Thursday, October 08, 2015

Lies, Politics And Vindictiveness

So, boys and girls, shall we talk about lies, politics and vindictiveness today?  Yeah, I think that's a good subject.

Tuesday evening, during Public Comments at the Costa Mesa City Council meeting, former councilwoman Wendy Leece stepped to the podium to address her concerns about the lack of progress in the Fire Department reorganization, and asked for a progress report.  Then, before her time ran out, she observed that certain elected officials may be getting preferential treatment in the rebuilding of their home and suggested that ANY work requiring a permit by an elected official should be review IN PUBLIC by the Planning Commission.  Few in the auditorium knew what she was talking about, but that quickly changed.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer immediately replied to her with this exchange, transcribed verbatim:
Mr. Mayor, I would like a point of personal privilege.
What Ms. Leece is talking about is the fact that next I will be next summer, ah, building, ah, rebuilding our house over on Capri in Mesa Verde.  What I find bizarre about this that I'm a resident of this city like everybody else is, and so I put a plan in for my house through my architect without my name on it, and nobody knew it was my house.  And we didn't ask for one variance, we didn't ask for any setback issues, any FAR, nothing.  What we simply asked for was a fact that the garage, and you men will understand this, is going to be over 700 square feet.  And if you do a garage over 700 square feet it has to go in front of the Zoning Administrator for what is called a minor conditional use permit.  It's basically saying, they want to be sure you don't stick the garage on the front end of the house and it makes, ah, you know, it looks bad in the neighborhood.  Clearly my house has a garage on the side, it was no big deal, um, my wife and our family are very proud of our house, very proud of what we're gonna do.  What I find bizarre is the politics that continues to permeate from somebody coming up running for City Council constantly attack me and my family because I'm doing the same thing that anybody else in this city wants to do to improve their life or improve their house.  And nobody on this City Council when it comes to that should be treated any differently.

Ms. Leece comes up here every week with statements from the police department association and the fire department association, the POA and the Fire.  She's been doing that when she was on the council.  They basically say they want to get some talking points out, they send her up here, they give her a list and she does that.  And then she goes ahead and she attacks people in the community because they just want to do their house. 
(Interrupted by Genis)  Excuse me


Mr. Mayor, I appreciate the mayor pro tem's, I agree with him defending his rights, but to get into a personal attack, I would request that... 


It's been noted.

(Righeimer again)
But, the point of it is, the point, the point of it is, you know, the point of it is that people in this city who go up here to put their neck out and be put in the public spot light should not be treated any differently than anybody else in this city when it comes to doing their house. Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor.


If you wish to watch the actual exchange click HERE.  That will take you to Leece's comments and lead directly into Righeimer's rant, plus the remainder of the 6 hour plus meeting.  Ugh! 


OK , let's take this from the top.  First of all, the mayor lied, right up front.  He said that his name was not on the paperwork, but that's not true.  Here's a copy of part of one of the pages of his submission to the city and you - and anyone else on the city staff handling this issue - can clearly see that the home in question is owned by "James Righeimer". (click on the image to enlarge)
More important, though, than his eager willingness to outright lie to the public live and in living color for all to see and hear, is his on-going bullying tactics against speakers before the council - his trademark for his entire tenure on the council.  His tenure on the City Council has been marked by bullying, intimidation, interruption and systematic stifling of viewpoints by speakers before the council.

He falsely accuses Leece of being a shill for the public safety organizations and lies about how she presents herself before them at public meetings.  He falsely accuses her of attacking him and his family "just because they want to do their house", which is untrue.  Leece did no such thing.

Nobody should be critical of Righeimer if he wants to follow the lead of Mayor Steve Mensinger and rebuild his home across the golf course from his pal.  I've seen the plans - it's going to be a great home, with more than 4,600 square feet of living space, a subterranean garage more than double the normally approved space (700 feet is normal, his will be over 1,400 feet).  If you want to see them, go HERE and scroll down to page 39.  Actually, that subterranean garage is fascinating, because not only does it have enough space for four (4) cars, but it has an area that looks to be about 20X60 feet extra, PLUS an "Bonus Room" and a full bathroom.  That bonus room could easily become a bedroom, which would give him six bedrooms in the house.  I find myself wondering what the code requirement is for fire sprinklers - is a sixth bedroom the trigger?  Just wondering...

Righeimer states that he and his wife are proud of this new home, and they should be.  He'll be able to look across the golf course at the mayor's new place and thumb his nose at him.  But, he needs to have a thicker hide.  Leece likely would not have suggested that elected officials should have these kind of plans reviewed by the Planning Commission in a public forum if folks actually trusted him.

We wish our obfuscating mayor pro tem well with his construction project and find ourselves wondering if he will move out of town while it's underway.  It will likely take a year or more, with all the grading and soils sampling that will be necessary, so if he moves his residence out of town, does that disqualify him from holding his office?  Just asking...

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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sparks Fly As General Plan Is Discussed

Well, sadly, another Costa Mesa City Council meeting lasted past midnight this morning.  As most know who read here occasionally, not much good happens in City Council Chambers past that witching hour.  As it turned out, the meeting finally ended at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

On the other hand, live entertainment was provided in the form of the verbal jousting between Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Councilwoman Katrina Foley.  And, it wasn't just one little bout... it stretched throughout the meeting, so we didn't have to worry about dozing off.  When the meeting began there were over 100 people in the audience, dealing with sub-par performance of the air conditioning unit, which was eventually adjusted more than two hours into the meeting.  I think Righeimer was more than usually obnoxious because the room was filled with his developer buddies, so I guess he had to show them that he was in charge.  He doesn't do that macho, muscle-flexing thing very well - he just looks like the bully he is, and was called out for it by Foley at one point in the meeting.

First the good stuff.  Mayor Steve Mensinger made two presentations.  The first, the Mayor's Award, went to the proprietors of the year-old Westside restaurant, Social, for their success in their first year of operation - Tuesday night was their first anniversary.
The second award was the presentation to two young men who participated in the recent Bicycle Safety event.  That was special.  The only down side of that segment was Gary Monahan whining about private schools not being included.
During Public Comments thirteen (13) people spoke on a variety of issues.  Kathy Esfahani, representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, spoke about the pending closure of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, and the loss of 236 rooms for low-income folks.  She announced her group will hold a demonstration on Thursday, October 22nd to protest our lack of affordable housing.

Beth Refakes reminded us, once again, that there is a candy drive
going on for the children of the 1/5 Marines at Camp Pendleton - only individually-wrapped pieces can be accepted and may be placed in the foot locker in the City Hall lobby.

Former councilwoman Wendy Leece observed that several items 
the 17 point plan for the Fire Department had not been fulfilled and specifically asked for information on when they would be completed.  She then obliquely mentioned problems with conflicts of interest with council members.  That set off Righeimer on the first of many rants that evening.  He took her comments to be a criticism of his plan to build a new home on his Capri Land site and said he went out of his way to be sure his name was not on the plans when submitted to the city to avoid the appearance of any kind of favoritism.  Well, in fact, his name IS on the plans - I have a copy of them.  They portray a lovely home with a garage of DOUBLE the size you or I could build on our lots... AND, it also includes a "bonus room" and a full bathroom.  And yet, off he went on his rant against Leece, accusing her of politicizing "everything".

Bitter former employee Steven White stepped up to deliver a disjointed rant about 91101 and him losing his job.

Rick Huffman addressed sober living homes in his neighborhood, providing specific addresses to the council.

Robin Leffler came to Leece's defense and scolded Righeimer for his behavior.

Teresa Drain advised the council that the construction crew for
2600 Harbor Boulevard were violating the conditions of approval on their construction site.

An anonymous speaker chided the council for not refunding the fees to the two women who successfully brought appeals recently.

Tamar Goldmann bemoaned the demise of so many motels.  Others spoke about the Banning Ranch issue.

During Councilmember comments Monahan gave Mensinger a Stanford visor to wear because he lost a bet to Monahan about the USC game, and he donned a Notre Dame visor in anticipation of USC losing to the Irish.  He encouraged everyone to help with the identification of sober living homes in the city, stating that even if we had enough police they still couldn't keep up with it.  He chided Tamar Goldmann for "not hearing complaints about motels", stating that he hears about them all the time.  I thought to myself, "Well, of course you do... you run a bar and people gripe to you about all manner of things!"  He said he has compassion for the homeless.  He said, "I have a bleeding heart."

During his segment Righeimer confirmed to Teresa Drain that the construction hours are clearly defined asked CEO Tom Hatch to check into it.  He told Huffman that each of those sober living homes require licenses and, for those who were already there but are unable to continue at their current location because of the rule about such homes not being within 650 feet of another, it could take two years for them to relocate.   He encouraged us all to use Costa Mesa Connect to get photos of license plates where meetings are being held illegally.  Regarding so-called "problem motels", he said, "It's up to the property owner to do what he wants to do.", but said that $1,800 a month for a 250 square foot room is "just wrong".  You may recall that his avowed purpose a couple years ago was to make the owners of those motels "reassess their value" by hammering them with police, fire and code enforcement visits and, in fact, he pushed for the implementation of the Excessive Use Of Resources Ordinance, where a motel owner is given a maximum number of calls for service he can make before being fined for excessive use.  That puts them in the position of calling for help or just letting the emergency run its course and hope for the best.

Mensinger said he'd keep it short because he didn't want to "beat the motel issue to death."  He then went on a mini rant of his own, stating, among other things, that he wouldn't let kids near the Ana Mesa Motel because of "high risk pedophiles" at the site.  He told us other surfwear companies, hearing of the plan for Van's to move back to town, are now looking for space, too.  He said Van's is bringing 750 jobs to town.  He also invited everyone to the Halecrest Chili Cookoff next Saturday.

Foley spoke of the ribbon-cutting at the Vanguard University new building.  She also expressed concern about sharing too much information on sober living homes when there is pending litigation.  She praised the Bikeways and Walkability Committee for working "overtime" - meeting twice a month - to get their part of the General Plan completed.  She addressed affordable housing, indicating that state law requires us to have more affordable housing.  And, she closed by encouraging all men to get a blood test for prostate cancer screening.

Sandra Genis observed about the bike safety program.  She spoke about the League of California Cities Conference she and the mayor attended and noted that sober living homes were a hot topic.  She also observed that the California Coastal Commission will hear the issue of the Banning Ranch development today, Wednesday, at the Long Beach Convention Center.  She observed that we need to have housing for folks who work in the city, but that it's nearly impossible to find truly affordable housing for low income workers.  She asked for the meeting to be closed in honor of Forest Werner, who recently passed away.

CEO Hatch mentioned a study session beginning at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers next Tuesday, October 13, 2015 at which the plans for the library and community center at Lions Park will be discussed.  He mentioned he will have someone check on the 2600 Harbor Boulevard construction issue today, and that the completion of the terminus of the 55 Freeway is almost complete and that the city monument sign and landscaping should be in place by year's end.

Only one item was pulled from the Consent Calendar - Item #9, the Fairview Park North Bluff Trail Realignment change order for Kabarra Engineering.  Genis pulled that one and it was trailed to the end of the meeting.  When they finally got around to it at 12:20 a.m. today, Genis said she was concerned about the "electrical engineering" element of the proposal.  Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz assured her that there was no electrical contracting involved.  The vote to approve the change order was 4-1, with Foley voting no.

New Business #1, the General Plan Land Use Alternatives discussion, was up next, with the item commencing at 7:40 p.m.  at least 75 people remained in the room at this time.  Because he has a conflict on one segment of the items Monahan was excused and left to watch the proceedings on television until it was clear for him to participate.  More on that later.

Consultant Laura Stetson and Assistant Director of Development Services Claire Flynn ran this show, with Stetson taking it from the top.  The staff report was mostly a summation of the recent joint study session with the Planning Commission on this issue and the staff is looking for guidance so they can proceed with the preparation of the General Plan Update.  The actual consideration of the update will not happen until after the year-end holidays.  Stetson mentioned that only 4% of the city's land is being studied.

Early in the discussion Foley mentioned the subject of housing north of the 405 Freeway because the staff report indicated that there would be NO new housing at that location.  She said that she had said at the study session that she would be OK with housing north of the 405, as was Genis, and she wondered where on what basis the staff decided there would be no housing up there.  She was told that the mayor and mayor pro tem made it clear that they wanted no housing up there.  Foley asked what independent analysis the staff had to support that decision and Righeimer blew up.  They went back and forth for a few seconds, then Mensinger chimed in and, as the discussion got heated, he called for a 5 minute break at 7:55.  The meeting resumed at 8:05, at which time Foley reiterated her question about the independent analysis.  The answer was no.

Stetson finished her report and the four members of the council present briefly discussed the issue before Public Comments were taken.  That segment began at 8:45.

Kyle Woolsley, representing the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports the General Plan update, period.

Kathy Esfahani said density bonuses should be given to encourage affordable housing.  She said if all the motels were closed it mean a loss of 789 dwelling units, many of which are currently filled with low income residents.  Diane Russell and Linda Teng also spoke, representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition.

Flo Martin also addressed the dwelling units per acre numbers, citing that they are inadquate  to provide affordable housing.

A representative of the Fairview Developmental Center, which is theoretically on the block,  spoke of the plan by the state to move forward with the Shannon's Mountain development on the site for developmentally disabled people, but the scope of the plan is nebulous - a problem that continued to be addressed later.

Westside businessman John Hawley addressed the emphasis on apartments, indicating that we were "doubling down" on density.  He appreciated the study session, which gave many people a chance to be heard.

Murray McQueen, representing Tribune Properties, addresed the vacant Los Angeles Times building and told us they purchased the adjacent baseball field and they were excited to move forward with some commercial uses on the site to create jobs.  When asked about residential, he said they had not ditched that as a possibility.

Wendy Leece said it was disengenuous to talk about "crummy motels" when we need more cops to enforce the rules.  She also said the Fairview Developmental Center should be a separate discussion.

Robin Leffler wondered where all the ideas presented by residents at earlier meetings had gone.  All she saw were council ideas and thought the process should be delayed until those ideas could be folded into the process.

Cynthia McDonald said this process was developer driven.  She said we need an inclusionary housing ordinance.

Peter Laurner (sp?), representing Intercorp, wanted to have the Whittier Law School property included in the General Plan discussion, although he could not give any ideas about the long term plans for that property.

Rick Huffman complained about the 40 dwelling units per acre number that proliferated the plans, citing that it was too dense.

Greg Sullivan addressed the different ways different cities handle the density issue.

Jay Humphrey cautioned to consider more than just raw traffic numbers, but to consider WHERE that traffic will be, and mentioned the Banning Ranch development as an example of too much traffic being forced into too small an area.

Chris Otis expressed concern about Wilson Street being too narrow.

Then, as the public comments were about to finish, up pops Monahan, returned from the television exile, demanding to speak as a private citizen.  That evoked an argument between Foley, City Attorney Tom Duarte and the mayor.  Eventually Monahan had a chance to speak his piece on issues near his home and business - but not technically within the "conflict zone".  Foley was NOT happy about that, and said the council should have been told about the conflict ahead of time, and that this very likely will have tainted the process.  She was ignored.

When it came time to vote on the issue where Monahan was excluded - part of the Newport Boulevard plan - it was a 2-2 vote.  When Monahan returned to vote on the remainder of the plan it was 3-2, with Foley and Genis voting NO.
The council then took the items on the list as shown on the above image (click to enlarge it) and began to vote.

Item 1, the Residential Incentive Overlay along Harbor Boulevard, passed with the council male majority supporting the staff recommendation.

Item 2, The Segerstrom Home Ranch, passed 5-0.

Item 3, Sakioka Lot 2, also passed 5-0.

Item 4, the SoBECA mixed use overlay zone was modified to include a maximum of 450 units by Righeimer, passed 3-2, with Foley and Genis voting no.

Item 5, the Harbor Boulevard Mixed Use Overlay Zone passed 5-0.

Item 6, the Fairview Development Center generated a lot of discussion and disagreement.  Monahan made a motion and the discussion heated up.  Righeimer had a specific idea of what he wanted to see.  Finally Monahan said, "I withdraw my motion and let the mayor pro tem do his.  It's not going to work if he doesn't get what he wants anyway."  That pretty much summed up most of the discussions last night.  Righeimer grabbed the steering wheel early and just wouldn't let go.  Eventually it passed, 5-0, with modifications Righeimer demanded to the total units to be built.  Foley wanted to bring it back after the staff had a chance to further study it, and to get a better handle on what the state has in mind.

Item 7, the Los Angeles Times site, passed quickly on a 5-0 vote and they took a short break at 10:45.
The staff and consultants will not move forward with the direction given to them and prepare the General Plan update, which should be seen by the council early next year.

At 11:00 p.m. they reconvened and began discussing New Business #2, the proposed Urban Plan amendement for the SoBECA and Westside Urban Plans.  Flynn gave a short presentation, then four people spoke to the issue.  During the discussion Mensinger got into Foley's face, challenging her to remember what they were thinking nine years earlier when they considered this issue the first time.  She explained the concept proposed back then, and that the economic downturn halted plans.  Eventually, they voted 5-0 to pass it.

At 11:30 it was time for New Business #3, the residential development at 440 Fair Drive.  This was a General Plan screening request to change the site from Neighborhood Commercial to Planned Development Residential.  Amazingly, there were still two dozen people in the audience - half of which were city staffers.  The developer, Steve Sheldon, sounded very much like Righeimer, with his rapid-fire delivery.  He spoke of the delay for community outreach efforts and said he was happy with the results.  Ten members of the public spoke to this issue and only two were against it.  Foley was concerned with the nearby proximity of the gas station, which backs up to the property.  Eventually, the council moved the item forward on a 5-0 vote.

That left only the Consent Calendar item #9, mentioned previously.  At 12:30 Mensinger closed the meeting in memory of Forest Werner.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Fountain Valley To Consider The Digital Sign Tonight

In case you think you'll be bored with the discussion of the General Plan amendments and other development-related items on the agenda of the Costa Mesa City Council meeting tonight, I have an alternative for you.

The City of Fountain Valley, our good neighbor to the West, also holds their City Council meeting tonight, Tuesday, October 6, 2015 beginning at 6:00 p.m. in their City Council Chambers.  You can read the agenda for that meeting HERE.  Very near the top, beginning on page 13 through page 625 (!) is the item more than a few apprehensive Costa Mesa residents are concerned about - the 79 foot tall digital message board being planned for a spot along the I-405 Freeway at the very Eastern edge of that city.  The problem with that message board is that it will spill obnoxious levels of light into homes near Moon Park in Costa Mesa.  Here's what that sign will theoretically look like.

And, this graphic, plucked from the staff report, shows the theoretical light spillage numbers as presented by one of the consultants on this project. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)
So, if you're going to be impacted by this sign, you may wish to trot on over to the Fountain Valley City Hall and use the three minutes provided to express your views.  This item appears to be scheduled early in the meeting, but one never knows how long it will take.

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Small Agenda Doesn't Necessarily Mean Short Meeting

The Costa Mesa City Council meets on Tuesday, October 6, 2015 beginning at 5:45 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall for what looks like, on paper, a short meeting.  Don't let the agenda, HERE, fool you. 

There are fourteen (14) items on the Consent Calendar - those items that are considered to be routine and could be voted upon in one vote with no discussion.  Viewing those items, I suspect more than one might be pulled by a council member, staff member or member of the public for discussion and separate vote.  If that happens, those items will be heard at the very end of the meeting - one of those rules imposed by the current elected leaders to discourage discussion of important issues.

In addition, there are NO Public Hearings schedule, NO Old Business and "only" three New Business items - but those are whoppers.

Let's take the Consent Calendar and give you a taste of what's ahead.  I won't go to great lengths on most items, but will comment on a few.

Item #3, HERE, is Warrant 2543 and contains some very interesting items.  I'll list the ones that caught my eye in the order that they appear on the Warrant.  There are MANY other interesting/curious items, but I won't bore you with them here.  You can go to the link and scroll down through it.
City of Huntington Beach - $23,240.00 - Helicopter Svcs - July 2015
Civil Source - $23,110.00 - Temporary Staffing, various
Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau - $313,641,34 - BIA receipts for July 2015
Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $19,204.90 - Legal Svcs, various
Mesa Art & Framing - $2,592.00 - Vinyl Utility Box Art Wrap
Meyers Nave - $502.50 - Legal, Fairview Park
Civil Source - $14,608.00 - Construction Support Services
Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $7,580.55 - Legal, various
Scientia Consulting Group, Inc. - $6,880.00 - On-Site Tech Support 8/9-8/22
Jones & Mayer - $177,023.41 - Legal (long list)
Keolis Transit Services LLC - $16,036.02 - Senior Mobility Aug 15
Orange County Treasurer Tax Collector - $22,353.04 - Parking Citation Processing
Government Staffing Services, Inc. - $8,632.50 - Temp Svcs, various
Lowes - $6,418.93 - Telecomm. Kitchen Remodel
REFS Inc - $11,087.87 - Foreclosure Svcs, various

So, once again, we managed to spend more than $200,000 on legal services and the temporary help meter keeps on spinning, too.

Item #5, HERE, is a list of minutes for approval.  Normally I wouldn't mention this, but this entry includes the minutes of the five hour joint study session early in September at which items on the agenda later appear.  It would be good to refresh your memories on this issue.

Item #9, HERE, is the change order for the controversial Fairview Park North Bluff Trail Realignment - Change Order #3 in the amount of $82,727.00.
Item #12, HERE, should make Costa Mesa Seniors happy.  This is the donation of a 2007 Transit vehicle from the Orange County Transportation Authority that will replace a aging bus with a recent history of unreliable performance.
Item #14, HERE, is the request for approval of a $136,125 professional services agreement with Triton Technology to kick off the much-needed renovation of the technology for the City Council Chambers, the remodel of the old Print Shop and enhancements of Conference Room 1A.  The City Council has already approved budgets for nearly $3 million for all three renovations.  It's about time!

New Business #1, HERE, should be the big item of the evening.  This is the Proposed General Plan Land Use Alternative for the year 2015 - 2025 General Plan Update.  These items were thrashed out during that 5 hour joint study session on September 8th mentioned above.  You can read the full study session report HERE.  Among the items to be discussed for inclusion in the General Plan Update are:
1 - Residential Incentive Overlay
2 - Segerstrom Home Ranch
3 - Sakioka Lot 2
4 - SoBECA Mixed-Use Overlay Zone
5 - Harbor Mixed-Use Overlay Zone
6 - Fairview Development Center
7 - Los Angeles Times Site
See the staff report for details.

New Business #2, HERE, is the Proposed Urban Plan Amendment To Amend The SoBECA and Westside Urban Plans.

1. SP-05-06 SoBECA Urban Plan: This Urban Plan establishes provisions for mixed-use development, including live/work development, in the 39-acre SoBECA plan area.

2. SP-05-07 19 West Urban Plan: This Urban Plan allows horizontal and vertical mixed use development in the 103-acre 19 West Urban Plan area.

3. SP-05-08 Mesa West Bluffs Urban Plan: This Urban Plan allows live/work or residential development pursuant in the 277-acre Mesa West Bluffs Urban Plan area. In the case of the Mesa West Urban Plan, this would represent the Second Amendment to the Plan.

4. SP-05-09 Mesa West Residential Ownership Urban Plan: This Urban Plan specifies residential development standards/incentives or a density bonus in the 238-acre plan area.

See the staff report for more details on each of these proposed changes.

The final agenda item is the General Plan Screening for a 28-unit Residential Project at 440 Fair Drive.  You may recall that the developer, Steve Sheldon, delayed this process while he provided coffee and pie for concerned residents a couple weeks ago in Conference Room 1A at City Hall so he could take their temperature on this project.  At the time this was first brought up there was significant opposition to this project, which would replace a commercial building with multi-story residences that overlook neighboring single story homes.  The public comments on this issue should be interesting.
I have no idea how long this meeting will last.  The General Plan issue can affect the future of this city dramatically - and not necessarily for the better.  I suspect there may be a few interested parties in the audience Tuesday night.

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