Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Feeling Safer? Why?

Here's a little something for you to contemplate as you plan to ring in the new year.  The City of Costa Mesa is not safer this year than it was last year.  And, sadly, this is a DIRECT result of policies and attitudes by the current City Council majority - specifically Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer.
Here's a little information for you, plucked straight from the pages of the city web site.  I've provided the last three months available for your consideration, but you can find all the rest at the city web site HERE(Click on the individual charts to expand.)

So, as we enter the new year, full of hope and anticipation, keep in mind that some of your elected leaders have chosen to place potholes before public safety.  They care more about their legacy as measured by paved streets and alleys and fancy new center dividers than the safety of those of us who live or work in and those who visit and shop in Costa Mesa
As of the end of the year the Costa Mesa Police Department will have fewer than 100 officers ready for duty.  There are nearly 30 vacancies in the department.  Of the authorized staff level - which is well short of optimal - five are so-called "grant cops", officers being paid through a 5-year grant.  The time on those grants is expiring, which will reduce the authorized strength of the department's sworn officers even more!
And, you may recall that Mensinger and Righeimer refused to let then-chief Tom Gazsi begin the hiring process for new officers for more than eight months, putting the department so far behind the curve that it will take years to recover.
Even without the impact of a growing drug problem, and expanding homelessness problem, AB 109 releases and Prop. 47, it would be tough to properly police this city.  Add those elements to the mix, PLUS the fact that Costa Mesa has the highest percentage of rehab homes in the county - by far - than any other city and those places have been demonstrated to be incubators for homeless criminals.  When they are bounced out of the rehab homes for failure to complete the programs there is no mechanism or requirement for them to be returned to their home of record, so they end up on our streets.  A recent incident where a resident clobbered a burglar with a flashlight emphasizes that problem, HERE.
And, of course, we have the CMPD contract to consider.  The men and women of the CMPD are working without a new contract for more than 500 days.  Only three members of the City Council - Gary Monahan, Katrina Foley and Sandra Genis - may be involved in the negotiations because the other two men have sued the men and women of the CMPD.  And those three must reach unanimous accord on the contract.
And, there is the loss of experience caused by the retirement and/or departure to other venues by skilled, season veteran officers.  Yes, we can hire some of the best new officers available, but they simply don't have the experience yet to actually fill the void - that takes years.
So, I encourage you to drop a little note to the two top elected leaders in our city to "thank them" for caring more about their legacy than our safety.  I'm sure they will welcome a little note from you.  I suspect Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer will remind you of what he constantly says - "Having more cops doesn't mean you have a safer city."  Yeah, really?  Well, it's a great place to start!
And a Very Happy New Year to you all.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Group Launches Initiative To Save Fairview Park

As the petition signature-gathering winds up for one initiative - the so-called Smart Growth Initiative - another group has launched a similar effort to preserve and protect Fairview Park - referred to by many as "Costa Mesa's Crown Jewel".
The Fairview Park Alliance, HERE, has crafted an initiative to do just that.  The full initiative may be viewed HERE.  Beginning within the next few days representatives of that organization will begin collecting signatures, hoping to gather enough by the deadline - I'm told it will be early in May - to qualify the initiative for the November, 2016 ballot.
As is required by law, the initiative has been reviewed by the Costa Mesa City Attorney, who has fulfilled his responsibility of creating a proper title and an official Summary which will appear in the sample ballot should this initiative qualify.  The following is the complete text of that Title/Summary as produced by the City Attorney recently.  I've edited it for spacing and type color only, for easier reading:
    The initiative prohibits certain changes in land use at Fairview Park unless the City of Costa Mesa pays for and conducts a citywide election, and the electorate votes in favor of the proposal. 
    In general, the initiative requires voter approval each time Costa Mesa authorizes any expansion or intensification of uses, new or expanded amenities, expansion of park hours, grading, expanding parking lots, new foundations or permanent structures, installation of lighting or utility delivery systems, and alterations using geotechnical or structural analysis.  Exceptions apply to (1) restoration, (2) preservation, (3) maintenance, (4) public safety, (5 )expanding Fairview Park’s size, (6) improvements pursuant to the Fairview Park Master Plan which do not require installing permanent structures, and (7) certain changes approved and completed before the initiative’s effective date. 

    The following are examples of projects currently authorized under the Fairview Park Master Plan that could not be implemented without voter approval: 

Fairview Park, east of Placentia Avenue:  Playground, Platforms/retaining walls for vista overlook area, Museum/multipurpose building, Constructing two paved parking lots to accommodate a total of 131 cars.

Fairview Park, west of Placentia Avenue:  Playground, Covered picnic areas, Bus turnaround, Stairs to allow bluff access, Grading bluffs to prevent erosion, New restrooms, Boardwalk and pedestrian bridge on new trail.

    Other examples of activities that would be prohibited unless voter approval is obtained include:  Completing structures that were under construction when the initiative became effective, Concrete curbs, Expanding existing buildings, Installing additional lighting, Expanding park hours, New trails not listed in the Fairview Park Master Plan, Installing water, electric, gas or sewer lines, Expanding parking lots, Constructing retaining walls, Increasing the number of community events such as concerts-in-the-park, seasonal festivals or races, Pergolas and gazebos, Rest areas along trails that are larger than the minimum required by law, or are within 100 feet of one another.

    The following are examples of activities that would be allowed without an election:  Activities authorized in the Fairview Park Master Plan not requiring the construction of any permanent structure, Restoring Fairview Park to its natural non-developed state, Replacing non-native trees with native trees, Activities intended to protect habitat, vernal pools, burial grounds and artifacts, Removing paths, parking lots or existing man-made improvements, Improving educational signage, Repairing existing structures, Maintaining existing roads, trails and parking lots, Adding land to Fairview Park, Mowing, Replacing broken lights, Installing trash cans, park benches and picnic tables without coverings.

    The initiative requires specific information be included in any sample ballot mailed to registered voters regarding a proposed change to Fairview Park.  The initiative also requires compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.  The initiative could not be amended without voter approval.  

I've not asked the proponents of this initiative precisely why they felt it necessary to present this measure to the voters, but I can guess.  After having watched the current council majority create the Fairview Park Citizen's Advisory Committee - now dormant - and stack it with cronies who apparently shared their view - which appeared to be that ALL land within the city should be developed, either as high density housing or active use playing fields - I suspect the folks behind this initiative were concerned that similar attacks on the last bastion of natural open space in the City would continue to come under attack without protection.
I watched that committee do it's work.  I saw them create a list of "possible" uses in Fairview Park that included all manner of playing fields, including Bocci Ball, for goodness sake.  I watched as, meeting after meeting, residents and other stakeholders in Fairview Park - including representatives of Native American tribes who have a very special interest in the park - presented their views to the committee.  It would be accurate to state that, by a very wide margin, the speakers wanted Fairview Park to remain in a natural state.
The initiative and the summary, above, refers to the Fairview Park Master Plan.  You will find that document HERE.  
So, over the next several months you may encounter proponents of this initiative who will be asking for your signature.  Take a few minutes to have them explain the initiative to you if necessary, then let your good judgment and conscience guide your decision.  This really just boils down to a matter of trust.  Do you trust this current batch of elected leaders to protect and preserve this irreplaceable asset?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas To You All

Well, Santa is well on his way now, getting the boys all warmed up for that big trip Thursday night, so it's time to get into the real Christmas spirit.  And, I've chosen to help you get there by publishing this magnificent image of our great-niece, Miss Harper Hartte Cunningham, age 8 months, taken by her mother Kayla as they began decorating her first Christmas Tree in their Omaha home.  This is such a grand photo - taken with an Iphone - that I just had to share it with you all.

Today I'll provide you with some of my very favorite video clips to help celebrate the holiday.  We hope they will bring a smile to your face and a song to your heart.  Enjoy...

This year we here at A Bubbling Cauldron wish you all a very Merry Christmas.  We hope your new year will be fantastic - full of hope and promise for better times.

We want to thank each of you who read these entries for your support.  Even though fewer of you comment on these pages we know you're out there reading because many of you send private messages on issues addressed here.  We'll continue to try to provide you with timely, accurate information and our opinion on what that information means.

We want to thank the wonderful employees of the City of Costa Mesa for your continued loyalty and diligence supporting my city.  Each of you work hard and do your individual jobs with great professionalism.  We know how difficult these past few years have been for you all, and hope this year brings change.  We hope it finally brings new contracts for the Public Safety organizations, who have been working without a new contract for nearly 550 days at this point.

I also want to express my gratitude to those residents to take the time to be involved in the important issues facing our city these days.  We know how difficult it is for you to step up and speak up on tough issues knowing that you'll get ridiculed and rebuffed by some of our elected leaders.  We know that many of you have been treated unfairly this year, but hope the November elections will shift the majority to bring some civility back to our city council.

So, to each of you, we hope your holiday is very special for you and that the new year brings all you hope for.  We're turning down the flame under the old cauldron for a few days, but will be back right after the new year to continue to inform and provoke you.


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Transparency? Bah, Humbug!

My plan was to put off any political rhetoric for the holiday season, but the City of Costa Mesa threw me a curve ball that requires me to let you know about something that will be sprung on you at the first City Council meeting of the year, on January 5, 2016 - something that was sprung on me today, two days before Christmas and less than a day before everyone at City Hall takes off for the holiday and is therefore unable to answer questions about it... I've been trying for a couple hours.

At the very end of the agenda, which has some other interesting things on it as well, is this little piece, New Business #1 at the very end of the agenda, misleadingly titled, "Changes To The Temporary Sign Code/Policy", which you can read in it's entirety HERE.

The Staff Recommendation paragraph reads as follows:
Provide direction to staff as to any changes City Council wishes to make to the existing Sign Code or policy as it applies to all temporary signs, including political campaign signs. Also direct staff on their participation in filming/video production of candidates’ forums and inclusion of such forums on the City’s website.

So, without any reference to it in the title of this staff report, a solicitation for direction on filming/video production of candidate forums is stealthily included in this item.

The staff report goes on and on at great length discussing why changes need to be made to our sign policies, primarily due complications with campaign signs.  I agree that this is something that needed to be tightened up considering all the turmoil around campaign signs, including the bogus arrest of employee Steven White, who was tried and found not guilty of that crime - stealing signs worth maybe $10!  So, yes, let's clarify and tighten up the rules, by all means.

However, tucked way, way way down at the end of the staff report is this part of the staff analysis:
As to filming of candidate’s forums, staff and the City Attorney would also recommend that City staff be directed to not participate in the filming or video production of any candidates’ forums and that such forums recordings not be placed on the City’s website. Staff feels that with the new technology available today there are many alternatives and options available for City residents to view the various forums without involvement of City staff.

Let me tell you that this reeks!  Our City government pontificates constantly about how "transparent" it is - citing all the frills and do-dads of transparency, while failing badly where the rubber meets the road.  There can only be ONE reason for this recommendation - certain politicians don't want the public to be able to see them in action in public campaign forums!  During the last few campaign seasons we saw around 300 people attending the most popular forums - in a city with more than 50,000 registered voters.  Thousands of others certainly watched the taped replays provided on CMTV during the run-up to the election.  If the politicians have their way, those thousands will be shut-out of the process.

That staff recommendation refers to "new technology available" and "many alternatives and options".  Really?  Just what would that be?  I'm presuming they mean the likes of Barry Friedland's Costa Mesa Brief coverage, in which old Barry may choose to edit to his little heart's content and edit out objectionable (to his partisan pals) segments.

...OR ME!
Or, you always have your old pal here at A Bubbling Cauldron, who tries to attend every such event and report what he sees for your consumption.  Certainly you DON'T want me to be your only source of information, do you? 

So, carve out a few minutes to write to City CEO Tom Hatch (just click on that name for the email address) to let him know how you feel about this.  If you feel you're getting shut-out of information regarding the upcoming campaign season by the implementation of this action, let him know.  Personally, I think it's yet another example of how those currently in power are choosing to decide for you what you will see - just as they try to control what you can say.  Don't let them get away with it!


Saturday, December 19, 2015

We Mark Another Sad Anniversary

Each year for the past now dozen years, as the Christmas holiday approaches, I've marked this date with great sadness.  Today, December 19, 2015, marks another anniversary of the day my best friend for 57 years, Larry Moore, passed away.  Those of you who have been frequent readers will recognize this story, and you can read about it in greater detail in the entry I posted two years ago, HERE.
Larry Moore and I were best friends for most of our lives - ever since that day my mother and I saw him jump off his garage roof, which was preceded with a cheery exclamation, "Hey, look at me!", and off he went, landing on the little grass strip between two concrete runners.  Yep, that was the beginning.
We grew up together, closer than most brothers, and shared almost every special moment in our lives.  We dated some of the same girls, participated in some of the same sports - although he was a much more accomplished athlete than I.  Although not a man of great physical stature, he excelled in football, basketball and water sports - swimming and water polo.  In the case of the latter two, he continued to participate in those sports until late in his life, and continued to excel.  During his 31 years with the Los Angeles Police Department he continued to swim and play water polo until the day he retired.  As Athletic Director for the LAPD for the last fifteen years of his career, he and his partner on the job, Chuck Foote, created the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay - one of the most grueling footraces in the world.  He created an event called "The Toughest Cop Alive", in which competitors would engage in eight individual events in one day, things like swimming, running, rope climbing, weight lifting.  It's truly ironic that, during his six-week battle for his life, he was, indeed,  "The Toughest Cop Alive."

My friend died in Las Vegas following six weeks in the Trauma Intensive Care unit of a hospital as a result of a solo motorcycle accident on a lonely desert road as he headed home from a visit with friends who lived just outside of Las Vegas.  We'll never know what caused him to crash - maybe it was inattention, trying to tune his radio - but whatever it was, he missed a turnoff, continued on up a grade to a point where the desert road leveled off, crossed a double railroad track, then made an immediate left hand turn.  Larry didn't navigate the turn, layed the motorcycle down out in front of him as he had been trained to do as a motorcycle officer with the LAPD, and began to slide.  At one point his tires slipped off the smooth, raised double yellow line onto the weathered, coarse asphalt, which just reached out and grabbed his tires and slammed him to the ground like a rag doll.

Foreign tourists, themselves lost on that same road, saw the dust and rushed to his side.  Still conscious, he identified himself and told them he was badly hurt.  They summoned a railroad work crew that had been working on those tracks nearby, who had the wisdom to call for a helicopter, which transported him to the closest hospital - in Las Vegas, about 70 miles away.

I held his power of attorney for health care, so was called immediately.  I drove to Vegas as quickly as I could, arriving the next day, not knowing what to expect.  What I found was my friend near death from injuries one might associate with a beating with a baseball bat - fractured ribs, fractured transverse processes of the spine, a broken hip socket and - as was discovered when he first arrived at the hospital - a torn descending aorta.  Thus began a six-week vigil by his side in that hospital room as the staff tried every trick in the book to bring him back to us.  And, eventually, it looked like he might actually make it.

Twelve years ago on this date I left the hospital just after 6:00 p.m. after having spent the past dozen hours at his side.  He'd had a tough day following an emergency surgery the evening before.  He seemed to be safe and stable in his room and the staff was busy completing the paperwork about this latest emergency, so I headed back to my hotel with a stop at a Wendy's for some takeout food before settling in to write what had become a regular email report to his many friends.  But, before I got five minutes down the road I was recalled to the hospital.

When I arrived I found his attending physician and a half-dozen associates in his room.  He had suffered a cardiac arrest - just as he had the evening before as he was being wheeled in to the operating room for that surgical procedure.  This time it was very grim.  I stood in the doorway next to his doctor as she orchestrated many attempts to bring him back.  She would give directions, the staff would respond, then look at her for more instructions.  Finally, after one more attempt with a defibrillator, they looked at her... then at me... and I knew it was time to stop.

At 6:37 p.m., December 19, 2003, my friend lost his fight.

I spent the next several hours notifying his family and closest friends.  Among the first calls I made was to his eldest daughter, Kara, who proudly followed her father to the LAPD.  Before I left the Trauma Intensive Care unit every staff member on duty sought me out to offer their condolences to me, and to his thousands of friends.  During the six weeks he was there they had grown to admire and love my friend, and the fighting spirit he demonstrated every day.  As my sweet wife said that night as we discussed Larry, "He just made everyone around him feel loved."  I then decamped to my hotel room and wrote the email to his friends that I never wanted to write.  What had begun six weeks earlier as a nightly email communication to a handful of people ended up being communications relayed among literally thousands of people, including one dear friend who was reading them in Antarctica.
So, on this sad anniversary, let me remind you, one more time, to tell the people you love how you feel.  Don't wait, because you just never know what kind of curve is ahead on the road of life.  And, as always, I want you all to know how grateful I am for your readership.  Not all of you agree with what I write on these pages, but you continue to read - thank you for that.  This is the final photo of my friend and me.  He was a wonderful man and I miss him every day.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Five Sports Leagues Lose Field Priorities

Today the City of Costa Mesa announced that four adult and one youth sports league will have limited access to Costa Mesa fields beginning in the fall of 2016 after they failed to meet the city's new local residential participation guidelines.  Those groups are:
  • Newport-Mesa Friday Night Lights Flag Football (youth)
  • Newport Beach Women Soccer
  • Word Athletic Kickball Association
  • International Soccer League
  • Surf and Sun Softball
According to the press release, the City Council adopted a new Field Use and Allocation Policy (FUAP) last July to provide a clear and concise set of rules and regulations regarding field usage.  As those who have followed this issue know, many youth sports leagues have long-bemoaned what they perceived as a severe shortage in playing fields in our city.

As part of the process for the new FUAP the City conducted an audit of the sports leagues.  Apparently the paperwork submitted by these five sports leagues failed to meet the guidelines set forth by the new FUAP.  Inconsistencies involved residency issues and the percentage of the league participants that met the requirements of the FUAP.

According to Travis Karlen, Manager of Parks and Community Services, "The policy was created to ensure that Costa Mesa residents and children who play in recreational programs are at the top of the list when it comes to who gets to use our fields and resources."

The field use changes become effective next fall, so the groups have sufficient time to find other options.  According to Karlen, "We are letting these groups know they are out of compliance now so that they have enough time to look for other fields for their participants to use."

The City extended the deadline for two months to provide more time for the leagues to meet the requirements.  They didn't...

City staff and ambassadors will continue to enforce the Field Use and Allocation Policy and audits during the spring 2016 season and in subsequent seasons.

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A Few Surprises At Planning Commission

During their last meeting of this year the Costa Mesa Planning Commission threw a couple curve balls, just to keep us all on our toes.
One anonymous person spoke during Public Comments to remind the commissioners and the audience that proponents of the Smart Growth Initiative will be collecting signatures to place it on the November, 2016 ballot for the next three weeks.  She reminded us to go to for more information.  She told us that tables will be set up on the following days at each of the following venues, all from 9:45 a.m. - 3:00 pm.

Dec. 19 & 20 - Wilson Elementary School, 801 Wilson (@ Placentia)
                          & at Harper School, 425 R. 18th St. (@Tustin)
Dec. 26 & 27 - Estancia Park, 1900 Adams (@Mesa Verde Drive West)
                         & at Harper School
Jan. 2 & 3 -      Lindberg Development Center, 220 23rd St (@Orange)
                         & at Harper School

Public Hearing #1 - the request for a Tentative Tract Map to carve up a nice piece of property in my neighborhood at 410 Walnut Place into five (5) individual lots for future sale and development - unexpectedly got very interesting.

Following the brief staff report by planner Chelsea Crager in which she explained that all five lots met all current city standards - three (3) measured 6,000 square feet and the remaining two were 7,200 and that no code deviations were being requested and a presentation by the property owners representative, Civil Engineer Rob Hamers - who explained that he didn't think it was fair for the property owner to be required to do a soils study and a drainage plan - several nearby neighbors stepped to the speaker's podium to express their concern.
Of the fourteen (14) speakers who addressed this issue, eleven were nearby neighbors and they all opposed five lots being created for a variety of reasons.  However, one common thread was that it would ruin the character of the neighborhood.  One family member spoke on the reason for the requested subdivision - to provide funds for the maintenance of critically ill family members.
In his response to those concerns Hamers rather cavalierly dismissed most of them as "irrelevant" - and made few friends with that observation.  Some of the speakers implied the five lot proposal was just about money, ignoring expressly stated views of the now-deceased property owner, who said it would be split into four lots.  Family members disputed that presumption.
In the end, after ninety minutes of discussions, it all boiled down to, as Commissioner Colin McCarthy put it, a question of compatibility.  The proposed five lot split would not be compatible with the neighborhood.  A majority of the commissioners agreed with the neighbors, so when the motion was made it was to deny the tract map as presented without prejudice, which means the owners can massage the plan and re-submit it without waiting for six months and paying new fees.  The commission passed it on a 4-1 vote, with Tim Sesler voting NO.  And, of course, they can appeal the denial to the City Council in a week.
Public Hearing #2, the proposal to develop two condo units at 217 Cabrillo, with one of them "fronting" on the alley that separates that lot from commercial development on 17th Street near Orange Avenue, also generated some significant discussion.  Several of the commissioners struggled with this one because of the alley orientation of the rear unit.  McCarthy bemoaned the lack of guidance available within the codes regarding alleys.  In the end, following 70 minutes of discussion, the commission voted, 3-2, to approve the project.  McCarthy and Stephan Andranian voted NO.  McCarthy asked Assistant Director of Development Services Claire Flynn for a memo regarding alleys - how they are viewed differently than streets, etc.
Following a short break Public Hearing #3, which is a state-forced ordinance dealing with the prohibition of cultivation of marijuana, was discussed.  During the discussion Vice Chair Jeff Mathews asked perhaps the most cogent pair of questions.  First, is this a "now or never" situation?  If the City doesn't pass this ordinance before the state-imposed deadline of March 1, 2016 will it be abdicating all control of this issue to the state?  The answer from staff was "Yes".  Second, if this ordinance is passed may the City later modify and soften it later?  The answer was also "Yes".  The commission passed the item, 5-0.  There is brand new - two-week old - case law on this issue. And, the second chart shows the timeline to meet the state deadline.
Next up was Public Hearing #4, the request by the wildly successful new restaurant, The Halal Guys, to extend their operating hours, to midnight Sunday - Wednesday and until 1:00 a.m. Thursday -Saturday.  This item had been heard before, but was continued to this meeting so the operators could come back with a modified plan.  McCarthy had a conflict so recused himself.  After 45 minutes of discussion the commissioners voted, 3-1, with Andranian voting NO, to approve the request, but with the proviso that the issue be evaluated for three months to determine the effectiveness of the new operating hours and be reviewed at the end of that time for the possibility of revoking the minor conditional use permit.  The operator reportedly had already made many changes to satisfy nearby neighbors regarding trash and noise.  Parking is an issue, but the property owner is experimenting with complimentary (free) valet parking to resolve the issue.
Which brings us to the final item on the agenda, Public Hearing #5, the request for valet parking at that center.  Manager Jason Ball outlined his plans to use free valet service - it will cost him $3,000 per month - to help mitigate the ongoing parking issues for the entire center.  Following a short discussion the remaining commissioners passed it, 4-0.  The meeting ended at 10:20 p.m. and will reconvene next on January 11, 2016.

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