Commentary: Proposed charter comes with great risk. Benefits? Unknown

Re: "Costa Mesa is undergoing revolutionary change" (July 3):

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger boasts of the newly proposed charter, but I want to provide a charter committee member's perspective on the questionable rationale, content and process used to create the charter.

Two years ago, the voters of Costa Mesa were asked to consider changing the city's form of government from general law to charter. The charter was clearly defeated 60% to 40%. Many people I canvassed said they couldn't see a clear reason for the charter.

Here we are, two years later, and the charter is back, and there is still no compelling reason given for changing our form of government. The lack of reason seems to be by design.

I was nominated by Councilwoman Wendy Leece and appointed to a seat on the charter committee. Thirteen members, two facilitators, two attorneys and several city staff members dedicated the time for two meetings a month for 10 months to work diligently on a charter. We considered many topics but were not allowed to consider whether a charter was needed. Why would that basic consideration be disallowed?

In my opinion, the proposed charter provides no overriding benefit and may in fact cause legal, financial and social harm to the city and its residents.

Instead of starting by determining why a charter was needed, the committee started by making a laundry list of more than 37 categories to determine what could possibly go in the charter. This was not a list of crises the city was facing. It was not a study of what benefits charter cities receive from this form of government. It was just a list of issues that individuals felt were compelling.

And though I tried to convince the committee to use a three-way analysis (financial, legal and social) and to prioritize each item, the majority of the members rejected the idea.

After many months of hard work and discussion of all 37 topics, the conclusion was that the vast majority of items were working well under the general law framework, and we wouldn't change them.

The result of this questionable process was an overly simple charter with eight paragraphs. A number of the paragraphs identify those things we already do in the city under the general law. A few indicate things we could currently do if the council wanted to. Others define the functionality of the charter but aren't necessary for its content.

In addition, a few provisions in the proposed charter could have significant consequences, but they have never been studied by Costa Mesa for financial viability. As an example, the provision that involves the prevailing wage directly violates a law (Senate Bill 7) that was passed while the committee deliberated.

It is being challenged in the courts, and the committee majority decided to roll the financial dice and include the provision, hoping the law would be overturned. If it is not, the city could lose a lot of state funds for public works projects under the charter and need another election to remove that item — a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.

So, with no financial review and no specific and compelling reason for the charter, we are being asked, once again, to risk our tax dollars, our stability and our form of government.

Because the risks are too great, and the benefits unknown, I cannot support this charter. Vote no on the charter.

HAROLD WEITZBERG is a member of the Costa Mesa Charter Committee and a candidate for City Council.

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World