Sounding off: Imagine city as a business — Costa Mesa Inc.

You may have read that Costa Mesa no longer has a city manager.

As of the last City Council meeting, the title has been dropped in favor of city chief executive officer.

If you've watched the City Council since the election in November, you probably realize that this change in title is more than just window dressing.

The new council seems to have a new, more business-like attitude than some previous councils.

In fact, it seems that the new council is reinventing Costa Mesa along business lines. That's not a bad thing, in the view of many of us.

Now, a city is not like a business in many ways. We all know that.

Still, many of us share the feeling that the city government should be more business-like, not only to get our city out of the pool of red ink it's currently in, but also to make it a nicer place.

But what about this business analogy? Does it make any sense at all? Should we think of Costa Mesa almost as though it's a corporation that we see in the non-government sector?

Well, why not? Why not think a little along these lines and entertain a little fiction if it seems that it will make Costa Mesa a nicer place for those of us who live here?

We can, for example, think of Costa Mesa as a corporation that owns and manages a chain of retail stores. These are the assets of the corporation. In our case, the retail stores — the assets — are our neighborhoods.

We can think of the City Council as the board of directors of the corporation. City employees are corporate employees.

The citizens are the shareholders — each holding one share (their vote) in the corporation.

The citizens are also the customers of the corporation, and what they buy from Costa Mesa Inc. are services and a certain quality of life.

If the customers/shareholders don't get the quality of life they want from the corporation, they may sell their shares and go to another city that does provide them with what they want and become shareholders there.

Now, do we have some underperforming assets in our chain and are they dragging down our bottom line? If so, how do we improve them and get them to perform up to where they should perform?

A real corporation with a chain of retail stores might just close down the underperforming assets. Of course, Costa Mesa can't simply get out of a lease if we have an underperforming asset or two and open up for business down the road where things are better. No, we have to fix the asset or it will continue to damage our bottom line.

Most customers/shareholders of Costa Mesa Inc. probably think, and rightly so, that the Mesa Verde Store, the Eastside Store, the Mesa del Mar Store and most of the other assets in the chain owned by Costa Mesa Inc. are performing as they should be performing.

And, most might think that the Westside Store is an underperforming asset. Most shareholders who have given this some serious thought want corporate to take action to make the Westside Store a performing asset.

Now, like a business, a city has to compete for customers. It has to correctly position itself in the market and it has to attract the customers that will make it a success.

Some cities position themselves for an upscale clientele while others for a more downscale clientele.

Costa Mesa Inc.'s business plan is to position itself as a slightly less expensive version of our nearest competitor, Newport Beach Inc.

We've positioned ourselves this way because we share the same geographic territory and can draw on the same customer base if we can offer some added value to customers.

Can we do that? Sure we can. And it begins with our Westside Store.

We need to take a hard look at the Westside Store and see how we can improve it to draw customers/shareholders there who will make it a success.

M.H. MILLARD is a Costa Mesa resident and one of the founders of improvement groups within Costa Mesa.

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