Friday, September 29, 2023



Last night, Thursday, September 28th, a meeting was held at the Anthony M. Toto Auditorium on the Fairview Developmental Center (FDC) site at which the consulting firm, DUDEK, solicited input from community members on the plan to carve out 15 acres from FDC site for an Emergency Operations Center to act as a secondary site to the State’s primary site in Northern California. 


A preliminary Environmental Impact Report  (EIR) has been published and the state, through their consultant, wanted input so a final document can be prepared.  The purpose of this meeting was not to answer questions - of which there were many - but to receive input from the public.



My best guess, confirmed by others in the room, was that somewhere close to 100 people attended this meeting.  Of course, that would include city staffers and state representatives (1) plus the consultant team, led by Laura Masterson.  Of those, nearly 3 dozen people stepped to the microphone to express views/ask questions.  Also in attendance was Jason Kenney, Deputy Director, Real Estate Services Division of the Department of General Services, who attempted, with only marginal success, to field some of the more heated questions asked by speakers.  


I was pleased to see so many former officials attending this meeting and participating in the program.  Former Mayor Sandra Genis was one of the early speakers and roundly criticized the current EIR.  Professionally, this is her bailiwick, so her view carries significant weight.  Also speaking were former councilwoman Wendy Leece and former councilman Jay Humphrey.


That term is not meant to be derogatory.  Several of the speakers were those activists in the community who actually DO pay attention to issues and actually DO their homework - like plowing through the voluminous EIR, in this case.  Cynthia McDonald and her husband, Rick Huffman attended and each spoke.  Arts Commission Chair Charlene Ashendorf and her hubby, Dennis, were in the room.  Active Transportation Committee Chair Ralph Taboada sat behind me and spoke.  Flo Martin, who attends almost every meeting of consequence, attended and spoke.  Katie Arthur, a member of the Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors Group, stepped to the microphone, too, as did both Sue Lester and Susan Meyer.



In the audience were many members of the City staff and elected officials.  I saw Deputy City Manager 

Alma Reyes, Director of Public Services Raja Sethuraman, City Clerk Brenda Green and Police Chief Ron Lawrence in the crowd.  There may have been others.  I saw Planning Commission Chair Adam Ereth and former planning commissioner Diane Russell in the crowd, too.  Mayor John Stephens and Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Harlan were observing, too. 



Most of the rest of those who stepped up to speak at this meeting were relative newcomers to the process.  They were unfamiliar names and faces, many of whom clearly were not comfortable at a microphone before a crowd addressing officials, but they stepped up and expressed their concerns.  A total of 34 people - more than a third of the number in the room - spoke.  That’s 35 if you count Mayor Stephens. 


Without attempting to quote folks directly, I came away from this meeting with the following observations, not in any particular order of importance:

1 - Most speakers - most of whom seemed to be well-intentioned, were frustrated and just a little angry that they didn’t know about this situation earlier, so they could become more educated and make more appropriate comments.

2 - Many clearly simply did not understand the purpose of this meeting, which was for the consultant’s team to gather input from members of the public about the proposed Emergency Operations Center tentatively planned on the grounds of the Fairview Developmental Center - not to answer questions or concerns posed by the speakers.

3 - Consultant Laura Masterson and Jason Kenney simply were not prepared to respond to tough questions fired at them by members of the public.  This, of course, only exacerbated the frustration of members of the audience.

4 - Several times during the meeting Masterson encouraged the crowd to present their questions/concerns via letter or email.  A slide was briefly shown with the appropriate contact information.

5 - The layout of the room - a very large auditorium - was inadequate for the presentation. It was too large, seating was spread out too wide and the screen and images on it were much too small.  I sat directly in front of it and could barely make out the text.   Most viewers could not see the slide presentation unless they were directly in front of the small screen provided.  In fact, one frustrated attendee plopped himself down directly in front of the screen on the hardwood floor for the duration of the presentation. 

6 - It seems to me that the City of Costa Mesa is being forced into a little “shell game”.  On one hand, the State tells us we MUST find a way to plan for their newly imposed RHNA numbers - 11,760 new dwelling units in the city over the next 6 years.  Coincident with that is the plan to shutter the Fairview Developmental Center and make that 113 acres available.  The State provided a grant to the city to do the planning for housing on that site.  THEN, they tell the city, “Oh, yes, and we’re gonna put an Emergency Operations Center to serve all of Southern California into a 15 acre site within the footprint of the FDC, including a helipad and a 120 foot, highly illuminated, communication tower.”  Really?!  Exactly how is such a facility compatible with ANY residential uses?  One speaker described is, succinctly, as a “turd in a punch bowl”.

7 - Mayor John Stephens was sandbagged by speaker Sally Humphrey into addressing the crowd.  Again, this meeting was NOT designed to be an exchange of information and he was there as an observer, to hear what his constituents had to say on the subject.  Still, I’m happy he stepped up, grabbed the microphone and addressed the crowd. 


8 - Paraphrasing the Mayor, he told the crowd that he understood their concerns - that he also shared many of them.  He told us he felt this process was moving too quickly and that there needed to be better collaboration between the City and the State on this subject.  He was concerned that the State was moving unilaterally, without giving appropriate consideration to the City’s position.  He told us this issue will be discussed in the City Council meeting on Tuesday.  I presume it will be in Closed Session, since it’s not identified in the Open Agenda.  He said a letter was being prepared to be sent to Governor Newsom, who’s avowed top priority in the state is sufficient housing, including affordable housing.  He also said he would get himself on the Governor’s calendar and fly to Sacramento to speak with him on this issue.

9 - Not all members of the audience  were convinced The Mayor was on the right track.  This may be due to what certainly appeared to be a serious distrust of ALL government entities as expressed by speakers last night.  Personally, I believe the Mayor.  I believe his concern is honest and he will do what he can to resolve this issue.

10 - My opinion?  I believe the EOC, as planned, is incompatible with the proposed (presumed) residential uses for the FDC.  I believe the carving out of that 15 acre site will severely hamper any serious planning for housing on the remainder of the FDC.  I believe, even though the proposed helipad would “only be used 2-3 times a year”,  its existence renders a significant portion of the FDC property untenable for proposed residential uses.  One speaker last night referred to it as one more example of government imposing onerous conditions on folks who can do little about it - referring to those individuals that would make up the residents of the proposed affordable housing stock on the FDC site.  I agree.

11 - There are options.  On the presentation slide titled “Alternatives”, under the “Alternative 3: Alternative Site in Tustin”, the very last line on that slide identifies the 24 acre site at Red Hill Avenue and Victory Road as, “Environmentally superior alternative”.  So, go for it!  Have the State more fully investigate that site, find out who owns it - the Federal Government? - and work a deal to acquire it and place the proposed EOC at that location.


Well, calmly reduce our concerns/criticisms to written form by a letter or email and send that info to the appropriate State entity - with a copy to our Costa Mesa City Council.  Those comments are due by October 20th, so get cracking.  Here’s the contact information as presented by the consultant:


Ms. Terry Ash, Senior Environmental Planner

℅ Dudek

California Department of General Services

Real Estate Division, Project Management and Development

2635 North 1st Street, Ste. 149

San Jose, California 95134

Copy To City Council:

City Council

City of Costa Mesa

77 Fair Drive

Costa Mesa, CA 92626



I neglected to mention that Barry Friedland was at this meeting, recording it for his Costa Mesa Brief YouTube channel.  That presentation should be available for viewing this weekend.  Here's a link to his channel:

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Thursday, September 14, 2023


Last night I had the pleasure of attending a forum hosted by the activist group, Speak Up Newport, at the community room at Newport Beach City Hall.  The program consisted of a panel of experts on journalism, and local journalism in particular.  It included former Daily Pilot publisher and current publisher of StuNews Newport, TOM JOHNSON; former Los Angeles Times reporter, Daily Pilot Editor, podcast host and award-winning author, BILL LOBDELL and former Daily Pilot Editor, public relations expert,  college journalism instructor and current Public Information Officer for the City of Costa Mesa, TONY DODERO.


Among the 80 or so people in attendance were current and former Newport Beach council members and commissioners, Daily Pilot columnists and a wide array of community activists.  Among them were folks who had, in the past, been named by the editors of the Daily Pilot as among those 103 most influential in the community - like yours truly, who was named on that fun array of movers and shakers 8 times (but who’s counting?).


President of Speak Out Newport and former Newport Beach Mayor ED SELICH kicked off the evening, then turned the discussion over to Johnson, who moderated the conversation among his friends at the table with him.  He introduced his staff - his former wife, LANA JOHNSON, who is the editor of Stu News Newport and the person who actually gets things done, and SHAENA STABLER, his partner in the publication.


The panel recalled their early days at the Daily Pilot.  When Johnson and Lobdell took over the newspaper in the early 1990s it was a struggling, poorly-run operation, described as probably the worst community newspaper in the state.  They built it into a profitable operation, recognized as the best in the state.  When they ran the operations, and later with Dodero at the helm of the news operations, the publication did outstanding work.  According to the discussion, when the Los Angeles Times acquired the Daily Pilot and several other local community newspapers the wheels began to come off.  The Daily Pilot is the last one standing and it’s teetering on the brink.


Johnson shared some of the strategies that helped them become successful.  He said they “had to keep thinking of new things” to keep the Daily Pilot on the cutting edge of community engagement.  He cited the creation of the Daily Pilot Cup - a youth soccer tournament that exists  to this day, although no longer under the auspices of the Daily Pilot.  He also mentioned the Jones Cup, a women’s golf tournament.  And, of course, he spoke of the almost capricious creation of the “DP 103” - for which Lobdell, chuckling, took full credit.


According to the panelists, large newspapers, like the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register, were very slow to react to the digital realities on the news business.  The only large publications that have figured it out are the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.  Social media, with all it’s faux urgency and rampant inaccuracy, have become the go-to source of “news” by many in our society.  The iPhone has replaced the daily newspaper. According to Lobdell, there are 60% fewer journalists today than there were just a few short years ago.  They also cited mismanagement of many smaller newspapers.  The management of those operations were slow to react to the financial realities of the competition for advertising dollars in the digital world.  The failure of the Santa Barbara News Press was cited as an example.


Johnson gave us a brief tour of what it’s like at Stu News Newport, which produces a new product every Tuesday and Friday for both the Newport Beach operation and their sister publication in Laguna Beach… that’s four digital newspaper editions a week with a shoestring staff.  As I mentioned earlier, he gives LANA JOHNSON full credit for pulling off those four small miracles each week. One acknowledged shortfall is the production of true investigative reporting.  They are successful selling advertising for the “good news” they produce twice a week, but ramping up to produce a more hard-hitting product is expensive.  A discussion was held about the possibility of using interns - but that really doesn’t provide the skill set necessary for the tough reporting.  In our area there really is only one source of investigative reporting - the non-profit Voice of OC, published by former Orange County Register reporter NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.   They do an excellent job of digging up the dirt on issues, although sometimes they anger folks - a byproduct of tough reporting.


There was a brief discussion of the possibility of “re-branding” Stu News - to give it a change of look.  Specifics were briefly discussed, and a January 2024 date was mentioned for a possible “new look”.


At the end of the evening Johnson entertained questions from the audience.  Fewer than a dozen people stepped to the microphone.  One person mentioned the curiously fortuitous timing of a column published that very day in the Daily Pilot by columnist PATRICE APODACA on the subject of the decline of local newspapers.  Another speaker  complimented them for their work on the Daily Pilot, and described how family members always visited those pages for family members names in box scores and social events.  Others spoke of the need for strong investigative reporting and the fun that was had when one’s name appeared in the DP 103 list.

So there you have my summary of the highlights of the evening.  I did not provide you with a word-for-word account, but it was a very worthwhile event.  The three

panelists are my friends.  Each one nurtured me as a 50-year-old fledgling writer who offered commentaries to the Daily Pilot pages before launching my blog in 2005 - and later, too.  I admire each of them for their positive contributions to my community over the past few decades. I suspect that they may put their collective experiences to work to continue finding workable solutions to the evolution of credible digital media.  I hope so.

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