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Candidates for Costa Mesa council and mayor find common ground on homelessness and public safety

Candidates for Costa Mesa City Council and mayor shared the spotlight Thursday as they detailed their goals and outlined strategies for tackling local issues during the second forum of the campaign for the Nov. 6 election.

Though the 10 people onstage at the Crossing Church hail from different backgrounds — and touted how their respective experiences make them especially qualified to be the city’s first directly elected mayor or to represent one of the three council districts up for election this year — their policy priorities sometimes overlapped.

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Homelessness was one example.

Recently, in response to direction from a federal judge, Costa Mesa city officials committed to securing 62 emergency homeless shelter beds — 12 of which are expected to be provided through a partnership with College Hospital, a local acute care facility, and made available to those suffering from a mental health crisis.

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Though plans for the 50 other beds are not final, Manuel Chavez — a candidate in District 4, which covers a dense portion of the Westside south of the Fairview Developmental Center — said splitting them up would be the best approach.

“Let’s spread them out in the city, make sure no one part of town gets all the concentration of that, because, let’s be honest, any time something bad happens in Costa Mesa, it always ends up in the Westside,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s fair for anyone in my community ... to feel that burden when we should all be sharing that.”

Another District 4 candidate, Michelle Figueredo-Wilson, agreed that “it’s best that we spread out where we find these beds” so “they have a better way to assimilate in our community.”

“I’m not a fan of concentrating 50 to 100 people in one tiny, little area, because all it does is it takes that same street mentality and it puts them together,” she said.

For the first time, council members will be elected by districts, with voters in each designated area choosing one candidate to represent them.

Seats also are available this year in District 3, which includes College Park, Mesa del Mar and a portion of the upper Eastside, and District 5, which wraps around District 4, taking in downtown and the remainder of the Westside​​​.

“We have nonprofits all over Orange County and in Costa Mesa that are effectively helping people get back on their feet,” said District 5 candidate Rebecca Trahan. “If we can empower those programs in every way possible to help them grow those programs, we could greatly reduce the homeless problem that we have here.”

Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor, who also is running in District 5, touted the work of the city’s Network for Homeless Solutions, which officials say has helped house almost 300 people since its launch.

“What I don’t want to see is Costa Mesa be the one-stop shopping for the entire county,” he said. “We need to take care of our own here. Every city needs to step up to the plate.”

Mayor Sandy Genis — who is running for that position against Councilwoman Katrina Foley — said she favors a carrot-and-stick approach to homelessness.

“We help those who can be helped and who want to be helped and, for those who don’t want to be helped, then we enforce all our laws,” she said.

Public safety was another priority candidates regularly raised at Thursday’s forum, which was sponsored by Mesa Verde Community Inc.

Arlis Reynolds, who is running in District 5, said fully staffing the Police Department would go a long way toward improving community safety but that another focus should be “activation of our spaces.”

“One of the things we’re doing now … our reaction to the rising crime, is that we’re shutting the doors early, and I think that only spirals us into further crime activity,” she said.

District 3 candidate Brett Eckles said it’s vital to “give our police personnel the tools they need,” whether that be new technology or specialized units. But, he added, “it starts with all of us as neighbors.”

“We’ve got to be proactive in our own communities — take care of each other and look out for each other,” he said.

Andrea Marr, also a candidate in District 3, echoed the need for upgraded equipment and specialty units but said strife in City Hall has contributed greatly to those issues falling by the wayside.

“There has been so much vitriol on our City Council that it’s sucked all the air out of the room,” she said. “We’ve got staff who have not been able to make some of those decisions or bring some of those things to City Council because we’re too busy arguing about what happened two weeks ago.”

Foley also emphasized the importance of “a collaborative council and that we have one that’s able to have honest discourse about some of these very important issues.”

District 4 candidate Steve Chan agreed that public safety needs to be a top priority but said he also wants another look at the city’s voting district system, which was approved in 2016.

“The people wanted every district to have an equal seat on the City Council, but the six districts plus an at-large, elected mayor does not accomplish that,” he said. “So if I am successful, I will attempt to revisit this.”

Foley and Genis took time Thursday to state their cases for mayor, a position that for the first time will be filled by citywide vote rather than a vote of the council.

“As the first directly elected mayor, I think it’s important, especially with new districts, that we have somebody that will facilitate each of the district representatives in bringing forward initiatives so that they can prioritize the issues in their community,” Foley said.

Genis said, “it’s critical that you have someone who will operate with courtesy, cooperation and collegiality — recognizing the limitations on the power of the mayor, recognizing the co-equal role of the City Council members, because each council member represents their own constituency.”

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