Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SPOILER ALERT! Lions Park Project Moves Forward

Yeah, I know... you were waiting for the big build-up.  You wanted the drama, to see if the combined deliberative body - the City Council, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission - would, at this late date, fail to move the Lions Park Project forward.  Ha!  Not a chance!  After years and years of meetings and presentations, this baby was a done deal last night.... but getting there wasn't a quick decision.
As mentioned, the Costa Mesa City Council, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and most of the senior city staff met in a Special Joint meeting at the Costa Mesa Country Club - ironically, the current Neighborhood Community Center is now closed pending demolition - to discuss this monumental project.  Nearly 150 of your friends and neighbors attended this meeting.  Some questioned whether they could actually meet and do what was planned on the agenda, but City Attorney Tom Duarte assured us that it was all legal.  You can read the full staff report HERE.
This meeting, which took five (5) hours almost to the second and played to a full house of around 150 people, actually seemed to move very quickly.  City Manager Tom Hatch kicked things off, gave us some history of the project and, with the exception of a few brief comments scattered throughout the meeting, allowed his staff and the architect to carry the ball.  Assistant City Manager Tammy Letourneau shepherded the initial staff presentations by Senior Planner Mel Lee and Interim Finance Director Steve DuniventSherry Toth, representing the Orange County Libraries who actually will run this new facility, also spoke briefly.
About thirty minutes into the evening Steve Johnson, of the architectural firm of Johnson Favaro, made the main presentation which took just over two (2) hours, including questions from the assembled officials.  His presentation was outstanding, although he provided a little too much architectural history from my perspective.  Still, it was interesting.  The new library will be created using contemporary technologies and concepts - apparently libraries are no longer about books, but about meeting, creating using the technology available - and there are books, too.  I'm not going to try to provide you with every word that was uttered.   Suffice it to say that the new two-story building will meet the contemporary demands of all age groups, from toddlers to us geezers and every part of the age spectrum between.
Dane Bora, Brad Long and the CMTV team were on hand to record the event and will present it for delayed viewing sometime within the next day or so.. lots of editing to be done.

Some of Johnson's highlights:

The old single story, 22,000 square foot Neighborhood Community Center will be razed and a new two-story, 22,000 library will be erected within part of that footprint.

The result of that vertical construction will provide a new acre of parkland on the site.

The existing Donald Dungan Branch Library will remain open while construction takes place on the new building - the 2017-2019 time frame.
A restaurant - dubbed Cafe'Mesa - will be constructed in that first phase and will be located between the new structures.

Once the new library building is complete the library operations will be transferred to it and the existing circular structure will be renovated and become the NCC, with a meeting room large enough to accommodate 300 people, plus another smaller one.  Analysis by staff and the architects determined that the current NCC was very underutilized - it was only being used 30% of the available time.  So, the more compact - fewer rooms - combination of the new NCC and the New library should suffice.  There are two meeting rooms in the new library building with outside access.
Financing was a big question.  Interim Finance Director Steve Dunivent did a great job of explaining it in laymans terms.  The shortest version possible to explain it is - it will cost $36,000 for this project and the city will finance $18.5 of that amount with a Certificate of Participation (COP).  Because so much of the cost is being paid in cash, and because existing COPs will be either retired or re-financed at current lower rates, our monthly payments on this project will remain about the same as we are currently paying on the other ones - about $1.2 million a year.  Read Attachment 5, HERE, for the full details of the financing.  This image is a snapshot of one segment that might help you.
It's safe to say that there was nearly universal euphoria among the council, commissioners and staff about this project.  Some of the comments made were almost orgasmic, but that may have been due in part to the lateness of the hour.
Twenty-two (22) people spoke during Public Comments.  Opinions were fairly even.  Slightly more than half loved the idea.  The others didn't like it, or had major concerns about it.  Sorry about the camera angle.  Among those who addressed the officials were:
Art and Mary Ellen Goddard, who have been involved in seeking a new library for the city for twenty years.  To say they were happy with the result last night would be the understatement of the decade.
Robin Leffler was among those not sold on the extravagance of this project, suggesting that we may be squandering money that might be used to purchase the Fairview Developmental Center when it actually comes available sometime down the road.

Terry Koken bemoaned the current dearth of open bathrooms at the park and suggested that, in the case of the homeless folks who currently infest this and other city parks, they're gonna do what they're gonna do, bathroom or not.
Alex Reich decried no 2017 public outreach and actually plugged this blog... thanks for that, Alex.  He suggested that THIS project was not the right project.

Cindy Black, a 36-year resident of the near Westside, described the site as "my 'hood", said this was not the project she saw in the early meetings.  She observed that libraries are a dying breed.

Greg Ridge was among those who complained about the locked fences around elements of the park, making them unusable to most park visitors.  He complained that he had to climb the fence at Davis Field to play football on Thanksgiving Day.  He suggested the park should be more open - tear down those fences.
Senior Commission Vice Chair Darrell Neft was one of the many enthusiastic supporters of this project, observing that no project is perfect.  He observed that libraries are NOT dead, that millennials are using them a lot.  He encouraged the officials to get going with it.
Mark Korando and his wife, Cherie (who passed on celebrating her birthday last night to attend the meeting) - nearby residents - complained about the inability to take their grandkids to the park and fly a kite and just run and play, citing the fences and homeless folks.
Public Comments ended at 9:40 and then the fun began.  After nearly 30 minutes of discussion retread Council member Allan Mansoor asked for the decisions by each body present be split into separate meetings.  The Parks and Recreation Commission would hear their issue at a normal meeting, as would the Planning Commission and the City Council.  After all this hoopla last night, and with the assurance by the City Attorney that this process was appropriate, he wanted to drag this out for another month.  Councilman Jim Righeimer blew his top, saying "This is offensive to me!", and call it "obstructionist".  Mansoor made the motion and it failed on a split vote, 3-2.
During the deliberations Planning Commission Vice Chair Byron de Arakal addressed some of the earlier concerns - like why the new library couldn't have been placed at the Civic Center Park near City Hall, indicating it wasn't a large enough site.  He said the Fairview Developmental Center - another site suggested by several speakers - was no slam dunk and was still off in the future.  He observed that this project would be creating a defacto new Civic Center, where arts, culture and commerce would converge.  He described this project as a "Legacy" - something this council and others who got the ball rolling could look back on as a major positive accomplishment in their tenure.  He also observed that it was the Genesis of the revitalization of that part of town.
Just before 10:30 the voting process began.  Parks and Recreation Chairman Kim Pederson moved to approve the Lions Park Projects Master Plan as proposed.  Commissioner Arlis Reynolds, after a long explanation, attempted to make a substitute motion, but it failed for lack of a second.  The original motion then passed, 5-0, and the ball was tossed to the Planning Commission.
Chairman Stephan Andranian moved to Adopt the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration.  Commissioner Carla Navarro Woods suggested that the plant palette be softened to include some more drought tolerant, yet colorful species.  The issue passed, 5-0.
Vice Chair de Arakal then moved the second issue before them - the adoption of a resolution to approve Planning Application PA-16-71 for the Lions park Projects Master Plan, subject to the conditions of approval and mitigation measures.  Commissioner Jeffrey Harlan observed that this project was creative, imaginative and shared de Arakal's enthusiasm for it.  He observed that usually cities rely on developers for this kind of project and he was pleased that the City had chosen to move forward with this excellent project.  Commissioner Isabell Kerins agreed.  Andranian also agreed but expressed concern about the displacement of the homeless during the project and the additional debt.  The motion passed 5-0.  It was now 10:45.
The City Council then took their turn at motions.  Councilman John Stephens moved to adopt the plans in the first of two motions, which ended up being considered in one vote.  The motion was to adopt plans, specifications, and working details for the Lions Park Projects Master Plan, City Project No. 17-03 and to authorize staff to advertise the Lions Park Projects for construction.  Now, you'd have thought this would be a simple vote, but it took fifteen minutes of yammering before they finally passed it unanimously.  Even at that late hour, so deep into the proceedings, Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Genis again expressed concern about the location of the buildings, which Johnson again patiently explained. 
Councilman Jim Righeimer told us he'd "looked at this like 50 times."  He said, "We need this library!" and told us a personal anecdote about hauling his fifteen-year old daughter from library to library, from town-to-town because of the lack of a library in our city.  Personally, I thought that was a bunch of manure, but it may be true.  Regardless, it gave him a chance to exercise his jaws before the meeting ended.  He told us this is the best site, that we can't wait for the Fairview Developmental Center and he explained how this is just trading existing debt for new debt.  He said, "If we don't do this the money will be spent."  He stopped short of saying that the current council would just give it to the employees, but I could see those wheels spinnin'.
Genis again went on and on, saying we should build two of them.  She recited history - the purchase of the Farm site, where Jack Hammett Sports Complex now sits, and told Righeimer, "You got me."
Mayor Katrina Foley expressed her great enthusiasm for this project, that it was the right time for it and she was proud of all involved.  She had Letourneau re-state the number of meetings - at least 50 - with stakeholders, trying to flesh out their interests and needs.  She recalled the 9 public meetings and hearings over the past couple years.  Her point - not stated - was that if folks didn't have a chance to provide their input it was certainly not for lack of opportunities.  She just bubbled with enthusiasm as she described this new venue as a place for the people.  She also acknowledged that we still have many other issues that need to be addressed, but we should move forward with this project as scheduled.  The vote was taken and passed, 5-0.  The meeting adjourned at 11:03 p.m.  Ugh!

OK, this is a really cool project.  Get past the money part - that's been resolved and we're paying a big chunk of cash from anticipated revenue sources based on development projects already in the pipeline.  Measure Y seems to have no impact on this project.  You can argue the architecture all day - it's all a matter of taste.  Johnson's presentation won me over.  This is going to put most of Lions Park out of commission for nearly two years.  That's a tough consequence, but in the grand scheme of things it's a short-term problem and it seems worth it in the long haul.  I'm looking forward to watching this unfold.  I encourage you to watch the CMTV coverage of this meeting, if only to see Johnson's presentation... you can watch politicians anytime.  Read Luke Money's Daily Pilot report HERE.
For me, of much greater concern is the homelessness issue which, hard as we try, seems only to be getting worse.  I fear that if we don't get a handle on it, once this new magnificent project is completed - as several speakers observed - we may end up having to regularly treat the chairs for lice infestation and hose out the bathrooms daily.  This is a SERIOUS problem that needs a resolution.  We NEED transitional housing ASAP.  It's unacceptable that we allow a couple hundred homeless people to destroy the ability of residents - taxpayers - to enjoy our parks.  We need to do MORE to fix this problem... NOW!

Labels: , , , , ,


Anonymous Casual Viewer said...

The Mesa Verde library is less than a mile from Jim's under-constrution McMansion, so I don't know what he' complaining about. Maybe he had to drive around Orange County to find a library that didn't have homeless people hanging around.

Unless there is a better place to congregate, there will be homeless people in the park and around the library. The needs of the temporarily jobless, teens aged out of foster care, and addicts are different. One solution will not address all issues.

3/29/2017 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous WaterRat said...

So we will have a new library complex with an insufficient community center, that will cost the city (at this point) 40 million dollars. It will extend the city debt 1.8 million a year.

There is so much this city needs. This is something we would really like, and it may be a great project but is this expense something we should be considering at this time?

Geoff, you are right. The homeless issue is getting worse. We need transitional housing. We need to obtain the Fairview Developmental property. This property is important to the city for several reasons, not the least of which would be some transitional housing.

I get that the idea is to upgrade the area on the Westside and that’s a great idea. But $40 million for one block? Think on this:

The real prize is Fairview Developmental Center. When that property comes up for sale by the state, the City of Costa Mesa will have incurred so much debt that we will be in no position to buy it. That would be a huge loss. You know who will be in a position to buy it? Exactly. The developers. Rig’s buddies are salivating over the thought of golf course homes.

3/29/2017 10:25:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home