Council Revokes CUP for Sandpiper Motel, And More
OK, so I spoiled the ending... it wasn't really a surprise, though, was it? More in a minute...
HARBOR SOARING SOCIETY ITEM CONTINUED
When Mayor Jim Righeimer announced that the renewal of the Harbor Soaring Society agreement was being continued until a future meeting I thought for a moment we might have an early evening last night.
Then, when he announced that the issue involving the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel would be moved to the end of the meeting my thoughts turned to "Well, he's going to clear the decks for a long item."... which turned out to be accurate.
Ten people spoke during Public Comments, meaning that none were trailed to the end of the meeting early this morning. Subjects ranged from need to create policy dealing with displaced residents as a result of new housing replacing old housing (Harold Weitzberg); the need for further study on the issue of a new library (Charles Mooney read Eleanor Egan's letter); the Military Affairs Team collection for the 1/5 Marines, the budget workshop, the need for space for the Veterans and possibly swapping the Senior Center building to be used as a library (Beth Refakes); the need for more animal control officers (Al Melone); Dan Joyce was a scapegoat (Chuck Perry); Crime, not enough cops (Robin Leffler); 2447 high density units have been considered by Righeimer since he joined the council and that he puts development before residents (Chris McEvoy) and the 60th Anniversary Celebration scandal (Teresa Drain).
During Council Member Comments Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger began by assuring folks that he was 100% behind a new library, then cautioned folks that it's an election year so people will be commenting who want no change. His statement was, "As you listen to the drumbeat of the partisans who want to talk about problems in the city remember it's a pro forma for the election." Basically, he was telling the audience to ignore speakers. Typical! This from a guy who can't bother to pay attention to the proceedings during the meetings.
Sandy Genis mentioned the Chamber of Commerce awards to student scholars, the Library Foundation, Memorial Day services at Harbor Lawn Cemetery on Monday, John Wayne Airport issues are regional issues and thanked the Costa Mesa Fire Department for 1) extinguishing the recent fire at Talbert Park and, 2) thanks for supporting the San Diego firefighting efforts.
Wendy Leece also addressed the library issue and suggested the possible use of large rooms at the Senior Center and the Costa Mesa Golf Club to supplement the Neighborhood Community Center; the Parks and Recreation Commission should address Dog Park issues; the need for a Veteran's venue. She also provided a snapshot of our legal fees for the past couple years. Jones & Mayer cost us $1.386 million in FY 12/13 and has cost us nearly $1.4 million so far this year. Jones Day has cost us over $1.7 million working on the CMCEA case while Liebert Cassidy Whitmore has been a bargain at $290,000 last year.
Righeimer told us his recent trek to Las Vegas - he returned earlier that afternoon - was very successful and that the staff will produce a report on it soon. He told us "The Senior Center is going to be fine.", and that the current Board is just overwhelmed by the issues facing it. He said "Professional Management", plus $500,000 in the budget for next year, will help. He told us a new library would cost $35 - 50 million. Responding to a letter by Air Fair in the Daily Pilot, and addressing the "regional needs" of the airport, he said, "We have to be sure we do what's best for our city." He refuted the criticism by speakers observing that we don't have enough police, said the Chief (Gazsi) is doing a great job recruiting and that the police just got another 4% raise.
During his segment CEO Tom Hatch mentioned that three public safety members were honored recently. Scott Purcell was named firefighter of the year; Michael Cohen was named Police Officer of the year and Scott May was named Supervisor of the year. In response to a question by the public he told us there was a place on the city web site to offer suggestions for the upcoming Charter discussion on June 3rd - the final public hearing on the issue.
125 EAST BAKER MOVES FORWARD
After Righeimer moved the Sandpiper issue to the end, the discussion began on the two items involving the 240 apartments that will be built near John Wayne Airport, at 125 East Baker Street. Three people spoke against it. Robin Leffler said a contiguous manufacturer has said they're moving out, recognizing the signs that will eventually push them out. Leffler bemoaned the loss of yet another manufacturing business and referred to "helter skelter zoning". Others cited the lost opportunity for affordable housing. Both items passed on 4-1 votes.
QUITE THE COMMUNITY SALESMAN...
During the discussion Righeimer, in response to the observation that the building that will be replaced is not in bad shape and that's only vacant because the owner want to sell it, said it's "not a good office and around the corner there's a massage parlor that we know is just prostitution." Really, Mr. Mayor? So, what he's saying is that it's NOT OK for there to be an office building there, but he's just fine with 240 apartments being located "just around the corner" from prostitutes. Interesting...
COSTA MESA MOTOR INN
The discussion then turned to the General Plan Screening request for 236 luxury apartments at the location of the current Costa Mesa Motor Inn - one of Righeimer's infamous "problem motels". It seems the owner of the property has apparently "seen the light" - those are actually probably stars from being bludgeoned by code enforcement, law enforcement and fire inspections - so he wants to build apartments with golf course views. Former Director of Development Services Don Lamm - now a
However, Lamm told us that they have NO long term renters. Funny, that doesn't seem to fit with what we've been told by city staffers in the recent past.
SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF THE VACCUUM CLEANER SHOP
Sandy Genis inquired about the vaccuum cleaner shop that occupies a small section of land that seems to hamper a proper project. She was told that negotiations are ongoing with the owner to buy the property, but that he has cell towers on it that produce income for him. Righeimer chimed in that somebody needs to talk with him because those towers will become very ineffective once the new building is built. So, another long-time business will be squeezed out.
MAY BE AN OPPORTUNITY
Several speakers addressed this project. Weitzberg observed that this may be an opportunity to provide more affordable housing - a thought that was echoed by several other speakers. In fact, one suggested that it become 100% affordable.
TOO MANY PROBLEMS
Cynthia McDonald spoke with eloquence, bemoaning the loss of good businesses to development, citing the need to diversify so we don't have to count on South Coast Plaza Sales Tax revenue so heavily. She observed that the density of this project - 59 units per acre - nearly triples the previous benchmark of 20 units per acre south of the 405 freeway. She also observed that it perpetuates the imbalance between home owners and renters in the city, and that we would be getting NO park fees from this project. She cited a need for a long-term strategy.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MERCY HOUSE?
Margaret Mooney wondered what happened to the Mercy House affordable housing plan.
A HAPPY GUY
Nick Melvin, who manages the Harbor Center across the street from the proposed project, expressed joy at the prospect of the new apartments. He cited high crime - presumed from the Costa Mesa Motor Inn - in his center.
STOP! - AND LISTEN
Kathy Esfahani, representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition urged the council to STOP, and listen to the comments. She urged them to look beyond the needs of the rich (developers) toward the needs of the community.
Jay Humphrey observed that this project will reduce the inventory of affordable housing in the city and that it will set a precedent for 5-story developments throughout the city.
GENIS SUGGESTS A "COIN"-LIKE PROCESS
Gary Monahan, still in the auditorium, made a motion to accept the plan (Mensinger seconded) and when Leece began to express a view he tried to cut her off. Genis suggested it could prejudice the General Plan before it's completed and also suggested that, just as the COIN process provides transparency in labor negotiations, there should be some mechanism to provide the same transparency in these kind of transactions.
Mensinger said this was not a place anyone should have to live in - he used the word "despicable" and cited 150 square foot rooms and described those who own such places as slumlords. I'm sure the owners felt good about that characterization.
Righeimer told us the current model for housing doesn't work and that we already have density. He suggested meeting with Esfahani to talk about the issue. Then, talking about the residents of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, he said, "These people are not residents of Costa Mesa - they come in for a week to get a fix on drugs." After more discussion the vote was taken and it passed, 4-1, with Genis voting NO.
Finally, after a short break and the departure of Monahan who left because he had a conflict - his bar is just across the road from this motel - the council reconvened at 8:50 p.m. to begin the discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commissions revocation of the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel, which would have changed it's authorization for long-term housing from 40% to 25%, the current code for all other motels. When the commission revoked it I wrote about it HERE. Last night went about the same and took about three and a half hours to do it. I'm NOT going to try to cover every word spoken on this issue last night. I will try to give you my sense of the proceedings.
First, Righeimer reached a point where he chided and scolded the owner of the motel as being a bad manager, not knowing how to run his business and on and on. Since this was an appeal of the Planning Commission's decision to revoke the Conditional Use Permit, it became what is known as a de novo hearing - starting from scratch. Since I sat through the whole thing before I knew we were in for a long night. A court reporter was making a record - just as had been the case before - and a lawyer from Jones and Mayer presented our "case", assisted by one of our code enforcement officers who worked on the case. After that the lawyer for the owner took over and presented their views.
A "DRIVEWAY" TO MORE DEVELOPMENT?
Some may recall that the contiguous Rolling Homes Mobile Home Park - a senior living cite covering nearly 3.5 acres - was prime for development last year when it was discovered during THAT General Plan Screening process that there was no access to the property, so it died. If this project is successful it could pave the way - literally - to development of the mobile home park - a point more than one speaker mentioned. In fact, Genis included that observation in her wrap up.
Eleven speakers addressed this project. Many, again, spoke about the loss of affordable housing. Others speculated about just why this motel was being tagged with the "nuisance" tag when there were NO police reports as part of the public record. Calls for service fell right in the middle of the array presented a few months ago during the Nuisance Ordinance proceedings.
CAMPAIGN OF REVERSE CONDEMNATION?
Finally Leece moved - Genis seconded - that the council reverse the revocation, citing the lack of findings to support the revocation. During her comments following her second of the motion Genis said our lawyer had said this was "a first step", and she wondered toward what? She also observed that it appears to be a "campaign of inverse condemnation." She suggested that the "first step" was to condemnation of the property and declaring it a "nuisance" in the CUP revocation resolution paved the way for future condemnation.
CHALLENGING HIS CORE BELIEFS
During the discussion Leece asked Righeimer how he squared his "small government" positions with what they were about to do here - micromanaging a private business. She wanted to know how that worked. Righeimer said, "Thank you for the political statement.", which made me laugh outloud! If there ever was a political pontificator from the dais, Jim Righeimer is the guy! He said, "This is exactly what government is supposed to do!" Leece said, "So, it's OK for the government to tell this man how to run his business?", to which Righeimer replied, "Absolutely!"
CUP REVOKED - SANDPIPER A "NUISANCE"
OK, you've got the idea. The vote was taken on Leece's motion to reverse the Planning Commission decison. It failed, 2-2. Then Righeimer moved to uphold the Planning Commission decision and the vote was also 2-2, which means no decision and the Planning Commission decision is upheld and the conditional use permit is revoked - and the Sandpiper Motel is now tagged as a "nuisance" - which could be the death knell downstream.
ALL LONG-TERM HOUSING SOON TO BE OUT
And, by the way, there's a move afoot at City Hall to eliminate ALL long-term housing in ALL Costa Mesa motels
That item finished at 12:30 and one speaker in Public Comments warned us of creeping radioactivity before the meeting finally adjourned at 12:35 a.m. Ugh!