Andrea Marr has lived in many places: Italy, Nicaragua, aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
“I never really expected myself to settle down anywhere,” Marr, 35, said with a laugh. “This idea of becoming embedded in your community was kind of boring to me, to be honest.”
That changed when Costa Mesa came into the picture.
After moving to the city in 2012, Marr discovered something she wasn’t sure she ever wanted: a place to put down roots.
Now, the former nomad is the newly elected representative of City Council District 3, which includes the College Park and Mesa del Mar neighborhoods, as well as a portion of the upper Eastside.
Marr said there wasn’t one galvanizing moment that pushed her to seek office in November’s election — only a steadily growing desire to serve her community.
“I thought there was a larger role for me to play in the city,” she said.
Marr was born in Northern California but spent many of her formative years in Rome, where her family moved when she was 7.
When it was time to attend college, Marr and her parents visited campuses up and down the U.S. East Coast. None seemed like a good fit.
Then she set foot on the Naval Academy campus in Annapolis, Md., and quickly “fell in love with the idea of going there.”
Marr entered the academy in 2001. After graduating with a degree in aerospace engineering, she was assigned to the USS Princeton — a guided-missile cruiser based in San Diego — and served as a gunnery and ordnance officer on deployments in 2005 and 2007.
While in the service, Marr went back to school to earn her qualification as a nuclear reactor operator. Her last assignment was aboard the USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier where she led a division of machinists for two years, including an assignment in the Persian Gulf.
“I stood watch on the reactor, which basically isn’t too far off from what it’s like to be Homer Simpson,” she said with a laugh.
After leaving the Navy in 2010, Marr voyaged to Nicaragua — where her mother, Gladis, was born — and spent six months working for a nonprofit that designed and installed renewable energy technology for remote communities.
After that, it was on to Seattle, where she was an engineer at McKinstry, an energy-efficiency company. However, she soon grew weary of the city’s famously stubborn gray skies.
“It turns out I did not like the cold that much ... or the rain, or it being dark at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” she said.
When the opportunity came to relocate to the company’s office in Irvine, Marr quickly signed up. She had never lived in Orange County but heard Costa Mesa was worth a look.
Marr quickly fell for the “eclectic and fun” city and fell in with an “amazing” group of friends. Among the first people she met was her now-husband, Scott Sylvester. The two bought a home in the Fairview Village community about three years ago.
“To such a huge extent, Costa Mesa is like ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,’” she said, referring to a game in which the goal is to find links that tie random people to the actor. “You can always connect yourself to somebody else in the city in some capacity because you know someone in common, or maybe you go to the same gym or the same stylist.”
Marr is a senior program manager at Willdan, a technical and consulting services company.
As she acclimated to Costa Mesa, Marr became increasingly intrigued by the local political scene.
“Once you start learning about what’s going on in your city, you want to know more,” she said.
Eventually, that interest morphed into involvement.
She applied for and was appointed to the city’s Bikeway and Walkability and Cultural Arts committees in 2015 and is still a member of the latter.
Though both posts presented challenges and rewards, Marr couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more she could do.
“It goes back to this idea of service,” she said. “The whole time I was in the Navy, I had sailors working for me and it was about more than just myself. I had to make sure they were able to live happy, successful lives.”
Mounting a citywide council campaign seemed like a daunting task. However, with Costa Mesa’s move to voting districts this year — meaning council members would be elected by residents in specified areas — a bid for higher office became more feasible.
“It went from, ‘Oh my gosh, do I really want to do this thing that requires me to raise $100,000?’ … to it being my neighborhood where I walk my dog or train for the L.A. Marathon — the streets where people who I know very well live,” she said. “That changed everything.”
Overall, Marr said she thinks voting districts “led to a diversity of voices — people who came forward to run in this election who wouldn’t have run if we had a traditional citywide race.”
“I’m really excited to work with the team as a whole,” she said. “I think we all bring different strengths and perspectives.”
Marr took her seat on the council Tuesday, and she says there are several issues she’s itching to get to work on — promoting the arts, enhancing energy efficiency and buttressing city staffing, to name a few.
Perhaps the thing she’s most excited about, though, is the opportunity to help shape the future of the city she’s grown to love.
Historically, Marr said, the popular idea of the traits that make an effective leader has stemmed from the archetype of the “great man” — a figure who swings a sword and wields an equally sharp tongue.
In her mind, that paradigm is shifting. As times change and thinking evolves, people not only are redefining what it means to be a leader but also who those leaders can be. Marr proudly noted that four of the seven members of the newly reconstituted council are women — herself, Arlis Reynolds, Sandy Genis and Mayor Katrina Foley.
“Having that representation in a position of leadership is something I think will reflect very well on us as a city,” Marr said. “I aspire to be a role model for young women, especially.”