Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Evening Of Juggled Agendas And Surprises

Hello?  Hello?  Tap, Tap.... anybody out there?  Testing... One... Two... Three... Hello?  It's me... The Pot Stirrer... Finally sending a message.... Tap, Tap... Can you hear me?  Testing....  

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met last night in a meeting that was marked by a shuffling of the agenda deck, some surprises and no small amount of irony.  For the second consecutive meeting the commission managed to stretch the proceedings out until they almost wore out the entire audience - almost.  There were still a handful of us left in the auditorium when Chairman Rob Dickson finally closed the meeting at 11:58 p.m.  At least this one finished in the same day it began - barely.   The ironic part was the fact that the ONLY item on the agenda they didn't discuss was Consent Calendar Item #4, the proposal to cancel their meeting scheduled for July 13th.  Commissioner Stephan Andranian was absent from this meeting, apparently vacationing in some exotic venue.  Smart man.
Right off the bat we had a presentation by the Orange County Business Council on the state of business and housing in Orange County.  The presentation - full of interesting statistics and nifty slides can best be summarized thus:  We need more jobs and more housing.  HERE is a link to most of the information used in the presentation.  Take a few minutes later to go through it.  Some of the images will really get your attention, while others will just make you scratch your head. 
Some of the highlights I recall include a chart reflecting home ownership to rentals by city.  Costa Mesa's ratio leads the pack, with 40% ownership vs 60% rentals.  Nobody else is even close.  Another thing that caught my eye was a title of a slide that said, "The Benefits Of Concentrated Density"!  It was then that the light went on and I realized that when Colin McCarthy had invited this group to make their presentation, he may have done it to bolster the much-maligned move within Costa Mesa to build dense, vertical housing developments.
There's no question that we need more housing.  However, as was clearly emphasized, having housing that few can afford doesn't really accomplish the goal.  Mention was made, for example, that today 30% of Costa Mesa's population is 65 years of age or older, but that in 10 years that number will be 50%.  This is problematic if you're trying to find housing stock for younger workers - us geezers are just not dying off fast enough.  Read the report...

During Public Comments nine (9) people stepped to the podium to address issues important to them.  Chris McEvoy led off with a criticism of the earlier presentation.  He also made pointed reference to campaign contributions provided to commissioners from building groups.

Beth Refakes reminded us of the ball gown collection for the women of the 1/5 Marines and addressed the crying need for affordable housing.

Barrie Fisher provided images of a problem at the KMart Plaza where Planet Fitness has opened.  Apparently, customers are using the handicapped parking.

Former councilwoman Wendy Leece observed that the last meeting went way too long and that nobody was well-served by attempting to deal with important issues past midnight - citing the Farmer's Market issue.  She also observed that the City is inconsistent in their "red-tagging" policy.

Laurene Kean was curious  about how the City worked, because it just didn't make sense to her - and she cited examples.

Ann Parker agreed with Leece about the Farmer's Market meeting, indicating it would have been better to postpone it.  She also wondered why there was no Costa Mesa representation - either by a council member or staff - at a meeting at Hoag Hospital with Newport Beach officials and members of the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) last week that discussed the apparently serious problem of air pollution wafting over the Westside of Costa Mesa from a metal finishing business just across the border in Newport Beach.  She cited the observation by Hoag staffers that there appeared to be "cancer clusters" in Costa Mesa downwind from the plant.

Mary Spadoni observed that if our population IS aging, why are we building housing units designed specifically NOT for that demographic?

Teresa Drain also stressed the need for affordable housing.

During Councilmember Comments McCarthy asked Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn, to provide a quick status report on the Fairview Developmental Center.  she advised that it is to be closed - maybe as soon as 2018 -  and the 281 residents placed in residential units.  She said members of the City staff have been working with State officials, trying to determine the best use for that property.  You could almost see the developers in the room salivating about what they could do with that giant chunk of land in the middle of Costa Mesa - an otherwise built-out city.  McCarthy then took a backhanded swipe at the folks who take their time to speak before them.  One of the speakers noted that members of the public who attended the last meeting had to leave before the final item - the Farmer's Market - was heard because of family and work obligations.  They missed their opportunity to address the commission.  McCarthy seemed to almost get joy from the fact that more critics were foreclosed from participating.  He also complained about what he perceived as criticism of the City staff at the last meeting.  Nope - Colin doesn't like ANY criticism, period!

Tim Sesler opened his comments by stating that "I don't recognize the city the speakers were talking about.", which spoke volumes to me.  Maybe he needs to get out and about more - to actually SEE the city the speakers have been addressing for months.  He did observe, referring to the earlier presentation, that the Los Angeles/Orange County area is the 2nd least affordable new housing market in the country.  He also complained about the pastor of his church, Father Phil DeVaul, being "verbally assaulted" by members of the public at the last meeting.  That was interesting.  I don't recall it that way.  DeVaul was criticized and his plan for the Farmer's Market in the middle of  residential area were questioned, but he certainly wasn't "verbally assaulted".  That was just little Timmy posturing for his pastor.

During his comments Chairman Dickson made a statement that should have been a bellwether of what was ahead that night.  Addressing the lateness of the previous meeting, he said, "I will stay here until 4:00 a.m. - if folks want to be here all night by folks repeating themselves, so be it."  He then dismissed the theory that there is a "cabal" in the city, and asked staff about the Planet Fitness parking situation and red-tagging.  (Flynn stated that businesses were typically "red-tagged" when life safety was involved) and he said that the apparent pollution by Hixson Metal Fabricating is an issue for the AQMD, not the City.

Vice Chair Jeff Mathews, as is usually the case, had no comments.

Items 1, 2 and 3 were pulled for discussion and the commissioners promptly voted "the remainder" of the Consent Calendar (the cancellation of the July 13th meeting) without comment or discussion.  Again, ironic that they would vote to cancel their next meeting when the last two would run very, very late.

Dickson had #1, the Code Enforcement report, pulled and new Chief of Code Enforcement Fidel Gamboa  basically read the staff report to them.  You can read it yourself HERE.

Activist and former councilman Jay Humphrey pulled Items 2 and 3, which related to the same property to stress that we've already given this developer the chance to build a dense project and wondered who would be paying for the improvements necessary with these easements. (City Engineer Fariba Faseli advised that the developer would be paying)

Finally, at 7:35, we were about to hear the first Public Hearing when Dickson did a little agenda-shuffling and brought Public Hearing #3 forward, apparently because some of the interested parties brought children with them to the meeting.  So, I guess that's the answer in the future... if you want your item moved up on the roster, have some fidgety kids in the audience.  Yeah, I said it that way because the developer is former professional baseball star Doug DeCinces.

So, off we go, hearing about his plan, HERE, to replace six single story homes on Orange Avenue with six two-story homes on a lot that would be a drive-through site between Orange and Norse.  After the staff presentation and the developers pitch, Dickson did something very strange - something we've not seen before.  He permitted some opponents to "pool" their time and let one person speak to the issue.  He first permitted "non-pool" speakers to address the commission for their three minutes, so Jerome Blackman - a neighbor on Norse - Ann Parker and Jay Humphrey all expressed their concerns.  Then a new resident - I didn't catch her name - told us that she and her husband had just moved next door to this proposed development - expressed concern about her privacy, air quality and whether the power lines could be undergrounded.  At that point architect Douglas Gorrie stepped up and used 19 minutes (!) to address a laundry list of concerns - inadequate setbacks, massing, grade issues and his (their) perception that the City is falling short of
protecting them.  He cited several sections from the Municipal Design Guidelines to support his case.  (I didn't see five more people in his entourage, so Dickson really cut him some slack by permitting him to speak so long.  I found myself thinking this is potentially a precedent-setting event - bring your kids, pool your comments and take over the issue)

DeCinces answered all the questions.  He agreed to use Transom Windows so neighbors wouldn't have to worry about being "overlooked" from this project.  It was interesting that he showed photos of the home Gorrie was talking about, citing that IT had sight lines into it's neighbors yards.  Nice touch.  Anyhow, after McCarthy worried about the possibility of walling off a family room for another bedroom, Mathews speculated about making it 5 units instead of 6, Sesler worried about screening the properties from neighbors using plants, the item was passed, 4-0 with the assurance that the developer would work with staff to find "some method" of screening.  It was now 9:00 and they took a break.

At 9:20 the meeting reconvened with Public Hearing #1, HERE, the request by a local jewelry store/pawnbroker - Jewelry-N-Loan - to have restrictions on their conditional use permit removed to permit a broader pawn activity.  The applicants - new owners of this business - wanted the current restriction of Pawnbroker limiting them to watches and jewelry only and loans not less than $2,500 to be removed, allowing them to loan less and take a wider variety of goods in pawn.

The applicants were very smooth.  Both lawyers, they made their pitch based on years of experience in the pawn business, citing other locations in Beverly Hills, New York City.  I can just see their business cards now - "Beverly Hills - New York City - Costa Mesa".  Apparently one of the applicants literally grew up in the business.  Anyhow, their tag-team presentation was very slick.  They presented a stack of form letters from neighboring businesses supporting their request.  At least one speaker called into question the methodology used in gathering those letters.  I suspect the commissioners and most in the audience thought this would be a slam-dunk, following the staff report and denying the requested change.  Six people spoke to the issue - five against the requested change and the former owner spoke in support of the new owners, who he described as "great guys".  He told us of how the sale happened - one of the new owners just waltzed into his store one day while he was having his electric car battery charged and, following a 45 minute chat, offered to buy the business.  Hmmmm.  Other speakers cited the proliferation of sober living homes, more parolees and probationers and the dramatically rising crime rate as reasons to NOT approve the request.  The Costa Mesa Police Department apparently did not support the request, although there was no official member of the department present to address it.

In rebuttal, the applicants cited their 27 security cameras, armed guard, the use of Bay Alarm for their system and the fact that EVERY person transacting business with them is required to be identified and thumb-printed.  They emphasized that residential burglars are unlikely to fence their goods at a pawn shop because of all the security measures.

During the discussion the issue of the signage on the building came up.  It seems the commissioners don't much like the signage, which at least one described as "garish".  Well, duh!  It's not Tiffany's, for goodness sake.  Sesler compared pawn shops to tattoo parlors.  Dickson made the astounding I don't see what the problem is here!  They can already buy and sell.  This is a no-brainer."  Uh-oh...  McCarthy replied that it's a "no-brainer" - for NO!, citing the presentation as striking him as not genuine and the number of other similar businesses nearby.  He used the term "NewPawn Blvd."  Despite the fact that Sr. Planner Mel Lee advised the commission that the current signage is in compliance with code, the commissioners persisted.  In referring to the negotiations for this request, Sesler said, "If we're going to extract a pound of flesh from these guys" he wanted sign changes.  My jaw dropped!

Finally, at 10:45 p.m., the commissioners voted 3-1, with McCarthy voting NO, to approve the request, but modified it to reduce the limitation to $1,000 - not eliminate it altogether - and have staff work with them changing the signage.  It was all too wishy-washy and I fully expect the applicants to appeal this to the City Council.

This brought us to the proposed development on Mesa Verde Drive East - the site of the Church of Christ Scientist - where developer - Peter Zehnder - originally proposed to build thirteen (13) units, then, when he found community resistance, held community meetings and came back with the current plan - for ten (10) R-1 homes that meet every requirement.  The project was universally cheered by the commissioners.  Even speaker Humphrey began his comments with, "My God - it can be done!", referring, of course, to the long recent trail of developments with deviations, modifications, etc., that have flowed through the planning process for the past few years.  After a very short discussion the project was approved on a 4-0 vote.  It must go before the City Council because it requires a zoning change, but I expect it to receive accolades from that body, too.  They will probably spend more time praising it than discussing it.  Anyhow, it seems like a good project for some high quality single family homes with a price point north of $1 million.

Which, at just about 11:15 p.m., brought us to the final agenda item, Public Hearing #4, HERE.  Melia Homes plans to build 32 live/work units on the site of an old boat storage yard on the Westside of town.  Despite the fact that this perpetuates the prolifieration of such developments, this project met all the requirements except a minor adjustment of 18 inches between a couple of the units - from 10 feet to 8.5 feet.  Undergrounding of utilities, as it turns out, would have killed the project because the process was too costly.  There were water quality issues which the developer is going to remediate.  Three of the four of us who remained in the audience at this time spoke on the issue.  All thought it was a good project.  Barrie Fisher took the opportunity to address the violation of construction hours on another project by this developer nearby.  Developer Chad Brown promptly agreed to fix the problem, blaming it on over-enthusiastic sub-contractors trying to beat the traffic on Victoria Street.  Concern was expressed about the cumulative increase in traffic due to all these projects.  Staff advised that a record is being kept to be sure the General Plan is followed and that they will provide an analysis to the commission in the near future.  This item passed, 4-0, at 11:58 p.m.!  Yea! We made it in the same day!

As an aside, the commission seemed a little "off" last night.  Perhaps it was the absence of Adranian, who has frequently brought a dissenting voice to some of the discussions.  Chairman Dickson seemed particularly off his game.  Maybe, as the father of two young children,  he's sleep-deprived.  The past two meetings have gone on much too long and their performance and behavior showed it.  Anyhow, they have no meeting now for a month, so there's plenty of time to rest and get back up to speed.

For me... off to the Budget Approval meeting tonight, where we'll see how our elected officials decide to spend nearly $150 million of our tax dollars.  Will they spend more on public safety, or leave $4 million in the library pot?  Will they decide to continue to put potholes ahead of your safety?  Tonight's the night.... see you at City Council Chambers at 7:00 p.m.

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Anonymous Disgusted Republican said...

Geoff: am I missing something, or is this all you're going to report regarding last night's interesting planning commission meeting?!?

6/23/2015 06:59:00 AM  
Anonymous lovemygarden said...

There is a need for more housing, specifically affordable housing, for workers in the coastal cities of California. However, where is the planning that comes with all that new housing we are getting? Mr. Humphrey pointed out that we need to look at the cumulative effect of the trips that these projects are generating. Are we getting alternatives to motor vehicle transportation? Walkability? Protected bike lanes? New parks? A central downtown gathering spot? The residents asked for these things during the general plan update process, but the City’s vision of implementing those needs and desires is nowhere to be found. Out-of-town developers are deciding the future of Costa Mesa and the existing residents are getting screwed.

6/23/2015 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

DR, here's the deal... was too exhausted to finish the blog post, so I just left it, to be finished this morning and, apparently, when my computer went to sleep it posted that little UNEDITED snippet! Yikes! Never again! :-)

6/23/2015 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

In the famous 1986 "Donnie Moore" playoff game, The Angels had a chance to win it after the Henderson homer and loaded the bases with one out. Up comes Doug Decinces. He’d had a good year, and only needed a mid-depth fly ball to bering home the winner and send the Halos to their first World Series. Instead, he swung at the first pitch and popped up.

On August 4, 2011, Doug DeCinces, along with three others, was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with insider trading ahead of a company buyout. In a civil suit, the SEC alleged that DeCinces and his associates made more than $1.7 million in illegal profits when Abbott Park, Ill.-based Abbott Laboratories Inc. announced its plan to purchase Advanced Medical Optics Inc. through a tender offer. Without admitting or denying the allegations, DeCinces agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle the SEC's charges. In November 2012 he received a criminal indictment on insider trading related to the same incident and was charged with securities fraud and money laundering.

He seems to fit the roll of an out-of-town Costa Mesa developer perfectly!!

6/23/2015 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Is there anything this planning commission won't approve?

6/23/2015 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

Toto Sesler from Kansas needs to take the next tornado back...
In his provincial brain, disagreement = "verbal assault."
Toto does whatever "Dorothy" Righeimer tells him.

6/23/2015 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

We can certainly see why McCarthy will never make it to the council. He's slimy and smarmy. He tries to be cute and fails. Instead, its just disgusting. Sesler also. "I don't recognize these cities..." Maybe he needs to clean out his ears. He is neither funny, cute or intelligent. I've never heard one intelligent remark come from this guy. Interesting also that Dickson would mention a cabal.

Okay, so these hamburger joints and nail parlors and such need housing for workers. Ever wonder how they are going to afford a mortgage of $9,000 a month? Our leaders are not bringing businesses to this city that can afford to pay workers enough to live here. Complete fail on all levels.

So tonight is the budget meeting, and we can hear exactly how much the residents are getting screwed.

6/23/2015 04:10:00 PM  

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