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 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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Fairview Park Initiative Petitions Submitted

 (Proponents Kim Hendricks, 
Wendy Leece and Dr. Richard Mehren)
This morning  representatives of the Fairview Park Preservation Alliance submitted what we were told was more than 7,100 signatures on petitions to place their initiative on the November 8, 2016 ballot.  (The City Clerk's office just verified that a total of 7,135 signatures were submitted.)
Those signatures will be counted by the City Clerk, Brenda Green, and her staff, then promptly shipped off to Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley for authentication.  He has 30 working days, excluding weekends and holidays, to complete the task.  It takes slightly less than 5,000 valid signatures to qualify for placement on the ballot.
 (City Clerk Brenda Green 
accepts petitions from Hendricks)
Presuming enough valid signatures were gathered, the petitions will be returned to the City of Costa Mesa and a certification resolution will be prepared for the City Council to approve authorizing the placement of the initiative on the ballot.  It's likely that will happen sometime in June.

If you wish to visit the website of the Fairview Park Preservation Alliance click HERE.
If you wish to view the 6-page initiative click HERE.
If you wish to read the Fairview Park Master Plan click HERE.
What is unknown at this time is whether members of the City Council majority, in a fit of pique, will demand that a counter-measure be placed on the ballot, too - as they did with the Smart Growth Initiative.

Fairview Park, described by many as Costa Mesa's "Jewel", has been under siege for several years.  Because there are more than 200 acres of mostly open space, certain elements within the city simply salivate over the possibility of building a sports complex on part of it.  City officials created the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee to assess the park, its current uses and possible other uses and advise the City Council on their findings.  That body currently is dormant pending the completion of the update of the Open Space Master Plan of Parks and Recreation.  It seems odd that they would be placed on hiatus when their work could impact the update of that document.
(Proponents Rick Huffman, Kim Hendricks, Cindy Black, 
Wendy Leece, Dr. Richard Mehren and Jay Humphrey)
Having attended most of those meetings in the past it was clear that, by far, the community sentiment expressed to the committee was for the park to be left in a natural state - without active sports infrastructure or other significant "improvements".  This initiative was created to insure that Fairview Park would remain a natural, undeveloped park for future generations of Costa Mesans.

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Sunday, May 01, 2016

New Members Join The Bike Committee Wednesday

The Costa Mesa Bikeway and Walkability Committee meets again on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, 695 West 19th Street.  You can read the agenda for that meeting HERE.

Three new members of the committee will join the group for the first time.  Russell Baldwin, Cindy Brenneman and Maggie Gallagher fill out the roster.

On the agenda, as you can see when you review it are an update on the General Plan and new business items for the Placentia Avenue Bicycle Signal Project, Citywide Traffic Calming Project and Bike Infrastructure - Sharrows, Bike Stations.  This should make for an interesting evening for those of you interested in the future of bicycling and walking in the city.

Unfortunately, a prior commitment will keep me from attending this meeting and, typically, there is no press coverage of the proceedings.  The audience us usually sparse, but perhaps one or more might provide us with some data on the outcome of the discussions.  I'll provide the platform.

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

City Council Meeting Preview

The agenda for the Costa Mesa City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 was published today.  You can read it HERE.  The meeting begins at 5:45 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall.  The open session will be preceded by a Closed Session beginning at 5:00.  There are four (4) items on that agenda segment - three litigation items and one regarding labor negotiations with the Costa Mesa City Employee Association.

Mayor Steve Mensinger will apparently present his award to Chick-fil-A.  Oh, well...

There are a few items on the Consent Calendar that are interesting.  Item #1, Warrant #2556, HERE,   has the normal items listed.  I'm not going to list all those that provoke me with the exception of one entry.  Early on the list is an entry for Jones & Mayer, our contract City Attorney firm for $65,175.10 for a single case - "Dadey".  This is noteworthy because that amount is approximately a third of the normal entry for the firm.  We've seen that name on the Closed Session entries in the recent past as the council apparently discussed this very expensive case.  Click on the link above to review the remainder of the Warrant.

Item #4, HERE, is an interesting entry.  This involves the emergency removal of a fuel tank at Fire Station #3 at 1865 Park Avenue, near Lions Park.  Apparently in March the underground diesel fuel tank at that station failed and leaked fuel into the soil.  An emergency purchase order was issued not to exceed $100,000 to mitigate this problem.

Item #6, HERE, is a $178,000 contract for a Temporary Web Master Consultant to design and develop the City's internal web platform and applications.  Among the goals cited is a "Homeless Tracking System".  Read the staff report for the rest.

Item #7, HERE, is the establishment of a new position - Emergency Services Administrator.  This new position will apparently replace - and use the budgeted funds allocated for - a vacant Logistical Support Manager.  The title is fairly self-explanatory, - responsibilities include the preparedness of the Emergency Operations Center - but read the short staff report for details.

Public Hearing #1, HERE, is for the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 Funding Priorities for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME).  This will involve more than $1.2 million in CDBG funds and almost $900,000 in HOME funds.  Take a look at the staff report for the details of how these funds will be spent.

New Business #1, HERE, is the first step in the path to placing a Bond issue on the November 8, 2016 ballot for Affordable Housing in Costa Mesa.  The council must adopt the resolution by a 2/3 vote - that's actually 4 of the five members - in order for the process to move forward.  If passed the process moves forward to the Planning Commission on May 23, 2016 and then back to the City Council on June 7th and June 23rd.  If there are not four (4) votes on the council next Tuesday, then Jim Righeimer's vindictive, in-your-face bond scheme dies.  It's estimated that it will take $20,000  and a mountain of staff time for this item to be placed on the ballot.

New Business #2, HERE, the Business Improvement Area (BIA) Reauthorization and Resolution of Intention, and Review of Annual Audit.  According to the recent audit, the Convention and Visitor's Bureau will have a cash equity of $2.57 million by the end of June.  The BIA is funded by a piece of the Transient Occupancy Tax levied on eleven (11) hotels.  The purpose is to help the BIA promote tourism in Costa Mesa.

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Smart Growth Initiative Debate Redux

The video recording by Costa Mesa Brief of the debate between council candidate Jay Humphrey and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer is now up and available for viewing.

This 85 minute record of the meeting is certainly worth watching - even if you were there.  Thanks to Barry Friedland and his Costa Mesa Brief crew for covering this event, and for the professionalism demonstrated in his final work product.  As mentioned in my earlier post about this event, the evening began with controversy over just who could record the event.  I suspect Barry wasn't happy about having unanticipated competition by folks using cell phone cameras.  However, his product is worth the wait.
I confess I have not taken 90 minutes to watch it all again.  What I DID DO, however, was scroll out to the 1:18:00 mark on the presentation to see the interviews with folks who attended, to see what kind of balance there was at the tail end of this video document.  I was disappointed to find that, of the nine people interviewed for that segment, only two - Wendy Leece and Humhprey - represented that side of the equation.  The others interviewed were Righeimer, Mayor Steve Mensinger, Mesa Water District Director Jim Fisler, Costa Mesa Public Square minions Julie Fowler and Doug Vogle, John Hill (an organizer of the event) and Moderator Tom Pollitt.  Each of those folks were clearly supportive of the Righeimer side of the discussion.  I don't know how many other people were interviewed - the building cleared out pretty quickly at the end of the debate - so there may not have been other interview opportunities available.  I do know that Barry chased me half way to my car for an interview, which I declined to do and suggested folks could read my opinion on this site in the morning.  I did appreciate the offer, though.

So, for those interested in viewing this event, just click on the video and sit back and enjoy.  You can form your own opinion about which side made the most compelling argument.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Parks and Recreation Commission Meeting Cancelled

In a terse announcement distributed late this afternoon The City of Costa Mesa announced the cancellation of the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting scheduled for tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall.

I wrote about the agenda for this meeting HERE, and apparently there was nothing that couldn't wait another month.

I find myself wondering just how much impact the hastily-planned Trump rally at 7:00 p.m. across the street at the Orange County Fair And Event Center had on this decision.  Then, again, it could have been a shortage of commissioners, which are already one down with Don Harper's resignation.

So, I get the night off and the Trumpfest can proceed without conflict... HA!

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Packed House Hears Smart Growth Initiative Debate

Last night the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly hosted a debate between Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and former councilman Jay Humphrey on the so-called Smart Growth Initiative before a packed house at the Halecrest Community Center.  It's an interesting sidebar that Righeimer - then a sitting mayor - barely beat Humphrey in the last election by 47 votes.
My best guess - after counting heads and as the crowd morphed throughout the evening - is that between 70 and 100 people attended this event.  It was a much larger turnout than anticipated by the organizers - lovely, courteous folks.   The crowd seemed to be about evenly split from an allegiance standpoint.  The only murmurs heard from the audience were those times when the timekeeping went astray.  It was amusing to look out over the crowd and see a half-dozen people using their phones to keep time.
Also in the crowd were Mayor Steve Mensinger, Planning Commission Chair Rob Dickson, Vice Chair Jeff Mathews and Commissioner Stephan Andranian.  Mesa Water Director Jim Fisler was in the room, as was Senior Commissioner Ann Perry.  Of course, there were many familiar faces in the crowd - activists on both sides of issues, there to hear the discussion and support their side of the issue.  I cannot begin to list them all here.
The evening got off to a dull thud for Master of Ceremonies Tom Pollitt when, before the program began, he greeted one of the guests with this question: "When are you due?"  This question was directed to a 70 year-old lifetime resident and cancer survivor who has a slight weight problem.  She politely informed him of the facts and moved away from him.  Unfortunately, things didn't get much better for him, either.
Although the program began promptly at 7:00 p.m., Pollitt took advantage of the crowd to introduce himself and two others, Carol Woodworth and Cari Swan, who are all running for seats on the Republican Party Central Committee.  I made a mental note to NOT vote for Pollitt.

Just before 7:15 he got around to the reason for the event - and introduced Humphrey, which he mispronounced "Humphreys", and Righeimer.  And then the drama began.
It seems that, in the hours leading up to the event, there had been some disagreement about how this event would be recorded.  Keep in mind that Barry Friedland of Costa Mesa Brief was all set up and rolling as this segment unfolded.  However, as they were about to begin, Righeimer said he didn't agree to have only one source recording the event and owning the copyright to the product.  Clearly, this was news to Humphrey and it appeared that the event might not get off the ground.  Righeimer cited folks with cameras and Iphones in the audience, already recording, so Humphrey just said "Fine" and the show began.  Interestingly, the High Priestess of the Costa Mesa Public Square, Julie Mercurio, apparently live-streamed the event.  I'm sure there are snippets of the event floating around the internet already.  Costa Mesa Brief will have the event coverage up in a day or two.
Next the "rules" were defined by Pollitt:
1 - No interruptions by either party
2 - All discussion will be restricted to the Smart Growth Initiative
3 - All questions will be asked by the MC (Pollitt)
4 - No questions will be entertained by the audience
5 - Answers and rebuttals will be held to the time permitted
     a - Question directed to individual #1 -  2 minutes to answer
     b - Reply to that question by individual #2 - 2 minutes to reply
     c - Rebuttal to the reply by individual #1 - 1 minute to rebut
6 - The questions would alternate between the individuals

That seems simple enough, but it wasn't... more on that in a minute.

I was going to attempt to provide you with a summary of questions and answers by each man, but that seems futile since you're going to have a chance to view it on the Costa Mesa Brief YouTube Channel in a day or so.  Besides, the way the questions were handled it was virtually impossible to tell which question was being answered.  That's on Pollitt.  I will, however, give you my impressions of the evening.
First, the big one... Who won?  Well, I don't think either man came away from this debate as a "winner".  Part of the problem was the administration of the format.  Both made some strong points and both fumbled the ball.

Pollitt established the rules in the beginning, then failed to follow them.  Instead of having a crisp time-keeping procedure in place it was more than haphazard in the beginning.  Nobody was the designated timekeeper.   As a result, both speakers sometimes went long.  And, Pollitt, rather than have both men answer the same question, frequently added elements to the issue when one of the men was about to "reply".  As a result, it was difficult to figure out just what they were answering.
There were 13 questions asked, more or less.  I phrase it that way because of some creative enhancement of the questions as the responses were being delivered.  Instead of just letting the participants answer, Pollitt attempted to guide the answer by adding to the question.  This would have been awkward enough if done by a man with a strong skill set, but Pollitt was uneasy and unprepared for this event and it showed in the way it played out.  He also attempted to ask some "quick" questions at the end - a disaster.  While there was no clear winner, there was a clear loser - Tom Pollitt.
Humphrey did not have his best night.  Some of his answers were vague - exacerbated by the sloppy format.  While he attempted to answer each question clearly, when Pollitt messed with the format and added "meat" to the questions it threw him off.
Righeimer attempted to follow the rules, but frequently didn't.  Often he just didn't answer the question asked but went off in a semi-related area.  Again, some of that was due to the sloppy format.  Unless the video is severely edited this will become evident as you watch it.  Not unexpectedly, he was less courteous.

Righeimer attempted to make a point that the ballot measure will be virtually impossible for the casual reader to understand.  Of course, that's his opinion.  And, he implied a couple times that people were mislead into signing the petition by intentional misrepresentation of the facts, but provided no evidence of it... and that wasn't really the issue last night, after all.  The item IS on the ballot and the voters WILL get a chance to express their preference.
There were a few memorable moments.  For example, at one point Righeimer, responding to a series of statements Humphrey made to a question, said, "I love you, man, but you're 100% wrong."  Shortly thereafter, when replying to a response and attempting to justify the Level 1 project on Newport Boulevard by citing the large increase in tax revenue, he said, "People don't want change.  They need leadership to move these projects along."  There are a few ways to interpret that statement... I'll leave it to you.

The predominant theme from Righeimer might be summarized by, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"  He didn't say those words, but that was the "take away" (that's a Righeimerism) I got from his comments.  A cynical person might interpret that to mean "Don't make life difficult for my developer pals to reap huge profits in our city".   Several times he made the point that developers will NOT be willing to put up their cash and go through a long process involving an election.
Humphrey, for his part, made the point that only a VERY small number of projects would come close to meeting the threshold - the triggers - that would launch the process to a vote of the people.  He also made the point that folks are tired of rampant development and increasing traffic.  Each time he did that Righeimer pushed it back in his face.  And, sometimes he did so in a language known only to himself.
And on and on it went for more than an hour.  The examples each used to prove a point were interpreted differently by the other.  Righeimer tossed out the apparent pending demise of the Whittier School of Law, and what will happen to that property once they are gone.  He implied that a new owner would be subject to the initiative - Humphrey replied that it may or may not, depending on their intended use.
Throughout the discussions one thing continued to be clear to me... Righeimer is personally managing development in our city.  In my view, this is NOT good for the city.  He is but one vote on the City Council and, in my opinion, it is way beyond his authority to be out wheeling and dealing unilaterally.  Of course, he KNOWS he has the votes, so he can act like a dictator if he chooses - which he does.
Please DO watch the Costa Mesa Brief YouTube video when it's available.  You can click HERE to find it when it's posted.  In the meantime, it's clear that this issue - the Smart Growth Initiative - will continue to be a hot-button item during the upcoming campaign.  The event last night probably should have been Humphrey debating Mensinger, who is actually running for office this fall.  As the campaign unfolds I suspect we will have more opportunities to have this important issue vetted in public and recorded for posterity.

If this was the actual beginning of the campaign season it got off to a very rocky start.

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