Costa Mesa council candidate Sue Lester chases down and catches Tweeker Bike Thief!

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So, this was just this past Saturday.  And the small woman was walking her dog home, through her apartment complex, when a tall stranger passed by, avoiding eye contact with our friendly protagonist.

He was carrying a suitcase, and had the characteristics – shaky, sweaty – of a tweeker coming down off his last meth high and in need of more.  Our heroine thought to herself, and I imagine may have mumbled to her labrador, “Let’s keep an eye on this fellow for a minute.”

Other folks strolled by in one direction and another, going about their business, noticing nothing.  The tall stranger went up to one door, looked around, and left after a minute.  Maybe he was just visiting a friend.  But then he did the same thing at a couple of other doors – no, this guy was up to no good.  Then he looked closely at an expensive bicycle and examined its lock.  This was a bike thief!  Damn tweekin’ bastard!

Our heroine then watched him disappear behind a stairwell for a minute, got herself a better view, and then saw him tugging on two bikes.  This is when she called the Costa Mesa police.  And then is when the tweeker saw her, watching him, talking on the phone, and let go of the bikes and started walking away, as quickly as he could without running.

And that’s when most people, male or female, having called the cops and scared away the thief, would have dropped the whole thing, feeling they’d done enough.  But our protagonist is not just anybody, it’s Costa Mesa activist, council candidate, and former medicinal marijuana collective director Sue Lester.  And her neighborhood has been experiencing a rash of bike thefts, and she wasn’t going to just let this fellow get away to feed his habit again somewhere else.

So, staying on the phone, and yanking along her trusty canine, she followed this suspect out of the complex, down the street, down another street, into another complex where she briefly lost him.  Asking around with her description, she kept hearing, “No, but MY bike was stolen last month too!”  The cops showed up quickly, the tweeker bike thief was found easily and identified by Sue, a report was filed, the fella’s in jail now coming off his drugs and hopefully having learned his lesson.

And bike owners in Sue Lester’s neighborhood, like the ones that drove up right as she was chasing off the thief only to find their chain-lock severed by a bolt cutter he must have had in his suitcase, can sleep a little sounder.

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Sue didn’t particularly want me to write this story, this was more Jeff Byrne’s idea.  She doesn’t think she did anything out of the ordinary, just what any citizen would have, or should have done.  She did post a little blurb on Facebook, just to thank the cops for showing up quickly when all Costa Mesans know how understaffed they’ve been lately under the Riggy Regime.  But Jeff and I think it reflects real well on her as someone who cares about her community and neighborhood, and isn’t afraid of some drugged-out stranger who COULD have been dangerous.  AND spent an hour and a half of her Saturday afternoon helping to get a bike thief off the street.

We think it contrasts tellingly with the current councilmen’s brushes with law enforcement:  Righeimer’s pulling over at a sobriety checkpoint that he found inconvenient back when he was Planning Commissioner, to berate the officers for slowing him down on his way to a game, pulling the “Do you know who I am?” and calling their Chief to complain.  Or his right-hand man Mensinger’s abuse of a TSA officer back in ’06 when he was a Sheriff Carona acolyte, misrepresenting himself as a Sheriff Deputy to excuse the hunting guns in his baggage,  calling her a “dumb blonde,” photographing her and saying he could have her fired.

Meanwhile we have council candidate Sue Lester actually helping the put-upon Costa Mesa cops bag a bad guy.  Some readers may find it counter-intuitive that the former director of a medical marijuana collective, persecuted by the City in a meritless civil case, would be such a natural ally of law enforcement in taking down a drug-addled menace.  But Sue’s collective, “Herban Elements,” was scrupulously law-abiding.  And marijuana, with its medicinal and benevolent properties, is not to be compared to the devastating plague of methamphetamine and the anti-social behavior it leads to.

So I figure we owe Sue two things:  The opportunity to tell us why she’s running for City Council, and the chance to plug a community group she’s real enthusiastic about.  Take it away Sue!  Oh – first – why are you running for Council?

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I am dissatisfied with tactics our current council has chosen to “lead” our city. It’s not so much the issues they have pointed out as being legitimate concerns as it is the manner in which they have chosen to address them. The current council cited the need to cut budget expenditures, explore the idea of outsourcing, and improve infrastructure. I agree with all of this but am not happy an quite frankly in some situations very disturbed as to how they have gone about it.

The council issued mass blanket lay-off notices  starting March 17, 2011, prior to doing any research on any potential cost savings after being told by then city attorney, Kimberly Hall-Barlow that such a move should not be made in that fashion as it violated the city’s contractual agreements. The council moved forward anyway which resulted in the Costa Mesa City Employees Association filing a law suit and obtaining an injunction against the city for those violations which have cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands dollars and the legal bills are still climbing. Many lay-off notices were ultimately rescinded because research proved no cost savings while others remain and continue to be issued and re-issued.

Next, from the outsourcing SNAFU came the idea of becoming a Charter City. The Mayor Pro Tem drafted (almost single handed) a Proposed Charter to circumvent binding contracts and a court order in the hopes of being able to outsource anyway. The quickly drafted Proposed Charter lacks basic protections for the citizens of this city that general law cities are afforded. The charter also lacks any ability to do anything about our current unfunded liabilities. Sure the proposed charter allows for outsourcing but doesn’t build in clauses that limit the council’s power for reckless privatization of third party contracts without protections as with governmental agencies, the manipulation of election criteria and the election process, and it ties the citizens hands in the ability to dispute anything on the charter without first gather signatures of 15% of the registered voters. The council then would have the power to decide at its leisure when any proposed changes would go on the ballot. The Proposed Charter could protect the citizens from the potential for abuse of power, however this Proposed Charter does not. I truly believe if a Charter is the right way to go for Costa Mesa, more care and consideration should be included to protect the interests of the citizens.

Now lets talk about infrastructure. Have repairs been neglected to a certain extent over the years? Yes! Should we increase our funding for street repairs and other capital improvements? Yes! Should we increase those expenditures over 90% to unbalance what was a proposed balanced budget while continuing to cut services to the citizens, while doing nothing to pay down our unfunded pension liability? NO! Decisions that have created problems over the years can not and should not try be solved over night to the detriment of all other areas. Haste makes waste! There needs to be balance and continuous incremental changes. Our current council doesn’t sufficiently plan, do research, and slowly incorporate positive change. They quickly react, spring into action recklessly, and hire more consultants to advise them and more attorneys to defend them all with taxpayer dollars.

I agree we need to outsource where it makes sense to save money and ensure top notch service long term. In order to do this we must do the proper research and work with our employees, not against them. The vilification of city employees as a whole in this city is embarrassing. Never in all my years in Human Resources would management of any kind be allowed to bad mouth its employees. Only calmer heads will prevail here. Many employee groups have offered solutions and potentially would be willing to open their contracts for negotiation and concessions that could save the taxpayers millions of dollars, should the council be willing to enter into “good faith negotiations” but our current council will not bend. I am capable and willing to work toward positive resolutions for the city putting my personal feeling aside. Something this current council to date has been unwilling to do.

I have years of experience in loss prevention, budget control, and human resources. I don’t feel the need to be right over the need to do the right thing to serve the greater good. I think our current council lacks sincerity of purpose. In order to serve all of the citizens of this community equally, we need some diversity on council and some varied solutions to problems solving. There should be more time spent on reasonable solutions then on legal fees. We should work with employee groups to create second tiers with increased employee contributions toward retirement. Perhaps if the city employee groups were engaged in good faith they would offer up even more concessions to benefit the city both short and long term.

We should incrementally improve infrastructure while paying down unfunded pension liabilities. As the economy improves, so will our ability to put more money toward increased improvements. Cutting the people who do the work to hire more consultants to give us opinions that we refuse to take is a waste of resources and quite honestly a disservice to the community.

Contrary to the belief of some, I am and always have been a rule follower. I believe in doing the right thing for the right reasons. I was taught to fight back against injustices, question authority when necessary and conduct myself professionally while being honest and maintaining my integrity. I know my skill set would be of benefit on the dais. I don’t have all the answers, no one does, but we need more people on council that realize that and will compromise the tactics without compromising the goals of the city, which should be top quality public services to citizens, prioritization of public safety, safe streets repaired in a timely fashion with room for improvements in other areas and added public services and amenities for the citizens and schools when funds permit, all while paying down our unfunded pension liability.

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Finally, I’d like to tell everyone about United Neighbors, “Neighbors helping Neighbors”. It’s a volunteer organization headed up by Diane Hill and her husband. They are very active in the CERT Program and over the years have tried to set up somewhat of a city wide Neighborhood Watch in an attempt to link all the different areas of the community so neighbors can provide information on suspicious activity to each other, as well as get emailed crime updates from the Police Department, important community information and announcements that can benefit everyone.

Diane has created a weekly email that she sends out to anyone interested in being on the list and getting the information. I hope more residents will sign up to receive her emails. With property crimes on the rise, we all need to pay attention, look out for one another, call the police when there is suspicious activity and keep our neighbors informed.

It’s free and easy to join. Just email Diane at unitedneighbors@cmprepared.com and let her know you would like to receive the emails. If you are interested in getting more involved, perhaps being a member of the CM Prepared emergency response contact list, so in the event of a natural disaster or emergency the police will have a contact in your area, or just want help in setting up an emergency call list for your neighborhood, there are people available to help. Please visit www.cmprepared.com for more information. I am also happy to help if I can and you can email me at  suelester4costamesacitycouncil@gmail.com or find me on facebook.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.