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Daily Pilot

Righeimer calls recall effort 'a stunt'

Teacher Chris McEvoy, unhappy with the councilman's vote on Banning Ranch traffic improvements, hopes voters will sign his petition.

By Bradley Zint

5:40 PM PDT, October 17, 2012

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A schoolteacher who wants to recall Jim Righeimer from the Costa Mesa City Council would need signatures from at least 15% of the city's registered voters to put the question on an election ballot.

Chris McEvoy, who ran unsuccessful council bids in 2008 and 2010, announced his effort to unseat Righeimer during Tuesday evening's City Council meeting.

The 15% amounts to about 8,900 signatures, according to data from the Orange County Registrar of Voters.

It is too late to put a recall measure on the Nov. 6 election ballot. It wasn't immediately clear Wednesday which ballot McEvoy hoped to place his measure on or whether he would seek a special election for his recall effort.

McEvoy said the grounds for Righeimer's recall were primarily based on his vote in July for a traffic mitigation agreement between the city and Newport Banning Ranch LLC, which is attempting to develop a nearly 400-acre parcel in West Newport.

The proposed Banning Ranch development is expected to affect Westside Costa Mesa residents with additional traffic, among other consequences, should it receive final approval.

On Wednesday, Righeimer called McEvoy's effort a "stunt" before a major election on an "agreement that doesn't exist."

"It's just political, and people can figure it out for what it is."

McEvoy said that he was not as influenced by Righeimer's attempts at addressing the city's looming pension liabilities through employee layoffs and other measures.

"Pensions and such are going to be fixed," McEvoy said. "You can never fix cut-through traffic once it starts," adding that the Westside is one of the few places in the city without such traffic.

McEvoy has contended that Righeimer's vote in favor of the agreement — which has never been enacted, according to city Economic Development Director Peter Naghavi — would decrease residents' quality of life and negatively impact public safety, among other issues.

He also said his petition could be "considered a symbolic recall" of Mayor Eric Bever and Councilmen Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger, who also approved the traffic agreement. Bever is termed out, but Monahan and Mensinger are on the November ballot.

"This is a very important decision that demonstrates that [Righeimer] is not standing up for the residents," McEvoy said. "We need a council who will stand up for the residents when it comes to this specific issue."

"These guys are developers," he added. "This is what they do."

In his response from the dais Tuesday, Righeimer said that "small minds and small people do things like this." He added that the current political environment is "if you don't like the vote, you go for a recall."

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Banning Ranch traffic contract not a done deal

The Banning Ranch traffic mitigation agreement, approved July 17 with a 4-1 council vote, would give the city $4.4 million toward offseting projected traffic from the development that's projected to have 1,375 homes, a 75-room hotel and commercial space.

The contract also prohibits Costa Mesa from legally opposing the project or any of its associated permits.

The project's draft environmental impact report stipulated that Newport Banning Ranch would only pay $1.7 million to Costa Mesa toward alleviating traffic.

"We get $1.7 million, and if we agree not to interfere, we get $4.4 million," Righeimer said at the July 17 meeting. "That's what we're talking about here."

As of now, however, the agreement has not been signed by any parties and has no legal validity, said Naghavi.

The changes made to the agreement by the council were significant enough that the developer decided to re-examine it, Naghavi said.

"I think they will be back after the New Year, but by no means is that agreement completely gone," he said.

What is for certain, he said, is that Newport Banning Ranch will have to address the development's impacts on neighboring Costa Mesa.

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Reactions to the recall

Robin Leffler, president of Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, whose major stances include opposition to the Righeimer-led city charter initiative, said her organization had no prior knowledge of McEvoy's recall intentions and does not back the effort.

"This is not the time or the place if something like this is going to happen," she said, adding that the recall effort would be "a pretty serious undertaking, and you have to really count your costs of whether or not it's appropriate or called for."

Leffler's group, however, has strongly opposed to Righeimer's outsourcing efforts at the charter proposal.

McEvoy said he doesn't plan on running for council again. Regarding his grass-roots effort to garner the thousands of voter signatures, he said "it's going to be work. It'll be an absolute amount of work."

"It'll gain momentum," he added. "This is very feasible. It can absolutely happen. I'm very confident in the result of this."

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint