Monday, October 03, 2022



My city, Costa Mesa, California, like many others in our state, is in the midst of campaign season for city, county, state and national elections.  On November 8th we will choose three city council members and a mayor, chime in on a very important municipal ordinance, plus vote for members of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, Mesa Water District and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.  This is about the city races…


There are three council seats available this time around.  The City began electing city council members by district PLUS a directly-elected mayor in 2018, having been extorted by a Malibu law firm into converting from at-large voting to “give our Latino population a greater voice in government”.  Costa Mesa is 37% Latino, most of whom reside in what is known as the West Side - those areas represented by Districts 4 and 5 - two of the seats up for election this time.  The remaining seat is District 3, an area roughly surrounding the Orange County Fairgrounds near the center of the city.


Let's review some history so you can understand why I think this election is so darn important.


When the city was forced to go to district voting the then-Republican majority, led by Jim Righeimer and Steve Mensinger, tried to quick pitch the process when putting the District voting on the 2016 ballot.  Instead of using the 5-District configuration preferred by 100% of the residents who attended all the meetings held by the demographer, they had him conjure up a 6-District and Directly Elected Mayor choice, figuring they could field a group of like-minded individuals to control the city council.  That was the only choice on the ballot for the voters to consider and it passed with 64.8% of the ballots cast.  In an interesting sidebar, the existing mayor, Steve Mensinger, was ousted, finishing 4th the race for 3 open council seats.  And, further demonstrating the ire of the electorate, controversial Measure Y was passed by an even greater margin - just over 68%.  That citizen-generated measure was designed to slow, or stop, development in the city by requiring a “vote of the people” if certain triggers were met.  Since that measure passed not a single project has moved forward - no “vote of the people” has been taken.


In the next election - November 2018 - council members were elected by district for the first time.  Districts 3,4 and 5 - the same ones up for election this time around - chose new council members.  Interestingly, all three of them chose persons with a Latino heritage.  In District 3 United States Naval Academy graduate and former Navy officer Andrea Marr defeated a Republican-supported candidate soundly.  In District 4 Manuel Chavez - who grew up in that district and was the youngest council member ever elected - was chosen over a hand-picked contender favored by the council majority by a wide margin.  In District 5 local woman and MIT-graduate Arlis Reynolds defeated seated councilman Allan Mansoor - a former mayor and state Assemblyman - by more than 20 points!.  And, in the biggest news in that election, Katrina Foley - who had been ousted as mayor by the majority in a bit of pure partisan politics just a few months earlier - soundly defeated the woman who replaced her, long-time councilwoman Sandy Genis.  That was a stunner and certainly made the point that the voters had had enough.  


One must think back on what it was like back then.  Republican activists - Jim Righeimer, Steve Mensinger, Gary Monahan and Allan Mansoor - controlled the city and made some very controversial moves.  For example, on March 17, 2011 - St. Patrick’s Day - their council decided to issue layoff notices to 213 “regular employees” - non-public safety staffers.  This was their idea of how to control large unfunded pension liabilities.  In a tragic result of their actions young maintenance worker Huy Pham, upon receiving his layoff notice, leaped to his death from the roof of city hall.  This was the darkest day in our city in my memory - 48 years and counting.  There was a huge public outcry and outpouring of sympathy for Pham’s family and his entire city family, too.  Monahan, who was mayor at that time, didn’t bother to come to City Hall to console grieving employees - he was too busy pouring green beer at his bar, muttering something like, “What am I supposed to do?  This is the biggest day of the year for me.”  That was a quote from a news reporter who sought comment from him as he pranced around his bar in his kilt.  Disgusting!  Even worse, courts later determined that the layoff notices were illegal!


About that same time friction ensued between certain members of the City Council and the Costa Mesa Police Department.  The council members sued the Police Association’s law firm and the association.  That went on for several years, but was finally settled.  In the meantime, the toxic atmosphere created by that council provoked several members of the Costa Mesa Police Department to abandon their jobs, choosing to either retire early or bail out to another police jurisdiction.  For more than 8 months the Righeimer/Mensinger council refused to permit recruitment efforts to fill more than 50 vacancies.  It’s been more than a decade since all that was going on and we still have not achieved proper police staffing levels.  That same council decided that the A.B.L.E. helicopter program - a joint venture between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach that provided police helicopter support for both cities and was a model for all municipal helicopter programs nationwide  - should be disbanded.  They proceeded to do just that, selling off the assets - 3 multi-million dollar helicopters - and reassigning the pilots back into patrol duties.  That was another low-morale moment in the CMPD.  This group also decided to privatize both the police jail and street sweeping services - causing more layoffs.  It was rumored that the successful contractor for the jail services was operated by family members of Jim Righeimer.  That unfortunate experiment has failed and the jail is, once again, under control of members of the CMPD.


Another bellwether of discord was Allan Mansoor’s scheme to deputize every single Costa Mesa Police Officer as an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer so they could randomly snatch up members of our Latino community and process them for deportation. For his efforts Mansoor was anointed as an honorary “Minuteman”.  That scheme failed, fortunately, but it terrorized the entire Latino community to the point where they seldom expressed concerns about city issues.  That has changed under the current council.  Recently we’ve seen Latino’s bravely step to the speaker’s podium and air grievances.  They know they will be given a fair hearing on issues important to them and no longer worry about being hunted down like stray dogs in the street and deported.


The atmosphere in our city during those years was very tense.  That council decided that they were tired of hearing residents stand before them during the Public Comments segment of their regular meetings and gripe about issues - things that were important to the residents - so they bifurcated the public comments.  Only the first 10 people in the queue could speak early in the meeting.  Any remaining speakers had to wait until the very end of the meeting - sometimes midnight or later.  Few speakers stayed around that late.  At that time we saw several highly skilled senior staffers choose to retire early instead of dealing with the atmosphere created by that council.


Well, in the four years since the core of the current council was elected - those choices clearly sent a message to the Republican establishment with the ouster of Mansoor and Mensinger and the rebuffing of Genis , who was soundly thumped as a directly-elected mayor by Katrina Foley not just once, but twice - a lot of important things have happened in our city and it’s appropriate to talk about how they were handled.


The city, for years, has had a growing homeless population.  The current council found a way to manage that issue by first contracting with a local church to provide temporary housing until a new facility could be created.  They then found and purchased an industrial building not far from John Wayne Airport and created a 70-bed shelter and worked out a deal with the City of Newport Beach to use 20 of those beds for a fee.  That system is working.


More than 2 years ago the hellish Covid-19 pandemic hit us, just as it did in every other city in America.  Our council, led by the tireless Mayor Katrina Foley (who has earned your vote for her seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, by the way) and John Stephens as Mayor Pro Tem, helped provide the leadership to get out ahead of this issue before any other Orange County city.  Right off the bat they rejected the Governor’s scheme to house 60 infected people from an airliner in northern California at the under-used Fairview Developmental Center - right in the heart of our city.  They crafted emergency ordinances to govern mask-wearing, short-term rental assistance, rules to keep covid-affected renters from being evicted, and much, much more.  And, they made the tough decisions and managed to keep a balanced budget without tapping municipal reserves.


Recently the State slammed our city with the demand for us to plan for 11,760 new dwelling units during the next 8 years (now 7 years), then told us our “Measure Y”, constraints passed by the voters in 2016, effectively created a roadblock to preclude the city from completing a required satisfactory Housing Element.  The failure to do so would cause the city to be penalized $100,000 per month, become ineligible for ALL State grant funds and - the worst part - lose all local control over development in our city - the State would take over.  So, with that gun to our head, in January the council appointed an Ad Hoc Committee of Mayor Pro Tem Marr, Councilwoman Reynolds and Councilman Jeffrey Harlan - a land planner and lawyer - to assess this problem and come up with a solution.  That effort resulted in what is now known as Measure K.  This ordinance, which is on the November 8th ballot, will basically de-fang Measure Y and thereby permit development of the much-needed (and State-demanded) new housing units, some of which will be affordable housing units.  To facilitate that action an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is being crafted and will be presented to the council for consideration by December.


The Ad Hoc Committee has been roundly criticized by the people who conceived and marketed Measure Y, stating it would gut their product and “take away the vote of the people” on development decisions.  This, of course, is a flat-out lie!  Should Measure K pass next month ANY project submitted to the city for consideration will have to run the gauntlet of bureaucratic hurdles - including approvals from the Planning Commission and City Council.  At every step of the way residents or other interested parties have the opportunity to express themselves before those official bodies and/or write to them in detail with their concerns.  Measure Y was passed 6 years ago and, as I mentioned above, not a single project has been placed before the voters.  Any developer - every developer - will simply take their development dollars and expertise elsewhere when faced with spending tons of money and time, only to be informed that they now must go before the vote of the people.  Our city will shrivel under these constraints.  Our major commercial and industrial corridors will atrophy and our economic vitality will wither.


I wrote all the above to make a point. This time around Mayor John Stephens, a former council member who was appointed mayor when then-mayor Katrina Foley was elected to the Board of Supervisors, is being challenged by Republican John Moorlach - a partisan who has held positions on the Board of Supervisors and in the State Senate.  Moorlach’s record in those roles is undistinguished, although some tout him as being a financial expert because he predicted the Orange County bankruptcy two decades ago.  Stephens, on the other hand, has been an instrumental part in leading Costa Mesa through a series of crises including the homelessness issue and the covid pandemic.  In both those cases Costa Mesa has led the way among all Orange County cities in dealing with those issues effectively, in great part due to the wisdom, energy and leadership of John Stephens.


In this election only the seat occupied by Manuel Chavez is safe - he has no opposition.   Andrea Marr is being challenged by a Republican-supported newcomer, John Thomas Patton, who brings absolutely no governance experience to the party.  And Arlis Reynolds is being challenged by Rob Dickson, a former Righeimer/Mensinger sycophant who was part of “the problem” back in those days as he rubber stamped the council majority wishes while on the Planning Commission.  They have joined the creators of Measure Y to oppose Measure K - something our city MUST HAVE - and spread the lies provided to them.  This is not only disappointing, but very dangerous for our city.  Should all three of these men be successful that would change the balance of power on the City Council and combine them with lazy, hapless, hopeless, partisan hack Republican councilman Don Harper - the worst councilman in my memory - and we could be right back where we were nearly a decade ago.  This is NOT GOOD for our city..


Candidates Moorlach, Dickson and Patton constantly harp about the “unfunded pension liability” facing Costa Mesa, as though this is something this council created and fails to “fix”.  Well, this is not a new issue - every city council in the state that subscribes to the CalPERS retirement system is facing the same thing and THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT at the local level.  The problem is the way the system was conceived.  It is managed by a board that understands little about municipal finance.  Their plan is to receive a 7.5% annual return on their investments to keep their ship afloat.  However, if the markets in which they play fail to generate that kind of return they simply bill their subscribers - hence the “unfunded liability”.  The only way this actually becomes a problem for our city, or any city, is if every single employee decides to retire simultaneously.  Then there wouldn’t be enough cash in the till to fund the retirements.  Of course, that’s not going to happen.  Predecessor  councils - the Righeimer/Mensinger group, for example - decided to “solve it’ by putting a paltry million dollars each year towards the debt, knowing full-well that would do nothing at all to solve the problem.  Their other solution, mentioned above, was to lay off over 200 employees, and we all know how that turned out.  This “issue” is really a “non-issue”.  It’s a straw man to attempt to burnish the candidacy of Moorlach, a theoretical finance expert, and the others are just piggybacking the issue.  If Moorlach has a solution let him speak out for the public good.  Otherwise, he should quit barfing up that politically-charge rhetoric.


Some non-incumbent candidates are making a big deal about campaign funding by “out of town developers”.  Well, yeah!  The city is in desperate need of housing - affordable housing, for the most part - and the people that build that stuff are…. DEVELOPERS!  Of course they want to see a council in place that will give them a fair hearing, and that will help with the negative quagmire Measure Y has created.  All that jabbering about “out of town developer money” is a smoke screen, designed to inflame the voters into voting against Measure K.  The smartest guy I know on land use and planning issues, current Costa Mesa Planning Commission Chairman Byron de Arakal, has expounded frequently, loud and clear, why Measure K is critical to the future of our city, and has given us example after example of what happens if we don’t comply with the State rules.  That’s good enough for me.


Yeah, I know… you’re saying to yourself, “But Geoff, you’re a lifelong Republican and you’re asking us to support Democrats!”  That’s true.  I’m asking you to support proven, rational, clear-headed, non-partisan leadership who have effectively guided our city through multiple crises simultaneously instead of a trio of partisan hacks who march to the tune that caused chaos in our city in the recent past.  Because the future of our city is at stake, I implore you to not be bamboozled by those who lie about the issues.  Please re-elect Mayor John Stephens, Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr, Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds and Councilman Manuel Chavez.  And, if you hope your children and their children will be able to afford to live in Costa Mesa, please vote YES ON MEASURE K. 

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