Planning Commission Takes Flight
Monday night's Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting was an interesting one, indeed. You will recall that I suggested it might be a tough agenda for this new group... well, it was, but the commission proved worthy to the task.
LIKE WATCHING FLEDGLINGS TAKE FLIGHT
In recent meetings it has been a little like watching a group of fledglings shedding their shells, squirm around the nest for positions and try to find space to spread their wings. Last night we saw them make their way to the edge of the nest, flap those wings a little, then just drop off the edge and hope they could fly... and they did! But, let's take the meeting in order and we'll get to that "flying" part shortly.
Only one person rose to speak during Public Comments. An unidentified woman stepped up and addressed the commission on the recent Measure Z Stakeholders Meeting at City Hall last week. She opined that, based on what she saw and heard, the City has no clue about what it's up against with the Marijuana crowd in attendance. They have no idea about the probable collateral damage in the way of crime that may accompany the creation of our own "drug zone" in the north part of town.
Commissioners Woods, Harlan and Kerins had nothing to say.
The Consent Calendar - which contained only minutes from their last meeting - was passed without comment on a 5-0 vote.
MEASURE Z FEES AND COMMITTEE
Right off the bat the commissioners had a BIG issue to discuss in Public Hearing #1, which was the proposed ordinance following the adoption of Section 5 of Measure Z - the bogus issue placed on the ballot by the last council majority to try to counter Measure Y. Certain portions of Z will become law, including establishment of an open space and public park impact fee and the creation of an advisory committee.
ALREADY TINKERED-WITH BY CITY COUNCIL
The City Council has already tinkered with this and combined two committees - the Youth Sports Committee and the Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee - expanding the latter from a seven (7) member committee into a seventeen (17) member committee with a revised scope of operation.
TOO MUCH YOUTH SPORTS ORIENTATION
Four members of the public spoke on this, none of whom were in favor of it. Cynthia McDonald described Measure Z as deceptive and misleading and described the Youth Sports Committee as a "stacked" group that would place emphasis on youth activities and ignore the growing active aging population. Rick Huffman agreed with her - they are husband and wife, after all - and described the heavily-youth sports oriented committee as being front-loaded and would form a voting block.
LEAVE THE COMMITTEE OUT!
Vice Chair de Arakal expressed concern about the expanded committee and suggested they leave the committee out of the ordinance.
Commissioner Jeffrey Harlan agreed, and said it hurt his head contemplating this issue. He observed the conflicts between Measures Y and Z demonstrate the unintended consequences of the initiative process. Commissioners Kerins and Carla Navarro Woods concurred.
Chairman Andranian asked if they have the option to leave the committee aside. The answer was yes.
WHAT ABOUT THE PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION?
de Arakal expressed much concern that nowhere in the ordinance does it even mention the Parks and Recreation Commission, which he described as a very smart group of people who already perform some of the responsibilities of the proposed committee. He served eight years on that commission and understands the scope of it's operations and authority.
PASSED - WITHOUT THE COMMITTEE!
The discussion went on and on and, eventually, after nearly an hour, de Arakal moved that the commission approve the ordinance as staff proposed WITHOUT any mention of the committee at all. Rejecting the City Council plan, that motion passed, 5-0. It was at this point the fledglings had launched themselves off into the unknown and took wing. I smiled...
SHEDS AND BANNERS MASSAGED AND PASSED
Public Hearing #2, a combined motion that attempted to clean up two issues - sheds and banners - was presented by Zoning Administrator Willa Bowens-Killeen, who explained the reasons for these suggested changes. After a short discussion in which de Arakal asked Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill if the restrictions on size and duration of display of banners as recommended was a free-speech issue, (the answer was no), the commission approved the staff report, 5-0, but changed the maximum size of the sheds to 8 feet tall and 120 square feet max. That means that now you can place a shed in your yard without worrying about a 5 foot side setback and a 10 foot rear setback. The fledglings were circling, gaining skills...
CLASSIC SMALL LOT DEVELOPMENT
Next up was Public Hearing #3, a small lot development at 174 Costa Mesa Street that replaced a single family residence and detached garage with two single-family residences that conformed to the Small Lot Ordinance without variance requests. This project was praised as one that was exactly what was in mind when the Small Lot Ordinance was created. An added benefit - apparently this project displaces what was a sober living home and all the attendant problems that were associated with it. It passed, 5-0.
99 CENT ONLY STORE BEER AND WINE LICENSE
Public Hearing #4, the review of the 99 Cents Only Store request for a finding of Public Convenience and Necessity for a permit to sell beer and wine, which had been called up for review by Mayor Katrina Foley, generated some interesting discussion. For example, during the conversations it turned out that this permit would make #5 in an area only approved for 3. Only one member of the public, Barrie Fisher, spoke in favor of the request, who based her support on the fact that the property owner, not the lessee - the 99 Cent Only Store - should be held accountable for unsavory activities on and near the property. In the end the commission voted, 4-1, (Andranian voted no) to reject the application based on a few factors - over saturation and the failure of the operator of the store to even show up.
CHICK-FIL-A REPLACING GRANT BOYS
After a short break the final item on the agenda - Public Hearing #5, the replacement of the old, closed Grant Boys store on the corner of Rochester Street and Newport Boulevard with a Chick-Fil-A drive-through, walk-up restaurant - was launched. The staff recommendation was to reject this plan due to serious traffic considerations.
We knew right off the bat that this one would be interesting. Chick-Fil-A showed up with a crew of experts and smooth-talkers. Randy and Alexa Garell of Grant Boys were present, as were a cadre of Grant Boys fans ready to heap praise on their community contributions of 66 years, and to express the opinion that they deserved to be cut some slack on this project, even though some elements made it unworkable in the view of the staff.
HALE RAN POINT
After the brief staff report Chick-Fil-A main man Ed Hale made their pitch. Keep in mind that his company has a reputation for being good citizens - their presence in Costa Mesa with their other store has been only positive - and Hale tried to explain how this project would really work on this site. He said this is the 26th or 27th iteration of their plan, trying to fine-tune it. He praised the Planning staff for their professionalism and cooperation. This diagram shows their latest cut at how to make this work. Traffic into the site could ONLY enter off Rochester Street and ONLY exit on Newport Boulevard.
PROTOTYPE STORE, MOVING THE PROCESS FASTER
Hale explained that this was a prototype store, with a new kitchen arrangement that permitted rapid through-put of cars in the line. I don't think anyone in the room thought that their process wouldn't work... that was not the problem.
GARELLS SPOKE WITH PASSION
Twenty-one (21) people rose to speak on this issue, twenty-two if you count Randy Garell who spoke as part of the team presentation. He and his wife, Alexa, spoke with great passion about the Grant family contributions to the community - nobody questions that, for sure - and, unfortunately, Randy closed his comments with a critical comment about this hearing being held the first day of Passover. It was an unnecessary dig that seemed to bother some folks in the audience and on the dais.
POWERFUL ALLIES SPOKE IN FAVOR
Of those other twenty-one speakers, all but five spoke in favor of the project and almost all because of the Grant family contributions and Chick-Fil-A's reputation as a good neighbor/citizen. Included in those were Chamber of Commerce President Tom Johnson - a fixture in this community since his days as the publisher of the Daily Pilot - and iconic former Costa Mesa Police Chief Dave Snowden, who did nearly 18 years in that role and was broadly active in the community for more years than that. His sons and their families live in the city.
LOTS OF LOYAL FRIENDS SPOKE IN SUPPPORT
Friends and business associates of Garell and the Grant family, like Alan Greeley, 37-year owner of the Golden Truffle across the street from the Grant Boys store, spoke in glowing terms. They went on and on.
TRAFFIC IS THE ISSUE
Those who spoke against this project, like activist Beth Refakes and businessman Iggy Israel, did so based on the fact that it would create a traffic nightmare on Rochester Street, and that it likely would be impossible to exit onto Newport Boulevard - the real crux of the issue.
REBUTTAL FALLS SHORT
Following Public Comments Hale attempted to address some of the issues raised. He, for example, said that left turns into the property from Rochester would be forbidden. Well, I wonder how that's going to happen? Same with prohibiting right turns into the exit to Newport Boulevard. Public Services Director Raja Sethuraman explained the process of traffic analysis, and why this project doesn't work.
APPLES AND TANGERINES
de Arakal interrogated the Traffic Consultant from Chick-Fil-A, observing that the Escondido store that was used for many of the comparisons REALLY isn't a valid comparison because, unlike the proposed Costa Mesa store, it doesn't front on two public streets - it's part of a mall parking lot, where overflow traffic isn't much of an issue.
IT JUST WON'T WORK!
Finally, as the clock crept past 10 p.m., Vice Chair de Arakal opined that this really was not an issue about the Grant family, nor was it about Chick-Fil-A, both of whom have multitudes of supporters and a history of community support that is undeniable. This is an issue about a project that simply doesn't work at that particular location, regardless of the emotion involved. There is NO question that Chick-Fil-A has refined their processes to improve through-put of cars and walk-up customers. In fact, those improvements may only exacerbate this issue by actually moving cars through the property faster than the Newport Boulevard traffic can handle.
Each of the commissioners joined his concerns and, at 10:10 p.m., they voted unanimously - 5-0 - to deny the project as proposed. I could see those fledglings now soaring like eagles with this difficult decision behind them. I smiled again...
HOVERING AND CONTEMPLATING
Chick-Fil-A proponents and members of the Grant contingent hovered around on the Council Chambers porch for a long time, clustered in little groups discussing this rejection. I presume they were trying to decide whether to appeal it to the City Council.
NEXT MEETING ON MAY 8TH
As Andranian was about to adjourn the meeting Acting Development Services Director Jay Trevino told the commission that their next meeting - normally scheduled for April 24th - was being cancelled because there are no Public Hearings nor New Business items scheduled for that night. The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be on May 8th. Trevino encouraged the commissioners to get some rest...
AND NOW, FOR THE COMMISSIONERS...