The city of Costa Mesa is again moving toward drafting a charter, this time using a committee of appointees.
By a 3-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday night approved the creation of a 13-member charter committee, which will debate and confer in a public setting throughout the next several months. Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece dissented.
The committee's goal is to form a charter, essentially a city constitution, that would relieve the city somewhat of having to follow guidelines from Sacramento by setting up more home rule. However, detractors say proponents have not made clear why a charter is necessary.
The five council members are now scheduled to each appoint one committee member, then choose another five through majority vote of the council during its June 4 meeting.
The last three members will be chosen randomly through a drawing from a pool of five names, each chosen by a council member.
The application deadline is 5 p.m. May 28. Interested parties must be registered voters who live in Costa Mesa.
Once drafted, the city charter will either be approved or rejected by voters during the June 2014 primary election or during the following November's general election. The committee will recommend which election ballot to place the charter measure on.
Genis had proposed a 15-member committee, with each council member appointing one member and the remaining 10 chosen by lottery. The motion failed 3-2, receiving support only from Leece and her.
Mayor Jim Righeimer, who led the effort last November for a charter, said Wednesday that he plans to not be as involved this time around.
The charter's contents will be up to the committee members, he said.
“I'm not going to be going to a meeting saying, ‘Here's a list of things to do.' I think they can do it without me,” Righeimer said. “They should do it without me.”
For a charter to pass, “It has to be a community effort,” he added.
The last charter initiative, Measure V on the ballot, was the most fiercely contested item of the November general election, though after all the spending and campaigning, voters rejected it by a 60% majority.
City CEO Tom Hatch is also expected to hire an independent facilitator to assist the charter committee with administrative functions at a cost of $4,000 to $8,000.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger on Tuesday also suggested hiring a second facilitator, saying that two would be needed should the committee break into smaller groups to handle specific topics.
'As fair as possible'
Righeimer and other charter supporters have long contended that Costa Mesa should have the document as a means to save the city money and achieve a more-localized governance.
Means of saving money with the aid of a charter could include more flexibility “to hire who we want to get the work we want to have done,” Righeimer said.
November's charter contained an exemption allowing the city to escape having to pay prevailing wages — state-mandated rates set by unions and others — for projects that used only city funds.
Opponents decried the lack of a prevailing wage, the potential for corruption and other points, among them the perception that Measure V would lead to subpar labor on city contracts. They have also complained that the measure got placed on the ballot without sufficient resident input.
Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grassroots residents organization that lobbied extensively against Measure V, urged the council last month to create a charter commission made up of 15 voter-elected commissioners, not a committee of council appointees. The April meeting was reminiscent of the fall's election talking points.
“We want the process to be as fair as possible, if it's really going to be a process of the people,” the group's president, Robin Leffler, said Wednesday. “It's not getting off to a very good start.”
Costa Mesans for Responsible Government hopes the committee will have a cross section of community input, not just “the same few guys that they've appointed to other committees,” she said, adding that some members of her organization are expected to apply for seats.
“We won't know what to think of this charter until we see the product,” Leffler said, “and we don't see the product until the countdown is ready to begin.”