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Costa Mesa council race intensifies

Incumbent Councilmen Mensinger and Monahan are in. Other challengers, including a local attorney and city planning commissioner, are expected to announce soon.

May 10, 2012|By Joseph Serna

The battle for three Costa Mesa City Council seats is heating up, with potentially three more candidates jumping into the race in the next week.

The Nov. 6 election is expected to be a referendum on the council's platform of drastically cutting back on the city's workforce and investing heavily in infrastructure projects, like street paving and park maintenance. Both supporters and critics of the council's efforts are expected to run.

Critics argue that the council majority's proposed layoffs — which initially numbered in the hundreds — aren't needed to inject cash into city infrastructure funding. Four of the Costa Mesa's five council members, with Wendy Leece being the exception, claim a dramatically reduced payroll is required and negotiations won't solve it.

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In November, voters will get to hit the brakes on the city's direction or tell the council to step on the gas.

Councilmen Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger are running to keep their seats. Both are reliable votes for outsourcing city services and investing city money into public projects.

Mensinger, 50, an Orange County businessman, was appointed to the council in January 2010. He took over the seat vacated by Katrina Foley, who stepped down when she was elected to the Newport-Mesa Unified school board the previous November.

He announced his campaign plans Wednesday night.

"I want to make a difference," he said.

Mensinger will likely face stiff opposition from community activists, and possibly public employee unions, both of whom have been heavily critical of the city's austerity measures over the last 16 months.

Mensinger will also likely be supported by the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn., a fiscally conservative group that supports the reforms he and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer have proposed.

The association's co-founder, Colin McCarthy, is also considering a run for council. He has formed an election committee — Colin McCarthy for Costa Mesa City Council 2012 — and has a treasurer, but said he is not ready to announce anything yet.

McCarthy, 36, has been a city planning commissioner since 2009 and supports the current council's direction.

He's also a close ally of Righeimer. The treasurer for McCarthy's political committee is Lysa Ray, who was also the treasurer for Righeimer's 2010 political committee.

McCarthy said he'll decide next week whether he'll enter the race for one of the three seats.

On the other side of the outsourcing issue is John Stephens, who practices law in Newport Beach. Stephens has lived in Costa Mesa for 23 years and has run his own law firm for 14 years.

Stephens said Thursday night that he is setting up his committee and will be making a formal announcement within 30 days.

Stephens, 49, raised his political profile in March, when he teamed up with his friend Foley to legally challenge Costa Mesa's push to get a proposed city charter initiative on the June ballot even though the city clerk missed the filing deadline.

Stephens and Foley were among others who petitioned the court to not give the city a deadline exception. The judge sided with them and pushed the city charter onto the November ballot, at the earliest.

Local medical marijuana supporter and businesswoman Sue Lester is also running for council.

Mayor Eric Bever will be termed out.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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