Thursday, April 30, 2015

It's OC Marathon Time Again!

This Sunday, May 3rd, is the day the Orange County Marathon clogs many Newport-Mesa streets for several hours as thousands waste valuable heartbeats running in the marathon, the half-marathon or the 5k run.

Here's the page from the OC Marathon web site, HERE, that shows the route of the race. (Click on the image to enlarge it)
The Marathon starts at 5:30; the Half-Marathon starts at 6:15 and the 5k race begins at 7:00 a.m.  Follow the above link for all the details, including routes.

And, for full road closures, including links to specific areas throughout Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, click HERE.

I hope everyone has a wonderful time.  Most along the route - like me, for example - will just hunker down and wait it out before trying to run errands or whatever else one does on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in the Newport-Mesa


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Little Primer On Corruption

Today Tracy Wood, veteran reporter who made her bones covering the Vietnam War up close and personal, wrote a piece in the Voice of OC, HERE, that will be very interesting reading for those of us who follow politics.

In her piece, The Ingredients of Corrupt Governments, Wood describes several characteristics of government corruption, regardless the level of government.  I found it fascinating reading and I overlayed some local government issues as I quickly scanned the screen. (Photo courtesy of Voice of OC)

She begins with this paragraph: "Corruption doesn't happen by accident.  Here's a rundown of tools used worldwide by corrupt leaders."Without plagiarizing her work, here are some captions with my comments:

Patronage and its siblings, nepotism and cronyism.
Uh, huh.  And, I wonder where we might have seen this characteristic?

Secrecy, one of the most valuable tools of a corrupt government.
Although our local government touts "transparency", it's clear from watching it work that much is already decided before it ever hits the light of day.

Attacking and even shutting down a free press.
Hmmm, this has a very familiar ring to it.  As a person who is a part of that "free press", it's clear to me that some people in charge work very hard at keeping important issues from being discussed in the open and reported by the press.  Those of us who DO manage to report on controversial issues are vilified for our efforts.

Cash, gifts or assets handed or promised to a government official...
Well, I have absolutely NO proof that anything like that has ever happened in Costa Mesa.... yet.

Well, now... this is a whole different matter.  No bid contracts, consultants filling positions, sweetheart deals for campaign contributors... all that has a very familiar ring to it.

Financial accountability.
The 60th Anniversary Celebration fiasco... 'nuff said.

Election Fraud.
This one is tricky.... how do you count the late presence of a person who has absolutely no chance in an election, but may appear on the ballot to syphon off votes made based only on gender?  Is it "fraud"?  Probably not, but...

One-sided justice.
Does this apply to the very special relationship the Orange County District Attorney's Office has with certain local politicians?  Do the scales of justice balance fairly in our area, where we prosecute a person for vandalizing $15.00 worth of campaign signs, yet ignore tens of thousands of dollars of probable misuse of public funds on an unnecessary city party?

Keeping voters at a distance.
Take some time to read Wood's take on this issue.  Ethics is a cornerstone here and some of our local politicians have summarily rejected a City Ethics Policy with no reason given.

Deliberately running yes-men - and now women - for office.
Take a moment and think about our last couple campaign seasons, the people who ran and those who were appointed to commissions and committees.

Read it and contemplate...
As you read through Wood's piece and the linked resources I suspect you'll find yourself overlaying local circumstances in many instances.  Enjoy.

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It's Almost Party Time!

The staff of the Orange County Fair and Event Center (Fairgrounds), headed by new CEO Kathy Kramer, held an Open House in the Administration Building on the Fairgrounds Tuesday night to tell the community about their plans for the upcoming 125th Orange County Fair this summer - operating for a month beginning July 17, 2015 - and to introduce the theme of this year's fair - One Big Party!

I apologize for the poor quality of the images this time.  I took my backup camera with a slow lens.  That, coupled with the light glaring across the screen, have made for some shoddy images.
The crowd of more than five dozen people paid close attention as Kramer spoke of their plans and the relationship the Fairgrounds has with the Costa Mesa Police Department, since noise, rowdiness and neighborhood parking issues are major concerns of nearby residents.  I noticed many community activists in the crowd, but most were residents of College Park and Mesa del Mar - the two residential areas closest to the Fairgrounds.  With the exception of the members of the CMPD present, I saw no elected or appointed city official, nor did I see any member of the city staff.

Captain Mark Manley spoke from the CMPD standpoint and introduced Lieutenant Vic Bakkila and Sergeant Bryan Wadkins, who will be the command staff in charge the CMPD interface with the Fair staff.
Dan Gaines, who heads up the Entertainment element of the Fair, spoke briefly about that subject.  We learned that they usually have about 80% of returning acts, but this year in the Hanger there will be 40% new acts.
Joan Hamel spoke about the events planned, as listed on this image.  As you can see, they include a new ice skating attraction, Fairenheit 32 and the ever popular Cattle Drive on August 8th.
Nick Buffa, who manages Safety and Security, ( I apologize for having no good photo of Nick, son of former Costa Mesa Mayor Peter Buffa) then spoke about the new Neighborhood Ambassador Program, which is designed to have eyes and ears in the two main communities around the Fairgrounds to help head off problems.  The folks will patrol in 2-person teams in GEM electric cars and be dressed in bright Orange uniform shirts.  They will have dedicated VOIP telephones with which they can report problems as they roam through the neighborhoods.  They will NOT be sworn officers - all police-related matters will be directed to the CMPD.
Sound guru Gary Hardesty spoke briefly about the efforts that will be made to contain and control the sound from the musical acts this year.  He told us that there will be two self-contained sound monitoring units placed in the community - one in College Park and one in Mesa del Mar - to provide valuable real-time information to help with this year's Fair and into the future.

Robin Wachner told us of the communication tools that will be used, as listed on this image.  She also gave us a link, HERE, which will take you to the page shown below for more information.
Then Kramer took questions from the audience and had her team available to answer them.  The concerns expressed covered the gamut - drunkenness, rowdiness, trash and unwelcome parking in the neighborhoods.  To those kinds of questions Manley and Wadkins advised us that the CMPD will be properly staffed to handle those issues.  Resident Jeff Wilcox advised folks concerned about parking to go to the City and request resident-only parking stickers.
Noise - from the musical groups and the car, motorcycles and truck events that happen during the fair - were concerns of many residents.  I smiled as Hardesty tried to console them with vague assurances that they will try to control the musical groups.  The automotive noise will be addressed.  For example, if the contract requires mufflers on vehicles and they show up without them, the event will be cancelled.
Residents along Vanguard expressed concern about parking and rowdy folks, indicating they feel neglected because they are a little farther away from the Fairgrounds.  They were encouraged to immediately call the police if there are problems.
Wadkins assured the neighbors that the CMPD would be there to manage the traffic during the Fair, and to route it to alternate parking sites when the Fairgrounds parking filled up.
Other issues, like being able to buy tickets with a smart phone and not have to print it out, entering the Fair from Gate 5, were discussed.  Kramer, who has only been on the job about 4 months, has a nice, easy style and did her best to make the members of the community feel welcome and appreciated.
This meeting was video taped and will be made available somewhere on the OC Fair web site in the near future.  It sounds like we have yet another terrific Fair ahead of us.  For the past decade more than 1,000,000 people attended the Fair - the ninth largest county fair in the country.  Last year over 1.3 million folks attended.  To learn more about the Orange County Fair and Event Center and the Fair click HERE.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

OC Fair Neighborhood Ambassador Meeting Tonight

In all the rush to produce three blog entries today - this will be the fourth - I almost forgot about this one!

The Orange County Fair and Event Center will host an Open House this evening in the Administration Building on the Fairgrounds to introduce their Neighborhood Ambassador Program.  The program will be from 6:30 - 7:30 tonight.  Here's the information.  Enter Gate 4 off Arlington Drive.

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OCTA Board: It's Toll Lanes For The I-405!

By now many of you who pay attention to this stuff may have read one of the many articles, like the one by Anthony Clark Carpio in the Daily Pilot, HERE, describing the decision by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board Monday to take the lead on the scheme to widen the I-405 and turn part of that taxpayer-funded roadway into a toll road.

As you know, this has been a hotly-debated issue for years, with many cities along the I-405 corridor between Costa Mesa and Seal Beach joining forces as the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition to attempt to see the widening of the highway to include only free lanes in addition to the one High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.
In the captioned article you'll find the curious deciding factor expressed by the President of the OCTA Board, Jeff Lalloway.  He is quoted as saying, "If we don't do it, Caltrans is going to do it.  And if Caltrans does it, no one's going to like it."  They apparently recognized that Caltrans has a gun to their heads, so they took what they hope will be a preemptive strike.  However,  Caltrans is still the BIG DOG, so I wonder just how the OCTA Board can feel comfortable that it may not come calling later - after all the heavy-lifting is done - and snatch excess toll revenues from the OCTA and the taxpayers who approved Measure M.

You may recall this chart, which shows all the alternatives considered.  The "preferred alternative" chosen by the coalition was Number 2.  What we're going to end up with is #3, which adds two lanes to the roadway each direction, one of which will be a toll lane, and converts the existing HOV lane into a toll lane, too.
One of the big sticking points is the fact that the corridor cities will be shut out of access to that traffic traveling on the toll road because there will be no off ramps to those cities.  If, for example, a person coming from San Juan Capistrano wants to shop at South Coast Plaza she will have to get off at Magnolia and come back to an off ramp from the non-toll lanes.  Remember when the 73 Toll Road was being hyped as "only 12 minutes from Capistrano to South Coast Plaza!"?  Well, that's over unless the existing off ramp at Bear Street is retained, and city traffic officials tell me that's not in the plan.  It makes me wonder where the Segerstrom family has been in this discussion?  Certainly, there have been no public utterances from them during the long years of debate on this issue.  It seems odd, since they have the potential to lose a lot of revenue from this plan.  Here's what Alternate #3 looks like.
According to the news reports, the current plan will provide free access to the toll lanes for cars with two or more passengers, but only for 3 years.  And, since it's likely that the toll collection apparatus will be automatic, reading your license plate and charging your account, how will that work, exactly?  Will the cameras across the roadway count the heads in the cars and NOT tally a toll?  Do we have the technology to recognize a sleeping child on the back seat.  Or even small children sitting in the third row of an SUV?  How's that going to work, exactly?

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, a major opponent of this scheme, is quoted as saying "If we can have two or more [passengers in a vehicle], that solves a lot of our issues"?  Really?  That was NEVER part of his dialog against the toll lanes in the past.  His pitch was lack of access to or from them, and that he'd have to back track to almost Newport Beach to enter the toll lane heading north or south.

So, presuming this scheme now moves forward - you can read the timeline HERE, we will now see the destruction of our virtually brand new Fairview Road bridge over the I-405 - a project that cost millions  to complete less than 5 years ago - and the chaos and inconvenience to thousands of Costa Mesa commuters daily.  And, the widening project itself is going to cause major problems for Costa Mesa neighborhoods that back up to the right-of-way in the form of pile driving at all hours of the day and night and the interminable dust and dirt falling on them during construction.
It certainly appears that this is really all about the money.  If Caltrans controls the project it calls the shots as to where the tolls in excess of the building costs will be spent.  OCTA thinks it can keep those bucks here in Orange County.  Sadly, this seems to be less about moving traffic efficiently than about the cash to be collected by those in what former Mayor Eric Bever - a major outspoken opponent to the chosen alternative - referred to as the "Lexus Lanes".  I always thought that was a curious statement from a guy who drives an Audi.

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Of Development, Hydrogen Fuel And Swimming Pools

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met again last night and, in their version of Run-And-Gun-Golf,  made pretty quick work of everything on their agenda.  It was a big night for Harbor Boulevard, which saw several items located along that stretch of road.

For example, nobody pulled a single thing from the Consent Calendar, so all the items on it were passed on a 4-0 vote (Vice Chair Jeff Mathews was more than a half-hour late to the meeting).  So, we didn't hear about the 2015 Development Phasing and Performance Monitoring Report; the review of the conditional use permit for Saddleback Church at 1901 Newport Blvd or the Capital Improvement Program.

The first Public Hearing - a two-year time extension for a 33-unit development at 2626 Harbor Blvd. (across from the Cadillac Dealership, currently undergoing renovation) - was approved after very little discussion - 4-0.

The second Public Hearing - a 2-unit, two-story development at 162 East 18th Street in which a ramshackle pair of single story dwellings will be replaced by very nice homes - also was heard quickly and passed on a 5-0 vote.

Public Hearing #3, a 24-unit development at 650 Hamilton Street replacing a previously-approved 18-unit development on the site, got a little more conversation because of the parking in the neighborhood, but was passed on a 5-0 vote.  The commission felt that this development served the community well because it provided a more affordable - estimated to be in the high $600,000 range - home ownership opportunites than the previous plan.

Public Hearing #4, a Hydrogen Fuel outlet at the site of the Valero Gas Station on the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Bay Street - across the street from Theordore Robins Ford - was approved in an almost euphoric frenzy by the commissioners.  Colin McCarthy made the motion, eager to have Costa Mesa be a leader in "new stuff".  Of course, it's unclear whether this place will make any money for several years since there are so few Hydrogen-powered cars on the road.  When asked, Dr. Shane Stevens - co-founder of the company -  told us that Toyota has a car in the works that will sell for $57,000, but there might be rebates taking it down to $45,000.  Other companies - Honda and Mercedes, for example, apparently lease such cars for $600- $800 per month, including the cost of fuel.  During the discussion of safety issues Commissioner Stephan Andranian reminded us of The Hindenburg disaster.  The item passed, 5-0.

The final item on the agenda was the conditional use permit for an Indoor Swim School at the KMart Plaza.  It will operate from 9 a.m - 9 p.m., seven days a week and, theoretically, will not have a parking impact on the shared parking in the center.  Both McCarthy and Chairman Rob Dickson were almost giddy with excitement about having this facility - in which the operator will spend more than $600,000 in improvements installing the pool and support infrastructure - so close to home so they don't have to take their kids down to Irvine for swim lessons.  The issue passed, 5-0.

A couple thoughts.  Some of the commissioners - McCarthy, in particular - seemed VERY agitated when members of the public spoke to criticize or ask questions about sober living homes or the aggressive development going on in town.  McCarthy could be seen shaking his head and rolling his eyes as speakers complained to the commission.  They obviously don't like the fact that speakers will address the same issues over and over again, seeking answers to the questions.

One of those issues was the Maison club on the Westside, which you might recall was red-tagged more than a month ago because it had opened for business without a single license or permit for the extensive renovations being performed a the site.  The last word I have from City Hall is that, as of last Friday the Red Tag was still in place and, based on the architect's projections, it will take a month before the red tag can be removed for operating as a bar only and an additional 6 weeks until it can serve food.  Scofflaw Roland Barrera and his crew have apparently been very cooperative with the city staff, but his arrogant disregard for the rules is costing him a lot of money.

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