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.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 17, 2007

Condo Conversions - One More Time

It's that time again. Tuesday night the Costa Mesa City Council will, once again, consider the new ordinance for conversion of apartments to condominiums, or "common interest developments", to use their terminology.

You will recall that this council has botched this process almost from the beginning, when they launched their much ballyhooed Westside plans without giving sufficient thought to the guidelines to be foll
owed. In their haste to reverse Costa Mesa's "upside-down" housing market - 60% renters vs. 40% owner occupied units - and with images of gleaming, new common interest developments popping up like mushrooms throughout the Westside, they neglected to make sure proper rules were in place to make it happen. The many proclamations by council members and citizen activists about letting "market forces" drive the redevelopment on the Westside became words served for lunch as those "market forces" began taking the renaissance of that part of town in a direction the "improvers" hadn't anticipated. So, the brakes were put on condominium conversions of any type, anywhere in the city until they could finally get the horse back in front of the cart.


This issue
has received much press - commentaries and letters to the editor on this and related issues by residents and council members have graced the pages of the Daily Pilot for a couple months. Most recently columnist Byron de Arakal provided his usual insightful analysis last week (here), which has generated some very interesting comments on the Daily Pilot blog and will likely provoke a rebuttal by one or more members of the city council majority. The council, in it's attempt to "improve" our city, has played a shell game with the rules, attempting to force developers to adhere to rules not yet in place. On the agenda for the meeting, in closed session, is an item about "pending litigation". It looks like this sleight of hand will almost certainly cost the city coffers some settlement dollars as they stare down the barrel of litigation once again. Can you say "Barry Saywitz?

So, tune in to the council proceedings Tuesday. In what will likely be a short meeting, the council
majority will once again have the chance to demonstrate their leadership and wisdom - or lack thereof - on this issue. The city staff has provided several alternatives from which the council may choose a solution to this issue. I expect we'll see members of the public representing property owners throughout the city, and on the Westside specifically, address this subject. We'll have a chance to see if, in fact, this council will "listen to the community". I've got my fingers crossed.

Labels: , , ,