We’re live from the Costa Mesa City Council candidate forum sponsored by the Feet to the Fire Forum, a lively debate sponsored by the Daily Pilot and Voice of OC.
Your intrepid blogger walked in late due to having never been on the Orange Coast College campus before, and having to search for the right building.
All the candidates are present except for Katrina Foley.
Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis asks about density. Two loud women scream from the audience.
Jim Righeimer says no changes have been made to any zoning. No variance has allowed people to place more units than permitted under zoning. The two loud women object again when Righeimer points out Foley voted for variances that allow more units than zoning allowed for certain areas.
Jay Humphrey complains about density in an unincorporated area that Costa Mesa is about to annex (Colleen island).
Rita Simpson says each project needs to be mitigated but she supports the annexation of the expensive apartments in the Colleen island.
Alicia Perez of the Daily Pilot asks about lot sizes. Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks about LAFCO processes and maintaining prior zoning like in Santa Ana Heights.
Tony Capitelli suggests adding bike loans and public transportation.
Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC asks Righeimer about the Costa Mesa City birthday party and a legal settlement involving Dan Joyce, who oversaw the party.
Jim Righeimer says he is not allowed to answer personnel issues, but he does note that some people involved violated city procurement policies.
Jay Humphrey called it a mismanagement of the process.
An obnoxious group of about 20 people out of an audience of 100 keep cheering for every word that Humphrey says and booing everything Righeimer says, sometimes before he even finish his sentence.
Al Melone expresses concern about debating a personnel issue in public.
Lee Ramos says this is beating a dead horse. He says the party was done irresponsibly, but the Council by a 5-0 vote has resolved the issue.
Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks about a sports park at Fairview Park.
Lee Ramos says he reveres Fairview Park the way it is. He calls for a study. He has spoken with Parks Commissioners and the school district. He speaks about asking community members and stakeholders for their perspectives.
Alicia Lopez of the Daily Pilot asks about community input.
Jim Righeimer says listening is not trying to be all things to all people and doing what each public commenter says.
Tony Capitelli says perception is reality in politics. He says Righeimer is unable to build consensus on important issues like homelessness. He wishes to revert to the old public comment policy. He says the Council has executive, legislative, and judicial functions.
John Canalis of the Daily Pilot asks about the old public comment system where all public commenters spoke at the beginning of Council meetings while the new policy has part of public comment at the beginning of the meeting and the remainder at the end.
Chris Bunyan blasts the new policy stating that Righeimer implemented it because he didn’t like being criticized.
Jay Humphrey says they didn’t have this problem in the past.
Chris Bunyan interjects that Righeimer caused public uproar about the Council.
Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks about why Costa Mesa didn’t join Newport Beach on group homes.
Jim Righeimer points out that a judge ruled against Newport Beach. He states it is important to follow state and federal law.
Chris Bunyan criticizes the structure of a task force on rehabilitation homes. He says no data is being collected. He points to an ordinance in the City of Orange that limits distances between rehabilitation homes. Bunyan blames the rehabilitation homes and the bed count for increasing crime on the east side.
Al Melone says the city is on the right track. He says the City cannot endure multimillion lawsuits for violating state law.
Rits Simpson expresses her agreement with Melone.
Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks about campaign contributions from rehabilitation homes.
Jim Righeimer says he returned the sole contribution he received from rehabilitation homes while the other candidates indicated that they did not receive any.
Jay Humphrey says Wendy Leece introduced the city’s rehabilitation home ordinance.
Lee Ramos expresses concern about the city’s political fracturing. He says Costa Mesa has to work together. He points to a local community group who is working on the rehabilitation home issue. He says it doesn’t matter who gets credit as long as the right thing is done (pointing to Humphrey crediting Leece on an ordinance).
John Canalis of the Daily Pilot asks about the Costa Mesa Police Department’s staffing levels.
Jim Righeimer notes crime rates dropped in 2013. (I’ve never heard audience members boo dropping crime rates until I came to this candidate forum.) He says all cities cut police during the 2008-09 financial crisis, which he notes was a decision the Costa Mesa Council made before Righeimer was elected. He notes changes to city HR policies to more efficiently hire additional personnel to restore former police staffing levels.
Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC questions if Righeimer is consistent with his prior statements about changing policing methods.
Jim Righeimer says it makes sense to utilize police helicopters in partnership with neighboring cities rather than having one helicopter for a single city.
Jay Humphrey expresses concern about having new police officers instead of lateral transfers. He says Costa Mesa is not getting the top quality people applying for police jobs, just the bottom people.
Chris Bunyan says code enforcement is part of public safety, not just police and fire. He again refers to group homes. He says police have no reason to come to Righeimer’s city.
Tony Capitelli speaks about good friends who left the Costa Mesa Police Department for other cities. He says the City needs to come together.
Lee Ramos says he met with the City Manager. He says the new police chief came in and had a decrease in staffing levels. Ramos would like to increase police staffing levels over 18 months.
Al Melone wants to recruit police officers from cold states using the weather to attract top quality experienced police officers rather than local rookies.
Chris Bunyan points to vice squads and K9 units needing experienced police.
John Canalis of the Daily Pilot asks about Righeimer dropping his lawsuit against the police union.
Jim Righeimer says he would be willing to drop the suit if the union, its law firm, and its private investigator would come clean. He expresses concern about the law firm extorting city councils on behalf of police unions.
Jay Humphrey says the suit needs to be dropped to bring calm to the city, which would attract lateral transfers to the police department.
Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC asks Righeimer if he’s really going after the police system.
Jim Righeimer says the police union and the police department are separate entities. He says there are a lot of police officers who didn’t like what the police union did. He says unions have done this in other cities.
Alicia Perez of the Daily Pilot suggests that Righeimer’s attitude has been anti-union and that’s a non-local issue that gives the perception of not caring about the city. She asks if he’s interested in higher office.
Jim Righeimer says he has young children and doesn’t want to go to Sacramento. Righeimer says there is a massive pension liability.
Norberto Santana of the Voice of OV asks if 65% of Costa Mesa’s budget is the appropriate amount to spend on police and fire. He asks if it’s sustainable.
Jay Humphrey says the level is correct and has been the level for years. He calls public safety the app
Tony Capitelli says 65% is sustainable but not with 19% for pensions.
Lee Ramos says 80% is more appropriate for sustainability.
Al Melone is fine with 65%-80% but calls for increasing the retirement age for pensions.
Rita Simpson says CalPERS is demanding greater payments for unsustainable pensions.
John Canalis of the Daily Pilot asks Bunyan about how he would deal with unfunded pension liabilities.
Chris Bunyan says CalPERS hasn’t followed all of Jerry Brown’s recommendations for pension reform. He says fat pensions are gone. He says Costa Mesa needs to tighten its belts.
Jim Righeimer says there is no silver bullet. He says cities will go bankrupt which will force change. He criticizes the structure of the CalPERS board. He says Costa Mesa will be fine because they monitor their budget but other cities will go bankrupt.
Jay Humphrey says the City pension committee has called for increased contributions from both employer and employees to deal with the pension liability. Humphrey cites a single year’s returns as proof that investments are reducing the pension liability.
Tony Capitelli says employees need to pay the entire employee pension contribution and should replicate the federal pension plan. He expresses concern that new employees and his generation are forced to pay for the largesse of older generations.
Jim Righeimer says the State prevents cities and employees from contributing more to the pension. He wants to establish a balance where police are not paying 25% of their salaries to pensions.
Lee Ramos is concerned that the only ways to fix the liability problem is via sales tax, Sacramento changes, bonds, or property taxes.
Al Melone calls for placing money in the bank from higher contributions as insurance against future liabilities rather than paying CalPERS more.
Alicia Perez of the Daily Pilot asks about building supportive housing.
Tony Capitelli says Civic Center Park was thr wrong location, and that Mercy House had applied for a number of other locations, some of which are in industrial/commercial areas rather than residential areas.
Jay Humphrey says Costa Mesa should provide housing for the homeless. He wants to convert motels into SROs. He says the City did this in the 1990s and was a model for the County.
Lee Ramos questions where these places were.
Jay Humphrey gives locations.
Several people shout that these are affordable homes for seniors not the homeless.
Tony Capitelli says there needs to be more collaboration with the community.
Chris Bunyan says hotels should start to take on more homeless as the hotels age. He calls Righeimer anti-hotel.
Al Melone asks where will the funding for all of this come from. He says Santa Monica and LA have much worse homeless problems.
Jim Righeimer says Costa Mesa has attracted homeless by providing numerous services. He says all cities need to provide these services so every city has its fair share. He says some hotel slumlords are overcharging the homeless for tiny spaces, like five people on 180 square feet.
Tony Capitelli says nonprofits, state, and federal funding pays for these. He says they should encourage community development rather than shelters.
Lee Ramos asks where the money is that Capitelli is referring to.
Tony Capitelli points to one grant the City Council voted against.
Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks yes or no on medical marijuana:
Jay Humphrey says Yes.
Tony Capitelli says Yes.
Lee Ramos says Yes.
Al Melone says No.
Rita Simpson says No.
Jim Righeimer says No if not medical.
Chris Bunyan says Yes.
Barbara Venezia of the Daily Pilot asks Yes or No on messages on toilet seats:
Jay Humphrey says Yes.
Tony Capitelli says Yes.
Lee Ramos says No.
Al Melone says No.
Rita Simpson says No.
Jim Righeimer says No.
Chris Bunyan says Yes.
Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC asks about taking four years with all of Righeimer’s promises and only outsourcing trash.
Jim Righeimer says they can’t outsource the city. He says general employee average total compensation is $105,000. He says the City worked with city employees to cap cash outs of employee vacation pay when they separate from employment.
John Canalis of the Daily Pilot asks about Banning Ranch.
Chris Bunyan says he has fought developing Banning Ranch. He criticizes Righeimer.
Jim Righeimer says it’s Newport Beach’s decision.
Rita Simpson says it’s the Coastal Commission’s decision.
Lee Ramos says there needs to be tighter control of the project.
Tony Capitelli calls for mitigation.
Jay Humphrey opposes the project.
Your blogger missed the final Yes or No question, but here are the answers (if someone recalls the answer please comment below or click on contact us above):
Jay Humphrey says No.
Tony Capitelli says says Yes.
Lee Ramos says Yes.
Al Melone says Yes.
Rita Simpson says Yes.
Jim Righeimer says Yes.
Chris Bunyan says No.
This blogger apologizes for any errors and omissions. Feet to the Fire debates are always the most difficult events to live blog due to their quick and lively pace. Additionally, tonight’s extremely disruptive audience made it difficult to hear the candidates and panelists at times.