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Saturday, January 2, 2016

My 2016 Prayer/Hope/Wish List



Everyone is writing lists, so here's mine for Costa Mesa:

1. That the City Council would offer hiring bonuses for police officers wanting to make "lateral" transfers from other police departments to CMPD.   Mr. Hatch's $1 million (slush) fund could fund 20 officers @$10-$15K.  ($200,000-$300,000) This is a reasonable expense for our safety and to replace the "depth" the CMPD has lost through retirements, etc. We need a fully staffed police force with 134 officers when crime is increasing.  
2. That the mayor and mayor pro tem would drop the lawsuit and get on with the business of governing our city, not running it into the ground due  to  hatred of unions.
3. That within the next 90 days, the council would complete negotiations with our fire and police associations and sign contracts that "retain and recruit" the best public safety officers for our residents.
4. That the City would be proactive in its efforts to transition the Costa Mesa Motor Inn residents to their new homes and new lives and make sure all residents who need help are in fact, helped. (Similar to the way our city staff helped the residents from Anchor Mobile Home Park find new homes.)
5. That future apartment projects include units for those who need affordable housing because it's the right thing to do.
6. That the Council would pursue all leads to provide supportive housing to Costa Mesa homeless persons, including use of Fairview State Hospital.
7. That sober living home operators would incorporate a "best practices exit strategy" for all of their clients leaving rehab, and not dump these clients on our streets where some, not having maintained their sobriety, proceed to commit crimes in our neighborhoods. This is not being a good neighbor.  Also, that sober living operators require clients to do "community service" projects.  I'd like to see clients give back some sweat equity to our city and be openly appreciative of the gift it is to live here: scrape up gum, pick up trash, cigarette butts. Sober living recovery homes imbedded in neighborhoods were intended to promote healthy community living, not isolation.
8. That in 2016 Costa Mesa citizens would take the time to become informed about the many issues affecting our city's future such as the proposed changes to the General Plan on Harbor and Newport Blvds that will forever increase traffic. That citizens would ask questions and seek out the answers and be fully informed when voting in November.
9. That voters support the Costa Mesa First Initiative (http://www.costamesa1st.com) in November and sign petitions and vote for the recently launched initiative to preserve Fairview Park. (http://www.fairviewparkalliance.org) Both initiatives will give residents a voice in future city developments and uses of the park.
10. That the council follow the informed recommendations of its Pension Committee and request staff research and report on:  retiree medical, pension trusts, revenue/borrowing pre pay options, hybrid defined benefit and defined contribution plans, plans with employer and employee sharing basics costs 50 50, and also allowing employees freedom to contribute additional amounts. Paying down the Fireside Fund is goal too. Here is the complete report: http://www.costamesaca.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=20327

11. And finally, should there be vacancies on any committees that the council would vote for the most qualified persons.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Encouraging Responses to my motel visit

I shouldn't be surprised by getting positive feedback from the piece I wrote about my visit to the Costa Mesa Motor Inn. It confirms that we Costa Mesans, in spite of other differences in opinions, are collectively compassionate, caring and eager to show mercy to our neighbors if given the chance to do something tangible.

I have been burdened by the real life, hard luck stories I heard from the CMMI residents.

Of course many of us knew this day was coming for those who live in motels, mobile homes and other affordable housing in Costa Mesa. Many of us have copies of the City's  "M" map showing our motels and mobile home parks with colored dots as targets for redevelopment.  For awhile, the planning department gave out those maps to developers who could zero in on those parcels when looking for prime real estate deals in Costa Mesa knowing our developer friendly council would help with the details.

But it's almost Christmas,  so let's put aside the politics for a moment.  Is there anything we can do to ease the plight of some of our neighbors? We can't help hundreds in need, but maybe we can stop and help one, or two.

Yes, we can act on those heart- felt impulses and reach out with some small act of kindness.

My friend Terri is collecting sleeping bags for the homeless. She emailed me today that the bag I gave her was placed on a woman sleeping and the woman almost cried when Terri placed it over her.

I'm going to buy a gift card for one CMMI family that touched my heart.

Maybe you're thinking of doing something too. Do it!

Let's not get overwhelmed and discouraged by the battles we've lost or the ones ahead.

Let's show our  Costa Mesa love and compassion and chase the demons right out of our city and pray they don't come back.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Life Happens in Costa Mesa



Arriving Saturday morning at the infamous Costa Mesa Motor Inn on Harbor Blvd., I saw three little girls, about 7 or 8 years old, giggling and chasing each other near the golf course fence, behind the motel's entrance gate. I immediately recognized one little girl whose picture had been in the paper recently.

My heart was telling me Saturday to go with a handful of others to pass out flyers to motel residents informing them of their legal rights.  Recently the city council voted to approve a zoning change and replace the motel with luxury apartments.  Those little girls and their parents live at the motel and will need to find a new home in 2016.  The flyers will help them with their futures.

This apartment project came before the city council in 2014 for a "screening" when I was still on the council. At the screening, I approved the new project's concept. The outdated motel had a bad reputation for crime and many police and fire calls.  However, at the time, I had asked the developer representing the owner to please include "affordable housing" to match the incomes of those residents being displaced, in the final project. Unfortunately, that request was denied. There will be some affordable housing in the new project, but the future residents would need to make approximately $75,000, perhaps more than $100,000 to be eligible for an apartment.  I wouldn't qualify. 

By passing out the flyers, I was in a very small way helping residents in their relocation plans from the motel to a new home.  I told them that if they have lived at the motel for more than 30 days, they were promised cash relocation assistance. The owner agreed to pay the benefits beginning in February 2016 through August 1, 2016.  In addition, Councilwoman Katrina Foley successfully negotiated with the owner for  $250,000 for the City staff to assist residents. Those details, I understand, are still being worked out.

As I spoke with some residents, I was told by several that the conditions of the motel had improved greatly since 2013. Gone were many drug dealers and the problems they brought. 

 I talked with parents, children by their sides, all concerned with their futures and how things would work out for them.  They welcomed the flyers which reminded them of some things they could do to prepare for their moves.  I listened to several stories of lives on the brink, a few steps away from homelessness. Fortunately, they were looking forward to church members bringing cheer and presents for a Christmas party for them.

This motel and its residents had been characterized many times by the council majority as a den of iniquity, filled with drugs, pimps and prostitutes needing immediate removal from our city.  But that is not what I saw.  I saw a very clean motel, (no trash), a nice playground and sparkling pool and normal looking people and kids. Many told me they were long time Costa Mesa residents wanting to stay in Costa Mesa.

I believe all lives matter, and some lives are not worth less than others. (I hated that "lifeboat" analogy we used to teach in the 70's).

 If we keep going in this direction in Costa Mesa, we might end up with more money in our budget because of more revenue from property taxes, but we will have lost our heart, our compassion, and that will be pretty hard to restore.  

It takes all kinds of people to make up a great city like ours.  We seem to be going down a road where we are squeezing out those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.  It wasn't too long ago that residents of the mobile home park Rolling Homes on Newport Blvd. almost lost their homes to a proposed apartment project until an adjacent property owner saved the day and said he wasn't going to sell his property to provide access to the new project. God intervened.

I'm praying for these folks at the motel.  They could use some miracles too.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I'm baaaack! Some crazy glitch in Blogger (or some nefarious plot to dismantle my ocpublicsquare square blog) prevents me from posting the normal way, but I have overcome all obstacles and I'm back in the blogging business.

ICYMI Fairview Park Preservation Alliance is now waiting until Oct 2 for the CM City attorney to approve the petition which would preserve the park "as built" in perpetuity and require any additions to follow the park's master plan. Those interested, watch for updates. We need to collect more than 5,000 valid Costa Mesa voter signatures. Check out and like Facebook page Fairview Park Preservation Alliance.

That's the same amount we need to collect for the Costa Mesa First initiative to put a stop on out of control development adding more density and traffic to our already busy streets. Check out Facebook and website www.costamesa1st.Com for details and how you can help gather signatures.

It's a busy season for us normal Costa Mesans who want our voices to be heard by the City Council.

Next up: homeless issues and sober living: how are they related?  (No visible relapse plan for those who fall off the wagon onto our streets and parks and remaining bus benches).


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Why?

Why?
Why do we do it? Why do we skip dinner, put on our thinking caps after a long day and go to a city council meeting? Why don't we just stay home? Why do we sit there and pore over staff reports, scribble out what we hope makes sense, turn a card in so we can speak, and then stay past midnight to put in our 2 cents about Fairview Park? Why?

Because, we care. We love this city. We care about Hank Lloyd and his great tennis program which for Costa Mesans is affordable and convenient.  We care about the City Council budget and the reserve fund.  We want the Council to put more than $500,000 towards the unfunded pension liability. We don't want to see our city, blessed with probably the biggest shopping center in the world, go bankrupt.

We love this city and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get it back into the hands of people who really care about people and are not just interested in reimaging out city from one end to the other and changing the rules so developers can make more money and then give some of it to the politicians who helped them.

We've never  been in this place before.  We stopped TWO dumb charters, stopped Big League Dreams, elected Sandy and Katrina, but our backs are still against the wall without a majority. 

But last night's council meeting was a doosy! We actually beat back the sports fields because people got up and told the council we don't want no stinkin sports fields at Fairview or some crazy survey that is skewed to tell the Council Costa Mesans want sports fields.  (No data has EVER been produced by the recreation department to prove we NEED more sports fields or lighted sports fields).

Earlier, we watched as Gary divulged confidential information about the CMPOA---totally breaking the Brown Act by stating the POA turned down an offer.  Tom Duarte's  answer was so wishy washy. Katrina did an awesome job of calling him out.

So if you are reading this and thinking you don't need to pay attention to what is going on at city hall, I have to tell you that you are wrong.  We need more people who love this city and are willing to sacrifice a few comforts to continue to confront the City Council on issues that impact the future of our City. 

In a few minutes I'm off to College Park School to a forum on sober living homes put on by College Park residents who are enraged that a neighbor's home was broken into by someone who lives in a nearby sober living home.  The kids were asleep and the dad got up and chased him out!  He was arrested later, thank God. How has the sober living home market been allowed to saturate our city? Why don't we have enough police to patrol our neighborhoods?

It may be everything is just fine on your street, but with police staffing down below 100, and plan underway to close Fire Station 6 up by South Coast Plaza, it's only a matter of time before you realize you need to come down to City Hall and make your voices heard to the City Council too.  It's not too late.  Those of us who go don't want our city to be just a memory.  We want to preserve it for the future so that others can enjoy the blessings and quality of life we have enjoyed.





Friday, December 5, 2014

Time to Return to the Blogosphere

With so much free time on my hands, I've come back to revive my blog. First, thank you very much to everyone for the many very kind words as I termed out on Tuesday. I'm very humbled and blessed by the comments, presentations, my own "Costa Mesa book", a tennis racket from Hank Lloyd and more. Like I said, it felt like I was at a "funeral/graduation" from city council after 8 years-- a send off I never imagined.
Did I work hard? Yes. (I won't say I worked my butt off because all those free meals made me gain weight). But I did my best to serve and speak for the residents, and now as an ex council person, I intend to keep serving where I see the need. Stay tuned for updates.

I was teaching at juvenile hall today and remarked to another teacher that we only have one gang officer or less in Costa Mesa. Our police department keeps shrinking. We've lost the depth we were so proud of a few years ago. In the last 20 years we made the City safer, especially Shalimar, because we had 4 to 6 gang officers who kept tabs on the homies and home girls. Just one result of an unfortunate decision by the mayor and mayor pro tem to sue our police association, which really means they are suing the police department. To me it seems like a type of class action suit which only harms the residents of Costa Mesa. It will have to play out in court but in the meantime  our department struggles to serve residents with sworn staff of less than 100 officers. We have patrol officers who are stretched to the max and not enough detectives, investigators, traffic cops and special enforcement officers,
for things like prostitution and trafficking, to serve a city of our size.

Don't be a vector's victim


Friday, June 22, 2012

Just the facts, please

Costa Mesa council OKs $132.7 million budget (click here to read Register article for more details)

Cops or colored sidewalks?
I contend some projects can wait and are not "must haves."

I believe our service levels are going down, our response times are getting longer. People are telling me it's difficult to find a person to answer the phone at city hall.

However with this budget, we will have pretty sidewalks to brag about and welcome those to Costa Mesa looking for "curb appeal" and of course fast food restaurants--if they want to move here.

Are we focused on the "potential" newcomers or on those who live here NOW? Seems to me all this reform is for what folks can "see" but doesn't address the underlying quality of services we are all used to receiving, especially public safety services.  Since we are doing all of this at break neck speed, it is impossible to analyze how all these massive changes will impact our quality of life in our great city. Only time will tell if these were good decisions. I've said before, we are moving recklessly to re-image our city.

Since I was cut off  on Tuesday night by the Mayor from explaining why I oppose this budget, I wanted to share the details.
See http://costamesa.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=4&clip_id=1962  (I begin my explanation at 6:07.05 and I am shut down at 6:09:23 when the mayor "calls for the question" and says my comment is a "ramble.")

Instead of the items in yellow below--which definitely can wait,  I suggested we instead fund  6 cops (@$160,000 per officer including benefits, which would total approximately $960.000. 

Previously a consultant recommended that Costa Mesa, with its population and other factors, needed 137 police officers.  We have 131 officers funded. (And, we have many retirements coming up. But that is another story...how we are working with our police and fire associations on new agreements so we can begin hiring and have those new hires pay more into their own medical and retirement funds and lower our unfunded liability).

Here are the details: (pages in Preliminary Budget noted for more info)

All these expenses will be from the "Capital Outlay Fund" otherwise known as "General Fund" unless otherwise noted:
$500,000 -Fairview Park-Placentia Ave. Connector Trail-in need of rehab to "correct drainage problems and to repair old asphalt concrete trail . . .replace with color concrete" (page 185). (City has applied for a grant, so possible city will only contributre $250,000.

$250,000-Westside Improvements-19th street from Harbor to westerly city limits: "decorative crosswalks, decorative sidewalks, parkway landscaping including planting trees, street furnishings such as benches, trash resceptablces, news racks, etc." (page 160).

$360,000 Harbor Blvd. Bike Trail Improvements--safety lighting for bike trail. Will utilize same low-level lighting to maintain uniformity, increase safety and beautify this very important corridor..energy efficient." (page 159)

$540,000 Harbor Blvd. Improvements--"installation of decorative crosswalks at intersections of Harbor Blvd. at Baker and Date Place. ..construction of a colored concrete intersection at Harbor and Baker." (page 163).
$300,000 for "legal costs related civil and criminal litigation" This is $400,000 more than in 09-10 budget. (pages 79, 81, 82).
From the "Summary of Proposed Capital Improvement Projects" spreadsheet
$300,000 for Sports Fields Master Plan (work with NMUSD to upgrade CMHS football field/track
$500,000 for set aside for "Problem Properties" (motels).
Total costs for above: $2,750.000
Plus  $1 million for contingency fund--
Let's hire six more cops, not fire the four who were recently fired and put the rest towards the unfunded liability debt.  That's being more fiscally responsible.
Other employee related decisions which may affect quality of services eventually: (see 6/19/12 Agenda Report PH-5 page 1) Savings for firing 3 office specialists and one information technology manager: $401,000.
(Also, we eliminated 4 custody officers for the jail, a mechanic, maintenance worker, a planner, and suspended the in-house street rehab program, all of which the city manager acknowledges "may result in delays in service delivery but the financial savings is needed to balance the budget and move the City into a better financial position." He added staff will continually evaluate...and make adjustments to ensure appropriate service is provided to the community." (page 3 June 12 Study session report, CEO recommended changes) Total savings of these cuts are approximately $1million however, some money will be set aside for overtime and hiring 3 more code enforcement officers so it's hard to deermine actual projected savings. Fixing potholes in a timely manner is now another issue.)
LEECE.WENDY@costamesaca.gov or wendyleece@gmail.com