Sunday, September 11, 2011
This morning, at the California Air National Guard facility on Newport Boulevard, members of the Costa Mesa community met to commemorate the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In addition to the formal program, attendees were offered the opportunity to sign banners offering personnel thanks to public safety personnel in New York and to our armed forces. If you couldn’t make it this morning, you still have a chance to sign at the Target store, where the banners will be available for signing later today.
Speakers included local dignitaries Tom Hatch, Dana Rohrabacher, Jim Righeimer, but for me most meaningful were the words of those in the trenches, most memorably Interim Fire Chief Kirk Dominic, who was also activated as a Reserve officer subsequent to the events of 9/11.
The ceremony concluded with the Pledge of Allegiance and the striking of the colors accompanied by the hymns and anthems for the various military corps. It was touching to see former Marines, now middle-aged suburban dads, rise to their feet in pride as the Marine hymn was played.
The event brought home the sacrifice of those who serve us so ably, at great personnel risk to themselves. If you get a chance, go over to Target and sign the banners. If you are unable to get over there, be sure to thank a soldier, a sailor or marine of your acquaintance, and next time you see them on duty, please thank our own first responders, the Costa Mesa Police, Firefighters and Paramedics.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Just a few weeks ago, the Planning Commission seemed poised to approve a variance for a sixty-foot-tall building on Golf Course Drive where the man-made lake currently exists. Before the public hearing, Commissioners’ comments all seemed geared to justifying approval. Then the public spoke in unanimous opposition, and the Commission changed their tune (video at about 1:14). Yeah, it may be that Colin McArthy is planning on running for City Council and saw which way the wind was blowing. Doesn’t matter to me why they rejected the thing, though, just that they rejected it.
Some highlights on tonight’s agenda:
• Update on the status of outsourcing and requests for proposals.
• Hiring not just one, but two, additional attorney firms to help them with the outsourcing (consent calendar, Nos. 12 and 13). So now we will have THREE attorney firms contracted to deal with this, PLUS consultants helping with the requests for proposals and evaluations. Did anyone count the cost before they embarked on this course of action? Golly, if they save any more with this outsourcing scheme we’ll go broke.
• Proposed restructuring to re-arrange the chain of command for certain divisions, create a whole division for PR, instead of just the one consultant spinmeister. The public affairs office will also address legislative affairs. Do any of these guys have experience in legislative analysis? They also want to hire an executive secretary whose only duty will be to serve city council members full time.
• Presentation on the current employee pension system status and funding
• Proposed transparency ordinance regarding “ex parte” communications, which would require that council members reveal by whom they had been lobbied before voting on an issue.
• Creation of a successor agency to take the place of the old redevelopment agency, which will soon be dissolved under State law.
• More dipping into the contingency fund, i.e. slush fund, for non-essentials, in this case a grant to radio station KOCI, 101.5 FM, to install an emergency alert system like the ones already operated by existing commercial radio stations—which might not be a bad idea if you are in a part of town where you can consistently get the signal clearly.
• Posting signs on City property warning of the dangers of amalgam dental fillings—requested by a council member who makes a good chunk of his income selling more-than-just-medicinal booze and who refused to support posting warning signs in City parks and playgrounds when pesticides were being used.
• Proposed helicopter landing pad at 3132 Airway Avenue considered by some to be an expansion of the JWA/Orange County Airport footprint which will likely be continued to another meeting.
The City Council cancelled the August 16 meeting claiming there just wasn’t much they needed to do, but it seems as if just maybe they could have covered some of this stuff a couple of weeks ago.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Review of Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) for the Upgrade,
Operation and Maintenance of the Tewinkle Park Sports Complex
Based on the staff report, it appears the City is considering operating the Tewinkle Park Sports Complex as a private concession. The City was approached about a similar concept by a private firm, Municipal Sportspark Management, in late 2009. MSM made a presentation at an October 2009 study session , but the minutes for that meeting reveal no direction by Council, and we haven’t noticed anything agendized for public discussion since.
Had the Council agendized consideration of a concession operation at the Tewinkle Park Sports Complex, isn’t it likely that baseball and soft ball players and parents would have stepped forward to comment? Wouldn’t adjacent residents have concerns? Has the City consulted any of these groups at all? When?
The staff report indicates that “At the request of Mayor Monahan, staff requested SOQ’s from a few local firms”. Does staff often circulate similar requests at the behest of a single council member?
Doesn’t Council policy require that council members get the approval of the council as a whole before pursuing any project requiring more than four hours of staff time? Wouldn’t preparation, circulation and review of the Request for Qualifications (RFQ), along with preparation of a staff report take at least that long? On just that basis the Council majority recently attempted to stymie Council Member Leece’s effort to bring forth a transparency ordinance which she had already fully prepared without staff assistance.
But why worry about blowing off adopted Council policy when you’re blowing off a court order? Costa Mesa has been ordered by the Orange County Superior Court to cease private outsourcing efforts and enjoined from laying off employees for outsourcing purposes. But here we see a City Commission prepared to review SOQs—if at least they have copies—which includes the following question:
"Would your company offer employment to City employees who are laid off as a result of outsourcing the operation of this recreational facility?"
At the August 2 City Council meeting, the Council was scheduled to consider procedures for review of proposals and qualifications for outsourcing, but the item was postponed. Even if moving forward with this item were consistent with Council policy in consuming less than four hours of staff time; even if there were no injunction prohibiting private outsourcing; wouldn’t it at least make sense to wait until the council had adopted procedures?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9No one exemplified these words better than Jan Vandersloot, medical doctor, environmentalist, and family man. He was generous with his time and his money, and we are thankful to him as well as to Cheryl, Jon and Tiffany.
I first met Jan about twenty years ago, though I’d seen his numerous and eloquent letters to the editor before that. I was a city planner at Newport Beach and he called about illegal fill of a wetland. Someone in the office said “that Dr. Vandersloot” always had some complaint. Still, I arranged to meet Jan at the site along with a biologist and, lo and behold, a wetland was being illegally filled.
After that, I got many calls from Jan. Sometimes he’d be reporting habitat damage, or illegal dumping. I learned that when “that Dr. Vandersloot” called, it was something I really needed to check out. If he had a complaint it was well-founded and well-researched. Unlike some residents who called regularly, Jan was concerned about all areas of the city and beyond, not just matters within a block or two of his house.
Sometimes he was just looking for information. For Jan, there was no such thing as too much information.
Years later, after I’d left the City and was involved in various causes, many at the prodding of Jan, my house was overrun with environmental impact reports (EIRs) and other studies. Jan stopped by about some project. I was mortified at the boxes of documents spilling into the living room. Jan was delighted.
Jan had a way of pulling people into his causes. Bolsa Chica, Ocean Outfall Group, San Diego Creek, trees on the Peninsula. He put so much into so many causes, how could you not help at least a little? Almost daily there’d be e-mail from Jan with calls to action, research requests, or outlines of potential strategies for ongoing projects.
As he toiled to end the Orange Count Sanitation District’s waiver from federal clean water law, he’d ask not IF you’d attend any meetings to speak against the waiver, but WHICH meetings in which cities you’d attend. Eventually Jan, or in rare cases a surrogate, spoke before every city council and sanitary district in Orange County, usually with a few others in tow, but alone if need be.
Jan didn’t care if he was the only one to stand up and fight for something. If it was the right thing to do, he was there.
It wasn’t all just hearings and meetings. I especially appreciate the work he did at Fairview Park. Jan advocated for the park at hearings and also weeded and planted plants, sometimes with a group, sometimes with just one other person, like Gil Collins, sometimes alone.
Though I’d been involved in Fairview earlier on, soon Jan surpassed me in his knowledge and dedication to improving habitat at the park. I’d be out for a hike and there was Jan, clearing away the anise choking out native species. Seeing his hard work, I’d go back to my car for an extra bag to pick up trash along the way. How could I not?
We distributed flyers at election time. Of course, if you and Jan covered opposite sides of a street, you really had to hustle. With his long legs he’d finish the distance long before you.
Jan really loved to celebrate the big wins. And he hated to lose. After a setback, he’d be seeking other strategies. Was there a way to appeal? Another agency involved? Should we litigate? Any other options?
Jan just did not give up. If we’d finally run out of options, he’d be planning how we could handle a similar situation “next time”. Unfortunately, now there is no “next time” with Jan.
Today, we are able to reap what Jan so diligently sowed and tended: Open space at Bolsa Chica, cleaner beaches, wetlands, trees, and habitat in various areas. What a tremendous legacy!
Perhaps an even greater legacy is the army of activist that Jan has encouraged and mentored over the years. Now we must continue in well-doing, that we and others may reap in the years to come. How could we not?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Now that the Costa Mesa City Council has voted to put a proposition on the June 2010 ballot to establish planning regulations for the Orange County Fairgrounds, the real work begins. We must ensure that any ballot measure is written to provide maximum protection for the fairgrounds and Costa Mesa residents.
“Locking in the zoning” is not enough.
The existing zoning for the fairgrounds is Institutional and Recreational (I&R). That sounds pretty innocuous. But what’s permitted?
According to the Costa Mesa Zoning Code, uses permitted by right in I&R areas include things like parks, libraries, city hall, court houses and fire stations. They also include:
Churches and other places of religious assembly (Hello, TBN!)
Residential care, convalescent hospitals; and nursing homes
Country clubs and golf courses
Oddly, a conditional use permit would be required for a nursery school, a primary or secondary school or college, even though trade schools are permitted by right.
A conditional use permit would also be required for a fairgrounds. So if the existing zoning were “locked in”, a fairgrounds would have the same status as any other activity for which a use permit is required, including:
Cemeteries, mortuaries and crematories
Senior congregate care facility (don’t ask me how this differs from a nursing home)
Work furlough facility (aka halfway house for convicted criminals)
Animal shelters, pounds, kennels, training schools
Medical and dental offices
Rifle, pistol, and firing ranges
Transfer station for refuse, sewage treatment
I still miss the Ice Capades Chalet so kinda like the idea of a skating rink, but somehow a work furlough facility, heliport, or more offices just doesn’t do it for me.
The General Plan Is Better
The Costa Mesa General Pan requires the fairgrounds to be used as a fairgrounds. Period.
The General Plan also limits development to no more than a floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.1, which allows one square foot of building for each ten square feet of land area. That would allow about 650,000 square feet of development on the fairgrounds site. The zoning code does present the limits mandated under the general plan, but then indicates that deviations from those limits may be permitted if allowed under the general plan.
For comparison purposes, Anaheim Convention Center has a total facility area of 1.6 million square feet, including 813,000 square feet of exhibit space plus meeting rooms, grand ballroom, pre-event lobbies and other spaces. The Los Angeles Convention Center contains 720,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, plus meeting rooms, theater, lobbies and food courts.
Both of these facilities are on much smaller sites than the Orange County Fairgrounds. Without the floor area limit imposed by the general plan, who knows what could happen in Costa Mesa? Even if we kept the “Institutional and Recreational” designation. Even if we kept just the “fairgrounds” designation.
The General Plan includes a “trip budget”, too. That means that activities at the fairgrounds won’t be allowed to generate more than a certain amount of traffic. This could limit everything from building size to event scheduling. Shouldn’t we lock that in place, too?
A Specific Plan Could Be Even Better
The City of Costa Mesa is currently preparing a specific plan for the fairgrounds property. The plan is expected to reflect the existing Master Plan for the Orange County Fairgrounds. Thus, the plan would designate areas for equestrian uses, the Centennial Farm, exhibit space, administrative offices, and other uses. This would assure that existing uses could continue at the fairgrounds. A requirement that any changes to the plan be subject to a vote or the people could provide added assurance. Including the trip budget is also a must.
Don’t Bypass the Planning Process
It is imperative that any initiative specify that proposed changes would not go to a public vote until AFTER all normal the planning commission, city council and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) processing has been completed. Through this process, the City has the authority to require specific information about a project and the property from a developer.
If we were asked to vote before the normal planning process, we would only be provided the information a developer wanted us to have. Problems with traffic, drainage, or other issues could be buried. Voters must be able to make an informed choice, based on the full information that would come forth in various hearings, staff reports, and the CEQA process, not just developer propaganda.
Similar to ordinances in Redondo Beach and Malibu, any measure to change the land use shouldn't even be placed on the ballot until and unless it has been approved by the City Council through regular channels. This would provide a double layer of protection.
Don’t Charge the Taxpayers!
The ordinance must stipulate that the developer/sponsor of any amendment to city plans for the fairgrounds would pay for any referendum, just as they are required to pay the costs for any needed environmental studies. It's only fair.
The taxpayers shouldn't be required to foot the bill to tell some developer we like our fairgrounds just the way it is, thank you.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Tonight’s Costa Mesa City Council agenda includes a closed session on the following item:
Conference with Real Property Negotiators – Property: 88 Fair Drive. Agency Negotiator: Allan Roeder, City Manager. Negotiating parties: State of California, Under negotiation: price, terms of payment. Pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.8.
88 Fair Drive happens to be the Orange County Fairgrounds. I’d sure like to know how the City Council got to the point of discussing price and terms of payment before they even publicly voted whether or not to pursue the purchase. Was there a special meeting? No such meeting was noticed. Did the City Council meet privately to decide to pursue a purchase?
It would seem they have the cart before the horse here, preparing to negotiate before they have decided whether or not to pursue purchase. They must also decide whether to pursue purchase on their own or in partnership with others.
The public must be included in an open discussion as to whether the city should go it alone or join a consortium with others, such as the proposed foundation which would give unelected, self-appointed political schemers a majority vote. Whether or not to join a private foundation is certainly not a permitted exception to public discussion under open meeting laws.
Of course if they do decide to join the proposed foundation without the public, they will be joining kindred spirits. As covered by the Daily Pilot, it seems the Thirty Second Agricultural District Board/Orange County Fair Board may already be violating open meeting laws.
Last spring Governor Schwarzenegger suggested that numerous properties up and down the state be sold. These included the Del Mar, Ventura and Orange County Fairgrounds, the Coliseum and the Cow Palace. Legislators and local officials in every other area worked hard to save important assets in their districts. At the Del Mar Fairgrounds they passed out postcards, asking fairgoers to tell the Governor what they thought about the sale and collected over fifty thousand postcards protesting the sale.
Not so in Orange County. Local officials got out their pompoms and cheered. Heck, the Daily Pilot reports they even hired Dick Ackerman to lobby for the sale.
Sure enough, when the dust settled, and budget legislation was passed, the only properties authorized for sale were the Orange County Fairgrounds and a few office buildings. All the landmark properties in other areas of the state will remain in the public trust.
How did we get to be so special?