Since then, a loosely knit group of residents called the Westside Improvers successfully backed similarly minded council members, among them Mansoor and Eric Bever. Council veteran Gary Monahan joined the two on many votes but will leave the council in November because of term limits.
Voter interest reflects a concern about illegal immigration "that is more symbolic than substantive," said Louis DiSipio, associate political professor of political science and Chicano/ Latino Studies at UC Irvine. "Local office holders ... can't do much about illegal immigration, but they could alert people in higher office."
Return to Reason, which includes some former political enemies who have come together over this issue, believes the council should focus on local concerns -- whether soccer fields should be lighted, or the level of local taxes, for instance -- and not focus their attention on the federal immigration debate. City government also should operate more openly, with more public comment before council decisions, they said.
Before Mansoor and his majority ran the council "there was a sense one could disagree without being disagreeable," said Paul Freeman, a spokesman for C.J. Segerstrom & Sons. "We would like to see a return to a more focused, stable, civil approach."
Freeman said his company supported Return to Reason because it brought together a broad array of local citizens, among them nearly every former mayor.
"It's impressive," Freeman said. "We're not driving the bus at all, but we respect the people that are."
Members include former Costa Mesa mayors Joe Erickson, Arlene Schafer and Mary Hornbuckle, and business ownersIvan Calderson, owner of Taco Mesa restaurants. The group is supporting council candidates Garlich and Mike Scheafer in November.
Newport Beach political consultant David Ellis said immigration was a topic that was "the flavor of the month" and one that could draw voters.
"There is a core of voters in Costa Mesa concerned about illegal immigration, and the mayor has that base to count on when it comes to election time," he said.
Longtime resident Andrea Jacks is part of that base: "The changes that are happening are really dramatic as they relate to schools, gangs and so forth.... The federal government has not done its job, and we need to do what we can to protect our schools and hospitals."
Mansoor said the focus on illegal immigration is helping improve neighborhoods in his city. The former site of the job center, for example, is now home to a taxpaying business, he said.
Opponents said Mansoor's focus was too narrow, and stoked fears about immigrants, created a poor impression of the city and discouraged business.