COSTA MESA — Most in the room wanted to know how it came to this.
The NCAA men's basketball Championship Tournament was on TV. Half of the place was roaring as Arizona upset Duke.
But what made nearly 100 Costa Mesa residents ignore the Sweet 16 game and huddle up inside a room of Skosh Monahan's on a rainy Thursday night to listen to a couple of city officials give a tutorial on city spending?
"When government gets too big, people get together," said Tom Pollitt, a Costa Mesa real estate appraiser. "It's part of the revolution we're going through as a people. We're upset it got out of control, spending-wise."
Pollitt and others signed up to join the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn. — a group founded by Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ethan Temianka and others — to educate people on the city's spending policies. It cost $75 to join for one year, or $99 for a family, according to the group's website, cmtax.org.
Organizers say the group is nonpartisan — that is, as nonpartisan as a room full of folks who want low taxes and small government can be.
Halfway through a beer, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) took a moment from his dinner with family to address the crowd, many of whom wanted to know the math behind the city's pension costs and what has led to more than 200 Costa Mesa city workers possibly being laid off.
After claiming that President Barack Obama was raised a Marxist and the country's goal should be to get him out of office in 2012, Rohrabacher told the crowd it was time to take the country back before all is lost. He did not specify who, exactly, was taking the country away from him or the others in the crowd.
Some residents, like Meg Tweedy, sympathized with city employees facing layoffs. But the costs to the city — where more than 80% of the city's money goes to salaries and pensions — are unsustainable, she said.
"It's really an eye-opener," she said. "You feel compassion toward people and you naturally want to find out what's going on."
City employees accuse the City Council of union-busting as the elected body tries to privatize up to 18 city services. Council members say it's a math issue, plain and simple.
The city's five-year projections show pension costs forever-climbing. Those numbers however, are subjective, acknowledged Bobby Young, a city budget and research officer.
"I got my kids here. I don't want to be that guy who 20 years from now wishes he had done something," said Councilman Jim Righeimer, who spoke Thursday night along with Councilman Steve Mensinger.
Mayor Gary Monahan was also present, but all three were careful not to congregate lest they be accused of violating the Brown Act.
"I understand these people don't want to lose their pensions, but you know what? Welcome to the economy," Tweedy said.
Group organizers said the city's priorities are misplaced and money needs to be redirected. Problems like graffiti and street improvements have been ignored, the latter having seen reduced funding in recent years, members said.
"We'd like to take the politics out of the math," Temianka said. "It's not a Republican issue, a Democrat issue or Green issue; it's a Costa Mesa issue."
Organizers said the membership fees and any donations will go toward the group's newly formed political action committee to spend on electing fiscally conservative candidates.