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6 former Costa Mesa mayors demand city reopen parks, golf courses

Gary Monahan, far left; Steve Mensinger, second from right and then-Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, at right, gathered in 2012 to watch early returns in the council race. The three men are among six former Costa Mesa mayors calling for city leaders to reopen parts of the economy, including lifting restrictions on city parks, golf courses and trails.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In a scathing open letter addressed to the Costa Mesa City Council Friday, six former mayors demanded city leaders reopen parts of the economy, specifically citing the council’s recent decisions in light of the coronavirus to close parks, golf courses and trails, and to place a moratorium on rental evictions for businesses.

The letter, signed by current Councilmembers Sandy Genis and Allan Mansoor, as well as James Righeimer, Gary Monahan, Steve Mensinger and Eric Bever, urged the city to follow the lead of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which voted unanimously Tuesday to allow public and private golf courses to reopen.

“We are not calling for an end to common-sense practices aimed at guarding the public health. Indeed, we’re calling for common sense — for our public officials to remember that they have the public’s trust only insofar as they trust the public,” the letter read. “In the past several days, some of Costa Mesa’s public officials have revealed a contempt for the public. Failing to plan for a crisis, they responded with panic. They brought a sledgehammer to a problem that requires a scalpel.”

The sextet of mostly conservative former mayors accuse the current council, comprised of a liberal-leaning majority, of “fail[ing] to understand” the ramifications of “crushing an economy.” They asked the council to “revote these issues” at its next meeting.

Almost exactly a month ago, Costa Mesa announced it would close all city parks and the Costa Mesa Country Club, the city-owned public golf course. The council later ratified the decision in a 4-3 vote, following a lengthy discussion. Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens, who voted against the motion along with Mansoor and Genis, advocated for closing parks except for passive walk-throughs.

The City Council voted unanimously to make some cuts to the city budget and defer some costly capital improvement plans, to avoid dipping heavily into the city’s reserve funds.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council again broached the topic, after a litany of comments — many of them also strongly-worded — from people desperate for the city to reopen the parks and golf course.

“Open the damn parks,” one commenter said. “Give people the opportunity to go out and about before you have blood on your hands.”

Mayor Katrina Foley said Tuesday that a few councilmembers would work with the Parks, Arts & Community Services Commission “to craft very quickly some plan so that we can open up some public space for our residents.”

Foley said the city plans to reopen park paths for walking and biking through and the golf course on Tuesday. The mayor emphasized multiple city staffers and council members have been working on crafting a program to reopen the economy locally.

The former mayors’ letter also referenced the council’s 5-2 vote a month ago — Mansoor and Genis dissented — prohibiting landlords from evicting commercial and residential tenants unable to pay rent because of the coronavirus. Under the urgency ordinance, landlords may begin asking for unpaid rent once Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 16 executive order expires, and renters would have 120 days after that to pay.

But the former mayors said some commercial tenants are taking advantage of the ordinance and skirting the rent, even if they have the means to pay it.

“When the power goes out at night in a major city, we can see who our neighbors really are. When our officials are the cause of the blackout, and then use the darkness to expand their power over daily life, we can see who our officials really are,” the letter read. “This is a moment of truth for our local officials. We expect them to act on our best interests. We count on them to remember the Constitution they swore to protect. We expect them to remember that they govern only because the people have allowed it.”

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