Election and new mayor bring change to Costa Mesa

After writing about the last edition of the DP 103 list of most influential people on Sunday, boy, did I hear from readers!

Overwhelmingly they weren't happy that this longstanding tradition in the Daily Pilot is going bye-bye.

With the paper's expanding coverage of neighboring cities, many felt this was just another sign that the DP is moving too far away from its roots of focusing on Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

As it was explained to me, this expanded coverage is precisely why the list was put to bed — there are just too many influencers to cover in each city. Thus the list will be replaced by "Unsung Heroes."

I get that people dislike change, but change is pretty much the only thing we can count on as time marches on.

And nowhere around here are the winds of political change blustering more these days than in Costa Mesa.

In this past election cycle, it's as if residents went to their windows — as newsman Howard Beale did in the 1976 movie "Network" — and yelled, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

The political ideology shift was radical.

In one corner we have reelected council member Sandy Genis and newly elected John Stephens — both pretty much aligned in their thinking with new Mayor Katrina Foley.

In the other corner we have remaining Councilman Jim Righeimer and returning member Allan Mansoor.

And if their first meeting was any indication, I predict these two factions will continue to butt heads.

Talking with Foley over the holidays, my impression was that she understands the message voters sent in this election — they're looking for change and a council that will listen to them.

And by all accounts, Foley has hit the floor running to set that tone.

Some of her changes that have been approved already are ceremonial and easy to accomplish, like changing Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch's title to city manager and moving all public comments to the beginning of each council meeting and end splitting them between the beginning and end of the meeting.

And she wants to make the council meetings more user-friendly for folks who work and want to attend.

"We will no longer be requiring speaker cards be turned in by 6 p.m. to be able to speak at a meeting," she says.

She's also repurposing the mayor's office to be an "Office of the City Council" where members can meet with the public.

Foley envisions rotating art displays, featuring local artists, high schools and Orange Coast College students, decorating the walls of City Hall's fifth floor.

"We are the City of the Arts and I'm going to give that real meaning," Foley says.

But I feel she'll meet resistance when she brings up using those six new ambulances the city purchased rather than contracting for ambulance services.

She says this could generate $2 million to $4 million for the city rather than a private contractor.

The idea will certainly come up at a future council meeting, and I'm sure there will be a lively discussion between the two factions on this subject.

No doubt Foley's city still faces some difficult issues that will take long-term strategies to resolve.

How will she solve the homeless encampments in parks and the drug issues there?

Faced with the same problem in Los Angeles, one councilman, Mitch O'Farrell, is going as far as to suggest a city ordinance that would ban adults without a child near playgrounds.

As crazy as that may seem, there are already similar ordinances in Santa Monica, New York City and Hollywood, Fla., as these cities try to curb issues of homeless people and drugs in their parks.

Though I feel that solution is a bit far-reaching, I have to believe O'Farrell's actions are a result of a constituency fed up with these problems.

Issues facing our cities aren't necessarily unique, as we saw with the sentiment against high-density development among residents at council forums in Newport and Costa Mesa this past election season.

I asked Foley if what is happening in Newport with the referendum signature-gathering controversy over the Museum House project isn't a bit of déjà vu for her. After all, her city faced several ballot measures last election season for which signatures were gathered by residents unhappy with the City Council's direction on high-density housing and such.

"Newport Beach has long been the envy for many, in part because of the low density. It's a great place to live, but you have to listen to the residents," she says.

Does she have advice for Newport's leaders?

"My best advice is to collaborate and not just have the attitude 'We can do whatever we want.' It will come back to bite you in the end and the residents will throw you out," she told me.

Sounds like some good neighborly advice, which I'll bet the Newport council will ignore.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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