Mensinger said serving on the council has taught him a lot about the nuts and bolts of running a city, and it's shaped his priorities going forward.

Many of those, he said, he tried to lay out as transparently as possible in his "Contract with Costa Mesa," which was published as a commentary in the Daily Pilot in September.

Since being elected, he said, his commitment to adjusting the budget to funnel more money into improving infrastructure and less into compensation for public safety employees hasn't changed.

"Elected officials move incrementally," he said. "Grass seed doesn't vote, roads don't vote. [Past administrations] cut what they can cut. That's a core issue in Costa Mesa."

In the coming months and years, he said, he hopes the city can figure out a way to buy and redevelop some of the more problematic motels, like the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, which he said accounts for about 500 police calls a year.

Doing so, he said, would help to stop the city from attracting what he called law enforcement "customers," resulting in a drop in crime, and, he hopes, a kind of culture shift.

"Business and the public sector are virtually identical. Service is service," he said. "We can be the Nordstrom of cities. Do we want to be Kmart? It's not a function of how much you pay someone. It's a culture."

He also said revising the charter proposed in Costa Mesa's failed Measure V is on the agenda for the upcoming term.

Mensinger said a desire to "raise the bar," and seeing unsolved infrastructure problems were what drove him to make the jump from heavy involvement in the local youth sports scene to city politics.

"In 2002, my son started playing youth football. The challenge we had was there was not enough field space," he said, adding that his first call was to then-Councilman (now Assemblyman) Allan Mansoor. "I realized youth sports is political, and from that point forward I got involved in city politics."

Decked out in a dark pinstriped suit that recent morning at Estancia, the 50-year-old father of two looked every bit the politician.

But when Mensinger greeted Estancia Assistant Coach Mike Delao as a game tape played behind him on a wall-mounted flatscreen, it's clear that the little building whose walls are lined with team photos and championship banners still felt like home.

Yumi Watanabe-Patterson, who has worked with Mensinger through both Pop Warner and the Estancia boosters, said that despite new demands on his time, he can still be counted on to come out for a fundraiser or lend a hand at the field.

She recalled a recent cheerleading fundraiser at Chick-fil-A, where Mensinger was first in line.

"The kids are always pleasantly surprised that he's actually there," she said. "He's one of the first ones to get his hands dirty, if it's a cleaning day."

Added Gordon Bowley, who has worked with Mensinger through the youth sports group Costa Mesa United, "when he says he's going to do something, he does it. You don't have to follow up, you don't have to ask him. He does it."

Bowley said he sees Mensinger as "aggressive," taking on tasks and following through, but "never a bully."

"I just get really into things," Mensinger said.

It's a mindset, he said, that means he has no regrets.

"If I regret something, I make provisions to change it, so that it never happens again," he said. "You leave a legacy. What are my kids going to say about me?"

Twitter: @jillcowan