Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Righeimer's Bond Scheme Fails And More

The Costa Mesa, apparently expecting big trouble because there were four (4) officers in the auditorium plus Chief Rob Sharpnack, made it through the meeting without incident.  Maybe it was because I watched the proceedings at home..

Mayor Steve Mensinger opened things up with a presentation of his Mayor's Award to yet another local business - the Chick-Fil-A store on Harbor Blvd.  Operator Tammy Guadagno was praised for  outstanding community support.
We had some new rules last night.  A big sign behind the City Clerk advised that speaker cards must be given to the staff member in the lobby.  Also, Mensinger imposed a rule where you MUST come to the speaker podium promptly or you cannot speak.  A couple speakers missed their turns.   

Nina Reich praised the signature-gatherers and those who turned out for the Trump demonstrations.  She also expressed concern for the lack of affordable housing.
Ashley Collins and David Twiss again expressed concern about a recent vote made by the Vector Control District to authorize aerial spraying for mosquitos.
Mary Spadoni attended the Trump rally and was concerned about the lack of a Nixle alert by the CMPD to advise residents of traffic issues in the area.  She did praise all the law enforcement officers and command staff present for doing an excellent job.
Chuck Perry told us he loved living in Costa Mesa.
Dr. Richard Mehren - long-time Fairview Park advocate, expressed pleasure at the collection of signatures.
Another individual showed samples of T-shirts with catchy phrases on them and provided a primer on good government.

Beth Refakes expressed concern about the apparent wheeling and dealing going on with the Attic Theater/Costa Mesa Women's Club.  She was concerned that the women were being taken advantage of and explained the terms of the deal as she understood them.
Kristine Bogner expressed concern about speaking at the meetings for fear that her photo might appear in "a blog".  Well, she's right... here she is!  She encouraged folks to come and speak up.
Ralph Taboada asked for more bike racks at parks and commercial areas, expressing concern that bicyclers were being cited for chaining their bikes to sign posts when racks were not available.
This fella, I've heard him referred to as Iggy, spoke again and once again complained about the incomplete 55 Freeway through town.  This time he used the term "bat guano" instead of his previous epithet.
Barrie Fisher provided statistics on how sober living organizations were circumventing the new ordinances.
Kim Hendricks thanked the Fairview Park Initiative volunteers.
Greg Thunnel blamed the Trump riots on the council members.
Jay Humphrey praised the Fairview Park petition gatherers and criticized the management of the Fair and event center for not being good neighbors, referring to the Trump rally.  Nine more speakers were trailed to the end of the meeting.
During Council Member Comments Sandy Genis explained in great detail why the decision was made by the Vector Control District to do aerial spraying, citing the very serious public health threat of the West Nile virus.  She also expressed concern about the minimal communication about the Trump event from city staff.  She also expressed extreme concern about language that was added to the Draft General Plan regarding the "repurposing of Fairview Park" and included the mention of playing fields.
Gary Monahan had nothing of his own to say, but asked Genis about "mosquito fish" as a solution to the mosquito problem.  He also asked CEO Tom Hatch to investigate a system used by the Mesa Water District to circulate water to keep mosquito breeding down.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer asked City Attorney Tom Duarte if the sober living lawsuit with Solid Landings had been signed, and if so, may we now enforce the two sober living ordinances?  The answer was yes.  He addressed the Trump event and was concerned about the short notice received, but praised the CMPD for their response to the issue.  He said he was "proud of the culture in our department."  What a great irony, since his minions have, for a couple years, vilified the CMPD for what they called the "culture of corruption."  What a hypocrite!
Mensinger praised the CMPD for their performance during the Trump event and mentioned that "people think I run the police department so I got many messages about not enough use of force, too much use of force."  I could only but smile...  He told us of the Neighbors Helping Neighbors event that he, Monahan and Righeimer participated in recently, and mentioned that one of the houses they spruced up was the home of local Pop Warner football icon, Ed Baume - recently deceased.  He told us he promised Ed he would fix up his house.  Sorry, but that seems just a little peculiar to me.
Mensinger also told us his Mayor's Celebration is coming up next week and his former employer, George Argyros and wife Julia, would be feted, as would Hank Panian.  And he thanked Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz for the great job being done sprucing up Harbor Boulevard, and mentioned the monument signage denoting "College Park" near the recently-remodeled GMC dealership.

Katrina Foley addressed the Trump event, too, saying you can't blame the Fair Board because they had no say whatosever in that event.  She praised our public safety folks.  She suggested we should bill the Trump campaign for damage to municipal property and the costs involved in keeping order.  She asked Hatch about the "Croney" ordinance, required to be implemented by any city with a COIN ordinance and was told the staff is implementing it.  It involves any contract over $250,000.
She told us of a recent conference by the Orange County Visitors Bureau at which municipal branding was emphasized.  She offered a long opinion on how we could be doing a better job of branding our city.

She had left the chambers briefly and explained that she was at Costa Mesa High School for the unveiling of a recently acquired - through significant donations - of a concert grand piano.

Mensinger almost overlooked Hatch again, but given the chance he reported on several things.  He advised that we should NOT be ticketing bike riders when racks are not available.  He told us the budget process is underway, and that a budget study session will be held next Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. - but didn't say where.  He said there will be a community meeting on May 19th at 5:30, but didn't say where.  He said the budget will be adopted at the meeting of June 21st.
Regarding the Women's Club/Attic Theater, he said he only knew of informal discussions and that the City has NOT entered into any agreement.

Assistant CEO Rick Francis spoke briefly about the upcoming Voting By District meetings, stating that there would be a series of meetings with small groups - 2-3 people at a time - with the expert demographer hired for this process.  This image gives you the dates and the number to call to be included.  Larger, community meetings will be held in June.  He indicated we really had NO choice in how this process plays out because the issue WILL be on the ballot in November.
Police Chief Rob Sharpnack spent the next 20 minutes giving us a briefing on the Trump event.  His report was thorough and professional.  I cannot begin to cover all his points, except to note that the patience and control exhibited by the members of the CMPD and other agencies involved kept the chaos to a minumum.  The crowd clapped when he finished.
Three items were pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion at the end of the meeting.

Public Hearing #1 dealt with the use of CDBG and HOME funds.  Consultant Mike Linares provided the staff report.  Members of some of the groups being granted funds spoke.  Representatives of California Elwyn, which was receiving no funds, expressed concern and advised that it would mean a shortage of staff to help manage their programs.  Andy Smith, the spokesman for the city committee charged with assessing the groups using criteria created by the council, advised how the process was conducted and why Elwyn came up short.  Eventually, Katrina Foley moved that eight of the recipients would have their stipend reduced by $500 and the resultant $4000 would be given to Elwyn.  It passed, 3-2, with Mensinger and Monahan voting NO.
For the next 90 minutes Jim Righeimer's vindictive Affordable Housing Bond was the subject of discussion.  For this issue to move forward four of the five council members were required to vote in the affirmative.  Celeste Brady, representing the law firm coordinating this activity, gave the staff presentation.  In response to a question by Foley it was acknowledge that we have already spent $25,000 on this issue to this point.  It was clear early-on that Foley was NOT in favor of this issue.  To capsulize some of her thoughts - she thought there had NOT been enough thought given to this.  This is precisely the kind of issue that called for a study session so the council could talk among themselves to flesh out concerns.  We have not had a study session in a long, long time - apparently because Righeimer and Mensinger know they've got the votes to do whatever they want, so things like this just happen.
You will recall that in an earlier meeting Righeimer warned affordable housing advocates that he was going to put a $20 million bond on the ballot and if it didn't pass - it takes a 2/3 vote - or the people don't even give it more than 50%, then they should never come back complaining about no affordable housing.
Although Brady did a very professional job, Foley was tenacious and the fact that we had NO idea how this money might be spent really stuck in her craw.  Same with Genis.  At one point Foley said, "It's a matter of trust."  She went on to say that trust had not been developed on the dais.  Righeimer retorted it was a matter of "Brown Rules" - we assume he meant "Brown Act Rules", but one never knows with him.  Foley barked back that it's why there should have been a study session.

Eight people spoke to this issue during the public hearing.  None supported it - including Affordable Housing advocates!  They, too, were concerned about the lack of a plan.  Cindy Brenneman told the council that she wasn't going to vote for the bond, but that she'd give them $25.00 right now if it would help with housing right now.  That amount was presumed to be what each property owner would see on their property tax bill to pay for the bond.
Tamar Goldmann said she couldn't believe that a man who swore "no new taxes" was advocating exactly that.  She told them to "butt out of housing issues."
Kathy Esfahani, the most vocal advocate for affordable housing, was leary of this plan and said they would have all their eggs in one basket.
Jay Humphrey told the council this reminded him of the Charter debacles - where one person decided to move forward without any kind of study session, and he reminded Righeimer of that mess.
Wendy Leece reminded Righeimer of his "no new taxes" pledge.
Mary Spadoni observed that "we just can't trust this group".
Righeimer voted to move the issue forward and Monahan seconded it.  He said, "I seconded it, but I don't know if I agree with it.  I don't know if I'll vote for it in November."  Now, isn't that a crock?!

Genis continued to harp on the language of the item which describes it being used for "low and moderate" housing.  She got into a discussion of what earnings level constituted "moderate" - turns out it's over $100,000 per year.  She and Foley seemed concerned that this money would be used to facilitate developers building luxury housing with a tiny piece devoted to affordable housing.  Again, a matter of trust.
Righeimer continued to try to massage this thing to approval,  even "offering" control of the commitee that would be put together to manage it to Foley/Genis.  Evenutally the vote was taken and it failed, 2-3, with Genis, Foley and Mensinger voting NO.  Keep in mind, it would have taken four of the five to approve it.

The final agenda item was the re-authorization of the Business Improvement Area for the Conference and Visitor Bureau.  We had a good presentation from Paulette Lobardi Fries, saw a nice video and heard about how our money is being spent.  Foley had many ideas about how it might be spent in the future.  During the discussion, as Foley proposed a couple ideas, Righeimer spit back at her that he "wanted something actionable" - he was upset that she didn't have a plan.  Is it just me, or is that a great irony - him asking for a plan when he was just trying to bamboozle the voters into handing him $20 million with out a plan!  The council voted, 5-0, to approve the program again.
Quick work was made of the three items pulled from the Consent Calendar.  Greg Thunnel pulled the Warrant and spent a couple minutes pointing out specific items he didn't understand.  It passed 4-0 - Genis took a break.

Foley asked item #6 to be continued until the next meeting - it dealt with a revamp of the city internet infrastructure.

Two people hung around to be heard in the trailed Public Comments.  One was Terry Koken, who used his three minutes to address the events of his recent visit by a police officer because of his song at the last meeting.  He said it was political harrassment and suggested Mensinger had filed the complaint.  He said it was pure intimidation - all the things we discussed in my blog post about the event.  He demanded Mensinger come out from behind the facade and admit he did it.
Jeff Cohen took exception to the description earlier of the way the CMPD handled the Trump event.  He was there and had a different viewpoint - indicating they didn't know what they were doing.
The meeting abruptly ended at 10:40.

That's it for awhile, loyal readers.  I'm turning the Caulderon down to simmer for awhile, so local politicians can get a little breather.  We'll be back soon.

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Intimidation As An Art Form In Costa Mesa

Quashing public opinion through intimidation has become an art form in the City of Costa Mesa.  We've talked about this many, many times in the past, but let me tell you about the most recent, but probably not the last, attempt to discourage members of the public from criticizing members of the power elite in our city through the abuse of their official power to direct police activity against a resident.

During the City Council meeting on April 19, 2016 Terry Koken - who fancies himself somewhat of a minstrel/bard - stepped up as speaker #7 during Public Comments and used his three minutes to address the city council.  His was a fairly benign comment and included an offer to make the Fairview Park Initiative petition available to the council members to sign.  And, part of that time was used to sing a little ditty - a parody of an old Woody Guthrie tune,"This land is my land".  If you click HERE and scroll down to comment #7 you can hear Koken's tune for yourself.  Based on what I saw live, and later on streaming video, it seemed to me that his little tune was accepted as it was intended - a light-hearted bit of fluff for the council during a completely non-confrontational comment by Koken.  Mayor Steve Mensinger apparently thought the same, since he thanked Koken and offered a light-hearted response about "Lynyrd Skynyrd".  And the meeting moved on.

Parody lyrics to that classic tune have been sung in one form or another by many people over the years, including Pete Seegar singing them to an elementary school group four decades ago.  In fact, this song has so many parodies that it's hard to keep track of them.  For example, this 17 second parody by someone named Richard Chang sounds VERY much like Koken's version.

Keep in mind that Koken has crooned to the council many times over the years.  One time then-mayor Gary Monahan attempted to have him silenced, but City Attorney Tom Duarte reminded him that singing is protected free speech.  Here are the parody lyrics that Koken sang on April 19th:

This land is my land,
It is not your land,
I've got a shotgun,
And you ain't got one,
If you don't get off,
I'll shoot your head off, 
This land is private property.

Now, I must admit that, sitting in the rear of the auditorium, that "shotgun" reference got my attention, but I thought no more of it because nobody on the dais appeared to take offense to it.  The mayor's light-hearted response seemed to affirm that.  However, there apparently WAS more to it based on subsequent events.

A week later, on April 26th, Koken attended the Jim Righeimer/Jay Humphrey debate of the Smart Growth Initiative at the Halecrest Community Center- a packed-house event also attended by Mensinger.  After the debate was over Koken passed by Mensinger - who was a hulking presence near the exit - and shook his hand.  According to Koken, Mensinger pulled him close and made a remark about consequences of the ditty he had sung.  Another man, a political operative and known associate of the power elite, was nearby when this occurred and made a comment that Koken could expect to be contacted by the California Highway Patrol... a strange comment, indeed, so Koken just shrugged it off.

However, early the next morning, April 27th, Koken received a telephone call from Costa Mesa Police Sergeant Scott Stafford, a member of the Professional Standards Bureau, requesting to interview him.  Stafford showed up at the Koken residence a half-hour later and spent the best part of the next hour talking with Koken about the "ditty" while recording the conversation.  At one point Koken asked who generated the complaint and Stafford declined to say, even though Koken indicated the evidence suggested it was Mensinger.  Stafford declined to confirm or deny.

Following the interview, during which Stafford was very professional,  Koken showed him around and discussed his woodworking projects.  It was all very conciliatory and after the tour Stafford left.

An hour or so later Stafford called Koken and said, "I forgot to ask you one question.  Do you have any firearms in the house?"  Koken answered, "I don't publish that information."

Based on that last conversation Koken suspected there may be a search warrant in the offing, so he contacted an attorney and briefed him on the situation.  He was told that no judge would issue such a warrant.

Koken subsequently told me of an attempt to intimidate Koken and compatriots as they sat behind a table in a booth at Fairview Park, collecting signatures on petitions for the Fairview Park Preservation Alliance.  A Code Enforcement officer observed their signs from a distance, then drove into the park and stopped near the booth.  She was observed photographing the signage, then approached the booth.  She offered no criticism, nor did she cite them for any irregularity.  When she was asked why she was there she told Koken and his associates that "the mayor had requested her to investigate them."  As you might expect, this had a chilling effect on them and might have had an even more chilling effect on folks who might be inclined to sign the petition.  And this is certainly another abuse of the mayor's power.

I've had a conversation with Koken and he also provided me with written details of these encounters.  Subsequently I contacted members of the Costa Mesa Police Department to, 1) understand the process by which an officer would be dispatched to interview a resident and, 2) to find out who made the request.  Following those conversations, including a very cordial, helpful and professional conversation with Chief Rob Sharpnack, I'm comfortable that the members of the CMPD involved simply followed the proper protocols.  They received a complaint, investigated and, once the report is complete, it will be discussed with the District Attorney.  And nobody is talking about who initiated the request.  Apparently this information is only available after there is a resolution to the situation.  Based on the circumstances portrayed to me by Koken, I suspect it was Mensinger, who has a long-established record of attempting to intimidate folks with opposing views - but don't know for sure.  At some point in the near future a Public Records Request may be submitted to fully flesh-out this situation.

Do you recall the now-infamous Steven White case?  White, an employee of The City, was accused of stealing campaign signs during an election in which Mensinger was running for City Council.  That bogus claim cost White his job, but he was found not guilty of the alleged crime in court later.  At the time Mensinger was apparently on a stakeout with a private detective observing whomever it was doing the sign theft.  White has occasionally showed up at recent council meetings and is clearly not a happy man because of that situation.

Some of you may recall the attempts by Mensinger and his pal, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, to intimidate me a few years ago.  Each of them, individually, had an attorney - a guy who was married to Righeimer's sister-in-law at the time - write to me telling me I couldn't write about either of them in certain circumstances.  Well, I understand a little about SLAPP suits and told him as much.  I never heard from him again, but it's another good example of their attempts to intimidate opposing views.

In fact, they have institutionalized the process in City Council meetings by bifurcating Public Comments - restricting the time during which folks can exercise their rights to air grievances to a short span at the beginning of meetings.  Those remaining would be required to stay to the VERY end of the meetings - sometimes well after midnight - to express their views.  Most do not, so that practice has been effective in quashing critics.

And, of course, there is the persistent practice by Righeimer, in particular, of interrupting speakers in the middle of their comments, spitting back jibes at them as they depart the speaker's podium and calling them out by name.   They also use valuable time to rant on and on during Councilmember Comments to rebut critics.  This kind of intimidation discourages some speakers from taking the time - and risk of ridicule - to address issues they feel are important in the community.

You may recall how Righeimer and Mensinger formed a special Code Enforcement unit to work on their own pet projects - like adding enforcement muscle to encourage owners of "problem motels" to "reassess the value of their properties" - which would make them available to their developer-buddies at a price that could guarantee a healthy profit.  That Code Enforcement group has now been combined with the main group, but Mensinger apparently continues to use it as his own little private enforcement group.

Righeimer and Mensinger have demonstrated throughout their political careers that they are more than willing to abuse their power, bend the rules and to intimidate folks who oppose them.  Righeimer, in particular, will leap upon any pulpit he can find - radio, television or in the print media - to burnish his position.  And, some of recall his very attempt to throw his weight around when, as a planning commissioner, he barged into the middle of a DUI Checkpoint, demanding answers.

Here we have a situation where a member of the CMPD was dispatched based on "somebody's" claim that a misdeed - a threat - was done by Koken.  Contrast this to the bogus lawsuit filed by Mensinger and Righeimer - a lawsuit that still lingers like a dark cloud over the city to this day - in which Righeimer was reported to be driving in a manner suggesting he was impaired - he did come from a bar, after all - and a member of the CMPD was dispatched to interview HIM.  During that 90 second interview, Kha Bao, our most distinguished DUI officer, quickly determined that he was NOT impaired, apologized for the inconvenience and left.  However, Righeimer and his wife still filed a lawsuit against the men and women of the CMPD.

I find myself wondering if Koken is considering any kind of legal action against those responsible for this situation.  It's my understanding that he's awaiting a return call from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

It is clear that powerful members of the elected leadership of this city continue to be ready, willing and able to throw their weight around to intimidate residents who choose to speak out or otherwise show disagreement with them.  So, good people of Costa Mesa, be advised... as long as you elect folks like this to your city council you can expect intimidation and rule-bending.


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