Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plums, Tattoos, Motor Scooters And "Monsters"

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met on a rare Tuesday evening - Memorial Day was Monday - and took four hours to take care of business.  And, as an aside, this is the first Planning Commission meeting in recent memory at which a member of the Costa Mesa Police Department was deployed as Sergeant-at-Arms.  Fortunately, no riot occurred.

Public Comments saw several residents step up to voice their concerns about important issues. Former City Council candidate Chris McEvoy pointed accusatory fingers at commissioners Colin McCarthy, Tim Sesler, Mayor Steve Mensinger and the commission in general.  He felt some of them had been untruthful and may have been influenced by campaign contributors.

Rick Huffman gave a PowerPoint presentation of what he felt was Out Of Scale Development.  He showed examples of several projects that he felt were not compatible to the surrounding neighborhoods.  The final slide is the development at the corner of Superior and 17th Street, which he felt was more appropriate because it sat in an industrial area.  He quoted from the Westside Overlay Plans, citing some of their goals which seemed to not be met by recent projects.

Barrie Fisher again criticized parking problems throughout the city.

Ann Parker again raised the specter of the proliferation of Sober Living Homes throughout the city, and particularly on the Eastside.  She complained that commissioner Stephan Andranian reversed his decision to appeal a recent decision on one case, forcing her to spend the money to have the item appealed.

Mary Spadoni echoed Parker and wondered about Code Enforcement activities.  She asked for an update on the R-2 Ordinance.

During Commissioner comments Stephan Andranian read a memo he sent to staff on the issue raised by Parker and felt that, without a new ordinance in place, nothing could be done, which is why he pulled his request for an appeal.  It's unclear whether Parker will continue with her appeal.

Tim Sesler speculated that 30/40 houses wouldn't make a dent in our housing shortage and responded to Fisher's comment about parking by observing that that problem exists wherever there is high density housing.

Colin McCarthy observed that we could solve the parking problem instantly by imposing a "No Parking After 2 a.m." rule city-wide.  Then he praised the Mayor's Ball.  He made an interesting observation - that it was nice to see so many staffers at the event, stating that they "didn't have to go", but it was nice that they did.  Yeah, no pressure there or anything... He also observed that the Fish Fry was coming this weekend.

Vice Chair Jeff Mathews had nothing to say.

Chairman Rob Dickson made up for it, though.  He wondered to staff about Code Enforcement staffing, the status of the R-2 Sober Living Ordinance, Westside Plans updates, the Parking issues and illegal units, indicating that he thought the city should adopt the policy in place in Newport Beach and other cities in which every home sale requires a pre-sale inspection by the City to ensure code compliance, including bootleg granny flats.

Public Hearing #1, the review of the development agreement of Pacific Arts Plaza was up next.  Dickson recused himself because the law firm for which he works does work for The Irvine Company, so Mathews took over.  This one didn't take long.  After a very brief staff report by Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn, the representative of The Irvine Company stepped up and said they had no current development plans for the property.  In a curious comment, McCarthy observed that he and his wife had been out to dinner and were driving home through that area and he actually complained that there was no traffic!  He's an odd duck.  The commission moved the item by minute order, 4-0.

Next came the request from Plums Cafe for some changes in operating hours and approval of their parking plans, to include the use of Valet Parking to accommodate the requirement for additional parking due to the expansion of their operations.   In what should have been a pretty straight forward item, the discussion stretched and stretched and it took nearly two hours before the vote was taken to approve the plan, 5-0, but not without some dicey moments.

Plums representative, Bill Dunlap, at one point told the commission that condition #10, which would require them to close the enhanced operation if the parking plan didn't work out, was "unacceptable".  Maybe, but it is a standard requirement and it remained a part of the approved plan.

The discussion waltzed around the recently-created 28 parking spaces adjacent to Pinkley Park behind the shopping center in which Plums is located.  They were off limits for the purposes of considering whether the expanded project is properly parked.  Several people spoke in favor of the plan, but the commission had a list of 13 business owners in the center who were against the project.  None of them took the time to come to the meeting to speak and explain why, though.

There was also discussion of the on-again, off-again potential agreement with the Pitfire Pizza store next door about using part of that parking lot for valet space.  Dunlap produced a barely legible memo, which McCarthy demanded be included in the record, that stated Pitfire's intent to cooperate.  A few minutes later, as the discussion moved forward, McCarthy said he had contacted the author of that letter - which had just been presented to them a few minutes earlier during the meeting - who indicated that he didn't want it to be part of the conditions of approval because he wasn't sure what the future of Pitfire might be and didn't want a potential new restaurant to be burdened with the agreement.  It's strange that McCarthy is communicating privately with a party to an issue before the commission DURING the meeting, and delivers his version of what that person said on an issue that is important to the decision the commission will be making.  Methinks the commissioners should be required to park their cell phones with the clerk during the meetings to avoid the inappropriate distractions.  Here's the barely-legible note Dunlap presented.

Another interesting element of this discussion was McCarthy's apparent disbelief of the parking study presented by the consultant hired by Plums, Linscott Law and Greenspan.  Instead, he relied on his own personal experience in the shopping center to tell him that there are parking problems.  As confirmed by Flynn, LLG has worked on such projects in Costa Mesa for nearly a half century and had NEVER had a traffic or parking projection prove to be inaccurate.  And yet, there is McCarthy, choosing to disregard their work in favor of his anecdotal personal experience.

Five people rose to speak on this project - most of them in favor of it.  The lone dissenter was Grant McNiff, who lives nearby on Tustin Avenue and has suffered from the Beach Pit BBQ joint for years.  He cited rats in the garbage, parking agreements that went south when ownership changed in an adjacent business where parking was part of the equation.  He counseled the council to get it right this time, indicating that Ogle Street was so impacted by traffic and parking now that it had not been swept for 28 years.

The commission approved the project with the valet parking intact and the staff will perform a personal review within 30 days of the completion of the project.  McCarthy wanted to "condition" the action on the applicant working with Pitfire, but the staff sat shaking their collective heads on that one.  It was NOT part of the approval.  Another report is due from the applicant two months later.  It was an interesting part of the evening.

Next up was the scooter store at 1536 Newport Blvd, which has been operating without a proper conditional use permit for a couple years.  A complaint apparently brought this up.  Apparently, according to the applicant who spoke, a lawsuit had been involved and the applicant won.  His partner in the business died a few months ago.  Several times he said all he wanted was some peace and quiet so he could run his business.  It only took about 20 minutes for the commission to pass this request unanimously.

Then came the biggie of the evening.  At 9:00 the commission began hearing about the 4-unit development at 2068 Maple Avenue and, once again, the spokesperson for the developer was former Director of Development Services and Deputy City Manager, Don Lamm, who appears to be making quite a nice living representing developers in Costa Mesa these days.  In a nutshell, this project crams four 3-story vertical units with rooftop patios onto a single quarter acre lot next to a similar project being built amongst single family homes on the other side of the street.  Lamm admitted that he advised his client to try to produce a product like the one next door.  This project does some sleight-of-hand with the parking - it provides the correct raw numbers, but goes about it in a strange way.  Five people spoke against this project, including the above-mentioned Huffman, who used it as a perfect example of the wrong project in the wrong place.  He cited the place next door as a "monster", then said the mindset is to build the monster, then use it as a justification for another monster next door.

In response to some of the criticisms, McCarthy pointed out that this project is governed by three sets of zoning rules: 1) It's zoned R2-MD (medium density), 2) The Westside Overlay and 3), The Small Lot Ordinance, all of which justify this kind of development.  He cited it as "textbook Urban Plan" development, and said "we can't change the zoning"... which was yet another strange thing for him to say.  The commission passed this item on a 5-0 vote.

The final item of the night was the request for a CUP for a tattoo shop at the corner of Bay Street and Newport Boulevard.  The commission took less than 10 minutes to hear and approve this request from Raymond Burciaga - a man who was raised in Costa Mesa and plans to raise his family here.  In a final bit of strangeness from McCarthy, he voted no because, "I don't like tattoo parlors."  Good Grief!

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Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

So Colin doesn't like tattoo parlors, I wonder how he feels about those proposed pot places that his handlers Gary and Fitzy are trying to get into the City?

5/27/2015 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

McCarthy is slimy. I am also concerned that he is contacting people before and during these meetings. His sense of entitlement is pathetic. Anyone with even half a brain can see that this entire city is over parked. So he threatens a no parking after 2:00 am? That will solve what? Cars have to go somewhere. It seems like this is all about McCarthy all the time.

Also, I do not believe there is a housing shortage. We are built out. There is no more. When that occurs, there is no shortage, we are simply full to capacity. The councilmen need to learn to live with the property taxes that exist and not attempt to destroy the quality of lives for the entire city for more in order to make up for the money that is being spent on their pet projects.
This is not Santa Monica. We don't want it to be Santa Monica.

When the parking is so bad that it comes down to valet and having to share parking between competing businesses, there is a problem. If McCarthy can't figure that out he has no business on a planning commission. This city is ruined with their stupidity. Our city codes are a joke. Our "overlay" only exists in their minds, as its changed everytime one of their developer friends wants a variance. What general plan? There have been so many ordinances changed, ignored, variances granted, etc. that it really doesn't exist. Its all a matter of $$$$ for the developer friends of Righeimer.

November 2016 can't come soon enough.

5/27/2015 08:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Teresa Drain said...

Excellent presentation of FACTS, Rick Huffman. The Monsters are not hiding in the shadows like they were at the last election. Interestingly, that view of of the Monsters on Maple Avenue was not offered in their planning application:

also interesting, in that application, the summary shows a deviation from the open space requirement (40% required, 30% proposed), yet the applicant's letter (handwritten page 21) states the full 40% is provided! Perhaps because the rooftop decks count as "open space". Hmm... I recall Mr. Righeimer reinstating the rooftop decks at the Victoria cliff monsters project - after the developer removed them based on the objection of the existing residents.

And yes, Mr. Sesler, the parking problems exist where there is high density housing. Thanks for listening.

5/27/2015 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

And let's not forget Matthews paid $1,000 to Rig's campaign to get appointed to the Planning Commission.

5/27/2015 10:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Tom Egan said...

To Sleepless in Costa Mesa, aka The Pot Stirrer ...

I really appreciate the effort you invest in reporting all things Costa Mesa within a few hours of their occurrence.

Especially the details of Planning and Parks commissioner activities. Why? The 2016 Council elections are looming -- sigh, already? -- and your reporting of commissioners' performances in the trenches will be very useful: The candidates of black hat persuasion will likely be drawn from the black hat farm teams, the two commissions.

More and more people are paying attention!

5/27/2015 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous It has to be said...

There was a lot of staff at the Mayor's Ball?! Were they paid to be there? Were their tickets free? Were they all from the 5th floor?

5/27/2015 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous lovemygarden said...

Monsters, yes, but also monstrosities. I don’t get the logic of the Commission which is something like “Since a dirt lot is bad, anything you put on it is an improvement.” If they cannot do better than this, then they (and the planning department) need to resign.

In looking at the urban plans, I don’t see anywhere in the Mesa West Residential Ownership Urban Plan that specifically states developers can have projects with rooftop decks. There is an illustration on the cover that could be construed to suggest it, but that is all. Instead of rooftop decks, why aren’t we requiring solar panels? On page 7 it states “In exchange for any deviation from any current standard, the project must provide additional amenities such as those listed below: . . . ‘Upgraded windows and exterior doors for noise reduction and energy conservation.’ . . . .” Surely that is already being done, so it is no longer quid pro quo.

The overlays are outdated and lack relevance. Claire Flynn indicated that staff would be bringing to revisions to the Commission. Given what we are seeing built, we need a moratorium on approving projects until the City can come up with a better version.

I suggest they stop using the term “Smart Growth” because for the most part all we are getting is what I call "Stupid Growth."

5/28/2015 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Its all about the higher property taxes the councilmen will receive, rather than the ones that have owned their homes for years. They give the finger to the older residents, its the ones coming in now buying the over priced homes that they care about.

5/28/2015 04:30:00 PM  

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