Costa Mesa voters likely will decide in November whether to expand the City Council and add a mayor elected by the public after council members endorsed the configuration in a split vote Tuesday night.
The council’s 3-2 decision, with members Katrina Foley and Sandy Genis opposed, came despite misgivings from several speakers at Tuesday’s meeting and what one city consultant characterized as consistent opposition to the idea during a series of community outreach meetings.
The possible shift in the council’s composition is the result of an agreement hammered out earlier this year to prevent a threatened lawsuit alleging that the current citywide voting system dilutes the power of Costa Mesa’s Latino residents to influence council elections. There are no Latinos on the council.
The plan supported by the council majority Tuesday would split the city into six voting districts, each with roughly 17,500 and 19,000 residents. Voters in each area would elect one council member to represent them.
In one of those planned voting districts – No. 4, covering a jagged slice of territory south of the Fairview Developmental Center – the majority of eligible voters are Latino.
The council will vote during a special meeting next Tuesday on whether to officially put the plan on the ballot for Nov. 8, when residents would vote on the city-chosen map.
The most controversial aspect of the plan is the addition of a directly elected mayor chosen by voters citywide. That would bring the total number of people on the council to seven.
Currently, the mayor is a council member selected by a majority vote of the five members.
“I’m very, very excited for the possibility of having a directly elected mayor because that is voted on by everyone in the city, not three or four people on the City Council,” Councilman Gary Monahan said Tuesday.
Genis, though, said she believes the idea may “torpedo” the districting effort.
“Members of the public, they’re not going to see it strictly as a districting issue; they’re going to see it as basically a change in the way we set up our council beyond districting,” she said. “I think that may actually create problems in getting the map adopted.”
If residents don’t approve the plan, city officials say, the lawsuit threatened by Kevin Shenkman, an attorney with Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes, could become a reality.
During a series of four community meetings in June, Costa Mesa residents said their preference was for the council to adopt a five-district map, said Yesenia Arias, project manager with Arellano Associates, a consultant retained by the city.
Residents also made it clear that “they do not favor a mayor at-large,” Arias said Tuesday.
The general feeling from the community, Arias said, was that such a configuration would be unbalanced because there would be one district in which both the mayor and a councilperson would live.
Several speakers raised similar opposition during the council meeting Tuesday.
Monahan, Mayor Steve Mensinger and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer voted in favor of the six-district layout.
Righeimer said he favored the plan because it would create more-compact voting areas and keep the College Park neighborhood in a district with Mesa Del Mar.
Under the proposal, other major neighborhoods such as the Eastside and Mesa Verde would be largely contained in their own districts.
Righeimer also said he thinks “it’s really important that we do have a mayor who overlooks everything.”
As part of the vote Tuesday, council members stipulated that a mayor would be elected for two years and could serve two consecutive terms.
Council members currently are elected for four years and can serve two consecutive terms, though they’re able to leave the council and return in a later year. That would not change under the new plan.
However, a council member who otherwise would be termed out would be able to run for mayor, Righeimer said to groans from the audience.
“I think it is absolutely ridiculous to sit there and say you’ll elect someone as mayor who’s never been on the council before,” Righeimer responded. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”
Some people criticized the timing of next Tuesday’s meeting since the map was originally scheduled to be voted on at the regular council meeting Aug. 2.
The date apparently was changed because at least one council member can’t attend the August meeting.
Luke Money, email@example.com