[UPDATED with Caller a Police Union Stooge?:] Jim Righeimer, Costa Mesa Councilman, Cop Critic and Pension Cutter, Alleges DUI "Set Up"
See Update No. 1 on a new Costa Mesa Police Department statement claiming the agency is super serious about investigating the false DUI report.
But, this story has a big "but" . . .
The big but will be even more dramatic once we put it in full context.
Righeimer, a conservative activist, protege of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and employee of Republican sugar daddy developer George Argyros, used to write local columns for the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot. He once called me with a tip about a little-known bonus paid to Costa Mesa cops--actually, all cops in California. It was a topic Righeimer said was too hot for the Pilot (and apparently Navel Gazing, because I never did anything with it).
Riggy ran for Costa Mesa City Council in 2008, a year after the city started pulling funds out of its reserves to pay bills. During the same election that saw Barack Obama win the presidency, Righeimer finished fourth, just behind another candidate who advocated reigning in spending, Eric Bever. Unfortunately for Righeimer, only three seats were open that year.
Despite the city's financial juggling act, a council majority that did not include Bever but did count among its number conservative, anti-immigrant stalwart Wendy Leece later voted for a more lucrative contract for firemen and an increase for their retirements, something known as the 3% at 50 pension plan.
At a time when more money was leaving Costa Mesa's budget than coming in to the city of 110,000, the country's financial crisis lingered and other cities began declaring bankruptcy trying to pay their own six-figure pensions to retired government employees, including cops and firemen.
Well, Costa Mesa Republicans were livid, with resident and former county treasurer-turned-Board of Supervisors chairman John Moorlach angrily calling out Leece as a traitor. For his part, Righeimer campaigned on the issue in the 2010 council election, pointing out pension costs had more than doubled to $15 million in a decade, that a deputy fire chief retired with an $182,000 annual lifetime pension and that the police chief was pulling down nearly $300,000 in total compensation yearly.
A city planning commissioner at the time, Righeimer seemed to take particular delight in calling out the abuses of Costa Mesa cops. Driving through a DUI checkpoint on Harbor Boulevard next to the 405 Freeway, Righeimer later got out of his car, walked over to a supervisor and complained thee operation could cause a traffic hazard. Police later claimed he whipped out a city badge and demanded the checkpoint be shut down, something Righeimer denied.
During that race, the Costa Mesa's fire and police unions trucked a sign around town demanding that residents vote against Righeimer who, if elected, could join a new council majority critical of higher pensions and over-spending. There was so much type on the sign I think they even had Righeimer's kindergarten report card on there.
Things got nastier a month before Election Day when Bever and longtime Costa Mesa resident Christian Eric were putting up Righeimer campaign signs when they say they got the stink eye from cops in a slowly passing Costa Mesa unit. Moorlach and attorney Mark Bucher, who previously formed a political action committee with Righeimer aimed at helping more conservatives win elections, demanded an investigation.
Local public employees spent more than $100,000 opposing Righeimer, with six unions from neighboring regions spending another $33,000 endorsing his opponents. But Righeimer's message resonated with voters, who were just then learning lifeguards in neighboring Newport Beach and down coast in Laguna Beach were retiring with lifetime annual pensions well over $100,000, exceeding even many what Costa Mesa couples were together bringing home each year. Righeimer wound up being the top vote-getter in the 2010 City Council election, something he considered a voter mandate.