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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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hubris in Costa Mesa

Definition:  Excessive pride and arrogance.  That's the word that comes to mind to describe the Council majority at Monday night's public "hearing" on the proposed charter.

Now that more outsiders have come to Costa Mesa to make our city ground zero for local government reform, it is all starting to make sense.  First it was the OCGOP who insisted we should have our employees contribute more to their retirements.   Now it is "others" representing special interests, as they did in Oceanside, who don't want the City to pay prevailing wages on municipal projects. 

What a slap in the face to Costa Mesans who work in construction trades, who live in our clean, safe city and depend on those established wages to make a living.

Monday's meeting was another epiphany for me.  I honestly thought that we would sift through many of the submitted suggestions to the Charter.  Why did we ask for public input if we were not sincere in reading the hundreds of emails or listening to resident comments and discussing additions to the charter?  All those hours spent by staff to organize the emails was a waste.

What a monumental waste of time for those who have taken the time to send in their ideas. I think some people thought their ideas might be considered.

Reviewing the ideas should have been done at a series of study sessions where we could have deliberated and wordsmithed each of them since we opted not to have a citizens committee write the charter.

At the very least, on Monday night I thought I would start with improvements to the proposed preamble, which has bothered me from the beginning.  It just isn't right to copy and paste from Oceanside and Vista. We are Costa Mesa.

I made an exception to copy and paste from Huntington Beach's preamble because I like the part about ethics.  As an elected, these words do hold me accountable and remind me to behave ethically.

We had a hard time agreeing on where to put the sentences, (and thanks to Perry Valantine who helped with his suggestion). We should have spent as much on time on the hundreds of other suggestions. Oh well.

At least we were able to include "that ethics and integrity are the foundation of public trust and that just governance is built upon these values" and "It is incumbent upon those who govern and make decisions for and on behalf of the City of Costa Mesa to legally, as well as morally, abide by the provisions of this Charter, in its strictest sense, to assure the continued success and well-being of our fair City."

However, I did NOT vote for the changes since "in its strictest sense" was deleted by the mayor pro tem.  You will have to ask him why he didn't want "in the strictest sense" included.

Further motions of mine died for lack of seconds.  I could see we were going nowhere so rather take up more time to achieve nothing, as it was nearly midnight,  I agreed to end the meeting.

We've wasted a year--spinning, racking up more than half a million dollars in extra legal expenses, postponing layoffs, paying exorbitant salaries to consultants and what have we accomplished but to divide our city and create strife? Municipal finance is not rocket science. Residents can see through the exaggerations. Week after week residents have spoken to us about their ideas for cost savings.  We had a $3.5 million surplus from the previous council's decisions.  We aren't saving money now, that's for sure. We're spending!

By now, we could have met in good faith with all of our employee groups to achieve savings as we did before this council came into being. We've lost experienced and faithful employees, police and fire too, to other cities. We're losing our ability to retain and recruit the best.

All for pension reform. We're the tip of the spear you know. And now we also know that people are not as important as fixing potholes and alleys.  We're taking a great risk to make all these changes so fast when we don't need to move so quickly. 

The sky has never been falling.  The unfunded liability bogeyman is something every city struggles with.  In fact, pension expert John Bartell told us in October that we should "set up an affordable and reasonable time frame of not less than 20 years to payoff the unfunded pension liability."  He also said that we would save money by establishing a second tier for new employees (we did with general employees in Oct. 2010) and having employees pay "some or all of their pension costs."

But this contentious environment has not been conducive to achieving those savings with employees.

I am not opposed to a charter, but I am opposed to this one because of the process, or lack of process, that the city council council has devised to pretend to take public input.  It's really a sham.

I intend to work hard to oppose the charter assuming it will be approved on March 6. Wake up Costa Mesa!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Unbelieveable Week

I was amazed to see so many Costa Mesa residents turn out last night to speak to oppose the 19th Street bridge idea.  Bravo!  Our Huntington Beach neighbors made their desires loud and clear to the 6 council members attending:  NO BRIDGE! 

However, I was the only Costa Mesa council member there.  Residents must let the rest of the Costa Mesa Council know of their opposition. The Newport Beach City Council members also need to hear from residents in all cities.  Newport wants the bridge as Supervisor Moorlach told us NB Councilman Rosansky asked him to bring up the bridge idea again and that's why we are going through this again.

The next Costa Mesa City Council meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 6:00 where you will have 3 minutes to voice your opinion and concerns about the bridge changing the quality of life for many Costa Mesans.  A resolution (I said "proclamation" last night and I meant to say "resolution") was passed by the Costa Mesa Council in 1993 officially opposing the bridge and that opposition STILL STANDS

Bottom line, the bridge needs to come off the county master plan for highways.  But Newport needs to agree to it with CM and HB. This will not be an easy battle, but we Costa Mesans are up for it! This is a hill to die on, so please spread the word to your neighbors.

My head was spinning this morning when I started to see ALL of the emails with suggestions and comments about the proposed charter!  I need to "process" these emails (each and every email is important to me) BEFORE Tuesday's special public hearing. 

Are you kidding me?  This is no way to run a city!  We ask our residents to give us input but tell them they only have a few days to RESEARCH other charters, think about what IS BEST FOR COSTA MESA, and make a pitch for their ideas to be included! Haste makes waste.  We will be sorry down the road if we don't slow this train down. 

This morning, I have asked the CITY MANAGER and city attorney for clarification on the DROP DEAD date as we are all confused as to the timeline and legal requirements for adding and removing items.  Why didn't we think all this through in the first place?

The Charter meeting on Wednesday was very ineffective and I listened to many frustrated residents that night.  I agree. I am frustrated too!  Residents wanted to ask questions and LISTEN to answers from other residents.  Some residents, in asking questions at the info tables were told "look in your packet." It would take a normal person at least an hour to READ the packet let alone THINK about it!

I think we could be there all night at the special city council public hearing next Tuesday, Jan. 10 going over all of the input from residents and discussing among ourselves.  Unless, other minds have already been made up about what is supposed to be in the Charter and input from residents really doesn't matter. 

I'm sorry. I have have read the Charter, some of the emails and suggestions and I am having a hard time sifting through it all and also looking at other charters for OTHER ideas.  I like to be thoroughly prepared when I walk into a meeting.  Well, I could be prepared if I dropped everything else in my life for the next few days!

Costa Mesa is a very unique city.  We should not be copying and pasting from other cities! Makes us look dumb! We aren't!

If this moves as fast as I think it will, the only recourse we have is to send a resounding message in June:  WE DON'T WANT A CHARTER THAT WE HAVE NOT HAD TIME TO UNDERSTAND THOROUGHLY  AND THAT WE KNOW IS THE BEST FOR COSTA MESA, NOW AND IN THE FUTURE.

I don't care what other cities are doing to serve THEIR purposes.  We have many great minds in this city and those ideas deserve to be heard in an orderly and timely manner. 

We are a safe, clean city with excellent customer service. We live the good life here! I want to keep it that way.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful for the Opportunity to Serve

Lots of thoughts run through my head this year when thinking of the many things for which I can thank God. 

My baby--22-year-old Emily--is in her third week of USMC Boot Camp at Parris Island. I am thankful she has chosen to serve our Country.   I have been parenting for 38 years and with Emily's joining the Marines, I now find myself wondering where all those years went with my five kids. I'm thankful we survived!

Next year, I will have lived in this great city for 40 years. We could have moved away from Costa Mesa when life brought us some challenges, but there's something very unique about the Costa Mesa brand that doesn't exist anywhere else. I am thankful for Costa Mesa.

We are a safe, clean City of the Arts and not just performing arts. We're creative.  We're eclectic. We're friendly. We're diverse. We do unto others. And I think a reason we're creative is because we're safe--or we have that "sense" of feeling safe that allows us to pursue our dreams and enjoy life.  The cool ocean breezes, the ability to walk or ride to the beach, the varied cultures and lifestyles--Costa Mesa is like a taste of heaven on earth.  We really do have everything here.

I am thankful I am in good health.  I am optimistic about the future. I  trust God to help us get through these difficult changes in our city's structure and delivery of services.

As I have kept up with my Council duties, I have continued to teach in the juvenile hall schools. City Council is not a full-time job for me and was not meant to be.  I love the  challenge of substitute teaching. Working with incarcerated youth has given me a greater understanding of why these kids fall through the cracks. I continue to support and recruit volunteers for our city's afterschool programs--non-profit or school-based.  Encouraging literacy and life-long learning--to see our libraries remodeled and expanded, and a new, central library--these are my dreams.

I am thankful for those who support me in the positions I take--and for those who don't--and for those who have come out to the recent Town Hall meetings.  I plan to hold more Town Halls in different parts of the city, so that we can work together with our city staff to keep us a safe city. I will continue to listen to resident concerns and work on solutions.

I am thankful for our city employees who have persevered with courage these last 3 years.  They have shown their endurance and strength.  They are true servants who, in my opinion, value the nobility of public service.

I am thankful God has given me the opportunity, at this time in my life, to serve on the Costa Mesa City Council. 
                                                    Happy Thanksgiving from the Leeces
             Stephen, Emily, Megan, Bret, Amy, Derek, Blithe, Mom, kiddies Kennedy, Hamilton

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Open House and a Thank You

Little guys and gals donning fire hats. Costa Mesa firefighters and paramedics explaining to them all the bells and whistles on the fire engine.  Moms and dads watching approvingly.  Today was Open House at Costa Mesa's five fire stations and there was a great turnout, firefighters told me.

Volunteers from CERT (Citizens Emergency Response Team) in their bright red shirts were also on hand to give out coloring books to the kids and emergency preparedness information to parents. 

This week a Costa Mesa resident sent this email note about our CMFD to the City Council:

Your EMT team from fire station Park & 19th came to my assistance in late nite last Tuesday/Wed and took me to Hoag emergency. Thankfully I was able to return home in the early morning hours from the emergency room.

I cannot tell you what fabulous young men you have in that station. They responded to my home almost immediately - delivered extraordinary compassionate - professional - patient and kind treatment on the spot and throughout the trip to Hoag. Then later - when bringing in other "pick up patients" into Hoag through the night - they looked in on me another 2 times - always with a smile - "how are you doing" - just the BEST !!!!!
Please know that I am not a person who easily hands out any accolades, but these men - and their training - deserve special acknowledgement.

I hope you and your family members never need them - but if you do -- you will have the very finest of care you could hope for. They are priceless.

We can count on our firefighters, paramedics and police officers to continue to perform their duties and serve our residents with the highest professional standards.  Regardless of the politics over the pension wars, the public safety employees working for our city continue to do an excellent job and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Kid at a Time

Graffiti.  I detest it. It’s a proven neighborhood destroyer. As soon as I see it, I call the Graffiti Hotline (714-327-7491). Within hours, it’s gone.

When I am teaching in the juvenile hall schools, I often observe students tagging on the desks, in the books, on the chairs, walls-- anywhere they can make their “mark.” When I catch them, they get “written up” and have consequences.  I try to make this a teachable moment.

I’ve explained to my classes numerous times about a new camera that will take a picture of their “art” The pictures are fed into a countywide data base. 

 “When you get arrested, all that artwork will become evidence in charges against you and you will also have to pay restitution.”

Recently, one young man told me that he paints graffiti because he is mad at the government.  I tried to explain to him that his taking a risk to be arrested again—to be locked up-- is not going to make any difference or change what the government is doing or not doing.

He seemed to listen.  Later, I went to Michael’s craft store and bought him an artist’s pad so he could practice his art work on a more “appropriate” medium.  (I was able to give the pad to him because he had completed a special program at the school. Otherwise, I would have to give a pad to all of the students).

I told him he could, when he gets out, go to Michael’s and buy small canvas boards and start selling his art work.  “You are talented!” I told him. He smiled.

But, I knew  he could make more money selling drugs and feared all my encouragement wouldn’t mean much when he got back to his neighborhood.

I haven’t seen him again.    Perhaps he’s been released. I just hope he thinks next time before he does his “art”—and remembers a teacher once told him he had talent and to use it differently.  This would make me smile.  
 
From time to time I plan to share some of my thoughts and insights about the students I teach in the juvenile hall schools. I appreciate any comments or thoughts you might have as well. Each of these kids has a unique story.