Council sends charter proposal to voters

Costa Mesa will once again debate, analyze and vote on a proposed city charter.

The City Council split 3-2 Wednesday on approving the document for the November general election. Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece dissented.

The charter sets provisions, such as public-works contracting, outsourcing of city services and maintaining a five-member council.

Supporters contend the charter would allow more local control over Costa Mesa's municipal affairs and save the city money when it comes to contracting out.

"This is a classic example of those who want big government and those who want local government," said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, adding that the charter will prevent actions like retroactive pension increases for city employees.

Richard Mehren, who chairs the city's Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, called the charter proposal "a step in the right direction," adding that Irvine, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach function just fine under theirs.

"I have not heard anybody else come up with any solutions of any sort," Mehren said. "From my viewpoint, we must do something to save this city."

Leece argued that the charter won't provide savings because it only affects a small percentage of public contracts and unnecessarily repeats laws already on the books.

"This will not benefit the people of Costa Mesa," Leece said. "It will put too much control in a [council] majority. I think it's safer to go with what we have."

The council majority should have gotten the message from voters, who soundly defeated the 2012 charter initiative, Measure V, she said.

Robin Leffler, president of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government (CM4RG), which campaigned heavily against Measure V, was critical of the new charter's creation process.

It should not have been drafted by a panel of council appointees, she said, but by a commission of voter-elected members.

"The process was flawed, and the product is flawed," Leffler said.

Resident Tamar Goldmann called the committee "stacked" in the council majority's favor and expensive because it required legal counsel.

The 13-member panel met about 15 times over 10 months. It was aided by attorneys but led by two independent facilitators, Estancia High School Principal Kirk Bauermeister and Palm Harvest Church Pastor Mike Decker.

Last June, each council member appointed one member. The next five were selected with a majority council vote, and the last three were chosen at random.

Tom Pollitt, who served on the committee, said union-funded groups are spreading "misinformation" that compares Costa Mesa to Bell, a charter city that became a symbol of corruption in 2011 when the Los Angeles Times exposed high-ranking city administrators' high pay.

"The city of Bell has nothing to do with the city of Costa Mesa and our charter," Pollitt said. "We're totally different situations."

Ron Amburgey, another Charter Committee member, said CM4RG and labor "are fighting against their own citizens' freedom. It's hard to swallow."

Westside resident Terry Koken contended that the charter is about Mayor Jim Righeimer's effort to weaken unions.

"But at no time in your agenda have we heard the voice of sweet reason," Koken said to the mayor. "This charter is only an attempt to further that agenda. You'd better expect opposition from the unions."

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