In-N-Out - In Or Out?
At their meeting Monday night the Costa Mesa Planning Commission gave approval to In-N-Out Burger to build a new restaurant in town at the location of the former Kaplan's Deli, on Harbor Blvd. at the 405 Freeway. You can read Alan Blank's article in the Daily Pilot HERE.
ATTACK DOGS IN ACTION - AGAIN
Even though the plan was approved, everything was not all rosy for the developer. Chairman Jim Righeimer and his tag-team partner, Steve Mensinger, demonstrated one more time just what developers in our city will face as they bring projects forward.
APPROVED, WITH GREAT UNKNOWN COSTS
The project was approved - without the signage requested by the applicant - and it included a condition of approval that the applicant didn't like. I can't blame them. It dealt with the need to replace a chain link fence with something spiffier - like a block wall with wrought iron, for example - and also required them to work out an arrangement with the city and Cal Trans as to just who would be responsible for the maintenance of roughly 1500 square feet of landscaping. Depending on how those negotiations go, the costs to the applicant could be very significant.
MC CARTHY TRIED MEDIATION - AND FAILED
Both Righeimer and Mensinger assumed their bully demeanor and made it clear that because they, as developers, had done such projects in the past, they expected the applicant to follow their demands. Rookie commissioner Colin McCarthy, a real estate lawyer, twice tried to get Riggy and Mensinger to back off, and was joined by Vice Chair Jim Fisler - to no avail. They dug in their heels and refused to modify their demands. The motion approving the project - with the contested condition of approval - eventually passed unanimously.
BULLYING DOESN'T GET IT
I don't like what I see in Righeimer and Mensinger on the Planning Commission dais. They demonstrate impatience with applicants and Riggy short-cuts procedures. Last night, for example, he failed to give the applicant a final chance to address the contested issues before calling for the vote. He's making up the rules as he goes along, which is certainly a change in atmosphere from other recent Planning Commissions, who followed the rules and conducted hearings with professionalism, decorum and respect.
"EX PARTE"? WHAT'S THAT ALL ABOUT?
Another thing that I find curious is Righeimer's question of his fellow commissioners inquiring if they had had any "ex parte communications" with the parties to the items before them, as though that's a problem. The term "ex parte" is a legal term derived from the Latin and means "By or for one party". I'm not sure what is driving this line of inquiry by Righeimer, but the implication that having private conversations with developers and applicants before the commission is somehow out of line is misleading at best and certainly should offend his fellow commissioners and their predecessors. Every good commissioner in recent memory has considered it his or her job to do just that - visit sites and talk with the principals of the projects to get a clear understanding of the issues.
COUNCIL NEEDS TO REIN-IN RIGGY
I don't know if the applicants will appeal the project to get the wall and landscaping demands sorted out and to re-address the sign issue, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they do. Riggy's playing fast and loose with the rules and we're going to see many of these kinds of situations during his tour as Chairman. The City Council needs to get this resolved in a hurry or they're going to be seeing a lot of appeals of this Planning Commission's rulings.