Following a blitzkrieg assault on the governmental process, on March 6 the four-man super majority of the Costa Mesa City Council voted to place Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer's Charter on the June 5 ballot.
This document, barely nine pages long, was cobbled together by Righeimer alone, apparently in a fit of pique because he's been unable to affect his misguided efforts to disembowel the municipal employee associations under the guise of budget and pension reform.
The process to create a charter typically takes much longer than a couple of months. Although state law allows a city council to create a charter, typically the document is carefully crafted by an elected citizen committee, which designs what amounts to a constitution for a city, taking into consideration the special circumstances facing the city.
Instead of engaging in that kind of time-consuming, intellectually challenging and administratively appropriate exercise, Righeimer simply treated this process like a junior high school social studies project. He created a de facto scrapbook, by cutting and pasting a snippet from City No. 1, another from City No. 2 and yet another from City No. 3, and so on.
He said he wanted to use "tested language," yet much of the language in question has not been tested legally. In fact, a couple cities he "borrowed from" are in the midst of legal challenges right now because of language in their charters.
Righeimer has rushed this process so his charter can be placed on the June ballot, when fewer voters typically turn out and, in the case of this campaign season, will be heavily tilted to the Republican side because of the presidential primary and the local Assembly race.
He's a smart fellow, who understands the numbers of politics. He is, after all, a major political operative, having been Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's campaign manager, and is practically joined at the hip with Orange County Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh. He knows that submitting the charter question to the broader electorate in the November General Election significantly diminishes the chances of it passing.
Placing Righeimer's Charter on the June ballot is also much more expensive than if it was included in the November General Election — several thousand dollars more expensive. And, since the city decided to include the full text of the charter in the voter's pamphlet and distribute another glossy informational piece to the voters before the election, the process may cost the taxpayers $150,000. That seems like an awful lot of money for the residents to pay to bolster one man's personal political agenda.
Because this process has been so compressed, the city barely had time to hold the required two public hearings and an "informational meeting." That meeting was conducted in January, when few people in the city even knew about Righeimer's scheme. And then it provided very little information.
CEO Tom Hatch, after introductory remarks, refused to answer any questions, instead directing the 80 or so interested parties to five so-called experts at tables around the room. Based on my polling that evening, few attendees came away with their questions answered.
The city did mail out a glossy "informational flier," a propaganda piece clearly slanted to be pro-charter, but only a couple days before the final public hearing. Some residents never received it. And, for those who did, there was little time to study the information and submit suggestions for changes to the document at that hearing, the last date at which items could be added.
It became moot, however, because, of the more than 100 suggestions and questions submitted earlier, very few were even considered, much less included. The charter as it will appear on the ballot is virtually the same document Righeimer presented in January. The few additions made were purely window-dressing.
Righeimer frequently states that he wants Costa Mesa to be a charter city because he wants to be able to operate like Newport Beach, a charter city. Well, that city's charter ran to dozens of pages, was crafted originally by a charter committee and was recently revised by yet another charter committee — highly respected residents of that community such as former state Sen. Marian Bergeson, for example.
As I have said many times, although Costa Mesa has done just fine for almost six decades as a general law city, and has benefited from the safeguards that form of government provides to residents, I am not against the concept of Costa Mesa becoming a charter city. There may, in fact, be some benefits from that change.
However, I am against Righeimer's charter because it has been hastily crafted by one man to advance his personal political agenda, has insufficient safeguards to protect the residents, fails to give the full electorate the opportunity to vote on it by placing it on the primary ballot and carries with it some of his failed pet projects from the past that will not serve Costa Mesa well.
If becoming a charter city is right for Costa Mesa, then that change should not be rushed. This change — the second most important decision in the city's history — demands more thoughtful, in-depth consideration.
I hope you, the voters, will take the time to become familiar with Righeimer's Charter, listen to some of your neighbors as they come door-to-door to explain it to you over the next few weeks, then vote no June 5.
GEOFF WEST lives in Costa Mesa and publishes a blog, A Bubbling Cauldron.