Friday, March 20, 2015

Barrera's Maison Red Tagged By City

Friday afternoon I received a call from friends telling me that there was a "significant" official presence at the location of Roland Barrera's new night club, Maison, at 719 West 19th Street.  You may recall that this venue was the subject of a complaint by neighboring resident Steven Chan at the city council meeting last Tuesday, when he told the council that this site was being renovated into a LiveNation entertainment venue.

Chan's comments and subsequent conversations with city officials generated a beehive of activity at City Hall this week, which culminated in the visits to the site today.  According to reports from readers, Barrera was selling tickets to shows at the sight tonight, Friday, and Saturday even though construction was still underway.
(Code Enforcement Officer Apolinar Ramos, Khanh Nguyen and Brad Zint)
So, I grabbed my trusty camera and drove across town to find Costa Mesa's Building Official, Khanh Nguyen, Code Enforcement Officer Apolinar Ramos and representatives from the Costa Mesa Fire Department on site, inspecting the place.  They were not happy.  Several residents and Daily Pilot Ace Reporter, Bradley Zint, were also there.  The official presence was later augmented by the arrival of Fire Battalion Chief Kevin Diamond, Hazardous Materials Specialist Michelle Rudaitis and Fire Chief Dan Stefano.  New Planning Commissioner Stephan Andranian also showed up later and toured the facility.
(Rudaitis and Diamond with unhappy resident)
Members of the community heard about this situation and stopped to tell officials how they felt about it, and to express concern about the frequency of this kind of situation on the Westside.
After spending a couple hours on the site Friday afternoon investigating the venue - which had been preceded earlier in the week with conversations with Barrera in which he was directed to retain the services of an architect, and directing Barrera to make specific changes - Nguyen found the venue was nowhere close to being ready for occupancy earlier in the afternoon.

It turns out that Barrera had completely ignored the rules.  He had neither sought nor received ANY permits of any kind for this operation, including business license, use permit and more than a half dozen building permits for things like plumbing and electrical work being done.
At 5:00 p.m. Khanh and Stefano finally gave the word to Barrera that, despite all the changes they were making, the building would be Red Tagged, and any occupancy except for workers required to correct deficiencies would be prohibited.
 (Andranian, Stefano, Nguyen, Rudaitis, Barrera and Architect)
As Khanh affixed the Red Tag to the wall adjacent to the new entry door being hurriedly installed by workers, members of the band scheduled to play that night arrived to begin their set up.
It is my understanding that Barrera will be prohibited from any use except the aforementioned construction until next Thursday, when a subsequent inspection will be made.  As mentioned before, he was required to retain the services of an architect to assure the necessary changes were proper and met code.  In addition, Barrera will be assessed fines next week for his failure to acquire the necessary permits.
Many of the residents who attended this event expressed concern for the arrogant disregard for the rules in this case.  Mention was made about public safety and references were made to tragic nightclub fires around the country in similar circumstances.  Based on comments from city staff, the fines that will be levied next week - likely less than $2,000 -  really don't seem to be a sufficient disincentive for the gravity of the offense and the flouting of the law.  Barrera has a well-documented history of problems with the legal system.  That's a discussion for another time.
Later tonight I drove back to the site to see what, if anything, was happening.  The only pedestrian traffic in the parking lot seemed to be coming from the laundromat two doors down.  The temporarily-constructed new door was closed and, on another nearby door there was a notice of the cancellation of the performance.
This site is really in disrepair.  There was no evidence of ANY kind of cosmetic maintenance on the exterior of the building.  Graffiti was evident on two sides of the building and the planter area in the front was a shambles.  It is unclear whether Barrera will be required to make improvements on the exterior in addition to the safety measures on the interior.
So, we learned this week that alert residents willing to speak up can be an effective force within the community.  Thanks to Steven Chan and his vocal neighbors and others who continued to push this item with city officials to be sure the safety of the public was considered and the rules followed.  Kudos to all.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Last Chance To Apply For Committees and Senior Commission

Tomorrow, Friday, March 20, 2015 is the last day to apply for one of the more than 50 positions on several Costa Mesa committees and the recently-formed Senior Commission.

This is the largest recruitment I can recall in recent years, so if you're interested read all about it HERE.  Applications are available online and MUST be submitted by close of business on the 20th.  It's my understanding that selections will be made at the next City Council meeting on April 7, 2015.

So, get with it!  Here's your chance to sign up to volunteer in the community.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Second Bikeways/Walkability Workshop

A small turnout - 23 people, less than half the number who turned out for the first one - attended the final Bikeways/Walkability Workshop conducted Wednesday evening in the Emergency Operations Center by Costa Mesa City staff and consultants hired to do the work.
Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman kicked it off, then handed over the meeting to consultant John Holloway of the firm KTU+A, who spent the next hour guiding us through the presentation, which will be available for viewing online shortly.
This meeting covers the second segment of what might become the East/West Multi-Use Trail system, taking users from the Santa Ana River Trail across Costa Mesa past Orange Coast College on eastward to the Back Bay on the far East side.  Holloway told us that OCC is the geographical center of this trail layout, so the segment studied today went from that point eastward.  The western segment was discussed last month in the first of these workshops, which I covered for you HERE.
Holloway reminded us that this trail system is not just for those on bikes, but would be used for any non-motorized form of transportation - walkers, runners and including folks in wheelchairs.

As you can see from this image, this half of the trail includes segments on Fairview Road, the Paularino Channel, Bristol Street, the Santa Ana Delhi Channel, Mesa Drive and a possible alternate to that segment along Santa Ana Avenue and University Drive.
We were reminded that Costa Mesa has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in Orange County, and that this process is simply to gather input from the community regarding their ideas for further enhancement of the bikeability/walkability of our city.  The City has no funding to do the design and construction of any new trails at this time.
A member of the audience asked how this process, using consultants to take the pulse of the community, will differ from the scope of work to be handed to the about-to-be-formed Bikeability Committee - 15 members of the community that will probably be selected at the council meeting on April 7th.  Sethuraman indicated that the committee's work would be broader in scope, covering the entire city.
There was a brief discussion about the dearth of bike racks throughout the city.  It seems curious to create a system and processes that encourage greater bike use when there are so few bike racks in town.  (I was amused to find three bikes chained to poles and a tree outside the EOC when I left.)  We were told that more bike racks would be placed around town, and that new retail and commercial projects would be required to provide them.
Following that hour long presentation/discussion the audience broke into groups to study city maps and make notes on them regarding concerns, desires and preferences.  There were also some charts on the walls to which participants could affix colored stickers in response to questions posed, plus a place for inclusion of other unanticipated issues.
Although the turnout was smaller this time, it still seemed like a worthwhile exercise.  Once again, former Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick - the guy who fancies himself as "Mr. Bikeability" - failed to show at this meeting, just as he was absent from the first on.  I thought it was curious, but he's probably too busy making money shilling for medical marijuana interests to attend these meetings.
The data collected from these two workshops will be compiled by the consultants.  Both presentations will be available on the City website soon, for those of you interested in this process.

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An Evening Of Remembrance And Surprises

An hour before the Costa Mesa City Council meeting was scheduled to convene a small group of friends and former co-workers of Huy Pham gathered adjacent to the employee entrance on the East side of City Hall to pay their respects to the memory of that young city maintenance worker who took his life by leaping from the roof of City Hall at that very location four years ago Tuesday - St. Patrick's Day, 2011.
Candles were lighted by residents and his friends.  Peter Naghavi, retired Development Services Director and Pham's boss at the time, brought flowers.  Quiet conversations took place as those assembled recalled their friend, and how his death was the beginning of such tragic times for the City.  Mayor Steve Mensinger, arriving for the council meeting, took note of the small memorial.


The meeting itself started promptly at 5:45, and without the presence of Councilman Gary Monahan, who, although nobody confirmed it, was very likely at his gin mill, pouring green beer, attired in his kilt, and having a rousing good time.  It also ended early... we were out of there by 9:30.  In between, though, there were some memorable events.

First, Werner Escher of South Coast Plaza, made a presentation of a symbolic check for $17 million - the sales tax revenue the City received from South Coast Plaza last year.  Escher, a long-time friend of the mayor, thoroughly enjoyed the event, which wrapped up by the crowd in the audience singing Happy Birthday to him - his 82nd birthday is on the 19th.  An amusing sidebar... before the meeting began the audience was barely settled and Escher was walking across the front, chatting with folks and he looked up at Mensinger on the dais and, hands cupped, said "All Rise"... Instantly, everyone in the audience stood up and began looking around.  It was quite comical and set the tone for the presentation.
Public Comments, which usually brings up some interesting issues, didn't let us down this time.  Flo Martin asked about reducing the speed limit on Fair Drive from Fairview to Harbor Blvd. because the traffic has become quite dangerous.  Joy Thomas gave us a brief video presentation about "Ability First", a program for developmentally disabled youth.  John Goddard thanked the council for their recent actions with the Senior Center, then praised Wendy Leece for her involvement and suggested she be considered for one of the two open positions on the Senior Commission.  Leece was next, thanked Goddard, then gave a short primer on the Ralph M. Brown Act and called for greater transparency.

Barrie Fisher presented information regarding State-licensed sober living homes. (see the chart)  She felt there must be something that can be done about the fact that Costa Mesa has such a disproportionate ratio of such facilities.  Ann Parker followed her and echoed her comments and suggested City officials needed to do more working with the state.

Jonathon Asperia, a UCI student and intern with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District behaviorally challenged kids and observed that California ranks 42nd in critical assessments of our education process.  Beth Refakes reminded us that the Military Affairs Team is still gathering plastic eggs and candy and toys that can be placed in them for the children of our adopted Marine battalion, the 1/5 at Camp Pendleton.

Then up stepped 21-year resident Steve Chan with a story that got the attention of more than a few activists in the audience.  He thanked the council for getting rid of Garcia Recycling near his home, but was at the meeting last night to complain about a business called The Lions Den, which backs up to his home.  He told us he had contacted then-Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick because he had seen a notice about a liquor license transfer on the door.  Fitzpatrick never got back to him, then he saw construction beginning.  The short version is that he spoke with the owner/operator of the club, one ROLAND BARRERA, who told him the facility was being converted into a LIVE NATION venue, with well-known bands being brought in to perform - adjacent to the residential neighborhood.  Mr. Chan investigated and found there are no permits for this establishment.

If the name Roland Barrera sounds familiar to you, it should.  He was one of the several controversial figures involved in the 60th Anniversary debacle - he provided the entertainment and was paid well over $70,000 based on a review of bills over the past several months. AND, he was also accused in a Ponzi Scheme about the same time, as you can read HERE.  Development Services Director Gary Armstrong will be in contact with Chan on this issue.

Jay Humphrey, again, asked Mensinger and Righeimer what they are doing to enhance police hiring, specifically, of lateral hires from other venues.  Crickets...

Eileen Lewis was concerned about the planned growth at Orange Coast College, including the dormatories and the hotel she's heard about.  Tea Party Tom Pollitt suggested we should require the police officers to pay more of their pension and Jonathon Maulk (sp?) reminded us of the Mika Community Development C3 basketball tournament coming up at the Downtown Athletic Center.

During her time Sandra Genis addressed the OCC issue, and expressed disappointment in the aggressive growth planned by the college.  She also addressed the need to stop using the Emergency Operations Center like a conference room.  She observed that it was designed for a very specific purpose and it should be used as such.  She also observed that we do not have a Hazardous Materials Mitigation Plan.  She addressed the rumor of the City acquiring Talbert Park and observed that we are highly vulnerable to mishaps should that happen.  And, she addressed the anniversary of Huy Pham's death and hoped that we could find ways to resolve issues that continue to percolate since that date.

Righeimer said he was in touch with new Assemblyman Matt Harper about legislation on so-called Group Homes and that he would be traveling to Sacramento on April 9th to meet with state officials in the Department of Health Services.  He also mentioned our ordinance, which he said was the only one of it's type in the Country.  He spoke about the OCC expansion and the proposed 4-story parking structure on the Fairgrounds site across Fairview from the campus and the traffic snarl that is guaranteed to occur.

Mensinger talked about group homes - "We have several in our neighborhood".  He mentioned that he'd recently had a call from the CEO of a large company in the surfboard industry who met with Mensinger to discuss opportunities to relocate his headquarters to Costa Mesa.  Mensinger said the man was interested in Costa Mesa because "the buzz on the street is that Costa Mesa is a cool place".

Katrina Foley spoke about the speed limit on Fair Drive, wished everyone a Happy St. Patrick's Day; told us about meeting with representatives of the City Attorney's office, including Tom Duarte and a senior partner, for a "productive" meeting.  She also spoke of meeting with Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau on issues involving the 60th Anniversary situation, indicating that they made a lot of progress.

CEO Tom Hatch gave a brief report on the trip he and Mensinger made to the National League Of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. earlier in the month, including some mini-reports from some of the meetings.  Apparently President Obama gummed up the works by deciding to attend this conference.  He mentioned meeting with Representative Dana Rohrabacher's Chief of Staff on Medical Marijuana and Group Homes.  He also addressed the OCC expansion plans and suggested residents be in contact with OCC directly.

Items 5 and 11were pulled from the Consent Calendar for later discussion.  The remainder was approved on a 4-0 vote.

Public Hearing #1, the second reading of the extension of the side letter with the Costa Mesa Police Management Association took less than 2 minutes of discussion and was quickly approved, 4-0.

At 7:10 Public Hearing #2, the appeal of the Planning Commission approval of the relocation of the current Ganahl Lumber facility on Bristol Street to a venue adjacent to it by business owners across the street from the site.  The presentation before the Planning Commission took more than two hours.  This one was shorter.  The appellant's attorney made his case for why the City had screwed up with this process, criticizing the staff and Planning Commission.  The council seemed unimpressed.  Eventually, Peter Ganahl - CEO of Ganahl Lumber - stepped up and explained why they wanted to make this move and had secured a lease for more than 60 years on the site.  Eight members of the public spoke on the issue before the council made a couple minor changes to the conditions of approval before denying the appeal on a 4-0 vote.

The final item on the agenda was the Professional Services Agreement with RJM Design Group of San Juan Capistrano to update the Open Space Master Plan of Parks and Recreation, which was last updated in 2003.  Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz presented the staff report and Project Manager Zachary Mueting of RJM Design Group answered questions.

The biggest points of conversation were the need for community outreach.  A telephone survey is being planned and it's not clear whether the council was fully satisfied when they asked how folks who have only cell phones would participate.  The interest was to give those folks - a growing number of residents don't have landlines - an opportunity to be heard.  And, three workshops are being planned, and limitation of numbers of participants were part of the proposal.  That was shot down, since Costa Mesa has a large number of concerned residents.  More workshops will be included, including some to cover both the east and west sides of town.

The question of the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee was part of the staff report.  The staff was looking for direction about the future of that committee.  Much discussion took place about their role in this process and the 20 months of work they've done already.  Eventually, it was decided that the April 1, 2015 meeting would take place and that the committee would hear the staff reports that have been prepared for them and discuss the controversial potential options for playing fields on the Southeast Quadrant.  However, no further action would take place until after the Master Plan update process is complete.  The work done by the committee will be considered in that process, but nothing more will be done until that process is complete because it will include the long-sought-after needs assessment.  The update process will take 10-12 months, so the committee will likely be on hiatus for a year following their April 1st meeting.

The items pulled from the Consent Calendar were discussed.  Item #5, the minutes five meetings dating back as far as July 25, 2012 were approved.  Apparently the City Clerk's office is almost caught up with the minutes preparation after having a backlog of 5 years in some cases!  That's hard to understand, isn't it?

Item #11, the enhancement of Brentwood Park, was pulled by Righeimer.  The actual staff recommendation was to reject all bids and re-advertise the project.  Righeimer griped about the neighbors complaining in the past when active uses were planned, so they ended up getting a very expensive green belt.  The upshot of the discussion was that all bids will be rejected and WILL NOT be advertised.  Munoz will attempt to find a way to utilize the nearly $300,000 in grant funds obtained for this project on some other project.  It's very possible that we will lose those funds now.  So, Righeimer thumbs his nose at the Brentwood Park neighbors and we'll likely lose some park improvement funds.  The word "vindictive" comes to mind.

Oh, yes... the final item originally on the agenda - the expansion and re-purposing of the old Print Shop on the first floor of City Hall into a meeting room and some other ancillary changes was abruptly yanked from the agenda without explanation.  I later learned that there was some fine-tuning of the proposal necessary to complete the file, so back to the old drawing board and it will be heard later.  There was some muttering around City Hall that it was actually yanked because there was a chance it would have been rejected on a 2-2 vote since Monahan was absent.  Another example of the impact of Monahan just sleepwalking through his job on the Council.

The next meeting is April 7, 2015, but there are a couple study sessions coming up between now and then.  We were out of there by 9:30 p.m.

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