Tuesday, June 30, 2015

And The Rockets Red Glare...

Tonight, as the bombs are already bursting in air, I want to remind you all that illegal fireworks are a major problem in our city and those caught using them are subject to fines or imprisonment.

The Independence Day holiday is fast approaching.  Today, June 30th, residents of Costa Mesa could begin purchasing so-called "safe and sane" fireworks from the many booster booths throughout the city.  Those sales will continue through 9:00 p.m , Saturday, July 4th.  Here is a flyer to remind you of the rules for using fireworks in Costa Mesa.  (Click on the image to enlarge it.)
And here is a message from the Costa Mesa Police Department outlining more important information for this holiday. (Click on the image to enlarge it)
And, here's a video message from our new Police Chief, Rob Sharpnack and our Fire Chief, Dan Stefano.

Have a wonderful holiday.  Be safe.  Be respectful of your neighbors, their pets and those with military backgrounds for whom the explosion of illegal fireworks might cause significant discomfort.  And, remember what we're celebrating...

Happy Birthday, America

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Monday, June 29, 2015

City Attorney Perpetuates A Gaffe

According to an article in the Daily Pilot by Brad Zint late this afternoon, HERE, today Contract City Attorney Tom Duarte apparently provided an opinion to the City of Costa Mesa that the mistake made with the vote by the Parks and Recreation Commission last Thursday night regarding the user status of Matt Leinart Flag Football was OK, thereby erroneously granting Group 3 User status to that organization for another year.  How does one completely ignore the actual video record and decide what the commissioners THOUGHT they were voting on?

I wrote a lengthy report on that meeting and included my summary of what had happened when the vote was taken, HERE.  At that point in the meeting I suspect everyone in the audience was exhausted by the emotion of the issue, the history between the competing groups and passion of folks on both sides of the issue.  Chairman Kim Pederson almost took a break before the issue in question received a vote, and he may not have been the only person on the dais not paying attention.

Again, BEFORE the vote was taken Commissioner Byron de Arakal asked a pointed question of Recreation Manager Travis Karlen.  He asked if Leinart remained a Group 3 user NOW.  He emphasized that last word because it was important.  He then read from the staff report for his motion, which included ONLY the permanent Group 1 users.  In fact, even de Arakal was off his game, because he failed to say "Group 1" - he said "group users".  The commission voted on that single issue, period!

Let's be absolutely clear.  The following is an image of the section of the staff report in question.  Item 1, dealing with the FUAP, was voted upon by the Commission on a 4-0 vote, with Don Harper abstaining - as he inexplicably did several times that night. (Click on the image to enlarge it)

Then, de Arakal asked Karlen if they needed a vote on number 2, the "user group" question.  The response was yes, but Pederson apparently didn't hear it and proceeded to call for a break.  de Arakal reminded Pederson that they needed a vote, to which he stated that he "thought it was included".  THEN de Arakal asked his pointed question about the Leinart status, and when Karlen affirmed that it had Group 3 status NOW, de Arakal stated his motion.  He read the first sentence of item 2  verbatim, but DID NOT include the second one about the Group 3 status of Leinart.  There is NO DOUBT about that.  The commission voted, 5-0, on that issue.

CONFUSIONDuring the break it was clear that confusion reigned on this issue.  Karlen was on the phone with CEO Tom Hatch, letting him know that there were issues with the vote and apparently looking for guidance.  At one point the discussion at the well - the front of the chambers where the staff sits -  I heard a comment by someone saying, "Well, what do we do now?  Everybody has left.", meaning that all the interested parties in this issue had departed the council chambers.

When Harper asked the clerk to read back the minutes he was told by her that the actual minutes were not available - they needed to be transcribed.  She then tried to RECREATE the motion from her memory - and GOT IT WRONG!  She included the Leinart sentence.

And now Duarte perpetuates the mistake, obviously ignoring the video record of the event.  How does one make this kind of a mistake?  It befuddles me.

So, now the City Council will hear the issue of the FUAP  sometime in July, but it's unclear to me if the assignment of Group status for those organizations, including the Leinart organization, will be part of their review.  Even if it is, the Leinart group has received preferential treatment for more than a year and, some say, it is highly favored among certain city officials.  One might suspect that this error - major screw-up, actually - will permit them to continue this preferential treatment and cost the city thousands of dollars.

Remaining to be answered is whether the Leinart group can, 1) become a legitimate non-profit instead of using the ruse it's been following for the past year? and, 2) can it prove that it has the necessary ratio of Costa Mesa residents to qualify for Group 3 status?  If the answer to 1) is "NO", it will pay higher fees.  If the answer to 2) is "NO", it automatically will default to Group 5 status and lose priority in field assignments.

One hopes for better from those in positions of responsibility in our government.  One would hope our commissioners would pay attention during the meetings.  And one would hope for better decisions by members of the senior staff.  It's not too much to ask, is it?

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Citizen Group Calls For Initiative On Development

The Costa Mesa citizens group, Costa Mesa First, today announced the first steps in the initiative process to place on the ballot the question of whether residents of this city should have the power to decide if major changes in allowable land use is worth the impact on their quality of life.  You can read the entire press release below.  (Click on the image to enlarge for easier reading)

The text of the initiative is presently in the hands of Costa Mesa City Attorney, Tom Duarte, who will provide the title and summary necessary to proceed with the next step.

At some point in the very near future, depending on how the rest of this process moves along - probably near the middle of July - the proponents of this initiative will begin collecting signatures to authorize the placement of the initiative on the General Election ballot in November, 2016.  According to the information provided to me, collection of signature may take up to 180 days.  The proponents will need at least 5,000 valid signatures according to City Clerk Brenda Green.  The proponents will likely try to gather 7,500 signatures, just to be sure.

This initiative is similar to Newport Beach's Greenlight measure - one of the most contentious measures in the history of that city.  This one has the probability of also being controversial, since it potentially has the capability of slamming the brakes on "excessive development" throughout the city.  We'll know more when the actual initiative is available for reading.

I can hear developer-oriented politican's heads exploding all over Mesa Verde as folks become aware of this initiative.  And you thought they were only M-80s!

OH, BOY...
It's going to be a very interesting summer and fall.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Field Use Policy To Council - Leinart In Limbo

The Costa Mesa Parks & Recreation Commission met last night and sandwiched the biggie of the evening - the new Field Use Allocation Policy (FUAP) - between some pretty easy issues.  Taking it from the top...
When I arrived at City Hall I found the lovely Stacey Butler of Channels 2/9 sitting in a van with her cameraman, waiting for the meeting to begin.  I walked over to her and said, "Well, I guess all it takes to get you out here is Matt Leinert, huh?"  She smiled and said, "Yep".  They covered the early stages of the FUAP issue, then departed.  Nobody named Leinart showed up.

Following some brief public comments in which Beth Refakes, a member of the Military Affairs Team, reminded us that they are collecting used ball gowns for the women of our adopted Marine battalion, the 1/5 Marines.  Rocky Evans also stepped up again to ask for an extension of hours at the Skate Park.

Then we had a VERY unusual situation occur.  City CEO Tom Hatch stepped to the speaker's podium and addressed the Commission and audience with a prepared statement that addressed the controversy unearthed by Scott Reid's article in the Orange County Register yesterday, HERE.  I addressed that article in my previous blog entry.  You'll recall that it said that Matt Leinart Flag Football (Leinart) had misrepresented itself as a non-profit organization and, as a result, was permitted to use fields at a significantly reduced rate.  In order to NOT misstate what Hatch said I have provided the text of his statement for you to review: (Click on the image to enlarge it)
He talks about both the Leinart football program and the Friday Night Lights (FNL) program, which have been operating side-by-side at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex this past season.  Ironically, last year there was a similar problem with FNL which resulted in that operation being charged fees retroactively on a payment schedule.  And, in that letter you'll notice Hatch used some peculiar phrases.  For example, addressing the FNL and Leinart programs, he said that while both operate quality programs, "there are concerns about the vicious competition that is occurring."  Later he said, "the competition appears too profit-focused and unhealthy."  This may be THE most weird official communication I've ever seen come from City Hall.  Please take a few minutes to enlarge it and read it.

Immediately after Hatch spoke - read - Commissioner Byron De Arakal spoke and said he was asking the Leinart folks to step up and agree to pay the back fees to avoid any lengthy analysis and investigation.  Subsequently, Leinart representative Frank Albers - long time Costa Mesa High School Football coach and now a coach at Calvary Chapel High School and who works for the Leinart Program - agreed to that request.  It's not clear that he has the authority to make that commitment and no other person representing the Leinart program spoke last night.  More on that issue later.

They made short work of the first agenda item - the plant palette for medians along Mesa Verde Drive East and California Street, HERE.  In 20 minutes flat they heard the presentation and voted on choice 2A.
Then began the long, herky-jerky journey through the FUAP process - a trip that ended three hours later, during which we saw fifteen (15) people speak (some twice!), commissioners wrestle over minor and major changes in the policy and confusion reigning when the final vote was taken.

First off, I had a strong sense of deja vu, since many of the members of the audience last night were also there for the budget meeting Tuesday, when youth sports was also the cause dujour.  There was so much testosterone in the room one could close his eyes and think he was in a football locker room.

Recreation Manager Travis Karlen led the discussion of the new policy, addressing the reasoning behind the changes - there was a lot of "cleaning up" to be done, plus some significant clarification of terms and some re-definition of some issues.  He also spoke of field use in the terms of the practice by some groups of "splitting fields" - taking a full field and fracturing it into several pieces to facilitate practices and games with larger groups.  That discussion thread carried through the entire 180 minute conversations.

Much of the discussion revolved around issues at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex, our premiere sports facility, where fields are highly prized and where both the Leinart and FNL programs co-exist - barely.  Issues were wear-and-tear on the fields, safety and parking.  The facility was designed, both from a field-use standpoint and from a parking standpoint, for 132 players on the fields at any one time.  Overflow parking is not readily available, although it might be accessible when construction at Costa Mesa High School is completed.

The issue of "splitting" of fields was discussed, with the question broached about proper charges if, for example, four-times the number of players are occupying one field because it has been fragmented for that use.  Threshold numbers for Costa Mesa residents were also discussed for several user group designations, but not resolved at that time.

When representatives of user groups were permitted to address the commission, the aforementioned Frank Albers stepped up and committed that group to pay the back fees.  He indicated they were a good corporate neighbor and were grateful for a place to play.  He said they didn't "compete" with FNL, but you could see that may not have been entirely accurate.   He said, "We're not trying to move anybody out." a couple times.  He indicated that when they split the fields they might have 24 kids playing at any one time.

Representatives from AYSO 97 and AYSO 120 plus the Newport Harbor Baseball Program spoke about their operations.

Then Scott Mahaffy, representing Friday Night Lights, stepped up.  Addressing Albers' comments, he said there are "no negatives from us."  As the conversation moved a long it certainly did sound like there is anything BUT a friendly relationship between the two programs.  He expressed concern about the equitability of field distribution, indicating that the Leinart program had three fields for 200 kids and FNL had three fields for more than 800.  He told us that they might split their fields into 4, 4 and 3 for a total of 11 playing venues and that they might have 132 kids playing at any one time - precisely the number Jack Hammett was designed for.  (I found myself thinking, "Yeah, on half the fields!").  That issue got batted around by Commissioner de Arakal, who was attempting to get the actual numbers from Mahaffy.  He never really did get the number.  And, when pressed later by Commissioner Don Harper, Mahaffy acknowledged that there might be 8 kids per side per field, counting substitutes, for a total of 16, not 12 playing in a game on one section of "split"field.  De Arakal tried to sort out how many "games" might be played each night - unsuccessfully.  Here's what I took away from that conversation.  The three (3) FNL fields might be fractured into 11 individual playing venues, on which there would be 8 kids (including subs) playing at any one time on a side, for a total of 16 per game.  16X11=176.  However, there could be as many as four (4) games played on each field each Friday night.  4X176=704.  And, considering that Mahaffy previously told us that he had 860 kids in his program, that number actually seems pretty conservative.

Albers didn't tell us how many games they played each Friday night, but if you presume they also play four per field, that would give you 4X24 =96, so it certainly looks like 800 kids might be playing on the six Jack Hammett fields every Friday night during their season.  That's a lot of traffic in and out and certainly would fit the description provided by many speakers last night that it's a party atmosphere.  AND it explains the City concern about safety and parking.

At one point the issue of the ratio of Costa Mesa kids playing on each program came up.  It was stated that only 14% of the Leinart kids were from Costa Mesa - which rocked back all the commissioners.  Later speaker Chris Cox, who works for Lienart, denied that number.

Of the other speakers who addressed the commission, several were "regulars" before the City Council and the commissions like Cindy Black.  They spoke in a broader context, stressing that Costa Mesa fields should be, primarily, for Costa Mesa kids; that the drought is going to negatively impact field availability; citing the resignation of Bob Knapp - mentioned in that Register letter - and demanding we operate with integrity and linking contributors to the Leinart program to local politicians

Of those parents and who addressed this issue, far and away most were in favor of FNL, citing the "family atmosphere" of the program.  Only Albers and Cox - also a coach at Calvary Chapel and also a coach with the Leinart program - spoke in favor of that program.  And, as part of the agenda packet there were twenty (20) letters on this subject, of which 17 were in favor of FNL.  The remainder were either against both or against the Leinart program.  The FNL letters appeared to have been driven by a set of talking points.  Clearly, that side of the equation was much more organized.

When the discussion turned to making changes to the proposed policy, de Arakal took the lead and attempted to get seven changes made.  He was successful in getting his peers to agree to add language defining the authority of the Assistant CEO in some decision-making segments.  He did not get support to require proof of residency for the kids and also failed to get support for the elimination of Group 6 (non-Costa Mesa adults) programs and fold them into Group 4 with a change in that definition.  It was a 2-2 vote with Commissioner Harper abstaining - something he did several more times last night.  It also happened on a vote to change the demographic for Group 3 users.  That was troubling for me.  If he's not going to vote he might just as well stay home.  He never did give an explanation for a couple of his abstentions.  Very odd.

When the final two votes - the ones requested by the staff - came up, the first one approving the FUAP with changes previously approved passed, 4-0, with Harper AGAIN abstaining.  The second vote, which gave permanent Group 1 status to  AYSO 97, Newport Harbor Baseball Association and Newport Mesa Girls Softball, passed, 5-0.

Confusion came when the issue of the extension for a year of the Group 3 status for the Leinart program was NOT included in that vote.  Before the earlier vote was taken de Arakal confirmed with Karlen that the Leinart program was still a Group 3 program, which is why it was NOT included in the vote.  Following the break Harper asked the clerk to read the issue they voted on, because he thought there was confusion.  She read the entire paragraph, including the Leinart reference.  When I got home I checked my recording.  That was NOT included in the vote.  Further conversation with staff confirmed that the Leinart remains a Group 3 user group.  The only issue remaining is whether or not it is a legitimate non-profit organization - their representative, Albers, acknowledged it is not  when he agreed to pay the required fees.  And, there is the membership percentage that needs to be fleshed out.  It certainly is NOT qualified to be a Group 3 User with only 14% of the kids being from Costa Mesa.  If that's the case - or if that number is anywhere close to it - the Leinart program would default to Group 5 user status and make it difficult for them to qualify for premium field use.

It was clear to me last night that there needs to be a mechanism to accurately determine the residency and/or other qualifications for every child participating in these programs so the fields can be honestly allocated.  Concerns about the legality and availability of the data quashed that process last night.

This new policy will be sent to the City Council for approval in July so user groups can get on with their fall registrations.  According to the staff, there really is no wiggle time available.  It is hoped that the "Leinart" issues will be resolved by then.

It was quite ironic last night,  as I sat there and listened to speaker after speaker extol the virtues of their various programs - citing the life-lessons the kids learn, like sportsmanship, hard work, teamwork, leadership and all the other obvious lessons one gets from playing a team sport coached by strong leaders - realizing that the two programs that got the most discussion last night, FNL and Leinart, both exist under huge clouds involving the honesty and integrity of their leadership.  It just seemed out of whack to me.  This segment of the meeting ended at 9:57 p.m.

The placement of a "temporary for one month" bench in Fairview Park requested by Graham took ten minutes and resulted in the bench being placed there permanently.  The commissioners felt no "study" was necessary and it was within their purview to order the bench installed.  Graham was happy.

The two separate tree removal requests moved briskly.  The first one, at 871 Prospect, resulted in both trees being approved for removal.  The second one resulted in one of the two being approved for removal.  This seems like an every-meeting occurrence, since there has been ongoing dialogue between the staff and the neighbors who live in that enclave near the ramps from Bear Street to the 73 Freeway.  Canary Island Pines, planted by the developer decades ago, have begun to destroy the block walls in that neighborhood.  So far, only one neighbor has opposed the tree removal requests - she also appeared last night and sat as far from the other eight neighbors in the auditorium as she could during the proceedings.  The others spoke in support of the removals.  Both items were completed by 11:00.

Parks Project Manager Bart Mejia gave a very brief report on the status of some pending projects, including the launch of the consultant study for the update of the Parks Master Plan.  We were out of there at 11:15 p.m. - the same day, for a change.

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