Friday, May 15, 2015

Mesa Water Passes Conservation Ordinance

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Mesa Water District Board met last night before a standing-room-only crowd at their headquarters and voted unanimously to pass the New Water Conservation Ordinance.  The vote was 4-0 because President Shawn Dewane was absent - he was at the Orange County Water District Board meeting for their vote on the Poseidon Desal issue.  He's the past president of that board, too.

According to sources within Mesa Water District, the ordinance as proposed was tinkered with by the Board - some necessary fine-tuning to help the District meet the 20% water use reduction mandated by the State of California.

Here's a little bit of information from the Mesa Water District website this morning - which will also be mailed out to all users as a post card - that will give you an overview of the changes in place: (Click on the image to enlarge it, if necessary)
The new ordinance is being modified from the draft document discussed last night and should be available for public observation early next week.  When that happens I'll write about this subject again.  In my earlier post I provided a chart of the levels of conservation and the details of the Conservation Program in an easy-to-use format.  That chart is now out-of-date, so I'll provide you with the new version next week, when it's available.

In a nutshell, Mesa Water wants us to cut outside use as much as possible.  The new ordinance restricts landscape watering to only two days each week - Tuesday and Saturday - and not within 48 hours of a rain event.  The ordinance was considered an emergency ordinance, so it is in effect NOW, which means you may not legally water your lawns and planting areas until Tuesday, and only if you must at that time.

As a reminder, earlier Mesa Water defined restrictions on water use that are permanent and included in this Conservation Program.  Here are the details of those previously-approved restrictions.  Some of these will be amended by the new ordinance:
  • Limits On Watering Hours: No watering 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., except by hand
  • No Excessive Water Flow Or Runoff
  • No Washing Down Hard Or Paved Surfaces: Except for health and safety purposes
  • Obligation To Fix Leaks: In reasonable time (within 7 days of notice) (now within 72 hours)
  • Fountains: Only with re-circulating water
  • Limits On Washing Vehicles: Wash vehicles only with bucket or shut-off nozzle
  • Restaurants: Encouraged to only serve water on request
  • Hotels: Must provide guests option to not launder linen daily
  • No Installation Of Single-Pass Cooling Systems
  • No Installation of Non-Re-circulating Car Wash Systems
  • Restaurants Must Use Conserving Nozzles
  • Commercial Car Wash Systems Use Re-Circulating Water
  • Recycled Water Use Required: If available and cost-effective
  • Recycled Water - New Service: Required, if available and cost-effective
Penalties - Warnings with the possibility of water flow restrictor or disconnection of service.

As I mentioned, the new ordinance is the draft ordinance with the modifications imposed by The Board last night.  It's basically the Level 1 Water Supply Shortage: Water Alert, but some shifting of priorities was done last night.  I'm told that one thing that DID NOT change is the scale for penalties under this new ordinance.  The chart for penalties, as extracted from the ordinance, is as follows and are enforceable NOW:
  • 1st Violation: Warning
  • 2nd Violation: Warning
  • 3rd Violation: $100 Fee
  • 4th & Subsequent Violation: $200 Fee
  • Possibility of Discontinuing Service: For willful violations
And, no... they are not going to be sending the "Water Gestapo" out to cite you.  However, if it comes to their attention that you're violating the rules, you will be warned, and warned - per the above.  And, if you continue to thumb your nose at this crisis, it will begin to cost you in your wallet.

So, despite the recent rain, we all must do our part to conserve water.  The state says we must save 20%... that's doable.   My sweet and very patient wife and I decided to replace our 1,500 square feet of lawn with a water-wise landscape plan, which we just completed.  Yeah, OK, we added a porch, too, which took too long for us to take advantage of the rebates from the water district on replacing turf with other plantings - but YOU CAN! Read about that program HERE. This is what it looks like now.  A year from now - maybe sooner, depending on how those drought-tolerant plants respond to the loving we're giving them - it will look very different after those plants fill in.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Best Laid Plans And Organics Recycling

A funny thing happened on the way to the Mesa Water District Board meeting tonight.  I planned to attend to hear what kind of scheme they have in store for us users to deal with the perceived water crisis.  The Public Hearing was to be held tonight at the end of their regular meeting, which also includes their budget discussions

But, I digress... I got to the Mesa Water District headquarters on Placentia Avenue with 10 minutes to spare.  However, all the parking spots were already taken and folks were being routed out to the back lot, near the dirt piles, to park.  The Board Room would be guaranteed a standing room only affair, so I just blew it off and came home.  I'll check with the District Friday morning and report the results of their vote.

However, do not despair... let's talk about the other end of the pipe!  Monday night I blew off another meeting - that was a town hall conducted by the Costa Mesa Sanitary District - one of three planned - to discuss their plan to initiate an Organics Recycling Program.  The meeting room at the Halecrest Community Center was packed - standing room only - so I gathered up the literature, took a few photos and left for the Planning Commission meeting.

We've written about Organics Recycling before, about fifteen months ago when they first announced this plan.  So, let's rehash this program.  I'll provide you with some links and some answers to questions and remind you that the next town hall is this Saturday, May 16, 2015, at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue, beginning at 9 a.m.  This is for you working folks that cannot make evening meetings.  The final town hall will be held on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 6 p.m. at Back Bay High School, 390 Monte Vista Ave.  I will NOT be attending that one because it conflicts with the City Council Meeting.

Basically, in a nutshell, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, through their trash hauler, CR&R Environmental Services, will replace one of your current trash cans beginning in June through the middle of August with an Organics Recycling cart.  It will have a different colored lid, at least, and will be used strictly for stuff that can be processed in CR&R's new $25 million plant in Perris, CA.  Things like green waste - grass, shrubs, etc., - and food waste, like grease, bones, vegetable matter and newspapers.  Those cans will be collected by a separate truck, which means TWO trucks through our neighborhoods each week instead of one.  Twice as much heavy truck traffic on our residential neighborhood streets.  All other trash that you accumulate will be placed in the other cart.  That Organic stuff will be hauled out to Perris and processed through the Anaerobic Digestion Plant and produce fertilizer and methane gas, which will be used to power their fleet.

Go the the Costa Mesa Sanitary District Site for this program, HERE, to begin learning more about this program.   When you get to that page, slide over to the Organics Recycling tab with the flashing arrow and read the drop down menu of subjects.  Almost every question you might have will be answered.  In fact, you can watch the slide show of their town hall presentation, too.

As I suspected they might, they've done a little bait and switch on us.  During the earlier meetings on this issue I asked if folks could simply NOT participate in this program.  The answer at that time was a simple "Yes".  Well, now that "Yes" comes with a caveat... you must ASK for permission to opt out and must meet specific requirements as defined by the Sanitary District.  Before you get all agitated, the restrictions make sense... you can read about it on the site.

Yes, they're going to make counter top kitchen pails available to us so we can collect all that food waste.  Yes, it will take some getting used to.  Yes, we will be able to buy compostable bags for those pails.  In fact, on that subject, do a Google search for counter top trash pails and you'll find an array of decorator-type pails you can buy on your own.

In fact, doing this makes a lot of sense.  Southern California is running out of landfill space.  This plan by CR&R is leading edge - nobody else is doing it and it's going to save a lot of space.  It's going to cost us a little more, but nobody will ever pay less than we will - a guarantee by CR&R.  In fact, the costs have gone down since the original presentations last year.

Please go to that link and read the first paragraph, which describes the reason for this plan.  Follow the other links for the FAQs, Cart distribution schedule (I'll get mine right after Independence Day) and you can also view the slide show AND Barry Friedland's Costa Mesa Brief coverage of an earlier meeting. 

I'm planning to attend the Saturday morning event at the Neighborhood Community Center.  See you there.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mesa Water District To Adopt Conservation Ordinance

Most of us who have not been in a coma for the past couple years are aware of the water crisis facing the residents of the State of California these days.  Multiple years of drought conditions have resulted in historically low levels in water reservoirs throughout California and in lakes along the Colorado River.  Farmers are being forced to abandon their crops, particularly in the Central Valley, which has been called "The Bread Basket Of The World" because of the huge amount of crops that are exported annually.  On less than 1% of the total farmland in the United States, the Central Valley produces 8% of the nation's agricultural output by value.  About one-sixth of the irrigated land in the United States is in the Central Valley.  More than 230 crops are grown in that region, including toatoes, almonds, grapes, cotton, apricots and asparagus.

Water authorities throughout the state are mandating conservation measures - driven by edicts coming out of Sacramento.  Some may consider those measures draconian, but the simple fact is that we just don't have enough water to conduct "business as usual".

We here in Costa Mesa have been insulated from most of the rhetoric because the organization that provides us with water, Mesa Water District, does a very good job of managing that precious resource.  We are told that we operate with 100% locally-accessed water from wells that dip into a couple deep aquifers below us, plus Mesa Water is on the leading edge of the technology required to re-use water.

However, tomorrow, the Board of Directors of Mesa Water will meet in the Board Room at district headquarters, 1965 Placentia Avenue,  beginning at 6:00 p.m. to discuss the adoption of Ordinance 26, The Water Conservation and Water Supply Emergency Program.   Click HERE to be taken to a page which introduces the program, provides a historical justification and includes the ordinance as proposed plus all the details about the various emergency levels and the requirements and penalties involved in each. (Note: It's a big file, so it might take a few seconds to load for you.)

The following chart capsulizes the broad brush facts of this ordinance.  Click on the image for easier reading if necessary.  You will probably wish to go to the actual ordinance and attachments for greater detail on the facts.  Little things, like if you're building a home with a swimming pool, you may not be able to fill it under certain conditions.  And, penalties COULD include disconnection of your water supply, so wealthy scofflaws cannot escape the need to conserve just because they have a few bucks.
I have never attended a Mesa Water Board meeting, but this may force me to change my mind and place myself in the presence of my former Facebook buddy, Director Jim Fisler, so I can gather information on this very important issue.  The item is near the end of the agenda, following their review of the budget, so this could run late into the evening, depending on the amount of public input/questions and whether the directors plan to tinker with the ordinance/rules much.  For more information contact Mesa Water at 949-631-1205

By the way, a hat tip to Jordan Graham of the Orange County Register for the article he recently wrote on this issue, HERE.  To my knowledge we have not received proper noticing of this extremely important issue at our home, so Graham's piece was the alarm bell for us.

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The 2015-2016 Budget Introduced

At a Study Session in Council Chambers Tuesday night the Costa Mesa City Council heard the presentation of the 2015-2016 municipal budget as presented by Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch, Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent and Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz.

Four of the five council members were present - lame duck Gary Monahan was absent.  Sixteen residents - outnumbered in the auditorium by nearly two dozen staffers - heard the presentation and may have come away a little confused... I know I did.

For example, in his preamble before handing off the presentation of the budget details to Dunivent, Hatch said this to the council: "In short, we're bringing you a budget that is right now $10.1 million dollars out of balance.  If the City Council decides not to try to fund all of the capital projects that we have available to you and goes with the 43 projects that we have recommended that $10.1 million dollars goes away."  Then, as we read through the "Chief Executive Officer's Budget Message"  that was part of the staff report, which you can read HERE, the second paragraph says: "As presented, this represents a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year without the use of General Fund reserves and provides the highest level of service to the community within existing financial resources".  So, is it balanced, or not?

During the presentation the council and several staff members had a copy of the actual 360-page Preliminary Budget document - which you can view at the libraries, check out from the City Clerk's office, buy for $36.00 or do as I did - view it online, HERE.  Trust me, there's more detail in those pages than you'll ever want to know.... but it is there for the viewing.

The short version is,  we have a budget that is nearly $148 million, up 5.7% from the current year, and it balanced.  It includes Hatches $1 million "contingency" fund - the piggy bank the council raids throughout the year whenever they like rather than buckle down and focusing on the budget now.  It includes 5% for Capital Projects, enhanced by another 1.6%.  And, it includes $500,000 to pay toward the unfunded pension liability, which is like bailing out a sinking boat with a tea spoon.

Here's a few charts that will whet your appetite for more data.
(click on the images to enlarge)

Hatch presumes that the council will agree with his assessment of the Capital Projects, and will go along with his choice of 43 projects instead of the entire 113 projects on the original list, which you can read HERE.  Those items highlighted on the pages are the projects recommended by the CEO for completion in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.  The total is over $22 million, up just under 15% from the current year.  Here's the summary of those projects.
Hatch told us there are NO PAY INCREASES beyond those contractually obligated in this budget... a real motivating factor for the employees, I'm sure.

Some notes... the City Attorney budget was bumped up to $1 million from just over $800,000 (24.53%) but that's only half the increase they'd requested.   The Police Department budget dipped 3%, but that number is easily-explained.  What is NOT explained is the fact that the authorized staff remains at 136 - not even barely satisfactory, but especially grim when you figure we are actually placing fewer than 90 officers on the street today.  Vacancies are slow to be filled because it's just not possible to attract lateral transfers to our city.  We rely, instead, on hiring officers right out of the academy - great young people, but young is the operative word.  The Fire Department still has no budget to replace both the rotting fire stations and no budget to fully field all those $250,000 transport ambulances - 6 of them - that we purchased with the intent to begin transporting patients instead of having our outsourced contractor, CARE Ambulance, continue to rake in that money.  Right now only three of them are deployed.  Among the many questions Hatch and his team didn't immediately answer was about what appears to be a depletion of the self-insurance fund.

When Mensinger asked the council members if they had any questions Sandy Genis jumped right into that hole and took over.  She had spent a lot of time drilling down into the big budget document and found lots of morsels to chew on.  And, unfortunately, in more cases than not, Hatch and the staff did not have answers for her - surprising because of all the time Hatch told us they'd spent preparing the document.  She just kept drilling and drilling and drilling.

Katrina Foley observed the very thorough presentations by all departments, including their list of accomplishments, goals and objectives and renewed her request for the council to go through an exercise where they, as a group, could create a similar list - particularly the goals and objectives part.  The majority has resisted any type of exercise that would result in that kind of road map for the future.

On Thursday, May 21, there will be a Community Budget Meeting at which time members of the community are encouraged to attend and ask questions.  I've attended most of these meetings for a decade and usually get a lot out of it.  They have been very casual events in the past, so I encourage you all to plan to attend the meeting.  I'll write more about it when the agenda is released.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Senior Commission Meeting Wrap-up

After getting home at 2 a.m. from the Planning Commission meeting and finally hitting the sack at just before 5 a.m., this morning I dragged my old body to the Senior Commission meeting at the Costa Mesa Senior Center at 9 a.m.

The optimistic staff from the Costa Mesa Recreation Division had set up seating for nearly 50 individuals, but fewer than half that many showed up.  And, in my sleep-deprived condition, I was frightened when I saw what I thought might be the grim reaper lurking in the back of the room - or a malnourished homeless person, looking for a cookie.  But, no, it was just what's left of The Mouth From Mesa North, skulking around taking photos - bad ones, no doubt.  He cased the joint, then left before the meeting began.  He will undoubtedly write about it as though he actually knew what went on at the meeting. (NOTE: As predicted, our racist laureate did write about his brief visit to the Senior Center and used his withering Mensa mind to take a poke at me, HERE.  Gotta feel sorry for the guy - doing less with more.  What a pathetic, unhappy person he is.)

The meeting began promptly at 9 a.m. and followed the agenda published earlier, HERE.  Roll was taken - Commissioner Sue Healy was absent - and the newest member of the commission, Anne Perry, was sworn-in by Costa Mesa City Clerk Brenda Green.

Three people spoke during the Public Comments segment.  One thanked the City for taking over operations of the Center.  Edwina Worsham wanted to know the status of the Albert Dixon Foundation money, which she said was over $600,000.  Another person expressed the need for a nurse onsite to better serve the members.

Then Janeth Velazquez made a presentation to the commissioners on Senior Serv, an organization that  operates in 26 locations in Southern California and currently provides services to the members of the Costa Mesa Senior Center.  She's shown in this photo with Yvette Aguilar, who operates the Senior Center.  The following array of images are those used in her presentation.  You'll get the gist of her presentation if you just read down through them.
Then Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill - who was also at that Planning Commission meeting last night until the bitter end at 1:01a.m. - made a presentation of The Brown Act to the commissioners.  She's shown here with Recreation Manager Travis Karlen, who tried unsuccessfully to get the PowerPoint presentation to operate, so Mrs. Summerhill had to wing it.

This was a very interesting presentation because most, if not all, of the commissioners had no clue about the restrictions the Ralph M. Brown Act imposes on their activities.  For example, Summerhill stressed the need to be cautious about conversations among fellow commissioners, pointing out to the danger of a "serial conversation", where two might discuss an issue, then each discuss it with two other commissioners - a clear violation of the Brown Act.  Another contemporary factor that old Ralph never thought about was email.  Summerhill cautioned the commissioners to NEVER hit the "Reply All" button when replying to an email that they all may have been sent by staff, for example.  And, another pitfall is social media.  She discouraged discussing Senior issues on Facebook, where other members might be casually viewing - and violating the Brown Act.  Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau chimed in with a reminder that perception is, to many, reality, so the commissioners should be VERY cautious about the interactions with each other.  This may be a tough gig for some of them, since they were fully immersed in Senior issues before the commission was formed.  If you wish to read the Brown Act, there's a link to it over on the right side of this page.

The Consent Calendar - items that normally would simply be voted upon without discussion - had two items on it and member Kirk Bauermeister had questions about the class fees.  He wondered how the fees were determined, and whether there might be a better way to provide more less costly classes - referring to the Computer Classes.  That led to a good discussion and the upshot was that the Staff will research alternatives for future classes - and see if they can get the costs down to the level that is paid in Huntington Beach, presuming the same fellow charges them less.

Then came the discussion of changing the name and format of the monthly newsletter, The Chronicle.  The staff suggestion was for it to be called "The Buzz on 19th Street", which apparently none of the commissioners cared for - and neither did many of the audience members, if the grumbling I overheard was accurate.  One person suggested it sounded like one of the many bars on 19th Street. Long time Senior Center member Kathleen Eric suggested a contest to let the members of the Senior Center participate in selecting the new name.  The commissioners liked that idea, so the process will be fleshed out by the staff and, if all goes well, there may be suggestions to consider by their September meeting - they only meet every other month.

Yvette Aguilar told the commissioners that in April the Center staff served 3,200 members - perhaps she meant meals, since there are only 1,500 members.  She said 83 people participated in the Mother's Day event; that plans are afoot to provide some Saturday programming for working seniors; that the BBQ is coming up on May 27th; there will be a Father's Day event on June 19th and the Independence Day event will be held on July 2nd.

Travis Karlen addressed the question of the Albert Dixon Foundation, indicating that he's in regular - weekly - contact with that Board, working closely with them toward a solution.  He said there is, in fact, more than $600,000 remaining in the Foundation - a separate organization with no legal ties to the Senior Center.  He told the commission that the Board is working with a lawyer to determine how to dissolve the Foundation - which he described as a "big process".  He said there is a "wish list" of things that the Foundation may be able to help with and suggested the commissioners and members present add to that list by communicating with the Staff.  Chairwoman Ernie Feeney wanted to know who is on the Board.  Karlen only named the president, Mike Scheafer - a former President of the old Senior Corporation Board.

Karlen advised that the abysmal telephone system will remain a little longer because of negotiation difficulties with the contractor and the need to run fiber optic cable between the Center and City Hall.  He also discussed the mobility program, indicating that the back-up bus is in bad shape and actually had mold in it, which had to be cleaned out.

He also discussed the Senior Advisory Board and suggested that members have a specific term of office.  Appointees - by the commission - would serve for a term, then others could take a turn, spreading the opportunity for more input.

During Commissioner Comments, commissioner John McGlinn suggested the need for a strategic plan, with goals and objectives, indicating that otherwise the commission is just moving along blindly.

Bauermeister reminded all of the Fish Fry at Fairview Park the last weekend of the month, indicating that he will be frying fish all weekend.

Janet Krochman wondered about getting a copy of the Albert Dixon Foundation paperwork, which she said would likely outline the procedure for dissolution.  Karlen said he had it, but that the Board's lawyer was working the issue.  It's clear that some members of the commission think they have a right to be involved with the Albert Dixon Foundation - which they do not.  Again, it's a separate entity.

Feeney asked new member Perry to tell the members about herself, so she told us she's married to Chuck Perry, worked at Estancia High School for a decade and loves the seniors.

Feeney adjourned the meeting to the next one, on July 14th.

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