Rancorous Marathon Planning Commission Meeting
7 HOURS, 45 MINUTES!
Wow! Now that I've regained consciousness I'm going to try to give you a short summary of what happened last night at the Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting. It was one for the ages. It began at 6:00 p.m. and, although the commission continued the four items on the agenda that were NOT sober living issues, they still didn't make it through the agenda. Three sober living items were also continued to future meetings and the meeting still ran until 1:45 a.m. today! Yes... I watched it all! Yes.... I'm thrashed, but I'll give it my best shot.
SHORT-HANDED COMMISSION CONTINUES 4 ITEMS
The commission was short-handed - Colin McCarthy was absent. Right off the bat Chairman Rob Dickson advised the audience - a packed house - that four items, #1, #2, #3 and #12, would be continued to a special meeting NEXT Monday evening. The commission went through the process of officially "continuing" those items for the record and took NO testimony from the public on any of them.
ANGRY SPEAKERS TOOK AN HOUR
However, many residents of the College Park community were in the audience and they had been led to believe that their comments WOULD be heard last night. Dickson angered them when he told them that they could use their 3 minutes during Public Comments - when non-agenda items may be heard. So, 21 of the 27 speakers during Public Comments directly addressed item #12, the proposed development at 440 Fair Drive. Public Comments took more than an hour to get through.
CONTRACT STAFF PROVIDED BAD INFORMATION
A sidebar at this point. Last week I contacted City Hall when I saw the agenda included items to be continued. I specifically asked about 440 Fair Drive because the residents have been jerked around on this development for months. I was told, in response to my specific inquiry, that even though 440 Fair Drive would be continued to November 21st, members of the public WOULD be able to speak to the issue. Not one mention was made about having to use their "Public Comments" time to do so. This information was provided by one of the many consultants that now inhabit the Planning Department - not a knowledgeable city employee. This was BAD staff work and it angered a lot of folks in the contiguous community.
In addition to all the folks who joined the first speaker, Tamar Goldmann, and addressed 440 Fair Drive, several others spoke.
Kim Hendricks reminded the commissioners of their job.
Beth Refakes gave us a recap of the recent Trunks For Toys project at Camp Pendleton. She and others from the Military Affairs Team took donated candy down to the children of our adopted Marine unit - the 1/5 Marines.
Steve Chan asked the three commissioners whose terms do not expire in January - Chair Dickson, Vice Chair Jeff Mathews and Commissioner Stephan Andranian - to join Commissioners McCarthy and Tim Sesler by resigning at the earliest possible date. That was interesting.
Mary Spadoni praised the grass roots efforts that accomplished the passage of Measures Y and AA.
JUMPING OFF THE SOBER LIVING HOME CLIFF
Then the commission began hearing the Sober Living issues before them. This effort was spearheaded by Contract Deputy City Attorney, Tarquin Prezioni and Contract Assistant Development Services Director, Sherri Vander Duessen. You will recall in my previous entry I observed that her contract is being extended at the City Council meeting tonight through next June - a contract that will cost the city $499,999.00. She led the discussion by first giving a brief primer about the laws regarding Sober Living patients.
Public Hearing #4, the request for a Special Use Permit for a group home with 6 residents at 1180 Augusta Street, commenced at 7:20. It took nearly an hour to wade through this one - the first of eight such issues to be heard last night. Big time lawyer Steve Poulin - who represented several operators last night - began his night by observing that the Planning Commissioners were "creatures of the City Council" - I suspect that endeared him to them. After a lengthy discussion and public comments by eight members of the public during which one, Steve Chan, encouraged the commission to NOT burden the new City Council with their actions, the commission upheld the Director's denial of the Special Use Permit. This will likely be appealed to the City Council soon.
653 JOANN STREET
Public Hearing #5, a Special Use Permit for a group home with 6 residents at 653 Joann Street, began just after 8:00 and took about 35 minutes to handle. The commission voted, 4-0 to uphold the Director's denial. This also will likely be appealed to the City Council.
647 JOANN STREET
This item, operated by the same person as the item above, was given quick processing and was also denied on a 4-0 vote.
A CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT AT 165 EAST WILSON
Public Hearing #7, a Conditional Use Permit (CUPs run with the land) for an all-male sober living facility with 11 occupants within 2 existing condominium units at 165 East Wilson. This one got very interesting very quickly and took more than two hours to hear. During that process we learned from the operator, local realtor Keith Randle, that he charged $1550 per month, per bed and it's an all-cash business. This particular operation has 11 beds, including a house manager. That would gross Randle around $15,500 a month - cash! Randle told us none of it is paid for by insurance and that most of his residents are local, Orange County, men. Seven members of the public spoke on this issue, a few of which were concerned that the CUP stays with the land. Finally, at 11:20, the commission voted, 3-1, to approve the permit. Commissioner Stephan Andranian voted NO.
READY TO DENY, BUT WAIT...
Following a break they began the hearing on #8, a similar facility to the one above with the same operator, at 2041 Tustin Avenue - a long rock-throw from my home. After an hour-long hearing, which included comments by 10 members of the public, most of which opposed the operation, the commission was prepared to vote for denial, but there was no resolution provided by staff! So, this issue will be continued to the meeting on December 5th for the final vote.
TWO MORE ITEMS CONTINUED
At this point, at 12:30 a.m.!, the commission polled the remaining applicants and it was decided to continue #9 to December 5th and #11 to November 28th.
CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT FOR 266 and 271 16th PLACE
Then, at the request of the applicant and speakers, public hearing #10, a Conditional Use Permit for a sober living facility with a maximum of 28 occupants at 266 and 271 16th Place. The two separate units required two separate decisions. This is an all-woman facility. A major problem with this one is the proximity of each to the other - they violate our code, which requires 650 feet between. Five speakers addressed this issue. At 1:30 a.m. the commission voted to uphold the denial for the reasonable accommodation, 4-0. They then voted for the CUP at at 269 16th Place. The vote was 2-2, with Sesler and Andranian voting NO. That meant the vote failed. In a subsequent conversation attorney Preziozi opined that because they both were so intertwined they could be appealed to the City Council together.
A couple observations from the meeting last night/this morning. First, we learned from staff that Costa Mesa probably has 40% of the sober living facilities in Orange County. Second, we also learned that there will be Planning Commission meetings for the next four weeks - November 21, November 28, December 5 and December 12 - due to the avalanche of these sober living issues. Yikes!