Almost 20 years ago, my business mentor taught me that I have to make things happen.
If I wait for things to happen, then I’ll watch opportunities go right by.
He also taught me that he’d rather watch me make mistakes by trying and failing then by fear, indecision and uncertainty. The only catch: Don’t make the same mistake twice. Trust my instincts and experience, he advised, and I’d do fine.
From my safe perch a mile away in Newport Beach, I look at the Costa Mesa City Council election in the same way. On one side we have the “establishment,” who has aggressively been trying to save Costa Mesa from fiscal disaster. On the other side, we have a group who would rather study the problems, then study them some more, until the problems, they hope, go away by themselves.
So on one side of the council we have the doers; on the other, the watchers.
Let’s look at some numbers first. According to the Orange County Register’s editorial board, Costa Mesa has an estimated $221.7 million in unfunded pension liability, and the median compensation for a city worker is $140,000 a year, including benefits, which is nearly double that of the comparable private-sector worker in Costa Mesa, where salaries and benefits account for 75% of the operating budget.
These numbers mean that Costa Mesa’s path is fiscally unsustainable.
So, if you were a doer on the council, what would your approach be? Fix the problem, right? And start with changing the city from being a general law city to a charter city so the council can more effectively right the ship.
Uproar, explosions, utter chaos ensues.
Why? Is it because Irvine is a charter city and seems to do just fine as the nation’s safest city, or is it because Newport Beach is a charter city and seems to be a nice place to live? Is it because Huntington Beach is a charter city not in fiscal ruin?
Do people even take the charter city-general law city issue into consideration when deciding where to live? Is that what Kobe Bryant did before moving to Newport Coast, or Mark McGuire did before moving to Irvine?
No, it’s because, as Costa Mesans for Responsible Government’s head, Robin Leffler, wrote in the Daily Pilot, “It was written by one city councilman [Jim Righeimer] and not a commission of citizens and, as a result, does not represent the positions and interests of the majority of residents of Costa Mesa.” And, she added, “Section 103 grants too much more power to the City Council, which has a history of costly errors and ignoring many of the suggestions and objections made by residents.”
OK, first point, first. Who elects the council?
Did Righeimer get elected by four people or by a majority of voters who want him to represent their positions and interests?
How about Gary Monahan, Eric Bever or Wendy Leece? Were they elected by only Righeimer, or did a majority of citizens also vote for them?
Did the majority of Costa Mesa voters vote for Righeimer to just sit there and look pretty, or did they elect him to do something?
Second point, the charter gives too much power to the council, which has a history of costly errors. You mean, the council is somehow responsible for the $221 million in unfunded pension liability? It’s responsible for the errors in trying to fix the problem?
Is Leffler criticizing the council majority for trying to fix Costa Mesa’s finances, or does she wish that they would take their time at it, study it, workshop it and then really complain when the city owes $300 million in pension liabilities? And then how long after that happens would people start criticizing them for their inaction, for just watching the numbers get bigger and bigger?
At the Feet to the Fire forum Sept. 5, council challenger John Stephens talked about the need to study the issues more before making a decision. Leece has repeatedly criticized her council colleagues for making rash decisions without studying the issues.
The time for studying the issues is over; it is now time for action.
Action before real services have to be cut. Action before the 25% of the budget remaining to maintain the streets and parks are shrunk even more.
Vote for Monahan, Mensinger and Colin McCarthy to continue fixing Costa Mesa’s fiscal ills, and vote for Measure V to give them the tools to do it. These are men of action.
JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at email@example.com.