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Costa Mesa charter heads to June ballot

Residents, council members and citizen groups can submit arguments for and against the idea to be included in the ballots.

March 07, 2012|By Joseph Serna
  • Costa Mesa City Council chambers are filled to capacity Tuesday, when city officials voted on putting the charter on the June ballot.
Costa Mesa City Council chambers are filled to capacity… (Kevin Chang, Daily…)

Costa Mesa residents will vote June 5 on whether to adopt a city charter, a proposal that has yielded mixed responses.

"We've got to get the tools here to get ourselves back on track, and that's all this charter does," Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said after the vote Tuesday night. "I'm doing what I truly believe is best for the citizens of Costa Mesa."

Supporters say a charter would provide more local control over governance, while detractors view it as an effort to stop a lawsuit filed by city workers who want to prevent outsourcing of their jobs.

After hosting two state-mandated charter meetings where the community can suggest changes to the document — essentially a city constitution — the council majority voted 4 to 1 to put the initiative on the California primary ballot.

Opponents called for it to be put on the November ballot, a less costly alternative that would give the public more time to learn about and play a greater role in crafting the document that, in many cases, would supersede the general laws found in the state Constitution.

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Councilwoman Wendy Leece cast the lone dissenting vote.

"It just hasn't been vetted that well," said Leece, who has voted no to the large-scale changes initiated by Righeimer and Councilman Steve Mensinger.

The two councilmen have led a charge started in 2011 that has seen the police helicopter program cut, fees for some services increased, workers laid off and their jobs on the way to being outsourced.

"The problem here is fear of change, fear of going into something new," Mayor Gary Monahan said of those opposing the charter. "All we're doing today is, if we go forward, is giving the residents of Costa Mesa an option to say if they want it or not. If you don't like it, vote no."

However, the men argue that the payoff has been a budget surplus for the first time in years and a boost in spending in city maintenance and improvements.

If voters approve switching to a charter city, a city-employee lawsuit alleging it's illegal for Costa Mesa — in its current general law form — to privatize specific services would become moot. A judge last year prohibited Costa Mesa from privatizing services until the lawsuit is resolved in April at the earliest.

The charter unlocks more outsourcing, which in turn would lighten future payroll costs and pension obligations weighing heavily on Costa Mesa's finances, proponents claim.

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