Tuesday, February 14, 2017

New Planning Commission Sets The Tone

Monday night the new Costa Mesa Planning Commission met for the very first time in a meeting that was memorable for more than one reason.

After Deputy City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill led the room in the Pledge of Allegiance, City Clerk Brenda Green conducted the swearing-in ceremony for the four new commissioners in attendance. New Commissioner Jeffrey Harlan was absent due to a family emergency.
Welcome aboard to Stephan Andranian, Byron de Arakal, Isabell Mayer Kerins and Carla Navarro Woods.
Interim Development Services Director/Consultant Jay Trevino conducted the Public Comments portions of the meeting.  Eight (8) speakers stepped up to address the commission.
Richard Russell complained about the previous commissions having been "fired", stating flat out it was a bad idea.  Then he thanked the new commissioners for being there, particularly citing Commissioner Andranian as a returning member who could offer continuity.
Cindy Brenneman welcomed the new commissioners, then cautioned them to be careful doing their jobs, citing the fact that Fire Station #1 is currently being constructed simultaneously with new median work being done nearby in Mesa Verde, which is causing all kinds of traffic problems.

Three unidentified people stepped up to complain about the project at 2068 Maple Street.  Summerhill stopped the third midstream and told him they should speak during the time provided when that item is heard.  All three spoke again at that time.
Jay Humphrey congratulated the commissioners, then corrected a number one of those earlier speakers provided about the number of new units built in the past six years.

An unidentified woman encouraged the commissioners to think independently of the others - to make up their own minds.  She praised Andranian for his previous performance on the commission and reminded them that "what you do is important!"
An unidentified business owner and frequent speaker before the commission and the City Council encouraged the commissioners to do what is right for the community, not developers.  Citing the current condition of traffic in the city, he said if it means more traffic, don't build any more.

Trevino then guided the commissioners through the process of selecting a Chairman.  Harlan's name was offered up by Woods, but a substitute motion was made by Kerins nominating returning commissioner Stephan Andranian as Chairman, was seconded de Arakal and he was chosen on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods voting NO.  That was interesting...
Andranian then conducted the process of selecting a Vice Chairman for the commission.  Commissioner Byron de Arakal was nominated and seconded and selected on a 4-0 vote.
Commissioner Isabell Mayer Kerins was selected to be the liaison to the Housing and Public Service Grant Committee, 4-0.
A short break was taken to juggle chairs on the dais before reconvening for Commissioner Comments.  Woods and Kerins had none.

de Arakal thanked his former compatriots and the staff that supported them on the Parks and Recreation Commission.  He thanked the City Council for their trust in him and offered his congratulations to his fellow commissioners.  He also pledged to weigh the issues and make decisions based the facts and the law, not on personality or politics. 
Andranian thanked the City Council for their trust in selecting him.  He said he signed on previously for a 4-year term and plans to complete that tenure with this assignment.  He said he always listened to the issues and made his decisions considering the property owner's rights and the impact of the decision on neighboring properties.  He also congratulated his fellow commissioners and thanked them for choosing him as chairman.
Next up was the Consent Calendar, which had a special wrinkle this time.  The only items on the Consent Calendar were five sets of minutes from previous Planning Commission meetings from last year, and the only person on that commission was Andranian.  Deputy City Attorney Summerhill jumped in and told the commissioners that it was OK for them to vote on the minutes if they had a comfort level that they were accurate.  She praised Clerk Julie Colgan and observed that she's very thorough in completing the minutes.  Jay Humphrey stepped to the podium and suggested the commissioners view the tapes before voting on the minutes.  An unidentified woman also addressed this, and observed the minutes contained discussions of Sober Living Homes and agreed with Humphrey about reviewing the tapes.  The commission approved the Consent Calendar, 4-0.

Next up came Public Hearing #1, the amendment to a planning application to allow automotive service - smog check and repair - at at 2059 Harbor Blvd.  After a 20 minute discussion, including three public comments that opined that this operator should be permitted to run his business, and in which the operator assured the commissioners that the only automotive repair being done at that site would be strictly related to smog compliance with the exception of replacement of catalytic converters, which would be done elsewhere, the commission passed the request on a 4-0 vote.
Public Hearing #2, the time extension for a residential project at 2068 Maple Avenue, which should have been a slam dunk, turned out not to be.  The applicants client apparently bought the property and the previously-approved entitlements late last year and was coming to the commission for a one-year extension lest he lose those entitlements on the May, 26th expiration date.  The only issue was the time extension, not the nature of the project - a three-story development with rooftop gardens.
Eight (8) residents spoke to this issue, including several who live nearby.  Privacy in their own homes became a large issue because a similar nearby project has sight lines into yards of single story residences nearby.  Several speakers said this project is a corruption of the Westside Residential Overlay, which was concocted and approved a decade ago.
After lengthy discussions by the commissioners in which questions were raised about the applicant's due diligence in acquiring the property with a short time left on the entitlements, and also the fact that there was not financing in place to proceed, the commission eventually voted, 4-0, to DENY the one year time extension.  I cannot recall this ever happening before and may have set the tone for how this commission plans to operate downstream.  The applicant must now scramble to get financing and the tract map approved at the county level, get permits and begin construction - break ground - before that May 26th date or he will lose the previously-approved entitlements.  In my view, this is a really BIG DEAL for the commission and the city.  It will be interesting to see if the applicant appeals the decision to the City Council.
The last item on the agenda, Public Hearing #3, was up next.  New commissioner Woods departed, recusing herself for a perceived conflict of interest that was not discussed.  This project will convert an industrial site at the corner of Red Hill and Fischer into a banquet/event venue that will cater mostly to weddings.  There will be alcohol consumption and sales at the site presuming they can acquire the necessary licenses to do so.  Concern was expressed about the security of the alcohol, the parking management of the site and security in general.  Apparently complimentary valet parking will be part of the process - it was specifically mentioned in the discussion before the vote.  de Arakal expressed concern that the site would be made available to promoters and the response was "absolutely not!".  The three remaining commissioners passed the request on a 3-0 vote.

Before Andranian adjourned the meeting to the next commission meeting on February 27th Trevino reminded them to mark their calendars for a joint Planning Commission/City Council meeting scheduled for March 28th at 6:00 p.m.

Some thoughts about this meeting and the new commission...
First, it's not going to take this group long to get settled into their jobs.  This meeting was a good shoehorn for them to begin to figure out where the buttons are on the dais and how the protocols work up there.  It appears to be a strong group.  When Jeff Harlan returns it will be even stronger.  I fully expect to see good, thorough discussions of issues, particularly as the new folks get up to speed in the jargon of the job.
The selection of Stephan Andranian as Chairman and Byron de Arakal as Vice Chairman was a good move.  Andranian has current knowledge of how things were managed for the past two years.  Certainly, some of that will change, but his institutional knowledge will be very valuable.  de Arakal has demonstrated his skills on the Parks and Recreation Commission for a couple of tours, including as Chairman of that group.  He knows how to run a meeting.  Kerins seems like a very bright woman with a developer orientation, which isn't necessarily bad.  Woods has a strong environmental sensitivity combined with good management skills.  It will take her a little longer to become comfortable with the language of the job - the terms of art that come with any job -  and will likely have to do a little more homework than the others early-on, but she's smart and will bring much to the discussions.  Harlan's presence as a lawyer with a strong planning background will add to the strength of this organization.
And now we come to that dark cloud hanging over the Planning Commission - Sandra Genis' voting mistake - and what, if anything, will be done about it. There seems to be no easy "fix" to this - any choice will just add to the confusion and frustration.  I hope we hear about a solution soon - every day that passes with no solution just exacerbates the issue.  In my view, NOTHING should be done about it.  Genis made a mistake, but it is not an earth-shaking mistake.  The City Council has already certified the choices for the three commissions.  They should now just move forward.
Happy Valentines Day, everybody.  Give your honey a hug today - I already did - mine, not yours.. you get my drift.

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Anonymous Where's My Coffee? said...

Geoff, I couldn't agree more with your assessment.

2/14/2017 07:13:00 PM  

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