A full house at the Neighborhood Community Center on Monday night came to hear two sides debate Costa Mesa’s proposed city charter.
The topic of the fifth Feet to the Fire Forum was Measure V, which would change Costa Mesa’s form of governance from a general law city under the auspices of the state to one that’s home-ruled by what’s essentially a city constitution.
On one end was Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who has argued that the charter would bring about better localized control over Costa Mesa’s affairs and ultimately give the city the tools to put its “financial house in order.”
On the other side was Katrina Foley, a Newport-Mesa Unified school board trustee, attorney and former Costa Mesa councilwoman who said she feared the charter would create an all-powerful “coup of three council members.” She also contended Costa Mesa’s document should have been more similar to Newport Beach’s charter.
Moderating the event were Editor John Canalis and columnist Jack Wu, both of the Daily Pilot; Orange County Register columnists Barbara Venezia and Frank Mickadeit; Newport Beach Independent Editor Roger Bloom; and Voice of OC Editor Norberto Santana Jr.
Foley said she prefers Newport’s charter because it better defines voters as the local power. It also compels Newport to have a planning commission, library commission, parks commission and city arts commission, she said.
Foley said she was told those items were included in Newport’s charter “so that a future city council could not go ahead and decide to abolish those commissions, that it was important to the community.” She also criticized Costa Mesa’s charter language for being influenced too much by farther-away cities, such as Oceanside.
“If you were copying and pasting from Oceanside, why not look to our neighbor who has similar issues?” Foley said.
Righeimer said the charter doesn’t start from scratch: “What you’re forgetting is that this charter doesn’t get rid of all the ordinances and the codes in this city.”
He then held up a thick binder of those laws for the audience.
“We already have those items in here, and our charter goes ahead and keeps those items in here,” Righeimer said, adding 60 percent of the charter follows existing general law.
When asked about what she fears if the charter is approved, Foley said she is afraid of “exorbitant fines” implemented by the council.
She mentioned that Righeimer, as a planning commissioner, proposed fining residents because of their trash cans.
“He was willing to fine residents for leaving their trash cans out at night,” Foley said. “I oppose that.”
Righeimer said the charter would also exempt the city from paying prevailing wages — the state-mandated rates set by unions and other parties — for city-funded projects, such as fixing sidewalks and asphalt.
“I don’t think we should pay the person who holds the stop-go sign $41 an hour,” he said.
Venezia commented that council candidates she talked to weren’t against Costa Mesa being a charter city but that they didn’t like it being “Jim Righeimer’s charter.”
“Do you think it’s really based on personality,” she asked Righeimer, “that people just don’t like you?”
Righeimer countered that unions always try to stop charters because of the prevailing wage aspect, to which Venezia said that all residents who speak up against the charter can’t be from unions.
At the conclusion, Venezia asked for short “sound bites” from Righeimer and Foley.
“Don’t be afraid of the monster under the bed,” Righeimer said. "[The charter] gives you local control, and it saves money for the residents to put in the parks, the roads and the facilities we need in the city.”
The charter is “not about control from the residents,” Foley said. “It’s about control from a coup of three people.”