By Bradley Zint
2:16 PM PDT, October 19, 2012
Seven of the eight Costa Mesa City Council candidates answered questions ranging from their stances on a city charter to recovery homes at a forum Thursday.
The Eastside Costa Mesa Neighbors' Group, which organized the event at the Neighborhood Community Center, selected in advance five of 14 questions for each candidate to answer, though all were allowed opening and closing statements.
Councilmen Steve Mensinger and Gary Monahan, attorney John Stephens, retired certified public accountant Al Melone, former Mayor Sandy Genis, Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy and businessman Harold Weitzberg attended the forum. James Rader, who has said previously that he would not actively campaign, was absent.
To improve public safety, Melone said one simple solution is addressing the dark lighting of neighborhoods.
"How about turning on the lights, like it was?" he said. "I have a friend who said it seems that the white light used to be bright. Everything is orange now."
Monahan said the charter, listed as Measure V on the November ballot, wouldn't change the current five-member council structure or give its members more power, as alleged by critics.
"... Right now, if an ordinance comes forward or a development comes forward, it takes three votes," he said. "After the charter passes, not passes or draws, it still takes three votes" for approvals.
In a separate question, Weitzberg said that the proposed charter won't solve the pension obligation problems and that he supported increasing employees' pension contributions and some outsourcing.
"We need to sit down with our city staff ... and reasonably talk about what services can we outsource that make sense to outsource, how do we do that in a gradual manner," he said. "That will make a real impact on what our pension obligation is."
On problematic recovery homes in the city, McCarthy said there are three on his street alone that police visit weekly.
He said the best way of "skinning that cat" is to work with police and build a case, like he did.
"Declare that residence a public nuisance if you can build a strong enough case, and get those folks out of there and take back your neighborhood."
Genis said when it comes to appointing commissioners, which some allege is a system of cronyism, she would look at all angles.
"You have a diversity of viewpoints," she said. "You look for geographic diversity. You look for demographic diversity, so that the entire community can be represented on your commissions."
Genis also said that among today's five Planning Commission and five Parks and Recreation Commission seats, "There was not a single woman that our council found qualified."
Stephens, who practices law in Newport Beach, said if the city increases its business license fee, officials must get the support of the business community.
"What the city needs to do is work with businesses and say, 'If we increase that fee, you will see value,'" he said.
He specified the extra fee revenue helping to expand the city's three-member Economic Development Department.
"That could help [businesses] and they could get onboard," he said. "And everybody would win."
Mensinger said the people he talks with are proud of the city, countering the idea that the Costa Mesa is seen in a negative light in the media. He said the current council is trying to solve problems that other councils didn't.
"It would be far easier for me as a politician to go along, get along and go the party line and say, 'Let somebody else behind me solve this problem,'" he said.
He added, "A lot of people actually come up and say, 'Thank you for having the courage to do what you're doing, because no other council has had the courage to go out there and address these issues.'"