COSTA MESA — Standing on the corner of Estancia Park off Mesa Verde Drive, someone commented to City Councilman Steve Mensinger that the city's sign boasting "Renew Costa Mesa — Your Tax Dollars at Work" seemed an awful like the Obama administration's ubiquitous road signs about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The only difference, Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer joked, was that Costa Mesa's latest public works project wasn't paid for with borrowed money.
But the City Council's two newest members — Righeimer was elected in November; Mensinger was appointed in January — couldn't deny the messages were similar: Here's how your money is working for you.
The city is repaving more than 100 Mesa Verde streets this year and another 60 to 80 next year in another part of town. Altogether, the projects total about $11.5 million in gas tax and Measure M revenues.
Costa Mesa is spending nearly twice as much in the next two years on capital improvements, including park maintenance and transportation enhancements, than it did in the previous two years.
The short, camera-friendly ceremony had been a long time in the making for the council majority. Since March, when four of the five council members voted to outsource hundreds of city workers' jobs, they've taken repeated verbal lashings from the public at the meetings.
Seemingly no matter what the issue is before the council, the public reminds them that few in the audience agree with the decision to outsource, and most think the move is based on a GOP agenda against public workers.
Indeed, the council was able to balance the budget without outsourcing jobs. And any savings realized from outsourcing city services won't be realized until at least the second half of this fiscal year.
The councilmen have argued repeatedly it's about money, and that city pensions are going to cost too much in the future and will eventually bankrupt the city.
They said past councils abandoned public maintenance projects because of huge budget deficits, but this council would make it a priority.
Not only did the council lay off workers and cut the Police Department's decades-old helicopter program to help balance this year's budget, they cut even deeper.
If the city needs to use millions of general fund money every year to maintain the roads, that's what the city will do, Righeimer said.
"It's never really been budgeted where we took care of neighborhood streets," he said.
Interim Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz said a focus on maintaining residential streets is a change for the department. In the past, crews were focused on the bigger arterial streets.
"It's the largest we've seen on the residential street side," he said. "It's a shift of funds you'll see in coming years on maintenance instead of reconstruction."
Before, Munoz explained, "We needed so much maintenance on our arterials [that] we had no choice."