Commentary: I served on the original charter committee


I have been following the process through which Costa Mesa residents will be able to decide upon the adoption of a city charter.

I have also read the debates and talked to a few friends about that issue.

My reason for writing this letter is simply to call attention to a former formal investigation by a city charter committee. In March 1971, the then-City Council formed the City Charter Study Committee. I was invited to serve on that committee.

There should be in the city archive minutes of those deliberations. For those interested in the present outcome, those minutes might be helpful in making a decision.


We met for several weeks to conduct serious discussions regarding the pros and cons of such a step, or to consult with previous council members. It was a drawn-out process.

The committee struggled to answer this central question: Would a change in the quality of governance occur with the adoption of a charter?

So far, throughout the current debates, I have either missed or failed to read that this current process is strongly aimed at that goal. I do believe, though, that this issue’s adversaries are acting in what each thinks is in the city’s best interest.

In 1971, the council decided to stay a general law city. A change in the city’s structure, it was concluded, would not lead to any improvement in the quality of governance.

Faith in that decision was confirmed when, during the following year, a City Council-sponsored bond issue to pay for 12 new city park sites was passed with a 72% yes vote.

In the past 40 years, however, the city has changed. We have more people, and greater diversity than before.

Our economy is more complex, e.g., more car agencies on Harbor Boulevard now, while then South Coast Plaza was in its infancy. Our educational opportunities have expanded, e.g., Vanguard University did not exist in its current state, and our cultural amenities have exploded.

In 1971, South Coast Repertory was a storefront on Newport Boulevard, the Historical Society was still meeting in private homes, and there was no Segerstrom Center of the Arts.

Today, the community may want a change in its political structure. But I hope how that change could improve the quality of our governance would be more forcefully considered by everyone.

HANK PANIAN lives in Costa Mesa.