City Life: Don't rush to make decision on charter proposal

There are people in and out of Costa Mesa who would not review a film before they've seen it, who would not judge a book by its cover and who would tell their kids that an open mind is important.

Yet these same people have already decided that the charter city proposal for Costa Mesa is a bad thing.

Or a good thing.

Before even one syllable of official public discussion has taken place, these myopic citizens already know that because Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer supports the charter plan, it must be bad or that because the unions oppose it, it must be good.

Their minds are made up and that's all there is to it.

How sad for all of them.

How sad that they'd probably do more research into choosing a new car than they are willing to do for one of the most important decisions in the city's history.

I have no clue as to whether Costa Mesa should become a charter city, but I support the process that is about to take place. I'm in the group willing to listen to both sides, conduct some research and then make an informed opinion.

We won't have to go far for the research: Irvine, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and Newport Beach are charter cities. It is simply a matter of discovering whether it has been beneficial.

Or we can reach out to charter cities in Northern California, such as Palo Alto, Santa Rosa or Napa, and ask, "How's that workin' for ya?"

Rigid minds don't want to investigate because they're afraid they may discover that the results don't jibe with what they've already decided. Reaching out to these cities, however, is exactly what residents should be doing at this time for there is much to learn from those who have already undertaken the charter process.

There is also something to learn from those who haven't. Perhaps there are some good reasons why we should take a second look at the proposal. Perhaps there aren't.

This particular process of due diligence is called "best practices," a simple concept that, when applied to the charter question, holds that there is very little in this entire endeavor that has not already been conducted elsewhere, with good or bad results. The idea is to reach out to the cities with the experience, learn what worked, learn what did not, and learn what we can apply to our own decision-making.

That is the most efficient way to reach the correct decision.

According to the website for the League of California Cities, which states that "…under certain home rule provisions in California's state constitution, voters can exercise a greater degree of local control than that provided by the California Legislature," there are 120 charter cities in California.

Surely, there are a few on the list from which we can learn.

The best-practices concept helps us learn the easiest and most cost-effective way to create the charter, should residents decide that is what they want. Using the best-practices approach, we may find that there is no need for a long, drawn-out process or large, unwieldy committee to create a charter, or that all but a few details specific to Costa Mesa have already been created elsewhere.

Or we may find that we do need more time and a lot of people.

The point is that, until we learn more, no one should already have his or her mind made up as to whether Costa Mesa should become a charter city or which charter creation process is best for taxpayers. That's what the required series of public discussion is supposed to determine.

The first public meeting on the charter proposal is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Ave. It's a good time for both sides to do a lot less talking and a lot more listening.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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