Friday, May 17, 2013

Gary Armstrong To Replace Peter Naghavi***

According to announcements in media from San Benito County, their Director of Planning and Building Inspection Services, Gary Armstrong, has resigned his position to accept the position of Economic And Development Director/Deputy CEO in the City of Costa Mesa, replacing recently-retired icon, Peter Naghavi.

There are two accounts of Armstrong's resignation from San Benito County media, HERE and HERE.  According to those, he has been the Planning Director for San Benito County for three years and has strong ties to Newport Beach.

San Benito County, HERE, and HERE, has a population of around 55,000 people - roughly half the population of Costa Mesa -  and the most populace city is Hollister, which sits astride the San Andreas Fault.

It had been previously announced that Naghavi's replacement would start on June 3, 2013, so we'll just assume that information is accurate.  No information is yet available as to what kind of compensation package Armstrong will receive to take this job.  No one from Costa Mesa government was available for comment.

The City of Costa Mesa announced the hiring of Armstrong in a message Monday, May 20. 2013, HERE.  According to that announcement, Armstrong will earn $177,000 in this new job.  According to CEO Tom Hatch in the announcement, "We are very fortunate to be able to bring someone like Gary on board.  He has the character and experience for the job, in addition to having deep roots in this community.  He's a perfect fit."

As an aside, I attended a social event over the weekend where several attendees knew Armstrong and his family.  I heard nothing but high praise about him at that event.  Everyone was looking forward to re-kindling their old friendships with him and his family.

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Brief Council Meeting And Vegas Boondoggle

After this past week, with meeting after meeting after meeting at Costa Mesa City Hall, next week looks like a piece of cake!

Tuesday the remaining three members (more on that later) of the city council will hold what looks like a very short meeting beginning at 6:00 in Council Chambers.  Wendy Leece has been designated to run this meeting.  There is only one item on the agenda, HERE, beyond the Consent Calendar items and that's the issue titled "Community Housing Development Organization Predevelopment Loan And Commitment Of Home Program Funds Agreement".  The council needs to approve this item so the City can move forward with a plan for permanent supportive housing to serve the Costa Mesa homeless population.  I suspect that this is the only reason the meeting was not canceled, since it has a short fuse on the process.  You can read the staff report on that one HERE to help you understand what's at stake.

However, we don't want to overlook the Warrants on the Consent Calendar because they have some interesting numbers this time around.  The biggie, on Warrant #2472, HERE, is a check we wrote to the Orange County Auditor Controller for $2,492,747.00!  That, of course, was the disputed money being sucked out of our coffers by the State of California as a result of the dissolution of the Costa Mesa Redevelopment Agency.  This is the money we will apparently be suing the State to get back.


Also on that Warrant are entries for legal fees to Jones and Mayer for $129,713.66 for a whole mish-mash of work they did for us.  Also, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore was paid $8,627.60 for legal work related to labor negotiations.

On Warrant #2473, HERE, Jones Day was paid $37,867.50, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore another $4,,845 and Woodruff Spradlin & Smart a whopping #332.50 for work on the Benito Acosta affair.

Unless somebody decides to pull a bunch of stuff from the Consent Calendar, we could be out of the meeting by 6:30.

Also, the reason we will have only three council members present Tuesday night is because Mayor Jim Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, CEO Tom Hatch, Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce, Management Analyst Dan Baker and Executive Assistant Kelly Shelton will all traipse off to a boondoggle in Las Vegas for what is billed as an "Economic Development" trip.  I guess they want to entice more fast food places to set up shop in Costa Mesa.  Barbara Venezia, the effervescent columnist for the Orange County Register and The Current, wrote a piece on this excursion, HERE, that will give you more information.  That link is to her own web site, since some of you won't be able to access the Register site because you don't subscribe.  Barbara solved that problem for us.  I hope this time the entourage will actually report some positive results from this effort.  We'll see.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

60th Annivesary Street Closures

Thursday night the Costa Mesa 60th Anniversary Celebration Committee hosted a community meeting in City Council chambers at City Hall, primarily for those neighbors who will be most impacted by traffic generated by the kickoff celebration on June 28th, 29th and 30th.  Residents within 1000 feet of the venue were sent notices of the meeting.
Costa Mesa Public Affairs Manager Dan Joyce led the discussion for the small (10) crowd of interested residents and committee members who attended.  Committee Chairman Mike Scheafer shared information with former Police Chief Roger Neth - one of those interested parties.
Here's the information sheet about the road closures and the alternate routes that will be used when Fair Drive in front of City Hall is closed beginning Thursday, June 27th through that weekend. (Click on image to enlarge)
They also discussed the entertainment planned for that celebratory weekend.  This flyer will provide you all the information you need. (Click on image to enlarge)
Joyce also stressed the need for community volunteers to help with that weekend in particular.  You can visit the City website, HERE, where links will provide you with the appropriate application form.  You can also visit the event website, HERE, for more general information about the event and sponsorship opportunities that are available.  You'll also learn about the fireworks planned for 8:45 Saturday evening.

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General Plan Update Process Underway

As I told you recently HERE, the process of updating the Costa Mesa General Plan is now officially underway.  We're told that this updating process should take place every ten years.

Last night more than four dozen residents, plus a dozen city staffers and consultants, met at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to kick-off the process with the first of a series of meetings, cleverly titled "Great Reach", designed to elicit input from members of the community.  The schedule for the remaining meetings is included in that earlier post linked above.

Council member Wendy Leece was the only member of the city council present last night.  There were, however, many other familiar names in the audience, including former councilman Jay Humphrey and Costa Mesa Sanitary District Director and long time coach at Estancia High School, Art Perry.  The list of activists who also attended is too long for me to provide here - and not forget someone.  They included a mix of folks who support the current power elite in the city as well as many who do not, plus some folks not identified with either side of issues.  Some folks were relative newcomers to the city while most had resided in Costa Mesa for decades - as many as six in some cases.  A breadth of views was represented in what I would describe as thoughtful, spirited discussions.
In a meeting that was scheduled for 90 minutes but stretched to two full hours, Assistant Development Services Director Claire Flynn kicked off the meeting, then handed it off to consultant Laura Stetson from MIG/ Hogle Ireland, the organization that is facilitating this process.  She guided the group through what she referred to as a General Plan crash course.  She told us the General Plan is a "constitution for development" - a blueprint for the future of our city.
She guided us through a discussion, using as starting points these issues:
  • Land Use Revitalization Opportunities (Westside, Newport Blvd., Motels)
  • Homeownership/Rental Imbalance
  • High Density Residential Land Uses
  • Lot Configuration, Size
  • Vacant Land Availability
  • Traffic Limitations Related to Land Use
When asked for their thoughts on what should be considered when creating this General Plan update, members of the crowd spoke of the following issues and more:
  • The ratio of homeowners to renters
  • Motels
  • Affordable housing
  • The need for libraries
  • A vital "Downtown" - too many alcohol servers and less desirable businesses
  • Open Space and the animals that live there
  • Better restaurants (less fast food stores)
  • Quality of our schools
  • Vacant lots that could become community gardens
  • Auditory assists for Seniors at city intersections
  • Attention to the time it takes those less mobile to cross streets
  • Mass Transit
  • The need for narrow roads in residential areas to slow traffic
  • Rapid Bus transportation on arterials
  • Retention of mobile home parks as affordable housing
  • The need for premiere bicycle system - safe routes
  • Retention of the Westside industrial base
  • Plans for the expansion and retention of the action sports businesses
  • Better adherence to development standards - fewer variances
  • Concern about misuse of the Westside overlays resulting in more rentals
Guided by consultant Veronica Tam, 30 minutes was dedicated to the Housing Element, which apparently is all but completed now and is due to be submitted to the State by October.  Many members of the crowd expressed concern that they had been precluded from offering timely input to this particular part of the General Plan process due to the tightness of the schedule.  She did mention that, based on the most recent census, Costa Mesa's home ownership ratio to renters has improved slightly - it is now 57% renters, 43% owners.  That should make Colin McCarthy happy.

According to Tam, the Housing Element contains:
  • Current and future housing needs assessment, Special needs populations - Elderly, disabled (including developmentally disabled), homeless, large  households, female-headed households and farmworkers
  • Future residential growth opportunities
  • Housing constraints - Governmental, market, environmental, and infrastructure
  • Housing programs to address housing needs - With quantified objectives for new construction, rehabilitation and conservaton of housing
In fact, as was explained by Flynn, in years past the state had mandated that Costa Mesa plan for upwards of 1,500 housing units in the Housing Element update as part of our contribution to the regional demand for housing.  This time around, of the 412,000 units being required for our region, Costa Mesa is only required to provide two (2) to meet the minimum requirements!  At that point I stopped worrying about the Housing Element.

In the subsequent discussion period attendees expressed interest/concern for a "visioning" session - a part of the process discussed early-on.  In response to that feedback, Flynn decided on the spot to change the agenda for the June 19th meeting from "Land Use Alternatives" to "Visioning".

Others worried about how this process had been advertised beyond the mentions on the city web site.  Concerns for those in the community - seniors, for example - who don't have access to computers nor read a daily newspaper so wouldn't have known about this series of meetings.

Some concern was expressed about the apparent lack of outreach to the large Spanish-speaking segment of our community.

As the meeting progressed a staffer created a contemporaneous bit of graffiti that chronicled the discussion that took place.  If you look closely you can see those elements in the image below. (click image to enlarge)

Tuesday, May 28th, the Planning Commission - as part of their regularly scheduled meeting - will hear a discussion of the Housing Element.  The City Council will hear it on June 4th.  The next meeting in this series is the above-mentioned one on "Visioning", to be held in the EOC on June 19th at 6:00 p.m.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Preliminary Budget Released

The 2013/2014 Costa Mesa Preliminary Budget document was released yesterday.  You can view it - all 290 pages of it -  HERE, plus Finance and Information Technology Director Bobby Young's accompanying letter HERE.
(Click on charts to enlarge)
I'm not going to try to duplicate what Young has provided for our consideration, but will give you some of the high - and low - lights to chew on.  There will be a Budget Study Session on Tuesday, May 28th - immediately after the Memorial Day holiday weekend - at City Hall where Young and CEO Tom Hatch will present to the City Council and the public their views on this budget and their solutions to providing a balanced budget.  This preliminary budget has a $12 million deficit.

This budget is $157,427,623, up 18.74% from the previous approved budget.  It includes more than $26.4 million in Capital projects - up 88.46% from last year!  The total Capital Budget is $31.1 million, up 50.46% from last year.  Clearly, the emphasis is on infrastructure, not people.

Total full time employees will increase by 2, to 467, but is down by 30 from the 2011/2012 budget year and way down from the 611 a couple years ago.  Part time employees FTE's (Full time equivalents) are up to 77.82 from 63.83 last year and 60.84 in the 2011/2012 budget year.

Salaries and Benefits total $80.1 million, up just under $2 million from the previous year.  The salary numbers are basically flat.  However, the number for Retirement costs is nearly $18.8 million, up more than $2 million from last year. This is a problem that is not going to go away and the half-million being allocated to pay down that debt doesn't begin to touch it.  Without some major significant changes in Sacramento and with CalPERS, the ONLY way our city - or any city - is going to get out from under the giant pension burden is via municipal bankruptcy where all previous pension obligations are wiped off the books.

The costs for "Legal" in this budget is $290,500, down from $415,500 last year.  However, that number doesn't include the huge legal fees we've been paying for litigation.  Those numbers are buried in a line item called "General Liability".  That number is just over $2.5 million, down about $100,000 from the previous year and down almost $1 million from the 2011/2012 budget year.  But, the meter keeps on spinning with no real end in sight.

Not anticipated in this budget is the result of current contract negotiations.  The members of the Costa Mesa City Employees Association (CMCEA) are negotiating under Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger's COIN scheme and nobody really knows what to expect from that process yet.  Whatever numbers result from that negotiation - those employees have not received a pay increase since the economy turned south - will result in a budget adjustment sometime later this year.

So, take a few hours and plow through the preliminary budget if you're interested.  For an interesting counterpoint you can read Jill Cowan's piece in the Daily Pilot about Newport Beach's new budget, HERE.  They receive more revenue from Property Taxes alone than Costa Mesa receives in Property and Sales Taxes combined.  In a city with 25,000 fewer residents they will spend more than $100 million MORE than Costa Mesa.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

City Council/Parks & Rec. Commission Confab.

This afternoon the Costa Mesa City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission met in a joint study session similar to the one yesterday with the Planning Commission.  This event, as was the case yesterday, was to insure that the commission and council are on the same page with priorities for the next several months.  All the council members attended, as did all the Parks and Recreation commissioners, plus other senior staffers.  City Attorney Tom Duarte, Assistant CEO Rick Francis, Public Services Director Ernesto Munoz and Recreation Manager Bob Knapp attended.

This meeting had an agenda list with a dozen items on it - two more than yesterday - but Mayor Jim Righeimer ran a tight meeting and they actually finished at 5:57 - three minutes to spare before the council jumped straight into a closed session to discuss labor negotiations.

As was the case yesterday, I'll give you the list of agenda items exactly as they were presented to us today, along with whatever comments I think are relevant.

1.  Update the City's Open Space Master Plan of Parks and Recreation
Director of Public Services Ernesto Munoz emphasized that this document is the "Bible" for the Parks and Recreation Commission and a guidebook for progress.  It was last updated in 2002 and it certainly does need updating.  A consultant will likely be obtained to help with this project.  Wendy Leece stressed the need to engage the public in the process.  Sandra Genis stressed the need for an impartial assessment of needs, not just the gripes of a few in the community.  Gary Monahan said the Eastside need should be considered, since the kids there tend to be shunted aside, assuming they would use Newport Beach facilities and programs.  Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Byron de Arakal emphasized the need to acquire the consultant earlier than later and suggested breaking the city into five districts with each commissioner assigned to one.

2.  Evaluate the Fairview Park Master Plan relative to community needs and make Master Plan update recommendations to the City Council for the addition, reduction, elimination or modification of active and passive uses.  Incorporate the updated Fairview Park Master Plan into the Open Space Master Plan of Parks and Recreation.
Munoz led the discussion.  Genis mentioned that the unique character of the park, and the physical constraints contained therein, should be considered.  Munoz said the new committee will be completed by the assignment of a Parks and Recreation Commission liaison at their meeting on May 23rd and then they could begin their work.  Leece express concern about the overlap between this committee and the work being done in item #1.  

Genis suggested another survey of the critters that reside in the park.  deArakal inquired about the RFP for the consultant and was told the staff will prepare it and deliver it to the commission for comments before releasing it.  Commissioner Bob Graham stressed the need to make the city more bike friendly and distributed information about the current generation of electric bikes.
Commissioner Dean Abernathy mentioned that OCC students were going to be operating a bike check-in tent at the concerts in the park this year.  Righeimer wondered about bike racks and was told that all parks will soon have new bike racks.  Genis told the group that "Cap and Trade" funds will soon be available for a variety of uses for parks and recreation activities and that we should prepare early to avoid the "feeding frenzy" that was sure to occur.

3.  Evaluate the possible incorporation of Talbert Regional Park into the City of Costa Mesa.  Conduct a survey of federal, state and local resource agency jurisdiction relative to Talbert Park; develop the cost/benefit analysis of park incorporation; and initiate exploratory dialogue with the County of Orange.
A lively discussion was held on this issue, with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger taking a lead and emphasizing that this was about control of the area.  Genis reminded the group of certain constraints and of funds that might be available.  She emphasized the value of a maintenance agreement with the county instead of buying the place.  Francis told the group that it cost the county around $300,000 to maintain the park now.  Munoz stress the liability of possible slipping cliffs under homes that are adjacent to the park.  Buy the park, inherit the liability.  Righeimer wanted to have it all assessed - to put a number on it.  He envisions it as a gateway to the ocean for Costa Mesa.

4.  Evaluate and update the Streetscape and Median Development standards.
This was discussed in broad terms, not specific plant choices, etc.  Righeimer stressed the need to bring ourselves up to date and get away from that "1990s" look.  Genis stressed the need to seriously consider drought tolerant plants.  Mensinger said their plans had last been updated in 2006, so this is overdue.  

Graham wondered about undergrounding utilities and was told that "Rule 28" funds were used for that and that we had mortgaged ourselves when we did the Placentia Avenue/19th Street area a few years ago.  Munoz told us we are 3-4 years away from being able to consider anymore undergrounding.  You might recall that former mayor Allan Mansoor had a pipe dream about undergrounding the entire city - which would have cost around 2 Billion dollars!  Commissioner Kim Pederson emphasizes native plants.

5. Review and update the Athletic Field Use and Allocation Policy.
Concern was expressed by several members that "semi-nonprofit groups" were using fields to the detriment of Costa Mesa youth groups.  Genis asked for a calendar of just who is authorized to use which fields, and when.  deArakal stressed his priority is that Costa Mesa kids get access to the fields first.  Outsiders can use them if there is time available after that goal is met.  Knapp said this issue is on the agenda for the May 23rd meeting.  Pederson stressed the need for groups to be responsible for the maintenance of the fields.

6.  Evaluate existing recreation-oriented lease agreements of City assets to nonprofit/community organizations to determine if City assets are fully meeting the needs of the community.  Including all or a few of the following:  the Costa Mesa Senior Center, Orange County Model Railroad Engineers, Costa Mesa Tennis Center and Costa Mesa Country Club. (Added were the Harbor Soaring Society and the Community Gardens).
The discussion of this issue made me more than a little uneasy.  There is growing stress between the Senior Center Board and The City and it became clear during the discussion.  I had the impression that the developers on the council and commission didn't like to see land under-utilized.  This was emphasized when Mensinger said, "That land is worth something!"  It's going to be interesting to see how this shakes out.  I guess if I'm a member of one of those groups mentioned above I'd be getting just a little nervous about now.

7.  Evaluate the condition, community use, and Letter of Understanding (LOU) between the City and the Costa Mesa Bark Park Foundation.
A full four minutes was dedicated to this issue.  Suffice it to say this will get some early discussion by the commission this year.

8.  Assess active City recreation facility development and use at Newport Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) school sites including the Joint Use Agreement (JUA).
Munoz stressed the need to evaluate specific sites and Leece suggested a complete review of the Joint Use Agreement.

9.  Conduct a naming competition to officially name the Fairview Park Bridge.
The discussion of this issue took less than one minute.  Nobody heard me mutter under my breath my suggestion - "Old Rusty".

10.  Assess potential sites for land acquisition for park and athletic field development.
Genis suggested this would be part of the Master Plan discussion.  Leece mentioned that the Library Foundation sign on that large hunk of land previously reserved for a new library had been removed.  I could see some members of the group salivating about how to use that chunk of green.

11.  Establish community-based nonprofit organizational support through use of City Assets.
There was some confusion about just what this meant.  Genis, for example, thought it meant the creation of something like the Costa Mesa Parks Foundation - a repository for donated dollars toward the purchase and/or maintenance of parks.  I'm still not sure what the objective was.

12.  Establishment of park groups so that each Parks and Recreation Commissioner has responsibility of all affairs, community suggestions and perceptive concerns.  Each park would be assigned to a Commissioner and the name and email of that Commissioner would be provided to the public.
It was suggested that each Parks commissioner be designated - literally - as the "go to" person on individual parks around town.  Some wanted to put their names and email addresses ( and telephone numbers) on signs at the parks.  Knapp suggested that the Recreation Division be the clearing house for such calls.  I suspect that certain council members won't care if commissioners get calls at 3 a.m. at home by residents who want to talk about a park.  Leece suggested that the commissioners divide into smaller working groups and do some of their own research and not over-burden the staff.

So, the Parks and Recreation Commission - under the firm hand of Chairman Byron de Arakal - now has a clear idea of where the council wants them headed.  This will be the most active group in these seats since de Arakal was last on it several years ago.  I get the distinct impression that he's less patient now than he was then, and that things will get done on his tour.  We'll see.

At the close of the meeting Righeimer announced that the preliminary fiscal year 2013/2014 budget is now available online for those interested in wading through all 290 pages of it, you can find the document HERE.  More on that in another entry.

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The New Title 20 - a Sledgehammer

Yesterday evening the Costa Mesa Planning Commission considered the first cut at a brand new Public Nuisance Abatement Ordinance.  I mentioned this before in an earlier post and you can read the staff report on it HERE.

This is a really big deal for our city.  By throwing out the old ordinance and implementing the new one it gives city officials another tool - some will describe it as a sledgehammer - to use trying to deal with "problem properties".  After all is said and done, citing an offender as a public nuisance is a way to "solve" the problem.

When you visit the staff report you will find this information on the first couple pages.  It will help you understand the tone of what is intended. (Click on the images to enlarge)

As you read down that list you may get a feel for where this commission, and council, is going.  For example, the commission added "code enforcement" to (h).  Item (j) mentions "second hand smoke", which seems targeted directly at the large number of rehab homes in our city.  That "quiet enjoyment" phrase in (j) says a lot.

The commission voted unanimously to have staff fine-tune their plan based on the discussion last night and return at a future meeting with a finished product that they can send on to the City Council for its consideration.  So, if you're noisy, use a garage as a living space, have dead or overgrown vegetation, cars covered with tarps, generate an inordinate amount of noise, smoke, traffic, etc., you know what's going to be headed your way.

Earlier in the meeting the commission directed the staff to proceed with the establishment of Neighborhood Enhancement Area #4, and to also proceed with plans for what they called "mini-sweeps" - code enforcement actions that will target a small number of properties in an otherwise nice area.

One thing that sticks in my craw on this issue.  Willa Bowens-Killeen is the de facto Chief of Code Enforcement and has a team who does that work throughout the city.  However, in recent months CEO Tom Hatch has hired a couple "code enforcement officers" that work for him on the 5th floor.  I've never heard a good explanation why we need two separate code enforcement activities in our city.  If there are special tasks that senior management feels is important, then that direction should be sent downstream to the folks in Code Enforcement and they can work out the manpower allocations to get it done.  To me, this seems like just another bit of empire-building on the 5th floor of City Hall.  And I'm not so sure this is generated by Hatch.  I suspect he's getting "direction" from the Mayor and his pals, who spend way, way too much time prowling the corridors of City Hall, causing turmoil among the staff.  This looks to me as though some people in power wanted their own little militia that they can unleash on whatever they feel is the problem of the day - motels, homeless, etc.  Some of you may knee-jerk react that this reeks of the Gestapo, but I'm not sure it's that bad - yet.

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Costa Mesa General Plan Update Meeting Schedule

Yesterday The City of Costa Mesa announced the schedule of meetings for the General Plan Update, an event that occurs only once every 10 years.  The following is the text of the announcement:

The City of Costa Mesa will begin a four-month community outreach process Wednesday to generate public input on the update of its General Plan, which guides the city’s long-term growth and development.


Over the course of 10 meetings and workshops, the city will solicit local input on various elements of the General Plan, including housing, land use and traffic circulation. The city’s General Plan is updated about once every 10 years. This will be Costa Mesa’s first General Plan update since 2000.

The following is the schedule of General Plan meetings. 
General Plan Workshops and Public Hearings   
  • Wednesday, May 15, 2013: Introduction to General Plan and Housing Element Workshop, 6 to 7:30 p.m., City of Costa Mesa Emergency Operation Center (EOC), 99 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.  You can read the staff report for this meeting HERE.
  • Tuesday, May 28, 2013: Housing Element, Planning Commission meeting, 7 p.m., Costa Mesa Council Chambers 77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
  • Tuesday, June 4, 2013: Housing Element, City Council meeting, 6 p.m., Costa Mesa Council Chambers 77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013: Land Use Alternatives, 6 to 7:30 p.m., City of Costa Mesa Emergency Operations Center (EOC) 99 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 2013: Circulation Alternatives, 6 to 7:30 p.m., City of Costa Mesa Emergency Operations Center (EOC) 99 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
  • Wednesday, August 21, 2013: Preferred Alternatives, 6 to 7:30 p.m., City of Costa Mesa Emergency Operations Center (EOC) 99 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
  • Wednesday, September 18, 2013: Policy Review, 6 to 7:30 p.m., City of Costa Mesa Emergency Operations Center (EOC) 99 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.
General Plan Road Shows 
In addition to the workshops, monthly road shows will be held during business hours at various locations throughout the city.
  • Wednesday, May 29, 2013: Meeting with Building Industry Association, time to be determined, Costa Mesa City Hall, Conference Room 1A.
  • Wednesday, June 5, 2013: Meeting with Chamber of Commerce, 3 to 4:30 p.m., Costa Mesa City Hall, Conference Room 1A.
  • Wednesday, June 26, 2013: Meeting with the Newport Beach Assn. of Realtors (including Costa Mesa and Newport Beach), 9 to 11 a.m., Costa Mesa City Hall, Conference Room 1A.
For more information, go to the city’s website ( or call the Planning Division at (714) 754-5245.


Joint City Council/Planning Commission Study Session

Last night the Costa Mesa City Council and the Planning Commission put their heads together at a joint study session to establish goals and priorities over the next several months.  All the commissioners were present and only Gary Monahan was absent among the council members.  This meeting can be seen on tape on CMTV soon.

The meeting covered ten (10) items which are described as follows, taken directly from the hand-out provided at the last minute at the meeting.

1. Adoption of a Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance
This is intended to promote development of single family detached homes and ownership housing  by providing flexible development standards for lot size, open space, etc. and allowing forming a maintenance association instead of a homeowners association.

According to Assistant Development Services Director Claire Flynn, there are no other Orange County cities with such an ordinance, but the staff is working with the Building Industry Association to craft a workable ordinance to facilitate fair, consistent standards for the many "infill" projects that will be presented to the city as the economy continues to rebound.  Density, parking and the need to develop findings to support such projects were discussed.  Council member Sandra Genis was concerned the findings issue and the adherence to the Davis/Sterling Act that governs HOAs.

A couple of developers spoke and expressed concern about possible "strict guidelines" - no surprise there.  Another expressed concern about "parking standards that are a little rigid".  This process will continue and staff will work on a process based on the direction they received last night.

2. Proactive Enforcement of Convenience Market and Liquor Stores
This is to address most markets and liquor stores that were established decades ago, that are non-conforming and not operating under a conditional use permit.  Zoning Codes includes extensive conditions that apply to the new and expanded businesses.

During the discussion Genis wondered when problems around these kind of establishments rise to the level of being a "public nuisance".  The staff has prepared a draft of a new ordinance on that issue that would be presented to the Planning Commission at its meeting later last night.  I'll cover that separately.

3.  Modification of Fire Prevention Turnaround Requirements in Site Planning for Properties
The intent is to comply with all safety requirements and provide most flexible site planning tools for lots that are up to 300 feet deep consistent with other agencies and the Orange County Fire Authority.

Flynn indicated that the staff is working closely with the Fire Department on this issue and it should be finalized soon.  Genis expressed concern that when it is finalized there should be no compromise on safety issues.

4.  Motel Solutions and Enforcement
Incentives and flexible development and land use standards to promote and encourage motel conversions and redevelopment.

Planning Commission Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick has chosen this as HIS issue, so he took the lead on much of the discussion.  Mayor Jim Righeimer expressed the possibility of using "node zoning", and that problem motels should be closely monitored and billed for services when a certain - undefined - level of calls is reached.  I'm not quite sure how they pull that one off.  Lawyer Christian Bettenhausen indicated that it's something they would have to look at closely.  Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger expressed impatience with the process, asked for a timeline and wondered where the Neighborhood Improvement Task Force stood on this issue.  Assistant CEO Rick Francis indicated that it might be a matter of weeks or months.  Council member Wendy Leece discussed incentives and flexible development and wondered what other cities are doing.

The discussion got around to the impact of "long term stays" at these motels, indicating that they contribute to the major problems.  Flynn told us that the Municipal Code permits 25% long term stays, but the staff is working on a change reducing that to 10%.  She also indicated that the Costa Mesa Motor Inn is approved for 40% - at which Righeimer became almost apoplectic. 

Genis expressed no interest in "spot zoning" to solve the problem.  Righeimer told us our position should be "Fix up, clean up or knock down". Mensinger expressed the need for an analysis using the pending crime mapping capability from the CMPD so calls for service could be monitored more accurately.

5.  Additional Parking Requirement For Nightclubs, Coffee Shops with WiFi Access, and Small Food & Beverage Establishments 
Evaluate the parking demand to address these uses and develop standard operational conditions to regulate the parking. 

Significant discussion took place on the use of Conditional Use Permits and the current parking standards.  The staff will evaluate the current standards based on the changing realities of today - the use of WiFi, for example, which extends the time customers stay at coffee shops, etc.   Francis used as an example a recent visit he and others made to the strip mall at the corner of Irvine Avenue and 17th Street at lunchtime.  NO parking spots were available and it seemed to be due to the heavy mix of food establishments at that site.  It was generally agreed that this is a BIG problem.
6.  Updating of Sign Standards and Requirements

The discussion on this one revolved around the size of existing signs and the trend to use smaller monument signs.  Genis expressed a concern about the possibility of future LED signs or what she referred to as "shrink-wrapped buildings."

7. Develop Landscape Pallets For Market Windows And Arterials
This was proposed by Mensinger, but it was decided this is a more appropriate discussion for the Parks and Recreation Commission.

8. Review "Enhancement Project".
Did it accomplish goals?  Were hardship cases treated  respectfully?  Were there many hardship cases?

Chief of Code Enforcement Willa Bowens-Killeen took the lead on this discussion.  Generally, the enhancement project is successful, but not perfect.  Recent reports show much progress.  Code enforcement officers are sympathetic to hardship cases and sometimes social workers are called in to provide support.  Genis expressed the view that some in her neighborhood called the program "Neighborhood Harassment Program" due to the number and nature of the violations cited.  She expressed the need to be flexible on repair time lines, considering the impact of bad weather, etc.  Commission Vice Chair Rob Dickson expressed the value of the "education element" to these programs.  Mensinger wanted before and after photos to show progress.

9. Commissioners Participation In The General Plan Meetings... How Many?
The short discussion, led by Righeimer, was "if more than 2 attend only one should talk and don't sit together."

10.  With The Liquor Store, Bars, Restaurants Morphing Into Night Spots, Does Costa Mesa Have Alcohol Related Arrests/problems Due To These Establishments?  Look at what SLO has done to curb alcohol related issues.

Leece proposed this issue and referred to the recent "DUI Summit".  Concern was expressed on the lack of follow-up on employee training at establishments that serve alcohol.  Apparently San Luis Obispo made it a "health" issue, which gave the city more leverage.  More study will be done.

So, there you have it.  Today, at 4:30, the council will meet with the Parks and Recreation Commission in the same venue - Conference Room 1A - for a similar exercise.  I'll report on that later tonight.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Mesa Water Stifles Public Awareness?

I don't know how many of you read the Surf City Voice, a blog operated by John Earl that focuses mainly, but not exclusively, on Huntington Beach issues, but I suggest you give it a look when you have time.  You can find it HERE.


Earl has been tightly focused on Mesa Water District recently, primarily due to their involvement in the Poseidon desalination plant that's being planned for Huntington Beach.  He's become a real burr under Mesa's blanket in recent months, writing critically about many issues involving their operations, including their expensive "branding" effort that's been in the news lately.


Sunday he published an entry titled, New Mesa Water Press Credential Policy Weeds Out Journalists and Terrorists.  Click on that title to go to the site.  As you read through this entry - watch the video first - you find some issues that are pretty darn distressing from a censorship standpoint.

I've not paid much attention to Mesa over the years.  I've felt the operation was well-run and cost effective, so there didn't seem to be much to criticize.  However, lately I've become a little more in tune with operations there and the major players involved.  It's become more visible on my radar because of the cross-pollination of members of the Mesa Board and Costa Mesa city committees and commissions.


For example, Mesa recently proposed using a for-profit organization to help manage their cash.  Then, out of the blue, a similar scheme is proposed by the new Finance Advisory Committee - which includes members of the Mesa board.  And then there's the whole "re-branding" issue on which they will have spent nearly $300,000 of ratepayer dollars.

According to John Earl in his piece, no bloggers will be credentialed to attend any Mesa official function.  I guess there is an assumption that bloggers are automatically critics of their operations, hence they will lock them out of any chance to observe and ask questions about operations at Mesa events.  You can read Mesa Water's Media Credentialing Policy HERE.  As an aside, in that video you'll hear Mesa Communication Director Stacey Taylor tick off the names of media organizations credentialed for the event Earl was attempting to attend.  The only local media outlet she mentioned was KOCI - the local radio station to which Mesa provides significant funding.  No mention of the Daily Pilot nor the Orange County Register - the two main sources of local news in our area.  I thought that was more than a little strange.

Mesa touts its "transparency", yet apparently seeks to stifle reporting of their operations by some of us with a large local readership.  Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is insidious, so I'll be watching to see if this infection spreads to City operations, too.

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