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Monday, November 12, 2012

A bit of Costa Mesa history 

A bit of history and demographics might provide a good background for understanding present day Costa Mesa.

Way back

A classic adventure novel was published in 1840, Two Years before the Mast, by Dana. It was the story of a youth who “went to sea” as a common seaman in a commercial sailing vessel in 1834. It included tales about the (cattle) hide trade in the “distant, exotic land” of Southern California. Dana includes descriptions of riding horses and loading hides around present day Capistrano.

He may well have ridden into the Costa Mesa area, and may have stayed with the cowboys in what is now the museum in Estancia Park. This little adobe building was about six Spanish leagues northwest from Capistrano; a Spanish league being about 2.6 – 3 miles or what a person or a horse could walk in an hour. So at that time what is now “The City of the Arts” was part of a cattle ranch.

Call it Costa Mesa

A town around the area of 18th and Newport Blvd, called Harper, changed its name to Costa Mesa (Coastal Tableland) in 1911. In 1953 the city was incorporated, with a population of nearly 17K. At that time the City Council – Manager Form of government was chosen. (Costa Mesa adopted the slogan, “The City of the Arts” in 1999.)

And now

It retains the same form of government, now governing a population (in 2010) of about 110K. Much of its governance as a General Law City is by laws and regulations from the State Legislature. Costa Mesa’s rules, then, are significantly influenced by lobbyists in the State Legislature. Some of the city governance is strictly the domain of the City Council, though.

Our average home has 2.6 residents, and 55% of our jobs are in services and trade, while 9% are in government; one unconfirmed report shows about 18% of the City’s employees live in Costa Mesa. Our single-family dwellings typically sell for $47.77 per square foot of home area, with about 40% occupied by the owners and the rest by renters.

The median (middle of the range) income (in 2010) per household in Costa Mesa was $65K, with about 28% of households earning over $75K and 20% earning $25K or less.

A bigger neighbor earns lower income

As a comparison, Anaheim City had a population of 341K in 2011, with 50% of the homes occupied by the owners. The median income in 2009 was $55K with 24% of households having incomes $30K or below, and 33% with incomes of $75K or more. It uses Council-City Manager organization like Costa Mesa, but has a Charter, giving it more local control of its operations.

And a smaller one earns more

And, Newport Beach, another Charter City, has a 2011 population reported at 86K, with a median household income of $103K. About 9% have household incomes below $25K and 63% above $75K.

Representative government

In representative forms of government voters select a group of citizens to govern the city. One representative form of government, the council-manager form that is found in these three cities, uses a City Council, elected by the voters.

The Council is responsible for establishing policy, passing local ordinances, controlling finances and developing an overall vision for the City. (Remember that an ordinance is a law that is enforced by the courts and police. We have two hearings on any ordinance, then a thirty-day period during which voters can call for a referendum on the law.)

The City Council appoints a professional manager to oversee the administrative operations, implement its policies and advise it. The city manager’s position is similar to that of a CEO in a corporation, and the Council is comparable to the corporation’s Board of Directors.

The “Mayor” position is largely ceremonial in this form of government; first among equals. He or she keeps meetings going and controls debate in accordance with Council rules, which are often based upon Robert’s Rules of Order or the U.S. Senate protocols.

At the Council meeting

Here are a couple of points that we’ll see again as we discuss how Costa Mesa works. First, at a Council meeting, the audience has the right to express an opinion about almost anything, but the Council members are forbidden from directly responding to their comments. And the audience does not have rights in the debates, although members can express opinions about the agenda items before debate.

Audience members are limited to three minutes to address the Council unless the Council, usually led by the Mayor, grants a longer time for the benefit of the Council. This usually involves an extended and prearranged presentation.

A Board of Directors, not powerful rulers

Second, the Council is forbidden from taking part in City operations. Like a Board of Directors, it must act through its CEO, which is the City Manager. So, if you want to sell the City your product or service, friends on the Council can’t help much. Your bid is processed by City employees in a specified procedure that is governed by law, and a recommendation of the City staff is developed. The City Council can only agree to fund the purchase or not, and is held responsible for making prudent financial decisions.

That’s a good start on background; soon we’ll move into how different parts of the City work.

1 comment:

  1. How ironic. The “No on V” fanatics and Unions kept saying that there were no safeguards preventing the Council from giving special privileges to their friends. The public is so gullible. Now we have to pay 20% more for services for another 1-2 years while the next Charter is drafted by a committee.