Saturday, December 15, 2007

Putting A Damper On Christmas

I know some folks get depressed this time of the year. All the hub-bub of scurrying around buying presents, decorating every available surface with ornaments and faux foliage, the parties, etc. kind of gets to you. We lose track of what this season is really supposed to be all about. You know - "peace on earth, good will toward men" and all that stuff.

This year it's been worse for me than others and I think I've discovered the reason. It's the darned blogs! Of course, it's my fault because I've allowed myself to become hooked on reading comment threads on our local newspaper of record, the Daily Pilot, and others.

I'm depressed because it seems that, regardless the theme, some anonymous grinches will defile a wonderful communicatio
n tool and use the comment threads to criticize, demean, defame and slander folks. In a recent comment thread attached to an article about a long-time football coach at one of our high schools being fired, the more than five dozen comments shredded him, current and former players by name, parents and each other.

Almost any article about education will typically end up with a long comment thread which can be guaranteed to be turned into an anti-illegal immigrant screed - even when those comments are completely irrelevant to the subject. When education articles discuss significant accomplishment at one of our local schools, comments will be posted twisting the accomplishment and attempting, again, to divert the praise for the accomplishment into a harangue about illegal immigration.

I'm also disappointed and depressed that some of our local politicians - our young jailer/mayor a
nd his buffoonish sidekick, the mayor pro tem, for example - use the comment threads as a forum to chide and criticize fellow council members. Sure, they can do it if they choose, but it certainly is a low-class move and pretty typical of them in everything they do. That's what we get when we elect small people to big jobs.

I'm depressed when I realize that the comment threads seem to be dominated by only a few people - some of whom certainly post under several anonymous names on the same thread. Much like stuffing the ballot box, this practice makes it appear that there is overwhelming support for his position. (I say "his" because I know who it is) My personal opinion is that no anonymous posts should be permitted. I mean, who knows where those comments are coming from? They could be from Irvine, Santa Ana or Rancho Cucamonga. It's my opinion that the Daily Pilot should hold the folks who post comments on their threads to the same standards that they do
letters to the editor in the print edition, which requires signing your name and providing a telephone number for verification purposes. My pal, Byron de Arakal, has described these prolific anonymous posts as "graffiti", and he may be right.

So, with just over a week until Christmas, I'll leave you to ponder those thoughts. And, in the spirit of the season, I'll leave you this time with the chorus from one of the classic Christmas songs of my youth - Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$":

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And please buy our beer!

Bah! Humbug!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Development vs. Parking - What's The Solution?

Driving around our town you cannot help but notice the growing proliferation of common interest developments - former single family lots that were purchased by developers, who scraped the little homes from them and built 4-6 units in the same spot. They replaced a 1200-1400 square foot, 2-bedroom, 2 bath residence with 12,000 square feet of living space in the form of a half dozen two-story 3 and 4 bedroom, 3 bath dwelling units. In most cases, the parking spaces provided don't come close to those necessary to meet the needs, which means the excess spills out onto the neighborhood streets. These kind of developments are popping up like mushrooms. Most of them really look nice, but severely overtax the infrastructure, including parking.

Last week my travels took me past a couple recent housing developments in our city - the Standard Pacific project near Harbor and Adams behind Mesa Verde Center and the Richmond Homes development at the former site of the Daily Pilot on Bay Street. Two things stuck me as I drove through both of those neighborhoods. First, you get the feeling that everything is just too close together - like driving through a series of canyons. Second, the parking is abysmal! In fact, driving through the Richmond Homes development is kind of like driving through an open wound because of the proliferation of red curbs.

With the holidays just around the corner and parties being planned, I found myself wondering how the residents in those two developments plan to handle visitors to their homes.
At the Standard Pacific development, if they invite more than two couples someone is going to walk a quarter mile from the closest parking space. At the Richmond Homes development extra cars almost certainly already spill out onto the surrounding neighborhood.

The problem here, as I see it, is systemic. Our ordinances, as administered by our Planning Commission and City Council, permit developers to squeeze every last square inch of space on a lot without enough consideration to what happens after the last home is sold and the residents are left to deal with the traffic flow, parking and general congestion of such developments. I understand that we can't expect developers to do business in Costa Mesa if we impose such draconian restrictions that they cannot make a profit, but I suspect that's not the case.

This is not only a problem in new housing developments, either. It's a problem with many retail projects, too. For example, on the far eastside there is a strip mall on the corner of East 17th Street and Irvine Avenue that suffers from severe underparking. It's a real Catch 22 situation. Businesses that move into this particular mall and are successful eventually suffer business loss because of their success and the success of the businesses around them. As a result, there is a steady stream of new businesses passing through the mall.

What's my point? Well - and this will make my old pal, Planning Commissioner Jim Fisler happy - I think we need to fine-tune our rules about parking. I think we need to strictly enforce those rules already in place - which doesn't seem to happen very often - and make it clear to any developers planning to do business in Costa Mesa that we will be unwavering in the enforcement of adequate, off-street parking for any new projects.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what's coming next. You're going to tell me that this will discourage development. Maybe, but I don't think development for development's sake is necessarily a good idea. Yes, it's a good idea to encourage ownership housing to a greater extent - our ratio of renters to owners is upside down. However, I don't think jamming five or six times the number of people onto a residential lot than was originally planned is a smart way to go.


I need to have someone explain to me why it's important to just keep packing more and more people into what is constantly referred to as a "built-out city". If we were to magically tear down half of the apartment buildings in this city and replace them with condos or single family homes that would accommodate only two-thirds of the people, is that necessarily bad? I don't think so. More people doesn't necessarily make for a better city - only a bigger one, with all the problems that come with compressing the population. We should take the same view with these insidious common interest developments, too. More people stuffed into otherwise quiet neighborhoods doesn't make them better, only more crowded.


That's my view on this subject. I expect to hear from Commissioner Jim on this one, but what about the rest of you? Any ideas?

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