Commentary: I provoked ‘near riot’ at council meeting

I want to introduce myself as the hapless individual who inadvertently provoked the “near riot” at the special Costa Mesa City Council meeting Monday.

I’ve studied and worked on policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates, known as prevailing wages, for more than 17 years. I wrote the first and only book on the status of prevailing wage policies in California’s 120 charter cities.

As a result, I am able to comment about the technical nature of the state’s prevailing wage laws in a way that gets some special interest groups very angry. The truth is very damaging.

Regrettably, people at the meeting were confused about why I was there and what the format was supposed to be for a presentation and a rebuttal. It was unclear to me while making my remarks what was happening in the audience, although I assumed — correctly — that union operatives were engaging in their customary antics to instigate chaos and suppress my comments.

I don’t think many people heard or bothered to listen to my boring analysis of how the state determines government-mandated construction wage rates for the construction trades or why these rates have become so distorted since the state enacted the original prevailing wage law in 1931.

Nor did many people hear that the proposed charter would give the city the freedom to consider many diverse options for the calculation and coverage of prevailing wage laws on its own municipal projects.

I confirmed the political rule that losing your temper and accusing the people shouting you down of fascist tendencies gets a lot more public attention than pontificating on complicated, arcane laws.

Now that I’ve retreated back to Sacramento from Costa Mesa to resume tilting at windmills at the financially and morally bankrupt state capital, I wanted to send advice to the parties that witnessed or participated in the near riot.

To the council: You’re wise to propose a city charter that would free your municipal affairs from the control of the fiscally irresponsible state legislators from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. You’ll never get community consensus on every item in a charter, and you are courageous to take a stand before the public with a specific proposal.

To Costa Mesa community activists who oppose the charter: I heard your comments and recognize that no proposed charter will have unanimous public support. I even agreed with some of your suggested revisions. But you are yoking yourselves with some self-interested characters from out-of-town, perhaps to have access to their campaign cash, and those people don’t care about the interests of Costa Mesa residents.

To the union operatives who instigated the disturbance: I see someone read to you from Saul Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals.” You try to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.” But to paraphrase Gen. George S. Patton from the scene in the movie “Patton,” where his tank division defeats Rommel’s German tank division, “Rommel, I read your book!”

To the voters of Costa Mesa: Ignore the irrelevant and distracting political nonsense, read the proposed charter and cast an informed vote about whether or not you want the government functions listed in the charter to be under the authority of your council or remain under the control of the state Legislature. The choice seems obvious.

To the Costa Mesa police force: Thank you for your professionalism during the “near riot.” You balanced the rights of the people with the need to restore order. The city should be proud of you.

KEVIN DAYTON is a principal with the Dayton Public Policy Institute in Sacramento.