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Every seat on Costa Mesa's planning, senior and parks commissions is now up for grabs

In a move that some blasted as a power grab and others praised as a chance to open new opportunities for civic involvement, the Costa Mesa City Council voted Tuesday night to vacate all existing appointments on three city commissions and launch a new search for members.

The council's 3-2 vote — members Allan Mansoor and Jim Righeimer voted no — means every seat on the city's planning, senior and parks and recreation commissions is now up for grabs.

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Mayor Katrina Foley said the goal is to increase engagement and diversify the voices involved in making decisions by attracting commissioners with a wide array of experience, skill sets and opinions.

"To serve our residents well and our business interests well, we need to have a diverse group of commissioners so that we have representative voices," she said Tuesday. "That's my goal: balance. It's not about grabbing power, it's about grabbing balance."

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Righeimer, though, said removing the commissioners is "a slap in the face" to those who put their time and effort into serving.

"I can't see firing all these people," he said.

Of those who apply, each council member will be able to choose up to three of his or her top choices to interview for each commission. Appointments will be made by votes of the council.

The application period is expected to be open until Jan. 18, according to city documents.

Interviews and appointments are expected later this month. Some members are expected to be appointed to two-year terms and others to four years.

None of those commissions will meet until after the appointments are made.

Councilman John Stephens said current commissioners are welcome to throw their hats in the ring along with everyone else. The goal, he said, is to "get the right people on the bus."

"I think we owe it to the community to open this up to as many people as possible to get the very, very most qualified people on there," he said. "And I can assure you, these will not be political decisions."

But Mansoor said he is especially wary of potentially having a whole new slate of Planning Commission members.

That body reviews issues related to local land use and development and has authority to take final action on certain applications — though in many cases those decisions can be appealed to the City Council.

"You potentially have five inexperienced people on the Planning Commission, and that is a huge mistake," Mansoor said. "I think it's unprecedented to do a clean sweep like this."

Both the senior and parks and recreation commissions discuss issues and advise the council on those topics.

The planning and parks commissions have five members each, while the Senior Commission has seven.

The terms of two members on each of the commissions were set to expire Feb. 1. Others had terms running through early 2019 and, in one case, early 2021.

Most of the commissioners whose terms are being vacated were appointed with the blessing of the recently deposed council majority, meaning they could hold viewpoints, perspectives or beliefs that run counter to the new voting majority of Foley, Stephens and Mayor Pro Tem Sandy Genis.

Some said clearing out the commissions seems like a political maneuver.

"I do not support wiping the slate clean," said Costa Mesa resident Flo Martin. "That smacks of a power grab."

Others, though, said they support making sweeping changes.

"Why would you saddle yourselves for four years with somebody who's diametrically opposed to your way of thinking?" resident Cindy Brenneman asked the council. "It doesn't make any sense to me. It's not a power grab; it's giving other people … a chance to serve."

Some accused the former council majority, of which Righeimer was a part, of overly politicizing commission appointments.

Foley said those who used to be in the council minority, such as herself, Genis and former Councilwoman Wendy Leece, were unable to get their preferred candidates appointed to city commissions in recent years because of opposition from the majority.

Still, she said, the goal is not to have commissions that are beholden to one way of thinking.

The only commissioner affected by Tuesday's move who addressed the council was Gary Parkin, who was appointed to the Senior Commission in September to fill the remainder of a term that expires in February 2021.

"I've been a senior commissioner for [a few] months and it looks like I might be losing my job," he said. "It's a little unfortunate, because I enjoy what I'm doing."

For information on how to apply for a city commission, visit costamesaca.gov/apply.

Twitter: @LukeMMoney

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