Soon after taking the podium, Anna Vrska admitted to being a little nervous.
"Oh, my goodness! This is a dead room," she remarked a few minutes later, looking up from her notes and scanning the room. "Does everybody need a break like I need a break? Catch a breath, maybe?"
Vrska was standing alone before more than 100 interested parties attending November's Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. The 208-acre park in Costa Mesa has made news throughout the year for myriad reasons, not the least of which is the resurrection of a topic long fraught with discord: adding sports fields or retaining the passive open space.
Vrska, one of the committee's nine voting members, was scheduled that evening to reveal the results of her months-long investigation related to that dispute.
Her speech was succinctly titled, "Youth Sports Data."
Vrska's voice was somewhat monotone, her gaze turned downward as she read, but after touching upon the topic, her words soon evolved into an account about larger frustrations at City Hall.
She used the microphone to question the city's approval of some archaeological work at the park.
Vrska then criticized the makeup of the committee itself, saying that it was unrepresentative of a diverse community. It lacked enough women and minorities, she contended, and its membership was stacked with people associated with the committee's City Council liaison, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger.
"No offense to present company," Vrska said, "but many of the people on the committee seem to be close allies and friends of Mr. Mensinger."
Supporters applauded Vrska's statements as she took her seat, which happened to be next to Mensinger.
Richard Mehren, the committee's chairman, raised his arms in an effort to bring decorum, settle the mood and continue on with the matters ahead.
In the eyes of her supporters, however, Vrska's 18 minutes that evening were a defining moment, when a seemingly unimposing woman demonstrated that she was anything but timid.
A new firebrand?
"We are big supporters of Anna," said Brian Burnett of Friends of Fairview Nature Park, a group that seeks to promote open space and natural uses for the park. "I thought she came out with some claws that night, for sure."
While Vrska isn't a member of the group, Burnett added, "I think we all agree with what she has to say."
Vrska is a political newcomer, who, at 35, is young compared with her colleagues on other city committees and commissions. The rest of the Fairview Park committee members are men.
"Being the only woman, and being the youngest member, I felt an added responsibility to try to represent certain aspects of the community that I would feel are underrepresented," she said in an interview.
In April, 27 people applied for the reconvened committee — more than any other group the council sought to fill that month. Up for grabs were seven at-large and two alternate seats, though the council later upgraded the alternates to at-large members. Six of the applicants were women.
Mayor Jim Righeimer appointed Vrska, and the council confirmed her on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Gary Monahan dissenting.