Wednesday, September 19, 2007


As reported briefly by Alicia Robinson in the Daily Pilot this morning, here, the Costa Mesa City Council unanimously approved a new set of rules for residential and industrial condominium conversions.


During a surprisingly brief discussion on the subject, the only developer to speak was Harvey Berger, who has done many projects in our city. Because he squandered a portion of his allotted three minutes to decry fireworks, he was only able to address one specific issue - the requirement for structural and mechanical inspections of the properties prior to beginning the approval process. He felt it would be too expensive and too cumbersome to manage and would probably discourage some deve
lopers. He's probably correct.

Although the debate wen
t smoothly, it was not without it's painful moments. As usual, Mayor Pro Tem Eric Bever was the perpetrator. In his classic, arrogant manner, he gave a backhand to developers with projects already in the pipeline but not yet approved when he suggested in his motion that only those already approved could move forward under the old rules. During the debate of his motion he made the following statement: "These rules basically are codifying what we've been putting applicants through from the dais." That statement was very enlightening. This, of course, contradicts the guidelines established when the council approved the moratoria under which the city currently operates pending final approval of the new ordinance. He was more than willing to leave those developers who, in good faith, had paid fees and began the process, but which had not yet received final approval, dangling like a guy sliding down a greased rope. This is another example of Bever's willingness to change the rules midstream and is another perfect example of why you just cannot trust him.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed when Katrina Foley managed to steer the process back on course with support of the City Attorney, Kim Barlow. The motion was changed to permit those left dangling
to continue under the old rules instead of what she described as the new "onerous rules", but gave them only six months to acquire the necessary approvals or they would be forced to play by the new rules.

Unchanged are the unrealistic parking requirements imposed on such conversions in the future. Since most of the apartment projects that might be considered as condo conversion candidates presently have parking issues, the new standards will make it likely that developers will think twice before they jump into such a project.

In a strange turn of events, the council included in their motion the decision to "sunset" the conversion of apartments to condos under the rules of this ordinance on December 31, 2011. That means that any such conversions from that point forward must comply with all the rules in effect at that time. I say this is strange because they had an option to exempt projects within the Mesa West Residential Ownership Plan area, but chose to include that area, too. It makes one question their dedication to actually improve the 80/20 renter vs. owner-occupied ratio in that area. I guess time will tell if this was a wise move.


Since the moratoria affecting both residential and industrial condominium conversions expires in November, the second reading of this new ordinance must occur during October. I wouldn't be surprised to see input from developers on this subject before that happens.

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