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  • Cynthia McDonald

COSTA MESA FIRST UPDATE AND IMPORTANT FAIRVIEW PARK STEERING COMMITTEE MEETING

Happy Independence Day!  The July 2, 2024 Costa Mesa City Council meeting was canceled, along with the July 9 Study Session, so the only City meeting this month will be on July 16 at 6:00 p.m.  We know the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance will be on the agenda for that meeting (more on that below).


Here is a summary of the results of the City meetings in June:


CITY COUNCIL – JUNE 4:

1.     ONE METRO WEST PROJECT FIRST READING OF ORDINANCES APPROVING THE DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT, REZONE TO 80 DU/AC, SPECIFIC PLAN CHANGES, AND CHANGES TO THE CONDITIONS OF APPROVAL:  Not satisfied with the results of pouring money into Measure K, which enabled it to avoid a vote of the people on its project, the applicant came asking for more. The applicant is now Costa Mesa Sunflower, LLC, which is apparently owned by Rose Equities and New Jersey developer, Garden Communities. If you have time to go down a rabbit hole, run an internet search on Garden Communities’ principal in San Diego, Stuart Posnock, because the results are very interesting and reveal a lot about the influence of real estate developers by way of political contributions, a case of alleged insurance fraud (looks more like environmentalists burned down the project), and a mayor who pled guilty to three criminal counts amid a hurricane of sexual harassment allegations. And while you’re at it, you might want to read up about a marriage gone bad, murder and Garden Communities’ refusal to hand over business records to the police. It’s an interesting series of events with Kevin Bacon-like linkages and would make a great soap opera plot line.


Back on topic! Despite requests that the City to require the project go to a vote under Measure Y, the City Council proceeded in granting the applicant’s request to delay payment of certain entitlement fees (including what amounts to a sweetheart loan by the City), and a change to the effective date of its entitlements to avoid putting the project to a vote.  The motion passed 6-0, with Council Member Don Harper absent.  This was later reaffirmed at the second reading on June 18, when the item, despite its importance, was on the Consent Calendar portion of the Agenda.  at that meeting the vote was 6-1, with Harper voting no.


The project is expected to break ground late this year or early next year.  It will be built in three phases, with construction taking at least five years to complete. We still don’t know what the artwork on the seven-story parking structure next to the 405 Freeway will look like. That decision could be made by a different City Council with different aesthetics. It looks like any sort of landscaping on the wall will likely be gone, as the applicant discouraged that feature being part of its work, despite it being a mitigation measure in the environmental impact report.


2.    OPERATING AND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT BUDGET.  This was the first and last look at the entire FY 24-2025 budget.  The proposed budget was for $240.1 million in expenditures, an increase of $6.1 million, or 3% increase over the FY 23-24 Adopted Budget of $234 million.  The approved budget was much the same, but there was shifting of $10,000 from the current fiscal year into the Arts and Culture Master Plan budget, the addition of a bike lane improvement project on Santa Ana Avenue to the CIP budget, the removal of the reallocation of $350,000 from the parkland acquisition fund, and deferral of the Open Space Master Plan. Finally, Council Member Loren Gameros requested that a first-time homebuyers plan for public safety be added. No dollar amount or anything else was specified, so I can’t tell you what that means. The City Manager said that it would be more appropriate to cover that when Staff comes back with proposed guidelines on that program, as well as any other category that would be a priority and other options, but somehow this was included in the budget. The motion to adopt the budget, as amended, passed by a vote of 6-0, with Harper being absent. It looks like Costa Mesa’s budget is in great shape, or at least it is better off than the budget for other cities, such as Orange whose budget deficit caused it to increase its sales tax by one-half percent.


CITY COUNCIL – JUNE 11:

This meeting had one topic, the City’s 2024 Strategic Plan Goals And Objectives/Tactics. The City Council has adopted Core Values, which are: Integrity, Compassion, Sustainability, Inclusion, Innovation, and Collaboration.  The City amended its goals to be:

1. Recruit and Retain High-Quality Staff.

2. Strengthen the Public’s Safety and Improve the Quality of Life.

3. Maintain and Enhance the City’s Infrastructure, Facilities, Equipment and Technology.

4. Diversify, Stabilize and Increase Housing to Reflect Community Needs.

5. Achieve Long-Term Fiscal Sustainability.

6. Advance Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resiliency.

7. Provide Outstanding Customer Service, both Internally and Externally.


The top priorities as affordable housing, enhancing customer service, improving City facilities and infrastructure, increasing access to open space, long-term fiscal sustainability, and economic development opportunities.


Staff gave a report, which was supplemented by a memo prepared by the consultant who conducted the strategic planning session. What was clearly missing from the City’s effort was a way to evaluate the City’s performance, such as statistics on workloads and targets and/or deadlines for achieving the goals. What is required to do this is information from prior years, current year, and projections for five future years. Then we can look at the strategies to get to the goals. Without the historical data, any targets and strategies for the next year don’t make sense. In addition, it would be helpful to know how our city compares to neighboring cities.

While the City should be praised for its budget, how that money is spent and whether the customers of the City, its residents and businesses, are happy with its performance is important. The City has never performed a satisfaction survey, and none of the City’s apps, such as Tessa and Costa Mesa 311, offer one at the end of use.


I recognize that a City cannot be run like a private enterprise on every level, but customer satisfaction has to be a priority of every entity, or you risk upsetting your customers to the point of them taking things into their own hands.  Plainly stated:  it’s report card time and elections matter.


I would like the City to add the following to its goals:


• Better Transparency

• Better Engagement of and Participation by the Public

• Accountability

• Effectiveness and Efficiency


While adding more goals on top of existing goals is a concern, without these additional goals, I fear that none of the others can be accomplished.


Council Member Andrea Marr stated that the data provided by Staff didn’t exist when she was elected in 2018 for a number of reasons, but the fact that our City is so far behind on collecting this data and creating a way to evaluate itself compared to other cities, such as Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Laguna Beach, etc., doesn’t mean that the City of Costa Mesa shouldn’t establish a good model for its performance evaluation. Simply starting with what I would call a “nonreport” isn’t acceptable.


With respect to the housing goals, the City Manager indicated there would be a study session in July on plans to progress through all the rezoning and programs required by the Housing Element. However, the only study session on the July calendar has been canceled. That isn’t a good start toward achieving that goal.


Mayor John Stephens spoke several times about a housing committee that would be comprised of citizens, City Council Members, Planning Commission members and others.  His proposed committee would be charged with evaluating current policies and producing innovative ways to achieve the City’s goals, including incentives for development and reviewing development fees. He suggested looking at San Diego, which is very developer-friendly. What he said is basically the Building Industry Association’s manta: “Make it easy for developers to do the planning and building.” Allegedly the public would be engaged in this activity, but if the outcome of the work of the committee is decided before its inception, why should we should waste the effort or money? Here’s a suggestion I’ve made for years:  FORM AN ADVISORY COMMITTEE THAT FOCUSES ON A VISION OF WHAT THE CITY WOULD LOOK LIKE IN 35-40 YEARS, THEN PLAN FOR HOW TO GET THEREThe City needs to take responsibility for planning, not developers.


Council Members Marr and Arlis Reynolds gave a tepid response to the Mayor’s suggestion, so let’s see how far this goes. This is an election year, and suggestions like the Mayor’s are easy to make, but they are often forgotten by mid-November.


CITY COUNCIL – JUNE 18:


1.    AFFORDABLE HOUSING ORDINANCE:  This item was one of four items that were pulled from the Consent Calendar.  It seems like despite the ability for the City to put second readings on the Consent Calendar because they are routine, items like this are anything but routine and the City should use some common sense when doing so. This was not the only second reading of this item, it was more like a third or fourth, but I’ve lost count and probably have it confused with the retail cannabis ordinance that went through the same procedure. ☹


I requested the item be pulled, but Council Member Reynolds also pulled it.  She spoke first and I could feel her trying to politely say “This is a mess” without putting it that way. I have issues with the minutes of one of the meetings where this item was heard not matching the vote that was taken, so I was happy to see Reynolds experiencing some of the same confusion. She had asked Staff how many of the Housing Opportunity Sites in the Housing Element would be covered by the Affordable Housing Ordinance, and the answer came back less than half. That is because the 50-unit threshold is too high and unreasonable. That’s no way to achieve the number of affordable units required by the State.


Reynolds was trying to determine where the high threshold of 50 units came from. Well, I could have told her that! It wasn’t our expert consultant, but rather a developer’s best buddy, Council Member Jeff Harlan!


Reynolds made the motion to reduce the threshold down to 30 units from 50, which of course was not supported by Harlan. He claimed that there aren’t projects in the pipeline, but at this meeting the City Council gave final approval to the 1,057-unit One Metro West project, and gave a passing grade to a new 38-unit project on West 16th Street. Last month it gave the go-ahead to a project on Susan Street that is over 1,000 units. I don’t know what he is smoking and blowing in our faces, but we can see through it.


Stephens made a substitute motion to continue the item to the next meeting (July 16) and put it on the “Old Business” portion of the Agenda. That substitute motion passed 5-2, with Harlan and Council Member Manuel Chavez voting no. While there was discussion about possibly continuing the Public Hearing on the related In-Lieu Fee Schedule, at that point in the meeting the Council decided not to do that, only to reverse itself later and that item will get a first hearing on July 16.


2.    AMENDMENT OF AND ADDITION TO CITY ORDINANCES COVERING EBIKE REGULATIONS.  This was the first reading of the changes to ordinances that will help CMPD curtail some of the undesirable behavior of ebike riders on city streets. This weekend signs popped up in Fairview Park prohibiting motorized vehicles, including ebikes, escooters, and other motor-powered vehicles on unpaved surfaces. I hope this is extended to other parks.


3.    SCREENING REQUEST FOR A 38-UNIT LUXURY LIVE/WORK PROJECT ON WEST 16TH STREET:  This applicant for this project, despite its location in the Mesa West Urban Plan area which gives considerable flexibility, is requesting deviations. It is requesting to shrink the workspace down to a small bedroom or walk-in closet, tandem guest parking, and reduce the space between buildings from 10 ft to 6 ft. Deviations of this sort are typically only given if the project exhibits something like “excellence in design.” These little box homes are formulaic and have the same facades used by the applicant in other cities. And then there is this from the Agenda Report:  “In exchange for deviating from Urban Plan standards, the project should provide quality environments and amenities. As currently proposed, the site plan does not show any residential amenities.” Instead, the applicant designed a project with wide driveways.


The applicant proposed a landscape plan using palm trees. Palm trees are non-native and worthless in terms of shade, and three of the City Council members agreed they needed to be replaced with something better. The applicant wants to light the trees and string more lights across the wide driveway that it claims will be used for traffic calming, but this project is about 200 ft from the Randall Preserve, a future nature preserve and some of the City Council members wisely advised the applicant to reconsider the lighting.


While some City Council members touted this location as becoming a “Main Street” of this area, and that the design is similar to one nearby (let’s keep repeating the same mistakes!), Reynolds’s prediction that West 16th Street will be a primary entrance to the Randall Preserve is pure conjecture. The current entrance off 17th Street is more suitable and won’t require additional grading on land that is sensitive habitat and will require Coastal Commission approval.


There will be no affordable units in this project because homeownership units will not be subject to the Affordable Housing Ordinance, thanks to Gameros. The dumbest comments of the night came from Harlan who spewed out a word salad about the possibility that the project could have been subject to Measure Y voter approval if the applicant had requested higher density for more units. That would mean the applicant would give up the flexibility of the Mesa West Urban Plan, incur the more expensive cost of construction that comes with taller buildings, and create a project that would emit and reflect light onto the wildlife and ESHA of the Randall Preserve. Really? Harlan isn’t much of an environmentalist, is he?


PARKS AND COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMISSION – JUNE 27:

This was a Special Meeting since the regular meeting for this Commission scheduled for June 13 was canceled.  There were three new business items on the agenda.

The first two hearings were for design improvements to Ketchum-Libolt Park and Shalimar Park. The proposed designs look good for one thing:  no restrooms. The new designs are specifically intended to induce residents to come and use the parks for longer periods of time, which means they could need a restroom at some point. Even a single-stall nongender handicap-friendly bathroom would suffice. The consultant said one stall would cost in the range of $250,000, including sewer hookups, water lines and the facility itself.  The pricing given by Staff was $400,000, but that is what three stalls at Lion’s Park cost.


The final hearing was an update on the Fairview Park Master Plan.  The presentation by Staff started with the history of the ownership of the park, the effect of Measure AA and exemptions thereto, and the fact that the Fairview Park Master Plan is more than 25 years overdue for an update. Jenni Zell of Moore, Iacofano, and Goltsman (MIG), the consultant working with the City since 2023 on updating the Master Plan, then gave an update on MIG’s activities. The next step for MIG is to present emerging recommendations to the FAIRVIEW PARK STEERING COMMITTEE MEETING ON THURSDAY, JULY 10 AT 6:00 P.M. in the Community Room at City Hall (park in the rear).  Here is a link to the Agenda Report:  https://www.costamesaca.gov/home/showdocument?id=57428&t=638556138529340360 Note that there are already recommendations, one being to relocate the flying field.  I hope they relocate the flying field out of Fairview Park because it has not proven itself to be a responsible steward of the sensitive habitat or wildlife existing in the park. There are other recommendations that should definitely be followed, such as defining trails.  Some of the recommendations are ones that the Steering Committee made in 2017 and 2018.


The consultant expects to bring a plan to the City Council in December 2024.  The final documents should arrive around February 2025.  We learned at this meeting that the City Manager gave an extension to the flying club until about that time. Since I wasn’t aware the City Manager had the ability to grant the extension (the 2013 contract with the flying club only granted that power to the City Council), I had to go digging through the City’s website to find a new contract that the City Manager had signed with the flying club last year.  I don’t recall that contract being approved by the City Council, but I’ll be asking for more information about it.  PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND THE JULY 10 MEETINGIT WILL NOT BE TELEVISED OR RECORDED, SO IN-PERSON ATTENDANCE IS REQUIRED.


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