Commentary: City should continue to televise candidate debates

With the Christmas holiday behind us and the new year upon us, I contemplated what is ahead for Costa Mesa in 2016. I’m always optimistic that things will be better and am always on the lookout for positive signs.

Unfortunately, many of the signs I’ve seen indicate that not much will change this year, and I have a perfect example.

On Tuesday, in its first meeting of the new year, the Costa Mesa City Council will have a fairly light agenda. However, tucked way down at the end of that agenda, in New Business No. 1, for which the staff report is titled innocuously, “Changes to the Temporary Sign Code/Policy,” there is a paragraph that sends chills down my spine.

Without quoting it exactly, it tells us that the council will be asked to consider not permitting the award-winning crew from Costa Mesa Television to cover any candidate forums during this next cycle — or ever, for that matter! That’s right: No coverage of the candidates for office in an election that can dramatically change the way the city is managed for most of the next decade.

According to the staff report, “Staff feels that with the new technology available today there are many alternatives and options available for city residents to view the various forums without involvement of City staff.” However, they make absolutely no mention of what those alternatives might be.

Instead, the recommendation, if followed by the council Tuesday, will slam the door on many people who are unable to personally attend these important meetings, where incumbents and those who wish to replace them are grilled on critical issues facing our city. Senior citizens, those with physical impairments and others with busy schedules who cannot attend those forums will be robbed of the opportunity to make informed opinions in the voting booth next November.

There will be many controversial issues on the ballot next fall that will certainly get discussion in the forums — marijuana, the so-called Smart Growth Initiative and another one designed to protect Fairview Park from development. Plus, there are many controversial issues already percolating in the city — rampant development, homelessness, the infestation of sober living homes and inadequate public safety staffing, just to mention a few, that will undoubtedly be part of the discussions too. It will be important for voters to know the views of candidates on those issues, but this move will block that knowledge.

CMTV — a tremendous community resource — currently plays all council and most commission meetings live and on streaming video and replays them periodically. It also televises segments of the frills of government, like the launch of the Snoopy House event, concerts in the park, local sporting events, etc. Those are nice, but not nearly as important to the lives of Costa Mesa residents as a chance to see and hear from council candidates before they are elected.

In my opinion, as a man who attends almost every important meeting in this city and reports on them on my blog, this is just another of the many attempts by the current council majority to stifle public awareness of how business is being conducted in Costa Mesa. It’s just a predictable extension of actions already taken to quash public participation — like discouraging public comments at council meetings, chiding those who dare to present an alternate viewpoint and on and on.

Residents should make their views known on this issue by calling or writing to City Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch or by attending the meeting Tuesday to personally use the three minutes of time provided to you to let the council know how you feel.

The meeting begins at 5:45 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall and you will be asked to fill out a speaker card before the public comments segment on that item commences. Don’t let the council majority stifle your opportunity to see and hear the candidate forums on CMTV.

Costa Mesa resident Geoff West is publisher of the A Bubbling Cauldron blog.