise.  He attempted to provide some valid statistics for the committee to consider, and spoke of the need for more maintenance of existing fields.

The ever-pompous Dennis Popp suggested that he needed more expert opinion from Civil Engineers before making a decision to recommend fields or not, so he wanted to shove these three items forward so the staff could bring back more information.  He attempted to cite his nurse training, but - as is usually the case when you try to read his pathetic blog - he just didn't make any sense.  Of course, it didn't help his case much when he accused the audience of being immature and scolded them for their behavior.

Lee Ramos, in one of the few times he's spoken out on issues, went off into what sounded like a deflated version of his campaign stump speech, during which he made a back-handed comment to Mehren and closed by reminding folks of his Hispanic heritage - "my culture owned this land at one time" - before stating that "we need to find a way."  Later a speaker looked directly at Ramos and spoke of a man who had recently come to her door campaigning and told her flat out how he felt about issues in Fairview Park, then voted the opposite tonight.  She was fuming!  Fortunately, enough people saw through Ramos' campaign rhetoric and did not vote for him in November.

Anna Vrska observed that this committee, while it includes many fine people, has been a waste of time and resources.  She observed that they had not been provided with sufficient or accurate information with which they could make decisions.  I was not surprised, since she has regularly asked for statistics from the staff which seemed not to be provided.

Finally, just after 8:30, the committee voted, 5-4, to ask the staff to bring back an analysis of those three items for the committee's consideration at the next meeting.   Ramos, Popp, Amburgey, Eckles and Davern voted YES.  Mehren, Smith, Anna Vrska and Terry Cummings voted NO.

Following a discussion of item #4, the expansion of the Orange County Model Engineers footprint, Ron Amburgey moved to approve it, but received no second, so it died and will receive no further consideration.

Items 5 and 6 received a similar fate.  Seven members of the public spoke to this issue - none in favor of moving them forward -  and Amburgey could receive no support for his motion, so it died for lack of a second.

I was astounded when they actually began the final agenda item, a discussion of the East Fairview Channel Trail, shortly before 9:00.  I thought for sure they would shove that item off to the next meeting.  Nope,  Mejia delivered a short staff report, showing maps, etc. and no members of the public spoke.  THEN it was decided to put it off to the next meeting.  Then Mehren delivered his bombshell news and Smith adjourned the meeting.  Whew!  So, back we come next month, on February 4th, when a new Chairman will be selected and the future of this committee will be clarified.

Almost forgot... Barry Friedland was on hand with several cameras to capture the evening's event.  He tells me that the video of this meeting should be up on his Costa Mesa Brief YouTube Channel, HERE, within the next couple days.  Look for it Friday.

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Anonymous JanetF said...

This is just awful news all around, and Mehren's departure certainly doesn't bode well for the future of Fairview Park.

1/08/2015 05:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Last night was a sad and sickening situation to watch, on many levels. I encourage everyone watch the CMTV or Costa Mesa Brief, or wherever it come up, to watch it and see the comments by Davern and Popp and watch Ramos do an absolute turnaround from his campaign rhetoric. What a hypocrit. Glad this guy didn't get on the counsel. He will say anything to get what he wants. Popp just sounded absolutely idiotic asking for more information at this point. Did he sleep through the last 18 months?

Its clear that the committee was stacked by people to favor Mensinger. It was also clear that he coached them.

Evidently the city has fallen behind in their responsibility to the school district, with regard to maintenance of the fields. They can divert money for lighting a dawn to dusk park, divert money for reconstruction of medians that were planted 2 years ago, but they can't hold up their responsibility. Why won't they put lighting in the already developed playing fields? They site that they don't want to offend the people living behind them, however, they don't mind offending the overwhelming majority of the city by developing our beloved park.

Please watch the video of the meeting. You will get an education.

Dr. Mehren, if you read this, many are very sorry for your departure. Your integrity will be missed.

1/08/2015 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Das Rigmarshal continues to help his developer friends regardless of whether he's mayor.

Puppets like Mensy, Popp, and "I don't play the ethnic card" Ramos do what the dictator tells them.

Don't you dare look at the little emperor when you're at a public meeting! "Address the body!"

1/08/2015 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Flo Martin said...

Costa Mesans need to unite on this issue and get a proposition on the 2016 ballot to preserve Fairview Park in its current state. Will you help?

1/08/2015 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Yes, peasants must keep their eyes averted or looking down whenever the emperor is present.

1/08/2015 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Sad to see Dr. Mehren go, but I'm glad he had his say.

Things that need further investigation: How many sports fields are reserved but unused because organizations overbook "just in case." What percentage of the kids playing in Costa Mesa live in other cities? Are for-profit organizations still booking fields, creating a shortage?

1/08/2015 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

Dr. Mehren is no hero. His grandstanding statement and his sudden resignation from this committee is a perfect example of how not to behave. I cannot speak for any committee members, but I have these comments regarding my own position on the committee. First, I resent his implication that my position on fields at Fairview Park issue was determined before we began. I was elected to the committee by a unanimous vote of the city council, which means that the two minority council members approved my selection.

Second, I am the only committee member who has voted "no" on every single so-called park "improvement" - all of them. On this, my preservation history is more restrictive than that of Dr. Mehren, who prides himself as a park conservator.

Third, I have sat by Dr. Mehren for 18 months both in public meetings and agenda meetings and have supported his conduct of the meetings, even when he abused his position by making multiple opinion statements out of turn and when his ability to run these meetings was called into question many times. Despite all of this, I remained quiet and performed my role as vice-chair.

But I cannot support his inconsiderate and futile action last night. That was no way to treat a committee and city staff that has suffered through his poorly structured process for 18 months, and it is certainly no example to set for the younger Costa Mesans we hope will become involved in city affairs.

His statement and resignation are reminiscent of the child who, unable to get his way, decides to take his ball and go home.

1/08/2015 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

P.S. I do not believe any of the school board's assertions regarding fields. If they had an issue with payment for upkeep, they've had 18 months to present their case to this committee and even longer to make their case everywhere else. When it mattered last night, they sent a rookie board member instead of the superintendent or the board president.

Connect the dots, folks: The school board is pleading poverty while they waste money elsewhere (see my numerous DP columns in this), and are constructing fences around three more schools. I predict that those fences will be used before long to restrict youth sports with some phony excuse.

Next step for them (and it's coming soon): They will end their Joint Use Agreement with the city.

You may not like the leadership at city hall, but to assume that the school board has clean hands here is a mistake.

1/08/2015 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Ah, but Ramos did pull the race card. He said "his people" owned that area before anyone else. This guy speaks out of both sides of his mouth.

1/08/2015 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

@Wheres My Coffee:

Of course Ramos pulls a card. During the campaign he told the DP that his ethnicity wasn't an issue;
yet those "Vamos Con Ramos" signs appeared on the Westside.

Guess they didn't help much.

1/08/2015 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Steve, you could be correct. I doubt seriously that anyone thinks the school board has clean hands in this. But the residents are caught in the middle, more specifically, the children. So now I am getting the picture. It isn't necessarily fields that are needed, its fields that the NMUSD does not own, right? In that regard, it isn't fair for the the school board or the city to shove sports facilities down our throats because of their political problems. Get rid of the pay to play groups. If they are taking up space, get rid of them.

Also, I think Dr. Mehren's actions and comments were from sheer frustration with Mensinger's frat boys. Mensinger made sure he had the majority vote prior. It was obvious. And sad. I can't hold his actions against Dr. Mehren.

1/08/2015 03:33:00 PM  
Anonymous casual viewer said...

Does the general public who does not attend these meetings realize that sports fields are not open to the general public, but are reserved for organized teams? You have to "pay to play."

1/08/2015 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous lovemygarden said...

Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall;
Who sows a field, or trains a flower,
Or plants a tree, is more than all.

For he who blesses most is blest;
And God and man shall own his worth
Who toils to leave as his bequest
An added beauty to the earth.

And, soon or late, to all that sow,
The time of harvest shall be given;
The flower shall bloom, the fruit shall grow,
If not on earth, at last in heaven.

John Greenleaf Whittier

When the members of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee were selected, my spouse and I tried to determine how the recommendation on sports fields would go. Mr. Smith was a wildcard in the lot and, when at last year’s Feet to the Fire, Lee Ramos said that he revered Fairview Park the way it is, I started to think maybe he was a wildcard too, but it turns out we were right the first time. The City Council Majority knew by appointing Messrs. Amburgey, Eckles, Popp, Ramos and Stiller (now replaced by Mr. Davern), that they would get the votes needed to accomplish Mayor Mensinger’s goals, despite the other members who would vote to keep the park as passive open space.

This committee, like other committees and commissions, does not truly represent a cross-section of Costa Mesa’s residents. It is made up of mainly residents who are, or were in the past, involved with sports organizations, and so it is biased. Plus, there is only one female on the committee, which is not representative of the population of Costa Mesa. The ratio of male to female aligns neither with the other committees, nor the male to female ratio of users of the park. Therefore, any recommendation made by the Fairview Park Citizen’s Advisory Committee that is in favor of male-dominated sports (baseball, football, etc.) must have a disclaimer that it is biased.

I understand Dr. Mehren’s frustrations. He has spent more time than any other committee member on preserving the park. The audience is equally frustrated. We’ve had to watch the committee take 18 months to meander its way to a predictable decision. While I agree that shouting at the committee from the audience isn’t good behavior, chastising the audience (and taking shots at the departed Dr. Mehren) won’t gain the committee any respect. And as far as Harold Weitzberg agreeing with Mr. Popp, well he can officially put on his black hat and then go to hell on roller-skates.

Yes, a sad night, but the fight isn’t done. Let’s start researching how to put together an initiative to let the residents vote on preserving Fairview Park the way it is. And then start gearing up for the 2016 council election and vote these jerks out.

1/08/2015 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous seedling said...

While im happy this commission was called out for being the farce it is-- im sad to see Mehren go.

I dont know about you guys... but im going to pay careful attention to the maps of fairview park take all the photos i can of people trampling in the vernal pool sites (happens all the time!!!) and send those to fish game and wildlife... most people dont get what those yellow ropes are for-- I dont blame them, the cities attempt to mark them is the epitome of a half assed effort.

1/08/2015 09:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

To Where's My Coffee, casual viewer, John Greenleaf Whittier, and anyone else who wants to stop fields at Fairview:

1) There was no committee stacking - no conspiracy to develop the park and your focus on this is detracting from the mission. Move on.

2) Move on from the "pay to play" topic, too. We had a field shortage when I was coaching ten years ago, long before pay to play was on the radar and pay to play is not a significant factor.

3) If you are truly interested in stopping the fields, start attending the school board meetings and demanding that the board allow more access. Had the board been more cooperative for the past few years, there would have been no discussion of fields at Fairview.

4) Don't waste anymore time or energy making your case to the Fairview Committee, Parks and Rec or the Council. The best fastest way to take Fairview fields off the table is to (see #3) demand more access from the school board.

If you're truly interested in stopping fields at Fairview, I expect to see all of you at the next board meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m.

1/08/2015 10:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Steve, are you certain it isn't a situation such as NMUSD isn't making the space available, and the city isn't keeping up with their responsibility according to the use agreement? Looks like a stand off to me. Again, residents are caught in the middle, and we are the ones that stand to lose the most and not even involved in football, soccer or baseball.

I think there is a mediator needed at this time to get in there and straighten things out. Having the public at their meeting will simply cause another incident such as that at the FPCAC meeting.

1/09/2015 07:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

There is no standoff. Both sides of this debate agree on two things: 1 We need more fields for youth sports 2) We have the fields we need but the school board has been stingy.

This is not conjecture. The
board tried hard to stop lights at Kaiser last year and just lobbied for more fields at Fairview via the letter of Jan. 6. As I have been writing, the next step is their departure from the Joint Use Agreement which will give them free rein to reduce field time with some phony excuses.

The school fields are YOUR fields, folks, not theirs. Attend the meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. and bring the passion you have displayed at the Fairview meetings. Demand more access. Otherwise, your 18 months of work will have amounted to nothing.

1/09/2015 08:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Steve Smith, pay to play is a valid issue. I feel that the general public thinks that sports fields are grassy areas where parents can play catch with their children.

As evidenced by the fences and locks around many fields, they are reserved for organized groups which require a sign-up fee. Even if a group is non-profit, kids still have to pay to cover costs. Having a kid in Pop Warner or Little League is not free. Instead of the generic term "sports fields" they should be called reserved team sports areas.

No one is accusing you of being part of the "stacked" part of the committee, so lighten up.

1/09/2015 04:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

Steve Smith,

Where is the meeting on Tuesday the 14th? I'll go to show support for more fields.

And please clarify, is there "a field shortage" since you were coaching 10 years ago, or "we have the fields we needs but the school board has been stingy"?

How long has the City been delinquent in their promise to upkeep fields? I wonder if it is a staff shortage, or a lack of funding. Thank you, Teresa

PS was the "rookie" messenger the incumbent you just ran against? (no offense, I am confused with "rookie")

1/09/2015 05:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

This is a reminder to all those who oppose fields at Fairview Park that the problem is not that we don't have enough fields. The problem is that we do not have enough fields controlled by the city.

If you don't want fields at Fairview, attend the school board meeting tonight and demand that they start working closer with the city to open up more fields for youth sports.

Demand it with the passion and persistence you showed at the FPCAC meetings. These are YOUR fields, not theirs.

Looking forward to seeing you tonight at 6 p.m. Please introduce yourself to me as I would be delighted to meet you. Steve.

1/13/2015 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous XtinaYYY said...

Are we able to submit comments for the school board meeting in absentia?

1/13/2015 12:24:00 PM  

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