Costa Mesa mayor says goal to be ‘stronger every day’ at State of the City address
Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens understands the importance of having strong business partners.
With the popular Northgate Market set to open its first Costa Mesa mercado-style location in November, Stephens sat down with Northgate Market strategist Joshua Gonzalez for an appropriate meal.
“He did exactly the right thing,” Stephens said with a smile. “He served us tacos.”
While many have an affinity for tacos, more than 200 people in the room Thursday also had an affinity for the city of Costa Mesa.
Gonzalez was one of three special business panelists at the annual State of the City luncheon at Hilton Costa Mesa, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.
Stephens, who became mayor in March 2021, offered his thoughts on the city’s progress before moderating the panel with chamber member Tom Johnson. The panel also included Matt Grimm, co-founder and chief operating officer of Costa Mesa-based defense company Anduril Industries, as well as South Coast Plaza General Manager Molly Unger.
“Stronger every day” was the theme, and the song “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” by the band Chicago — which performed last month at the Pacific Amphitheatre — played as Stephens made his way to the stage.
“I’ll go quicker than last year,” said Stephens, whose State of the City comments lasted about 20 minutes. “Last year, the theme was, ‘Does anybody know what time it is?’”
He commended the police and fire departments.
“We have six new firefighters, and 100 people applied for those jobs,” Stephens said. “We are truly a destination fire department.”
Stephens said he was proud that the city, which is 47% low-income or below according to a 2021 community housing characteristics report, has committed to housing, including Project Homekey for veterans, seniors and others at risk of homelessness. He also noted Costa Mesa has $57.8 million in its reserves, nearly $3 million more than its goal.
The city also is touting a new Totally Electronic Self Service Application (TESSA) system, which can help track city permit and license applications online.
Stephens noted that several local high school teams have won CIF Southern Section titles in the last year, while Orange Coast College women’s basketball captured a state title. But one team that is leaving town is the Los Angeles Chargers, who are expected to start holding their training camp practices at a new facility in El Segundo in 2024.
“We gave them the key to the city, and off they go to the dreaded El Segundo,” Stephens said. “But you know what they say, you can take the football team out of the town, but you can’t take the town out of the football team. They’ll always be the Costa Mesa Chargers.”
The State of the City panelists were asked, among other questions, about the current job market. Unger said that South Coast Plaza has more than 300 retailers that employ up to 9,500 people during the holiday season. The mall itself has more than 300 employees, she said.
“This year, we’ve had over 55 construction jobs happening at South Coast Plaza overnight,” she said. “That means over 300 contract jobs overnight, when most of you are at home sleeping.”
Grimm said that his company’s 1,100 employees in Orange County have an average salary of about $164,000 a year.
“On salaries alone, that’s about 170-some odd million dollars floating into the community,” he said. “All of those folks are our neighbors, they’re customers, they’re vendors, they’re partners in the community. We’re proud that John and the city of Costa Mesa have been partners with us in helping scale that growth.”
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