Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Costa Mesa's Not Alone In The Rehab Battles

Late last night online and in today's print edition the Orange County Register published an article by staff writer Fred Swegles buried on page 4 of the Local Section titled, "San Juan seeks freeze on rehab homes".  Click on that title to read the article.

This timely piece summarizes what's been going on in that South County city as it deals with the infestation of rehabilitation homes - a problem exactly like the one Costa Mesa has been wrestling with for a few years now.  Costa Mesa residents have been asking for a moritorium on rehab homes for several years - San Juan Capistrano is poised to do exactly that.

As you read through that article you'll get the sense that you're reading about Costa Mesa, except our city has been mired in this problem longer, and to a much greater extent.  It's been estimated by some that Costa Mesa has nearly one-third of all the rehab homes in Orange County.

The article also mentions the March 18, 2016 meeting in Irvine attended by many elected officials - Sandra Genis was the only elected official from Costa Mesa based on reports from the scene - in which the issue of the proliferation of rehab homes throughout Orange County was discussed.  And, Congressman Dana Rhorabacher apparently has been quoted as saying something like "I've just become aware of this issue.", or words to that effect.  OK, there are a couple ways you could interpret that.  Since he's a resident of Costa Mesa - a couple blocks from me - it seems virtually impossible that ANY person with ANY political position could actually NOT be aware of this situation.  He is either clueless or not truthful - neither option seems satisfactory to me.

There is a group in San Clemente - San Juan Capistrano's neighbor - that is attempting to generate signatures on an online petition to force the folks in Sacramento to DO SOMETHING about this problem.  A local organization, Take Back Our Neighborhoods (TBON) has been working with the San Clemente group and has provided a link on their web page that will take you directly to that petition.  The TBON page can be found at  The large red alert banner at the top of the homepage includes a link to the petition.

Costa Mesa has passed two (2) ordinances in an attempt to regulate the way these rehab homes operate.  The first, pertaining to R-1 residential neighborhoods, is currently unenforceable due to litigation.  The second, for all other residential neighborhoods, should just about be going into effect now.

Costa Mesa residents should continue to be vigilant because the proliferation of these homes appears to be adding to the spike in crime in our neighborhoods.  We should continue to require our elected leaders to look for solutions - including lobbying state and federal officials for a comprehensive solution -  and hold their feet to the fire until they do.

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Tardy Parks & Rec. Commission Wrap

Last week, on Thursday, March 24, 2016, the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission under the guidance of new Chairman Brett Eckles met to discuss a small, but interesting agenda.  You can watch the streaming video replay of the meeting HERE.  Commissioner Don Harper was absent for the third consecutive meeting with no explanation given.  I was also absent, traveling to an exotic location to help my wife celebrate her birthday, hence this tardy report.  Better late than never, right?  If you want to read the agenda for that meeting go HERE.

During Public Comments an unidentified person reminded all of the petition being circulated to place an initiative on the November ballot to prohibit development of Fairview Park.  She also told the commission of an effort by a group in San Clemente to generate state action on Sober Living Homes.  She referred us to the site for her local group, Take Back Our Neighborhoods (TBON) at, which contains a link to the online petition involved.

Skateboarder Rocky Evans again asked for extended hours at the Volcom Skate Park.
The first item on the agenda under New Business, HERE,  was a new Instructional Class Proposal presented by Interim Recreation Manager Justin Martin.  This is a fascinating new program, to be conducted beginning in June at Fairview Park.  Read the staff report.  The meetings will be on Saturdays, not on Thursdays as previously suggested.  Commissioner Byron de Arakal seems to be the prime mover on this issue.  The four-week program, which was described as a first step - a pilot program for broader application if successful.  de Arakal mentioned Canyon Park and Talbert Nature Preserve as other possible venues.
The titles of each module are:  
Week 1 (June 4) - Identification Tour 

Week 2 (June 11) - Native Seed Collection 

Week 3 (June 18) - Invasive Removal  

Week 4 (June 25) - Planting
See the staff report for more details.  The instruction will be conducted by members of the Institute for Conservation, Research and Education (ICRE), a non-profit that has conducted similar programs in the Newport Beach Upper Bay.

Although the staff report says the number of participants will be 10 - 25, that limitation is not firm and may be more flexible, depending on the community response.  Although designed for an older demographic, the dates were changed to Saturdays to accommodate school-age children, too.  More information will be forthcoming in the city Recreation Guide in the near future.  Only one member of the public addressed this issue, former councilman Jay Humphrey, who heartily supported the concept.  I was surprised more Fairview Park activists didn't show up for this meeting.  The commission moved it forward on a 4-0 vote.
The second item under New Business is the proposed plant palette for the new outdoor meeting area adjacent to the old Print Shop - which will be converted to a meeting room - behind City Hall.  After a short discussion in which the suggestion to have a confer process with the landscape maintenance organization on the plant appropriateness, the commission moved this forward on a 4-0 vote.
The commission voted 3-1 with de Arakal voting NO, to DENY the request to remove two trees at 3140 Jefferson Street.  The property owner was not present to plead the case for removal, which apparently swayed the decision of at least one commissioner.  The applicant can re-apply again in a year.
They also voted unanimously to vote to deny the removal of trees at 1881 Maui Circle, 1883 Maui Circle and 216 Flower Street.

Martin provided a summary of the Recreation organizations achievements during the fall and winter months, including the receipt of a prestigious award for the Ranch Program.  The Award of Excellence was presented by the California Park and Recreation Society at a recent expo.  Kudos to Martin, Assistant CEO Tammy Letourneau and the Recreation staff for the program excellence.
During Commissioner comments de Arakal expressed angry chagrin about a new bill being proposed in Sacramento by a San Jose assemblyman - AB 2496, which proposed the elimination of daylight savings time in California.  He stated this is will require a tremendous increase in lights on fields throughout the city.  He asked for a brief report on the impact and to have it agendized in April.  He described it as the "dumbest piece of legislation I've seen in a long time."   Chairman Eckles agreed wholeheartedly, with no small degree of anger, too.  He described it as "a disaster".
As he prepared to close this meeting Chairman Eckles expressed disappointment that nobody showed up for the meeting.  Of course, some of the tree removal applicants were there, but bailed out immediately after being rejected.  I, too, was surprised that nobody except Humphrey showed up to discuss the Fairview program.  Regular attendee Beth Refakes was at Camp Pendleton, distributing easter goodies to the children of the 1/5 Marines and your humble correspondent was heading that direction to begin my wife's birthday celebration trip.  To be honest, the Parks and Recreation Commission meetings are the most sparsely attended of all the commission meetings - including the Senior Commission.  Perhaps the April meeting, with the Daylight Savings issue on the agenda, might evoke more participation.

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A Joyous Side Trip

As you regular readers already know, sometimes this blog will take a personal side trip - just because I can and I want to.  This is one of those times.
For the past several days my sweet and very patient wife and I have been celebrating her birthday - which actually fell on Tuesday, the 29th.  I'm not going to tell you how many birthdays this represented, but there's a clue further on down.  Suffice it to say, I was unable to get a fire permit for her cake, so we had to make do the best we could.
Our birthday adventure began with a trip to our favorite big city - San Diego.  We did what most tourists do - went to the zoo!  It was a perfect day - except for the 17,000 other people on the grounds, elbowing each other to see the marvelous critters and playing destruction derby with their strollers.  We love the zoo.  We love the special critters and the effort made to create good habitat for them.
We also took in big chunks of other parts of Balboa Park, including the Natural History Museum, where we learned about Fairy Shrimp (are you listening, Steve?) and the plight of Whales in 3D.  We enjoyed all the venues and the street musicians adding melody to the perfect weather.  We loved the flowers. We loved eating hot dogs off a cart and devouring ice cream cones before they ran down our arms.
We celebrated her birthday early with a marvelous dinner overlooking the harbor, where we could see aircraft carriers docked and watch other warships come and go.  She got her first "cake" - actually, a chocolate souffle' - for dessert Saturday night.
On the way home from that wonderful weekend we stopped for an Easter brunch at her brother's house in Laguna Niguel - which actually turned out to be a surprise birthday party for my Sweet Sue. The topper for that party was the fantastic memory book created by six of our nieces and nephews, including some wonderful old images and personal remembrances of Aunt Susie from each of them.  They are wonderful young men and women.  Here are a few of those pages...
Then, Tuesday, she and I had lunch and dinner together.  At the latter - one of our favorite local spots - she was presented with a hot fudge sundae with candle as the staff and patrons (much to her chagrin) sang Happy Birthday to her!
So, thanks to all our Facebook friends who sent my Sweet Sue birthday greetings throughout the day, and to our family and friends who have made it a VERY special birthday, with cards and flowers and gifts for the birthday girl.  It was a wonderful day for a wonderful woman.  It's the great joy of my life to have her by my side, supporting my efforts in all I do.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

General Plan, More Development Move On

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met again Monday night and things went about as anticipated, although not without some interesting twists.
To begin with, Vice Chair Jeff Mathews and Commissioner Tim Sesler were absent, so that left only three commissioners to consider the issues before the commission.

During Public Comments four (4) residents spoke.  Beth Refakes gave a report, with slide show on the recent Easter Egg event at Camp Pendleton for the children of the 1/5 Marines.  She and her compatriots on the Military Affairs Team have been collecting plastic eggs, toys and candies for the children and last Thursday was the event.  According to Refakes, it was a rousing success, with more than 2,000 eggs collected, packaged and delivered.  The Easter Bunny was present to spread the joy.
Former council candidate Chris McEvoy stepped to the podium to chide the commissioners for perpetuating the density/traffic problems in the city.  He asked them how they "fix a problem by adding to a problem."  He accused the commission of bending the rules to accommodate developers.
Kim Hendricks addressed the commission on the Fairview Park Initiative and encouraged folks to sign the petitions being circulated.
Resident 47 (who prefers to remain anonymous) told the commission about an effort by a San Clemente group that is organizing to fight the impact on sober living homes in their community, much like Costa Mesa's Take Back Our Neighborhoods (TBON) has tried to do in recent years.  She announced the existence of an online petition, assessable via the TBON website at by clicking on the red "alert" section at the top of the home page.  The goal is to spread this movement state-wide.  She also spoke of a March 18, 2016 meeting in Irvine at which this issue was discussed by many elected leaders, including Congressman Dana Rhorabacher, who apparently feigned ignorance of the issue until that very moment, and others.  She complained that few Costa Mesa officials were present - only Sandra Genis was present among our elected officials.

During Commissioner Comments Stephan Andranian commended the volunteers for their efforts on behalf of the kids of the 1/5 Marines.
Colin McCarthy expressed surprise that the City Council recently overturned one of the commissions decisions - on a religious/cultural center near John Wayne Airport, and stated at one point, he "takes orders from our elected leaders."
Chairman Rob Dickson, responding to a critic who accused commissioners of "taking instructions via cell phone on the dais", said "I don't take orders on how to vote."  OK, so he doesn't and McCarthy does, right?
Public Hearing #1 was the second cut at the General Plan Update and the Draft Environmental Impact Report.  There was no formal staff presentation.  The hearing was to, once again, gather public comments and observations from the commissioners.  Minoo Ashabi guided the discussion and reiterated that formal written comments are due no later than close of business on April 18, 2016.
McCarthy asked about the relationship to the General Plan Update and Fairview Park and was told that there is NO land use change to the park in the General Plan Update.

Nine people spoke on this issue.  Former councilwoman Wendy Leece observed that the writing was better in the update, then asked several questions about a survey that was conducted, Cultural Resources section and more - and asked for more details.
Former councilman Jay Humphrey observed that it appeared there was a cumulative effect on density bonuses, and that the prior height restriction on development south of the I-405 was being abandoned.
Christine Nolfe, Linda Ting and Kathy Esfahani each spoke representing the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition and asked for greater density zoning - 40 dwelling units per acre instead of the 20 proposed -  for the Fairview Developmental Site, which is a perfect place for much-needed low income housing.
Kim Hendricks again observed that Fairview Park should not be considered for unnecessary Sports Fields, calling the so-called need for sports fields a myth.

Rick Huffman asked several questions about specific statistics in the Land Use Element.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Bob Graham observed about some of the recent projects built on the Westside - multi-story with rooftop patios.  He said they needed 1) a dumb waiter system because hauling groceries and other objects is too difficult; 2) Each such unit should include a central vacuum system and 3) Each should include a rooftop patio.
Resident 47 observed that the Small Lot Ordinance should be eliminated, that old traffic studies were being used to make decisions, that infrastructure like sewers should be replaced before more dense development is approved and that the Banning Ranch will have a significant impact on the city.

The commissioners thanked all the speakers for their comments.  McCarthy asked consultant Laura Stetson about sports fields and dragged from her that the numbers include school district fields that fall under the Joint Use Agreement, and that the agreement could be changed or cancelled at any time.  The commission continued this item to the Planning Commission meeting on April 11, 2016 on a 3-0 vote.
Public Hearing #2 is the development of six units at 592 Hamilton Street.  The developer, Nick Louis, is a small developer - this will be his biggest project.  He asked the commission to waive the requirement for undergrounding the utilities - he said such an effort would actually involve eight (8) properties.  Following about 40 minutes of discussion the commission passed it on a 2-1 vote, with Andranian voting NO.  However, the decision left in place the requirement for undergrounding utilities, so - as McCarthy observed - it was probably a deal-killer because of the cost.  It will be interesting to see if the applicant appeals the decision, hoping that other recent projects where the undergrounding requirement might impact this decision.
Public Hearing #3 is the project at 522 and 526 Bernard Street.  This is resurrection of a long-dormant project that had received approvals back in 2013.  This is a new developer, Patric Lynam, who changed the project from a condominium project to detached individual homes.  There was much concern about the ratio of enclosed to open parking spaces - the ratio seemed reversed to McCarthy.  In the end the project was approved on another 2-1 vote, with Andranian again voting NO because of the parking issues and the fact that the developer apparently did not comply with the City Council recommendation that he find alternate parking solutions.  This project also required undergrounding utilities, but the developer didn't bat an eye at that requirement.

After a short break Public Hearing #4, the 33 unit development on 3.71 acres at the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Merrimac - 2626 Harbor - was discussed.  This project met every requirement and more.  For example, it has over 50% open space, including a dedicated private park.  It is less dense by 25%.  Former City Director of Development Services and Deputy CEO Peter Naghavi is the consultant on the project and he presented a lengthy, detailed presentation.  One of the requirements is for lighting along Harbor Blvd and Merrimac - a requirement not seen in the city before.  When the vote was taken the resolution was crafted to not REQUIRE the lighting, but for both Development Services and Public Services to work with the developer to determine IF such lighting is really necessary.  Concern was expressed by staff that because street lighting along Harbor is in the center divider it may not meet the minimun illumination standards.  Shortly afetr 9:15 the  item passed on a 3-0 vote and the meeting was adjourned.

It was an interesting night for development in the city.  We saw two projects not passed unanimously and one of which, despite being passed, may be Dead On Arrival due to the requirement to underground the utilities.  A couple of the developments were resurrected projects with new developers.  And, we are seeing the beginning of the metamorphosis of Harbor Blvd. from a commercial corriedor into a mixed bag of residential and commercial and I'm wondering just how this is going to play out.  The development at Harbor and Merrimac is directly across the street from the recently rebuilt Cadillac dealership - a project that continues to give neighbors on the other side fits due to light spillage.  It's going to be interesting to see how that new housing development works out, since it's located on one of our busiest commercial streets and has commercial operations on two sides of it.  And, so, the development stampede through Costa Mesa continues.

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