Over the protests of opponents who called the idea Orwellian, the Costa Mesa City Council this week took a preliminary step toward placing security cameras in Fairview Park and other public places.
The devices could monitor the Corporation Yard across from Estancia High School, the senior center, Volcom Skate Park, Joann Street Bicycle Trail and portions of Fairview Park. By a vote of 4 to 1 on Tuesday, with Councilwoman Wendy Leece dissenting, the council gave city staff permission to move forward on a plan.
The cameras, which could cost a total of $150,000 to $200,000, would improve safety for city employees and residents, city staff wrote in a report.
The Joann Street trail generates regular reports of graffiti, as well as excess trash and debris, staff said.
In Fairview Park, the Orange County Model Engineers' site was recently vandalized twice, and thieves twice stole thousands of dollars worth of copper at the wetlands.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said research shows that security cameras are an effective crime deterrent.
"I think we need to use them judiciously, productively and sporadically," he said.
Leece said cameras remind her of the dystopian future in George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," where "Big Brother" is always watching.
"People are coming to the park, but they're gonna be on camera and watch their behavior," she said.
Leece and other residents expressed concern that the Police Department wouldn't be involved in the surveillance.
Resident Greg Thunell said with the department being understaffed and forced to be more reactionary than proactive, the cameras are "way off the mark."
"How much spyware have you put into our neighborhoods?" he asked.
Resident Mary Spadoni said the security system installed last year in City Hall hasn't been working consistently, a fact later confirmed by city staff.
She added that police need to monitor the cameras "every now and then to check the thing and see if you've got a dead body on the front steps" of City Hall.
City management analyst Dan Baker said the City Hall and Lions Park cameras installed last year are accessible by the police watch commander, the 911 call center and one terminal in the information technology department.
Select technology staff can access the terminal, he said.
The exact locations of the proposed cameras and any policies and procedures — including who can access the feeds and how long the footage would be stored — haven't been determined.
"Putting cameras in the public area is a big step," said Mayor Jim Righeimer. "It's not a small item."
He agreed with Mensinger that cameras are a crime deterrent, but he urged staff to research the best practices of other cities that have such camera setups.