Commentary: The opinion of a former charter commissioner
Since I was a member of a Costa Mesa city charter commission in 1971, I have followed with great interest the debate about Measure V. Our mission then was to improve the quality of governance for our city.
First, I want to commend Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer for bringing his charter proposal before the public. Since 1971, Costa Mesa has grown into a more diverse economic, demographic and cultural city, plus there has been an increase in population.
Perhaps the time had come to reconsider our government structure. Further, Righeimer and associates have disclosed fully their intentions and goals, which are primarily business- and management-oriented.
However, I cannot support his charter as written for two reasons:
One, it has not developed a consensus. In 1971, the charter commission with its 20 members was composed of a cross section of interests, ranging from the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce to a former minister and professor of religion at Orange Coast College. Diverse views emerged.
Yet, our decision to remain a general law city was based upon a strong consensus. And the consensus of that time provided the momentum for the city to move forward on other issues as exemplified by the outcome of a City Council-sponsored bond measure; it was placed on the ballot soon after the charter report.
The committee that supported that measure had as its slogan, “Trees, please,” because the bonds, if passed, were to buy 12 park sites. We passed it with a more than 70% yes vote. And when I have taken my grandchildren to our parks, I was gratified to see many families with their children enjoying the facilities. I am also reminded that our city is a service provider, not a business, per se.
Developing a consensus to support such a crucial decision as a charter, second only to the decision to become a city in 1953 would, in my mind, lay a sound foundation for resolving other issues we face. That consensus has not occurred with Measure V.
Two, the current charter’s application of home rule is limited. Home rule is important but only if the rules fit the home. Let me explain. This charter does not fit, with one lone exception, Costa Mesa’s traditional pattern of governments, its diversity or population growth.
It sticks us with the same five-person council to be elected at large as adopted in 1953. In 1953 the proportion of the 18,000 citizens to council members was 1 to 3,600 voters. With Measure V, the proportion is 1 to about 22,000.
That disparate proportion is like, to quote a speaker at a charter hearing, asking an adult to wear the same pair of shoes that he or she wore as a teenager. Local control is limited.
If the number of seats were increased to seven, as with most charter cities around us, the ability of citizens to influence decision-making would increase proportionally.
Further, in all our governmental units except for the Sanitary District, from Mesa Consolidated, to the Newport-Mesa Unified school District, the community college, our county, Assembly, state Senate and Congressional level, candidates must reside within pre-established districts or divisions to be elected. There is no clause in Measure V to set up councilmanic districts.
Measure V does not fit our long-established traditions. Councilmanic districts are a must to guarantee access to council decisions by all segments of our diverse city and avoid bossism. Local control is limited again.
I would even advance the thought that the Planning Commission be increased to seven members, one from each of the councilmanic districts. In that way, each section of the city would be represented in planning and zoning issues.
Finally, the option to the direct election of a mayor has not been debated. Such direct election would make the mayor more accountable to the people instead of five council members.
With its business-management focus, Measure V does too little to improve the quality of governance for this citizen. It does not fit the traditional pattern of our other governmental structures, or the size and diversity of our population. It does not broaden public input in council decisions. In short, it changes local control. It does not enjoy a consensus.
This charter is a damaged product. Measure V does too little to be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Vote No on Measure V. Let a future citizens’ commission provide a new charter.
HENRY S. PANIAN served on the 1971 charter commission.