Commentary: Please tell us why Costa Mesa needs a charter


Re. “Commentary: Charter government suits Costa Mesa’s personality,” (Dec. 2):

My great friend, Byron de Arakal, the man responsible for me writing my very first letter to this fine newspaper more than a decade ago, recently wrote a commentary on these pages opining that a charter form of government “suited Costa Mesa’s personality,” and went into great detail explaining why.

Over the years, Byron and I have discussed many of the pithy issues that faced our city and sometimes disagreed on the solutions to them. This is one of those times. My disagreement with him begins with his faulty premise. He postulates that because the voters last month gave more total votes for the so-called “3Ms” — Councilmen Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan, and Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy (a trio that supported Jim Righeimer’s Charter) — than were received by the three strongest opponents to that slate — former Mayor Sandra Genis, attorney John Stephens and businessman Harold Weitzberg (a group that generally opposed the charter) — the voters “logically” supported a charter form of government.


That is pure rubbish! The only valid measure of how the voters feel about a charter form of government is the resounding defeat of the Measure V charter measure proposed by Councilman Jim Righeimer last month, where 60% of them voted against it. All the rest is just public relations manipulation.

I do not disagree with Byron’s assessment of the damage the lunatics in Sacramento are doing to our city and all the other city and county governments throughout the state. Many of us have groused about it for years and, as Byron wrote, with the passage of Proposition 30, it probably is only going to get worse.

He mentions public employee pensions and outsourcing as though we are unable to do anything about them unless we become a charter city. That’s patently false, as witnessed by Righeimer’s outreach at the council meeting Nov. 20, where he expressed what appeared to be sincere interest in working with the employee organizations to try to resolve some of those issues.

Charter proponents said we need it to balance our budget, but that’s not true, either. The outgoing council managed to balance the municipal budget this year, and even included a $1-million slush fund for CEO Tom Hatch to make available for whatever fiscal whim might strike them during the year.

Byron — a very smart man and one of the best P.R. spinmeisters I know personally — is doing his best to gyrate this issue to apparently grease the skids of a presumed plan to launch yet another bid to turn our city into a charter city — and still without an explanation of why it is necessary.

Haste — not calm, careful, thoughtful consideration — has been the driving force behind the earlier, ill-advised charter effort. I have said many times that I am personally not necessarily against Costa Mesa becoming a charter city. However, until we know, in very specific terms, exactly why Costa Mesa needs to abandon the protections provided to it as a general law city and become a charter city, we should not be stampeded down this path again.

Until we get an answer to that foundational question — why? — we should waste no more time on discussions about how a charter will be created or which ballot it will go on, no matter how dizzy we get reading the spin from those who propose it.

Editor of the A Bubbling Cauldron blog, GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa.