You know it's election time in Costa Mesa when five white toilets, glistening in the summer sun, are making a political statement on Newport Boulevard.
Last weekend Igal "Iggy" Israel and Melissa Spangler assigned a new toilet for each of Costa Mesa's five council members in front of the partners' business, Bengal Industries.
The mission of the porcelain seats at 2280 Newport Blvd. is to present arguments against approving a city charter this fall, to get people talking about the issues and to pay tribute to the most famous Newport-Mesa gadfly of them all, the late Sid Soffer.
Councilwomen Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece have tiny white flowers planted in their toilets, representing their "pure intentions," while the three councilmen were given vegetation that carries a more pointed message.
"I think they have the best interests of the city in their hearts," Spangler said of the two members who often vote in opposition to the council majority.
Behind the toilets assigned to Leece and Genis is a sign offering reasons, according to Israel and Spangler, why Costa Mesa should remain a general-law city under Sacramento provisions instead of adopting a charter form of governance, an issue voters will decide in November:
"City of the people by the people." "Checks & balances." "Rights for citizens." "Citizens keep control."
And the councilmen?
Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilman Gary Monahan each got a cactus in their porcelain seats.
"They're prickly," Spangler explained with a smile.
Behind their toilets are proclaimed reasons to reject the charter: "A for-profit corporation." "For insiders not citizens." "No public control." "Lose your voice & rights."
"I'm not looking for glory. I'm not looking for publicity," Israel said of his display. "I'm just doing what I think is right."
Righeimer and Mensinger said they weren't bothered by the potted protest.
"Only in America," Mensinger said. "It's a sign of a healthy debate."
Righeimer said he welcomed "different viewpoints."
Since the failed Measure V charter proposal in 2012, charter proponents have by and large argued the very same reasons Israel and Spangler say the city shouldn't have a charter. The document, created after months of work by a committee, will bring more local control and cost savings, they contend.
To that, Israel offered a counterpoint to the tune of "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" Costa Mesa doesn't need the document to run things, he contended.
"There's no reason to change what we have," he said. "No reason whatsoever."
The pair's display isn't yet done.
Soon, they'll add a new tongue-in-cheek message that plays into the bathroom angle, something like: "SITY of Costa Mesa — Don't let it go down the toilet. Vote no on the charter."
They'll also pay tribute to Soffer, an outspoken restaurateur and government critic who left Newport-Mesa in 1995 amid building-code violations at his properties. Israel called Soffer a friend who inspired him.
Israel and Spangler live in Dana Point. They acknowledged that they won't get to vote on the charter because they're not Costa Mesa residents, and that their business has a history of code enforcement attention.
Still, they said they've got a vested interest in what happens in Costa Mesa. Bengal Industries, a general contracting firm, has been on Newport Boulevard since 2001. Israel, an Orange Coast College graduate and former Costa Mesa resident, added that he's been heavily involved in the city since 1986.
After the election, the toilets may finally get used for their intended purposes. Bengal Industries plans to donate them to Habitat for Humanity.
Israel issued a warning to anyone who might try to vandalize his display. His business has surveillance cameras, and he'll notify police if something happens.
That first weekend wasn't flawless, though. Monahan's toilet, Israel said, was knocked down not long after it went up — "before he had a cactus."