Charter meeting met with cynicism

COSTA MESA — Residents with pointed skepticism greeted the city officials who gathered to discuss the proposed city charter Wednesday night.

Some of them interrupted city CEO Tom Hatch's introduction, accusing the City Council of rushing the charter process to the ballot box and not taking enough time to listen to the community.

"I'd like a little bit more time," said Dick Mehran, a city resident. "Are we getting enough, seeing enough, to make a difference?"

Costa Mesa is currently a general law city, meaning it relies chiefly on state laws, but it is considering becoming a charter city like neighboring Newport Beach.

Several stations were set up where the city attorney, city clerk and other representatives could explain different facets of the city charter process and its meaning.

At each station, residents quizzed the council on why city officials wanted to create a charter, why some wanted it to be voted on in June instead of November.

"A charter might be OK, but the way it's introduced, shoved down our throat, I don't approve of it," said Dan Goldmann, a 35-year resident. "The process doesn't lead to congeniality where they care about our input … if you really want to do it, you send a notice to everybody."

About 60 to 70 people showed up to the meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer proposed that the city adopt a charter — essentially working off its own constitution — late last year.

He emphasized that if Costa Mesa became a charter city, it could extricate itself from a lawsuit with city employee groups, whose members are trying to keep their jobs from being outsourced.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in April, and if Costa Mesa loses, it could throw the council majority's budget-cutting plans into disarray.

The earliest that residents could vote on becoming a charter city is June. City officials estimate it would cost up to $25,000 extra to put on an election in June instead of waiting for November's general election.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece has been an outspoken critic of the city's direction, saying at past meetings that the council is moving too fast.

A city charter would give Costa Mesa more control over municipal affairs like taxes, election dates and contracting for services. Changes to the charter would have to be approved by a majority of city residents in an election.

However, there was little talk at the meeting about the pros and cons of a city charter among residents.

The city's website gives residents an opportunity to submit their suggestions for a city charter, but outside of a council meeting or this week's public meeting, there have been no chances to engage city officials in person.

A first draft of a revised city charter, which is to include community input, will be introduced at the first of two official charter meetings next week.

Residents will have until Feb. 14 to give the council input on the document, city spokesman Bill Lobdell said Thursday.

The council will vote on whether to present a city charter for the public's approval at a special meeting March 6.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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