Council to consider special election tonight

Having failed to get a city charter initiative included on the county's ballot, the Costa Mesa City Council is looking to spend more than $150,000 to put on its own election June 5.

The council will meet Tuesday night to consider whether it will host a special election concurrently with the statewide primary.

"We need to become a charter city to get the financial tools we need," said Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, the proposed charter's most vocal proponent.

Costa Mesa residents would vote on having the city switch to a charter — essentially a city constitution — at the same polling place they'd go to for the state and national primaries. Voters would have to sign in twice and vote on separate ballots: one for the primary and one for the charter issue, said county Registrar Neal Kelley.

Costs for the council majority to push through its smaller-government agenda continue to mount.

The city spent thousands in legal fees last month trying to get the charter on the county's ballot after the city clerk missed the filing deadline. Running its own election would cost almost $60,000 more than if the city waited until the general election in November.

It would have cost Costa Mesa up to $123,500 to get the charter on the county's ballot in June anyway, Righeimer said.

If the charter passed, Costa Mesa could immediately realize savings by contracting out public works projects without having to pay prevailing wages — formulas based on the general rate for work done by tradesmen and other specialists — that are determined by the state, Righeimer said.

That's not a certainty, however. In July, the state Supreme Court is expected to issue its much-anticipated ruling on State Building & Construction Trades Council v. City of Vista on whether prevailing wages are a statewide concern. If the court rules they are, even charter cities would have to pay prevailing wages and Costa Mesa wouldn't save anything.

The council's other primary objective with a charter — to more easily outsource city services — is months away from being resolved. A court-ordered injunction prohibits Costa Mesa from privatizing city services until a city employee-backed lawsuit is resolved, which likely won't come until late summer at the earliest.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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