And the charter proffered in Measure V?
"It's a political manifesto of how government should be organized in the 21st century," he said.
The city, Smoller said, has become a kind of microcosm of the fundamental ideological debates facing voters at every level.
"I mean, it's the issue of, 'How can we be a viable local and state and federal government in an era of decreased resources?'" he said. "That's going on at the federal level with Romney and Obama, and at the state level with Proposition 30."
While Smoller said both sides of the argument have merit — expensive public employee pensions are still a problem, but it's neither possible, nor prudent, to run public services like a profit-driven company — the way Righeimer and the council tackled the issues was far from ideal.
"My answer is we need to rethink local control," he said. "Jim wants to destroy rather than reform, and I'm arguing that you need to reform."
What's pushed the Costa Mesa battles to a new level of vitriol is a mixture of the city having been "ground zero for Orange County Republicans since forever," Smoller said, and the introduction of "personalities," like Righeimer, whom he called O.C.'s version of the virulently anti-union Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
"I think the circumstances of his coming to office are the function of real budget shortfalls … [but Righeimer] just doesn't believe unions have a right to exist," he said. "Does the man produce the times, or do the times produce the man?"
OCGOP Chairman Scott Baugh, who strongly supports Righeimer's mission, might argue the latter. The fiscal stakes, he said, have forced local governments' hands.
National attention, he said, has "upped the ante and the intensity" of Costa Mesa's campaigns, but the city isn't the exclusive battleground.
The fact that Measure V is on Costa Mesa's ballot does, however, position the city at a particular turning point, more so than other cities that have already adopted charters.