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Football funds lead to two-hour debate at City Council

Principle of helping fund Pop Warner while simultaneously looking to lay off city employees was challenged by Councilwoman Leece, some residents.

August 03, 2011|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

COSTA MESA — It was an agenda ripe for debate. Among the items were immigration checks and cutting council members' benefits.

But it was Pop Warner football, and the organization's request that Costa Mesa cover its field-use fees for up to $10,000, that brought early fireworks.

It was an appeal that Councilwoman Wendy Leece called "a little disingenuous," especially when asking "for a gift of public funds in light of the situation we're in."

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She argued that the issue wasn't really the money Pop Warner was requesting — which would help the youth organization pay the Newport-Mesa school district for using Jim Scott Stadium at Estancia High School — but the principle.

Some residents joined Leece in arguing that the council majority shouldn't be giving money to youth groups with one hand while laying off city employees with the other.

But it's not that simple, the majority contended.

Costa Mesa Pop Warner President Chris Cox said the organization had been told years ago that its stadium user fees would be waived, as per a joint agreement between the city and school district.

The city's youth football program is made up of more than 75% local kids, which permits the city to waive the fees if the stadium were part of the city's joint-use agreement with Newport-Mesa Unified. Because it's not, so Pop Warner has to cover the costs.

The majority argued that Leece and others were picking on Pop Warner for political purposes and ignoring its contribution to the community.

After nearly two hours of debate — much of it involving bickering between council members and the public — the money was approved out of the city's $1 million contingency fund by a 4-1 vote, with Leece dissenting.

In other action, the council delayed discussing several of its items, pending further review by the city attorney.

The council's method for opening city services up for bids and considering the outsourcing of the city jail were postponed, along with a proposed ordinance by Leece that would require council members to disclose discussions they have with the public about council agenda items.

The council was scheduled to consider instructing city staff to explore how to use E-Verify, a federal program that checks the immigration statuses of potential city hires and employees the city contracts with. The council was also to consider reducing its own pay and health benefits.

Neither item was voted on as of press time.

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