Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Long, Painful Night For Sandpiper Motel

In what might have been a fairly short Public Hearing last night - but wasn't - the Costa Mesa Planning Commission unanimously revoked the Conditional Use Permit for the Sandpiper Motel on Newport Boulevard.  The action reduces the total number of units from fourteen (14) to eleven (11) that may be used for long-term housing at the facility.  You can read the staff report, including the draft resolutions, HERE.

The hearing, which began at 6:12 p.m., stretched on and on and on until the final vote was taken 10:20 p.m.  The decision is final unless appealed to the City Council within seven (7) days.

This was a unique hearing in that, for the first time in my memory, a court reporter - the lovely Janet Taylor -  was assigned to provide a record of the testimony - hired by our contract attorney firm, Jones and Mayer.  I say "testimony" because much of the time it felt like we were observing a court hearing.

Each member of the staff that would provide information had to be sworn-in, as well as the property owner and all of the folks he brought to speak on his behalf, including employees.

Elena Gehrli, of Jones and Mayer, took the lead and presented the staff report on this issue.  The members of the audience received only a very abbreviated version, without all the exhibits the Planning Commissioners used for their review.  Their binder was about three inches thick - a couple of them held it up during the proceedings.

Much too much time was spent discussing a particular room - #139 - at the Sandpiper Motel.  It was used as THE example of how shabby the place had become, even though a very lengthy explanation of how it happened was delivered by more than one speaker.  It seems the room had been occupied for more than five (5) years by an elderly gentleman who was suffering from dementia over the past couple years.  His room was found to be a "hoarder" site by the city staff who discovered it during an inspection.  On and on the discussion went, chronicling the frequent inspections and photographic evidence depicting the conditions at each one.  Other maintenance shortfalls were promptly addressed.

During the discussion it was clear that there was more than a little confusion on the issues at hand.  A couple times Gehrli seemed ill-prepared for the evening.  At one point, as Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick and other commissioners were attempting to determine whether the property owner was at fault for not 'inspecting' rooms more frequently, Fitzpatrick asked Gehrli, "What limitations does the owner have on access to rooms?"  That seemed like a pivotal question, since the commission was making the point that he had failed to be diligent in that regard.  Gehrli's answer was, "I don't know what the law is."  She should have - that's why we pay them the big bucks - more than $144,000 for one month on the Warrant that will be approved by the City Council tonight.

There was also some confusion about the duration of motel stays as prescribed in our code and the conditional use permit.  Commissioner Tim Sesler - a lawyer - tried to grill the owner, Mike Lin - shown here with his lawyer, Allan Calomino -  about documentation of long-term stays.  Lin produced a report for March - all that is required - but Sesler was unhappy that he didn't produce more documentation, even though there is no requirement for him to keep those records.

A half-dozen speakers stepped up to support Lin, including the former owner of the Sandpiper Motel.  Others included his manager and a couple women who worked there plus a resident.

The commission eventually modified the proposed resolution authorizing the revocation - replacing segment A1 with new language citing Condition of Approval #7, then referring to the remaining other three segments of the resolution. 

One speaker, Kathy Esfahani of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, pointed out during her time at the speakers podium that it was clear what was happening here.  She cited the fact that the next item on the agenda, the report on the Planning Commission 2013 Goals, tied DIRECTLY to this action.  Goal #4 mentions, in part, the Sandpiper Motel specifically in the context of a new ordinance being drafted that would reduce long-term housing in motels to Zero!  She, and speaker Jean Forbath of the same organization, both acknowledged that we should be going the other way - instead of eliminating long-term housing for poor in these motels we should be increasing the number of rooms made available to them.  Those observations fell on deaf ears on the dais.

Next up is the Costa Mesa Motor Inn, which - according to Interim Assistant Director of Development Services Jerry Guarrancino - will have a report that will be huge compared to the one they dealt with for the Sandpiper last night.

Lest you forget, not too long ago Mayor Jim Righeimer told us all from the dais that it was his goal to make the owners of "problem motels" take a more realistic view of the value of their properties by slamming them with code enforcement violations and frequent visits by the Police and Fire Departments.  His goal, apparently, was to have them get their heads straight and sell their properties to developers, who could then re-purpose them as "affordable housing", either by modifying the existing structures or scraping the lots and building new facilities at about 50 units per acre.

As an aside, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger was plopped down near the rear of the auditorium all evening, sporadically texting away.  I don't know if he was communicating with any members of the commission on the dais or reporting the progress to someone else not present in the building.  What ever he was doing, he was working very hard at it.  Heck, he may have just been posting self-lauditory items on his Facebook page.  I wouldn't know, since he's blocked me.

At the very end of the meeting the commission reviewed the progress made on their goals, HERE.  Take a few moments to look that short staff report over.  It will give you a real feel for the kind of things this group and their benefactors on the City Council have in store for the city.

The next Planning Commission meeting is Monday, April 28th.  I won't be at that one... I'll be attending the second Feet To The Fire Forum for candidates for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat being vacated by termed-out John Moorlach.

Before that, though, is another marathon in City Council Chambers when the council meets tonight.  Ugh...

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Any truth to the rumor that the feds are interested in Planning Commission activities? If so, we support and applaud such an investigation. Two farm boys might soon find out they're just not as clever as they think. Their followers might soon see that the promised rewards are not worth the permanent stain.

Let's not forget "America's Sheriff," who believed he was smarter than everyone else. And isn't.

4/15/2014 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Sure. Once the motel is driven out of business some "friends" can build high-density apartments. Tenants can park on the 55 since nothing will be moving anyway. Welcome to the new Costa Mesa.

4/15/2014 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger kwahlf said...

Arthur Nern,

You wrote,
" the rumor that the feds are interested in Planning Commission activities?"

I certainly hope so!
It's about time we find out what's really going on in this current planning commission.
What you see and what they say is most certainly not what we are getting.
Just look who they are working for.

4/15/2014 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Mary Ann O'Connell said...

This is fascinating. They are obviously prepared for a law suit as backlash - hence the reporter and the swearing in. I could be wrong, but I don't think you can require swearing in at a meeting like that.

Not sure about CA, but in CT, the hotel owner would be hard pressed to evict most long-term tenants. If this started by appearing to be a long-term, standard rental, he could have stayed and that established residency. Once that happens, the landlord doesn't have a lot of options.

Bottom line: the attorneys win and collect more fees. Righeimer will make Costa Mesa's bankruptcy a self-fulfilling prophecy by litigating us in the poor house.

4/15/2014 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

Just how does it benefit Costa Mesa to drive people into homelessness? The tenants aren't going to cease to be; they will just be on the street instead of in a motel. There seems to be no limit to the cruelty of this cabal.

4/15/2014 04:00:00 PM  

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