Mayor meets with members of the community

As the questions kept coming, so did the pizzas.

The mood at Costa Mesa's first Meet the Mayor session at Pitfire Artisan Pizza on Thursday night was mostly light, though with wide-ranging topics that included the 19th Street bridge that never was, the city's battered bid to buy the Orange County Fairgrounds, ballooning pension obligations, density in the Westside, raccoons and sewer grills.

The event featuring Mayor Jim Righeimer was held in the East 17th Street restaurant's back room, aka the "Community Kitchen." The pizzas were donated. So was "all the Diet Coke you can drink," Righeimer quipped.

He fielded questions from the group of nearly 30 as Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger handed out hats and T-shirts with "Costa Mesa 1953" — the year of the city's incorporation — printed on them to nearly all attendees.

"These guys are truly about community … otherwise, I wouldn't waste my time with these guys," said Mike Bargas, Estancia High School's football coach and a friend of Righeimer and Mensinger. Their respective children are friends as well.

In attendance were a few of Righeimer's supporters, as well as some who aren't.

Members of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grass-roots group that has traditionally opposed the Righeimer-led council majority's direction, had their chance with the mayor.

"It's been four months," said Mike Harmanos of CM4RG. "Where's our charter?"

Righeimer, architect of the failed charter measure on the November ballot, responded that there will soon be a study session to determine the process of creating another charter. It will likely be a brand-new document, he said — as in not based on his old one — and it will be up to the community to decide how to make it.

"We want people who were against the charter on the committee," he said.

Greg Ridge, also of CM4RG, laughed when Righeimer said he didn't want the city to get involved in more lawsuits. Representatives of CM4RG and other council critics have decried the city's spending in its lawsuit with a city employee association over the March 2011 issuing of some 200 pink slips.

Ridge got a shirt too, but it was too big.

"What am I going to do? Wash my car with this?" he quipped before getting a smaller size.

When asked about employees pensions, which the council heard about earlier this week, Righeimer called them "completely unsustainable." In his opinion, the model must change, but it likely wouldn't happen before a "complete meltdown in the system."

"We made commitments that we know we cannot keep," he said.

Another resident asked what's happening with Triangle Square. Righeimer quickly corrected her with its rebranded name: The Triangle.

Righeimer talked of downtown center's new focus — dining and entertainment, rather than shopping — and new restaurants coming in, as well as a bowling alley.

What about burying power lines in the Eastside to make it more aesthetically pleasing?

It's a difficult process with lots of digging, said Righeimer, whose background is in real estate.

There was also talk of problematic motels and the fact that many of Orange County's sober-living homes are in Costa Mesa neighborhoods.

Righeimer also chimed in about the 17th Street corridor's business development and how businesses like Pitfire want to be in Costa Mesa.

"Money is coming into this area because it's a cool, eclectic place," he said.

The next Meet the Mayor, a monthly event, is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. March 28. The location is to be determined.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint

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