Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sparks Fly At Council Meeting

Well, it was a short, but memorable, meeting for the Costa Mesa City Council last night.  Sparks flew between Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilwoman Katrina Foley a couple times.  Righeimer took angry exception to Foley expressing curiousity about an issue brought up by a speaker in Public Comments - Righeimer's recent trip to Israel.  Righeimer said his personal vacation time was nobody's business.  She fired back that if he was functioning as a city official then it was in the public's interest to know if he had been traveling as part of a group allegedly sponsored by an organization described as a "hate group".  Interestingly, Brad Zint's Political Landscape piece in the Daily Pilot discussing that very issue, HERE, was published while the council was in Closed Session.  The next four years are going to be very interesting...

The meeting began with the introduction of the new command staff of our adopted Marine group at Camp Pendleton - the 1/5 Marines.  Lt. Col. Mark Carleton, Sgt. Major Anthony Pappas and Lance Corporal Ashley Ramirez of Costa Mesa represented the group.  Mayor Steve Mensinger mused that he was a "Marine wannabe" during the presentation.

During Public Comments an even dozen speakers rose beginning promptly at 6:00 p.m. and spoke on a variety of issues.

A woman representing Residents for Responsible Desalination in Huntington Beach - an anti-Poseidon group - told us of a town hall meeting in that city at Eader School, 9291 Banning Street (between Bushard and Magnolia) on Thursday, March 5th from 7-9 p.m. at which information will be presented about the proposed desalination project in that city.

Chuck Perry spoke about the medians on 17th Street and the city's
response to problems they were creating, plus he spoke about new curbs and sidewalks on Industrial Way.  He was also concerned about the skate park being unattended, and suggested we have a staffer at the site.

Beth Refakes complained about the scheduling of city meetings and other community outreach meetings, using the example of the meeting in Mesa Verde regarding a proposed development that was being held at that very time.  She asked for better communication between the City and other entities.  She also asked that the city consider holding the community budget workshop as has been done in the past.  She also wondered about the project for the terminus of the 55 Freeway and commented about the 1/5 Marine Command Staff.

Gay Royer talked about the Coffee With A Cop event that morning and the 1/5 Command Staff.  She also observed that we need to do more to help veterans.

Jay Humphrey reminded Mensinger and Righeimer that they promised to "pull out all the stops" to
improve the Police Department staffing situation, and wanted to know, specifically, what they had done.  He also complained about the meeting time conflicts.

Teresa Drain, once again, requested a forensic audit of the 60th Anniversary Celebration, and provided several examples of why one is necessary.

Mary Spadoni also spoke of the Coffee With A Cop event,
wondered about the sober living applicants - only 11 have turned in applications so far and wondered when something will be done for facilities in R-2 zoned areas.  She also complained that the CAD RMS system is not working and that the residents deserve to know the crime stats.

Debbie McGuire complained about living in fear in College Park due to increased numbers of transients and begged the council to do more to make us safe.

Gene Hutchins, once again, spoke of the unfunded pension liability issue.  A member of the Pension Oversight Committee, he told us very little can be done except reduce the budget through staffing cuts, raise taxes or file for bankruptcy.

Ann Parker said the honeymoon is over with the new council and she's ready for a divorce.
She expressed curiosity about Righeimer's Israel trip.  She also complained about the sober living homes and asked the council to "get it together and do something!"

James Bridges greeted Interim Police Chief Ron Lowenberg, with whom he apparently has a history dating back to their time in Huntington Beach.  He addressed pension spiking.  He complained that he had not been selected for city committees and observed that the council is doing what they do best - nothing.

Laurene Keane agreed about the forensic audit of the 60th Anniversary celebration; indicated that Irvine and Newport Beach are doing something about their pension situation and wondered why city staffers or council members had not attended a recent conference on sober living homes.  She also expressed concern, again, about the lack of an Economic Development Plan. She finished precisely at 6:30 p.m.

Rookie Mayor Steve Mensinger began by asking CEO Tom Hatch to follow up on several items of concern to residents.  He thanked Refakes and others who are on the Military Affairs Team for their efforts on behalf of the 1/5 Marines.  He told us he and Hatch had spent four and a half hours at Lions Park observing the transient population recently.  Seems like a mighty long time to stand around observing homeless folks.  You can circumnavigate the entire park, counting as you go, in about five minutes.  Regarding the Pension issue, he observed - in another of his overstatements - that no other group in Orange County understands the problem better than the Pension Oversight Committee, but that we don't have the tools to fix it.  He told Bridges that he will look into him being shunned for committee appointments.  Really?

Katrina Foley had a long laundry list of issues to discuss.  She spoke of South Coast Plaza's Lunar
New Year celebration; TET Festival at the Fairground this weekend; suggested we get an update from Mesa Water about the Poseidon project;  Costa Mesa High School has a new Football Coach (her boys play football at CMHS).  She concurred with McGuire about safety due to aggressive transients, which she described as younger and scary.  She wanted an update on the CAD RMS situation and wondered when we would be able to get back to community policing, and hoped the new chief could help us with that.  She expressed concern about Prison Realignment.  She's meeting with Teresa Drain to go through "two large banker boxes" of information on the 60th Anniversary Celebration next week.  She asked Hatch to make the Economic Development Plan a priority and wondered about how the new developments around the city and their impact.  And, she told Perry that an attendant at the skate park would actually increase the City's liability problem.

Sandra Genis wondered about the Poseidon project, and observed that at one time it was scheduled to tear up a large chunk of the City for its pipeline.

Gary Monahan had nothing to say.... again.

Righeimer welcomed Lowenberg and complimented Captain Rob Sharpnack for stepping in as acting Chief.  Regarding Poseidon, he told us that nothing is coming to Costa Mesa from that project - nothing would be torn up because the water would be piped north instead of south.  He then launched into a long speech about pensions, complaining about CalPERS rates and, in response to a speaker's earlier observation about Newport Beach doing something, he referred to that city as "the 1% of the 1%", apparently implying that they could pay down some of that debt because it is a wealthy city.  He then reiterated that he was "not looking to pay one penny more than is required."  Please refer to Hutchins' observation, above. 
On the sober living issue he mentioned a community meeting at College Park Elementary School on March 4th, from 6-7:30, which he apparently will be attending.  I've seen the announcement for that meeting - Foley and Mensinger are also attending, as is a large entourage of city staff.  And, it conflicts with the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meeting and Righeimer is council liaison for that group.  He ended his little rant by stating that his personal vacation is nobody's business.

Hatch observed that the budget study session scheduled for next Tuesday had been cancelled, stating that the issues they had planned to deal with would be handled another way - whatever that means.  He told us that there is a meeting of interested parties for the Library/Community Center at the Community Center at 6 p.m. on March 5th.  He welcomed Lowenberg and praised him for his body of work.  He told us the CAD RMS system is up and running, but has some problems to iron out.  It's interesting to note that although this issue has been brought up many times recently, we've never heard from Steve Ely, the man in charge of Information Technology on the subject.  He spoke of the homeless problem and told us that he and the senior staff held a meeting in the park recently for an hour and came up with some good ideas.  Apparently one of them was to remove the "wing panels" in the restrooms because people could hide behind them.  Geez!  That's right up there with spending tens of thousands of dollars to demolish the dining pavilion because homeless folks hung out there.  He told us we have a new park ranger and will have two rangers assigned to Lions Park for awhile.  He addressed the Economic Development Plan issue by praising the Chamber of Commerce, South Coast Plaza, The South Coast Alliance and the Convention and Visitor Bureau.

Regarding the Police Staffing issue, he referred to a draft copy of a 4-page document addressing it, which he will give to the council (but, apparently, not the public).  In a line that sounded like it came straight from the script of Kevin Costner's movie, The Postman, he said, "good news is happening every day." Well, that's just great!  Tell that to Debbie McGuire, who is petrified to live in her neighborhood!  Tell that to the Westside neighbors who are seeing gang activity increasing every day.   He said we have several officers in the academy, with graduation dates stretching from March to June.  He finished just after 7:00.

Four items were pulled from the Consent Calendar, #7, the Street Sweeping Contract, and #9, 10 and 11.

New Business #1, the request to increase the Senior Commission from 5 to 7 members got a little conversation.  Foley wanted to increase it to 9 members, but the council ended up voting unanimously to increase it to 7.

New Business #2 was the authorization to send Mensinger and Hatch to Washington, D.C. to a League of Cities conference from March 7-11.  The cost would be $2,500.  Discussions included the lack of clarity about the agenda for the conference and who was paying for it.  Mensinger said he didn't think the taxpayers should foot his bill, so he was paying for it himself, and he muttered something about having to "take vacation days" for the trip.  Geez!  Too bad, dude!  That's what you signed up for, for goodness sake!  In the end they approve the item unanimously, amended to include Mensinger reimbursing the city for his costs.  Personally, I think if the council agrees this is a worthy cause, then the city should pay for both Hatch and Mensinger to attend.

New Business #3, the reinstatement of our membership to the California League of Cities, took a lot more time to flesh out.  During the discussion Righeimer grilled Tony Cardenas, regional representative of the League of Cities, on many issues.  He questioned the effectiveness of their advocacy, flat-out stating that the organization was for big government.  Foley and Genis addressed the value of many facets of the membership, which will cost us nearly $26,000.  Mensinger told us he was luke warm to it initially, but has since decided he's for joining up.  Monahan said he'd go along with the Mayor because it's his call.  Eventually, nearly an hour later, it passed on a 4-1 vote, with Righeimer voting NO.

The discussion of Consent Calendar item #7, the outsourced Street Sweeping contract, drew more discussion than I expected.  During the conversation Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz said the cost savings would be $3.5 million over the life of the contract.  Later Foley contradicted him, observing that it was more like $1.4 million for the first part of the contract, and that much of that was due to not having to purchase new machines.  Mensinger observed that we wouldn't be paying into pensions for the contractors, either.  Speaker Jay Humphrey pointed out that this decision was determined as a General Law City, not a Charter City, emphasizing that this kind of thing can be done with our present form of government.  Foley observed that the employees negotiated to do this outsourcing and Righeimer complained that "we had to give something."  Well, dude, that's what negotiating is supposed to be all about - give and take.  His idea of negotiation is all take, no give.  Eventually, the motion passed, 5-0.

The remaining three, #9, 10 and 11 - all street/road improvement projects -  were pulled by Humphrey to make a point about grant funding.  They all passed, 5-0.  The meeting ended at 8:30!  The next meeting is on March 3rd.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Yes, Ms. Foley- You must never ask the dictator about any of his actions, especially if they might involve support from or association with hate groups.

2/18/2015 06:06:00 AM  
Anonymous now is the time said...

I agree people have a right to privacy in regards to things such as vacations, etc. BUT just like other public figures who tend to be held to a higher standard as they represent and speak for their constituents, if they are connected to a group considered to promote hate, that is something that can not be hidden. Constituents have a right and need to know who they put in office. They have a right and need to know what and who that person supports. That comes with holding public office. There appears to be deceit when you can not just answer a direct question.

2/18/2015 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Righeimer claims to have paid his own way and traveled independently to Israel, right?
He can prove this by providing receipts from his trip for the airfare, lodging, etc.
If he can save the receipt for two diet Cokes then he certainly must have receipts from his trip to Israel that occurred during the exact same timeframe as the AFA sponsored trip for the RNC.
Let's see them, Righeimer.

2/18/2015 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

As much as I hate to say this, Jim doesn't have to prove he paid his own way. It's up to someone else to prove he didn't.

I did think I heard a sound much like the air being let out of a balloon when Jim was on the short end of a 4 -1 vote. It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when he and Steve talked after the meeting.

2/18/2015 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

I really don't care who paid for Rig's trip one way or the other, as long as it wasn't the taxpayers. My concern is that he is there as a MPT of this city, whether in an official capacity or not, he is still our MPT. Makes me wonder how far into this city his tentacles reach. There are a few who are actually defending his association with that group.

2/18/2015 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

If it was a gift it will need to be reported on his Form 700. But the more likely scenario is that he paid a deeply discounted group rate.

And he actually indirectly admitted he was part of the group. If he wasn’t part of the group he would have ended the controversy by simply saying so.

2/20/2015 04:56:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home