Commentary: Charter proposal would not give Costa Mesa 'home rule'

Commentaries from Aug. 2 and 3 on the newly proposed charter initiative in Costa Mesa demand a reply.

Planning Commissioner Tim Sesler's screed ("Commentary: Proposed ballot argument falsely claims 'cronyism'") seems to be along the lines of the Wizard of Oz's injunction, "Ignore that little man behind the curtain!"

Andy Smith's presents the somewhat bizarre viewpoint of Milo Minderbinder, of Joseph Heller's Catch-22, that "everybody has a share" in the enterprise ("Commentary: Charter would give Costa Mesa 'home rule'").

Fact: The impetus that has now twice demanded a vote on the charter is Mayor Jim Righeimer's. He wrote the first one, and the committee that has written the second one was mainly made up of people picked by him and his two lieutenants on the council.

Fact: With only rare exception, both Councilmen Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger have always voted as a bloc with Righeimer on major issues.

Fact: There is only a single clause in the proposed new charter that deals with something not accomplished under general law, and that is the one that permits the city to refrain from paying prevailing wages to those employed on city projects.

Fact: No groundswell of public opinion raised the charter idea from obscurity to prominence. The idea was promulgated from above, by the mayor, and horsed onto the ballot twice.

Fact: There are about 59,000 registered voters in Costa Mesa. Judging by the number of votes on the 2012 charter, somewhat more than 34,000 voted in 2012, or about 58%. Of those casting ballots, about 46% voted for the highest-ranking candidate, Sandy Genis.

Fact: Righeimer garnered 12,997 votes in 2010. It was an off-year, but the fact remains that this was barely 22% of registered voters.

Fact: The number of ballots cast has been on a saw-tooth uptrend since 2002. We may expect about 24,500 to be cast in 2014, for a voter turnout of roughly 41%. The vote will be split roughly eight ways. The top vote-getter will get something like 28%, with a probable maximum of 31%. Thus the council makeup will be decided by somewhere between 23% and 26% of registered voters.

So the argument that the charter would give us "home rule" or "local control" begins to sound a great deal like Minderbinder's oft-repeated, "Everybody has a share." Some of Milo's "shareholders" became a little disillusioned when he tried to force them to eat chocolate-covered cotton. A single vote on the council, representing fewer than 13% of the registered voters, could determine major policy, control astronomical expenditures and abridge fundamental property rights, if the charter did not prevent it.

And it doesn't.

The charter is, if read carefully, a set of permissions for the council, rather than an enumeration of restrictions on its power. Thus "local control" is going to mean control by an elite that may comprise fewer than 13% of us who can vote.

No matter how many paeans Smith and Sesler sing to the integrity of the people who made up the committee, the fact remains that they did not even address, let alone answer, the single most important question in the whole process, the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Do we want to trust the three-person council majority with that much control over our lives and livelihoods, our property and our progeny?

Finally, let's also to look at Sesler's oh-so-hurt screed about how those nasty "responsible government" people are putting upon the wonderful volunteers who so responsibly constructed this charter. He calls the argument against the 2014 charter "mean-spirited."

Well, duh. Of course it is mean-spirited. What did he expect? Has any of us ever read an argument for, an argument against or a rebuttal of either that was not just the tiniest bit snarky, or ad hominem, or negative in tone? It is designed to score the most points with the least verbiage, and as such has to be so.

TERRY KOKEN lives in Costa Mesa.

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