Friday, January 30, 2015

New Medical Marijuana Ordinance Announced

Orange County Register reporter Jordan Graham provided us with a story tonight, HERE, announcing that the City of Costa Mesa has completed the first draft of a new Medical Marijuana ordinance that will likely be considered by the City Council for approval in April.  I don't think the article is hidden behind the Register pay wall.

If it is, here's a brief summary of what Graham tells us:
  • Several meetings will be held over the next two month to gauge support and get feedback
  • Those will include a Study Session, conversations with NMUSD officials, medical marijuana supporters and public forums for community members.
  • The ordinance could receive a first reading in April.
  • This ordinance is a buffed-up version of councilman Gary Monahan's original document from last year.
  • It will not restrict the total number of dispensaries.
  • It will limit them to one of three industrial zones.
  • 24 hour security would be required.
  • Minimum age of 21 years for customers.
  • No deliveries for the first two years.
  • Minimum 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries and residential zones.
  • Katrina Foley's 10% tax may be part of the ordinance.

Graham reminds us that proponents of the two initiatives that received enough signatures to be place before the voters are getting impatient and may sue the city to force the issue.  Read his article for all the information.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Short Council Meeting Scheduled For Tuesday

The City of Costa Mesa released the agenda for the City Council meeting next Tuesday, February 3, 2015, beginning at the new time of 5:45 p.m.  You can read the agenda report HERE.

The Consent Calendar contains a few items of interest, among them is #3, Warrant 2529, HERE.  I'll select a few entries that caught my eye.  You may wish to scroll down to see if anything else catches yours.
  • Costa Mesa Conference & Visitor Bureau - $105,031.62 - November BIA Receipts
  • Costa Mesa United - $53,921.00 - Ath. Fac. Imp - CMHS/Estancia
  • Golden Star Technology, Inc - $19,544.03 - Computers for Sr. Center
  • Mayer Hoffman McCann PC - $17,415.00 - Transient Occupancy Tax Audit
  • Q3 Engineers Inc - $29,008.00 - Park Security Lighting Program
  • Accountemps - $3,101.08 - Temp Svcs, Budget Assist
  • CSG Consultants Inc. - $5,555.00 - Building Plan Check, 11/14
  • Costa Mesa United - $7,000.00 - Mesa Verde Classic Charity
  • Glenn Lukos & Assoc. - $5,167.11 - FP Vernal Pool, 10/16 - 11/28/14
  • Government Staffing Services Inc - $3,202.50 - Temp Svcs, Mgnt Analyst
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $12,675.95 - Legal Negotiations
  • Meyers Nave - $4,053.50 - Legal, Fairview Park
  • Orange County Fair & Event Center - $4,863.50 - Fair Ground Hanger Rental
  • Professional Sports Field Maintenance - $8,488.00 - TeWinkle Athletic Complex Renovation
  • Pyxis Water Systems - $2,275.00 - TeWinkle Park Lakes Prev. Maint
  • Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth - $4,687.40 - Legal, Various
  • FTOG Inc. - $2,182.50 - Interim Buyer 1/5 - 1/16/15
  • Interwest Consulting Group Inc. - $10,448.00 -Sr. Bldg Inspector, 11/14
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $3.095.00 - 2015 ERC Membership
  • Liebert Cassidy Whitmore - $500.00 - 2015 Public Sector Conf.
  • Mobile Home Improvement - $13,045.00 - NIG-1845 Monrovia, Sp 11
  • Scientia Consulting Group, Inc. - $5,568.50 - IT Consultant 12/14 - 12/27/14
  • Traveltech Enterprises - $1,070.00 - Sr Center Travel 1/22/15
  • White Nelson Diehl Evans LLP - $10,525.00 - Audit Services
There are some tract maps to be considered, but further on down on the Consent Calendar is #8, HERE.  This is a request for authorization by the council for Mayor Steve Mensinger's participation in the National League Of Cities Annual Conference.  This will cost approximately $2,500.00 and we are told our rookie mayor will participate in strategic policy committees, which may include the following topics:

• Community & Economic Development 
• Energy, Environment & Natural Resources 
• Finance, Administration & Intergovernmental Relations 
• Human Development 
• Information Technology & Communications 
• Public Safety & Crime Prevention 
• Transportation Infrastructure & Services

I looked down that list and just smiled...  Apparently CEO Tom Hatch will also attend this conference if the council approves it.  The money will come from Hatch's slush, er, contingency fund.

There are no Public Hearings nor any Old Business items on the agenda.

New Business #1, HERE, is councilwoman Katrina Foley's request to establish a Bikeway & Walkability Committee.  Her proposal foresees a nine (9) member committee with the following objectives:

1. Focus on the review and update of the City’s Master Plan of Bikeways and improvements to be made to bikeways in the City; and 
2. Evaluate the walkability of our City in order to make recommendations for improvement to the City Council.

It will be interesting to see if the council supports the creation of yet another City committee.  I'm sure the majority still has a few cronies out there without a city gig.  We'll see.

One thing that is NOT on the agenda next Tuesday is anything to do with the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee.  This committee is stalled right now.  Staff reports necessary for the planned discussions at the meeting on Wednesday are not ready, so that meeting has been canceled and the next time they meet will be the first Wednesday of March.  However, there are two vacancies on that committee now, replacing the chairman, Dr. Richard Mehren and member Brett Eckles, who was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this month.  There has been zero information coming from City Hall on this issue.  It's not on the agenda, but could be added in time for it to be legal based on the Brown Act.  If not, the earliest this situation could be discussed officially would be the second meeting in February.  Getting two new members chosen - it would have to happen the first meeting of March - would be awfully tight.

At the very end of the agenda is a short note reminding us that there will be another casual "Meet The Mayor" event on Sunday, February 8th at City Hall from 2-4 p.m.  You will recall that I was accused of "lurking" around the last one.  I don't know if this is going to be a more structured event than the last one.  As the date approaches I'll report back.

In any event, this meeting could be over before 8:00 p.m.  What a treat that will be!

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Another Important Meeting Canceled

Today the City of Costa Mesa announced that the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, scheduled for next Wednesday, February 3, 2015, has been canceled.  There seems to be a lot of that going on these days.

It is my understanding, following consultation with City Communications Director Bill Lobdell, that the meeting was canceled because the staff reports requested by the Committee dealing with field use of part of the Southeast Quadrant are not yet complete.  I'm not surprised - this is approaching the end of the road and the staff reports in question will likely be hotly discussed during the next meeting, so they need to be thorough and accurate.
For going on two years this committee has been plowing through the various ideas for each of the four quadrants of the park that they conjured in the early days of this assignment, with virtually no significant changes to the park to show for their efforts.  That's not necessarily bad, since most residents who speak at these meetings and correspond with the committee overwhelmingly favor retaining the park in as natural a state as possible.  And, that certainly does not mean that they've not been working hard on this process - they have.  I've attended most of the meetings and have seen the drama unfold.

The Chairman, Dr. Richard Mehren - who was instrumental in the City originally purchasing the park and was on the first such committee for fifteen years - angrily resigned in frustration at the end of the previous meeting in protest to what he described a "stacking" of the committee with pro-athletic field members.  It is presumed that Vice Chairman Steve Smith would conduct the next meeting, which would include selecting another person to act as Chairman.  That might be Smith, or it might be one of the other members.

Member Brett Eckles was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Commission by the City Council last week, so his voting position on the Committee is also now vacant.  Dean Abernathy, the primary liaison from the Parks and Recreation Commission to the Committee, did not seek re-appointment to the Commission, so his slot on the Committee is also vacant.  We don't know whether Eckles would fill that slot, or alternate Bob Graham would just become the primary liaison.  He attends most of the meetings anyhow.

The City seems to be twiddling its thumbs on this one.  I have seen no solicitation by the City for volunteers to replace Mehren and,now, Eckles.  Typically, there might be a month-long application period, but it could be shorter.  The City Council has not discussed this in an open session and it has not been part of a Closed Session agenda, either.  So, a month will have passed and NO action taken by the council on a replacement for Mehren.  The council could discuss it next Tuesday and, with a short fuse on the process, select from interested applicants at their second meeting of February.  We'll see.  In the meantime, the final deliberations by the Fairview Park Citizens Advisory Committee will be delayed.

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Costa Mesa Democrats Tackle Medical Marijuana

I had the opportunity to attend the early part of a meeting of the Costa Mesa Democratic Club at the Neighborhood Community Center last night during which the two dozen people in attendance had a chance to hear views presented by "experts" on the current situation regarding Medical Marijuana dispensaries in our City.  I wore all blue, to remain invisible.  A joke, OK?

I must state right up front here that I have a very conservative view of this issue.  I am not in favor of the sale of marijuana in Costa Mesa - medical or otherwise.  I also realize that this snowball is rolling downhill so we'd better find a way to direct its path or we'll be run over by it.

Club President, Annapolis graduate Andrea Marr,  kicked the meeting off by introducing the issue, stating that the Democratic Party supports the sale of medical marijuana and by providing a brief comparison of the three competing potential ballot measures.  She then invited Joyce Weitzberg - Costa Mesa resident, wife of community activist Harold Weitzberg, former operator of a Medical Marijuana dispensary, nurse and a person who gets relief from severe physical ailments from the use of the product - to present a short summary of medical marijuana and her views on the issue.

Joyce Weitzberg took time to explain the difference between Medical marijuana and Recreational marijuana, and how the former is required to undergo testing to determine the content of certain elements within the plant so those who later dispense it - sell it to patients - can make a proper diagnosis and dosage recommendation.  She talked about the various different types of medical marijuana products and how they are presently used.  She stressed the need for testing and also stated that those in the medical marijuana business should be compassionate because they are dealing with individuals looking for pain relief from their product.
Then a panel was convened consisting of Harold Weitzberg, activist and former dispensary owner Sue Lester and a lawyer named Jessie Bablove, who represents many dispensary clients throughout California and who is knowledgeable about the current Santa Ana situation where that city's Measure BB will require the existing 160 current dispensaries to be reduced to a maximum of 20, all of which will be located in industrial areas.  The panel expressed concern about that happening in Costa Mesa from a safety and accessibility standpoint.  Lester suggested a "medical marijuana zone" of some sort.  Nobody had an answer to the question of how many there should be in Costa Mesa.  Mention was made that there was, at one time, 44 such dispensaries and "they all were busy".  It was also reiterated that there are presently no state-wide standards for quality or strength as there is, for example, for alcohol.

I, personally, learned nothing new from this event.  There were many more questions than answers.  I've attended every public meeting on the issue over the past couple years.  Weitzberg stressed that the City needs to get out in front of the issue, to have an ordinance in place BEFORE either of the two initiatives which qualified for a ballot are placed before the voters.  There is still large questions about which law takes precedence.  Because the initiatives have tax elements it has been suggested that they may only be placed before the voters during a General Election, not a special election.

In the past the City Council majority has seemed not inclined to do much about this issue.  It is likely that litigation will take place because proponents of the two initiatives want their issues on a Special Election ballot.  However, those folks shot themselves in the foot by including tax elements which require them to be on a General Election ballot - the next one is 2016.

And, political rumblings indicate there is a good chance the State of California may have its own marijuana issue on that ballot.  All the more reason for our elected leaders to get off their collective duffs and get an ordinance that addresses the community concerns in place post haste!

I suggest you click HERE to read the City's press release from last month on the subject.  The City held a Special City Council meeting on December 16, 2014 on this issue.  You can read the staff report on that subject HERE.  That staff report has links to thirty-six (36) attachments, including the text of the three competing ordinances and maps to help us understand the issue.  You may also click HERE to view the video of that three hour meeting to hear the discussion.

You can also read Bradley Zint's Daily Pilot articles as a result of that council meeting HERE and HERE.  And, you can read my account of that meeting HERE.


I have no idea if there was further discussion of the issue after I left.  They took a short break and planned to go forward with the other items on their agenda.  I was, however, grateful for the chance to hear their discussion.  I didn't see nor hear from any representatives of the two initiatives.  I didn't see anyone from the "industry" except those mentioned above.  And, there was no representative of City Government present, either, to answer questions.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Planning Commission Meeting Turns Into Fitzpatrick Love-fest

Monday night the Costa Mesa Planning Commission meeting turned into a big love-fest for outgoing, "retiring" Chairman Jim Fitzpatrick.  I'm not quite sure how one "retires" from an appointed position.  Now, most of you already know that I don't hold Jimmy Fitzy in high regard, but I smiled when the little ceremonial vignettes took place.

Right off the bat Linda Kirkpatrick of the "Nothing But Bundts" store on 17th Street led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, then did a quick promo for her business.  She brought a huge box of little cupcakes for "us" - I didn't get one, as it turned out.

Then, the very first speaker in Public Comments, Richard Russell, praised the commission and Fitzpatrick for their work on development of the city.  That one tested my gag reflex.

Then, as part of the Commissioner Comments segment, Vice Chair Rob Dickson dragged Fitzpatrick down to the speaker's podium where he read a proclamation honoring his service and gave him a plaque.  Then each of his compatriots on the dais took their turns to effusively praise his leadership, friendship, and on and on and on.

Then it was Fitzy's turn, so he thanked practically everyone in the room, by name - including his buddy and benefactor, Mayor Steve Mensinger, who was sitting near the front for the entire meeting.  Fitzy referred to him as his "relentless friend", and described their drives around the city, looking for violations.  He introduced his lovely family, who stepped to the speaker's podium and chatted.  His wife thanked everyone for being so nice to her husband.  It was 6:45 before they finally got around to the business of the City.

Consent Calendar Item #2 was pulled for separate discussion. That was the resolution officially denying the request for reasonable accommodation by Yellowstone Recovery for their operation of a larger-than-permitted rehab home.  It passed, 5-0.

Next up was Public Hearing #1, the request for a two-year extension modified, previously-approved plan on Avenue of the Arts.  That discussion took five minutes and was approved, 5-0.  I smiled when David Lurker, the representative of the developer,  stepped up.  Jimmy Fitzy and I have recently sparred about "lurking" - he accused me of lurking with my camera and myself and others reminded him of his own "lurking" background.  So, Mr. Lurker's presence made me smile.
Next came a similar request, Public Hearing #2, for a project at 580 Anton - a two-year extension.  That one also took five minutes, start to finish and resulted in a 5-0 vote affirming the extension.

Next up was Public Hearing #3, the modification of the Small Lot Ordinance.  This image shows the proposal by staff.  Much of the discussion by speakers on this one suggested that if it was passed no further exceptions, variations or deviations be made to future developments using this plan as the foundation.  After a half hour of discussion the item passed, 5-0.  Click the image to enlarge it.

Public Hearing #4 was the development of an unusual project at 530 Hamilton.  This one involved an existing residence and two proposed new residences with 4 bedrooms and 4 1/2 baths and slightly less than 3,000 square feet each for the two - a duplex unit.  It had significant variances requested.  Eventually the commission, guided by staff recommendations, voted, 5-0,  to "continue it off calendar" to permit the architect to, literally, go back to the drawing board to fine-tune the project to lose some of the requested variances.  A couple of us thought this project seemed ripe for a group home - eleven (11) bedrooms between the three attached units and the same number of bathrooms.  And, it was "vague" as to whether this would be owner-occupied or rentals or what?  So, back the architect goes and the next Planning Commission will deal with it downstream.

The final item, Public Hearing #5, practically sent the commission into a nearly-orgasmic state.  This is the proposed vintage automobile museum/cafe on Farad.  Now, I'm a car guy myself and appreciate what this applicant is trying to do.  The cafe' will be open to the public, who will be able to sit up on the mezzanine and observe classic cars while having a meal.  It was universally agreed that this is a nice project.  Fitzpatrick's last official vote was to second Dickson's approval of this project.

The meeting ended with Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn, praising Fitzpatrick for his diligence during his tour on the commission.  So, the meeting ended as it began - as a big group hug for the outgoing Chairman.  What is NOT clear is why he chose to abandon this gig.  Clearly, it was his for the asking.  There has been lots of speculation about what he will be doing with his time now.  Mention was even made in passing of a "job".  One wonders if he will parlay his tenure on the commission into come kind of a lucrative development-related consulting gig, as some former City employees have done over the years.  I guess we'll see.  Stephan Andranian, who was in the audience for maybe the first time last night, will be the new fifth member of the Planning Commission when he's sworn in at the meeting on February 9th.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Sober Living, Tardy Agendas And More

Time for a little catching-up.  I took a few days off last week and the wheels seemed to come off in Costa Mesa.  So, it's time to address some of the things that happened while I was gone.

First, the BIG ONE!  Federal Judge James V. Selna dismissed the lawsuit filed by a sober-living home operator last Friday.  This is very good news for our city.  Here is the complete text of the press release from The City of Costa Mesa on that date:

Federal judge dismisses group-home lawsuit filed against Costa Mesa
Posted Date: 1/23/2015
A federal district court judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that alleged Costa Mesa’s new ordinance limiting the number of group homes in single-family residential neighborhoods discriminates against the disabled. 

At the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, Judge James V. Selna ruled that, in fact, the city’s ordinance—passed in October—provides a benefit by giving “individuals with disabilities an alternative housing option in [single-family, residential] zones that is not available to individuals without disabilities.”

Judge Selna pointed out that while Costa Mesa generally prohibits large boardinghouse-style operations in single-family residential neighborhoods, the city had made an exception for group homes that house those with federally recognized disabilities such as drug and alcohol addiction.
“We’re pleased that our group-homes ordinance passed an important legal test,” said City CEO Tom Hatch. “The court clearly saw that the ordinance’s intent and effect are to both ensure that our city retains a high quality of life in our residential neighborhoods and provide a true residential setting for handicapped individuals.”

The judge allowed the plaintiff—sober-living home operator Solid Landings/Sure Haven—14 days to amend its complaint.

In November, Solid Landings/Sure Haven filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Costa Mesa over the group-home ordinance that requires operators wanting to remain or locate in single-family residential neighborhoods to file a permit application, limits group homes to six or fewer beds plus one for a house manager, and requires sober living homes to be separated from each other by at least 650 feet. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction to stop the ordinance from going into effect. That injunction was denied with the dismissal of the lawsuit.

The city argued in legal filings that the ordinance was enacted to achieve two overlapping goals: to preserve the residential nature of single-family neighborhoods and to ensure sober-living programs receive the maximum benefit for their clients in recovery by operating in those communities.
The court agreed, ruling that the city’s regulations of sober-living homes “preserve the residential characteristics of the neighborhood and ensure that the residential recovery environments desired by many remain truly residential in nature. It is clear that the ordinance contemplates and guards against the unfettered proliferation of [sober living homes] in residential neighborhoods, which could destroy the comfortable living environments that contribute to recovery.”

Earlier in the week, after I had hit the road for some decompression time at a venue that has no cell service and no Internet service - yes, there is such a place in The State of California - I was able to find little communication crannies where I could get snippets of news.

First came the city notification - 28 hours before the meeting - that there was to be a Consolidated Plan Workshop last Wednesday in the Emergency Operations Center.  Using the marginal technology available to me at the time I posted a blog entry about it.  It's my understanding that there may be another public outreach workshop scheduled in the near future - this time with sufficient notice so folks who are interested can actually plan their schedule to attend.

Then, Thursday afternoon - at 12:10 p.m., to be precise - the City announcement of the agenda for the Parks and Recreation Meeting was released - less than four hours before the scheduled start time!  This is a botch of major proportions - so bad that the meeting didn't even come close to meeting the state noticing requirements and it was subsequently canceled that afternoon.

Then, last Friday, apparently Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer was bounced from the Orange County Transportation Authority Board because of some kind of "noticing" screw-up.  All the members selected in December had to be re-voted upon.  According to reports in the press, Righeimer was the only one NOT retained on the Board.  Facebook has been white-hot on the issue, with one comment thread now well over 480 comments and climbing like a NASA missile launch!  Righeimer is quoted in the Daily Pilot as saying, "Nobody got kicked off."  And he blamed it on the staff work.  Well, it sure LOOKS like he was kicked off, since every other member was retained except him!  Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Jim Katapodis - ironically, a retired police officer - took the slot Righeimer occupied briefly.

And then there is "WakeGate" - the ill-advised plan by long-time Costa Mesa Councilman Gary Monahan to host a wake to "celebrate" the life of Julius (Jay) Pinson - a friend of Monahan's who turned out to be a fugitive from justice in two states for crimes which included "penetration of a minor", who died in a shoot-out with members of the Costa Mesa Police Department in December.  When that event became public knowledge at the council meeting last Tuesday evening the public outcry became palpable.  Viewed by many in the community as a slap in the face of the men and women of the Costa Mesa Police Department, a simultaneous demonstration at the same hour of the day opposite Monahan's pub was planned as a "law enforcement appreciation" event.  After several days of public pressure, yesterday Monahan re-considered his plan and canceled the wake.  Organizers of the demonstration also canceled their event and plans for a public safety appreciation event sometime next month.  It is reported that Monahan wants to support that event.
So, there we are... all caught up.  And, just in case you care, I was up on the Central Coast, observing the elephant seal colony just below the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, near Hearst Castle.  I've written about it before.  Now is "Prime Time" at that colony, with pups being born every day - I, personally, saw four births in two days during my brief stays on the bluff overlooking the colony - and big males are fighting for mating rights and mating is going on, too.  I tell folks that Valentine's Day is the perfect time to visit the colony - it's very inspirational because there's "a whole lot of lovin' going on" down on the beach.  This year Valentine's Day is on a weekend, so, if you're looking for "inspiration", jump in the car and head for Cambria, San Simeon or other venues on the beautiful California Central Coast.  Visit Hearst Castle, shop in the quait towns, walk on the beach and visit the elephant seal colony.  I guarantee you will enjoy your trip.

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Barbara Venezia Signs In On "Wake" Cancellation

Daily Pilot columnist Barbara Venezia, who has been all over the story about Costa Mesa City Councilman Gary Monahan planning to hold a wake at his pub to "celebrate the life of Jay Pinson" - the guy who was a fugitive from two states for crimes that included penetration of a minor and who lost his life in a shoot-out with members of the Costa Mesa Police Department last month, has signed in on the story of the wake being canceled, HERE.

I'll not go into details of the column - you can read it for yourself - except to note that she and I shared some of the same sources when I wrote about the cancellation yesterday.  She had the story before me, but is hampered by the editorial process and the timing of getting the story up on the Daily Pilot.

So, if what we both have reported is true, there will NOT be a wake Wednesday afternoon at Skosh Monahan's.  And, there will also NOT be a demonstration at the same time across the street according to demonstration organizer Mary Spadoni as quoted in Venzezia's article.

I join others who have commented on Venezia's article in hoping Monahan is sincere in his offer to support a public safety appreciation event in the near future.  He has the chance to restore his legacy as the longest-serving council member by beginning to act like a statesman and not a politician.  We'll see how that goes.

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