Project Approved and Council Meeting Details
Well, after the second consecutive meeting on the subject lasting almost 3 hours the Costa Mesa Planning Commission finally approved the plans presented by former mayor Peter Buffa for his client, Burnham-Ward, to resurrect the failing South Coast Furniture Center Monday night.
NO DECISION REACHED A WEEK AGO
You may recall that in their regularly scheduled meeting last Monday the commission, running one short since Jim Fisler resigned for a position on the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board, went round and round with the developer and heard testimony from many residents from the "state streets" about the current negative impact the lighted signboards have on their neighborhood. It was finally shoved off until last night, hoping that Buffa and the development team could reach some common ground with the staff and residents.
The upshot was, apparently, a very significant outreach by Buffa and his team, including more visits by planning commissioners to the neighborhood as recently as Sunday night.
INCLUDED A "FIELD TRIP"
So, Monday - in a rare special meeting - the commission heard about the changes, and heard - again - from residents. This one even included a "field trip" into the parking lot for a look at a scaled-down version of the signs being proposed. Makes one wonder how many Brown Act violations took place in those few minutes of wandering around outside, doesn't it? That's old Ralph over there on the right.
APPLICANT NOT GIVEN CONDITIONS UNTIL THE MEETING!
One curious facet of this meeting was that the applicant was not provided copies of the new, revised conditions of approval until the discussion had begun. That's a very strange aberration from normal procedure and really put them at a significant disadvantage because their team had to caucus right there in council chambers to review them as Buffa was conducting the latest version of his dog and pony show.
A "CLUSTER WHAT"?
I must agree with one observer, who telephoned me about two-thirds through the meeting to offer his view that this was a real, well, I can't really write exactly what he said. Suffice it to say his two-word term for it described a group act that some might consider impossible. He's right, of course. The commission seemed to be trying to re-design the project before our very eyes - never a good idea.
The result was a project approved conditionally that will, in all likelihood, be appealed to the City Council because the applicant was not happy with at least one of the conditions imposed on him. And, I'm not sure Buffa and his client's team enjoyed being reminded frequently by Steve Mensinger that he, too, is a developer - implying that he could do it better. Chairman Jim Righeimer implied the same thing.
IMBALANCED COMMISSION = MICROMANAGEMENT
So, I must observe, once again, that this is a perfect example of just why having an imbalanced Planning Commission - overloaded with developer-types - is such a bad idea. We hope there will be some balance achieved when Fisler's replacement is named Tuesday.
WHO HAS THE BIGGEST BLADDER?
There is always a certain amount of puffery and posturing during these kinds of discussions, but Monday's meeting was kind of fun to watch. Several times Buffa felt it was necessary to remind the Planning Commission that his client always had the option to retain the current offending signs and actually build an approved but not-built even bigger and potentially more offensive sign on the property. In return the commission found it necessary to remind the applicants, including Buffa, that an appeal of this project to the City Council for even one of the conditions of approval opens the entire project up for discussion and possible revision - "de novo" was the term the city attorney used.
FULL AGENDA FOR COUNCIL MEETING TUESDAY
On that note, the staff reports missing from tonight's City Council meeting agenda originally have been posted for review. Yikes! There will be a whole lot of shakin' going on in the Council Chambers beginning at 6 p.m.
COUNCIL SHOULD CHANGE THE AGENDA RULES
It's hard to determine the order in which the agenda will be followed because there is very little on the Consent Calendar that would stretch out that segment until the grand witching hour of 7 p.m., when the public hearings can begin. So, it's very likely that the council will consider other items in a herky-jerky fashion until 7, at which time they will begin the public hearings. As I've said before, it's time for them to change the policy and just take the agenda in order beginning at 6 and not tie their hands with that arbitrary 7 o'clock rule.
TRAFFIC IMPACT FEES
Anyhow, among the many items they will consider in those public hearings are the Citywide Traffic Impact Fee Program. Based on the staff report and the condition of the economy, it appears they will likely vote for no change to the present program.
NEW "3R" COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Under Old Business they will finally make appointments to the Redevelopment and Residential Rehabilitation (3R) Committee. That should be interesting. There are several solid candidates for their consideration.
Then they will decide what changes, if any, are to be made to the AirBorne Law Enforcement (ABLE) Services that we jointly operate with Newport Beach. Budget constraints have forced both cities to look closely at this program, but I can't begin to guess how this one will go.
FINALLY, A NEW PLANNING COMMISSIONER
The third item under Old Business is the appointment of a new Planning Commissioner and, maybe, a new Parks and Recreation Commissioner. As I said earlier, it certainly appears that this one has all the earmarks of pure partisan politics. It looks to me like Gary Monahan's campaign helper, Jeff Mathews, may be shifted from the Parks and Recreation Commission to the Planning Commission and his slot backfilled with one of the new applicants. In my view this really reeks. Mathews seems like a competent guy although for much of his first six months on the Parks and Rec. Commission he was virtually mute. As I look over the applications for the Planning Commission I see several who have much, much stronger credentials than Mathews, both from an education and work experience standpoint. This will be interesting to watch.
COMBINE PLANNING & PARKS COMMISSIONS?
Then, ironically, the council will consider the suggestion that the Planning and Parks and Recreation Commissions be consolidated in the interest of cost savings. From the tone of the staff report, it looks like their preference would be to maintain both entities. We'll see how this discussion goes.
QUARTERLY BUDGET REVIEW
Under New Business the council will get a briefing on how we are doing after the first quarter under our new budget. I've read though most of the very comprehensive staff report and I must say things are even more bleak than anticipated. For example, right off the bat we are told that the city must tap the Fund Balance to a much greater extent than anticipated - never good news. Our revenues have fallen way, way short of projections and the new projections include the loss of our nearly $5 million investment in the now-defunct Lehman Brothers account. So, instead of using $15 million from the Fund Balance account we used slightly more than $19 million to balance the 2008/2009 budget!
HOW BAD IS IT?
How bad is our revenue stream, you ask? Well, Sales Tax decreased 18.61%; Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) decreased 17.93% and Property Tax increased only 2.23%. Overall, total revenues decreased $9.6 million.
EARLY RETIREMENT HEADWAY
Among the other things we are told is that, so far, 34 people have opted for the enhanced retirement program. The 10 point plan anticipated that perhaps 50 staffers would choose to take the money and run, and that of those, perhaps 25 positions could be abandoned. The staff has until the end of the year to make their decisions on this, so it will surprise no one if even more do decide to take advantage of the plan.
BAD NEWS IS WORSE
The entire presentation by Budget Research Officer Bobby Young is available in the staff report. Suffice it to say that revenues are down more than anticipated and expenses are greater. Basically, there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet because there are still so many unknowns - retirements, etc.
LOOK FOR SERVICE DECLINES
As a result, I think it's safe to assume that service levels within city departments may drop as staffing and the furlough programs being imposed begin to take affect.
SECURING "BORROWED" FUNDS
Young will also present to the council something called the Proposition 1A Securitization Program, in which the city tries to secure the funds virtually stolen by the state - nearly $3.5 million this year. I've read the plan and spoken with Young - it sounds like a reasonable, workable solution which gets us our money sooner rather than later.
BLEARY EYES MAKE FOR BAD DECISIONS
At the end of the council meeting - when the members are weary and prone to make bad decisions - the council will hear a proposal for the preparation for a Specific Plan to guarantee that the Orange County Fair and Events Center property remains a fairgrounds regardless who purchases it from the state. This should be very interesting.
MONAHAN THUMBS NOSE TO BANNER AND SIGN ORDINANCES
And, finally, there is Gary Monahan's proposal to declare a moratorium on the enforcement of our municipal code requirements on temporary signs and banners. I guess he thinks we need to make our city look like some of the tackiest cities in the county to rescue businesses that are in trouble. If this passes, I wonder how long it will be until we see a new, even bigger, even tackier sign plastered along the Newport Blvd. frontage of his restaurant? Like Wednesday morning?
LONG AND PAINFUL MEETING PREDICTED
All in all, today's meeting of the Costa Mesa City Council has all the earmarks of being a long, painful experience. We'll watch and let you know how it goes...