Voices organize against Costa Mesa layoff efforts

COSTA MESA — A community campaign to halt potential layoffs to nearly half of the city's workforce shows no sign of slowing, as organized labor continues to pump money into an effort that spans TV, print and online media.

"We're just making sure that the people of Costa Mesa hear the message and know where to voice their frustration," said Jennifer Muir, spokeswoman for the Orange County Employees Assn. "It's to educate the public about the [Costa Mesa] City Council and what's happening there. It's to give the populace a voice."

Funded with OCEA money, the Repair Costa Mesa campaign has bought airtime on Facebook, Costa Mesa TV and Fox 11, along with print and online ads in the Daily Pilot and Orange County Register.

OCEA officials would not divulge how much they've spent on behalf of Repair Costa Mesa. Muir said the advertisements — heavily critical of Mayor Gary Monahan and of the City Council, excluding Wendy Leece, who voted against the layoffs — shouldn't be considered political mudslinging.

"I don't see it that way," Muir said. "Obviously, the community has spoken … they're against issuing layoff notices. So of course we're going to stand up and do something about it. Of course we are.

"Our employees are on the line."

OCEA represents about 200 Costa Mesa workers, many of whom received layoff notices as part of the city's austerity program to cut pension costs they project to climb over the next five years. The city issued the notices ahead of outsourcing up to 18 city services. If the council cannot find suitable replacements for city workers by September, the employees will keep their jobs.

In only a matter of months, the council has managed to capture the attention of hundreds of residents who typically stay out of the political fray.

Repair Costa Mesa is a rallying cry, not an organized movement, said resident Jay Humphrey.

Humphrey said there are countless citizen groups slowly coalescing around the Repair Costa Mesa idea, but how to put that idea into action and what the end result would be remains to be seen.

"Repair Costa Mesa is acting like a government," quipped Councilman Steve Mensinger. "They're spending money on something that none of us know why they're doing what they do."

Councilman Jim Righeimer, a popular target for council critics on the political left, considers Repair Costa Mesa a front for labor unions.

"I think they'll do whatever to raise the taxes in this community. They'll do whatever to stop Costa Mesa from balancing its budget," he said. "They don't want what's happening in Costa Mesa to spread anywhere else … this is a union-financed strategy prior to them starting a recall action."

A recent OCEA-funded poll asked residents about recalling council members, but results were never released. To date, no one has officially come out and called for a recall effort of the council or the mayor.

"A recall is certainly a possible outcome," Humphrey said. "But maybe, before you do that, you need to make sure the outcome you want is the outcome you get."

Costa Mesa has launched its own effort with the public. With $200,000 set aside for consultants to help city restructuring, the city used a part of it to hire former Daily Pilot columnist William Lobdell as its communications director.

Lobdell, a veteran investigative journalist, has launched a Costa Mesa Facebook page, a Twitter account and recently issued a frequently asked questions sheet that lays out the city's rationale for the layoffs, among other moves.

"Our city has not been transparent in the past, clearly," Mensinger said. "Lack of that transparency is that this city had no clue of how much we cut in the last years to pay for these escalating pension costs. We want to educate the entire community to what money is being spent on."

"I think the unions, in a big way, are overplaying their hands," Mensinger added. "Their ads are encouraging a lot of people who are on the sidelines to get involved and understand the issues. I think they play into the favor of those who want to balance the budget."

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