The Bell Curve: Flashing signs leave a bad taste

Give my regards to Broadway,

Remember me to Herald Square,

Tell all the gang on 42nd Street,

That I will soon be there …

Well, not so fast. Two weeks ago this would have been a slam dunk as a Costa Mesa victory song. The city was that close to having the central business district gussied up with huge flashing lights reminiscent of Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip.

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission had slipped a 5-0 mickey under the door of an unsuspecting city that would have legitimized these monsters headed for the Triangle Square area.

The new lights could well have been underway by this morning had not Councilwoman Wendy Leece stopped them by asking for a City Council review in response to a bevy of outraged citizens, who knew nothing about the sign caper until it was almost a done thing. Now, at least, the citizens who are offended by these two monstrosities — one 15 by 20 feet, and the other 10 by 96, that would flash new messages at four-second intervals — will have an opportunity to be heard.

The complaints go far beyond the immediate residential areas, where the lights would be visible, to a variety of other objections, starting with their prohibition by the city (though amendable on a case-by-case basis) to the feeling that they are ugly and in excruciatingly bad taste.

And there's another objection that I haven't seen articulated but that I'm feeling increasingly. Residents without business clout are more and more being played for boobs. And mostly it's working. The successful challenge to the lights is more the exception than the rule.

Consider the headlines that were sharing the front page of the Pilot with the light show. A Sunday one in particular that read: "$540M feather in John Wayne's cap."

That's the bill for the airport construction package that we are now told will include three new baggage carousels, concession stands and security at a time when air traffic is declining and our economy is still flirting with recession.

All of this is brushed off airily as "improvements" without anyone being held accountable to the residents who live under the noise. In this election year, contempt for the politically unwashed is being clearly illustrated daily by candidates who depend on money and polls to decide what they really believe. Or, in the case of Rep. John Campbell, what to avoid. It is rumored he is hiding somewhere in Newport Beach until the election is over and he can move back to his hiding place in Washington.

Meanwhile, back in the minor leagues, Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor is upgrading his new trade as politician — and he's up to his old tricks of pushing the council to make Mansoor look good to Vietnamese voters. Fourteen months ago it was to recognize the flag of the no longer-existent South Vietnam. Currently, it is to pass a council resolution honoring South Vietnamese veterans who fought for and with U.S. forces. The cause is worthy, just some 35 years too late, as pointed out in Sunday's Pilot editorial. But not too late for Mansoor, who apparently figures the Vietnamese voters will ignore being used and will, instead, show their gratitude by flocking to the polls in November to send him to the state Assembly.

I can't leave this without casting kudos the way of a Forum page contributor named Kevin Doane, who in 200 words caught Mansoor so precisely that a reader can fill in the blanks ("Sounding Off: A great end to a long council meeting," Aug. 21). While Councilwoman Katrina Foley yelled at his indecision, Mansoor was caught between politics and ethics, a crisis he finally solved by disappearing during a break. And Doane brought it all alive.

My daughter Patt and I used our one-sixth season tickets to see the Angels play the Tampa Bay Rays the other night, and it all had too many earmarks of finality for August. Even the rally monkey seemed distressed. And I went home wondering if the fire could be lit again this year.

I hope the way the game ended wasn't prophetic. The Angels came to bat in the middle of the ninth inning, trailing by one run. The Rays called in their closer, a flamethrower named Rafael Soriano. He threw nine pitches that night, all strikes. All taken or missed. Game over — and maybe the season.

I looked for a good sign on the way home, Any good sign. Finally, one came to me.

I won't have to buy post-season tickets. But next year is looking good.

JOSEPH N. BELL lives in Newport Beach. His column runs Thursdays.

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