Friday, September 02, 2016

Mesa Water/CMSD Drama Continues

Today I drag myself out of my sickbed, carrying with me the burden of a late-summer cold and all that goes with it, to address the most recent events in the drama between the Mesa Water District and the Costa Mesa Sanitary District as Mesa Water apparently continues their quest for a hostile takeover of the CMSD.
Many of you have probably read Luke Money's article in the Daily Pilot, HERE, that discusses the surprise settlement between CMSD President Mike Scheafer and Mesa Water as to the language to be placed on the ballot.  His explanation covers it all.  The question will now read, "Shall the Mesa Water District and Costa Mesa Sanitary pursue consolidation?"  That's it.  No inclusion of questionable statistics allegedly generated by a one-sided consultant report.  As Scheafer was quoted as saying, "It is a victory for transparency and constitutional government."  My answer to that ballot question will be a resounding NO!  Here's why...
I view this as a power grab by Mesa Water, pure and simple.  Both independent agencies do a good job of providing services to their ratepayers.  Mesa Water is on the cutting edge of providing water to us and the CMSD move the solid and liquid waste efficiently and has been managed well for decades.

However, it appears that some on the Mesa Board want to expand their power.  In April, as outlined in Money's article, they proposed a study of possible consolidation to the CMSD.  There was an urgency to that effort - one that could not be met by the CMSD's Board because they'd not had sufficient time to study the issue.
Mesa Water went ahead with their own consultant study, which ginned up some numbers about one-time savings that the CMSD management and Board challenged as bogus and misleading.  So, Mesa Water decided to push on by itself and put the measure on the November 8th ballot as an "advisory" measure - with no power of law behind it.  And, they managed to get 8,000 additional voters - ones they do not serve presently - included in the voting pool.  And, the ballot language was highly controversial, using some of those bogus statistics mentioned above.  Scheafer filed his lawsuit as a ratepayer.
There are many interesting elements to this little drama.  Among the most interesting is the fact that this issue has been in play at Mesa Water for a long time.  Correspondence I've seen says they've been discussing this issue since March, 2015 - more than a year before they approached the CMSD Board.  It's curious that they moved this issue forward when the press of time to place it on the ballot was staring them right in the face.  Cynics might suspect this was intentional - giving the CMSD Board insufficient time to exercise their fiduciary responsibility to their ratepayers by carefully and thoughtfully evaluating this proposal.
And, speaking of fiduciary responsibility, according to information available via Public Records Requests, Mesa Water has authorized spending more than $330,000 of ratepayer funds on this scheme, and that's without the costs of two very pricey law firms that were used.  I've heard estimates that those charges could shove that number closer to a half million dollars!  The numbers are available at the CMSD website, HERE.  As you can see, Mesa Water contracted for not one, but TWO studies - the first apparently didn't give them the results they wanted.
As a ratepayer for both agencies, I'm not happy that Mesa Water is squandering that cash on this effort, which reeks of consolidation of power in our city.  There is a tightly-wound, nearly incestuous, relationship between the current City Council majority and a majority of the members of the Mesa Water Board.  And, of course, the fact that the CMSD is fiscally solid may have something to do with this takeover move.  Mesa Water is in the business of selling water.  Conservation efforts have cut into their revenue flow - that's to be expected - but they may be looking for a way to spread their costs by grabbing up a nearby agency with cash in the bank.
I doubt this is the final word we'll be hearing on this issue.  Both agencies fired off press releases on this subject - Mesa Water's hit my desk within a couple hours of the settlement.  Now we'll see what kind of public outreach efforts each will launch to try to convince the voters of their side of the issue.  It's clear to me, but we'll see how this one goes.  I'm voting NO on Measure TT.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Foley And Genis On Parking, Pets And More...

Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Katrina Foley, along with Councilwoman Sandy Genis, held a little public workshop in City Council Chambers at City Hall last night to inform interested members of the public on a few issues about which Foley has been getting inquires.
A couple dozen people attended the meeting, along with a few members of the staff, who provided the background and were available to answer questions.
First up was Recreation Manager Justin Martin, who provided us with an update on the recently-renovated Bark Park.  The 10 week makeover/expansion was successful and users seem to appreciate the new turf, shade and furniture, plus other features.
CEO Tom Hatch spoke on the pet licensing process, indicating that approximately 36% of Costa Mesa residents are pet owners.  He provided us with some very interesting statistics.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 the city showed the following numbers:
  • Total active animal licenses - 5,046
  • 397 unaltered dogs (it costs $80.00 per year to license an unaltered dog)
  • 4,591 altered dogs (it costs $25.00 per year to license an altered dog) 
  • 30 service dogs
  • 28 non-domesticated animals which include mainly chickens, a mini pig and an iguana
  • 1,265 dogs owned by senior citizens age 62 and up (it costs $40.00 for an unaltered license and $10.00 for an altered pet)
  • 4,605 payments processed
  • Fees collected - $116,43.20
  • Check transactions processed - $83,000.07
  • Cash transactions processed - $33,492.50
  • Late fees collected - $2,900.00, approximately 2.5% of total fees collected
  • It was estimated that there are actually 40,000 pets in the city
He also went over the process of licensing your pet.  Genis chimed in with a comment about needing to have a chip inplanted in your pet to help with retrieval if it gets lost.
CMPD Lieutenant Vic Bakkila then spoke about the new arrangement with the Humane Society for the operation of a facility on Hamilton in Huntington Beach - just across the Costa Mesa border - which will be shared with Garden Grove.  Genis suggested the facility could use lots of volunteers to help with the site - and to be eyes and ears for The City in case things don't go well.  A half-dozen people asked questions from the audience including the use of artificial turf (Martin said we have a test strip now); the availability of dog waste bags (in theory we provide those bags at all parks); the possibility of becoming part of the new, modern County animal shelter (Foley said someone would get back to that person); how to contribute money to help with the maintenance of the Bark Park(Foley suggested contributing to the Community Foundation with the money earmarked for Bark Park use).

Dan Baker spoke of the Pet Committee, a cross-departmental group of City employees working on four points:
1 - Working with the Humane Society, including on-site visits
2 - Pet Licensing
3 - Making sure the Dog Park remains in excellent condition
4 - Community Engagement and Awareness, including knowledge of our partnering with the Humane Society.  He also mentioned a September 15th Pet Prep Rally, which will include a mobile vet to administer free rabies innoculations and pets available for adoption.  In October there will be something called the Howl-O-Ween.
Next came the discussion of Permit Parking throughout the City.  Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman took the lead on this segment.  Foley, discussing the impact of strangers parking in her Mesa Del Mar neighborhood - mostly college students from Orange Coast College - reminded us that the first week of parking at OCC each semester is FREE.  She also reminded us that after that it's only $30.00 per semester.  Genis spoke about landlords renting out garage space and creating on-street parking problems.

Raja told us that Permit Parking in residential neighborhoods was first the result of the Orange County Fair.  Then the demand spread to neighborhoods near commercial venues.  Now the impacts are coming from the large number of apartments in the city.  He told us to have an area receive permit parking 51% of the neighbors must sign the petition - a sample can be provided -  and that 70% of the usable parking (on street and in driveways) must be taken up during an inspection.  He said we currently have 2,000 homes with parking permits.  The City is divided into six zones and the permits are color-coded so they cannot be used in other zones.  Each permit is good for 3 years.
Eight members of the public, like Beth Refakes, address several elements of this issue.  Some spoke of businesses being run out of garages, foreclosing them being used for parking.  Others spoke of owners of a half-dozen cars using the streets to park them.  Others spoke of the frustration of years of reporting problems but having no resolution to them.  Others addressed obviously commercial trucks/trailers that are being left in residential neighborhoods.  Lt. Bakkila encouraged them to call the parking hotline - 714-754-5290 - to report a problem.  He said they love to haul those trucks away.  He mentioned that the CMPD used to have 8 Community Service Specialists (CSS) assigned to work on parking issues.  The staffing cuts in the CMPD lost all those people.  Presently there are seven (7) part time aides attempting to cover the entire city.  He mentioned he would work on training his sworn officers on recognition of parking decal for individual zones in the city.

Finally the discussion turned to Street Sweeping - which has been outsourced to a private company -  and the difficulty folks are having in some neighborhoods because cars clog the curbs during sweeper day.  Raja told us that if 50% of a section of street is not swept it could qualify for posting "No Parking On Sweeper Day" signs.  He told the audience to call the Transportation Department line - 714-754-5343.  He did mention that on holiday weeks - like the upcoming Labor Day holiday - NO streets will be swept due to conflicts with trash pickups.

The meeting ended promptly at 7:30 and the attendees seemed generally satisfied with the information they received.  There will be follow-up with specific neighbors on some of their specific concerns.  It was a good start and a comfortable process with excellent opportunities for residents to interact with staff and council members informally.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Righeimer Gives Mansoor A Boost - Kinda

Monday night Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who owes his presence on the City Council to former councilman Allan Mansoor who appointed him to the Planning Commission a few short months after he moved to town to give him a leg up on the competition, hosted a "Stand Up With Jim" evening in Conference Room 1A at City Hall at which Mansoor - a candidate for City Council in November - was a "Special Guest".  It was payback time.

A funny sidebar... I arrived at City Hall at exactly the same time Mansoor and his lovely little family arrived.  I went directly to the conference room through the front door but, for some reason, Mansoor walked his little brood all the way around the building and entered in the back door of City Hall.  Could it be that he got lost?  Anyhow, the wife and kids hung out in the lobby except when checking in from time to time, as in this image.
Anyhow, on with the show.  Fewer than 30 people - many of whom are avid Righeimer supporters - showed up for this non-political, political stunt.  There were many familiar faces - some of whom you'll recognize in these images.
As is his style, Righeimer controlled the conversation and, occasionally, remembered that Mansoor was in the room and threw him a bone to answer.  He opened by introducing Mansoor, who then gave a little history of his involvement in The City, including his previous 8 years on the council.
One of the first subjects discussed public safety - specifically police staffing and crime.  Mansoor, a former Orange County Deputy Sheriff, told us that it takes a long time to find, hire and train a good officer and praised Chief Rob Sharpnack for not reducing his standards to speed up the process.

There was a discussion of Prop. 57, the latest scheme by Governor Jerry Brown to unleash more criminals on our streets, following in the wake of Prop. 47 and AB 109.  At one point Mansoor told the audience that simply hiring more cops wouldn't necessarily result in less crime.  He told us that we needed to "adjust our expectations".  That got everyone's attention, particularly when one speaker asked if he meant we shouldn't hire more cops.  He backpeddled a little, and referred to the above-mentioned pieces of legislation that turned criminals loose and changed some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  Some of those crooks don't even get sent to jail.  Mansoor said they just laugh in our faces.
Righeimer addressed those criminals on our streets and said, "They gotta eat", so they will commit petty crimes - auto burglaries, etc. - knowing that they won't go to jail.

Homeless was another issue discussed at length.  Righeimer said we've never really pulled out of the recession and blamed our homelessness situation on "attractants".  And, the problem is exacerbated by the proliferation of sober living homes in the city, some failed residents of which end up as homeless sometime criminals on our streets.
Group Homes - sober living facilities - got a lot of discussion.  Righeimer explained some of the financial facts - very expensive drug tests, for example - that are paid for by insurance - ObamaCare.  Mansoor said there is no willingness to address the problem in Sacramento.  The lobby for this business is too strong.  Our two ordinances were discussed, as was the pending avalanche of request for Special Use Permits for existing units, asking for "reasonable accommodation".  The Solid Landings settlement was discussed, but Righeimer didn't acknowledge what activists have found out - that some of those homes have simply become occupied by other sober living entities.
Resident Barrie Fisher spoke of her neighborhood, which has several sober living homes adjacent to each other.  When asked by another resident about strategy to manage this issue, there was no real answer.

Resident Margaret Mooney spoke up and complained that not enough was being done about homelessness.  Righeimer asked her what she wants to do, to which she replied we need permanent suppportive housing.  Righeimer brought up his red herring $20 million bond issue that was rejected.  Mansoor said we are willing to do our part, but that other cities should be encouraged to do their part.  He had no specifics about just how you incentivize other cities to take on some of the burden of homeless.
Righeimer reprised his old refrain about being on the OC Housing Commission for more than 12 years and that it's a tough problem because of all the attractants..  He suggested transitional housing, but Mooney told him HUD is not funding transitional housing.  He rejected the "voucher for life" solution.  I asked Mansoor if, during his tour in Sacramento, he saw any indication that the State is interested in solving what is clearly not just a local problem.  He said no - that state government is broken.

Ron Amburgey wondered to Mansoor if we still had a problem with illegal immigrants because that was his big cause when he was on the council.  Mansoor said we took more than 1300 criminals off our streets during his tour - clearly a softball tossed to him by a friend.  A resident wondered about the continuing costs of the Benito Acosta affair - which she supposed was over $800,000 at this time.

The meeting ended promptly at 7:30 after 90 minutes of spirited discussion - most of it by Righeimer.  It was clear that Mansoor didn't have many answers - not surprising.

Tonight councilwomen Katrina Foley and Sandra Genis will hold a similar meeting in the same venue at the same time - 6:00 p.m.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Short-handed Planning Commission Approves Code Changes

Monday night the short-handed Costa Mesa Planning Commission - Tim Sesler and Stephan Andranian were absent - made quick work of two items on the agenda.

I apologize in advance for the crappy quality of the images.  Because I attended another event - see next post - that was held a few yards away from this one, I had to photograph the images from my recording of this event.
Chairman Rob Dickson, back from his vacation, guided the discussion, although Commissioner Colin McCarthy did nearly all the heavy lifting on these items.
Beth Refakes reminded us, once again, of the drive currently being held by the Military Affairs Team for Ball Gowns and accessories for the women of the 1/5 Marines for the Marine Ball coming up in October.

An unidentified speaker told the commission of problems with a new night club on 19th Street - The Holiday - and advised them of recent noise complaints and that they are operating outside the permitted uses.

Public Hearing #1, was bringing the various sections of the Municipal Code for two overlay zones approved in the General Plan for 2015-2035 into line with that General Plan.  After a short staff report the following speakers addressed this issue.
Jay Humphrey was concerned about the codifying unreasonable density in these areas.
Linda Teng, representing the Kennedy Commission, asked that at least 20% of these developments be designated for Affordable Housing.
Rick Huffman was concerned about taking of viable businesses for high density housing.  He said although this had been portrayed as a way to get rid of "Whores, Pimps and Drug Addicts", it was really a thinly veiled land grab that will displace existing businesses.
Cynthia McDonald was grateful that we had no "live/work" units in these plans.  She was concerned about the 4-5 story units that will pop up.  She said the only way to stop this kind of development is to vote YES on Measure Y - the Smart Growth Initiative.
Chris McEvoy asked the commission to stop approving high density housing.

After a very short discussion the commission voted, 3-0, to move this forward to the City Council.

Public Hearing #2 was a similar item, which brought the zoning requirements for the 100 acres of the Fairview Developmental Center into line with that new General Plan.
Dan Inloes conducted this staff presention and used this chart to show how the General Plan - and the codes that will be changed - would slice up the existing property.  It's pretty self explanatory.
Many of the same individuals who addressed the first item spoke on this one, too.  Jay Humphrey was concerned that the plans might include demolition of a perfectly good facility that might be used for some of the proposed plans.

Linda Teng again was concerned about affordable housing.

Cynthia McDonald was concerned for Affordable Housing for women veterans.
Jonathon Fletcher emphasized the need for Affordable Housing, particularly for Vets and Senior Citizens.  He was concerned about squandering a valuable resource.

McCarthy again took the lead on this issue and reminded us that the State has control of this process, but these changes can provide a roadmap for any future developers.  The issue passed on a 3-0 vote and the meeting adjourned until September 12th after only 65 minutes.

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