Commentary: Bell-Costa Mesa comparison is irresponsible

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Re. “Commentary: I see shades of Bell in Costa Mesa,” (Aug. 12): Do not forget community organizer Saul Alinsky’s second-most-important rule, after ridicule: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.”

For many supporters of our employee unions, effective arguments are not just facts and logic. They are rhetoric and shiny objects.

Today there are plenty of worthwhile debates in Costa Mesa. How much of the city’s annual budget should go to infrastructure? What should Fairview Park look like a decade from now? What should the city do about its massive unfunded pension liabilities? How do we improve our schools? What does our community need to do to attract the young professionals with families? How do we integrate the needs of our seniors into our changing community?


Therefore, it is hard to believe that the Daily Pilot would actually publish a commentary by Charles Mooney that tries to link the great municipality of Costa Mesa with Bell, one of the most corrupt cities in California history. There are no “eerie similarities,” as Mooney described it, between the two cities.

With almost no oversight from its residents or the media, Bell’s city government operated in the dark, allegedly giving then-City Manager Robert Rizzo the ability to enrich himself, his police chief and others, including council members, most of who earned more than $100,000 annually.

Costa Mesa, with its active and informed residents and commitment to transparency, is one of the most scrutinized governments in California. Council members earn about $900 monthly, and even routine council meetings can drag on late into the night (or the next morning) because of robust public participation.

So why the strained attempt to tie Costa Mesa with Bell? Where is the healthy debate centered on solutions?

Sadly, it’s politics at its worst. Mooney does not want a charter, which would give Costa Mesa the same local control that Newport Beach, Irvine, Huntington Beach and more than 120 California cities enjoy over Sacramento. Mooney is also not a fan of the City Council majority and our attempt to rein in out-of-control local government and reset priorities.

One way to muddy the waters is to throw out the name Bell, using it and Costa Mesa in the same sentence. It doesn’t matter if there’s anything to it. Just throw it out there and hope it sticks. Alinsky would be proud. Again, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it.”

The real problem isn’t Mooney’s attempt to label Costa Mesa as another Bell (a false assertion that should make the average Costa Mesan angry). He’s just practicing politics as usual. But blame lies with the Pilot editors, who should know better. They are the gatekeepers of the community debate and shouldn’t mindlessly publish everything that comes across their desks.

Let’s debate real issues in these pages. We have enough of them to keep readers interested.

STEVE MENSINGER is Costa Mesa’s mayor pro tem.