Los Angeles Times

Council candidates focus at forum on park, development and charter

New development, a proposed city charter, traffic and the future of Fairview Park were among the topics discussed Thursday during a Costa Mesa City Council candidates' forum.

The two-hour event, hosted by Mesa Verde Community Inc. and moderated by its president, Darnell Wyrick, took place in the Neighborhood Community Center before a crowd of about 175.

Seven of eight candidates for two open council seats attended: Mayor Jim Righeimer, who is up for reelection; school board Trustee Katrina Foley, an attorney and former council member; retired certified public accountant Al Melone; sports agent and Banning Ranch activist Christopher Bunyan; retired Auto Club of Southern California consultant Rita Simpson; former Councilman Jay Humphrey, a retired pharmaceutical executive; and congressional aide Tony Capitelli.

Retired businessman Lee Ramos, who serves on the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee and served on the charter committee, did not attend the forum. His campaign manager told the Daily Pilot earlier this week that Ramos "will be focusing on meeting with voters rather than performing at PR events."

The first question was about Costa Mesa's charter proposal, a constitution-like document that would have the city governed by home rule rather than Sacramento guidelines.

Righeimer, Simpson and Capitelli said they favored it.

"I am always an advocate of local control," Capitelli said. "I think the City Council having more control over contracts is a good thing."

Righeimer said organized labor will fight the document. Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Irvine function well under their charters, and Costa Mesa can too, he added.

Foley, Humphrey and Bunyan said they opposed the charter.

"It's not going to give any more power to the city," Bunyan said.

Foley called the document a power grab by the Righeimer-led council majority.

Melone was more indifferent.

"It seems like it's being overblown," he said. "The day after the election, the city is going to be the same. Most of us aren't going to be dramatically affected for years to come.... If it loses, I won't lose any sleep over it."

When it comes to new developments, particularly residential units in the Westside, Foley, Capitelli and Humphrey said they support smart growth and projects that are compatible with existing neighborhoods.

"I want to remain sure Costa Mesa remains a quaint, cool, coastal place to raise a family," Foley said.

Humphrey said residents need to consider the cumulative effect of new developments.

"The additive effect is far more problematic than the single impact of one development structure," he said.

Bunyan said Costa Mesa is becoming more like Irvine and losing its "organic feel."

"Irvine is nice, but Irvine is too much of a master-planned community," he said.

Melone said he is worried about the potential traffic that developments could bring to Costa Mesa, making the city feel congested like Los Angeles. He pushed for a moratorium on new developments until the city's general plan update is finished

"Do we really need any more fast-food restaurants in Costa Mesa? I say no," Melone said.

Righeimer said Costa Mesans really need to watch out for development around Orange Coast College, where new housing could easily surpass all the new development in the Westside.

The Westside needs the revitalization, Righeimer said, adding that the area's plans were approved about a decade ago, before his involvement in Costa Mesa politics.

Capitelli, Melone, Bunyan, Foley agreed the Westside development plans could use a review.

Capitelli said they should emphasize the "small-business feel that the Westside has loved for decades."

Simpson said Costa Mesa developments haven't significantly boosted traffic thus far. She added that Costa Mesa could use district representatives, who then could specialize in getting input from their sections of town.

"So instead of worrying about the whole city and where the development is going, each of the districts would have representatives to talk to the council and to the citizens in their district," Simpson said.

She added that the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center could be put up for sale, and that with budget reserves, City Hall might be able to acquire the land.

"Because many foreign countries are buying in the United States, I think it's important to consider this," she said.

Regarding the 208-acre Fairview Park, which is primarily open space, Righeimer said the council should continue its efforts to fund improvements and execute the park's master plan. The plan, approved years ago, calls for, among other additions, a turnaround space at the end of Pacific Avenue, in the park's southwest quadrant.

"That was always in the master plan but was never funded," Righeimer said.

Foley, Melone, Humphrey, Bunyan and Capitelli called for restorating, protecting and maintaining the undeveloped environment of the park.

"I have always supported keeping Fairview Park as natural as possible," Humphrey said.

"Fairview Park is Costa Mesa's Yosemite," Bunyan added. "Save it, don't pave it."

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