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Community Commentary: Why Costa Mesa should become a charter city

December 02, 2011|By Jim Righeimer

On Tuesday, I will put forward a proposal that our City Council ask our citizens whether we should become a charter city. After my first year on the council, it has become clear to me that in order for our town to thrive in the 21st century, we must free ourselves from the way union-backed politicians in Sacramento want our city to run and bring more local control — and common sense — to Costa Mesa.

But you do not have to take my word for it. Just look at what the non-partisan California League of Cities has to say in its excellent analysis for those wanting to know more about a "special form of local control" known as charter cities. It begins:

"Did you know that … voters can exercise a greater degree of local control than that provided by the California Legislature? Becoming a charter city allows voters to determine how their city government is organized and, with respect to municipal affairs, enact legislation different than that adopted by the state."

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About 120 California municipalities are charter cities, including Costa Mesa's closest neighbors: Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana. Becoming a charter city — where a local constitution (or charter) trumps Sacramento-imposed rules — provides taxpayers with two primary benefits: local control and significant savings.

How does it work? It is very simple. The California Constitution under Article XI section 5(a), the "home rule" provision, affirmatively grants charter cities supremacy over "municipal affairs."

What that means is that a charter city can, among other things, contract out for services without Sacramento's interference.

Whenever a non-charter, or general law, city wants to do any road, park or infrastructure projects, Sacramento increases the cost on local municipalities by adding above market labor rates, unsustainable pension costs and byzantine work rules. A charter city can contract for that work at market rates.

Charter cities can outsource services that make sense to the taxpayer and not face, as happened in Costa Mesa, dubious lawsuits brought by employee unions that could cost our city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Newport Beach has been able to outsource many of its services recently with no threats of expensive litigation.

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