Thursday, April 02, 2015

Fairview Park Committee Goes On Hiatus With A Dull Thud

Arriving a little early at the Victoria Room of the Neighborhood Community Center last night for the most recent - and maybe final - meeting of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee I was surprised by the optimistic number of chairs arranged for the event.  You can take the time to count them from this panorama shot, but my best guess was that just over 100 seats were available for attendees.  Fewer than half that many were actually used.
Vice Chairman, now identified as "Acting Chair", Steve Smith kicked the meeting off following the roll call which saw member Anna Vrska absent due to travel complications - she's stuck in Munich - with a glib statement that "the rest of us are here because we didn't have a good excuse."  Nobody in the "crowd" of fewer than 20 people at the time laughed, which kind of marked the way the meeting would proceed.  The remaining other six members of the committee were present: Smith, Ron Amburgey, Terry Cummings, Dennis Popp, Lee Ramos and Frank Davern.  Council Liaison, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, was absent and his alternate, Sandra Genis, showed up well into the program.  A footnote: former Chairman Dr. Richard Mehren attended the meeting and sat quietly observing the proceedings near the front of the room.
Smith then addressed the issue of possibly electing a new Chairman, citing the fact that this may be their last meeting for at least a year.  Nobody nominated anyone else, so Smith proceeded to conduct the meeting.

We then heard the Staff Presentation conducted by Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia on the "field" related issues that the staff had been working on since January - the February and March meetings were canceled.  Unlike in previous meetings, there would be NO vote by the committee as to whether they would recommend them being forwarded to the Parks and Recreation Commission or not.  The three issues that would be presented were:
 Mejia would just present the staff report and that would be that.

He began with an overview of the Southeast Quadrant of the Park - the final remaining chunk of land to be considered.  He then spoke briefly of the Constraints that were faced when considering placing fields of any kind in this quadrant.
He spoke of the biological resources thought to be part of this section of the park, including the burrowing owl and other species.
He then went through several slides showing possible sites for playing fields within the existing infrastructure - mainly the Orange County Model Engineers tracks and buildings.
Based on the staff analysis he presented the following thoughts about the feasibility of certain types of fields in the existing configurations:
He then went through the scenario if the entire Southeast Quadrant was to be graded to overcome some of the topographical constraints that currently exist, and the Model Engineers infrastructure was to be relocated.
The result was the following configuration, which he stated would be the best use of the land IF fields were to be considered AND if funding could be found to do it. As you can see, this configuration provides parking along Placentia, relocated the Model Engineers facility slightly, and includes (1) a synthetic turf field, (2) two youth ball fields), (3) a multipurpose field overlaying the ball fields and (4) two soccer fields.
The impacts to the Master Plan are shown below.
And that was that!  Following the short - ten (10) minute - presentation by Mejia, Chairman Smith said, "And that fulfills the requirement assigned to us by the council." He told us the PowerPoint presentation would be available online shortly and we moved on without comment from any of the members.  It was bizarre, since this analysis took many, many hours of staff time to prepare and has the potential to make the greatest impact on the park, yet none of the members were permitted to make any kind of observations.  I found myself thinking about just how frustrating this must be for the staff, which has toiled for nearly two years on this project.

Smith then opened up the meeting for Public Comments, limiting each speaker to two (2) minutes each.  From my vantage point I got photos mostly of backs of heads, so I'll just try to give you a short summary of what most speakers said.  Let me say right up front that 20 speakers - about half the number in the room -  addressed the committee in two segments because Smith botched up the first segment.  Of those speakers, only two were in support of playing fields anywhere in the park.

Mary Spadoni led off with a quote from member Ramos from a Feet To The Fire Forum last fall in which he said he wanted to keep the park as it is, and accusing him of lying to the public in a campaign because he voted to proceed with the analysis of playing fields on the Southeast Quadrant.

Jay Humphrey briefly thanked the committee and staff for all the work they'd done and said he was looking forward to the committee reconvening in 2016.  He encouraged them to continue to be involved with the consultant hired for the update of the Master Plan, and to look into the acquisition of the Fairview Developmental Center property.

Gary Stickle, a professor from UCLA, spoke of the protected species and the Native American artifacts, calling Fairview Park our "Stonehenge".

Patricia Martz - a frequent speaker at these meetings - observed that "capping" of the area to make fields was inappropriate because they are sacred burial grounds and kids shouldn't be playing on burial grounds.

Terry Koken stepped up and chided Popp about his birthday, then stated that Fairview Park should be left the way it is.

Lynn Redmond spoke about the project his son, Christian, was completing in the park - replanting native plants, and thanked those who supported the project by helping and contributing.

Beth Refakes thanked the committee for their efforts, but suggested that we had the cart before the horse because we had not done a needs assessment first.  She suggested that if the decision was made to move forward with playing fields, particularly in light of the probable costs, then the issue should be placed before the voters.

Cindy Brenneman also stepped up and said the park should be kept natural.

Ann Parker chided Ramos for lying to the people and suggested that he was just a plant by Mayor Mensinger and Righeimer on the committee to sway it toward playing fields.

Gay Royer spoke of her personal experience with development on Native American locations.

Kim Hendricks said no data had been presented that showed a shortage of playing fields and said the committee failed to listen to the public.

Lou Desandro identified himself as "the other side" - one of those in support of playing fields in the park.  He said those speaking didn't represent the majority of residents, then suggested that the Southeast Quadrant be converted to playing fields, "because the rest of the park is natural".

Steve James, a professor from Cal State Fullerton, suggested that the Native American sites are too precious to be defiled, and that the park should remain natural.

Cindy Black identified the committee as "tools" - of the council and suggested that Ramos and Davern didn't know anything about the park when appointed.  She suggested that big campaign contributors - "Argyros, Segerstrom and Buck Johns" - should provide some cash to identify other sites for playing fields.

Margaret Mooney also cited Ramos campaign comments and noted how quickly folks were supporting lighting, but said it should be done at other venues, not Fairview Park.

Robin Leffler thanked the committee for their work, then observed the lack of a needs analysis and suggested that the committee should remember they are to serve all the people.  That took us to 7:00 p.m.

A half hour later, just as the meeting was about to close, Smith was forced to permit four other speakers to exercise their time because of his screw-up.  When originally challenged about it his response was, "It's not my problem!"  Not very "leaderly", to say the least.

Anyhow, a pair of soccer moms stepped up with their two little girls in tow and pleaded for the park to remain natural.  The children spoke, too.

John Rubright - an AYSO supporter and the only other "pro-fields" speaker - stepped up and chided those who wanted to keep Fairview Park natural.  He chided the OCME site, stating that it "was not natural".  Rubright has spoken before to the committee and each time he doesn't serve his side well because he doesn't present a compelling argument for more fields.

Cindy Black stepped up (again) because Smith had screwed up earlier on the  final agenda item and refused to let the public speak to it.  She said 'No" to the trail.

The final public commentor was self-described Soccer Dad and AYSO referee, Kevin Shannon, who strongly recommended that Fairview Park be kept natural.

Back to 7:00 p.m.  The final item on the agenda was the consideration of a possible East Fairview Channel Trail.  No member indicated an interest in discussing it and Smith failed to permit public comments on it but the committee voted, 5-1, to have the staff prepare a study!  They won't hear about this for a year.  This was a major boneheaded move on many levels and showed a tremendous lack of leadership on Smith's part.  Interesting, since he has been openly critical of former Chairman Mehren's leadership but did virtually nothing to help him for the past nearly two years!

As the committee began winding down it was time for Committee Members comments and Cummings led off with a prepared statement.  He observed that the February and March meetings had been canceled and he didn't know why.  He observed that Mehren and Eckles were gone, so the committee was down to seven members from nine.  He observed Senate Bill 639, which placed Fairview Developmental Center in play, was in the works and that the city should be considering that venue for any new playing fields.  He made four points:
1 - The FDC property would be free of environmental or cultural complications.
2 - It would be a great project for new State Senator John Moorlach to champion.
3 - Sports Fields should be made a priority for the property and the consultant dollars for the Master Plan should be diverted to investigating the acquisition of the FDC property.
4 - Leave the existing Master Plan in force and adjourn to 4/1/2020.

Ron Amburgey had nothing to say.

Dennis Popp expressed disappointment in the personal attacks.
Ramos said he was suprised that it became "Lee Ramos Fan Night", referring to several critics.  He said he does believe in passive parks and criticized member "Varska" - he meant Anna Vrska, but added a vowel to her name - for taking up staff time demanding statistics.    He defended his knowledge of the park by stating he walks it three days a week.

Davern, who replaced deceased David Stiller midstream, responded to criticism by Cindy Black, indicating he DOES know about Fairview Park, having hiked "280 miles" there.  He said, to her, "I've yet to see you there."  He said he formed his opinion about the need for more fields by talking with the people he encountered in the park - "mostly Latinos" - who said they need playing fields.  He said 99% of the residents don't attend these meetings.  Well, duh!

Smith then said, "The real losers in this year-long delay are the kids of the community."  He cited the need to continue moving forward, particularly with the school district, to find more fields.  He thanked the City staff for their hard work.  At that point, as he was about to adjourn, we had the followup Public Comments.

Then, at about 7:30, the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee folded up its tent and departed.  Nobody knows when - or even if - this group will meet again to discuss the future of Fairview Park.  And, since the committee has NOT been disbanded, the members are still governed by the Brown Act, so if, for example, Ramos, Popp, Amburgey and Davern gather and discuss this issue they will be violating the Brown Act.  The City Council should disband this committee to remove that burden for the unknown period of time into the future and, if necessary, re-constitute it in the future.

A couple observations.  This committee was hastily-created by a council majority intent on finding a way to develop playing fields in Fairview Park, and stacked the membership toward that end.  I doubt if they, the council, actually thought it would take nearly two years to reach this point, and then to basically have nothing they were looking for to show for all the time and effort.

This effort - which was premature at best, because there was no data presented at ANY TIME to demonstrate the need for more playing fields anywhere, much less in Fairview Park - should not have been launched in the first place.  The update of the Master Plan of Parks and Open Spaces was pending and this effort should have been subordinated to that process. 

I've attended almost all of the meetings of this committee and among the things that have been consistent is the ratio of members of the public who spoke out against playing fields versus those who stepped up to ask for them.  The numbers were overwhelming from the very beginning.  One would think - with the organizational skills of the youth sports groups - that they would have eventually rallied THEIR troops to present THEIR side of the issue to the committee.  That effort was feeble to the point of being almost non-existent.  Where the heck were they?

I'm NOT saying we don't need more places for kids to practice organized sports, and actually to just "play".  In recent months the pro-fields groups have uniformly acknowledged that the shortage is in "lighted" fields for kids to practice - not "game day" fields on which to compete.  Well, if 10% of the effort expended with this committee had been spent working with the school district to hammer out an agreement about field use and lights thereon, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

In my view, THAT is where our municipal energies should be aimed right now.  And, I agree with Terry Cummings - the City should be making EVERY effort to line up our ducks toward acquiring the Fairview Developmental Center property when it becomes available - and NOT to just have it become more congested, rabbit-warren type housing that we're seeing sprout up all over town like mushrooms.

So, farewell to the men and woman of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.  All of you - current and past members - worked long and hard and actually DID accomplish a lot over the past 20 months.

And a HUGE thank you to Ernesto Munoz, Bart Mejia, Yolanda Summerhill, Fariba Fazeli and the rest of the City staff for the thousands of hours spent on this effort.  Good job!

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Why is a liar like Ramos attacking Vrska? Did his puppet masters order him to? Is he sharing floor space with Jimmy Fitzy, trying to lick Riggy's boots clean?

4/02/2015 06:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

It sounds like Smith should have kept his mouth shut with his critical remarks of Dr. Mehren. Isn't as easy as you thought, huh Steve?

This entire committee was a waste of time. It was merely another Mensinger jack off, involving his buddies willing to jack off with him. Looks like the lies are catching up with Popp and Ramos. Can't say they don't deserve it.

This committee could have done some good in attempting to resolve issues with the school board, but what this? It was a total waste of time on everyone's part. As for the Latinos wanting a place to play, I doubt seriously they were told that the field would be locked up tight to anyone except teams, and not the free, afternoon exercise they all enjoy now.

Lastly, the speakers don't represent all of the residents, no, but neither do the pro soccer speakers. However, the percentages of speakers pro and con, do represent the attitude of the city residents. Put it to a vote and find out.

4/02/2015 07:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Geoff... I can't believe you didn't mention that member(s) of the audience were threatened with arrest for DEFENDING someone else's First Amendment RIGHT to speak before the FP committee. It should have been Steve "it's not my problem" Smith who was threatened with arrest for DENYING their First Amendment RIGHT to speak! Thank goodness Sandy Genis intervened.

4/02/2015 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

Ramos' quote from Feet to the Fire, 2014..."The experience on the (advisory) committee was an eyeopener...I revere Fairview, it should stay as it is"..
His exact words, but then he was trying to get himself elected. Im tired of all this manipulation, mis-statements and out in out lying. Popp and Ramos what a useless duo.
Last night's meeting was a total fiasco, to bad it was not taped...

4/02/2015 08:11:00 AM  
Blogger zennymoon said...

PS. The denial. by Smith, to allow two mothers, with their children To speak (even though they had cards) that were. issplaced. When the audience through a fit that their 1st amendment rights were being violated, Sandy Genis intervened and the mothers spoke. Also might add, there was a uniformed CMPD officer at this meeting and that was a first. Popular committee when you need to bring in
armed officer.

4/02/2015 08:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

I was disheartened to hear Mr. Ramos bereate Ms. Vrska, without her being present to respond, at the same time being upset about being "attacked" for being called on his statements vs. actions.

Realistically, Ms. Vrska's time was wasted. She had to take her personal time gathering the facts and visiting the fields to make an educated decision. This information should have been requested of and provided by staff. So as not to waste the other members' time, she presented her information to the entire committee.

I don't recall any of the other members taking the initiative and using their personal time to further educate themselves. And to be clear, taking time to do actual research, something other than taking a walk.

And I believe the committee wasted staff time by requesting reports on "wish lists" of uses that are prohibited by the agreements that have been in place since the '80's. They had to twist square pegs into round holes to come up with ways to shove a developed field into a protected area.

It was a snub to all the groundwork citizens and staff spent for 20+ years in research and developing the agreeements in place.

It was a snub to the all the professional architects, researchers, first Americans, and other academia to travel to these meetings to remind the committe of the facts. Their research was in place, easily obtained, well before the "Fields of Dreams" committee was conjured up.

Each of the committee members should have educated themselves prior to applying to the committee. Those appointing them should have been assured that these citizens were appraised of the facts, or at least capable of doing the research to understand the complications of the agreements. Only a few were willing to listen and learn.

This farce was a waste of taxpayer money, bolstered by those that claim to be watchdogs of the same.

4/02/2015 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

What hasn't been mentioned, except by Sandy, is that public land cannot be taken and used for private use. They seem to ignore that fact.

4/02/2015 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Eileen Truxton said...

I'm confused. I just read Steve Smith's comment in the Daily Pilot, and then went to his blog. At last night's meeting, wasn't he the dull thud who wasn't willing to allow two moms (with kids in tow) to have their two minutes of Public Comments? Maybe he's another one of those fake heroes who are "all about the kids."

4/02/2015 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous jrs36 said...

Popp complained about personal attacks ? So based on the evidence, Ramos didn't flip his position ?? Then how did he feel about Ramos criticizing the actual diligence shown by member Ms. Verska asking for REAL information to make INFORMED decisions about the issues. Those men on the committee have been a sad running joke on the people of the city.

4/02/2015 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous CMTaxpayer said...

That flushing sound you hear? The city council majority sending my tax dollars down the drain with rubber stamp committees like this one to further their self aggrandizing agenda. Steve Mensinger has got to go. don't be fooled he is not a fiscal conservative. He never saw a dollar he didn't want to spend.

4/02/2015 10:13:00 PM  

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