Community Commentary: Costa Mesa government counters negativity with rescue

It's been almost a year since the current Costa Mesa City Council took the reins of city government and managed to turn it upside down with bogus claims of financial catastrophe, pension calamity and rumors of municipal bankruptcy.

The past 11 months have been peppered with controversy. The new council announced its intention to outsource 18 functions within city government shortly after taking office, then followed up that announcement with the biggest "event," the ill-advised premature issuance of more than 200 layoff notices to the city staff on St. Patrick's Day.

Coincident with that announcement, distraught young maintenance worker, Huy Pham, leaped to his death from the City Hall roof. The final distasteful exclamation point on that tragic day was Mayor Gary Monahan's callous decision to stay in his leprechaun outfit and pull beer taps on what he described to the media as "the biggest day of my life" instead of immediately going to City Hall to take charge of the situation and console city workers.

Those events led to a lawsuit being filed by an employee's association to stop the outsourcing scheme — that lawsuit is pending and due to be heard in April.

This has been a year of turmoil in Costa Mesa, when there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel for beleaguered workers, and where council meetings played to auditoriums packed with anxious workers and residents, all eager to express their concern. Some of those meetings stretched into the wee hours of the morning. And now we have one member of the City Council attempting to completely change the structure of city government by imposing a controversial, self-authored charter scheme on it. It has not been a happy time in this city.

However, our municipal angst has been temporarily swept aside by one truly remarkable event this month — the decision to rescue the Snoopy House. Those members of the city government who conspired to save the bits and pieces of the Snoopy House display from being hauled to the dump because the house where it has been located for 44 years is in foreclosure, did more than salvage a few truckloads of brightly painted Rube Goldberg contraptions and buildings — they saved a Costa Mesa tradition.

I reported about the decision to save the Snoopy House on my blog, A Bubbling Cauldron, visited the site nearly two weeks ago as the construction of the pieces of the puzzle began and reported the progress later that day. I was there on Dec. 13, along with a couple hundred other residents, when the grand unveiling of the Snoopy House complex and the lighting of the City Hall facade occurred.

It was a joyous event about which I cheerfully reported. Last Sunday evening — the first official day Santa was present to greet the children — I stopped to see how that was going and found a long line of eager parents and excited children patiently waiting for their turn to jump up on Santa's lap — the children, not the parents. Others wandered around the display and marveled at the animation and the clever decorations, sipping free hot apple cider provided by volunteers. The atmosphere was festive, and I wrote about that, too.

With all the turmoil and controversy this city has experienced over the past year, the rescue of the Snoopy House may have been the perfect counterpoint.

Thanks to the Jordan family, who owns the display and agreed to move it to the City Hall lawn, and to city CEO Tom Hatch and the dozens of volunteers who pulled it off. Although organizations have provided some funding and residents and businesses have donated supplies, this effort might end up costing the city a few dollars for electricity, security but, in my opinion, the goodwill and bolstering of the community spirit was worth it.

Merry Christmas to us all.

GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa and publishes a blog, A Bubbling Cauldron

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