Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tears, Tolls And Anger Mark This Meeting

It was an unusual evening, even by Costa Mesa City Council standards.  Last night, Tuesday, the Costa Mesa City Council met again for what I hoped might be a fairly short meeting.  I was hoping for a departure by around 10:45.  As it turned out, it was a little past 11:00 p.m. when Mayor Steve Mensinger finally adjourned to "the next meeting".  Still, at least we got out of there on the same day we began.

I said it was unusual because we saw emotions run the gamut.  Mensinger was near tears as he attempted to preside over the presentation of his Mayor's Award to Frank Gavel, a man who has dedicated his life to feeding the needy in our community.
And Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer seemed to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed because he was angry the entire meeting, which I'll talk about as we go along.
Mensinger announced at the beginning that New Business #1, the issue of allocating the Field Use fees being collected from Matt Leinart Flag Football for their transgressions last season, had been pulled because Councilwoman Katrina Foley would be absent from the meeting for a family emergency.  About that time I thought we had a chance to bail out early.  Nope, it was not to be.

Following the presentation to Gavel, Jeffrey Mills from the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) made a presentation on the status of the I-405 Project - the one that will transform just over 16 miles of the I-405 Freeway into a roadway that will include two High Occupancy Toll lanes in each direction from the terminus of the 73 Toll Road to the Los Angeles/Orange County line.  The following slides gives you the flavor of the project.  Righeimer was persistent in his concern about where any "excess" revenue from the toll lanes might be spent.  We were told they would be spent on the I-405, but it was not particularly clear whether than actually meant the specific area of the planned construction or the entire length of the I-405.  Councilwoman Sandra Genis suggested that it should be spent on things like sound attenuation walls for the affected neighborhoods along the route.
Mills told us the project would take about 5.5 years and cost $1.7 billion.  Eighteen (18) bridges will have to be re-built, including our fairly new Fairview Road bridge.
Ten (10) people spoke during the Public Comments segment.  Cindy Black was first up and she commented on how nice it was that Frank Gavel received the Mayor's Award, and how paradoxical it was because there had been a concerted effort by this current council majority to block folks from feeding homeless around town for a few years.  She then mentioned the Initiative petitions that were  being circulated for signatures.  The fact that she and others mentioned this may have contributed to Righeimer's foul mood last night.

Barrie Fisher addressed the plans to fill holes in the walls along Victoria Street to stop illicit activities.

Several residents of Dorset Lane complained about similar situations in their neighborhood, where pedestrian pass-throughs in the wall had contributed to illicit actions, drug deals, etc.  The neighbors were trying to pay to have the hole closed themselves, but had been frustrated by the expense and delay.

Beth Refakes reminded all that there is still a collection of ball gowns for the women of the 1/5 Marines at Camp Pendleton, and expressed gratitude for those already contributed.  She also expressed gratitude for the plans to rebuild Fire Station #4.

Tamar Goldmann chastised Righeimer for his recent comments about former councilman Jay Humphrey and also addressed the petitions being circulated.  Chuck Perry praised the Mayor for his Neighbors to Neighbors activity recently, observed about the success of the recent Golf Tournament and also praised Frank Gavel.  Robin Leffler complained about the I-405 project.

During Council Member comments Righeimer told the residents of Dorset Lane that they shouldn't have to pay for the closure of the wall opening - that the City should be doing that.  He asked Director of Public Services, Ernesto Munoz, to look into it.  He also told us that he and the mayor sometimes just get in the car and drive around.  This time they did it in the recent rains, to see how the infrastructure is holding up.  He also praised the Mayor for his roll in the recently privatized Neighbors to Neighbors event.  He observed, for the first of many times, that government involvement in that program was problematic - he said it's just "not the real deal"... whatever that was supposed to mean.
Mensinger patted himself on the back for the Neighbors to Neighbors event, citing that "having government involved is time consuming."  Well, duh, Mr. Mayor.  It was clear from those comments and several others later that neither Righeimer nor Mensinger have the patience to follow the processes necessary in government.
Genis also addressed the cul de sac issue, observing that by filling them in the plans being forumulated by the new Bikeways and Walkability Committee might be complicated by such closures.
Gary Monahan had nothing to say... again.

CEO Tom Hatch spoke about the Special Olympics and that Costa Mesa is a host town for 700 Special Olympics participants.  He also told us about the recent Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament and that the Fireworks After Action Report is available on the City Web site.  I found it HERE for you.  He also told us that they have "almost" sealed the deal on four new employees - a lateral police officer; a new firefighter; a management analyst and a reserve officer.  He was very excited about those possible acquistions.
Items 7,9,12 and 16 were pulled from the Consent Calendar, and the remainder were passed unanimously with one vote.  Among those were Item #8, the acceptance of grants for Selective Traffic Enforcement; #13, the authorization for the creation of a new job - Assistant Director, Community Improvement Division and #17, the appointment of Sandra Genis to the Orange County Vector Control District.
Shortly after 7:00 p.m. we began the Public Hearings with #1, the review of the Parks and Recreation Commission's action on the Mesa Verde Drive and California Street Median Landscape Plant Palette.  Surprisingly, this one evoked some surprising dialogue because it devolved into a discussion of the city notification procedures, since apparently several members of the public nearby these locations didn't receive notitications of the meetings held on this issue.  It was at this point where Righeimer gave us a view of things to come as he became very irritated and agitated on this issue.  He ranted and raved about the cost of mailings, how little return on that investment was received because so few residents showed up to address this subject at prior meetings and, again, ranted about how expensive it was for government to get involved in things... a thread that ran throughout his conversations all night.  "Glitches" in our mailing system were discussed and Righeimer became more irritated.  He described this as "government gone amok" and said "after 6 years up here it's getting frustrating".  I thought to myself, "Well, you should be sitting out here watching you for those 6 years!"
Righeimer went on and on.  He said we should quit wasting money and time just so people can have a political rally.  I guess that's what he calls it when residents expect to be informed about how their tax dollars will be spent, particularly when it affects their specific neighborhood.  Mensinger chimed in with an irrelevant statement - "The political season has started early."  The council finally voted unanimously to accept the palette as recommended by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Next up was, as expected, the most contentious item on the agenda - Public Hearing #2, the appeal by a lawyer for Solid Landings of the Planning Commission's denial of a deviation from parking requirements for a group counseling use at 657 W. 19th Street.  You may recall that resident Ann Parker had appealed the Zoning Administrator's original approval and she and a few associates presented a strong case to the Planning Commission and persuaded them to reverse that decision and deny the deviation.  Now the entire process started over and the staff report for this item was more than 2 inches thick!

Attorney John Peterson represented Solid Landings on this issue, accompanied by a small entourage of Solid Landings staffers and lawyers.
Although testimony was made about unpermitted modifications made to the building involving electrical, plumbing and other constructions items, including a brand new stairway, those eventually proved to be irrelevant to the real issue - inadequate parking and a disregard by the applicant's staff to enforce the rules about onsite parking ever since the Planning Commission meeting.  The use requires 67 parking spaces and this plan provides for 24 - not even close.

Nine members of the public spoke, including Teresa Drain, who was part of the team who spoke before the Planning Commission.  She gave a quick recap of the Planning Commission presentation.  Others provided first-person observations about the violations that exist regarding parking.  Others described the "commercialization" of their residential neighborhood as a result of this business.

During the discussion it was pointed out that this building is actually owned by John Morehart - a man who has done much business in Costa Mesa.  He was responsible for the relocation and renovation of the Huscroft House, which now resides on Bernard Street and, we are told, has become a group home.

At the end of the discussions, nearly 90 minutes later, Righeimer observed that this was like "10 pounds of stuff in a 5 pound bag.".  He said, "It's not the tenant's fault.", and blamed it on Morehart.  Speaking of Solid Landings, he said, "There are great people, doing good things."  He told the Solid Landings folks that they probably "have grounds to get out of this building and take legal action against Morehart."  That was very strange - to have the Mayor Pro Tem of our city advising a rejected applicant to seek legal action from his landlord - even though the deficiencies in the building were NOT part of this decision.  Anyhow, the council voted to uphold the Planning Commission's decision and the crowd cheered.
After a short break, a little after 9:00 we began hearing Public Hearing #3, a resident's appeal of the planning application for a 6-unit, detached residential development at 2366 Orange Avenue.  And this one was not without its curiousity, either.  At the very beginning of the discussion, before the appellant had a chance to present his case and before senior staffer Mel Lee had a chance to even present the case, Mensinger implied that we might be wasting our time because he "had met with the residents and we can probably put this to bed quickly."  That thought was echoed by Righeimer, but it was just another example of how they were micro-managing every item on the agenda last night.

Appellant Doug Gorrie gave his presentation following Lee's orientation to the issue.  The developer, baseball star Doug DeCinces, was not present but was represented by his son, Tim and their architect.  The shortest version of this issue I can give you will emphasize that Righeimer and Mensinger manipulated this whole process and wheedled cooperation by the developer on the installation of a 7 foot block wall, use of celestory windows on certain walls, providing some kind of "green screen" on the neighbor's side of the wall and possibly lowering the site.  I don't ever recall a City Council taking on this activist role and the bullying that they did of the developer to get their way was troubling.

Seven people spoke to this issue, most of whom were concerned about traffic on Norse Street, adjacent to this project.  The way this is designed, there is a strong possibility of increased traffic into their cul de sac where children and pets play.  Others expressed concern for the property values of the homes in that cul de sac.  In the end, Righeimer and Mensinger got the developer to agree to the terms they created and the appellant seemed satisfied, too.  They approved it on a 4-0 vote at 10:25 p.m.

That brought us to Public Hearing #4, the 10-unit development at 2880 Mesa Verde Drive East.  Because the developer took the time to meet with neighbors a couple times and modified his project following another Righeimer intervention from 13 units to 10, the unanimous approval was quickly given.  The developer was not even asked to speak.

That brought us to the "pulled" Consent Calendar items.  Wendy Leece pulled #7, the beginnings of rebuilding Fire Station #1.  She used this as a forum to complain about the fire deployment model specifically.  She wondered what was happening to that model.  The council approved this one, 4-0.

Next was #9, which Leece also pulled for the same reason as the earlier item.  She observed that the renovations for Fire Station #4 were to accommodate the longer equipment currently assigned to our newest station, #6.  Again, she demanded information about the deployment model and expressed her view that #6 should remain open.  This also passed, 4-0.

Next came Item #12, the creation of the West 19th Street Bicycle Trail Project.  Speaker Cindy Black played a video with sights and sounds of a protected bird that inhabits the area where the trail is planned to be established and cautioned Mayor Mensinger about getting involved in "another" of these situations - referring, of course, to the now-infamous Decomposed Granite Road that he had constructed through vernal pools in Fairview Park that hold protected San Diego Fairy Shrimp.  The council passed it on a 4-0 vote.

Finally we came to #16, the extension of the ambulance contract with CARE Ambulance.  A half-dozen speakers addressed this issue, most of whom expressed concern that we were delaying the implementation of former Interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold's deployment model - he was in the audience last night, too.  Some speakers expressed admiration for Huntington Beach's model, which apparently results in over $4 million in revenue each year.  Eventually Monahan moved the item and Righeimer seconded it, but before the vote could be taken he chose to launch into another of his rants.  He began by saying, "I hate to rewrite history, but"... then he went about doing exactly that!  He told us that the new deployment model had "nothing to do with the transportation business.", and yet I and others attended Chief Arnold's briefings on the new deployment model and it DID include a discussion of generating revenue by transporting patients.  Righeimer blamed this discussion on the fact that "we're in negotiations" and the Labor Unions want everything they can get, regardless what it costs.  His rant seemed SO out of place that it only affirmed for me that what this really is all about is his campaign contributions from CARE Ambulance.  He continued to rant and said we should form a committee - sound familiar - and not "have this garbage talk".  Funny, he was the only one doing any "garbage talking".  I had to smile when Mensinger chimed in with this: "There is revisionist history going on here."  Yep, and it was being done by his pal.
Before the vote was taken Genis asked for the status of the deployment model and was told by Fire Chief Dan Stefano that a consultant was working on their plan and would have something in the fall.  The council passed the item, 4-0, and Mensinger adjourned the meeting until the next one.

An observation... Righeimer seemed very, very tightly wound last night.  I'm not sure what was on his mind - maybe he's angry about the initiative petitions being circulated.  Whatever it was, he was much more animated and angry than usual - and that's saying something!  When he gets like this you just can't take your eyes off him because he's going to blurt out something controversial or stupid - or both.  He did that a couple times last night.
The next meeting is scheduled for  August 4th, then they are off until September 8th - plenty of time for mischief for them.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Glad to hear the appeal of Solid Landings was upheld. I'm dubious about the reason it was, but hey, you have to take it when you can get it with these guys.

I also noticed Rig was raving like a lunatic. He bemoaned the residents asking for sound protections between College Park and the car dealership being built on Harbor, and called it a shake down. Then he turns and does exactly the same thing. I guess he has friends, and some aren't.

It was, indeed, odd to see Mensinger cry. Frank Gavel is a wonderful man, who has done a lifetime of wonderful work for people. He deserved a standing ovation, if he didn't get one. I hope the councilmen think twice before the make stupid comments such as running these people out of town because they attract homeless and such.

So CARE got their extension. And Rig will get his money. We knew that was coming.

During Rig's temper tantrum, I believe the first one, about the process of notification to the residents about what they want to do, and the meetings that follow, if Rig doesn't like the judicial process, then he should leave office immediately, and don't let the door hit him int he ass, or better yet do, and get out. Can't think of anyone that would miss him. He truly does want to be the Czar of Costa Mesa with no public input on anything.

7/22/2015 08:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Jim's comment in the DP about Costa Mesa First is very telling. About Jay he says, "win and election and do what you want." That seems to be his view on the role (not roll) of a city council person. You do not have any responsibility to the people you represent, you just "do what you want." With Jamie Jo as a cheerleader, what more can you want.

It's also a little strange that even though Steve is mayor, Jim still seems to be the spokesperson of the trio. Steve even lets him interrupt him during council meetings.

7/22/2015 08:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

The "Leader" finds out that his underling Steiner couldn't stop the growth-related initiative petition from being circulated:

7/22/2015 08:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Didn't anyone catch during the discussion on the Orange/Norse development at one point when Mel Lee said "mr mayor?" to be recognized to speak and it was the RIGmeister who blurted out, "yes"? It was obvious by his quick response of "yes" that the RIGmeister still considers himself to be in control on the dais (and of the city)!

7/22/2015 09:11:00 AM  
Anonymous soupy said...

I received a phone call from New Jersey asking questions about new ballot measure. Not mention by name, heavily slanted against. Interviewer kept saying Costa Messa. Very amateurish

7/22/2015 09:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Casual and Disgusted, I also did notice that Rig still leads the meetings, Steve defers to him. He very much leads the show. The title change was only to keep Sandy or Katrina from having it. Also, you both also noticed that Rig is now very outspoken about "doing what he wants" and silencing the residents. We need to change this in 2016. Tired of the Czar.

7/22/2015 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

"Mayor" Stevie answers to Righeimer and the Newport bosses. Any questions?

7/22/2015 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

The very fact that Riggy is so against what Costa Mesa First is trying to do, let's you know that it's the right thing and in the best interest for the City.

I can't wait for Mount Riggy to erupt when Costa Mesa First easily hits that 5000 signature mark and he starts up with the fraudulent signature propaganda.

7/22/2015 05:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

He really doesn't like the "Public" part of public office. He made it so clear - the Public should not get notices about major changes to their neighborhood, should not question the decision of his appointed commissions, should not have a say in how our tax money is spent, and probably should be seldom seen and definitely not heard.

I am still puzzled by his reaction to my comments about the Mesa Verde Median choices ( and lack of timely notice for public meetings. How in the world is that political, other than that he went to great lengths to twist logic to politicize it? And the uniquely Righeimer math: What a sin to spend $6,000 to give the neighborhood a chance to weigh in on what we will be looking at everyday day but spending $630,000 to redo medians that could be made drought tolerant much, much more economically is just a drop in his personal taxpayer money bucket.

7/22/2015 09:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Heart for Costa Mesa said...

Ex-mayor righeimer demonstrated new levels of assiness the whole meeting long.

7/22/2015 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Those were crocodile tears we witnessed from the "mayor" when he presented Frank Gavel with his award.

7/23/2015 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger Ocpublicsquare said...

You are right Robin. The mpt shows contempt for the people he is elected to represent. His mindset ignores basic principles of good government with an involved, engaged FREE citizenry. His condescending, holier than thou-- I can't be bothered with you peons who don't like what I'm doing attitude-- is anti First Amendment Free Speech. He has fought true transparency and residents' input since he invaded our city in 2007. Even Dr Rich Schones was denied his right to rebut the planning commission's order for Dr Rich to demolish his granny unit if he wanted to add a second story to his Costa Mesa Street hom . Its the mp'ts way or else. Listening to the mpt's rants is painful because he's arrogant and disrespectful to residents. He has lowered the decorum of our city council and other cities laugh at us. When will the rest of the City wake up?

7/23/2015 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Mensinger is in the process of demolishing and rebuilding his home. We need to keep an eye on that, as I suspect there will be a granny unit on his home. His mother-in-law is apparently moving in.

7/24/2015 08:59:00 PM  

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