Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Late Night Study Session "Fun"

Last night that large crowd - more than 150 people -  filed into the largest room available at the Community Center to observe and participate in the discussion with the Costa Mesa City Council and the Planning Commission as they discussed two very important issues:

(1) The Proposed Land Use Alternative For the Year 2015-2025 General Plan Update, Including the Fairview Developmental Center and the Los Angeles Times site on Sunflower.  Read that lengthy staff report HERE.

(2) The Proposed Urban Plan Amendment to Amend the SOBECA and Westside Urban Plans, HERE.

Under normal circumstances a study session will take a couple hours, but this was anything but normal.  This one took nearly five (5) hours!  And, when it finally finished, you felt yourself wondering exactly what had been accomplished, because for much of the evening it seemed like the discussions were going in circles.
Although Councilwoman Katrina Foley and Planning Commissioner Tim Sesler arrived late, the only real absentee is pub owner Gary Monahan.  He never did show up, but had apparently met with Development Services Director Gary Armstrong and left some of his thoughts behind.

The audience was a blend of anxious groups - developers, fearful of changes to the General Plan that would hamper their projects; building industry and chamber of commerce representatives; activists concerned about the lack of affordable housing and bicycle infrastructure and just plain old everyday residents concerned about how the changes in the General Plan will affect them, personally.  I'm not sure any of them came away from this meeting feeling all warm and cozy.
The meeting was chaired by Mayor Steve Mensinger, although there were times we wondered just who was REALLY in charge, as Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer grabbed the wheel and steered a the discussion from curb-to-curb, not unlike Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.  More than a couple people in attendance, including your humble correspondent, thought it was amusing that Mensinger referred to Righeimer as "mayor" a couple times.  Uh, huh...
Laura Stetson, Principal of MIG Consulting, took the lead on the General Plan discussion, providing an overview of the process - which, at this point, has taken a couple years.  She quickly led the discussion on the history of the process and gave us an idea of the schedule we're following.

She tossed the ball to Darrell Surface of Stantec Consulting, who explained the traffic survey they had done.  Then economic consultant Roger Dale provided a fiscal overview of the probable impact of the General Plan as proposed based on certain assumptions.
Then Mensinger opened the discussion to Public Comments, with each person being given 2 minutes to speak.  Sixty-five minutes later 33 people had stepped to the podium to address their observations/concerns.  I'm not going to begin to try to quote every one of them, or even mention every one.  Developers, the Building Industry Association, the Chamber of Commerce, major land owners in the city, a representative from Fairview Developmental Center, affordable housing advocates, community activists and a few just plain old regular residents stepped up.  Among those who spoke were:

Leonard Glickman representing Rose Equities, a firm who wants to develop a chunk of land next to SoCo north of the I-405, introduced himself and his company.
George Sakioka, landowner and developer of property above the 405, urged a long-term view.
Kathy Esfahani, representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition stressed the need for affordable housing, transitional housing, playing fields and suggested the Fairview Developmental Center property would be a great place to begin that kind of development.
Robin Leffler, President of Costa Mesans For Responsible Government and long time activist, expressed concern for what she perceived as a quickened pace for the completion of the General Plan and hoped it would not be released over the year-end holidays, when folks are preoccupied with family issues.
Jeff Knightly (sp?), a representative of Kearny Real Estate, is working with the Tribune Companies on the potential development of the old Los Angeles Times printing press site north of the 405.
Former planning commissioner Eleanor Egan complimented the staff for their excellent work, then skimmed through parts of her nearly 3-page letter to the council/commission that was part of the staff report.  She was concerned about traffic, and indicated that simply collecting park fees is not enough and told the group to not add uses that sell alcohol - we have enough of those.

Former councilwoman Wendy Leece observed that we have no Vision, and also complained that many people had left their homelife to participate in the consultant's "Great Reach" program, but no evidence of community participation is evident in the staff report.  She was not the only person who made that observation.
Long time resident, Gay Royer, pleaded the case to use the Fairview Developmental Center property as housing, preferably for veterans and low income folks.
Former councilman Jay Humphrey expressed concern about the several mobile home parks around the city, which form one of the last bastions of affordable housing.
Justin McCusker, representing the Segerstrom interests, suggested consistency in application of trip counts.
Cynthia McDonald, a member of the Bikeways and Walkability Committee, observed that no mention of bikeability is made in the plan.  She suggested any developments include bicycle transportation as part of their equation.
Long time Westside property owner and businessman John Hawley urged fairness in developing parks and other recreation venues.
Mike Balsamo, representing the Building Industry Association (BIA) made mention of Costa Mesa's "restrictive" parking rules and encouraged the council/commission to be reasonable.
Then the Big Dog took over.  Mayor Pro Tem Righeimer leaped right into the midst of this issue and used the next fifteen minutes to deliver a monologue about what HE wanted to see - and delivered that message less as a request and more as an edict.  I mean, he's apparently never had an idea that wasn't a perfect idea... don't get me started!
He began by alienating most of the developers in the room by stating categorically that he didn't want residential north of the 405, west of South Coast Plaza.  He then spit back at Leece for her "no vision" comment, citing that we're only talking about 4% of the land in Costa Mesa, so we don't need a vision for that.

He addressed the Segerstrom's Home Ranch property, indicating that the Segerstrom Family would like to see a major employer establish a home campus on the property.   He said we should not give the LA Times property more density than the Home Ranch property.  He addressed the Robinson Pharma property - Glickman's project - and said "no residential" there.  He spoke about the Sakioka property and said their plan was way too dense, and it should be capped.  His words were "That's what I wanna see!"

Oh, but he wasn't finished.  Addressing the Fairview Developmental Center, he said it's a "once in a lifetime opportunity" that we shouldn't miss.  He said there should be "no institutional business type play.", whatever the heck that means.  He said 25% should be a park, then said "It's only 100 acres", indicating that it's not really a big deal.  What?!  He just said it's a once in a lifetime opportunity!

He wanted more information from the economic consultant - more data.  Then he blurted out that he wanted this to come forward for a vote at the next council meeting so we can "move it forward".  Well, that's impossible!  The next council meeting is in 6 days.

Councilwoman Sandra Genis took the floor and, also, asked for more information from the economic consultant.  She was concerned that the General Plan includes over 60% high density housing, and that we need transitional housing.  She expressed concern that our plans will be perceived to be exclusionary.  She was concerned that the forecast predicts 20,000 more people near-term and that means we need 85 more acres of park land - not likely in a built-out city.
Katrina Foley said she was OK with residential development north of the 405, but needed more information from the traffic study.  She said she was interested in the plans for the LA Times and Robinson Pharma sites.  She was concerned about the "canyon effect" of putting high density housing along Harbor Boulevard, and expressed concern also about Santa Ana's recent decision to permit high density housing along their section of Harbor Boulevard, which would directly impact Costa Mesa.  She expressed concern about density around SoBeCA, and the traffic backlog.  She also is not supportive of housing along Newport Boulevard - too close to the freeway.

Foley was also very concerned about the compressed timeline and the impact it has on the work being done by her Bikeway and Walkability Committee.  She asked for clarification from staff about the timeline and how that committee's work will be finished in time to be included in the General Plan.  Armstrong indicated that the timeline was dictated by the council.  Foley didn't remember voting on it, so she wanted to know WHO on the council gave that direction...  No answer.

Righeimer jumped back in, accusing Foley of being "disingenuous" about housing along Newport Boulevard, and accused her of preferring "pimps, prostitutes and drug dealers" on that stretch of roadway instead of nice, new high-end housing.  He then ranted about not forcing property owners to make changes and I almost choked.  I wonder what he calls the code enforcement, police and fire visits and the impact of his "Excessive Use Of Resources" Ordinance that forces property owners to make a choice - public safety or pay a fine.  What a hypocrite!

Foley indicated that, in her mind, it's not an "all or nothing" proposition.  Compromise is possible.  She observed that Righeimer was politicizing this conversation.

Mensinger said he supported housing north of the 405 and observed that we need to find a carrot for the State to make future plans for Fairview Developmental Center more agreeable.
Planning Commission Chairman Rob Dickson, who Mensinger referred to several times as "chairman", apparently forgetting his name, expressed concern about SB 628 - a bill a speaker mentioned that apparently provides funding alternatives for developmen
Righeimer, again, inserted himself into the discussion, observing that since 1999 nothing has changed, to which Foley responded that there are 3 people up here (or would be if Monahan showed up) and that the decision only go for developers.  We were now just short of three hours into the agenda and only half-way to the end, so we took a break.

When we reconvened just after 8 p.m., the crowd had thinned out significantly.  There were around 60 people in the room and more wandered out as the evening progressed.
Assistant Director of Development Services Claire Flynn took the lead on the presentation of the next agenda item, the proposed urban plan amendment for the Westside Overlay Plans and the SoBECA plan.  She described the three different plans and went through a list of recently completed or in process projects.  Without talking about all of them, the prices begin in the low $700,000s and go to the mid $800,000s - hardly "affordable" or even entry level housing.
She told us that "unlikely" buyers for those properties would be seniors, families with teenage children.  She said "likely" buyers would include first time buyers, dual income professionals, move-up buyers, entrepreneurs with home based businesses, executive professionals that telecommute and above average wage earners - twice the average wage.

Her discussion included:
  1. Urban Plan Boundaries and Architectural Exhibits
  2. Revise Certain Development Standards
  3. Increase Open Space Requirements
  4. Promote architectural excellence, transitioning and integration
  5. Promote and better define work space in live/work unit
All the discussion guides are available in the staff report, above.

During the discussion Genis expressed concern about mobile home parks, a source of rare affordable housing.  Righeimer responded that "Level 1 had a mobile home park."  Well, that certainly didn't make her feel any better, since those prison-like units start at over $700,000.
The discussion of "open space", which included rooftop decks, bounced all around.  Foley wanted more space on the perimeter of projects.  Flynn observed that there's a tendency to mix and match elements of one urban plan with others - kind of a cafeteria approach to development (my phrase), which was certainly NOT the intent of those residents who worked very hard on the Westside plans.
Interest has been expressed in further refining the size of the "work" space in live/work units.  Presently the work space can be no less than 250 square feet.  It was suggested that it be made 500 square feet.. a concept that got not much support.  The predominent concern was for those rooms being used as a bedroom, and that many of the units in those developments are being rented via AirBNB.
After 20 minutes of discussion Mensinger opened up Public Comments and 22 people spoke.

Gay Royer said the present development doesn't fit.

 Jim Kerins wondered whatever happened to design guidelines.

Linda Tang, representing the Kennedy Commission and the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition, expressed concern that there are no affordable housing units available for vets.

Developer Peter Zehnder suggested gathering architects in a forum to present to staff, council and commissoners the most contemporary design trends.  He also observed that Costa Mesa has difficult parking standards - that's developer-speak for "What, you actually expect me to properly park my project?"
Susan Iwamoto observed that she and other property owners have been quietly trying to find ways to combine their properties to make them more attractive to developers.

Brent Stoll, Chamber of Commerce appointee to the Bikeway and Walkability Committee (and member of the Rose Equities team), expressed the need for better bikeway planning, and for more destinations for bike riders.

Kathy Esfahani again expressed concern about low-income folks being priced out of the city.  All the development is aimed at high-end earners.  She suggested adoption of an inclusionary ordinance, requiring a percentage of all development to be affordable.

Wendy Leece observed that the Sea House project - one that Flynn had mentioned earlier - was near her home and it just doesn't fit into the neighborhood.

Eleanor Egan again spoke and observed that Amendment #1 to the Urban Plans has resulted in the current mess and that it should be repealed.  She said cherry picking standards from various plans is not planning at all.

Taoward Lee observed that the open space, as presently calculated, is a joke.
 Leonard Glickman - he of the Rose Equities group - spoke again about the wisdom of mixed use developments, which provide jobs and affordable housing.

Ann Parker expressed concern about the influx of AirBNB units in the city.   

Cynthia McDonald indicated that the city is 10-15 years behind in bike infrastructure and changes need to be made soon.

Anna Vrska opined that development has bent toward profit - more appropriately, greed.
At this point we were not four hours into the meeting and the "crowd" had dwindled to fewer than 50 people.
Righeimer launched again, having regained his breath, stating "Everybody wants what's best for the community."  (I'm sorry, but I smirked.)  Addressing the Westside he said, "It didn't have 20 yards of concrete poured in 20 years."  Yep, you Westsiders are such low-lifes that you can't build nice new houses like the mayor and himself (so we're told).  Addressing the suggested 500 square foot work space, he said it would kill the Ametek project.
Genis said she didn't like the box houses and questioned the wisdom of using any part of the rooftop decks as "open space" in the calculations.

Foley expressed an interest in pocket parks to provide some much-needed open space.

Mensinger said he was fine with including a portion of rooftop decks in the open space calculation - suggesting half of it.  Foley disagreed.

Then the conversation turned to the "look" of some of the projects, with comments being made that the color scheme that had been presented to the Planning Commission is NOT what was actually applied to the project.  Righeimer observed about the Superior Point project, across from Trader Joe's on 17th Street, indicating it was "too white".  I smiled.  He forgets those pastel pimples on the roof.  He then suggested that the Planning Commission gets final approval of the colors!  OMG!  The world has gone mad! We're going to put four lawyers and a paralegal in charge of the "look" of a project - men with no architectural training?  That's maybe the stupidest comment - in a long, long line of stupid statements - that he's ever made!
That generated one doozy of a conversation, with Genis telling us that if she wanted to live in a city where the government tells you what color you can paint your house she would have moved to Irvine!

Dickson said they just wanted to be sure what had been presented to them is what ended up on the project.  Good grief!

Colin McCarthy, who had been absolutely mute until this point, expressed the need for guidance on the 250/500 square feet on the work space, citing multiple uses in the units.  Dickson said we are already requiring ADA compliant bathrooms on the first floor.

Round and round the conversation went, with big concerns about the work space use.  Dickson said the Homeowner's Association would be responsible for policing the use... really?  "Knock, knock.  Hi, I'm Fred from your HOA, here to check your ground floor room to make sure you're not misusing it.  Wow, nice big screen TV!  Do you have the NFL package?  Nice pool table!  No trouble getting it in that roll up door, huh?  Hey, that's a snazzy bar you set up on that back wall!  So, what's the business use here?  Ah, Indoor Recreation Consultant!  Great!  Sorry to bother you.  See ya around the grounds."

The conversation also included concerns about using the garage for actual car parking.  Dickson also observed that the targeted buyer for those units is not looking for a city park.  Really?

The meeting ended at 9:45 - a new record for a study session.  By my count, there were 18 city staff members in the room until the bitter end, and that didn't count whatever staff of the Community Center were left to close the place down.

In case you really want to see and hear these discussion, Dane Bora and Brad Long, along with a full team from CMTV, were on the job last night.  It will take them a couple days to blend the various camera shots and produce their final product, but it likely will be available for viewing on CMTV and on the streaming video on demand at the city website.
Almost forgot.. the cadervous creature, The Mouth From Mesa North, slithered into the meeting just before it began, took a seat closest to the exit, stayed a few minutes, then skulked away and didn't return.  However, he promptly posted a blog entry criticizing those who actually came to contribute to the process.  His drivel is going straight down hill... perhaps a sign of early onset dementia or some other malady typical of a man of his years.

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Anonymous Arthur Nern said...

"Four lawyers and a paralegal" on Planning? I thought Mathews was just some rigbot video game player..
A client told me yesterday that Fairview Developmental Center wouldn't be completely shut down for 6 more years. Riggy, Mensy, and their supplicants should be living with their bosses outside CM by then..

9/09/2015 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Muffin Top Bob said...

Mayor part time Righeimer must not have told Steve the game plan, because Steve seems to have said things that seem to go against what his handler is saying, and we all know that can't happen.

9/09/2015 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Eleanor Egan said...

"Where [there is] no vision, the people perish" - Proverbs 29:18.

The last thing most developers want is a vision, which leads to a plan, which leads to rules, which limit what, how and where they can build, which limits the amount of money they can scoop up and move on with. And the people are left to live with the mess they leave behind in the absence of a vision and a plan.

9/09/2015 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

Doesn't the current city plan define open space as being on the ground? Artsits' rendering of these crackerbox projects usually include a swath of green in front and a few trees. The green space must be imaginary.

9/09/2015 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Honeyman said...

Why does Righeimer hate Costa mesa so much?

9/09/2015 05:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Rig is wrong. It doesn't matter how much development you have, you do need a vision. It does effect all of the rest of the city, especially the immediate neighborhoods. If you have no vision, then you have the type of problems we are having now, where people don't like what is happening, it doesn't bode well for the council, and it turns out to be a mish mash of mush. This tells me that Rig doesn't know what he's doing.

So the little twerp doesn't want residential above the 405? What was that approved over by the Performing Arts Center? A huge high rise residential. Hmmm...

On a funny but rather pathetic note, I did notice Ramos seated near a woman who was texting, and he had his nose so far over in her lap trying to read what she was texting it was hysterical. I was behind them, it was pretty funny to watch. He's so slimy.

9/09/2015 05:49:00 PM  
Anonymous lovemygarden said...

That was one of the strangest city meetings I have ever attended. Emails sent in at 3:00 p.m. were not there because the staff had already left the office. No one –not the Council, not the Planning Commission, and certainly not the public got copies of the circulation and economic presentations. At one point Righeimer forgot to take public comment before giving the planners direction. Well, not that what we have to say matters to him anyway.

Costa Mesans, please sign that Costa Mesa First petition and then go out and get 25-50 signatures yourself. If we can’t get it on the ballot, the residents are going to be in a world of hurt. And then please vote these guys out in 2016.

9/09/2015 06:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

The lower floor work rooms have been a joke from day one. Has there actually been an example of any of these units using the bottom floor as a work area? I've not heard of any. I've seen about 4 that are used as bedrooms though. Not sure its for the residents or renters or rented by the hour. I know why the council can't be honest about what they are doing, as they need the commercial/industrial area. But considering the roof decks as open space is such a bad joke its offensive. People in these units are going to have kids and dogs. Kids playing 4 stories up with almost no constraints? Anyone going to walk a dog on the roof? These residents will be walking their dogs on the neighbors yards. This is a ridiculous way to live.

9/10/2015 08:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Mike McNiff said...

I posted this link about senior housing in CM and OC in the CM Public Square. It was immediately deleted. Guess it didn't fit their narrative. Curious to see if I get booted now, as I've been pretty passive over there. So much for an open dialogue, unless you are angry about homeless people at Wilson Park.

9/10/2015 09:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Robin Leffler said...

I just looked at the article Mike McNiff posted the link for. Well written and good information. Why would anyone want to censor a link to this information?

Indeed this is censorship, pure and simple. Are they afraid that their page members are not adult enough or intelligent enough to read all the information from all sides of an issue and make up their own minds?

9/10/2015 02:10:00 PM  

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