Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Short Meeting Gone Long

Last nights Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting, which probably could have, and should have, been completed in a couple hours managed to stretch to double that length.  Upon reflection, at least 30 minutes of that time could have been saved if Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick didn't like to hear himself talk - and say not much of anything.  Then, again, maybe the commissioners were feeling guilty about being overpaid based on their peers around the county, so wanted to "earn their keep"by yammering on and on.  You can read the agenda HERE and watch the streaming video HERE.

Perhaps the most important issue discussed last night was Transportation Services Manager Raja Sethuraman's report to the commission on the status of the I-405 Improvement Project.  You remember that one from last year, when the city and adjoining neighboring cities apparently successfully fought off the scheme to widen the I-405 as it passes through Costa Mesa and add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, replacing the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes - the "carpool lanes" we know and love.

Well, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) have just not let this thing go and are back with a newer scheme - one just as onerous as the previous one - that would likely again include the destruction and replacement of the relatively new - 4 years? - Fairview Bridge over the I-405 to accommodate additional lanes.

You can read about the project status HERE and a long, comprehensive OCTA staff report HERE.  However, all you really need to know is this sentence, contained at the bottom of page 4 of that second report.  It reads thus: If an ascending debt structure is used, the toll revenue stream could generate up to $186.6 million in toll financing capacity.

Yep, folks, it's all about the money.  Apparently CalTrans has put the old squeeze on the OCTA and threatened to convert whichever choice they make into the HOT model - and take the resultant revenue for use elsewhere in the state.  So, the OCTA folks are now scrambling to produce a revenue-generator that will keep the toll fees in Orange County - and not necessarily to be used in the area in which they have been collected.  Several other toll roads are in dire financial straits, so funds from "our" segment of the I-405 may be used to help pay the debt on those roads.

All of which is saying that we need to have a very significant presence at a Town Hall being held by the OCTA seven corridor cities most dramatically impacted by this plan at 6:30 p.m. in the City of Westminster Community Services Building, 8200 Westminster Blvd.  We need to let our voices be heard and try to keep the Fairview Bridge from being replaced and the toll portion of this scheme from reaching its tentacles into the heart of Costa Mesa.  The bottleneck begins beyond the border of Costa Mesa, north of the Santa Ana River, and that's where the "fix" should begin.  Here's the flyer on the meeting.
And a couple maps to help you find the venue on the 29th.

There were other items on the agenda last night, too.  Fitzpatrick, apparently trying to save a few bucks by not keeping our contract attorneys sitting around, scrambled the agenda and heard the last item, New Business #1, first, then Public Hearing #3, then went back to the published order.

New Business #1 is the discussion of what is known as "Residential Neighborhood Enhancement Program Number Four", a focused attempt to "clean up" a specific part of town by applying code enforcement muscle to force property owners to shape up.  The area covered is shown in this image.
After a 10 minute discussion the Commission authorized the staff to move ahead with this program.

Public Hearing #3 is a change in the Municipal Code "tightening up" the language that defines a "single housekeeping unit".  Apparently the City lost some money in a lawsuit recently because the judge didn't like our language, so was an attempt to amend the code to fix that problem.  More than forty (40) people attended to hear this issue, including one fellow named Paul Dumont, who described himself as a Los Angeles Housing Rights Activist.

He attempted to put the fear of God - and the legal system - into the  commissioners, implying that HUD funding was in jeopardy if they proceeded with this plan, and that lawyers from all over the country were flying in to sue the pants off the city.  Gee, what's new?  Apparently he, and most of those in the audience who came to hear this issue, thought this was aimed directly at the growing number of group homes - drug and alcohol rehabilitation sites - that have begun infesting residential neighborhoods in our city with noise, migrating smoke in the neighborhoods and parking problems.  Dumont was among the half-dozen speakers on this issue - most of them were new faces in council chambers - and most were in favor of making the proposed change to the code.

After nearly an hour of discussion - and vacillation by Fitzpatrick, who wanted the staff to prepare a more "robust" staff report, whatever that means, the commission voted, 3-2 to approve the current staff recommendation and send it to the City Council on the November 5th meeting.

Public Hearing #1, authorizing the valet parking that's been done at a medical office building on Nutmeg Place, was given a short discussion, then approved by the commission.

At 7:45 the commission began the discussion on Public Hearing #2, the proposed 10-unit condominium development on Bernard Street.  This project generated a lot of public comments - a half dozen folks rose to criticize the project, including one man who will be displaced from his home of many years.  There was conversation of the units being "affordable", but the developer says their target price is in the $600,000 range.  We live in the land of curious definitions.  The commission approved the project with its numerous conditions of approval on a 5-0 vote.

Finally, shortly after 9:00 p.m., the commission tackled the remaining item on the agenda - the change in the Municipal Code to dramatically impact the so-called "Hookah Parlors" in our city.  Apparently there are three operating legally and one not-so-legally.  Of those, one on 19th Street apparently has been a significant problem from a law enforcement calls-for-service standpoint.  Representatives of two "parlors" extolled their virtues, described how they are cultural activities in certain communities - the Armenian community, for example.  Representatives from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association spoke against the concept of a place where the concentration of smoke and cancer-causing contaminants us found.

Eventually, after nearly an hour of conversation about whether to out-right ban hookah parlors or to place a moratorium on any future such establishments while the staff and commission studies the impact on them and similar places - cigar lounges and the new electronic cigarette venues - they voted, 4-1, with Colin McCarthy voting NO, to reject the staff recommendation and recommend to the City Council to establish a moritorium.  We left at 10:00 p.m.!

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Blogger Joe said...

Thanks for the great posts since your return. They're just so.. "robust!"

10/15/2013 12:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

Unfortunately, this meeting conflicts with the Halloween event to be presented by the newly-formed Costa Mesa Democratic Club at the NCC at the same time.

People will have to choose between them.

10/15/2013 07:03:00 PM  

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