Some, not all, of Costa Mesa’s 15 candidates for council, mayor square off in forum on Facebook
With Costa Mesa City Hall closed to the public — and no in-person candidate forums planned before the Nov. 3 election — a handful of hopefuls shared their views before a virtual audience in a Sept. 23 candidates forum held via Facebook.
The event was hosted by “Costa Mesa Public Square,” a Facebook group that encourages conversations on citywide issues that occasionally trigger political debates. In the span of about 90 minutes, more than 1,800 visitors tuned in to the livestreamed discussion.
Group administrator Julie Mercurio said organizers extended an invitation to all 15 candidates who have been qualified to run for the office of mayor and three open seats on the City Council.
“I told them it wasn’t going to be a ‘gotcha’ moment, that we’re just here so you can share your platforms and your views,” Mercurio said Monday, explaining the page moderators’ desire to create a public forum in the absence of traditional events.
Despite assurances of an even playing field, only eight contenders participated.
Mayoral candidates included contender Quentin “Q” Pullen, current Councilwoman Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece, who served on the council from 2006 to 2014. Mayoral challenger Al Melone initially joined in via audio but later blinked out, due to apparent computer issues.
They were joined by Jason Komala (District 1), Gary Parkin (District 2) and Jeff Pettis and Lee Ramos, both running for a seat representing District 6.
Notably absent from the discussion were Mayor Katrina Foley, who seeks a second mayoral term, and Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens, running against Komala and contender Don Harper in the District 1 race.
Foley did not comment Monday on why she declined to appear in the forum. Stephens said the Facebook group is not always civil and that he left the group years ago after commenters made disparaging remarks about his daughter.
“I quit the page. I just deleted it and I’ve never gone back,” he said. “So, when I was invited to come to the Public Square, for various reasons I said I wasn’t going to do it.”
Other no-shows included Don Harper from District 1, Ben Chapman and Loren Gameros in District 2 and Hengameh Abraham and Jeffrey Harlan in District 6.
Those who attended shared introductory remarks before diving into a round-robin-style Q&A discussion covering a breadth of civic issues, including city finances, homelessness and crime, among others.
Moderator David Snyder asked candidates how they’d help Costa Mesa recover from sales tax revenue losses sustained as more customers shop online — Leece recommended the city might look to bolster revenue from tourism and conferences, while Genis said she was for more belt-tightening and smart accounting to realize more savings.
Pullen suggested the city might look at passage of a ballot measure that would allow for retail marijuana sales and delivery as a new revenue source, and also ponder bringing new attractions and family fun centers to town.
Asked how they would address homelessness, Parkin, a veteran, said it was crucial to get tougher with policing when crimes were committed but to also help individuals seek drug treatment and mental health counseling to address the underlying causes of homelessness.
Ramos said homelessness was a problem the city chooses to have by not doing enough to take advantage of agencies that already exist, while Komala said a one-size-fits-all approach would not work.
“Everybody is an individual and has individual challenges,” he said. “We need to connect with them first, then we need to provide the resources.”
Candidates largely supported Measure Y — a 2016 growth-control initiative requiring voter approval of projects exceeding certain zoning and impact thresholds. Leece, who gathered signatures to place Y on the ballot, said it was important for residents to weigh in on developments that could affect city services and infrastructure.
But when it came to positing how the city might meet a projected Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) from the state calling on officials to zone for 11,727 residential units, opinions varied.
Pullen said he was torn between the obvious need for more housing options in the city and the potential negative impacts the project may have on traffic. Pettis suggested Costa Mesa challenge the “ridiculously unattainable” allocation.
“If we got together with Newport, Huntington, Santa Ana as a group and said, ‘Hey listen, guys, this is not going to happen’ — there would be power in numbers in rebutting that,” he said.
Genis agreed, saying if other cities got their allocations cut, a surplus might go to Costa Mesa.
“We need to save our R-1 neighborhoods,” she said. “There’s stuff coming out of Sacramento constantly, and it seems like our council majority is only too willing to bend to that.”
Mercurio said the response to last week’s event was so positive, “Costa Mesa Public Square” is planning a second council forum on Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m.
Another, for utility candidates running for Mesa Water District, Costa Mesa Sanitary District and Municipal Water District of Orange County is scheduled for Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
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