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[Please welcome to the Orange Juice team long-time Costa Mesa activist Greg “Gericault” Ridge!]
1. The Glory that Was — and Is — Fairview
Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park is like an un-polished gem.
For those of you who have never heard of it, it is 208 natural acres on the west side of the mesa, set up high on an ocean view bluff.
Let that sink in a bit: over two hundred acres of centrally located Orange County land, in its somewhat pristine and naturally undisturbed state, situated on an ocean view bluff. It’s been grazed on and plowed occasionally, but it has never ever been “developed.”
Fairview, (named after one of Costa Mesa’s historic boomtowns), got its name the honest way. Sweeping vistas in the park showcase everything from Saddleback to the LA mountains ranges, across the Santa Ana River flood plain to Point Loma in the North West, and far out across to Catalina.
On a clear winter morning after a rainstorm, when the sun turns the snowy mountains pink, and the cliffs of Catalina are crystal clear over the cobalt Pacific, there is not a more stunning view in all of Southern California. It’s pretty special.
During the Mission period of Southern California history, the Spanish Vaqueros used the bluffs to safely graze their cattle herds. They built the Estancia Adobe and supplied the San Juan Capistrano Mission with fresh meat, tallow, and leather. All this industry was happening right here on this little patch of remaining Southern California open dirt.
Historically speaking, this occurred roughly around the same time we were fighting our Revolution, and a little before France was to behead their King.
The Pacific breezes cooled the temps, and the high bluff provided the Spanish Cattle herders with a safe dry elevated plain and easy access to fresh water resources in the marshy river below. Things were quieter on the Bluff — although in 1818, California’s only pirate, Hipólito de Bouchard, did use the Adobe to stage raids against the Mission, a mere six leagues to the south.
The Spaniards weren’t the first to see the benefits of this perfect topography. For thousands of years the local Pacific Coastal Indigenous Tribes had also used this area. Sadly, during the Mission era, these peaceful people were decimated by malaria, measles and other diseases, while also suffering under the iron fist of the Spanish conversion into Mission life and slavery. What was once a vital and very important political and social village trading center, upon the Fairview bluff, was in essence no more.
Before the arrival of the Spanish, the local tribes flourished on the bluff. The natural topography and easy access to the river and ocean was a perfect space for a thriving village.
Its centralized location made it an ideal gathering and trading spot for all the different southern California tribes. A water lined trail made easy traveling for many of the eastern Mohave and Mountain peoples. The centralized halfway point for the southern and northern tribes made it an equitable spot for everyone to gather without unduly bearing hardship on one or the other by having to travel unfair distances.
Fairview was perfect. Even today — a mile from the ocean and a hundred feet above the river — you walk upon the shells of hundreds of clambakes that were held thousands of years ago.
Numerous archeological finds of significant and unique importance, found in the park and in nearby surrounding areas, have been federally registered and designated as in need of protection.
The clues, and treasures to so many questions and theories still lie beneath the surface. The Patayan anthropomorphic figurines, the mystical cogged stones, and the enigmatic Universe Effigy found down in nearby Wintersburg, are just a few of the astounding archeological riches found in this area.
Why haven’t you heard about all of this before now, you might ask?
Well … we didn’t really want you to know.
That’s for a good reason: the safest way to preserve these rare and precious clues to our past history has been to leave them where they are, undisturbed. No plans are currently in the works for undertaking an extensive and thorough excavation and preservation.
You know, we don’t want people — and “pot hunters” playing “Indiana Jones” in the park — destroying the knowledge we can uncover using modern archeological scientific techniques. (Techniques, by the way, that keep improving.) For now, we need to keep some things hidden.
Enjoy the Park, take a nice walk, take in the views … and then leave. This has been the working plan for decades. We have been keeping its secrets safe.
Fairview Park has been locked up by the City of Costa Mesa in the Fairview Park Master Plan, with numerous agreements and understandings through State and Federal Agencies for it to remain a “passive open space.” We can use it, enjoy it, preserve it, even restore it, but not encroach or develop it.
That was true up until now. For anyone who has been following anything about Costa Mesa politics knows … things here are not what they once were.
I could write a very long narrative about the devastating effects we have suffered in this City under the misguided policies of Mayor Jim Righeimer and his lock step cohorts, Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan.
Today, we are not here to talk about the problems with public safety, the privatization of public assets, the mismanagement of resources, the cronyism, or the violation of municipal codes and the subsequent denials of the public’s right to documents.
No, in Costa Mesa right now, we have a whole other can of worms that they just had to open. Self-inflicted damage once again caused by a City Council whose sole operating procedure consists of … “Fire, Ready, Aim.”
Aided and abetted by a compromised City Staff that has been so decimated and reduced, that the only ones left are either too intimidated, or are so ineptly aligned to the Councils objectives , they get promoted to positions of authority.
Righeimer’s unnecessary attacks, or as we prefer to call it, “Jihad” against the employees have created many obvious and predictable consequences. A main one has been the loss of “Institutional Knowledge.” To be honest, we have no one left who “knows how to steer the ship.”
This leads us to the current situation that we find in ourselves in right now over how we are “stewarding” Fairview Park.
2. Spoiling a Great Thing
This is how it happened.
First, we had this: Mystery trail focuses eco-attention on Fairview Park
“Someone” just decided that they wanted to put in a trail leading to the Pop Warner Football fields — of which Mayor Pro-tem Steve Mensinger is an ardent supporter. This was a pretty dumb thing to do.
First of all, they had no right to encroach upon the public park. The sad thing was that they used City resources to do it. Emails obtained by the public showed that not only did the City “scrape” the area before the trail was “unknowingly” put in, but they also “sprayed” herbicides to kill the weeds. This was done by the City at “someone’s behest” — and there is a reference to “Steve’s Path” in the emails.
Many questioned if this path was somehow connected to the $650,000 lighting that was recently pushed through by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger even though Fairview Park has a “dawn to dusk” restriction.
Now, they might have gotten away with this …
… but not when it is being done directly on top of Vernal Pools, which are listed on the Federal Register as Critically Endangered Habitat that harbors Federally Protected Endangered Species. OOOOPS!
That got the attention of the Feds…..
This is what happens when you don’t take proper care of your things. The City at this point is not only stewarding the resource improperly, they are actually an accomplice to the crime. Many residents found themselves stepping up to fill in the void.
These park boosters are looking for information leading to person or persons responsible for vandalizing trails by laying decomposed granite on them. That led us to Walt and Ty Harper, the two people who freely gave their names when asked by a witness who they were, and what they were doing when seen putting in the DG trail.
Personal Note: I believe these are just two good guys donating their time and energy to support youth sports. I think if you had asked these two guys what are “Fairy Shrimp” they would have answered, “Isn’t that a bar in Laguna?” I think, they didn’t realize that they were encroaching upon Federally Critical and endangered habitat, they were just doing “someone” a favor. The sad thing is that “someone” might have known what they were doing was illegal — but he had them do it anyway.
Someone named “Steve Mensinger” is quoted in an article about Walt and Ty and says this:
“If a group doesn’t have enough money, he’ll still do the work because he believes in Costa Mesa,” Mensinger said. “He’ll take the money if you have it, but he’ll work with you.”
It is kind of sad that Steve Mensinger might not have paid them at all, given that the City of Costa Mesa just publicly gifted $96,000 of taxpayer funds to pay for the upkeep of Pop Warner fields to the Newport Mesa Unified School District.
Surely, “someone” like Steve better have given them something. After all, it’s not every day that you have “someone” like Steve ask these guys to destroy federally protected species and habitat in a public park. But, then again — maybe for “someone”, like Steve, it is, as you will see, it’s about to get even worse.
While “someone” in the City of Costa Mesa was just wantonly destroying the naturally federally protected areas in the Park, we had others in the City acting in official roles planning even deeper encroachments. In July, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed a project calling for a Fairview Park parking lot and Tot Lot Play Area: 45 spaces in a circular lot with landscaping.
Sounds nice. On almost any other piece of city dirt , I and many others would be perfectly fine with it.
But — this is not just any old a piece of dirt. They were supposed to be treating it with a lot more caution and respect.
In fact, out of deference to the existing Master Plan for Fairview Park, the 45 space lot was reduced down to 10 spaces. The size and location of the parking lot were to remain the same; they were just going to re-stripe it for ten spaces, because that is the maximum allowed in the Master Plan.
(Of course, Master Plans can be re-written.)
So the City of Costa Mesa Parks and Rec Commission, led by Chairman Byron De Arakal, led the vote which passed 4-1. (As a side note, P & R Chairman Byron De Arakal also has a day job as a Public Relations spokesperson for a developer up in Montebello Hills trying to develop that city’s last vestige of open space. (He also was paid to help the polish the Fair Board’s image during the last days of the Great OC Fairgrounds swindle … but I digress.)
Mayor Jim Righeimer even scheduled a special “Meet the Mayor” event, where he twice called the Pacific Ave. entrance ” a third world country” –much to the residents’ ire.
After hearing the opposition of every speaker at public comments, the City Council voted on that misguided, and badly studied Parking Lot .With much discussion and dissent it was approved by a slim 3-2 majority of Righeimer, Mensinger, and Monahan. Wendy Leece and Sandy Genis voted NO.
At that same meeting, a soft-spoken French archeologist spoke out at public comments warning the City about the possible archeological sites that would be impacted and encroached upon. In fact, this soft-spoken gentleman at one point rose up from his seat to address misinformation that was being put forth by City Staff. Mayor Righeimer refused to let him speak , and made him sit down to bring the meeting back to order.
That gentleman was Sylvere Valentin, a respected and well-trained local archeologist who works with the California State Cultural Resource Office. He was trying to gently warn the City Council and Staff that they needed to notify some people before they moved forward with this project. He was summarily dismissed and ignored. Tellingly, during the City’s own presentation regarding the proposed lot incursion into Fairview Park they even misspelled the acronym for CEQA. When a City Staffer writes the California Environmental Quality Act as “SEQUA,” you know they aren’t even treading water.
That’s right, “SEQUA.” [LOL]
In one area, of the Park, you have Federal Fish and Wildlife studying the degradation of federally protected endangered habitat. Then just days later and a few hundred yards away, you have other State Agency representatives studying the area planned for a parking lot and finding significant areas of archeological interest and picking up bone fragments.
This story just broke in the Daily Pilot while I was writing this blog post:
Experts fear that proper procedures are not being followed, at the expense of very significant historical evidence.
“You are standing on top of a bluff where people have lived for at least 3,000 years,”
As she [archeologist Patricia Martz] and Valentin [that’s the gentleman whom Righiemer told to “sit down,” though it seems he got back up again] headed back, they noted that even some safety railings, recently added along the park bluffs, may have violated CEQA [which the Pilot knows know how to spell] guidelines. The poles had to be dug into the ground, which disturbs the soil. “What if they went through a skull?” Martz asked. “It’s just a culturally sensitive area.”
She and Valentin are bringing the matter to the California Cultural Resources Preservation Alliance, a small Irvine-based nonprofit formed in 1998. Martz is the group’s president.
“Everything is kind of nebulous,” she said. “I don’t know if this will stop the project, but they’ve got to do something to protect a National Register site.”
God Bless Patricia, but she just doesn’t know who she’s dealing with. If she thinks they need to “do something,” I need to walk her over a few yards to a Vernal Pool. Let her hang out awhile and have drinks with the US Fish and Wildlife folks.
Costa Mesa City Manager … er … CEO (I never get that right) Tom Hatch received this letter, which gently chides them, but firmly tells them in no uncertain terms that they have thoroughly screwed up.
“Today’s standards, customs and practices regarding environmental review under CEQA, include consultation with Native American tribes. We see no evidence that this occurred in the preparation of the environmental documents in 1997. This omission should be corrected and we recommend government-to-government consultation with the Gabrielino and Juaneño tribes. In addition, we recommend contacting the Native American Heritage Commission to determine if there are sacred sites located in Fairview Park and most likely descendants.”
“We also respectfully request that the City Council reconsider its vote regarding the Fairview Park Entryway Concept Plans.
Now in the City’s defense, they are now hiring their own “expert” — because if there is one thing that the City of Costa Mesa knows how to do better than any other municipality, it’s how to pay for an opinion. When it comes to outside consultants and raising legal fees, no other city even comes close to Costa Mesa.
Soon they are going to realize that they are trying to “steward” one of the few sites in Orange County listed on the National Register. Many more people are about to get much more interested. Sadly, some of them might just be “Indiana Jones” pot hunters.
Currently many of the locals are very energized.
Another Costa Mesa non-partisan group called, Friends of Fairview Nature Park, have been right on top of this issue since the first dumping of the illegal trail on top of the Vernal Pool, now better known as “Steve’s Path.”
Sign their petition: Petitioning City of Costa Mesa
City of Costa Mesa: Keep Fairview park natural and Pacific Avenue safe.
This issue is far from over. Fairview Park is definitely in jeopardy. The Council majority is moving forward with everything in their power to take over and develop this gem of Orange County History.
The next meeting regarding the Park’s future will be held next Wednesday, October 2, 2013. The Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meets again in the Victoria Room at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. This is the group that has been put together to study the future needs and uses of Fairview Park, and open up the Master Plan.
There will be three presentations – one from Gordon Bowley, President of Costa Mesa United; one from Hank Castignetti of the Orange County Model Engineers and a presentation on Youth Sports Data coordinated by member Brett Eckles.
Gordon Bowley from Costa Mesa United was pictured above giving $96,000 of Costa Mesa City money to NMUSD, and Fairview Park Advisory Committee member Brett Eckles is the AYSO regional Supervisor and President of the American Subcontractors Association of California, a developer lobbyist group.
They will be giving a presentation why we supposedly need to add Sports Fields into Fairview Nature Park.
They have never had a presentation on the archaeological significance of the area — the huge hill by the sea, known and cherished for millennia.
I think that we need to call in the Indians.