Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Righeimer Freaks Out!

OK, let's get this out of the way first.  I'll write about the remainder of Tuesday night's council meeting separately because there is much to discuss and this will distract from that information.

Tuesday night, during his turn at bat in the Council Members Comments segment of the meeting at just about 7:00 (In case you want to look it up on the streaming video or the recorded replay on CMTV) Mayor Jim Righeimer absolutely flipped out and used the power and authority of his bully pulpit - a perfect term, by the way - to criticize ME, specifically and by name, for something I wrote about him as a comment on a thread on Facebook about his "Preserve Our Neighborhoods Task Force" last week.  The person who generated the original comment, paraphrasing,  postulated that residents who wanted to know about the task force couldn't because it was not subject to the Brown Act and the meetings are not announced - held in secret was the phrase used.  No reports, no minutes, etc.  Mine was the first comment.  Here's that comment:

This is how they roll. Create a"task force" - no open meeting law compliance required-then meet in secret and hatch(pun intended) plans to focus "enforcement" on specific types of groups. 75 years ago this is what another strutting dictator did in Germany. "transparency" seems to be a one-way mirror fro these guys!

I subsequently corrected the typo at the end to "for".

Last night Righeimer took offense to being compared to Adolf Hitler - You'll note I never used the name - and went on to describe him as someone who killed six million people.  He ranted about having a family and on and on, getting madder by the second.  He was stunned that I had been considered #19 on the Daily Pilot list of the most influential people in our community!

Righeimer demanded an immediate apology from me - in person - and apologies from the four people who had the audacity to "like" the comment - and read their names, too! 

It's interesting that, since he's blocked me on Facebook, he cannot actually see what I write.  Someone else did a "screen shot" and sent it to him.  He read it almost verbatim.  He DID NOT read the last sentence about transparency, which really was the punch line.

Immediately after that, during her segment, Councilwoman Wendy Leece began to mention that I had the right of free speech when Righeimer came unglued again, interrupting her and demanding to know if she thought it was OK for him to be compared to someone who killed 6 million people.  To her credit - I'm sure it took all the composure she could muster and that she relied on years of teaching petulant children - she did not get into an argument with him.  She just calmly sat there, bit her tongue until he finished his rant, then completed her thoughts.

At the very end of the meeting he almost ignored the final speaker of the evening, Anna Vrska, who had filled out a card and had waited patiently for her turn to address the council.  Right off the bat she criticized Righeimer for his rant about me and said she agreed with me.  Immediately he tried to bully her, demanding to know if she thought it was OK that he was being compared to someone who killed 6 million people.  Vrska, however, was not going to be bullied - again!  She told Righeimer not to interrupt her and they actually got into a shouting match before he relented and shut his yap.  It was a joy to watch. 

If Righeimer took offense at being compared to a 20th Century dictator, so be it.  I used that reference because, since he took office, he's conducted himself EXACTLY like a dictator.  His behavior has been chronicled here at length.  Last night he demonstrated, one more time, just how capricious he is with rules - even those he instituted unilaterally.  At the end of the meeting, during the discussion of the proposed "resident only parking" on Center Street, he permitted several residents to step up to speak.  In fact, he invited them to speak AFTER the public comments segment for that issue had been closed, even though none had filled out speaker cards and had, apparently, not intended to participate!  He did NOT require them to fill out speakers cards.  Councilman Gary Monahan chided him for it at the time, but Righeimer just shrugged it off.  He only follows rules that please him, when it pleases him.

Maybe I should not have compared Righeimer to Adolf Hitler.  In fact, the more I think about it, a better comparison might have been Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator of the same era.  Here's a phrase from the Wikipedia page about him: 
 "After destroying all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes, Mussolini and his fascist followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one party dictatorship."

What do you think?  "secret police" - maybe that fifth floor Code Enforcement group that does his personal bidding?  "outlawing labor strikes" - sounds like the kind of relationship Righeimer has established with our labor organizations, doesn't it?  "series of laws" - Well, where do we begin with that one?  The Nuisance Ordinance; the Excessive Use of Resources Ordinance; his unilateral stifling of speech at council meetings by bifurcating Public Comments, and on and on.  Righeimer's behavior has been dictatorial from the get-go and is only getting more so as the weeks pass.  He demonstrated that last night when he interrupted Leece and tried to interrupt Vrska.

And, by the way, back on September 29, 2013, Dennis Popp - you know, that "kinder, gentler" blogger as described in the Daily Pilot profile of him last year - wrote an entry on his pathetic, pandering blog, HERE in which he describes the by-partisan grass-roots organization Costa Mesans For Responsible Government (CM4RG) as behaving like Nazis!  Where was the outrage then, Mr. Mayor?  Popp - that pontificating pile of partisan puffery so roundly praised by you and your sycophants - is much more overt in his comparison and yet you apparently support him and his role as campaign manager for your hand-picked campaign companion, Lee Ramos.

Since I know Mayor Righeimer reads this blog I will now address him directly.  Mr. Mayor, here's the deal.  I AM NOT going to apologize to you for my characterization of you on that Facebook snippet.  In fact, I have affirmed that characterization here.  If you don't like criticism you're in the wrong business.  You CHOSE to be a politician and with that choice comes criticism.  What's that old phrase?  "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen!"  

Your reaction is just one more classic example of your attempts to intimidate and stifle folks who disagree with you.  Be advised, Mr. Mayor, it's not working.  All you're doing is demonstrating to EVERYONE just what a shallow, vindictive person you are - one who is certainly not worthy of the public trust granted to you as a member of our City Council.  

In fact, Mr. Mayor, I demand an apology FROM YOU to me and to the others you called out last night, for abusing the power of your position to chide members of the public - your constituents - and for trying to deny me rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Your behavior was unacceptable for a public official.

And, by the way, Mr. Mayor, don't bother unleashing your ex-brother-in-law/lawyer on me again.  As you and your sidekick, Steve Mensinger, know, that didn't work the other times you tried it and it won't work this time, either.  I understand the SLAPP laws, as you know. 

There's only one way for you to avoid criticism, Mr. Mayor... stop doing stupid stuff.  Of course, it may be too late for that.  Stop trying to run this city like it's your own little fiefdom.  Follow the rules established to protect the rights of the residents of this city.  Stop your attempt to take over absolute control of my city with yet another bogus attempt at a Charter - the residents already resoundingly told you they don't want a Charter less than two years ago.  If you don't want people to compare you to a dictator, just stop acting like one... it's really that simple.

OK, back to you, my loyal readers.  Do you think he'll pay attention?  Nah, I don't either, but I guess we'll see.  One of his sycophants, Jim Fitzpatrick, recently posted on a NextDoor thread that "we don't need listeners", so I guess that answers the question.  Thanks to all of you who have communicated your support on this issue.  It's very interesting to sit in the back of the auditorium and have the mayor of your city criticize and vilify you in front of more than 100 people and who-knows-how-many watching on television at home.  I hope Righeimer's behavior won't discourage any of you from continuing to participate in the process.  As I've said many times before, this is going to be a very contentious campaign season and it appears that Mr. Righeimer is already feeling the pressure.  Maybe he'll decide to NOT run again - he has until August 8th to make that decision.  We should be so lucky...

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Leadership - The Art Of Doing More With Less

Recently, in the wake of many critical comments about the departure of Costa Mesa police officers due to earlier-than-planned retirements and lateral moves to other law enforcement jurisdictions, members of the City Council directed CEO Tom Hatch to work with Police Chief Tom Gazsi to come up with "a plan".  At the time I thought it was akin to directing them to paddle harder while certain members of the council drilled more holes in the bottom of the boat.

Last week, in response to what is becoming a very critical situation, Gazsi took steps to plug some of those holes - at least temporarily - while he attempts to keep the CMPD on an even keel and headed in the right direction.  He wrote the following letter to the men and women of the CMPD outlining these steps.  His plan, to retain the leadership and expertise of four retiring officers, will help bridge the gap during the next few months as more new officers join the CMPD and others are prepared for promotion.

Each page of the following letter is an image.  Click on each to enlarge for easier reading.

As you can see, this is just one more step to try to rebuild the department after being forbidden to do any recruitment for more than a year.  And, even if Gazsi is successful in staying ahead of the curve on recruitment, the current authorized staff level remains more than 15% below the peak level of just a few years ago and is still below the level recommended by other experienced law enforcement leaders to keep our city safe.

Kudos to Chief Gazsi and to the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department for their dedication to our city at a time when the majority of the elected "leadership" clearly has a demonstrable bias against them.  We will soon see this playing out as the hired gun negotiators attempt to disembowel the current labor agreements as negotiations begin on the contract that expires in a couple months.

Meanwhile, in response to the toxic environment created by the current council majority, more officers plan to retire this year and at least two more officers will soon depart for other venues to continue their career in law enforcement.  You can thank Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, specifically, for this condition.  And go-along-to-get-along Councilman Gary Monahan shares some responsibility, too.

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Long, Painful Night For Sandpiper Motel

In what might have been a fairly short Public Hearing last night - but wasn't - the Costa Mesa Planning Commission unanimously revoked the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel on Newport Boulevard.  The action reduces the total number of units from fourteen (14) to eleven (11) that may be used for long-term housing at the facility.  You can read the staff report, including the draft resolutions, HERE.

The hearing, which began at 6:12 p.m., stretched on and on and on until the final vote was taken 10:20 p.m.  The decision is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven (7) days.

This was a unique hearing in that, for the first time in my memory, a court reporter - the lovely Janet Taylor -  was assigned to provide a record of the testimony - hired by our contract attorney firm, Jones and Mayer.  I say "testimony" because much of the time it felt like we were observing a court hearing.

Each member of the staff that would provide information had to be sworn-in, as well as the property owner and all of the folks he brought to speak on his behalf, including employees.

Elena Gehrli, of Jones and Mayer, took the lead and presented the staff report on this issue.  The members of the audience received only a very abbreviated version, without all the exhibits the Planning Commissioners used for their review.  Their binder was about three inches thick - a couple of them held it up during the proceedings.

Much too much time was spent discussing a particular room - #139 - at the Sandpiper Motel.  It was used as THE example of how shabby the place had become, even though a very lengthy explanation of how it happened was delivered by more than one speaker.  It seems the room had been occupied for more than five (5) years by an elderly gentleman who was suffering from dementia over the past couple years.  His room was found to be a "hoarder" site by the city staff who discovered it during an inspection.  On and on the discussion went, chronicling the frequent inspections and photographic evidence depicting the conditions at each one.  Other maintenance shortfalls were promptly addressed.

During the discussion it was clear that there was more than a little confusion on the issues at hand.  A couple times Gehrli seemed ill-prepared for the evening.  At one point, as Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and other commissioners were attempting to determine whether the property owner was at fault for not 'inspecting' rooms more frequently, Fitzpatrick asked Gehrli, "What limitations does the owner have on access to rooms?"  That seemed like a pivotal question, since the commission was making the point that he had failed to be diligent in that regard.  Gehrli's answer was, "I don't know what the law is."  She should have - that's why we pay them the big bucks - more than $144,000 for one month on the Warrant that will be approved by the City Council tonight.

There was also some confusion about the duration of motel stays as prescribed in our code and the conditional use permit.  Commissioner Tim Sesler - a lawyer - tried to grill the owner, Mike Lin - shown here with his lawyer, Allan Calomino -  about documentation of long-term stays.  Lin produced a report for March - all that is required - but Sesler was unhappy that he didn't produce more documentation, even though there is no requirement for him to keep those records.

A half-dozen speakers stepped up to support Lin, including the former owner of the Sandpiper Motel.  Others included his manager and a couple women who worked there plus a resident.

The commission eventually modified the proposed resolution authorizing the revocation - replacing segment A1 with new language citing Condition of Approval #7, then referring to the remaining other three segments of the resolution. 

One speaker, Kathy Esfahani of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, pointed out during her time at the speakers podium that it was clear what was happening here.  She cited the fact that the next item on the agenda, the report on the Planning Commission 2013 Goals, tied DIRECTLY to this action.  Goal #4 mentions, in part, the Sandpiper Motel specifically in the context of a new ordinance being drafted that would reduce long-term housing in motels to Zero!  She, and speaker Jean Forbath of the same organization, both acknowledged that we should be going the other way - instead of eliminating long-term housing for poor in these motels we should be increasing the number of rooms made available to them.  Those observations fell on deaf ears on the dais.

Next up is the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, which - according to Interim Assistant Director of Development Services Jerry Guarrancino - will have a report that will be huge compared to the one they dealt with for the Sandpiper last night.

Lest you forget, not too long ago Mayor Jim Righeimer told us all from the dais that it was his goal to make the owners of "problem motels" take a more realistic view of the value of their properties by slamming them with code enforcement violations and frequent visits by the Police and Fire Departments.  His goal, apparently, was to have them get their heads straight and sell their properties to developers, who could then re-purpose them as "affordable housing", either by modifying the existing structures or scraping the lots and building new facilities at about 50 units per acre.

As an aside, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger was plopped down near the rear of the auditorium all evening, sporadically texting away.  I don't know if he was communicating with any members of the commission on the dais or reporting the progress to someone else not present in the building.  What ever he was doing, he was working very hard at it.  Heck, he may have just been posting self-lauditory items on his Facebook page.  I wouldn't know, since he's blocked me.

At the very end of the meeting the commission reviewed the progress made on their goals, HERE.  Take a few moments to look that short staff report over.  It will give you a real feel for the kind of things this group and their benefactors on the City Council have in store for the city.

The next Planning Commission meeting is Monday, April 28th.  I won't be at that one... I'll be attending the second Feet To The Fire Forum for candidates for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat being vacated by termed-out John Moorlach.

Before that, though, is another marathon in City Council Chambers when the council meets tonight.  Ugh...

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Another Brutal Week Ahead For City Watchers

It's going to be another grueling week ahead for those of us who attend and/or participate in Costa Mesa meetings.  Three important meetings, with crucial items on their agendas, stare us in the face.

It all begins with the Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting Monday in City Council Chambers starting at 6:00 p.m., led by the ever-dynamic Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick, which I've written about in detail HERE.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, the Costa Mesa City Council meets again with some VERY interesting items on the agenda, HERE.  The regular meeting, which theoretically begins at 6:00, will be preceded by what certainly looks to be a long and possibly contentious Closed Session starting at 4:00 p.m. in Conference Room 5A.  No, we're not welcome at that one.  There are five (5) items on that agenda: 1) Conference with CEO Tom Hatch and contract labor negotiators on Costa Mesa Police Officers Association (CMPOA); 2) Hatch and negotiator again on the Costa Mesa City Employee Association (CMCEA); Conference with legal counsel on lawsuit with Costa Mesa Employees Association; 4) Conference regarding existing litigation and 5) Request for Special Leave of Absence for a Public Employee.

The regular session begins with Presentations from Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff regarding John Wayne Airport; the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) regarding elimination of cash booths and a recognition of Code Enforcement Officer Mike Tucker and Grace Fellowship Church.

After Public Comments and Council Member Comments and the CEO's Report the agenda calls for the Consent Calendar to be dealt with.  There are ten (10) items on it and it's highly unlikely the whole bunch will be passed without separate comment on one vote.  That means those "pulled" will be shoved off until the end of the meeting, requiring interested parties to hang around for their chance to ask questions or make comments on them.  It's a crappy system - one implemented by Mayor Jim Righeimer to stifle public participation -  and should be abandoned.

Among the items on the Consent Calendar we find #2, Warrant #2513, HERE, which lists money we recently paid and includes some interesting line items:
  • Jones & Mayer, $144,674.69, for a laundry list of legal services, including "Acosta Appeal".  Will that NEVER go away?  Thank you, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, for that gift that keeps on giving!
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, $15,579.00, for "labor negotiation" and "60th Anniversary Investigation".
  • Meyers Nave, $17,597.97, for "Legal - Fairview Park".
  • Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, $39,430.22, for housing-related issues.
  • Taser International, $20,504.19, for Taser equipment.
  • Accountemps, $5,414.40, for Finance-related temporary services.
  • Chandler Asset Management, $3,311.00, for monthly fee.
  • Endemic Environmental Services, Inc., $10,875.00, for Fairview Park Maintenance and Habitat Monitoring.
  • Enterprise Counsel Group, $9,728.72, for Successor Agency Litigation.
  • Filarsky & Watt, LLP, $1,032.00, for Legal Services.
  • Jones Day, $6,806.25, for CMCEA legal activities.
In case you're keeping track, that $231,549.98 for LEGAL SERVICES, just on this Warrant alone.

Item #3, Investment Management Services Update (See that $3,311 charge above) is described HERE.

#7, HERE, and #8, HERE, are requests for sale of alcohol at the Concerts in the Park and Fish Fry, respectively.

#9, HERE, is the apppointment of city negotiators for the Costa Mesa Police Association (CMPA) negotiations and authorization to proceed with the financial analysis of the MOU per Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's COIN scheme.   Funny, but didn't we already begin that process in Item #1 of the Closed Session, above?  Anyhow, the staff report requests that new Assistant CEO Tammy LeTourneau and lawyers Richard Kreisler and Laura Kalty be the city's representatives in the negotiations.

#10, HERE, is - once again - the approval to send Righeimer and Mensinger off to Las Vegas on yet another non-productive boondoggle to theoretically drum up business for Costa Mesa.  This will be the third time and, as far as we've been told, no businesses have been lured to our city as a result of their participation.  I guess what happens in Vegas does, in fact, stay in Vegas.  Hatch and Development Services Director Gary Armstrong and other staffers (?) will also attend.

Public Hearing #2, HERE, should be interesting.  This is the Final EIR, General Plan Amendment, Rezone, Zoning Code Amendment, Master Plan and Development Agreement for controversial project involving 240 apartment units at 125 East Baker Street.  There was a lengthy article in the Daily Pilot recently, HERE, on this issue.  It's an interesting use of that piece of land, but the existing nearby commercial businesses are worried about future complaints about noise and other factors found in a commercial manufacturing area.  Again, this looks to be another "developer-friendly" move wherein the developer will convince the city - with the help of former Development Services Director Peter Naghavi, who represents their interests - to change the zoning and permit high-density housing in a manufacturing area, then just walk away and let the residents, businesses and the city deal with the complications of such a major change.

New Business #1, HERE, is the appointment of eight (8) members to the Finance Advisory Committee; 1 regular member to the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee and one alternate to the Historical Preservation Committee.  Twenty-three (23) applications have been received.  Those can be read HERE.

New Business #2, HERE, is yet another development.  This one is a Master Plan Screening Request for a 16-unit live/work development at 2026 Placentia Avenue.

There was one final item originally on the agenda - the new Ethics Policy - but it has been yanked.  I smile as I wonder just why that might have been done?  Might it be that the staff had not yet figured out how to explain what it means to certain council members?  Just askin'...

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, the irrepressible Barbara Venezia will lead her merry band of interrogators in the first of this years series of "Feet To The Fire" forums.  This one, which you can read about in a recent Daily Pilot column, HERE, unleashes the crew on the five candidates for Allan Mansoor's soon-to-be-vacated 74th Assembly seat.  The doors open at 6:30 and the actual event runs from 7:00 - 8:30 at the Costa Mesa Neighborhood Community Center.  The panelists will include Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis; Orange County Register Columnist Jack Wu; Voice of OC Editor-in-Chief Norberto Santana, Jr. and Daily Pilot City Editor Alicia Lopez, participating for the first time.

This should be an interesting event - the first of two this month.  The second, on April 28th, will feature candidates for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat being vacated by termed-out Supervisor John Moorlach.  This one, however, is guaranteed to generate at least a little heat as well as some hoped-for light.  Wu has managed to alienate at least two of the candidates in this race - Keith Curry and Karina Onofre - already and who knows what will happen when the remaining candidates - Matt Harper, Emanuel Patrascu and Anila Ali - come under fire.  It should be fun.

So, another long, exciting week ahead.  I hope to see you at some or all of these events.

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