Wednesday, May 4, 2010 | Costa Mesa and OC Fair officials are trying to get along better. And they’re hoping that eight local high school students can provide a good start.

While Costa Mesa’s new city council has made national headlines for following a hardcore Republican line on privatization of government, its newest councilman, Stephen Mensinger, is touting an old-time mainstay of politics by pursuing a “hire local” initiative.

Mensinger last week found his first taker with the Orange County Fair Board, which is working to improve its image as it seeks legislation that would stop a sale to a private company.

Eight local students signed employment documents to work at the OC Fair this summer during a ceremony held at the Fair Board meeting last week. Four were from Estancia High School and four were from Costa Mesa High School.

Mensinger, who is very active with Estancia’s local football program, said he’s noticed in recent years that high schoolers often have too much idle time. He worries that kids end up couch surfing between different parents’ homes and get the stimulation or work experience they need.

“With kids, you’re always creating habits,” he said. “And having a great work ethic is great for the community and it also gives them a chance not to get in trouble.”

When his own son talked about getting a summer job, Mensinger said he realized that half the battle is to get local companies to trust in kids for part-time jobs.

He got the Costa Mesa City Council to pass a resolution that calls on local businesses to hire locally whenever possible.

“Hiring youth in the community where you have your business is a smart business move,” Mensinger said. “It engenders good will, enhances the bottom line and builds loyalty in the community. It also gives our local kids an opportunity to become leaders.”

Mensinger acknowledged that it might look odd to see a conservative politician in Orange County pushing a hire local initiative. The January council resolution even favorably quoted a United Nations resolution, something he jokes could be a first in Orange County.

Yet he said the policy has a strong Republican twist.

“I don’t think we should mandate. The goal is to remind not to dictate.”

Costa Mesa Planning Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick said he was especially supportive of the idea because hiring locally does important things for the city, such as keep more cars off the roads. That, in turn, triggers less infrastructure demands long term as well as having a practical impact on pollution.

And while it’s not a mandate, Fitzpatrick said there are things that local companies can get in return from people like planning commissioners when they embrace such local plans.

Fair officials — after nearly two years of controversy over the possible sale of the fairgrounds and criticism for not reaching out to local nonprofits and schools — are more than happy to be part of such an initiative.

“We are a guest in Costa Mesa’s house, a little island,” said Fair Board President David Ellis about the 150-acre property that sits across the street from Costa Mesa City Hall.

“We need to do better with Costa Mesa. It’s been a rocky history over the last 20 years. And it’s my goal this year to make sure that relationship is as great as it can be,” Ellis said. “The last thing you want is a guest you don’t’ like.”

The hire local program, he said, is a good “symbolic” first step in setting up a different relationship.

There are up to 1,200 jobs available at the Fair during the summer. And while the program isn’t just limited to Costa Mesa, Ellis said he was happy “that the kids in Costa Mesa were the first up at bat.”

Despite the criticisms of the fair, officials do note that the entity has a strong local component already. There’s just over 300 Costa Mesa residents that do work at the fair, most of them as seasonal hires.

They now have eight new co-workers.

Among them is 16-year-old Ozzy Magana, who was part of the ceremony at the Fair Board meeting.

“It’s my first job,” said Magana, who is a linebacker on the Estancia High football team. “It’s the OC Fair. It’s every teenagers’ dream.”

Mensinger said in order to avoid any conflicts, his son, who also attends Estancia, is interviewing for a job at Del Taco.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that all eight students involved in the local hiring program were from Estancia High School. We regret the error.

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