Anger, Frustration Mark The Planning Commission Meeting...
...AND THAT WAS JUST AMONG THE COMMISSIONERS!
Yes, it was a short, tense Planning Commission meeting tonight. Yes, there was anger, frustration and disappointment in the City Council Chambers, and probably felt most strongly on the dais, as all five commissioners clearly showed their anger and frustration at not being able to hear the four remaining items on their agenda. Three others had been pulled last week.
LAWYER ABSENT DUE TO FAMILY MEDICAL EMERGENCY
According to information provided by staff during the short discussion of the first item, it seems the lawyer for all of the applicants tonight had some kind of a family medical emergency and so all the applicants and the lawyer requested that all the items on the agenda be continued - and they were!
ANGRY CROWD HEARS BAD NEWS
At the very beginning of the meeting, before what I've been told was a packed house, Chairman Rob Dickson mentioned that there was a possibility that each of the items on the agenda - all sober living homes - would be continued, but they wouldn't know for sure until they began hearing the items. The members of the public who took time out of their busy lives - again, for some of them - clearly were not happy with that news.
HELPING STANDING ROCK
Thirteen (13) members of the public stepped up during Public Comments to express their views on this situation. Only one, Mary Spadoni, spoke on another issue - the recent community outreach to gather goods for the Native Americans at Standing Rock. She used a clever video clip of a pooch to enhance her presentation for the sales of homemade dog cookies, the sale of which will be donated 100% to the folks at Standing Rock.
QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUES
Many of my Eastside neighbors spoke tonight. Katie Arthur spoke about the impact of the sober living homes on our neighborhoods, citing quality of life issues. She encouraged the commission to be bold - to think outside the box and work together to get this issue resolved.
"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH"
One speaker told the commission she was appalled that they were considering continuing the items, advising them that these venues were all over the Eastside and that they were near areas earmarked for high density housing. She told the commission that "enough is enough".
"SICK AND TIRED OF IT"
A local businessman angrily spoke to the commissioners, telling the commissioners they are not listening to what the people are saying, and that they - the people - are sick and tired of it. He used the word "corrupt" without any details.
SHARED HORROR STORIES
Flo Martin spoke about personal issues and those of her relatives and neighbors in College Park dealing with the impact of sober living homes.
RESTRICT TO COMMERCIAL AREAS
A gent from Irvine who alleged having ties to Costa Mesa suggested closer attention be paid to the State Health and Safety Code and that sober living homes should be restricted to commercial areas.
Richard Russell, a frequent speaker, praised the commission - "you guys make good decisions" and refuted an earlier suggestion by a speaker that the city "invited sober living homes into the city."
The final speaker, who didn't identify himself but proclaimed that he had previously worked for Solid Landings - a large sober living outfit in town - and painted a grim picture of those operations. He said the operators take advantage of the families of kids in need of detox - claiming that they charged $30,000 per bed per month. He claimed that the organization broke the rules by housing too many clients, then disbursing them when inspections were scheduled, only to return them later.
SESLER PLEADS FOR UNDERSTANDING
The Public Comment segment lasted about 25 minutes, then came Commissioner Comments and you could see the steam coming from their ears. Stephan Andranian had nothing to say. Tim Sesler acknowledged the passing of Jeff Arthur, Chair of the Pension Oversight Committee. He then pleaded with the audience to understand that the commissioners were there to do the right thing, citing the fact that they all live in the city and raise their families here.
COLIN DEMANDS NUMBERS
Colin McCarthy also acknowledged Jeff Arthur. He then asked interim Development Services Director Jay Trevino to check with the staff and come back with a number of high density projects this commission had approved in the past 4 years - again, attempting to refute claims made by earlier speakers. He said he could only recall a couple.
MATHEWS SHOULD HAVE KEPT QUIET
Vice Chair Jeff Mathews was clearly peeved and he said he wanted one or two Code Enforcement officers assigned to doing regular, frequent checks on all the sober living homes in Costa Mesa. He said if we don't have enough staff he wanted more to be hired. He also complained about sober living homes being located in residential neighborhoods, defining it as "stupid" that they can be there. I thought it was interesting, since all the guidance the city has gotten from our lawyers tell us to avoid inflammatory statements like that because it may bite us later in court - it shows an institutional bias against sober living clients - a class of people protected by the ADA and Fair Housing laws. Usually Mathews just sits there and says nothing. Tonight that would have been a good idea.
STAFF READY TO GO, MORE OR LESS
At 6:40 p.m. Interim Assistant Director of Development Services Sherri Vander Duessen began, with Deputy City Attorney Tarquin Preziosi, to discuss Public Hearing #1, the sober living home at 2041 Tustin Avenue - a couple blocks from my home on the Eastside. It was this hearing that took the longest because the issue of the absence of the lawyer for the applicant was discussed at length.
SUMMERHILL KEPT THEM ON COURSE
As each commissioner expressed their anger and frustration it became clear that they REALLY wanted to move forward with the hearing, but the staff was firm in their advice against it. Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill held a steady hand on the tiller, reminding the commissioners that it was critical that the applicant receive a fair hearing and that he not be denied due process. And, of course, she was correct. To do otherwise would have likely entangled us in lengthy, costly legal battles.
Both Andranian and Mathews expressed the opinion that if they agreed to continue this item they wouldn't agree to subsequent continuances, even if the applicant's lawyer wasn't available. Andranian opined that there are plenty of other lawyers out there.
VOTED TO CONTINUE
Summerhill reminded the commissioners that we need to take these issues step-by-step. Finally, at 6:55, the commission voted, 5-0, to continue this item to a future date - undefined at this time. The crowd was angry and many began to leave, so Dickson called for a short break - it lasted 2 minutes as the angry folks filtered out of the auditorium.
TEN MINUTES FLAT FOR THE OTHER THREE
When they re-convened they made quick work of the other three sober living issues remaining on the agenda. It took less than 10 minutes to have each read into the record and to vote to continue them on 5-0 votes. During the first couple several commissioners continued to grumble about it.
SHORT AND NOT VERY SWEET
At 7:05 p.m. - 65 minutes after the meeting was called to order - Dickson adjourned in memory of Jeff Arthur to the meeting NEXT Monday night, December 12th. It's my understanding that they have a full agenda at that meeting, too.
FRUSTRATION ALL AROUND, BUT THEY DID THE RIGHT THING
Here's my view on what happened tonight. I certainly understand the anger and frustration expressed by my friends and neighbors - and by the commissioners, too. I believe the commissioners had no other choice but to honor the requests for continuances, even though all were frustrated because a couple had previously been continued. McCarthy, in an earlier meeting, opined that they were being "played" - manipulated by the lawyer. That may, in fact, be the case. However, Summerhill gave them good advice - all five of the commissioners have legal training - and they took it, although begrudgingly.
THE NEW CITY COUNCIL WILL HAVE THESE THROWN TO THEM
It's going to be very interesting to see how this all plays out over the next few months. The staff has consistently recommended denial of these issues. The can will be kicked down the road under the normal course of events to a brand new city council. These hot potatoes will be dropped squarely in their lap, most likely beginning in January. It's going to be very interesting.
ON JEFF ARTHUR...
On a personal note, I didn't know Jeff Arthur well, but did have several conversations with him and had a chance to watch him work on city committees. He was a hardworking, decent man who brought intelligence and decades of solid business experience to his assignments for the city. His presence on the Pension Oversight Committee will certainly be missed. You can read Bradly Zint's piece on his passing from the Daily Pilot HERE. Condolences to his family and his friends on this loss. The following is a video clip from our pal, Barry Friedland at Costa Mesa Brief of a presentation Jeff made to the local Tea Party group on the issue of pensions.