Smith: Engage your community by voting

Regardless of how Costa Mesa voters cast their ballots Nov. 6, there is good news.

Of the seven cities in the county that have populations larger than Costa Mesa, none had a higher voter turnout. In the city of Orange, 41% of the residents voted in the mayoral contest, a percentage that ties Costa Mesa.

Of the remaining six cities, Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana, the voter turnout was less, though it should be noted that the charter amendment in Huntington Beach drew 40% of the population. In Santa Ana, only 17% of the population voted for mayor.

Those percentages are based on total population versus the number of ballots cast, not registered voters versus ballots cast.

This is good news because the sharp debate on Measure V, which would have converted Costa Mesa from a general law city to one governed by a charter, caused many residents to participate in an important process, even if that means simply casting a vote.

In Fullerton, voters wisely decided to lift a 22-year ban on "safe and sane" fireworks, which will help youth sports raise far more money. The vote was close, with about 53% of voters approving the measure. Perhaps the smart "yes" voters looked at Costa Mesa's history of successful management of fireworks every year and realized that the city will not burn down each Fourth of July.

In Garden Grove, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to raise their transit occupancy tax (TOT) to 14.5%. Costa Mesa's is 8%. The TOT is a tax cities charge visitors staying in hotels. In California, the TOTs range from zero to 19%.

Now, I have nothing against Garden Grove, but when I compare the two cities, I have wonder why our past city councils have left so much money on the table year after year. Garden Grove's active hotel business stems primarily from its proximity to Anaheim, which is the home of Disneyland, a large convention center, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center. Rooms are often cheaper in Garden Grove than in Anaheim, and the distance is minimal.

As the home of the magnificent Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, South Coast Plaza and numerous excellent restaurants, Costa Mesa has a tremendous ability to attract visitors, yet even a gateway city such as Garden Grove has a higher TOT. One of the first orders of business for the new Costa Mesa City Council should be to get another TOT measure on the next ballot and raise the rate to 11%.

This year, I was tempted to vote by mail, as there has been so much going on in our lives, even a 30-minute commitment to vote at the polls seemed like a burden. Ultimately, though, I went to Adams Elementary School to vote, taking along my two kids, ages 22 and 19. Roy, the 19-year-old, cast his first ballot.

I like voting at the polls and not by mail. A visit to the polling place makes me feel more like I am participating in the governing process than filling out a form and mailing it in. Plus, I like the little sticker that reads, "I voted" that I get when I'm done. Makes me feel special, even if I am just one of an impressive 41% in the city who voted.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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