Earlier this week the Costa Mesa City Council gave unanimous approval for city representatives to attend an upcoming out-of-state convention, though not without discussing the intricacies of doing so on the city's dime.
Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, city CEO Tom Hatch and three other city officials are scheduled to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual Las Vegas convention in May, which, according to city staff, helps Costa Mesa "attract and retain top-level retail and dining establishments."
Righeimer and Mensinger are projected to spend $2,310 for the May 19 through 22 conference. Hatch and three other staff members are expected to need $3,050, giving the city an estimated total cost of $5,360. The city, however, budgeted about $7,000 total to cover any possible overages. The Costa Mesa Conference and Visitor Bureau is chipping in $2,200 to pay for a display booth.
Councilwoman Wendy Leece pulled the item from the consent agenda for discussion Tuesday evening, saying that "in the spirit of transparency" she wanted the costs and who is going made public.
She said she understands that it takes years to cultivate relationships that ultimately attract businesses to Costa Mesa, and that the money spent will be a good investment.
But Leece did express concern about the success from the city's attendance last year. Righeimer later responded that it helped revive talks that brought in the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at 3151 Harbor Blvd.
Righeimer added that the council's amendments to burdensome parking requirements for sit-down restaurants spurred renewed interest for restaurateurs at the conference to set up shop in Costa Mesa.
"To find out that sit-down restaurants walked away because we had horrible parking [standards] … that was fixed," he said. "We talked to many, many restaurants that will come in there."
Companies "want their flagship restaurant to be in our city," Righeimer added. "They don't want to be in Irvine, they don't want to be in Laguna, they don't want to be in Mission Viejo. They want to be in the eclectic parts of Costa Mesa.
"They want to make a statement in what they're doing."
Righeimer, whose background is in real estate development, called the process a "bit of a romance and a dance." Making some discussions public, he said, can be problematic, though.
"If you starting telling people that you got so-and-so coming — and that's not signed — trust me, other cities are going to dive in and steal them from you. And you don't want that to happen."
Resident Martin Millard praised the city's low business license fee as a good "selling point" to attract future businesses. The maximum fee is $200 annually — a fact that will be advertised during the Las Vegas conference.
Costa Mesans for Responsible Government President Robin Leffler, however, said the fee should be more for larger businesses.
"I kinda think that it might be possible for [Nordstrom] and some of the larger revenue companies to pay a little bit more and help our budget a lot," she said.
Some residents also expressed concern about the proliferation of fast-food restaurants in the city, particularly along Harbor Boulevard. Mensinger replied that Costa Mesa's youth and student population from Orange Coast College, the high schools and other universities frequent them.
"We really can't tell a landowner not to put in something that the market really wants … they eat where they eat," he said, adding that attracting quality sit-down restaurants is still a long-term goal.
Other council matters
The council also approved a resolution that would allow honorably retiring Costa Mesa Police Department officers, at the police chief's discretion, the chance to buy their service weapon at fair-market value.
Rehabilitation work for Red Hill Avenue between Bristol Street and Paularino Avenue was also approved, for a total estimated cost of $1.8 million, as was traffic synchronization efforts for about $1.08 million. Portions of Victoria, Baker and 17th streets, as well as Placentia Avenue, will be upgraded.
Wine and beer will also be permitted at the annual Fish Fry benefit for the Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club. The event at Fairview Park is scheduled for May 31 through June 2.
Committee appointments and reappointments
Jeff Arthur, Shawn Dewane, Rick Kapko, Gene Hutchins, Kent Mora, Gary Parkin, Timothy Sesler, John Stephens and Ralph Taboada were chosen for the newly formed Pension Oversight Committee.
The group is tasked with providing expertise to the council on "annual and long-term pension matters as it pertains to the city's CalPERS retirement unfunded pension obligations," according to council agenda report. The group also aims to "ensure the city maintains adequate reserves and ratios per council guidelines, as well as review "negotiated pension and compensation packages as it pertains to each employee bargaining unit," city staff wrote.
Sesler also serves on the Planning Commission. Stephens ran for council in the last general election, but was narrowly beat by Councilman Gary Monahan.
Chosen for the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee, also newly formed, were at-large members Ron Amburgey, Frank Cummings, Brett Eckles, Steve Smith, David Stiller, Anna Vrska and Dr. Richard J. Mehren. Dennis Popp and Lee Ramos were chosen as alternates.
Smith writes a column for the Daily Pilot.
Denise Dew-Bennett, Brett McDonell, Christian Eric, Eric Vu, Jeff Mathews and Yvonne Rowden chosen for the Housing & Public Service Grant Committee, an ad-hoc group that advises the council and promotes activities funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other grants. Mathews also serves on the Planning Commission.
Kathleen Eric, Lisa Grant, Frank Gutierrez, Eduardo Iniestra, Monica Morita and Debora Wondercheck were chosen for the Cultural Arts Committee, which works with the council to both support and create awareness of arts programming.
Rich Cantillon, Pamela Crenshaw, Dave Gardner and Parkin — also chosen for the Pension Oversight Committee — will serve on the Historical Preservation Committee, which still needs five more regular members and two alternates.
The council held off on choosing directors for the Costa Mesa Senior Center.