Costa Mesa council split on charter


The talking points, debates and wounds of November were made fresh again at City Hall on Tuesday as the City Council explored new directions to create a city charter.

Following the general election’s sound defeat of the contested document that would have instituted home rule for the city instead of the state’s guidelines, a majority of the council members indicated a preference this time around for a committee to go about the charter creation effort.

The composition of that committee, as well as the process by which the council would appoint the group’s members, faces further discussion and debate. The council is scheduled to receive more input from city staff before proceeding further during its May 7 regular meeting.


But the various points made by the council members and residents regarding a charter for Costa Mesa were similar to the fall’s civic dialogue during one of the city’s most heated elections: Costa Mesa doesn’t need a charter. It does need one. The last one was pushed through without community input. A charter will save the city money by giving it the tools to do so. A charter will hurt middle-class working families and lead to low-end laborers performing city contracts. Will the charter address the millions of pension liabilities? Will it give the council unbridled power? You can’t trust Sacramento.

The funding by organized labor and the Republican Party, to defeat and support the measure, respectively, became points of contention as well.

Tuesday’s council was split on the charter creation method, with Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilman Gary Monahan recommending a committee — also the chosen method of the city attorney’s office, which favored it for expediency and cost-effectiveness.

Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece, however, favored a charter commission, whose 15 members would have to be directly elected by voters, during the June 2014 primary election at the soonest.

Both methods have city voters approving or disapproving a charter in the end.

“What do we want our city to look like?” Leece said. “Being a member of the minority, I want this process as we go forward to be very fair, and I believe that there are qualified people who have been long-time residents … who would bring value to a commission or a committee.”

Leece, who campaigned in November against the charter measure — known on the ballot as Measure V — said the reasons for Costa Mesa needing a charter now remain unclear.

Genis, who also campaigned against Measure V, said a commission would be balanced: “My question is: Why don’t we trust the people of Costa Mesa to put together a balanced commission?”

Any committee, she added, would inevitably be “stacked.”

“Let’s abandon this fantasy,” Genis said, “that any committee that’s appointed by this council is gonna be balanced ... unless selected or provided by some sort of grand jury-type process, I really don’t think that any product is going to reflect the views of the entire community, or even a majority of the community.”

Mensinger supported the charter in the last election, but clarified that the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was not to decide “whether or not to pass the charter. It’s whether we move forward on talking about it and discussing what it is we want in the charter.”

Mensinger said during the campaign last year that he detected three primary beliefs: that supporting the charter would be a vote in favor of home rule; that Sacramento lawmakers don’t have a better concept of ruling the city than its residents do; and that a charter would be OK, just not that particular one.

“We can disagree, but in order to solve problems, we have to have respectful dialogue,” Mensinger said.

Righeimer said the new charter should have more community input — including from Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, which extensively campaigned against the charter last year.

“Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s the right charter if it doesn’t get passed,” Righeimer said. “We need this charter. This city cannot continue to go down the road of having Sacramento dictate to us.”

Furthermore, cities don’t always pass their first charter the first time, Righeimer said. He added that he’s learned since November.

“I will tell you, I learned a lesson. It was a very hard lesson, but I learned it.”