Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plums, Tattoos, Motor Scooters And "Monsters"

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met on a rare Tuesday evening - Memorial Day was Monday - and took four hours to take care of business.  And, as an aside, this is the first Planning Commission meeting in recent memory at which a member of the Costa Mesa Police Department was deployed as Sergeant-at-Arms.  Fortunately, no riot occurred.

Public Comments saw several residents step up to voice their concerns about important issues. Former City Council candidate Chris McEvoy and pointed accusatory fingers at commissioners Colin McCarthy, Tim Sesler, Mayor Steve Mensinger and the commission in general.  He felt some of them had been untruthful and may have been influenced by campaign contributors.

Rick Huffman gave a PowerPoint presentation of what he felt was Out Of Scale Development.  He showed examples of several projects that he felt were not compatible to the surrounding neighborhoods.  The final slide is the development at the corner of Superior and 17th Street, which he felt was more appropriate because it sat in an industrial area.  He quoted from the Westside Overlay Plans, citing some of their goals which seemed to not be met by recent projects.

Barrie Fisher again criticized parking problems throughout the city.

Ann Parker again raised the specter of the proliferation of Sober Living Homes throughout the city, and particularly on the Eastside.  She complained that commissioner Stephan Andranian reversed his decision to appeal a recent decision on one case, forcing her to spend the money to have the item appealed.

Mary Spadoni echoed Parker and wondered about Code Enforcement activities.  She asked for an update on the R-2 Ordinance.

During Commissioner comments Stephan Andranian read a memo he sent to staff on the issue raised by Parker and felt that, without a new ordinance in place, nothing could be done, which is why he pulled his request for an appeal.  It's unclear whether Parker will continue with her appeal.

Tim Sesler speculated that 30/40 houses wouldn't make a dent in our housing shortage and responded to Fisher's comment about parking by observing that that problem exists wherever there is high density housing.

Colin McCarthy observed that we could solve the parking problem instantly by imposing a "No Parking After 2 a.m." rule city-wide.  Then he praised the Mayor's Ball.  He made an interesting observation - that it was nice to see so many staffers at the event, stating that they "didn't have to go", but it was nice that they did.  Yeah, no pressure there or anything... He also observed that the Fish Fry was coming this weekend.

Vice Chair Jeff Mathews had nothing to say.

Chairman Rob Dickson made up for it, though.  He wondered to staff about Code Enforcement staffing, the status of the R-2 Sober Living Ordinance, Westside Plans updates, the Parking issues and illegal units, indicating that he thought the city should adopt the policy in place in Newport Beach and other cities in which every home sale requires a pre-sale inspection by the City to ensure code compliance, including bootleg granny flats.

Public Hearing #1, the review of the development agreement of Pacific Arts Plaza was up next.  Dickson recused himself because the law firm for which he works does work for The Irvine Company, so Mathews took over.  This one didn't take long.  After a very brief staff report by Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn, the representative of The Irvine Company stepped up and said they had no current development plans for the property.  In a curious comment, McCarthy observed that he and his wife had been out to dinner and were driving home through that area and he actually complained that there was no traffic!  He's an odd duck.  The commission moved the item by minute order, 4-0.

Next came the request from Plums Cafe for some changes in operating hours and approval of their parking plans, to include the use of Valet Parking to accommodate the requirement for additional parking due to the expansion of their operations.   In what should have been a pretty straight forward item, the discussion stretched and stretched and it took nearly two hours before the vote was taken to approve the plan, 5-0, but not without some dicey moments.

Plums representative, Bill Dunlap, at one point told the commission that condition #10, which would require them to close the enhanced operation if the parking plan didn't work out, was "unacceptable".  Maybe, but it is a standard requirement and it remained a part of the approved plan.

The discussion waltzed around the recently-created 28 parking spaces adjacent to Pinkley Park behind the shopping center in which Plums is located.  They were off limits for the purposes of considering whether the expanded project is properly parked.  Several people spoke in favor of the plan, but the commission had a list of 13 business owners in the center who were against the project.  None of them took the time to come to the meeting to speak and explain why, though.

There was also discussion of the on-again, off-again potential agreement with the Pitfire Pizza store next door about using part of that parking lot for valet space.  Dunlap produced a barely legible memo, which McCarthy demanded be included in the record, that stated Pitfire's intent to cooperate.  A few minutes later, as the discussion moved forward, McCarthy said he had contacted the author of that letter - which had just been presented to them a few minutes earlier during the meeting - who indicated that he didn't want it to be part of the conditions of approval because he wasn't sure what the future of Pitfire might be and didn't want a potential new restaurant to be burdened with the agreement.  It's strange that McCarthy is communicating privately with a party to an issue before the commission DURING the meeting, and delivers his version of what that person said on an issue that is important to the decision the commission will be making.  Methinks the commissioners should be required to park their cell phones with the clerk during the meetings to avoid the inappropriate distractions.  Here's the barely-legible note Dunlap presented.

Another interesting element of this discussion was McCarthy's apparent disbelief of the parking study presented by the consultant hired by Plums, Linscott Law and Greenspan.  Instead, he relied on his own personal experience in the shopping center to tell him that there are parking problems.  As confirmed by Flynn, LLG has worked on such projects in Costa Mesa for nearly a half century and had NEVER had a traffic or parking projection prove to be inaccurate.  And yet, there is McCarthy, choosing to disregard their work in favor of his anecdotal personal experience.

Five people rose to speak on this project - most of them in favor of it.  The lone dissenter was Grant McNiff, who lives nearby on Tustin Avenue and has suffered from the Beach Pit BBQ joint for years.  He cited rats in the garbage, parking agreements that went south when ownership changed in an adjacent business where parking was part of the equation.  He counseled the council to get it right this time, indicating that Ogle Street was so impacted by traffic and parking now that it had not been swept for 28 years.

The commission approved the project with the valet parking intact and the staff will perform a personal review within 30 days of the completion of the project.  McCarthy wanted to "condition" the action on the applicant working with Pitfire, but the staff sat shaking their collective heads on that one.  It was NOT part of the approval.  Another report is due from the applicant two months later.  It was an interesting part of the evening.

Next up was the scooter store at 1536 Newport Blvd, which has been operating without a proper conditional use permit for a couple years.  A complaint apparently brought this up.  Apparently, according to the applicant who spoke, a lawsuit had been involved and the applicant won.  His partner in the business died a few months ago.  Several times he said all he wanted was some peace and quiet so he could run his business.  It only took about 20 minutes for the commission to pass this request unanimously.

Then came the biggie of the evening.  At 9:00 the commission began hearing about the 4-unit development at 2068 Maple Avenue and, once again, the spokesperson for the developer was former Director of Development Services and Deputy City Manager, Don Lamm, who appears to be making quite a nice living representing developers in Costa Mesa these days.  In a nutshell, this project crams four 3-story vertical units with rooftop patios onto a single quarter acre lot next to a similar project being built amongst single family homes on the other side of the street.  Lamm admitted that he advised his client to try to produce a product like the one next door.  This project does some sleight-of-hand with the parking - it provides the correct raw numbers, but goes about it in a strange way.  Five people spoke against this project, including the above-mentioned Huffman, who used it as a perfect example of the wrong project in the wrong place.  He cited the place next door as a "monster", then said the mindset is to build the monster, then use it as a justification for another monster next door.

In response to some of the criticisms, McCarthy pointed out that this project is governed by three sets of zoning rules: 1) It's zoned R2-MD (medium density), 2) The Westside Overlay and 3), The Small Lot Ordinance, all of which justify this kind of development.  He cited it as "textbook Urban Plan" development, and said "we can't change the zoning"... which was yet another strange thing for him to say.  The commission passed this item on a 5-0 vote.

The final item of the night was the request for a CUP for a tattoo shop at the corner of Bay Street and Newport Boulevard.  The commission took less than 10 minutes to hear and approve this request from Raymond Burciaga - a man who was raised in Costa Mesa and plans to raise his family here.  In a final bit of strangeness from McCarthy, he voted no because, "I don't like tattoo parlors."  Good Grief!

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Short Week, Thin Agendas And The Fish Fry

This week in Costa Mesa has an abbreviated schedule of official meetings.  The City Council has a Special Closed session Wednesday, HERE, (NOTE: The special closed session has been cancelled.. no quorum!) in which negotiations with the two Fire organizations will be discussed, but you can't attend.  The Parks and Recreation Commission meeting originally scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled, but we're not sure why.  The Finance Committee meets tomorrow, but few actually care about it or attend the meetings.  If you really want to attend, the meeting is in Conference Room 1A and begins at 3:30 p.m.  The agenda is HERE.

However, we DO have a Planning Commission meeting scheduled on Tuesday, May 26th, at 6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers.  You can read that agenda HERE.  There are only five (5) items on the agenda.

First is Public Hearing #1, HERE, is the two-year review of Pacific Arts Plaza, an area bounded by Bristol Street, Anton boulevard, Avenue of the Arts and 405 Freeway.  The staff recommends approval.
Next up is Public Hearing #2, HERE, a request from Plums Cafe, 369 E. 17th Street, Suite #8, for a conditional use permit for 1) valet parking service during peak hours on Saturday and Sunday, from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and 6 p.m.- 11 p.m. and, 2) an amendment to a zoning application to expand their use of space and deviate from the Shared Parking Requirements.  Staff recommends approval.
Public Hearing #3, HERE, is a request for a conditional use permit for sale/outdoor display, and repair services of motorcycles within 200 feet of a residential zone and use of storage containers and a planned signing program at 1536 Newport Boulevard.  Apparently the operator has been operating in violation of codes for more than two years and has been cited several times.  The staff recommends approval.
Public Hearing #4, HERE, is a planning application and tentative parcel map for four (4) detached residential units at 2068 Maple Avenue.  This is another of the three (3) story plus roof deck developments popping up all over the Westside like so many mushrooms.  This one includes deviations in lot size and front landscape setbacks and appears to meet the parking requirements.
Public Hearing #5, HERE, is a planning application for a conditional use permit for a tattoo shop at 2052 Newport Blvd., Suite 11.  This is another request from a business that has been operating in violation of code.  According to the staff report, the Planning Commission has previously approved CUPs for a dozen such tattoo shops in the past.  There's a chart in the staff report on handwritten page 3 listing those.  The image below shows the location of each, including the one proposed in this request. (Click on image to enlarge)

That's it for this meeting.  However, Friday, May 29th, begins the 68th annual Costa Mesa-Newport Harbor Lions Club Fish Fry and Carnival at Fairview Park.  You can learn all about it by clicking on their website, HERE.  Once there you can find out how to receive a coupon for $1.00 off on a Fish Dinner.  So, plan to spend at least part of your weekend at Fairview Park, for rides, food, entertainment and lots of fun.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memorial Day - Honoring The Fallen

Monday, May 25, 2015, is Memorial Day - that day we set apart to remember those men and women who gave their lives in the service of our country as members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

This weekend millions of Americans will use this long holiday weekend to trek to some distant place for the beginning-of-summer vacation.  Unfortunately, most will "celebrate" this holiday without ever giving a thought to what it actually means.  This is not a day to celebrate, but a day to remember and honor those who served and gave their all.  This image is of the Florence American Military Cemetery just south of Florence, Italy, the burial site of more than 4,400 American soldiers who lost their lives in World War II near this location.  My wife and I visited that hallowed place and were very moved by the pristine condition and the respectful presentation honoring those brave men.
Each year I've written about this day, hoping you will stop sometime next Monday and pause to reflect about the significance of this day of remembrance.  Last year I wrote this, HERE
To help you remember what this date is all about, please take a look at this chart, extracted from THIS SITE.  As you scroll down through those entries, take a few minutes to let those numbers sink in.  (Click on the image to enlarge, if necessary)

To help you understand what this actually means, let's get personal for a moment.  One of those 58,209 names listed under the Vietnam War is Sergeant Eddie Chervony, father of Costa Mesa City Employee Jeanette Chervony.  You can read about the bravery of Sergeant Chervony HERE.  He was one of the young men who bravely fought in that very unpopular war and gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country.

So, as you pause now to contemplate this holiday, here's a little help from Lee Greenwood.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Budget And OCC Meetings Scheduled Thursday Night

Two very important meetings are scheduled tomorrow, Thursday, and I'm not attending either one due to important family commitments.  However, that doesn't mean YOU shouldn't attend them and report back to me how things went!

6:00 P.M., ROOM 108, ADMIN. BLDG, OCC
Orange Coast College will hold yet another community outreach meeting to continue the discussion of their Vision 2020 expansion program.  This one involves the possibility of Student Housing on Campus and begins at 6:00 in Room 108 in the OCC Administration Building.  Here's the text of the most recent announcement of this meeting:

Reminder: Orange Coast College will be hosting a Community Meeting on Thursday, May 21 at 6 p.m., in Room 108 of the OCC Administration Building to report on the feasibility studies the college has conducted in regards to the possibility of the construction of student housing on the campus. A representative of the consulting firm of Brailsford & Dunlavey will be at the meeting to provide an overview of the firm’s findings related to the feasibility of adding residential housing on the OCC campus.

The meeting will be in the OCC Administration Building at Fairview & Arlington. Free parking will be available in Lot B next to the OCC Admin. Building. If you have additional questions please contact Doug Bennett at (714) 432-5126.

As you can see from the attached map, the Admin. building is immediately adjacent to Lot B at the Arlington Drive entrance.  Parking is free.  Click on the map to enlarge.
I've found these OCC meetings to be very informative and conducted in a very civilized manner.  The folks speaking typically are respectful of the questions asked and appear to do their best to provide answers.  Having attended several of them by this time, one thing is VERY clear - they DO LISTEN to the voices of their neighbors and other concerned residents.  That's very refreshing.  I hope you'll attend and participate.

Simultaneously, across the street at City Hall, the staff will conduct a community meeting on the proposed 2015-2016 Municipal Budget.  You can find the entire nearly 400 page document HERE

This meeting also begins at 6:00 p.m. and will be held in Conference Room 1A on the first floor of City Hall, immediately behind the City Clerk's office. 

In the past these meetings have been poorly attended, but have been quite valuable for those of us who did show up.  I suspect tomorrow's meeting will have a larger turnout than in years past.  The format has been more casual than, for example, a council study session.  Generally, the staff has been interested in hearing from the community on this subject before the council makes the final decision on this document the first meeting of June.

If I were to attend there area a few things I'd like to discuss.  Perhaps others might have the same questions.  Some of mine are:

1 - Why are we not budgeting money to expand Fire Station #4, which is pivotal to the full implementation of the deployment plan created by former Interim Chief Tom Arnold and modified by CEO Tom Hatch?

2 - On the same subject, why do we NOT cancel the contract with CARE Ambulance and begin transporting patients ourselves - and generating between $1-2 million in annual revenue for the city?  Could it be political?  Seems like a good question, since CARE has been a big campaign contributor and also contributes to events around the city.

3 - Why do we not require department heads to produce a more realistic staff requirement?   By over-projecting the needs it results in theoretical budgeted money saved by not filling positions, which is then used by the council as a piggy bank for their pet projects. 

4 - Why do we budget $4 million for the Library/Neighborhood Community Center project instead of putting at least part of that money toward more public safety staff?  Today we are nearly 30 positions short of our diminished Police Department authorized staffing level.  The Fire Department staff continues to be required to rack up horrible overtime hours because we do not adequately staff that organization.

5 - What kind of fiscal responsibility is it to have half our brand new fleet of Rescue Ambulances - at $250,000 a piece - sitting dormant?  This is directly related to the above items.  We cannot fully implement the Arnold plan.

6 - Why do we not purchase a new emergency generator - Capital Improvement Budget wish list line #93?  This is long, long, long overdue.

There are MANY other questions I have about the fiscal management of our city.  All are policy questions.  Things like what kind of a political character will put potholes before public safety?  Sure, the streets are nice, but our priorities are so screwed-up because of the hatred of the Police Department by a couple hack politicians that our city is NOT safe today.  No A.B.L.E.; A severely diminshed Gang Unit; No Narcotics Unit; A severely diminished Detective Bureau; 3/4 of our motorcycles sit unused; No K-9s, etc.  We cannot hire cops - new or Reserves -  fast enough to keep up with the hemorrhaging of officers retiring early and/or departing to other venues, including some of our most recent hires.  All this at a time when our streets are made significantly less safe by the increase of parolees and probationers in our community and the epidemic of sober living homes infesting our city.

So, attend the meeting.  Ask your own questions and listen to the answers.  I'm sorry I'll miss it, but we're getting our first chance to visit with our newest grand niece from Omaha, Miss Harper Hartte Cunningham, and we have our priorities in order. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Latest Scoop On Mesa Water's Conservation Plan

Greetings, water guzzlers.  As promised, today I bring to you the most recent, hot-off-the-presses information from our friends and water purveyors at the Mesa Water District.

Water Conservation Ordinance No. 26, HERE, and Resolution No. 1426, HERE, have both apparently been thoroughly vetted by attorneys and are now ready for public consumption.  The District has declared this to be an Emergency situation, which justifies the IMMEDIATE imposition of the new rules.  We are at "Level 1" as defined in the attachment to Ordinance No. 26.  However, two exceptions were made.  

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the new rules are in effect NOW, and today was the very first day we could water landscaping after the passage of the ordinance.  Next Saturday is the next day, unless it rains on Friday, at which time you can't water until next Tuesday.  Anyhow, the simple version is: You may water landscaping two days a week -  ONLY on Tuesdays and Saturdays and ONLY between the hours of 5 p.m and 8 a.m.  This DOES NOT apply to using  a hand-held bucket, watering can or similar device or use a hose with a positive self-closing water shut-off nozzle or device or for very short periods of time while adjusting or repairing an irrigation system.

Leaks must be repaired within 72 hours.

In an earlier post I told you that there would not be "Water Gestapo" patrolling to find scofflaws.  Well, it turns out that was based on incorrect information.  In fact, Mesa Water District staffers - both regular staffers and an "enhanced" crew hired specifically for this purpose - are patrolling our streets right now to help us conserve.  This week, if one of the staffers comes across a violation of the new rules - watering when you shouldn't, too much runoff, etc. - he might just get out of his truck and place a little reminder notice on your door, probably in the form of this notification, which will arrive in all our mailboxes within the next day or two in the form of a post card.
Next week, however, those same folks will begin officially citing those of us who violate the rules by placing a door-hanger on our doors and making an official record of the occurrence which will be entered into the Mesa Water database.  A letter will be sent to the violator.  Here's how it will work:

  • 1st violation - Door hanger advising of the violation and a letter sent to the violator.
  • 2nd violation - Same as the above.
  • 3rd violation - Same as the above, EXCEPT a $100 "Fee" will be imposed on your next water bill
  • 4th violation - Same as the above, EXCEPT the "Fee" will be $200
  • 5th violation - There is the very real possibility for other penalties to include disconnection of water service
Following this to it's most unlikely extreme, a member of the Mesa Water team could cite you next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and - if you continued to violate the rules - you might be looking at $300 in "fees" PLUS the discontinuation of your service.  NOBODY expects that to happen, but under the rules now in place, it COULD.  Mesa Water officials assure me that they want to work with all ratepayers to make these conservation measures work for everyone.


As a reminder, earlier Mesa Water defined restrictions on water
use that are permanent and included in this Conservation Program.  Here are the details of those previously-approved restrictions.  Some of these were amended by the new ordinance:

Limits On Watering Hours: No watering 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., except by hand
No Excessive Water Flow Or Runoff
No Washing Down Hard Or Paved Surfaces: Except for health and safety purposes
Obligation To Fix Leaks: In reasonable time (within 7 days of notice) (now within 72 hours)
Fountains: Only with re-circulating water
Limits On Washing Vehicles: Wash vehicles only with bucket or shut-off nozzle
Restaurants: Encouraged to only serve water on request
Hotels: Must provide guests option to not launder linen daily
No Installation Of Single-Pass Cooling Systems
No Installation of Non-Re-circulating Car Wash Systems
Restaurants Must Use Conserving Nozzles
Commercial Car Wash Systems Use Re-Circulating Water
Recycled Water Use Required: If available and cost-effective
Recycled Water - New Service: Required, if available and cost-effective

So, let's all try to do our part to help Mesa Water reach its 20% water consumption reduction goal.  I know we can do it.

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