Thursday, August 23, 2007

Changing The Rules Midstream - Righeimer's Retribution

While the debate about where to place the next skate park occupied a big hunk of the Costa Mesa City Council meeting Tuesday night, there was an equally interesting item on the agenda. That item, the appeal of the Planning Commission's decision to chop developer Barry Saywitz' proposed condo conversion of a twelve unit apartment complex on Victoria Street on the Westside of town by 25%, will likely result in legal action by Mr. Saywitz against the city.


The project in question was in the pipeline before the City Council imposed a moratorium on any such projects and, based on the general understanding of the rules, was not restricted by the pending rules changes. Saywitz was not asking for any special treatment - he requested no variances from the guidelines. Regardless, during several sessions before the Planning Commissi
on and City Council Saywitz was forced to agree to an extraordinary number of "conditions of approval", several of which would prove costly to him as he attempts to help chip away at the renters/owners housing imbalance in this city. However, that apparently was not enough for some city officials.

You will recall that I've reported a couple times in the past that Saywitz has been harangued and harassed by rookie planning commissioner James Righeimer - the carpetbagger who landed his job on the commission in what certainly looked like pure political pay back because he's a pal of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher - a huge supporter of our young jailer/mayor and his barnacle, Wendy Leece, during the campaign last year. Riggy, as his GOP buddies call him, took Saywitz to task several times in a manner that was more inquisition than information gathering. At one point during a recent meeting his ant
ics incurred the wrath of the commission chairman, curmudgeonly ex-mayor Donn Hall, who looked like he was ready to take Riggy out to the woodshed for a good whuppin'.

It certainly does look like our city officials, Righeimer in particular, have changed the rules on Saywitz in the middle of the game. From all appearances, through all the harassment and appeals, he seems to have kept his head and tried to meet every demand made of him - regardless how unreasonable they might have been.

I, for one, will not be surprised if he seeks a legal remedy to this situation. If he does, the result can be laid squarely at Righeimer's feet. What ever personal problems exist between Righeimer and Saywitz, th
ey should be left outside the chambers. We, the tax payers of this city, should not be expected to foot the bill for Righeimer's personal vendetta.

Righeimer is a tough guy to figure out. First he's handed a plum job on the Planning Commission even though he'd lived in our city for a few months. Then he somehow manages to land a coveted assignment as a weekly front page columnist on the Daily Pilot, in which, we were told, he would provide a "conservative" view of the world in our area. Each of these roles provides him with a tremendous vantage point from which to present his philosophy and display his skills, not to mention a double spring boa
rd to whatever office he seeks to attain next year.

In my view, Righeimer has bungled both of these jobs so far. On the Planning Commission he has demonstrated a propensity to bully applicants - Saywitz is a perfect example - and a willingness to forego the common courtesy expected by a commissioner on the dais. From his bully pulpit (so to speak) of the Daily Pilot column he has managed to anger residents in both Costa Mesa and Newport Beach - not smart for a guy who expects to have a future in politics. He actually acts like a guy who th
inks he's got that next step on the political ladder locked up. I would urge restraint on his part - the electorate can be fickle.


In the meantime, I hope the City of Costa Mesa has set aside a war chest for legal matters - it looks l
ike they may have to dip into it very soon.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tuned in to the meeting in the middle of Saywitz's presentation. I was very impressed with his communication skills.

As I see it, this decision boils down to a gamble by the city that they would rather wait for some indeterminate time in the hopes of someone building a lower density project and/or combining parcels to build a more attractive project as opposed to accepting what Saywitz is offering now.

I can't say that I am on one side or the other after looking at the presentation.

What I found enormously more interesting is the questions the council asked and/or the restrictions they seemed to be willing to place on the project. Things like adding air conditioning so buyers wouldn’t be subjected to noisy neighbors, or complaining about the parking and how a husband and wife might have to do the equivalent of the automobile dosy-doe to park their cars.

I thought we were all free maketeers here! After all, according to the council, that is what is going to fix the lack of affordable housing in Costa Mesa. So why aren’t perspective buyers and the market dictating these types of features? Why is the city council micro-managing the development beyond existing codes and allowed variances?

8/23/2007 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Bruce, why, indeed?! During the whole "overlay" debate that "free market" drum beat was obvious. Then, when things began to evolve and it appeared that the free market wasn't going to accomplish the goal of expunging the Latinos from the Westside, they slammed on the breaks and decided to impose more definitive guidelines. Saywitz's project is only one of several that was in the hopper before the moratorium was implemented. The Planning Commission and the City Council have imposed almost three dozen "conditions of approval" for his project and still were not satisfied - it's obvious that they don't want him to do it.

8/23/2007 02:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The planning commission TWICE rejected this project and now the council so I guess you are right that they did not want this project. But you are not right in your other comments about it being about wanting to purge Latinos (Latinos would be purged if this project was allowed)or that we changed the rules (we did not). All condo conversions come before the planning commission for a vote. We study the project and even if it is legal non conforming we can make a finding against the project based on the degree of non conforming. It can stay as a legal non conforming apartment but does not automatically get approval for conversion to condos. We felt, as a commission, that the degree of non conforming open space, parking, and density was too much. Yet we did not deny the project outright. We wanted him to be able to convert it to an acceptable project and thus approved it with a condition of removal of three units. This gave more open space, front setbacks, and parking and less density. The city deserves good projects, not bad. By the way, at council, Saywitz said removing the units would not help in the area of parking. How could it not? If you remove 3 units, the parking needs go way down. You also free up more space for parking. It has to improve doesn't it? I agree that adding the condition of air conditioners as Dixon wanted was too much micro-managing. But the additional upgrades the applicant made were of his own volition. It is like that in most denials. They come before the planning commission offering as little as possible. When turned down they appeal to council and come to council with all these upgrades and changes they did not offer at the planning commission level. This often results in council overturning the denial. If the applicant had offered this from the get go, he would have received approval from the commission. We are trying to reduce this "two step" and speed things along. We tried to help Saywitz by approving his project with the condition of making it a good project!

8/24/2007 06:47:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Commissioner Fisler, you're not paying attention. Nowhere in this posting did I state that the commission wanted to purge Latinos. Talk about sensitive! Your comment "(Latinos would be purged if this project was allowed)" was quite interesting. Why do you feel that way, Mr. Commissioner? As to your other comments, I have watched every public meeting on this particular subject for which there is tape or streaming video available - some segments several times. I know what happened, and how it happened. Your version of revisionist history doesn't get it. Two things are obvious to even the most casual of observers in this particular process: 1 - Righeimer is out to get Saywitz and 2 - the city, through it's elected council majority and their appointed commission, don't want this project to proceed, period. Thanks for commenting.

8/24/2007 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do Latinos live in these apartments now? If the project was approved would they be displaced (or purged as Fisler wrote, or expunged as West wrote)?

I say let the free market prevail. Despite Saywitz' best efforts I don't think anyone will buy these things. They would rot on the free market. The Planning Commission did the developer a favor.

8/27/2007 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Not Foolya, I agree that we should let the free market prevail. I suspect Saywitz is no dummy, and that he's got this project penciled out - at least, the project as presented, not the one approved that deleted three units. It's unlikely that he would spend the bucks to completely renovate those twelve units expecting them to sit on the market unsold. The price points I've heard bounced around seemed reasonable, but who knows what will happen as the market turns to mush in the next few months. By the way, purged or expunged works for me...

8/27/2007 12:44:00 PM  

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