Accepting the challenges of politics

Monahan has served for more than 16 nonconsecutive years, but he knows some will only remember St. Patrick's Day. He started in politics while tending bar at the Goat Hill.

February 02, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan sits at his restaurant and bar, Skosh Monahan's. The Eastside resident is serving out his fifth nonconsecutive term.
Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan sits at his restaurant… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Fifth in a series of profiles about those in the trenches of Costa Mesa's political battles.


Gary Monahan can't escape politics — not even during his morning commute.

As the Costa Mesa councilman walks from his Eastside home to the restaurant he owns off nearby Newport Boulevard, folks have been known to flag him down and talk the issues.

"I can't hide," he says with a laugh. "I can lock myself up at home, but I can't hide."

Monahan, 53, is certainly no stranger to many residents. He's one of the longest-serving council members in recent memory: five terms, numbering 16 years from the dais and counting.

This past November, he barely clinched that fifth term. Only 155 votes kept him in the public sphere.

These days, though, Monahan keeps a relatively low profile during the council meetings. Compared to his four council colleagues, he's minimal with his words and lets his voting talk for him.


"I've heard myself talk for 16 years. I don't need to hear myself talk," he says. "A lot of times, you do your talking when you pull that button, you know?"

He says the voters know by this point where he falls on most matters.

"They pretty much know what I've done, what I will do. I don't necessarily have to spend 10 minutes explaining everything. I just don't anymore."


Battle for the Goat Hill

Monahan was born in Utica, N.Y., and raised in the Bay Area suburb of Mountain View.

His father was a research analyst for the Stanford Research Institute. His mother did a variety of jobs, not the least of which was raising three boys.

Monahan attended Cal State Fullerton, but left the university four units shy of completing his history degree. An uncooperative professor didn't help things, he says, and his first child had just been born.

He was also working full time at Henry N' Harry's Goat Hill Tavern, the Newport Boulevard bar that, as it would turn out, inspired him to enter the political world.

In the early 1990s, the City Council voted not to renew the permit for Robert "Zeb" Ziemer's legendary bar, calling it a haven for rowdiness and full of patrons who littered their beer bottles and urinated in the adjacent neighborhood. After a state appeals court sided with the Goat Hill, the city petitioned its case to the state Supreme Court.

At the time, Monahan was critical of the city's desire to do so.

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