Cassity: Charter needed to forge change in Costa Mesa

As far as Costa Mesa’s proposed charter is concerned, anything it does not specifically change remains exactly the same as before.

Let me repeat that. If the charter offered to our city via Measure V on Nov. 6 doesn’t change something, then that something continues on as it did under the auspices of the current general-law format.

Here are the primary changes Measure V offers.

1.) A “yes” vote on Measure V frees Costa Mesa from the general-law limitations imposed by Sacramento. Those paying attention to what’s happening in Sacramento want very much to be freed to the maximum extent possible from that never-ending train wreck. I believe you will as well.

Let’s get their hands out of our pockets. Now.

2.) It specifies that voter approval would be required for any proposed increase in public employee pension benefits. Finally.

No more back-room deals. No more “pay to play.” It puts the power back with the people, where it belongs, where it has always belonged.

3.) Measure V would save the city millions of dollars through a combination of competitive bidding for services and an exemption from state-mandated prevailing (much higher union) wages on locally funded projects, such as libraries, parks, roads and sidewalks.

As an example, the city has before it an opportunity to save $3 million over the next five years by outsourcing its jail services, with no negative impact to the employees. None.

I think that’s a good idea. For some unexplained reason, the employees’ union management doesn’t. They obviously don’t care whether or not the city saves money. Do you?

4.) It ends the practice of using the city’s payroll system to collect money for political contributions by public-employee associations or unions. I say if those contributions are such a really good idea, and the employees want to pay them, then let the unions collect them on their own. Why should they need — or require — our help?

Again, regardless of what others may tell you — and God knows they’re ranting and raving at flank speed — everything else remains as before. Measure V contains safeguards for the tax-paying public, including how to handle tied elections, council member compensation, new ordinances, how to prevent possible abuse by a single city council.

It also prohibits the raising of taxes without a majority vote of Costa Mesa’s residents. What’s not to like?

There’s been a lot of noise and disinformation from those who oppose any change to the way things have always been done. They like the idea of a charter, they tell us, just not this one. They like the idea of an outsourcing plan, they say, just not this one.

They want months and months and months of debate and discussion and focus groups and meetings, and untold amounts of legal fees, and then maybe, just maybe, a decision to do something will someday be made by somebody. Maybe.

But not any time soon, and certainly not soon enough to have a serious, near-term, positive impact on our city’s finances. How long should this process take to run its full-blown, bureaucratic, over-engineered course?

Maybe you know. They don’t seem to. Or if they do, they’re not telling.

I suggest that those who were happily sleepwalking while Costa Mesa burned through more than $33 million in savings — while 75% of our city’s income was spent on salaries and benefits, and while more than $200 million in unfunded pension obligations was racked up with no way on Earth to pay them — might want to get out of the way and try something a little different for a change.

That “something,” I suggest, is a “yes” vote on Measure V. It couldn’t get much worse. It might even get a little bit better, right?

Every city around us is a charter city. One-hundred twenty of the 480 cities in California are charter cities. They have chosen the charter constitution format because it gives them local control over what they do and how they do it.

What do they know that we don’t?

And if at any time in the future any of them decide to forego the charter format and return to general-law status, they may do so. And so could we.

Give yourself that freedom and flexibility. Vote “V” for victory Nov. 6.

CHUCK CASSITY is a longtime Costa Mesa resident active in education, youth sports and other causes. His column appears every other Friday.