A New Dawn for Costa Mesa


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A bitter political fight has been raging hard in the town of Costa Mesa for over six long years.  If one fact can be gleaned from the recent elections, it’s that the current developer-backed majority lost, and lost big.  The development-crazed regime of Mayor Steve Mensinger is over.  No matter how many times he cut us residents off at Public Meeting comments, we finally had the last word… they spoke at the ballot box. “Steve?… Can you hear us now?”

Current Council member and former Mayor, Republican Sandy Genis (left) led the pack with a solid lead. This is Sandy’s fourth time running for Council and each time she has been the top vote getter.  Back in 2009-11, not in office, she led the charge against the failed OC Fairgrounds Sale, and has been a smart, unbiased, fair, fiscally conservative local Costa Mesa-based pol before and since. Costa Mesa is lucky to have someone like her on the Council.

Going into the election everyone knew that Sandy was the one to try and beat. But the Mensinger camp, spearheaded by Campaign strategist David Ellis, very soon realized that attacking our beloved Sandy was an ill-advised move, so they mainly aimed their attacks against her running partners Attorney John Stephens (right) and former Councilman Jay Humphrey.  Both John and Jay had run in previous elections and narrowly missed flipping the Council Majority in 2012 and 14.  In the last election Jay Humphrey lost by a scant 47 votes against Jim Righeimer and that still stings. This time around the Genis-Stephens-Humphrey was the strong favorite, and while they lacked any deep funding, they more than made up for it with strong grassroots resident support, backing by the local Firefighters, and a vast social media campaign that was on fire.

Mensinger on the other hand had a pretty weak slate. They have been slowly losing their political bench for years by alienating almost everyone in the city.  Up until early July, the Mensinger campaign slate was just Mensinger, Ramos and a new gal Julie Mercurio.  Lee Ramos ran in the last election, lost badly, but kept doddering around the city still campaigning. My guess is they liked having a Latino on their side and he was a Tea Party Trump supporter.  

The second spot on the slate went originally to Julie Mercurio.  She was a relative newcomer to the political scene and one of Mensinger’s most vocal supporters.  They gave her a closed forum group on Facebook to admin, and then next thing you know they were holding a fundraiser for her at Gary Monahan’s bar to run for Council.  Mensinger and his ally Jim Righeimer never felt that she had the backing to be a strong running mate though and behind the scenes were secretly pressuring former 74th Assemblyman/Mayor Allan Mansoor to throw his hat back in the ring.  Finally in July, Mansoor announced his intention to run and they threw Mercurio to the curb. Huge miscalculation on Mensinger’s part.

Steve Mensinger (left) has one of the biggest and most fragile egos of anyone I have ever met.  He naturally assumed that he would be one of the top vote-getters and by tapping someone with strong name recognition like Mansoor would sail onto victory. Mensinger never guessed that Mansoor would suck the wind from his own sails. Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensiger, with the backing of hundreds of thousands of developer dollars and the uber political skills of snakey strategist David Ellis (right) … got his ass kicked. Steve Mensinger spent more money in this council race than anyone in Costa Mesa History and came in a distant fourth place for three seats. The residents were already suspicious that he was a wholly owned subsidiary of the developers and the amount of mail stuffed into their boxes every day just confirmed it. All that campaign money sunk him like a stone and just confirmed the testimony of the dozens of grass roots activists going door to door. All you had to do was look around the City to see the unfettered, unplanned, rampant development to know that you were being sold out. Mensinger’s campaign mail blitzkrieg backfired beautifully. All I can say is….Good riddance.

14917029_10207444367808751_5553105036342528750_oIn hindsight, it should have been obvious that Mensinger had been taking on water long before the “campaign silly season” began. Under his misguided leadership two resident backed measures made the ballot to thwart the damage he was causing. The first, Measure AA, to help preserve and save Fairview Park, was in direct response to Mensinger’s attempts at developing Costa Mesa’s crown jewel.  The second, Measure Y, was a direct resident response to the City Council majority’s willy-nilly “spot” zoning changes that they passed throughout the city. Concerned groups of residents banded together, formed coalitions, wrote ballot measures and then organized precincts walks to obtain the required 6,000 plus signatures.  The early precinct walking throughout the city contacting thousands of voters was a real disadvantage to the Mensinger crowd.  I personally walked those petitions and the residents were very aware of the issues facing them.  95% of the contacted voters were eager to sign the Smart Growth Measure Y petition, just from seeing what was going up all around them. The Fairview Park initiative was long overdue, and since the City was already fighting a federal lawsuit for illegally damaging federally protected habitat (thanks to Steve himself) the need for a protection measure was on the public’s radar.

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Measure AA to preserve Fairview passed huge, 70.7%.  Mensinger and Righeimer’s developer-backed City Council “majority” spent over $50k CM tax dollars to the law firm Ratan and Tucker to confuse the voters with a counter measure BB.  They specifically titled it to prohibit sports fields but allow building everything else they wanted.  The City sent out numerous mailers touting their “Council” backed measure at $18k a pop.  In the end, nobody was fooled by that, and their measure failed 53-46, even though the grass roots group Fairview Park Preservation Alliance had no money to spend.  Fairview Park is now protected and any future development projects not designed for rehabilitation or maintenance must get voter approval.

The resident-backed “Smart Growth” Measure Y also passed by a large percentage even though the Developer Lobby spent gobs of cash to defeat it.  Once again Mensinger and Righeimer’s (now defeated) Council majority put another misleading growth initiative, paid for by the taxpayers, to confuse and water down support for “Y.”  That Measure Z did pass. But since there are two measures with competing intent the measure with the most votes wins.  That is Measure Y, which basically maintains current general plan zoning, allows for new development, but when a certain development densities exceed existing standards, the project must go before the residents for a vote.  Early on during the campaign, local residents fought back to the misleading ballot argument rebuttal put forth by Righeimer and took them to court.  They ripped the false statement to shreds and the judge ruled that most of their argument be stricken.  It was too late for them to re-write it and the resident supporters of Measure Y laughed and laughed.  Here is an image with the stricken parts written in red.14053768_1751264391812179_5387478374023600472_oThe rebuttal was written by Jim Righeimer, Lee Ramos, Chuck Perry, Julie Fowler and Chris Bunyan. The judge in the case decided that most of the language in the rebuttal should be deleted. The items in red and with a line were deleted and did not appear in the booklet voters receive from the Registrar of Voters. Thank you, Eleanor Egan, for your pursuit of the truth about Measure Y.

Please note that Mr. Righeimer mistakenly thought that Measure Y would be called Measure Z by the Registrar of Voters. His deceptive developer initiative got that label instead.

During the campaign, the hubris of David Ellis (Campaign Strategist-HA!) and the Building Lobby was laughable. They plastered the City with Black and Red signs opposing Measure Y with the tag line “Stop the Power Grab”. The Developers already had all the power and they didn’t want to lose it. It was a huge joke throughout the opposition , even low information Costa Mesa voters saw the irony, and it backfired beautifully. I’m still shaking my head that someone actually got paid for that, what were they thinking?

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So now, Moving Forward… The Council Majority has flipped. Katrina Foley, Sandy Genis and John Stephens, while not a lock-step voting block, share common values. They’ve witnessed first hand the erosion of respect towards the residents, and the wholsesale outsourcing of services to cronies and connected campaign contributors. Righting this ship and restoring Costa Mesa back into a platinum-service City government is going to take a lot of work. Much of the damage will be irreversible.

Allan Mansoor (right) returning back to Council is still an unknown factor. Mansoor unleashed a lot of the political contention that still plagues us to this day. Allan’s willingness to work with the Council majority is yet to be seen, but many behind the scenes have intimated that he is not a pawn of the Righeimer/Mensinger cabal.  Allan will have one of two choices – play nice, or sit in the corner with Righeimer.  Costa Mesa will still have the Mensinger/Righeimer lawsuit against the police association which has hindered our retaining and recruiting police officers. We still have our decimated city staff which relies mainly upon expensive outsourced consulting firms. We have hundreds of thousands a month in unresolved lawsuits being handled by a handful of expensive outsourced law firms. Our Firefighters are still woefully understaffed and working thousands of hours in overtime, while redundant ambulance services drain millions out of the coffers. Sober living homes are still filling the neighborhoods with new applications weekly and no end in sight. Even after all the years of political rhetoric regarding Costa Mesa’s unfunded liabilities … not one payment has been made towards it. Costa Mesa still has a long way to go.

What we can expect? At the very least, a City Council that will treat its residents with dignity and the respect they deserve.  An adherence to the public’s right to fair and open meetings, and a true openness towards public transparency. The current Council majority honors the public process and will protect the public commons and stop the wholesale outsourcing and destruction of our local municipal service structure. Thing’s are going to happen in Costa Mesa now that the threat towards Fairview park and the wanton disregard towards our General Plan Zoning has now been rightfully restored back into the hands of the voters.

No longer will endless hours and millions in attorney fees and city resources be wasted thwarting the will of the residents.  We can focus on building a better City.  Restoring services that were needlessly outsourced for profit.  We can re-focus our efforts on helping people instead of recklessly targeting opponents and singling out certain businesses or ethnic groups for “special” attention.  I expect there to be difficulties and arguments moving forward like any other working government, but I do believe the day of tearing apart communities at the expense of political gains to be over.  I expect Commission appointments to be based upon merits and experience instead of choosing political sycophants willing to just toe the line, and I’m looking eagerly towards the day when we replace our Planning commissioners. I’m waiting for the first meeting where public speakers won’t be singled out and pulled out of order to speak hours later at end of the meeting.  I’m hoping those days of having the mayor purposefully, repeatedly, interrupt speakers during their public comments are over. I’m hoping our hired gun city attorney Tom Duarte and his firm finally get that contractually obligated yearly “review”, and the proper steps are taken for his immediate removal. This list could go on for a long time.

I’m sorry this little election recap of our fine city has taken me so long to write. To be honest, I’m a little burnt out. Five years is a long time to watch your city be torn apart and turned into “Ground Zero” for political games. Some of the damage incurred will never be undone. Many residents and local citizens have incurred serious losses that can never be restored. Actions taken by certain politicians here have had serious repercussions. Trust will take time. But moving forward we have a new hope. We will be voting in the next elections by districts, and while I haven’t discussed it here in this article, the political landscape has shifted considerably forever. I’m hopeful and encouraged. We have a bi-partisan rational Council Majority. A strong and vibrant community that continues to build strong coalitions and greater community consensus. We still have a lot to be grateful for and a very bright future. Like I said before… it’s a new dawn for Costa Mesa!


About Gericault

Our Costa Mesa correspondent, the son of an OC Farmer. Personal Qualities not Measured by Tests, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Resilience, Motivation, Persistence, Curiosity, Question Asking, Humor, Endurance, Reliability, Enthusiasum, Civic-Mindedness, Self-Awareness, Self-Discipline, Empathy, Leadership, Compassion, Courage, Sense of Beauty, Sense of Wonder, Resourcefulness, Spontaneity, Humility.....and constantly working on all of these.