Costa Mesa council approves charter for November ballot

The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday evening approved putting a proposed city charter on the general election ballot, marking the first time in the city's nearly 60-year history that it could fundamentally change how it operates.

In a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting, the move put the decision to enact the document — essentially a city constitution — to the will of voters in November.

If approved by a majority, Costa Mesa would become a charter city, with municipal affairs such as zoning and public contracts under the rules of the city instead of the state constitution.

It will cost the council up to $97,500 to put the charter on the November ballot.

Leece said the charter was politically motivated and not in the best interest of Costa Mesa.

"We're going to be 60 years old next year, and I believe as many residents have stated over and over again we should've collaborated and written an authentic charter," she said. "This has been a closed process from the beginning, with a boilerplate charter that we now know comes from many outsiders."

More than 100 people attended Tuesday's meeting, with the majority of speakers opposed to putting the charter on the ballot outnumbering charter supporters by nearly 2 to 1.

"I'm not against a charter, per se, but am against the way this one was created," said Costa Mesa resident Paul Kelly.

The meeting was the sixth hearing this year on the charter. The city hosted three public discussions before June, when officials expected the document to make it on the primary ballot, but the effort was stymied by a clerical error.

City leaders hosted two more meetings before Tuesday's vote, but changed little between the version originally slated for the June ballot and the one going on November's.

The additional time, however, has given both opponents and proponents more opportunities to rally followers to their cause.

Members of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grass-roots organization of residents who oppose the council majority, set up a table outside the council meeting and passed out anti-charter stickers.

Several members of the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association endorsed the charter during the meeting, noting that it eliminates the obligation for Costa Mesa to pay union wages for city-funded projects.

The Orange County Young Republicans put out a call to action Monday, urging its members to come speak in favor of the charter.

One of the members who attended was Laguna Hills resident Taylor Strand, who donned a "I Support the Costa Mesa Charter" sticker.

"Cities need to have control of their own spending so they're not passing on these debts onto the future generation," Strand said.

The audience grumbled because she wasn't a city resident, so she pointed out that 30 of the Orange County Young Republicans are from Costa Mesa.

Only two from Costa Mesa, though, went to the meeting and spoke. One of them was Erich Breitenbucher.

"Costa Mesa should be able to conduct its own business and handle its own affairs," said Breitenbucher. "Costa Mesa's charter maximizes that."

Critics have said the document gives too much influence into the council's hands, and that the charter's wording is too vague to provide an adequate balance to the council's power.

"Vagueness leads to granting too much power to too few," said resident Charles Mooney. "If you plan to put the city charter on the ballot, I plan to vote against it."

Resident Phil Morello disagreed.

"I think people fear change," he said. "I heard people say 'power to the people.' Basically, the power will be closer to the people."

Councilman Steve Mensinger said the power is already with the council. He pointed out that, even now, a majority vote is enough to dictate policy.

"Whether it's a charter city or general-law city, the power is in the hands of three people," Mensinger said.

Twitter: @josephserna

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