Banning Ranch critic enters Costa Mesa council race

(SCOTT SMELTZER / Daily Pilot)

Christopher Bunyan’s candidacy for Costa Mesa City Council is, in his words, about “climate change.”

He’s not referring to greenhouse gases, but rather to the political climate in which the City of the Arts finds itself in 2014. He cites the two council members suing the police union over alleged extortion, the municipal employees union suing the city over a failed pink slip attempt, the staffing problems at the Police Department and the threats of development at Fairview Park and Banning Ranch.

“I really don’t think that [Mayor Jim Righeimer] and the council majority has engendered a culture that’s friendly to anything in this city,” said Bunyan, 40.

Then, Bunyan noted, there’s the prosecution of a vandalism case involving a $5 campaign sign — a case initiated after a private detective, hired by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, filmed a man tearing up a sign during the heated 2012 election. Last week, a jury found a former Costa Mesa city maintenance worker accused of the act, Steven Charles White, not guilty.

Mensinger and his allies are “obsessed with these little details and getting up on these little rabbit trails of stuff that lead to nowhere,” Bunyan said in an interview Monday at The Lab, where he has worked as a hairstylist at Crew Salon since 2001.

He also works as a contractor for Google advertising, does legal negotiations for a Newport Beach law firm and is a sports agent for mixed martial arts clients.

After unsuccessful runs for the council in 2006 and 2008, Bunyan hopes his third bid is the charm. He has spent about eight years living in the Newport-Mesa area, in Costa Mesa from 2005 to 2008, then in Corona del Mar before moving back to Costa Mesa’s Eastside last year.

He has served on Costa Mesa’s Cultural Arts and Historical Preservation committees and has been an activist against the Banning Ranch development since 2006 — before it was much of a hot topic, he said.

In 2008, he founded Banning Ranch Defenders. He’s the group’s president and works alongside the Banning Ranch Conservancy to protest the proposed 1,375-home development in West Newport.

Two council seats will be filled through the election in November. Bunyan is slated to face Mayor Jim Righeimer, who’s up for reelection; school board Trustee Katrina Foley, an attorney and former councilwoman; Lee Ramos, a longtime resident who serves on the Charter and Fairview Park committees; and Tony Capitelli, a congressional aide and Whittier Law School graduate who is Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry’s son-in-law.

After serving two terms, Councilwoman Wendy Leece is termed out and has since announced a run for Congress.

Bunyan, a Bakersfield native, has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Cal State Long Beach and is finishing up his master’s in public administration there.

Bunyan said his core issues will include opposing development of Banning Ranch, which he thinks will increase traffic to the Westside, and working cohesively with city employee unions. Bunyan said he wants to make his council position less partisan than what he has been seeing among members.

“Republicans, Democrats, independents, we all have a part here,” Bunyan said. “Come November, it’s about taking the power back and putting it back in the hands of local residents, not trying to do these lofty things Righeimer is trying to do with the city.”

Bunyan added, “Costa Mesa’s brand can be polished even brighter. Working with the public again is imperative to this city.”

He’s strongly against Righeimer’s changes to the public commenting structure on nonagenda items. Under that change, which many City Hall regulars found objectionable and which became codified by the council majority in December, up to 10 randomly chosen speakers can talk at the beginning of council sessions. The remainder can speak at the end of the meeting, often several hours later.

Bunyan called the move “eliminating the public process.”

He’s also against the proposed city charter, which he felt was created by a “stacked” committee of Righeimer allies.

For the Westside and Sobeca District, where The Lab is located, Bunyan said it would be beneficial to reexamine those area’s urban plans, which were created around 2006, before the recession.

Priorities have changed greatly since then, he said.

“We’re in this campaign to win,” Bunyan said. “I haven’t teamed up with anybody, so I’m not appealing to a particular body of voters. I’m appealing to Costa Mesans, not the Republican Party, not Democrats. Independents, libertarians, vegetarians, come on in. We’re taking everybody.”