BIA Takes A Second Bite Of The Apple
This afternoon, in a crowded conference room on the second floor of City Hall, members of the Planning staff and the public had a chance to hear from representatives from the Orange County Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California for a second time on their views/preferences as the City of Costa Mesa moves forward with the General Plan Update. It's not clear to me why they got two shots at this, but the meeting was fruitful. They had yet another chance to hear residents voice their opinions, much to their probable chagrin.
This was the second time we've had a chance to hear from these same folks - I covered the first meeting last May, HERE. The same players from the BIA attended this meeting - Chief Executive Officer Michael Balsamo and Victor Cao, their head of governmental affairs as well as a couple of local developers.
STAFF AND RESIDENTS
Three staff members - Gary Armstrong, Director of Economic and Development Services, Claire Flynn, Assistant Development Services Director and Minoo Ashabi, Principal Planner attended. I was among more than a dozen residents who attended this meeting, most of whom have attended the other meetings dealing with the General Plan and who have been frequent speakers on the issue.
Balsamo discussed the content of the letter he sent to Armstrong earlier this month that outlined what amounts to a wish list from their organization as the City moves forward with considerations on the General Plan Update. Here are the items he included in his preferences for the city to consider:
- Maintain and enhance existing Overlay Zones and Specific Plan.
- Consider use of a Specific Plan or Overlay Zone for the Harbor/Newport Blvd Corridors that promotes a moderate increase in density up to 50-60 dwelling units per acre at appropriate locations.
- Streamline entitlement process through use of by-right development and staff level administrative review.
- Provide assistance in parcel consolidation when possible.
- Reduce parking requirements in order to promote smart growth and alternate modes of transportation.
- Realign open space requirements and park in-lieu fees using most recent market and demographic data and in accordance with State Law.
As you might expect, members of the public were curious about some of those ideas, particulary the density numbers and the parking issue. As it stands right now, south of the 405 Freeway density of no greater than 20 dwelling units per acre is permitted and this city has an on-going and pervasive parking problem throughout.
DENSITY AND RENTALS
Many of the residents spoke to the issues outlined above, and several others, too. Among them were the current imbalance between rental units and owner-occupied housing. The city is upside down, with a 60/40 ratio of renters to owners. Former councilman Jay Humphrey, who attends many of these meetings, reminded the BIA folks that Costa Mesa is the 36th most densely-populated city in the country - not county or state, but in the entire nation. It's hard to imagine increasing housing density in any areas of the city with that bit of knowledge banging around in our heads.
WESTSIDERS - "STOP PICKING ON US!"
When the BIA folks suggested that not every area should be targeted for increased density, members in attendance from the Westside reacted as you might expect - with no small degree of rancor. Their view is that the Westside is just fine, thank you very much, so quit picking on us to "fix".
RIG AND FITZY'S FAVORITE SUBJECT
The conversation frequently turned to the issue of "problem motels" - something Mayor Jim Righeimer and Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick have chosen as their cause of the moment. If you've read this blog for awhile, you know this issue has been simmering for several years. I agree that something needs to be done to clean up several of the motels that have become havens for drug use and prostitution, plus are "affordable housing" for many down-and-out families.
It was during one of these discussions near the end of the 80 minutes we were together that I told the BIA folks of the mayor's recent and frequent exposition of his plans to put pressure on motel owners to either change their ways or sell out. Currently, many of those units are cash cows - Righeimer's favorite term - bringing in mountains of cash for the owners who are not disposed to either maintain them nor follow established rules.
SQUEEZE THE OWNERS
Righeimer's plan, as mentioned many times in public forums recently, is to adopt some new ordinances - a "Nuisance Ordinance" and an "Excess Use of Resources Ordinance" to squeeze the owners into compliance. His thought, as he described it many times, is to change the owner's perception of the value of their properties by imposing fines and other sanctions - fees for public safety calls, for example - to de facto force the value downward. That might make it possible for developers to acquire those parcels at a rate that would pencil out if converted to - you guessed it - high density housing! As Righeimer has so eloquently put it - "We have to be willing to trade drugs and prostitution for higher density." I didn't, and still don't, think those are, nor should be, our only options. And, I'm sure not eager for the mayor to get us embroiled in more legal action with that kind of approach. He has acknowledged that his plan "might lead to more litigation", and it doesn't seem to bother him at all. He's a one-man retirement plan for local law firms, for goodness sake!
"WE DIDN'T ASK FOR THAT!"
An interesting, relevant, sidebar... when I told the BIA folks the above, Balsamo's reaction was one of surprise, then he said something like, "We didn't ask for that". I understood his reaction, since there's a very good chance the mayor may have some serious legal issues to deal with if he, in fact, is planning to force long-time, profitable, tax-paying business owners out of business. Then, again, he's the lawyer's best friend....
According to the City web site, HERE, the next General Plan meeting is Land Use Part 2, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.at the Neighborhood Community Center, 1845 Park Avenue (Lions Park) on Thursday, September 12, 2013.
The next one, a Circulation Element Workshop, is from 6 - 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 18, 2013, at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at 99 Fair Drive, next to Police Headquarters. More on each of those as the dates approach.
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