Frequently Asked Questions

I hear a lot about no-bid contracts in the charter.  What’s going on?

Section 401(b) of the Charter says “The City is exempt from the provisions of all California statutes regulating public contracting and purchasing insofar as such contracting and purchasing are solely within local control and are municipal affairs, except as provided by this Charter, City ordinance, by agreement approved by the City Council, or as otherwise required by applicable law.”

Today, the law governing public contracting and purchasing is the California Public Contract Code.

The original Ballot Description indicated that the charter enumerated no bid contracts for public works projects using Costa Mesa tax dollars.  On Thursday, August 9th, the City Council majority got rid of any mention of no-bid contracts.


Would general state law apply to matters not stated in the charter?

No.  Per Section 103 of this charter proposal, “The city of Costa Mesa, by and through its legislative body [i.e. the City Council] and other officials, shall have…all powers necessary or appropriate to a municipal corporation and the general welfare…”  The Section also says that even if something isn’t mentioned in the charter, City authority would apply.  For general state law to govern a local matter a charter must expressly state that general law governs the matter.


Are there any exceptions to this?

Yes.  Charter cities are subject to general state law regarding matters considered to be of statewide concern.  Some statewide concerns, such as traffic laws in the California Vehicle Code, are defined by law.  Others must be decided on a case-by-case basis in the courts, such as provisions in the City of Vista charter regarding contracting for public works projects with companies that pay less-than-prevailing wages.


What’s considered a local matter?

The California Constitution states that local matters include local elections, regulation of the police force, internal city government structures, and method of selection of city officials.

Other issues may be litigated, but generally speaking local issues are also considered to include land use and zoning (with some exceptions), budgets, and how contracts are let.


How would local authority be exercised?

As stated in Section 103, authority would be exercised through a majority vote of the City Council, majority of a City commission, or other City officials such as the City CEO.


We’ve heard a lot about “unfunded pension liabilities”.  What is that? 

The City’s pension liability is the money necessary to cover the pensions earned by City employees who have retired or will retire within the next thirty years.   The City has not yet set aside one hundred percent of the money needed through the year 2042 or thereabout.  For more information regarding the City’s pension liability please read this in-depth article about how the charter does NOT free Costa Mesa of pension obligations.


Is a charter needed for the City to reduce pensions for future employees?

No, a charter is not needed to allow the City to provide reduced pensions to new hires.  In fact, the City Council has already (on February 7, 2012) adopted a reduced pension plan for newly-hired City employees.

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