Long, Painful Night For Sandpiper Motel
In what might have been a fairly short Public Hearing last night - but wasn't - the Costa Mesa Planning Commission unanimously revoked the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel on Newport Boulevard. The action reduces the total number of units from fourteen (14) to eleven (11) that may be used for long-term housing at the facility. You can read the staff report, including the draft resolutions, HERE.
FOUR HOURS - SEEMED LIKE SIX
The hearing, which began at 6:12 p.m., stretched on and on and on until the final vote was taken 10:20 p.m. The decision is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven (7) days.
A COURT REPORTER PRESENT!
This was a unique hearing in that, for the first time in my memory, a court reporter - the lovely Janet Taylor - was assigned to provide a record of the testimony - hired by our contract attorney firm, Jones and Mayer. I say "testimony" because much of the time it felt like we were observing a court hearing.
Each member of the staff that would provide information had to be sworn-in, as well as the property owner and all of the folks he brought to speak on his behalf, including employees.
LOTS OF DATA FOR THE COMMISSION
Elena Gehrli, of Jones and Mayer, took the lead and presented the staff report on this issue. The members of the audience received only a very abbreviated version, without all the exhibits the Planning Commissioners used for their review. Their binder was about three inches thick - a couple of them held it up during the proceedings.
THE INFAMOUS "ROOM #139"
Much too much time was spent discussing a particular room - #139 - at the Sandpiper Motel. It was used as THE example of how shabby the place had become, even though a very lengthy explanation of how it happened was delivered by more than one speaker. It seems the room had been occupied for more than five (5) years by an elderly gentleman who was suffering from dementia over the past couple years. His room was found to be a "hoarder" site by the city staff who discovered it during an inspection. On and on the discussion went, chronicling the frequent inspections and photographic evidence depicting the conditions at each one. Other maintenance shortfalls were promptly addressed.
During the discussion it was clear that there was more than a little confusion on the issues at hand. A couple times Gehrli seemed ill-prepared for the evening. At one point, as Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and other commissioners were attempting to determine whether the property owner was at fault for not 'inspecting' rooms more frequently, Fitzpatrick asked Gehrli, "What limitations does the owner have on access to rooms?" That seemed like a pivotal question, since the commission was making the point that he had failed to be diligent in that regard. Gehrli's answer was, "I don't know what the law is." She should have - that's why we pay them the big bucks - more than $144,000 for one month on the Warrant that will be approved by the City Council tonight.
DEMANDING INFORMATION NOT REQUIRED
There was also some confusion about the duration of motel stays as prescribed in our code and the conditional use permit. Commissioner Tim Sesler - a lawyer - tried to grill the owner, Mike Lin - shown here with his lawyer, Allan Calomino - about documentation of long-term stays. Lin produced a report for March - all that is required - but Sesler was unhappy that he didn't produce more documentation, even though there is no requirement for him to keep those records.
A half-dozen speakers stepped up to support Lin, including the former owner of the Sandpiper Motel. Others included his manager and a couple women who worked there plus a resident.
SLIGHT MODIFICATION OF THE RESOLUTION
The commission eventually modified the proposed resolution authorizing the revocation - replacing segment A1 with new language citing Condition of Approval #7, then referring to the remaining other three segments of the resolution.
ALL PART OF THE PLAN...
One speaker, Kathy Esfahani of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, pointed out during her time at the speakers podium that it was clear what was happening here. She cited the fact that the next item on the agenda, the report on the Planning Commission 2013 Goals, tied DIRECTLY to this action. Goal #4 mentions, in part, the Sandpiper Motel specifically in the context of a new ordinance being drafted that would reduce long-term housing in motels to Zero! She, and speaker Jean Forbath of the same organization, both acknowledged that we should be going the other way - instead of eliminating long-term housing for poor in these motels we should be increasing the number of rooms made available to them. Those observations fell on deaf ears on the dais.
COSTA MESA MOTOR INN NEXT
Next up is the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, which - according to Interim Assistant Director of Development Services Jerry Guarrancino - will have a report that will be huge compared to the one they dealt with for the Sandpiper last night.
RIGHEIMER'S GOAL - OUST THE MOTELS
Lest you forget, not too long ago Mayor Jim Righeimer told us all from the dais that it was his goal to make the owners of "problem motels" take a more realistic view of the value of their properties by slamming them with code enforcement violations and frequent visits by the Police and Fire Departments. His goal, apparently, was to have them get their heads straight and sell their properties to developers, who could then re-purpose them as "affordable housing", either by modifying the existing structures or scraping the lots and building new facilities at about 50 units per acre.
As an aside, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger was plopped down near the rear of the auditorium all evening, sporadically texting away. I don't know if he was communicating with any members of the commission on the dais or reporting the progress to someone else not present in the building. What ever he was doing, he was working very hard at it. Heck, he may have just been posting self-lauditory items on his Facebook page. I wouldn't know, since he's blocked me.
At the very end of the meeting the commission reviewed the progress made on their goals, HERE. Take a few moments to look that short staff report over. It will give you a real feel for the kind of things this group and their benefactors on the City Council have in store for the city.
YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN FOR THE NEXT ONE
The next Planning Commission meeting is Monday, April 28th. I won't be at that one... I'll be attending the second Feet To The Fire Forum for candidates for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat being vacated by termed-out John Moorlach.
COUNCIL MEETING TONIGHT
Before that, though, is another marathon in City Council Chambers when the council meets tonight. Ugh...