Why The Rush?

Our Costa Mesa City Councilmen have proven once again, when presented with the question  “Do you want it good, or do you want it fast?”, they’ll choose speed over sanity every time.  Now they’re jamming through a city charter to make a costly special election in June. Taking time to consider community input is obviously not important to these guys, as evident by Council Member Eric Bever’s comment, “If you don’t like what we’re doing, tough luck.”

The charter will be the biggest change in our city’s history with consequences affecting every Costa Mesa resident, business, and property owner for decades to come, stripping us of all the protections provided by state law.

The Council unveiled their scheme in early December, as many residents were turning their attention to the holidays.   Since then they’ve had only two public hearings on the charter, with their final decision to come on March 6.

By contrast, when I served on the Orange County Charter Commission in 1995, we took nine months to produce a draft charter.  At first, we met monthly.  We familiarized ourselves with legal provisions regarding local charters, including what a charter should include and which State laws would apply differently under a charter and how.  Once we understood the full scope of issues to be addressed, we realized that monthly meetings weren’t enough.

All told, we met dozens of times at locations around the county.  And after we were done, the Board of Supervisors held more hearings!

But Costa Mesa provided only two public hearing for citizens to offer suggestions for additions to the Council’s charter proposal, with just one more meeting where items may be removed but not added.  Clearly this headlong process isn’t adequate for either the public or the Council itself to fully consider the implications of this charter proposal.

This became abundantly clear at the December 6 Council meeting.  I was aghast that anyone so ill-informed would presume to write a charter for our city.  Numerous statements in the lengthy sales pitch betrayed a pitiable misunderstanding of existing law.

Mr. Righeimer erroneously declared that the State legislature can order cities, except for charter cities, to take on new programs and absorb the costs locally.  But the California Constitution requires the State to reimburse any city, charter or not, for costs of State mandates.  This can’t be changed without a vote of the people.

Council Members seem not to understand that provisions of the California Constitution apply to charter cities.  Speakers on the dais and at the podium have seemed unaware that the California Constitution gives the Legislature powers to re-allocate revenue for all cities, charter or not.

These are just a few examples of the confusion betrayed by charter proponents.

Before moving forward with any charter it is imperative that we take the time to become accurately informed as to the city’s existing rights and obligations, citizens’ rights protected by existing law, and what a charter would change.

SANDRA GENIS is a former Costa Mesa mayor, 50-year resident and member of the 1995 Orange County Charter Commission.

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