COSTA MESA — With a reduced police force, residents will have to be vigilant, Councilwoman Wendy Leece said during her town hall meeting Monday.
"The burden is really on us right now to keep our city safe," Leece, the Costa Mesa City Council's lone opponent of the proposed city layoffs, said.
Over about two hours Monday night at the Neighborhood Community Center, Leece outlined how the city is constrained by legal loopholes and conflicting laws on dealing with some 100 rehabilitation homes and 50 marijuana dispensaries, which she suggested can attract crime, and why residents need to become their own watchdogs.
The Police Department staff was dramatically reduced, as per a consulting firm's recommendation, when the council approved this year's budget at the end of June. However, the city cut even deeper than consultants suggested in an effort to offload expensive officers and replace them with reserves.
With fewer officers in the department, residents have to do what they can to alleviate the burden on police, Leece said.
She stressed that frequent crimes, such as vehicle burglaries, can be avoided by simply locking doors or hiding valuables and that residents shouldn't hesitate to call police if they see someone suspicious.
Leece organized the town hall meeting, intending to focus it on just public safety, but in the city's current political climate, questions about the council's overall direction inevitably arose.
Audience members asked why the Republican Party of Orange County was "mad" at her, and whether she had ever considered becoming a Democrat.
Leece said the GOP no longer supports her because of the support she received from public employees during the last election after voting in favor of public employee their contracts in October.
And no, she said, she has not considered becoming a Democrat.
Council seats in Costa Mesa are nonpartisan..
Leece said she thinks the City Council is moving at a "reckless" pace.
She also noted that the city recently had to restart its bidding process for city services because it was violating its own policy.
One audience member asked how the public could make their voices heard. Some scoffed when she said they should go to council meetings.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger also attended the town hall as audience members.
In an effort to refocus the discussion, Leece said, "For things that didn't go the way we think they should, how do we make the best of it? When we work together, we can solve problems. What's happened has happened. We need to work together as Costa Mesans."