It's Gotten Costa Messy In Costa Mesa

Scenes from the civic dissolution of America's latest public-employee battleground

It's Gotten Costa Messy In Costa Mesa

*This story was altered on Sept. 2, and Sept. 6, 2011.

 

A light breeze blows across the dark skies outside the Costa Mesa council chambers. Inside, a storm is brewing. After hours and days and weeks and months of speculation and discussion, the time for talk is over. Decisions are being made about the future of the city, and there is concern that the worst is yet to come.

The chambers are packed: all the seats are filled, with an overflow crowd outside the double-door entry, viewing the proceedings on a 32-inch television. In a row toward the rear of the chambers, four men wearing bright-orange shirts sit side-by-side, arms crossed, gazes fixed on the five-person council sitting behind the dais at the front of the room, beneath the Costa Mesa crest and the motto "In God We Trust." It's March 1, and on this night, the Lord can't help anyone.

The national media isn't here because no one has yet leapt from City Hall, the mayor hasn't appeared on news stations dressed as a leprechaun, the city hasn't yet hired a former award-winning reporter as its high-priced spokesman, and a police chief hasn't resigned behind a letter filled with scathing accusations.

"I hope I'm premature in expressing my sadness over what appears to be the coming demise of the city of Costa Mesa as we've come to know and love it," Perry Valantine says, one of more than 30 people who will blast the council tonight. Valantine retired more than six years ago after years of serving in the Development Services Department. "It just seems that this council, as laudable as your goals may be to correct the budget deficits and other financial problems in this city, is moving way too fast. . . . In the 20 elections that I've seen over 40 years, there have been a lot of changes in this city, but none nearly as drastic and nearly as fast as what this council is trying to do in the not-quite three months since it's been sitting behind the dais."

The city is at a crossroads. Four of the five council members maintain Costa Mesa is facing a financial crisis so severe it's on the brink of insolvency. In order to close the remaining $1.4 million budget shortfall, the council wants to outsource 18 municipal divisions, which account for 213 jobs—more than 40 percent of the city's workforce.

This isn't a new position—indeed, the City Council faced a financial problem last year, one of thousands of municipalities nationwide struggling during this recession. Representatives from the Costa Mesa City Employees Association, a charter member of the Orange County Employees Association (OCEA), presented more than 100 suggestions in hopes of assisting in the matter, but the union received a "blanket no," according to Billy Folsom, a city mechanic who was involved in those proceedings. The union asked the council what it needed and received a list of suggestions. The employees agreed to every request, which included furlough days, a reduced retirement formula and increased contributions to their pensions.

"We will always work with the city; we always have," Folsom says to the council. "We've always come to solutions together; we've never done things backwards—until this point. We just had a study completed 10 days ago on graffiti removal that shows we do it much cheaper than anyplace around, but they're on that list. We've had four studies in just the past couple of years on the street sweepers—one just completed, came back we did it cheaper; they're on the list. So it makes some of us feel like maybe it isn't a dollars-and cents-thing, that maybe it's a little bit of ideology creeping in here. And as a city family, yes, we're a little depressed, we're a little taken aback, and we do get tired of seeing ourselves demonized as union hacks or some kind of fat cat. It's not true."

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer listens intently to each comment, showing little reaction, other than an occasional head twitch. When it's his turn to speak, he takes a second to adjust his red-and-silver-striped tie, then presents his thoughts in a composed manner.

"There's a clock, and there's a calendar, and we will run out of money in this city—you can count on it," says Righeimer, maintaining his matter-of-fact approach. "If we're going the way we're going, we're going to run out."

Wendy Leece, the lone female at the dais, doesn't agree. The second-term council member lends her support to the employees and situates herself as the union's champion.

"[Previous councils] have not made bad decisions—we kept the ship going, and we're still weathering the storm—but we don't need to take drastic means and issue layoff notices to affect the morale of our employees," she tells the audience, which has thinned significantly now that the meeting is five and a half hours old. "I am tired of the demonization of our employees. . . . I don't know why more meetings are not held with staff to find solutions rather than to go to this. It's like the decision has already been made. So I will not support this."

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18 comments
Goldenboy7
Goldenboy7

The fact that Lobdell is paid 3,000 a week weakens the position that CM can't afford their employees. Also, hiring him as a spokesman despite his article in OC metro last April demonizing public employees reveals a lot. SAD!

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redtailhawk
redtailhawk

God Bless you OC Weekly for telling it like it is! I might add Mr. Righeimer is a Modern day Carpet Bagger. He has tried to get elected in 3 neighboring cities to do his shtick (Garden Grove, Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach) Lucky Costa Mesa. Jimmy has only lived in Costa Mesa for the past 4 years. He moved to CM when he finally got elected to the CM planning commission and worked his way up like a bad virus. He apointed Mensigner to Council. Mensigner was not voted in by the citizens of Costa Mesa. Of course Mensinger contributed 3000 to Righeimers campaign, Thank you OC bringing to light what is really happening. UN like the Daily Plot!

OCLonghair
OCLonghair

Chasen, you should have made your error corrections, sorry... altered, exactly as suggested; maybe even post the editor's name and comments.

The use of ‘line through’ of words initially written and your 'alterations' in bold would give we readers a better view of ‘Editing’ and what you writers go through within this process. Also, having a running error tally would have been fun just to liven up the piece.

Rideon_oc
Rideon_oc

Excellent, unbiased reporting. Good job, OC Weekly.

Cdefxx
Cdefxx

So a mentally ill gook commits suicide, and everyone elses life is supposed to stop, too? I agree with Monahan. Leaving his business served no purpose.

JFW
JFW

What did you guys feed Swaim before he left?His blog reads as if he's on the payroll along with Lobdell..

Dontblink
Dontblink

OC Weekly has become a breeding ground for Pravda crap.

Bitterenemies
Bitterenemies

I guess they can't use the reason that the city is broke anymore. I am kind glad Righeimer admitted what is was all about. It shows what a lying SOB he is. I hope the union keeps this tied up in the courts for as long as possible at least until the next election. Please fellow Costa Mesans, don't let this man and his followers keep on this path of chaos and destruction.

Avenging Eagle
Avenging Eagle

You failed to mention the fact that Mensinger was the man in charge of Costa Mesa Pop Warner the past few years and is still heavily involved, and should have recused himself from any discussions regarding public funds going to the program. They can't claim the city is broke but come up with money for pet projects!

JFW
JFW

Racist troll.

Valentia
Valentia

Indeed. It reads like he's on somebody's payroll; a union buster perhaps. Hmmmm. Now whom might that be? Swaim is an excellent writer and an excellent provocateur, much like Thomas Paine (or Tom Wolfe), but even better and certainly funnier (but not funnier than Tom Wolfe). For all that, it's best to read him closely, because his flood of slick rhetoric (I love it!) quite often elides over uncomfortable facts -- facts he'd rather not spend too much time on, if at all. Or he will accept at face value facts that are at best debatable or at worst not facts at all. He's still insisting, for example, that Costa Mesa faced a Brobdingnagian budget shortfall (it didn't; Righeimer's "facts" were based on projections he made up in a local gin mill). He also steadfastly ignores the fact that the unions offered to negotiate budget issues many months ago. Righeimer's answer? Fuck off. I'm running this pop stand now. And if you want evidence that Will's clearly gone over to the dark side of the lunatic fringe, read his blog from 16 August this year. He cites Costa Mesa's tenured crank, Martin H. Millard. Millard is our local racist flub-a-dub who believes that "race mixing" and whites' intermarrying with "mud people" (Hispanics, blacks, Asians) is the largest problem facing our republic and certainly the root cause of the civic malaise in Costa Mesa's west side -- which civic malaise is nothing but a figment of Millard's feverish brain pan. His preposterous racial views are straight out of Mein Kampf via David Duke. His cure? Kick the Mexicans out of town, and Costa Mesa will flower like a rose. Yet Will cites him favorably nonetheless (although he does qualify Millard's reputation with the disclaimer that even a blind pig can occasionally find a truffle). Like I said, I like Will's writing. In the same blog, I especially liked his much needed dressing down of Wendy Leece, the evangelistic boob on our city council. As Tom Wolfe would say, " . . . terrific! . . . . " But not so terrific otherwise. If he is on someone's payroll, I hope he's getting the top wages. He *is* good. But read him with a barrel of salt at your elbow.

Tehuanaechada
Tehuanaechada

TAX THE CALVARY FUCKERS AND THE 7/11 COLLEGE ON VICTORIA AND 55FWY.

Will Swaim
Will Swaim

Valentina: Thanks for the kind words--I think--but re-read my comments on Millard. You won't have to dig for it--it's the piece on Wendy Leece that you say you especially liked, and it's the first two sentences--in which I write of Millard, "Even a broken timepiece is right twice each day. Even a blind pig sometimes finds an acorn. Sometimes even an irretrievably racist blogger digs up a document that reminds mainstream journalists how we do investigative reporting." Hardly an endorsement of the guy, but that's your "evidence" that I've "clearly gone over to the dark side of the lunatic fringe." Read it here:

http://republicofcostamesa.com...

JFW
JFW

I just don't get it. Swaim and Lobdell have always been outstanding journalists and advocates for the right thing. Now it feels like the scene from "Braveheart" when Wallace/Gibson sees the future Scottish king on the battlefield and realizes the latter has sold out to the English..

Valentia
Valentia

Indeed. And a nice comparison. But if Swaim was offered a shitload of cash to defend the indefensible, I'm sympathetic. Were I offered the same to write email solicitations for Nigerian recovery scams, I'd have to consider it seriously.

 
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