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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Our Reality: Living with Sober Living Homes in Costa Mesa


If you see something, SAY SOMETHING
It Takes a Village
United We Stand
Knowledge is Power
Never Give in, Never, Never, Never, (1941 Churchill)
Thank God for the Register’s OC Watchdog series (http://www.ocregister.com/tag/oc-watchdog/ ) exposing the sober living industry which invaded our quaint Costa Mesa a few years ago.  
The article may be the answer some of us have been waiting for to inform Costa Mesans about the complexities of the sober living home industry. A few years ago, a few brave residents united to try to oppose the takeover of once safe and quiet neighborhoods. However, to silence their free speech, residents received cease and desist letters warning them they could be sued if their actions showed discrimination towards the rehabilitation clients. Residents were hushed.  Who could risk a lawsuit and losing their home?
The City hemmed and hawed, doing nothing, citing possible lawsuits if there was discrimination towards clients, but in 2014 an ordinance was passed.  It was never strongly enforced. For several years only one code enforcement officer handled any citizen complaints about nuisance behavior or building code violations or lack of required permits from the sober living homes.
Now residents should be interested in reading through an update to the ordinance passed recently by the city council and taking effect June 2. Reading it and printing for future reference, residents will be able to understand better how the City, in context of ADA nondiscrimination laws, is trying to regulate and require permitting of sober living homes: http://www.costamesaca.gov/ftp/council/a...

There is a key paragraph on Page 8, if you don't want to read the whole ordinance: v. “The sober living home shall have a good neighbor policy that shall direct occupants to be considerate of neighbors, including refraining from engaging in excessively loud, profane or obnoxious behavior that would unduly interfere with a neighbor's use and enjoyment of their dwelling unit. The good neighbor policy shall establish a written protocol for the house manager/operator to follow when a neighbor complaint is received.”
Beginning on Page 5 are requirements for a City permit. Key point:  If a resident has a problem with a sober living home, the resident should contact the city to see if the operation is permitted or if it is a State licensed home.   
It is hoped all operators would apply for permits and follow all rules, but that is part of the challenge, many homes are unknown to the city.
“Curbing” has been the biggest problem in the last few years.  Clients are kicked “to the curb” when they “fall off the wagon,” or break other rules. Many of the clients are young people who came to Costa Mesa to get sober from places all over America. Getting them home isn’t easy. Many wander our streets, black trash bag or backpack hanging over their back.
Note on Page 6 of the Ordinance are the NEW requirements for eviction. "(6) At least 48 hours prior to eviction from or involuntary termination of residency in a group home, the operator thereof shall: i. notify the person designated as the occupant’s emergency contact or contact of record that the occupant is no longer a resident at the home; ii. contact the Orange County Health Care Agency OC Links Referral Line or other entity designated by the City to determine the services available to the occupant, including but not limited to, alcohol and drug inpatient and outpatient treatment; iii. notify the city’s Network for Homeless Solutions that an occupant is no longer a resident at the home, determine the services available therefrom; and iv. provide the information obtained from ii. and iii. and any other treatment provider or service to the occupant prior to his or her release on a form provided by the city and obtain the occupant’s signed acknowledgement thereon; v. provided, however, that if the occupant’s behavior results in immediate termination of residency pursuant to rules approved by the city as part of the special use permit for that facility, the operator shall comply with i. though iv. as soon as possible".
Just how many operators know about these new rules is anyone's guess. I’m not sure how the City plans to hold operators accountable since many homes are not registered.  
But with these rules residents are now empowered to report violations through Costa Mesa Connect, the Code Enforcement Department and the police department.
Should a certain address accumulate many reports of rules’ violations in addition to other types of nuisance behavior, it is possible the City could declare the property a nuisance.
Knowledge is power and City ordinances and reports are not always easy to understand, but I wanted to share this ordinance highlighting important parts hoping that neighbors will meet with their neighbors and work together to develop their own strategies to defend and protect their families, property and quality of life.
I love this quote from Winston Churchill: I am addressing myself to the School - surely from this period of ten months this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.”
Costa Mesans are courageous and strong folk who love our city and the life we enjoy here. I've raised 5 kids here and hope to die here.  We can’t give up. We must do all we can to defend and protect our families, homes and our quality of life.
(For the entire speech see: https://www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org/never-give-in-never-never-never.html) 
Looking forward to the new movie "Churchill".

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

It's Our Money

It’s city budget time!
The City Council will vote June 20 to approve the All Funds $155 million 2017-2018 budget, so if you have any concerns about how our money should be spent, now is the time to make your concerns known.  A special budget session for residents will be held Thursday, April 18 at City Hall.  https://www.costamesaca.gov/index.aspx?page=28&recordid=4173. The link will lead you to the proposed budget as well, and there are copies in the libraries and in the City Clerk’s office.
Also on June 6 residents have an opportunity to speak for 3 minutes at public comments at the Council meeting.
But please be aware, if you are old, maybe a LTR (Long Time Resident) Council member Righeimer might chastise you from the dais for your comments for the sole reason that you are old, your house is paid for and you are out of step with the times and trends of younger folks. In his opinion your old opinions really don’t matter in Costa Mesa anymore. 
During public comments at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, I voiced my concerns about the proposed budget which includes the Lions Park Library Project.  
My main concern is borrowing money, even $18 million, which may not be the wisest decision.  Many sources point to another recession coming our way. We should also be building up our reserves beyond $45 million and replenish our self-insurance fund. And the coming tsunami is the increase in employee pensions in the next few years, projected to be $7 million on top of the $22 million we’re paying now. These concerns can’t be ignored and I often take advantage of public comments to exercise my First Amendment right of free speech to share those concerns, as a taxpayer, with the Council. 
Also, some of us really don’t like the proposed library design because it’s too massive; the 2 story white building looks out of place in Lions Park.
Losing many meeting rooms at the community center is another issue, although eventually the old library will be reconstructed and have meeting rooms, and the new library will have meeting rooms too. 
Cost of additional library staffing has not been discussed by the Council, as well as how the proposed library coffee shop will affect the local businesses on Newport Blvd. and at the Courtyards.  
It’s wrong for Council member Righeimer member to demean any citizen for voicing any concerns. The Council member should just listen politely.
My recommendation for a new library has always been for the library groups to raise some of the money from private donors, who may want to sponsor a whole wing, or room, to access library grants and for the City to save the money and not acquire debt.  
The difficulties of our City during the recession taught me many lessons about thrift and living within our means and having reserves. Thankfully we made it without going bankrupt because we did have plenty of reserve funds. 
All this is to say that community involvement makes for a better community.  Even if elected officials don’t agree with you, and think you are too old and should just be quiet, we should never be intimidated because it’s our duty to speak up about important city issues.   We're not dead yet and the collective wisdom of our years should be valued.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Puttering, SOY and Politics

I was contemplating puttering yesterday, because working in my garden is very refreshing especially on Sunday
My garden and pond

when I try to rest. I was hopeful the Fairview Park Preservation Initiative would get the 7,000 signatures by today which meant I could relax, for a few minutes anyway.  (Yes! we got the signatures, exceeding our goal of 7,000, to get the initiative on the November ballot assuming it's approved by the registrar of voters).

But I kept thinking about Friday night's joyful Save our Youth annual Fiesta honoring founder and board member Jean Forbath and wanted to share a few thoughts.

The whole event was delightful and speaks volumes about how much we care for our community and our kids who need help with school work and a vision from a tutor or mentor who encourage them to succeed in school and to prepare for college after graduation.

Money raised from the Fiesta goes for a small SOY staff, headquarters, art and music supplies etc. and scholarships and trips for kids to visit colleges and many other things. More than $3.2 million in college scholarships to more than 450 students has been given to attend all UC campuses and almost every Cal State.

"SOY academic students have a 100% high school graduation rate and  100 % enter college after high school"- SOY brochure.

I admire Jean Forbath for her vision and commitment to help Newport-Mesa disadvantaged youth since 1993. Jean founded SOS too. She's got a lot of gems in her crown and still contributing to our community, although now will be retiring and continue as board emeritus and advisor.

Upon arriving at the Fiesta, Silvia Rosales and SOY youth welcomed guests, Eddie Iniestra MC'd with live music courtesy of SOY students, as we browsed the silent auction (I didn't win), and Ivan Calderon of Taco Mesa served a scrumptious meal.  Former Mayor Joe Erickson shared Jean's many accomplishments and we all clapped.

A  very well-spoken young lady, Claudia Flores, shared her story about how SOY mentors helped her with studies and prepared her for college. She and other SOY college graduates come back to SOY to encourage the younger kids.  When the kids visit colleges in the spring, former SOY students proudly give them campus tours.

Fiesta guests were from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. (About half of Newport Harbor High School kids live in Costa Mesa, board member Mary Cappellini reminded me as we chatted during the silent auction. Mary is one of Jean's 7 children who were all there to honor their mom).
Former Mayor Joe Erickson honoring Jean Forbath.
Ivan Calderon explaining the delicious menu.
Chatting with board member Mary Cappellini.

This joyful event speaks well of our great Newport-Mesa community and the generous, kind caring people we are.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis was there as well as former Mayor Mary Hornbuckle. Sandy and I chatted with others about our wonderful community and the success of SOY.

But where were the Costa Mesa mayor and the mayor pro tem? I know they get invited to plenty of events but I think they would enjoy this one too. Don't they know this is an important community event supporting one of several Westside non profits which encourages, and inspires hundreds of kids to get a good education?   Surely they were invited. But then I don't think Mayor pro tem Righeimer's recent "...If you can't afford to live here..."  statement at a recent council meeting would have made him too popular with SOY Fiesta goers.  According to Mr. Righeimer Costa Mesa has become an exclusive, wealthy community so poor people should consider moving to less expensive states. Unbelievable!

Hopefully, anyone who missed the Fiesta will send in a donation. We need to continue to support SOY and Newport- Mesa teens and all the good work they do for Newport-Mesa kids.

Here's the address:  SOY Center, 661 Hamilton Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92627  949-548-3255. Soycenter@aol.com

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).