Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Lotta Dog

“You’ve got a lotta dog there,” people said. Harley was not small, but not really large either, at just under sixty pounds. He had incredible speed and stamina, too. But more than anything it was his heart and his mind than made him “a lotta dog”.

My friend and mentor, the late Tom Rogers, brought Harley to me from his ranch. “You’ll have to out think this dog,” Tom said more than once. Little did I know.

Harley wanted to be good, partly to please me, but from personal pride, too. The first time he was really scolded (for chewing on an electrical cord), he sat and hung his little head. He really felt bad.

From the start, Harley had a strong sense of order. He waited politely while his bowl was filled, not grabbing at the food as it was dispensed like some dogs. Going in and outside, he waited at the door for me to go first. He did it without being told, not even once.

His sense of order extended to what I should do. He didn’t approve of me re-arranging the furniture. Things belonged where they were. Harley didn’t appreciate humans getting down on the floor with him, either. If I sat on the floor, he went to the Lazy Boy recliner, giving me a look that said “you belong here”. Or maybe he just wanted to climb onto the Lazy Boy, something forbidden unless a human was already there.

He wouldn’t just jump into my lap. He invented a ceremony to ask permission. He’d bring me a toy. If I tossed the toy and cheered as he retrieved it, he’d spring into my lap. If I ignored the toy, he’d settle down on the floor next to me. I, in turn, could initiate the process by singing his favorite Motown.

He had definite preferences in music, sitting under the piano as I played. Favorite pieces brought him in from the yard, just to sit and listen. Sometimes he’d sing along. He wasn’t a shy critic. If I stumbled on a Chopin etude I hadn’t played in a while, he’d get up, sigh loudly and stomp off. Oddly he didn’t seem to care if visitors’ playing was much more fractured. Guess he expected more from me.

You’re Not the Boss of Me

Harley really wanted to do what was right. Unfortunately, once he hit adolescence, we didn’t always agree on what that was. If I wanted to go left, he wanted to go right. If I wanted him indoors, he wanted to be out. Like living with a teen ager.

Walks were a challenge. I tried conventional strategies, changing directions without warning to get Harley’s attention. He returned the favor. What a fun game! My shoulders ached from pulling on the leash, and I had my share of scrapes and bruises from being yanked off my feet or slammed into posts.

Gradually, with firmness and patience things improved. A big part of that was herding class. Unfortunately, there were times it was pretty hard on the sheep, mostly due to my ineptitude. But it helped me see things from Harley’s perspective and establish my authority.

The hardest part was getting him to quit working after he was told “that’ll do”. He loved working the sheep, so much so he ran his pads off more than once, oblivious to pain until he stopped.

If Harley was to obey me and accept me as boss, he had to respect me. He was smart and tough, so I had to be smart and tough, too. He had a commanding presence, so I had to develop my own presence. And if I wanted his respect, I had to respect him.

Harley pushed me to step up, not only to be consistent and firm with him, but to demonstrate I could take care of us both. That could mean just standing my ground as someone careened down the sidewalk with a get-out-of-my-way attitude, triggering an impulse to step aside. Or demanding that a dog owner come get his unleashed, aggressive dog as I stepped between the threatening dog and Harley, clutching my pepper spray, hoping not to need it. I’d think “did I really do that?”, then see Harley’s face, more proud than if he’d defended us: “I’m with her!”

That Fabulous Face

If you’d met Harley, you’d remember that face, showing a dozen different expressions in as many minutes. A face that could make you laugh or break your heart. A face that could make a large, aggressive dog back up and whimper, or calm and draw close a terrified stray, or agitate another dog thirty feet away at the dog cafe. In the blink of an eye, he could go from imperious, to absolutely cow-eyed, usually toward a cute female border collie or German shepherd.

With females, there were times Harley was outright rude, skipping the preliminaries and attempting liberties within seconds of meeting, despite being neutered. But there were times he was positively courtly, starting with a smitten look, changing to flirty as she approached, followed by a gentle nuzzle, maybe a little dancing. There are humans who could have taken lessons from Harley.

Perhaps Harley’s face was so expressive because he had such an active mind. His face could betray him arguing with himself—or the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The angel didn’t always win, either, like the time Harley stole the New Year’s ham. In later years, the angel won more often. Even then, he’d sometimes slip up; as I corrected him, he’d get an embarrassed “oh, gee, I knew better” look.

Earning It

Harley liked praise, but he had to feel he’d accomplished something special, too. As a pup he quickly learned to sit on command. I praised him abundantly. About the twentieth time, his face made it clear that I was overdoing it. You don’t praise a twelve year old for tying his shoes.

There’s an alley near our house, where dogs on either side would slam into the fence and bark when anyone passed. As Harley neared adulthood, it was hard for him to stay calm and not respond. The first time we made it through the alley with Harley walking quietly at my side the whole time, he gave me a look of triumph and did a little dance. I praised him lavishly. The next time, we also celebrated his success. By about the fifth or sixth time, his face let me know my effusive praise was a bit much for what had become routine for him. Harley liked praise, but not cheap praise.

Out Thunk

When Harley couldn’t get what he wanted by demanding, flirting, or begging, he tried other strategies. The paw, the down. He noisily feigned choking to get my attention. He tried barter. If a happy, hopeful approach or sad, longing looks didn’t get Harley some of my salad or chips, he tried making a trade, bringing successively more favored toys. Sometimes it worked.

Harley loved a good joke. One day we were visiting my Mom, and the dog in the adjacent yard was barking and jumping on the fence. I kept reminding Harley not to respond—or stir things up himself. I tried distracting him, pointing at a tree, exclaiming “Squirrel!” Harley bounded to the tree, but quickly returned, giving me a doubtful look. A half hour later, the same thing, Amber barking next door, me pointing and calling “Squirrel!” Harley went to the tree but less avidly, with a “we’ll just see about that” attitude. He came back and gave me a look that showed he thought he’d been had. Stupidly, I tried the same thing an hour later, whereupon Harley acted very excited, jumping around and looking at the roof behind me. As I stepped away from the house, looking up at the roof, Harley jumped up and poked me in the ribs. He then sat gleefully, “Gotcha!!!”

Can We Keep Her, Mom?

Gracie showed up as a “temporary” foster dog. Harley was almost nine and used to being an “only dog”, though we occasionally had canine visitors stay a few days. He could be a magnanimous host, as long as visitors treated him as the superior being he knew himself to be. The first few days with Gracie ran true to form. She could share his toys, and even share me, since she was properly obsequious. After about a week he looked at me, “Isn’t she going home?”

While we were still trying to find her a home elsewhere, Harley eventually decided otherwise. One day, Gracie was unruly, and I put her out in the yard. Harley and I stayed inside. A few minutes later, Harley went to the door and whined. Thinking he wanted to go out, I opened the door. He stepped back from the door. He looked at me, looked at Gracie, looked at me, looked back and forth again, “Can’t she come in? Please?” Gracie was ours.

Harley was a big help training her. He set an example, being extra careful to maintain good manners himself: “This is what we do here”. He intervened directly, too, nudging her back up the curb if she stepped into the street. If she was not properly respectful he’d discipline her in that time-honored, humiliating doggie way.

Harley was delighted to have Gracie play Sancho Panza to his brave knight. He was very protective of her. Woe betide anyone, dog or human, who might hurt Gracie.

And they played. Chase, keep-away, tug, king of the mountain. So fun to watch, I almost felt left out at times.

Out of Time

I’ve already written too much, but at the same time not enough. How can one sum up a lotta dog in a few hundred or even a few thousand words?

There’s so much more: So many joys, trials, too. Harley hated fireworks and adored children. He could be territorial and overprotective but gentle and friendly with the homeless people everyone else shunned; sometimes reserved and aloof, but tender and comforting with someone in pain. He tolerated indignities from puppies but piddled on adult dogs who crossed the line. He invented games and played jokes. He brought me my shoes and sometimes even socks, an embellishment he figured out himself. He slept at the foot of the bed, always with his head or a paw touching my leg, ready for hugs first thing in the morning.

Our adventures: long hikes; trips to the beach. Harley fending off a pit bull that jumped us from behind. Harley teetering on a piece of plywood when the ground gave way near a construction site. He wouldn’t step over a snake, even a dead one, but happily jumped back and forth across deep gullies. He loved rolling in stinky stuff. Harley climbed trees. He helped himself to fruits and vegetables from the garden, and conned me into knocking apples out of the tree. He jumped into fountains at Fashion Island and Target and loved his play pool, but hated baths, though went into the shower on his own when I got his towels and shampoo, the last time so heartrendingly.

Out of Dog

It took two kinds of unrelated cancers attacking Harley’s body to bring him down. The last day, he was so weak I brought a bath towel to use as a sling to help him up and outdoors. He saw me with the towel and, mistaking my intention, struggled to his feet and into the shower. He tried so hard, right until the very end. But the cancer was stronger than even a lotta dog and it was time to let him go to his rest.

That’ll do, Harley.

That’ll do.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Grift That Keeps on Grifting

Last weekend marked the second anniversary of the Kelo decision. In Kelo, the US Supreme Court found that economic development was a legitimate government activity which justified the taking of property from one private party by eminent domain to sell or give to another private party. Ludicrously, the so-called conservative court seemed to agree that somehow “the economy” actually could be “developed” through such misadventures.

The entire premise behind the creation of a redevelopment agency is that the market does not work, and that a bunch of amateurs on city commissions, with little or no training in land use or economics, can do better than the market. That’s what happened in Costa Mesa. The existing small businesses were not thriving enough, in the eyes of some, so they were forced out, the buildings demolished, and the land sold at a discount to a developer who created that great success of a vacant white elephant, Triangle Square a.k.a. The Palace of Eminent Domain.

Where do the redevelopment agencies get the money to indulge in such folly? From the “tax increment” -- basically a shell game that reallocates property tax revenues from other agencies.

Property taxes are divvied up by several local agencies including city government, county government, school districts and other special districts. Typically, schools get at least half, the city and county each get around fifteen to twenty percent and other agencies get smaller portions. When a redevelopment area is established, revenues to all of those agencies are frozen, and any increase in property taxes goes to the redevelopment agency, whether or not the agency actually does anything productive.

In Costa Mesa, that means that the city general fund and other public agencies are getting just what they got from property in the redevelopment area in the early 1970s. Not a penny more. In Santa Ana it’s the same, while Huntington Beach established most of its redevelopment areas a few years later, in 1982. As property values and property taxes increase, all tax revenue above the decades-old baseline amount goes to the Redevelopment Agency.

Thus, these cities must pay 2007 salaries to police and fire personnel out of 1975 or 1982 revenues. They have to pay for utilities, fuel, and office supplies at 2007 prices out of revenues fixed at thirty-year-old levels. Non-redevelopment portions of these cities must make do with less.

Adding insult to injury, when property is taken by eminent domain, the property owner quite reasonably is permitted to transfer his or her Prop 13 tax limit to a new, similar property. This takes a bite out of local property tax revenues in the relocation area.

This is not chump change, either. In Costa Mesa , “tax increment” will amount to over $3 million this year. In Huntington , it will be a little under $14 million (which would go a long way toward paying for that levee in the Parkside/Wintersburg Channel area), while Santa Ana is anticipating $50 million in tax increment this year, still small potatoes compared to Los Angeles which will divert a whopping $215 million in tax increment to the city redevelopment agency. Statewide it adds up to BILLIONS every year, dwarfing the state infrastructure bonds passed by the voters last November.

That’s billions that could be going to schools, libraries, parks, police, paramedics, flood control and street maintenance -- every year. Instead, by law twenty percent must go for low and moderate income housing, which is a recognized need, and the rest goes for administration, consultant studies, handouts to developers, attorneys, tearing up streets to put in decorative pavement, consultant studies, more handouts to billionaires, attorneys, consultant studies, decorative lighting, and oh, did I mention attorneys and consultant studies?

Meanwhile, we are asked to pass bond issue after bond issue to raise funds for basic infrastructure, to raise taxes to pay for local roadways, while we scrimp by with less and less in non-redevelopment areas. But don’t you just love that decorative pavement?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

We Just Haven’t Suffered Enough

Lately, it seems every time someone wants to add more development, usually over and above levels already allowed in the general plan, they label it “smart growth”. The term was originally coined to mean a specific type of balanced development meeting certain criteria, but has evolved to mean just about whatever a developer or compliant city council wants it to mean. High-rise development in Town Center? Smart growth. More development along already congested Mariners’ Mile? Smart growth. High density housing/instant tenements on Costa Mesa’s West side? Smart growth.

If there’s a buck in it, it’s “smart”. Never mind that traffic is close to a standstill at rush hour. If we build more stuff, it’ll get better. Don’t agree? Well, you’re just not smart!

The May 30, 2007 issue of LA Weekly has a fascinating article about “smart growth” in Los Angeles. Writer David Zahniser recounts how LA planners intend to change people’s commuting behavior by increasing density to the point that residents will be so miserable in traffic they will not only willingly abandon their cars and accept mass transit, they will demand it.

Zahniser quotes Gloria Ohland, vice president for communications with Reconnecting America, a group promoting rail and transit, “Traffic, which is the problem, is also the solution… So I would argue, boost the density in Century City. Build it out to the max. And then, there will be the constituency to build a subway down Wilshire Boulevard.”

The solution is to make people more miserable. Isn’t that smart? Now read the article and substitute Bristol Street for Wilshire Boulevard, South Coast Metro/JWA for Century City, and Center Line for “a subway”.

“Smart” planners like this scenario. Not only do they get to process more development, thereby ensuring job security, they can get outside funds for planning transit oriented development. “Smart” politicians like it, too, ‘cause they never have to say “No’ to their developer clients… er… campaign contributors.

“Smart” developers absolutely adore this latest fad in land development. Not only do they get to build, build, build, in anticipation of some future, not-yet-funded transit, if the transit actually were to occur, under state law they can get a density bonus of twenty five percent or more for development within a quarter mile of a transit station or location where bus lines meet. Even better, their new, “smart” development is exempt from growth limits imposed under local congestion management plans. . Then they’ll get to build even more. It's called taking advantage of "infill opportunities". We’ll build ourselves out of congestion!

And how’s that working been working? Not real well in Los Angeles or Orange County which, according to a 2005 Federal Highway Administration study, have five of the most congested bottle necks in the nation. But the “smart” developers and politicians tell us it’s because we don’t have the mass transit which will come naturally if we just grow more.

How about a city known for its mass transit, like Chicago with its L train, subway, and bus system? They’ve got three of the top twenty four. Or Washington, D.C., with it’s Metro Rail. They only have two of the top twenty four, while Time Magazine reports that the average speed on the DC Beltway is all of 23 miles per hour.

Maybe they just don’t have “smart” growth. Maybe we need to look at a place like Portland, Oregon, known for its commitment to creating a “livable community” (a catch phrase preceding “smart growth”). Well, the Portland Tribune reported that local peak hour speeds on the I-5 were 22 mph, while peak hour speed on Highway 26 had fallen to 18 mph, though this subsequently increased after the highway was widened. No “smart” solutions there. Just plain old highway construction.

Still, our leaders in southern California apparently keep hoping that soon people will dump their cars and jump into mass transit. Either that, or people will move to within walking distance to work—if not out of state in frustration. Congestion will just melt away if they build enough.

Isn't insanity said to be expecting a different outcome while repeating the same thing over and over again?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Let It Not Be in Vain

Today is a day to pause and remember those gave their lives to preserve our freedom and those who continue to offer up that ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, there are some who are ready to trade our freedom for imagined security or even physical comfort. When I read or hear of that, I think what did those brave souls fight for? What did they die for?

I think of my dad, John Genis, who fought in the 180th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division in World War II. He was wounded at Anzio, May 25, 1944; France, Nov. 3, 1944; Germany, Dec. 26, 1944; and in France again, February 5, 1945; and was highly decorated. He was an ardent patriot who did not believe in compromise.

When going through his papers after he passed away in 2001, we came across some reminiscenses of his experience in World War II. Here is an excerpt:

Sailed from Newport News June 18, 1943 on the Mariposa. Arrived in Casablanca June 25, 1943. The Mariposa was a converted luxury liner that could outrun the submarines.

The worst part of the trip was the zigzagging. With the waves as high as twenty seven feet, you were bounced from wall to wall. One night a knucklehead lit a match and got put in the brig. Somehow, I was put in charge. The brig was in the front of the ship. I dreaded going out on deck at night to the brig with the ship changing course constantly.

We arrived at Casablanca in the afternoon. You could smell Africa before you could see it. From a distance, Casablanca, glistening white, looked picturesque. As we glided into the harbor, we could see some of the French ships that were sunk.

It was evening by the time we got off the ship. I was surprised to see the beggars with nothing but burlap sacks for clothes. The French did not allow the native Moroccans into their stores to shop.

We marched inland to the outskirts of Casablanca and bedded down for the night. We could hear the barking dogs, the beat of drums, and Arabian music coming from old Medina. [Remember this was an ordinary American from the Midwest.] With the light of dawn, we discovered scorpions crawling all around us.

We were loaded into 40 & 8 cars (forty men or eight horses), and taken to Oran. July 8 we boarded the LCIs and July 10 we landed in Sicily. Our LCI came in about six miles from where we were supposed to land. The LCI hit a sandbar, dumped us, and got out.

The sandbar was not the beach. The water was about twenty feet deep between the beach and the sandbar. What a mess!

We lost some equipment, but in a way, we were lucky. The Germans were ready and waiting at the landing. Colonel was captured. Before the invasion of Sicily, he told us that anyone captured was a ”knot head”. We managed to capture the airport.

The casualties were pretty heavy. Our Company “A” mess was able to feed the whole battalion. I can’t forget the horror of humans inflicting pain on other humans, the horror of phosphorus shells, the horror of Bloody Ridge.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

There’ll never be another Old Yeller

Or Shep, or Fido, or Spot, or Puff, or, or Mehitabel. At least if Assemblyman Lloyd Levine has his way. Levine is sponsoring Assembly Bill 1634, the oxymoronically named “California Healthy Pets Act”, more accurately the California Unhealthy Pets Act or Hardly Any Pets Act. or

AB 1634 would require nearly all dogs and cats in California to be spayed or neutered by the age of four (4!) months. In certain limited circumstances, an “intact permit” could be obtained. And doesn’t that just make you want to cross your legs real tight?

The rationale is that our shelters are so full of unwanted cats and dogs, we must stop making any more. Oddly, this bill is proposed at a time when we seem to be making good progress on this front. Data maintained by the California Department of Health Services indicate that total dog and cat impoundments have been dropping for the last few decades, while the rate of adoption has increased and euthanasia has dropped significantly. In recent years this trend has accelerated. Why propose this draconian measure now?

The bill will force law-abiding citizens with nice family pets to spay or neuter their cats and dogs. Meanwhile feral animals and animals in the underground dog world of fighting rings and drug dealers will continue to breed. Not animals you’d want to take home to the kids.

Local communities may already enact spay/neuter ordinances reflecting local conditions and values. This bill would pre-empt local control. Will cities be forced to create squads of pet police?

AB 1634 is bad for public safety

Speaking of the police, dogs used in law enforcement are typically intact males. AB 1634 exempts dogs used for law enforcement or rescue activities from spay/neuter, but at four months it’s impossible to know which animals will enter law enforcement. They don’t even enter formal training ‘til they’re one, and not all make it onto the force. Breeding programs just for law enforcement would be impractical, since maybe five percent of dogs specifically bred and raised for police work actually make it. Law enforcement dogs usually spend the first part of their lives as pets.

A significant majority of law enforcement and search-and-rescue dogs serving in California are bred in California. The dogs search out missing persons, criminals, narcotics, and explosives. A dog may save an officer’s life at the cost of his own. Without dedicated, working-dog hobby breeders, the supply of these dogs would dry up. The California Organization of Police and Sheriffs estimates an additional cost to state and local law enforcement of $43 million per year.

And remember, once intact pets were outlawed, only outlaws would have intact pets. Would owners of unaltered dogs and cats be less willing to report crime or come forward as witnesses?

AB 1634 is bad for public health.

If AB 1534 passed, expect fewer people to license and vaccinate their pets. After all, if your pet is unaltered, you can’t get a license. Plus, if your animal’s intact, the vet is pretty much the first person who’d notice. And you wouldn’t dare go the one of those low cost vaccination clinics run by a government agency.

People may even become reluctant to get Tabby to the vet at the first signs of illness—many of which can be passed on to people. It’s not just rabies, either. There are parasites and diseases like leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis which can cause miscarriage and birth defects in people. Problems would be exacerbated if, as was proposed in Sacramento, veterinarians were forced to become the pet police.

Don’t forget about the role of cats and dogs in rodent control, either. While there is an exemption for pure-bred cats which are on the pet show circuit, I doubt if these cats would be out for an evening killing rats

AB 1634 is bad for pet health

There are pros and cons to sterilization of pets. However, when performed at a very young age, problems far outweigh the benefits including urinary incontinence, various cancers, obesity, orthopedic problems, and behavioral problems such as environmental fear and dog on dog aggression. As noted above, AB 1634 could cause owners of intact pets to avoid veterinary clinics.

As time went on, and people could no longer get dogs from small hobby breeders, the void would be filled by puppy mills. Even the best of these are essentially “dog factories” where, even if clean and sanitary which is by no means guaranteed, dogs are kenneled for life, perpetually pregnant or nursing, without play or other stimulation.

Often, the mills are an absolute abomination ( You may want to get the kleenex before going to this site.) There is one goal: Produce as many puppies as possible, as cheaply as possible. Three quarters of these are in Kansas and Missouri, with the rest predominantly in the Midwest and east. The U.S. Border Patrol estimates that about 10,000 puppies per year are brought into San Diego from Mexico.
Nationally, less than one percent of puppy mill dogs are currently bred in California. Look for this to increase, since breeders with an expensive breeder’s license, and business license or state tax number would be exempt. Obviously they would have to sell more pups to pay for the breeder’s license.

But doesn’t California have rules guaranteeing humane treatment? Under the State law, kennels must be kept sanitary, and animals must have “adequate space”. So what’s “adequate space”? As stated in Health and Safety Code Sec. 122065:

"adequate space"means sufficient space for the dog to stand up, sit down, and turn about freely using normal body movements, without the head touching the top of the cage, and to lie in a natural position.

Plenty of room, like spending your life in a cell the size of a twin bed with a ceiling no higher than a typical door frame—if you’re lucky. You would be performing your bodily functions there, too.

California breeders are required by law to take back pets if health problems arise within a given time, but often problems don’t show up until later. Animals taken back will be unloaded on someone else or disposed of—and it’s not always a “good death”, as implied by the Greek roots of the word “euthanasia”.

Even if the commercial breeders provided heaven on earth, it would still be bad for the pet population. Less than one percent of privately owned dogs meet the intact criteria of AB 1634. Genetic diversity is important to maintaining healthy populations, whether cat, dog, bird, or human. Genetic diversity is important in adapting to changing conditions and fending off disease. The more limited the gene pool, the more likely that a given genetic mutation will proliferate. Do we want our pets to resemble the royal houses of Europe?

AB 1634 is bad for California business

AB 1634 would adversely affect a range of economic sectors. California's $1.5 billion cattle industry and $54 million sheep industry depend on working dogs. The dogs have been carefully bred for generations for their ability. They are not show dogs, and are often not registered “pure bred”. If AB 1634 passed, these lines would be destroyed. Some breeds such as our very own California breed, the McNab , or could be nearly eliminated. Perhaps hardest hit would be small, independent cattlemen producing range- fed beef. A ranching friend told me more than once that a good herding dog is worth four hired hands. Consider the difference in cost. We’ll be stuck with factory feedlot beef and factory dogs. Lovely. And that factory steak will cost more, too.

Hunters too, would face a limited supply of working stock, resulting in a hit to California’s $16 million hunting license revenue, not to mention loss of at least a portion of the $315 million hunters spend in California annually.

AB 1634 is elitist

AB 1634 will not affect the factory breeder who will be able to charge more for inferior dogs, only the small hobby breeder that produces one litter every few years from a high quality animal. AB 1634 won’t affect the wealthy and careless who can afford to plunk down a couple thousand for the flavor of the month in accessory canines and felines, be they dalmations, chihuahuas, or teacup Persians, without regard to the origin of the animal. AB 1634 will affect moderate income families who just want a nice dog or cat to love.

Why do I care? Why should you?

By way of full disclosure, I do not have an unaltered dog, and have no interest in breeding pups, but I’ve been the ownee of a long line of shelter dogs, rescue dogs, and a couple straight from the on-premises mom. They have enriched my life immeasurably.

I also have friends on working ranches and know how indispensable a good working dog can be. I fear that should AB 1634 pass, the only dogs and cats available would be through means that I could not in good conscience utilize or problem animals, whether due to health or disposition.

Dogs in particular have adapted over millennia to live and work with man, as man has adapted in return, creating unique bonds between the species. Let’s not break that bond.

Please contact your assembly member, your state senator, and Governor Schwarzenegger now.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

And they said midnight basketball was dead.

Up for a game of midnight baseball?

What about a picnic in the park? How’s 4 am grab you?

Our parks in Costa Mesa are under ever more pressure for ever more activities by our growing population. People who prefer a quiet afternoon enjoying open space are at odds with those who prefer active sports. Those in organized leagues compete with others interested in pick-up games. Softball players compete with soccer players for space. And residents living adjacent to parks are tired of what seems like 24/7 activity.

We simply need more park land. As our population expands, we’ll need still more.

How has our city council responded? By blowing opportunity after opportunity.

Town Center--Blowing an Opportunity

In January 2007, the council approved a general plan amendment allowing 1,269 new, high- rise dwelling units in Town Center. The project’s environmental impact report (EIR) says this will bring 3,173 new residents to Costa Mesa. Based on the city standard of 4.26 acres of park land for each 1,000 residents (CM Municipal Code Sec. 13-255), the project will generate a need for 13.5 more acres of city park land.

Under State and local law, the City Council could have required the developers to dedicate 13.5 acres of land for parks.

They could have required land to be dedicated within the Town Center area, near where the new demand would be generated, an area where night time lighting and high activity levels in the late evening are the norm. This would have also provided open space relief amidst the concrete and glass.

Or, they could have accepted land elsewhere in the city already owned by the project applicants or purchased by the applicants for that purpose. This could have been a real win for residents, since one of the applicants owns the now-vacant Kona Lanes site at Harbor and Mesa Verde East. Lots of people have suggested it as a site for ball fields.

So, what did the Costa Mesa City Council do with this golden opportunity? They decided to accept “in-lieu” fees, fees that they know full well will be less than the cost of providing the much-needed parkland.

The fees would be used, they said, to “to improve the versatility of the existing parks in order to serve the community”. Huh??? Is that another way of saying “put in more lights”?

Well, okay, the sports capacity of some parks could be increased by reconfiguring fields, but that only goes so far. Besides, do we need every last square inch or our parks to be programmed?

Harbor & Fair--Blowing Another Opportunity

Remember the formerly vacant land at Fair Drive and Harbor Boulevard?

Starting in the 1990s, Costa Mesa officials had talked with the state on and off about acquiring the 5.5 acre parcel. At one point it looked like we might even get it deeded over without cost to the city, but state budget woes intervened. In August 2004, the City Council unanimously started a process to rezone the property from residential to “institutional and recreational” use--a prelude to acquisition for park purposes.

Around the same time the City of Newport Beach was trying to acquire land at the corner of Superior and West Coast Highway, land also zoned for residential use, which included some pretty great views.

As time went on, each potential transfer was on again, off again. In January 2005, the Costa Mesa City Council chose to drop further efforts toward local acquisition (voting 3-1, Dixon no, Foley absent), because in the words of Mayor Mansoor, attempting to justify his flip-flop, the land was “extremely [emphasis NOT added] expensive property, sigh, I don’t think we would have been able to go there,” implying the land would be unusually expensive.

An odd assertion. Can’t say I know anyone willing to pay a premium to live next to a highway. Maybe Mr. Mansoor does.

Later, at the height of the real estate boom, the property was sold to a developer for $11.1 million, or about $2,000,000 an acre. That is pretty expensive.

On the other hand, the State sometimes sells land for less than market price if some other public good will result, like more parks or housing for poor families. That’s what happened in Newport Beach. Usually they also require some type of deed restriction or profit sharing agreement, so local agencies don’t simply get cheap land from the State, then turn around and sell it at a profit

In late 2005, Newport Beach bought a 1.88 acre portion of what’s now Sunset Ridge Park for just $175,000. Last summer the Newport Beach City Council eliminated the residential designation for the 15.05 acre Caltrans West/Sunset Ridge parcel and redesignated it for park use, similar to the process commenced, but later abandoned, by the Costa Mesa City Council. The upper portion of the site was designated a public view point under Newport’s general plan.

So how much did Newport Beach pay the state? In late 2006, Newport Beach bought the remaining15.05 acre parcel to complete the park for $5 million, a little over three hundred thousand dollars an acre. Applying that land value, the Harbor and Fair site would have cost the City of Costa Mesa about $1.83 million.

The state also required that an open space deed restriction be placed over a portion of the Sunset Ridge land. No problem if you want a park. And the state financed the sale at 4.75 % interest.

Blowing Through the Cash

Isn’t Costa Mesa doing anything? Oh yes, as we know, they're putting in more lights at the old Mesa High farm site, increasing its "versatility". Hey, maybe they can double deck it. How’s that for "versatility"?

They also voted to buy a 1.19 acre site next to Brentwood Park on the east side for $3,542,000, or almost $3 million an acre. Of course that land on Harbor, at $2 million an acre was “extremely expensive. sigh…”. We just couldn’t “go there.”

And what else are they doing? Well, they budgeted $1,000,000 plus in state bond funds to redo fields at Tewinkle Park, $650,000 in general funds to renovate the Tewinkle Park lake, and $75,000 in park dedication funds to redo irrigation at Tewinkle. Wow! Tewinkle Park must be really versatile now.

Let’s focus on those in-lieu/park dedication funds: They budgeted $75,000 for a park study, $45,000 for signs at FOUR parks and another $25,000 for signs at four more parks. Bet those signs really increased versatility.

What else did they budget with the in-lieu money? $127,000 for two picnic shelters and $150,000 for a “shade structure” at the “Volcom Skate Park” and another $100,000 for parking lot lighting outside the skate park. (And what’s Volcom paying for anyway?) $60,000 to repair a slope at one park and $35,000 to re-landscape a slope at another.

And don’t forget $85,000 to lease land. For one year. Heaven forfend we should have anything permanent to show for our money at the end of a few years.

Some of this sounds like good stuff, but how’s it going to stretch park capacity to accommodate thousands more people? And as for some of the rest, I don’t know how one could blow through as much money as quickly if one were actually trying.


Small parcel at Sunset Ridge purchased by Newport Beach:
$93,085 per acre

Large parcel at Sunset Ridge purchased by Newport Beach:
$332,226 per acre

Parcel at Harbor and Fair purchased by private developer:
$2,029,250 per acre

Brentwood park parcel purchased by Costa Mesa:
$2,976,471 per acre

City council truly dedicated to providing adequate recreation facilities:
We can’t go there.