Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Surprises In Marathon Planning Commission Meeting

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met last night and, although most observers expected it to be a long meeting, few expected it to run well past midnight.  Even fewer expected there to be charges of racism leveled against staff members.  It was a night of surprises.

I arrived at the Planning Commission meeting a few minutes late, finding half a hundred people in the auditorium.  My grand plan was to attend the Organics Recycling meeting first, then scamper to the Planning Commission meeting.  However, that first one was packed to overflowing, so I gave up my seat and adjourned to the other meeting.  I'll attend the next Organics Recycling meeting Saturday morning at the Neighborhood Community Center starting at 9 a.m.

Back to the Planning Commission.  I arrived just as Public Comments were finishing and Commissioner Comments were about to commence.  I noted that Vice Chair Jeff Mathews was absent.  Apparently an earlier speaker addressed the development on Victoria Street approved by the City Council last week with changes recommended by the Planning Commission removed because Chairman Rob Dickson found it necessary to speak about it.

Colin McCarthy responded to apparent criticism of parking in the city, indicated that he'd been working under the assumption that Costa Mesa had the tightest parking rules in the county.  Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn, advised him that a consultant is working on that issue and will report back this summer.  He also addressed traffic and home prices, indicating that he wants to invite someone from the Orange County Business council to address home prices county-wide and citing the lack of housing stock as a major negative on our economy.  He also said he was looking forward to the Mayor's Ball, which he described as his favorite event of the year - a great place to just laugh and joke.  I smiled...

Tim Sesler complained about people complaining about Westside housing - must have meant during public comments.  He attributed the traffic problem to high density apartments, and stated that people want to live in the homes being built on the Westside.

Stephan Andranian spoke about parking and the First Friday Road Show, which he described as a great event.

Rob Dickson again spoke about the Victoria Street project, citing a "hybrid plan" the developer put together for the City Council that the Planning Commission had not seen - apparently defending their decision, which was overturned by the council.

One of the surprises of the evening was Public Hearing #1, a nice little two-unit development on Orange Avenue.  This item took an hour for the commission to hear, and then they voted to continue it off calendar so the staff could work with the developer again on a 3-1 vote.  Sesler voted No.

Public Hearing #2, the appeal of the denial of a permit for a radio antenna at an office building location on Fair Drive at Harbor Blvd, brought the most distasteful moments of the evening.  The item was actually pretty straightforward.  They wanted to build a 70 foot tall radio tower and the maximum permitted is 30 feet.  However, when the appellant, Mrs. Mary Luna, began talking she eventually accused Flynn of being racist because Mrs. Luna felt "unwelcome" in Costa Mesa.  I've never heard such a preposterous charge uttered by any applicant.

Adding to that theme, Victor Mendez, the founder of the organization who wanted the radio station, emphasized his duel ethnicity - Latino and Black - then dragged out a document that apparently showed that he was an American citizen.  Part of their spiel was that the FCC had "assigned them" to Costa Mesa.  Clearly, all the people in their entourage had trouble comprehending exactly what the FCC told them, and they certainly didn't understand the municipal code.  The City enlisted lawyer Jonathon Kramer - a radio expert - to help sort out the issues.  Resident Art Goddard, who helped create radio antenna ordinance a
couple decades ago, stepped up to refute the claims by the appellant.

As the discussion continued Sesler - clearly angry - advised Luna that,  "crying racism is a very serious charge and reflects very poorly on your organization."  He was right.

In the end the commission voted unanimously to uphold the Zoning Administrator's rejection of their application.  It was very bizarre.

At 9:00 p.m., following a very short break, the commission began hearing Public Hearing #3, the relocation of the Sutra Lounge from one end of The Triangle to the other, the placement of a restaurant in the vacated spot and the possible use of 7,000 square feet of wine storage space in that center.  Former Director of Development Services, Don Lamm, represented the owners of The Triangle and first provided some history of the shopping center and told us that the current owner had spent $30 million on the center since acquiring it in 2012.  Much of the discussion revolved around the controversial planned patio,  noise, police calls for service and parking.  Eleven members of the public spoke on the issue - 7 for and 4 against.  One of the speakers, Mary Spadoni, mentioned that we lack the ability to enforce our drunk driving laws. 

Rob Ariano, Marketing and Event Director of Sutra Lounge, told the commission that they had reevaluated their situation and the request for the patio along 19th Street was being withdrawn.

Much discussion was about parking, both within and outside The Triangle.  Neighbors complained about drunks in their neighborhood and parking from cars using The Triangle.

Eventually - at 11:25 p.m. - the commission voted in favor of the requested actions, 4-0,  but wanted the withdrawal of the patio codified and parking reviewed before the 7,000 square feet could be leased for any purpose.

Which brought us - the 30 folks remaining in the auditorium at 11:30 - to Public Hearing #4, the 177-unit project on West 17th Street at the corner of Pomona Avenue, the site of the old J.C. Carter industrial venue.  This site has been vacant for years, with the contamination of both the water and soil a major factor in it not being developed.  According to McCarthy, the cost of remediation was more than the value of the land at one point.
Lamm was the representative on this project, too.  He began his presentation at midnight, emphasizing that this was exactly the kind of project the Westside Overlays anticipated.  He made a curious statement when he said, "This project has no impact on traffic in this area."  Really?  Hard to imagine, isn't it? We're adding 400 people to an area!

The first member of the public to speak on this item was former council candidate, Chris McEvoy, who introduced himself as "Boycott Skosh Monahan's".  He leveled many complaints about dense development on the Westside, traffic, checking garages for use parking cars and not storage and overflow parking.  Ten more people spoke - many of them the same young people who spoke - twice - in favor of the Victoria Street project last week.  Eight speakers favored the project.  McEvoy and two others did not.

No small degree of concern was expressed about the need to clean up this site, described as a possible Super Fund toxic site by McCarthy.  The water side of the clean up is complete, but millions of tons of dirt will have to be "remediated" - maybe completely removed and replaced - before homesites can be built.  When asked for the possible price point for the units, Lamm speculated they might be in the low $600,000 to mid $800,000 range.

When it finally passed - at 1:01 a.m. - Chair Dickson required the full bathrooms shown on the plans for the live/work units that formed part of this project be reduced to 1/2 baths - a sink and toilet - to preclude using them for another bedroom or a rental unit.  During the discussion McCarthy took time to thank the people who spoke in favor of the project, lambasting those who "come down here and say they hate everything, then go away."  Those, of course, would be the people who take the time to actually study the issues, go survey the project sites and take time out of their busy lives to dare to step up to speak to the commission on these important issues.

So, that was it for the evening/morning.  More on that Organics Recycling meeting later.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Dickson is exactly what we don't need in a Planning Commissioner. If you are going to take comments, and they have to, then the opposition should be as valued as the proponents. The opposition actually has more value as you gain sense of the issues that need to be corrected. The shills from the developers simply nod their heads, collect their payment and go home. However, if Lamm can actually say that 400 plus people in that already overcrowded area will not have an impact, he needs to be replaced. That is a ridiculous comment. Average 2.5 cars per family, and sometimes more. I easily see 10 car trips per day per household if children are involved. That is 4,000 car trips. But even if you cut that in half, its 2,000 car trips per day, which is significant. Plus, I am sure our PC knows this, and ignores that fact.

5/12/2015 07:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

It's so good that the Newport bosses have people like Colon to criticize dissent.

Riggy's little Lamm knows damn well what's going on, yet he just does what his employers say.

And what's with the young people public comments group? Have high schools replaced glee clubs with shill clubs?

5/12/2015 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

My favorite part of the meeting was when a project's neighbor complained about retired city planner Perry Valantine and asked if he was still alive. Dickson assured her that he was. I emailed Perry and let him know he is still loved in the community.

5/12/2015 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous xyn bohemia said...

no i think colin meant to say "costa mesa has the tightest parking spaces in the county"

5/12/2015 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Rob Dickson chastised and scolded those who spoke against the project? What is going on with him?
Rob's job as planning commissioner is to listen to all constituents, not just the paid group that agrees with all the HDD. Where does he get off lecturing people who are impacted? Their property depreciates thanks to the ugly HDD projects being built next door to them!

I wonder about this group of people traveling from PC meetings to CC meetings. We know most if not all are in land development or RE, always in favor of more cement, less space, less privacy, little to no sunlight and rooftops decks used as the only "open space" in the project.
Do they realize how absurd they sound?
What do they get for their performances?

5/12/2015 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

McCarthy claimed that the word "density" was a hot-button, and instead started to use the the words "squished" and "smushed".

Here is another synonym: obtuseness.

5/12/2015 03:52:00 PM  

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