Costa Mesa Residents Challenge City Hall’s Charter Brochure

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A group of Costa Mesa residents say a city-produced brochure contains false and incomplete information about a proposed charter that the City Council is expected to place on the June primary ballot.

The city’s brochure, titled “An Important Message from City Hall,” arrived at residences late last week ahead of a final charter hearing on Monday. It provides background information about city charters and answers “some of the most frequently asked questions” about Costa Mesa’s proposed charter.

But a group of residents calling themselves Costa Mesans for Responsible Government is disputing several of the brochure’s assertions. In a counterflier issued early this week, they challenge eight of the city’s statements.

The residents group points out that when the city describes the “three major areas where the charter is different” from current laws governing Costa Mesa, it neglects to mention that the proposed charter exempts the city from state law for public bidding on contracts.

And while the counterflier doesn’t mention it, Costa Mesa didn’t include in its flyer that charter cities can outsource far more of their services to the private sector. The desire of the council majority to outsource much of the city’s labor force is a major motive behind the charter push.

The group also challenges the city’s assertion that the portions of proposed charter that were “cut and pasted” from other city charters are “legally tested.” The counterflier points out that a case is pending before the California Supreme Court over a charter provision allowing cities to refuse to pay prevailing wages on locally funded projects — one of the so-called “cut and pasted” sections of Costa Mesa’s charter.

City spokesman Bill Lobdell declined to respond to the group’s specific criticisms but said “the vast majority of the language” in the city’s mailer “was taken from the League of California Cities, a nonpartisan organization.” The rest, he added, was reviewed by City Attorney Tom Duarte and “determined to be accurate and nonpartisan.”

A leading member of the residents’ group says the city simply has some of its facts wrong.

“I want to be charitable and say nobody intended to mislead, but they just didn’t have the facts,” said Robin Leffler. “We did our homework, and we’re trying to be really accurate.”

Leffler said the grassroots group comprises more than 100 people with various political beliefs who believe the council majority has pursued many of its objectives, such as layoffs, “very, very badly.”

“We have very liberal people and very conservative people,” she said. “We all feel like the city is being just dismantled, assaulted.”

At Monday night’s charter hearing, the city also received criticism from several residents over the timing and content of the mailer.

Most residents who referred to the timing said they received it two days before the hearing, the last opportunity for the public to suggest additions to the proposed charter. One resident, Eleanor Egan, said she didn’t receive the mailer at all, despite city officials’ contention that they sent the letter to every Costa Mesa residence.

Additionally, some questioned the use of public funds to issue a brochure they viewed as biased toward a yes vote on the charter proposal. The city estimated that it spent $9,700 to produce and distribute the mailer.

“I am disappointed that the ‘informational flier’ was more of a sales pitch than informational,” resident Susan Shaw said at the hearing. “In addition, this should have been sent out at the beginning of the process, not [received] just two days before the last opportunity for citizens to give their input.”

— NICK GERDA

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