Bigger cities’ votes counted in Costa Mesa’s loss of OCTA board seat

In a last-minute switch-up, Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Jim Katapodis upset Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer’s brief tenure on the Orange County Transportation Authority’s board.

Righeimer was elected in November to replace former Huntington Beach Mayor Matt Harper, now a state assemblyman, on the 18-member board.

However, because county staff did not provide proper public notice before the meeting, all the appointments, including Righeimer’s, were considered in violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open-meetings law.

County counsel mandated that the group choosing OCTA board members — the City Selection Committee, which is composed of all Orange County mayors — hold another meeting to make up for the earlier mistake.

The committee cast new votes Friday night for the affected OCTA board seats, including Righeimer’s, who represented the 2nd District.

The district encompasses Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Stanton, Seal Beach, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos, La Palma and Cypress. Each district elects its own representative.

Katapodis, a retired Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, said in an interview Monday that after Huntington Beach Mayor Jill Hardy asked him to attend the meeting on her behalf, he began thinking about voting for himself.

He then consulted with two of his fellow council members and approached mayors from other cities in the 2nd District to ask for their support.

“We’re the biggest city with the highest population in the district,” he said of Huntington Beach. “It doesn’t seem right that we’re not represented.”

Months earlier, with a different makeup of 2nd District mayors, Righeimer had the votes for his OCTA appointment. By Friday, that scenario had changed.

“Nobody got kicked off,” Righeimer said in an interview Saturday. “All of us had to be revoted.”

In a follow-up interview Monday, Righeimer added that he wasn’t aware of Katapodis’ lobbying efforts for the seat until the last minute.

Righeimer secured votes from Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos and Cypress.

Katapodis, with his own vote representing Huntington Beach, edged Righeimer out with support from Fountain Valley, La Palma and Stanton. The contested OCTA seat was population-weighted, with votes from more populous cities counting more.

When considering the population weights, Huntington Beach is more populous than Costa Mesa, and Katapodis edged out Righeimer, 52 to 48, according to county clerk data.

“It was a very, very close election,” Righeimer said Monday.

If the representative doesn’t secure votes from the larger cities, “they pretty much put themselves in a position where they’re extremely vulnerable,” Harper said.

Righeimer was the only OCTA board member to lose his seat.

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, Seal Beach Councilman Gary Miller, Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway, La Habra Councilman Tim Shaw and San Clemente Councilwoman Lori Donchak kept their spots.

Katapodis will be up for re-election in November.

OCTA board members earn $100 per meeting but no more than $500 a month. Depending on when they began their board terms, and if they receive coverage from another public agency, members are eligible for medical, dental, vision and term life insurance.

A major issue that could affect the 2nd District is the addition of toll lanes on the 405 Freeway, between Costa Mesa and Rossmoor. Several cities have lobbied against the lanes, although the agency that ultimately decides, the California Department of Transportation, has approved them.

Righeimer said until Harper joined the OCTA, Huntington Beach “had been absent” on the toll road issue. Righeimer has been part of the coalition against the lanes for the past few years and built working relationships throughout the county for that effort.

Katapodis said he hasn’t yet determined his position on adding toll lanes to the 405 Freeway.

“I’m on the fence right now,” he said. “I’d like to get an idea of what the public wants.”