Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Discontent And Safety At City Hall

Monday I wrote about what I described as the further "bunkerization" of the Executive Offices at Costa Mesa City Hall, HERE.  As you might expect, that characterization was not met with much joy by a few of the denizens of that venue.  Quite the contrary... some of them are down right pissed-off at me for pointing out the deficiencies and daring to suggest changes are necessary.

The "problems" are two-fold.  First, there is a heavy-handedness by some in charge which has led to a much-less customer-friendly venue.  Second, is the layout of the 5th floor.  There is nobody designated to greet visitors and direct them to the proper person.  Both of these problems seem to be easily-solved.

First, CEO Tom Hatch - the man theoretically in charge of EVERYTHING in the city, and particularly within his own little fiefdom on the 5th floor - needs to provide some one-on-one counseling to the person with the heavy hand.  His behavior must stop.

Second, if security is a serious issue, whether it be concern for information or personal security, then there should be an easily-identified individual or work station assigned to intercept and direct visitors.  That one is a no-brainer - even if it means using interns on a rotating basis.

That issue is really a "building" issue, though.  When a person enters City Hall from either side - front or rear - there is nobody waiting to provide information or direction.  Currently, visitors must present themselves to the locked glass door/wall of the City Clerk's office and hope someone is available to provide guidance.  While the good folks who work for Brenda Green behind that glass barrier do a fine job, one certainly does not feel "welcomed" as they enter the First Floor lobby.

Perhaps those interns mentioned above would be better placed in the main lobby, where they could intercept and greet ALL visitors, provide them with a sign-in opportunity and then give specific directions to locations within the building.  If access badges are necessary to show that a person has actually signed-in, that would be the place to do it.  If security on the 5th Floor bunker is an issue, then visitors to THAT location could be required to wait for an escort.

"US VS. THEM"...
Regardless, things must change.  This adversarial, us-versus-them attitude by some folks working in City Hall is new since the current regime took over and is unacceptable.  Residents and others who visit City Hall do so because they either have business to do - licenses, permits, inspections, etc., - or have a problem they need help with.  They are clients to be served, not opponents to be rebuffed.  This doesn't need to be "studied" - it needs to be fixed, pronto!

I'm told that the woman I mentioned in my earlier post will shortly receive a written apology from those in charge at City Hall.  Well, that's the very least that should be happening.  As a taxpayer and resident of this city for more than four decades, I'm ashamed of how the treatment of residents has deteriorated in the past four years.  This is a direct reflection on the leadership of the City and it needs to be corrected.

By the way, last night at the City Council meeting mention was made of the next "Meet The Mayor" event on Sunday, February 8th from 2-4 p.m.  I guess nothing has changed about how that will be managed.  There is no requirement to reserve time - just wander into City Hall to the 5th Floor where our Rookie Mayor, Steve Mensinger, will visit with you and your entourage as long as you like - or until 4 p.m, whichever comes first.  Of course, if it runs as it did last time, you may end up being part of a group discussing a variety of issues with people who have no vested interest in them.  It seems like a curious way to run this opportunity for face time with the Rookie.  However, if you REALLY want some one-on-one time with The Rookie, you can call Sharon Rodelius at 714-754-5107 to set up an appointment.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the Washington, D.C. trip planned for Mensinger and Hatch in April was removed from the agenda for the meeting last night.  HERE is the link to the original staff report.  I don't know if that means the trip is off, or if they're waiting for Mayor Pro Tem (eMPTy) Jim Righeimer to return from his trip abroad for the vote.  I guess we'll see.

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Council Approves Creation Of Bikeability/Walkability Committee

The Costa Mesa City Council held its first meeting of the month last night and it was almost anti-climatic when compared to the Public Safety Rally held for a couple hours immediately prior to the council meeting on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.  See my earlier post on that one, HERE.

The meeting, which began promptly at 5:45 with barely a quorum present since Mayor Pro Tem (eMPTy) Jim Righeimer was out of the country and councilman Gary Monahan was, once again, tardy, began with a presentation of the Mayor's Award to a local business, The Portola Coffee Lab.  Owners Jeff and Krista Duggan watched a short video clip, then accepted the award from Rookie Mayor Steve Mensinger, praising the city for its support.

Public Comments brought out another Baker's Dozen speakers to address a variety of issues.

Ms. Pham, A representative of the Orange County Human Relations Commission, gave us an update on its activities in our city.   
Tamar Goldmann observed that this council constantly speaks about improving the infrastructure, but they neglect the public safety infrastructure.  She observed that the city just doesn't feel as safe as it was not too long ago.
Robin Leffler followed that up with her own observations about the need for this council to do more to hire police officers because we are still well short of the goal.
Chuck Perry praised the improved Senior Center, criticized the medians on 17th Street and observed that some eyesore businesses on Placentia were now gone.
Cynthia McDonald pointed out the recent Daily Pilot articles juxtaposing coverage of the crime rates for Costa Mesa - it's up - and Newport Beach - it's down.  She observed that it's difficult to recruit when the contract with the CMPOA is still in limbo.  She stated that the residents of Costa Mesa are collateral damage in the battle between the council and the CMPOA.

John Goddard praised the new, improved Senior Center, then observed that there remain two openings on the recently-created Senior Commission and suggested that it is out of balance - more men than women.  He suggested that none of the council members show up since the grand opening, so they don't really know what's going on over there.  He proposed Sue Healy and Wendy Leece be considered for the remaining positions.
Jay Humphrey supported previous comments about police department staffing and asked the council, "What are you doing about it?"  He pointed out the cell tower at the corner of Tustin Avenue and 20th Street, and complained about the noisy vents at that location.  He bemoaned the fact that the City can do nothing about it.   
Jeff Arthur, a member of the Pension Oversight Committee, told us about Newport-Mesa Unified School District Pensions - as if we could do anything about them!  He then told us that, working with an actuary from CalPERS, we can now project out 30 years - and it doesn't look good.
Ann Parker mentioned the rally, then attempted to use a football metaphor for the council, requesting them to "level the playing field" to make it possible for all residents to be heard on issues.  She has some recent personal experience with that issue - a city official attempted to intimidate her into not speaking on an issue before the Planning Commission and there is now a process being implemented to hamper her ability to go speak with the rehab home code enforcement folks.
Beth Refakes observed the meeting notification for the Consolidated Plan workshop next week, and complained about the earlier meeting having insufficient notice.  She wondered about the public outreach on the Neighborhood Community Center/Library project, since none has been announced.  And, she wondered what kind of priorities have been given to rehabilitating two fire houses.
Gene Hutchins, once again, addressed our pension issues... he's a one-note samba.   Lots of wringing of hands but no solutions.
Mary Spadoni told the council, regarding the pension issue, "If you're not going to do something about it quit moaning about it!"  Of course, she is correct. This council majority yaps about it all the time, but refuses to do anything about it.  She suggested to
Monahan, who had finally shown up by that time, that he needs to get involved in the CMPOA negotiations.
The final speaker - I didn't get her name - was so angry that she was almost incomprehensible.  She ranted and railed about a member of the Costa Mesa Police Department who "exposed himself"!  It was nearly impossible to understand what she was saying, and she never did name the person as far as I could tell.  Very sad.
During Council Member Comments, Mensinger led off with an observation that local product, Jake Knapp - grandson of Mensinger's good friend, Costa Mesa United's Gordon Bowley - qualified for a professional golf tournament in San Diego.  He then spoke about the Costa Mesa Connect app.

Katrina Foley had the staff play the short video on Costa Mesa Connect - very entertaining and informative, as nearly every production by Dane Bora and Brad Long of Costa Mesa Television turns out to be.  She then addressed CEO Tom Hatch about the police hiring and wanted to know what more we can to to accelerate the hiring process so we can get up to staff.  She spoke of crimes in her neighborhood - she was burglarized twice.  She demanded answers.  She wants a plan.  She also spoke of a recent meeting with residents on Swan Drive who convened trying to find solutions to the alleged shortage of playing fields.  She suggested contacting the University of California, Irvine to have some of their students do a needs assessment.

Sandra Genis discussed Consent Calendar item #7, the Landscape Maintenance contract.  Eventually, it was pulled for separate discussion.

Monahan had nothing to discuss... big surprise.

Hatch, during his segment, told us of the Consolidated Plan workshop on Thursday, February 12th at the Senior Center.  He also mentioned two meetings coming up this month on the Mid-Year budget review.  The first is on February 10th at 5:00 p.m.  The second is on February 24th and will cover Reserves, the 5-year plan and capital projects.  He also addressed hiring of police officers, telling us that they'd hired a full-time person to work that segment of recruitment, plus have an analyst working on it, too.  Fine, but we're not keeping up with retirements, and that's not even an even swap.  Replacing a 25-year officer with a rookie is not an even trade.  He says he "feels good about the progress"... dandy.  In the meantime, crime is up.

He asked Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz to address the fields issue.  He told us that a consultant will soon be selected to perform an upgrade of the Master Plan of Parks and Open Spaces, and that a needs assessment - what Foley wanted - would be part of that project.

As mentioned, Item #7 was pulled from the Consent Calendar.  The rest passed on a 4-0 vote.

New Business #1, Katrina Foley's request to create a Bikeability and Walkability Committee, was then discussed.  Staffer Kelly Shelton described the process of creating a committee.  Monahan observed that there has been a group of residents meeting informally on the bikeability issue for many months and have done a lot of work, which might be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission soon.  Munoz observed that it is a very informal group, then told the council that there are 9 bike-related projects in the works worth $6.8 million - much of which is grant funding.

The short version of what happened is that all agreed that a formal committee would serve the needs of the broader scope - both bikeability and walkability - and would have the technical support of the staff in the process.  Foley suggested that the committee number be increased to 15 from the proposed 9.  Mensinger suggested that members of the current informal committee should be included, so he asked that they all be contacted about applying.

Seven members of the public spoke on the issue, including Flo Martin, who was the catalyst for the formation of that informal committee.  She, too, agreed that a formal committee with staff support could accomplish much more.  Her committee had only met once, but has swapped significant emails on the bikeability issue.  The creation of the committee, with the larger size, was approved on a 4-0 vote.  It will take a couple months for the committee to be formed.  The recruitment/application process will begin shortly and take at least a couple of weeks.  It's likely the council will hear this item late in March.

The Landscape Contract was approved, 4-0, after significant discussion about use of pesticides and significant notice by the contractor to the public of the intended application of them.

At 7:40 Mensinger adjourned the meeting to the next one on February 17th - at 5:00 p.m.  Yeah, that's what he said, but we all know the meetings start at 5:45.  Perhaps he was thinking of the study session on the 10th at 5:00 p.m.  I guess we'll find out if and when the post the announcement.

I'm turning the Cauldron to simmer for a few days.  I'll still monitor it for comment submissions and will attempt to be alert for breaking, important news.  So, kick back and just Facebook your little fingers to a nub for awhile.  I'll be back soon...  sooner than some of you want, for sure.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Public Safety Rally Evokes Responses

The rally to support Costa Mesa's Public Safety staffers - Police and Fire - evoked a joyful, horn-honking response from folks driving past City Hall Tuesday night.  For more than two hours homeward-bound drivers tooted their horns, waved and gave thumbs-up to the more than five dozen people who lined Fair Drive on both sides of the street with colorful signs and balloons.
(Former Police Chief Roger Neth chats with columnist Barbara Venezia)
Members of the Costa Mesa Police Department and Costa Mesa Fire Department showed up, as did former Police Chief Roger Neth, former Mayor Arlene Shafer and former councilwoman Wendy Leece.

Attendees ranged in age from 8-month old toddlers to 94-year old Sally Parker.  Girl Scouts provided Thanks-A-Lot cookies.
Bradley Zint covered the rally for the Daily Pilot and published his article, HERE.  I'm not going to try to repeat what he said, but will just give you a photographic flavor for the event.  Incidentally, more people showed up for the rally than the City Council meeting which followed it a few yards away in council chambers.  More on that in my next post.
Incidentally, councilman Gary Monahan, whose ill-advised plan to host a wake for a criminal who died in a shoot-out with Costa Mesa Police officers near the end of last year was the catalyst for this event, later canceled the wake and said he wanted to help support the CMPD.  He not only didn't show up for the rally, but was late to the council meeting, too.  I'm thinking the best thing he can do to support the men and women of the CMPD is to be sure he's available for the closed session meetings when contract negotiations are discussed so that long-overdue contract can be completed.
(Chief Neth with organizer Mary Spadoni)

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