Saturday, February 4, 2006
Groundhogs, Fools and Activist's Tools
On Thursday - Groundhog Day - I attended a press conference at our City Hall in which a group of activists and union leaders
presented their plans for the active opposition to our young jailer/mayor's plan to train Costa Mesa police officers to perform
immigration screenings. Most of the local news media was represented. In fact, the media outnumbered the activists.
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The main spokesman for the activists was Nativo Lopez, former member of the Santa Ana School Board who was ousted under a
dark cloud a couple years ago. Lopez is a smooth operator, who presented the views of the activists like the media-savvy
guy he is - with plenty of pithy sound bites. Other speakers included former Daily Pilot columnist and college professor
Humberto Caspa, local activist and business owner Mirna Burciaga, as well as several union leaders.
I came away from the press conference uneasy about what I heard. This group, which calls itself Citizens for Constitutional
Rights, plans a course of action which includes civil disobedience, demonstrations and boycotts in an attempt to convince
the majority on the City Council to change their mind about the current plan for the cross-designation of Costa Mesa police
officers for immigration screening. One element of their plan for civil disobedience included what they referred to as "not
cooperating with local police officers", which they didn't really expand on satisfactorily. On it's face, that kind
of action would only seem to exacerbate a difficult situation.
In the press release which announced the press conference, mention was made of "a mass protest on Saturday, February
18, 2006 in front of South Coast Plaza Mall considered the largest revenue earner for the city of Costa Mesa and the one of
the most coveted commercial malls in Orange County". Well, I don't know what happened, but that demonstration was not
mentioned at the press conference and a mass protest in front of City Hall will be held on April 1st - April Fool's Day -
instead. Since there was a Segerstrom representative lurking around the perimeter of the press conference, taking notes and
making cell calls, I found myself wondering just what prompted this change.
Lopez presented the boycott plan, in which he stated there would be a 60 day cooling off period for the council to re-consider
their plans. During that time this group will ask all Costa Mesa businesses to place signs in their windows decrying the
plan. If businesses refuse - and the council doesn't change it's mind - they will be subject to the boycott. That kind
of intimidation sounds a whole lot like extortion to me.
Caspa, during his time at the microphones, attempted once again to demand that a controversial activist who bears a striking
similarity to my theoretical character, Your Neighbor, be ousted from his influential position on the Redevelopment and Residential
Rehabilitation Committee - the official city committee that includes among it's duties the recommendations for distribution
of block grant funds to charities in town. It's interesting that no subsequent media coverage of which I am aware made any
mention of Caspa's allegations. As despicable as the activist's essays published on right wing web sites are - and as obvious
as it is that much of his "activism" is aimed at making life difficult for the Latinos among us - it may be time
for Mr. Caspa to step back from his crusade. It pains me to say that, because I agree with Caspa's view that this man is
an unsavory and negative influence on this city and it appears that his philosophy has infected city government at the highest
On the subject of pain, I'm very uncomfortable that the most vocal proponents on both sides of this argument are from outside
our city, with the notorious Nativo Lopez and the cadre of activists from Anaheim and elsewhere on one side and Minuteman
Project founder Jim Gilchrist and his frothing disciples on the other. Instead of enhancing the debate they generate only
noise for the sake of their own self-serving publicity. It's very frustrating because, while both sides are posturing for
the cameras and waving their signs around, our police chief, John Hensley, is working hard via community outreach efforts
to calm the waters.
I'm sympathetic with the argument presented by Mirna Burciaga, in which she described the fear and apprehension in the Latino
community since the Mayor's plan was first proposed. Sadly, that part of the plan seems to be having the intended affect
- intimidation of the Latino population, which might persuade them to leave our city. That appears, after all, to be the
goal of those who support the mayor's plan.
Also on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published an excellent article about the growing trend of "local" law
enforcement agencies around the country beginning to request authority to become immigration screening agents. The article
included a mention of Costa Mesa and our young jailer/mayor. The thrust of the article was about the State of Alabama, where
some of the State Police have been cross-designated and are now doing immigration stops as part of their duties. I've lived
in Alabama, so it distresses me greatly to have our city linked to that state in any way, and especially in the law enforcement
area. I've complained for some time that there are elements in this city determined to return Costa Mesa to a time when intolerance
and bigotry were part of the established norms of behavior. Comparison of Costa Mesa to Alabama only tells me that the regression
I feared is, indeed, coming to pass. How sad for us all.
At this point, I see no hope that the City Council will change it's mind and repeal its decision. The swing vote, Gary Monahan,
was quoted in the press today stating as much. Having his pub picketed - and being subjected to personal verbal attacks by
the pickets each time he stuck his nose out the door - during a fundraiser for State Senate candidate Diane Harkey appears
only to have solidified Monahan's position. I guess he "got his Irish up", even though the picketing was ineffective
- the place was packed.
So, our city looks destined to move down the path selected for it by our young jailer/mayor and his cadre of smirking advisors.
This path, where intimidation and trampled civil rights form the road bed and sleight of hand and deception are the road
signs, will lead this city back into an era where only the dark forces of intolerance can thrive.
As I watched the press conference Thursday, I couldn't help but observe the irony of the sign in the background, behind the
activists, painted on the door to the City Hall that says cheerfully, "Welcome to the city of Costa Mesa". I guess,
if our mayor and his pals have their way, it will have to be changed to read, "Welcome to the city of Costa Mesa - unless
you are Latino, in which case, Adios!".
Thursday, February 2, 2006
Hidden Wires - Who Pays and Is It Worth It?
First, a quick note to remind you that it's a new month, so there's a new batch of questions on my "Just Wondering..."
page. Simply slide your cursor across to the left and click on the page.
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Some may recall that many months ago Mayor Allan Mansoor floated the idea of placing all the utility wires throughout the
city underground. At the time representatives from Southern California Edison made a presentation to the council and outlined
the process and costs.
As I recall, back then it was estimated that it would cost nearly $1 billion to perform the undergrounding throughout the
city. According to sources in the city, based on their experience with the undergrounding project at 19th Street and Placentia
Avenue, the billion bucks will probably be short by half - it would likely take $1.5 billion and counting! That's not the
worst of it, though. That cost only takes the power, telephone and cable wires to the property line. From that point it's
up to each property owner to get the connections from the street to their homes.
This idea, like a big boulder, is being pushed to the crest of the hill now, with plans being made to use a poll conducted
by consultants the city will hire to ask a sampling of residents if they want to proceed with this project. If the response
is affirmative, then it is likely that the City Council will proceed with the steps necessary to find ways to fund it, one
of which might be to place a bond issue on the November ballot. Once that decision is made and if the voters approve it,
that boulder begins rolling downhill toward us.
It is assumed that "utility districts", the size of which still must be determined, would be formed to consider
the undergrounding in each neighborhood. You and your neighbors would become participants in one of those districts. If
the majority of property owners in your district - it's not clear whether such a plan requires only a simple majority or two-thirds
- wants to proceed, all those neighbors who don't want to do so will be forced to join the project and shell out some serious
dollars to stay connected to the power, telephone and cable grids.
When I first heard about this plan I contacted a couple contractors to get an idea of the cost to me once the wires are in
the street near my home. The best estimate I could find was around $11,000 to make the connections. That was eighteen months
ago, so I assume these numbers have increased and are now in the area of $15,000. That kind of cost will be a big hit for
most homeowners, and particularly for those living on a fixed income with limited resources.
During their presentation to the council the folks from Southern California Edison were asked which system was easier to maintain
- our present system of overhead wires on poles or the proposed underground system. Without blinking an eye they immediately
responded that the present system is far, far easier to maintain. What we are talking about here is simply an aesthetic move
- a $1.5 billion face lift, as it were.
So, here we have yet another plan proposed by our young mayor that has the potential to, once again, turn neighbor against
neighbor. Such is the state of leadership in Costa Mesa these days.
Monday, January 30, 2006
The Latinization of the Westside
Almost overlooked amid the turmoil swirling around the immigration screening issue here in Costa Mesa, the Westside revitalization
is rapidly coming to the forefront these days, with the preliminary plans making their way through the process and hungry
developers poised like so many vultures, waiting to swoop down on our fair city. That's not necessarily bad, in my view.
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One apparently ignored element of these plans has been on my mind lately, though. Through all the dialogue over many years
I don't recall any mention of the role the approximately 60% of the population of the Westside - the Latinos - will play in
this renaissance. Since people of Latino heritage make up nearly a third of the residents of this city, it seems short-sighted
and foolhardy to make plans for the area without consideration of how these folks will be folded into the scheme. Unless,
of course, you plan for them to be gone.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, assume for a moment that there is not a plot to expunge the Latinos from the Westside.
If that's the case, then why not try to blend their rich heritage and culture into the plans for the improvement of the area
in which they live? We already have a wonderful Performing Arts district which, especially when combined with South Coast
Plaza and MetroPointe, makes a world class destination. Why not give the Westside a Latin theme, with architectural and landscaping
designs to emphasize that theme - a place where the majority demographic can participate and feel proud? I'm not suggesting
the look of Los Angeles' Olvera Street or the shanty towns of Tijuana. I'm not suggesting we tear up the pavement, leaving
dirt roads. I'm suggesting a much more upscale Latin look to the area - at least the parts of the Westside that are to be
included in the revitalization process.
Over the years there has been much conversation and many essays written about how shabby the Westside is looking these days.
Perhaps, if that part of town had a distinct Latin flavor, the Latinos would feel more at home and do a better job of discouraging
graffiti and trash. Perhaps, if they felt some "ownership" in the process and had a real voice in the look of the
area they might feel more pride in their surroundings and do a better job of maintaining it. Perhaps the venerable Fish
Fry evolves into the Costa Mesa Fiesta on or around May 5th, with Lions Park as the focal point. It could become a signature
event where every resident of the city - not just the Latinos - could have fun and be proud of our city. Perhaps...
I can hear the long-time Westside anglo residents screaming already. Well, despite what our young mayor has in mind with
his plan to authorize the Costa Mesa police to become immigration screeners, the Latinos among us are here to stay. They
are the fastest growing group in this city. Like it or not, they represent the wave of the future in this town and this state.
As I've said many times before, unless we find a way to harness and direct the energy of that wave we will be drowned by
it. Maybe blending their ideas, heritage and culture into the Westside revitalization is a place to start.