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  • Cynthia McDonald

Update on Planning Commission Meeting of March 25 - More Cannabis and the FDC Specific Plan

TIRED OF CANNABIS? SORRY, HERE'S ANOTHER SHOP.  Another Newport Boulevard potshop, this one with a delivery service, was approved by the Planning Commission on March 25. The vote was 3-2 in favor, with Commissioners Andrade Vallarta and Vivar voting No (Commissioners Zich and Klepack absent). This one is unique because it is adjacent to two currently occupied apartments on the same property. Because the City Council had not adopted new cannabis storefront regulations, the Conditional Use Permit was subject to then current law.

According to one speaker, this is the SIXTH license on that side of Newport Boulevard within two miles of one another. The applicant intends to upgrade the building and site to a conforming state and make it more presentable. It seems like all these applicants want to sell us on the thought that they are improving properties, and by doing so crime in the area is going to disappear. I hope nearby residents understand that these shops aren’t the police or community security, and improving one or two or six properties may not deter crime.

But what happened to the promises made by the proponents of Measure K about replacing downtrodden properties on the boulevards with new high-rise apartments? Once the City adopts the new regulations requiring spacing of potshops from one another and residences, with 35 of them getting preference, how is new housing going to fit in? The new regulations got a first reading at the April 2 City Council meeting and we'll have more on that in our following report.

FAIRVIEW DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER SPECIFIC PLAN UPDATE.  The next item on the agenda was a project update on the Fairview Developmental Center Specific Plan. The presentation covered a lot of information that, to date, had not been made available to the general public. I suggest taking the time to either look at the presentation https://fdcplan.com/wp-content/uploads/PC_Update_2024-03-20.pdf and/or view the video of the meeting. https://costamesa.granicus.com/player/clip/4109?view_id=14&redirect=true Start at 2:18 on the recording. This item was for informational purposes and no vote was taken.

A presentation was made by Staff and the consultant Placeworks. I noted these important items:

1.     The State’s plans for the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) haven’t changed, however, right now the project does not include the helipad[1].  Despite the elimination of the helipad, the State hasn’t decided whether to make the footprint of the EOC smaller.

2.     From the map presented, it appears that the State or its ground lessee (the owner of the Harbor Village Apartments) controls Merrimac Way once it enters the property off Harbor Boulevard until Merrimac Way narrows at the FDC Plant Operations Warehouse, at which point Merrimac Way becomes part of the Specific Plan area. This means the City won’t be able to modify the State/lessee controlled portion of Merrimac, unless it gets permission. The roadways within Harbor Village are private and will remain so.

3.     The State will select the Master Developer (the developer that ultimately will decide how the Specific Plan is implemented, i.e., what gets built on the property and who will do the building (Master Developers typically don’t build)) and NOT the City; the Master Developer will be identified in late 2024.

4.     Given the size of the property, the average dwelling units per acre is 23 du/ac but expect the final zoning to be more due to the fact that any parkland, roadways, and commercial uses will reduce space for housing, and that will increase the du/ac.

5.     The consultant did a market survey to determine what types of commercial and housing projects might be built from a developer’s perspective (this is different from the outreach meetings with the public). That document has not been published on the City’s website.

6.     The Specific Plan will become part of the General Plan and must provide for:

a.      Land Use provisions (what type of buildings will be allowed and their density/floor area ratio, how much open space will be provided and what the uses will be, etc.); b.     Circulation (how we will get around in cars, bikes, walking, etc.); and

c.     Infrastructure (water, sewers, storm drains, and utilities).

7.     Expect phasing of projects (construction could go on for years).

8.     Financing of projects and administrative approvals will take years.

9.     Design Standards will likely be different from the rest of the city.

OUTREACH SUMMARY.  There was an overview of the outreach process to date. While the participants of the outreach meetings submitted many ideas, some of which were often repeated, such as affordable housing, NOTHING IS PROMISED. So why go through the process of playing with the sticky dots? Was it all just a charade and waste of time for the residents? Yes. And now the consultant will work with developers to write the Specific Plan, ignoring your dots. This is why we repeatedly asked for an advisory committee for visioning.

WHAT’S NEXT? The initial public outreach phase of the consultant’s work is complete, and it will move to a study of the existing conditions and land use alternatives, along with a financial feasibility study that will determine if the project is financially appealing to Master Developers. We know that some of the existing conditions (many of the deficiencies in infrastructure, including the need to trench across a fairway of the municipal golf course, are discussed in the EIR for the EOC), but until an updated environmental study is done, it is hard to determine what remediation work will be required. It has been said there is likely asbestos in the heating and air conditioning systems and perhaps some lead contamination.

DRAFT SPECIFIC PLAN. From there the consultant will draft the Specific Plan, including all the components necessary to make it a part of the General Plan, and prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). That should happen in late 2024, at which time there will be an opportunity for the public to review the draft Specific Plan.  You can be certain that the potential Master Developers will get input to that draft.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT.  Look for the City to issue a scoping notice for the EIR, perhaps in June. That notice allows the public to ask for items to be included in the EIR. EIRs must disclose significant environmental impacts and include mitigation measures. These typically include analyses of traffic, air quality, and noise, but also impacts on utilities, including water supply, native vegetation and sensitive or endangered species, to name a few. Very important is the financial analysis that will detail the impact on the City’s income and expenses.

The public will have an opportunity to review the draft EIR and make comments (likely after August of this year) before it is sent to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval, which is targeted for the end of 2025. If there is any controversy over the “expert” analysis in the City’s EIR, anyone can file a court action to challenge it, but the deadline for doing so is very soon after the City issues a “Notice of Determination.”

Once the EIR is certified, the Master Developer can begin its planning.  The sale of the property is anticipated to occur in 2025.  After escrow closes, the building of the project, including demolition and remediation work, can proceed. The Master Developer will shoulder the cost of that work. The consultant mentioned in passing some important information about what would happen if the Specific Plan wasn’t to the liking of the Master Developer. Just because the City ADOPTS a Specific Plan, doesn’t mean the Master Developer cannot AMEND it to change the project to match its desires. It isn’t unusual for that to happen; the Sakioka Company, LLC amended the North Costa Mesa Specific Plan.

BOMBSHELL:  The consultant has already initiated working with potential Master Developers in not only letting them know about the project but asking market survey questions. The consultant indicated that the Agreement between the City and State has a provision that requires the City to maximize interest in development of the property, but I could find no such provision in that Agreement.  To my knowledge, the State will not issue its Request for Proposal until next month, but already there is interest in the project.

As the consultant writes the Specific Plan, it will look at the following goals:



The fact that the community’s vision is last tells us a lot about how the City and consultant feel about the residents.

As I wrote above, there has been a market survey to determine what residential and commercial components are desirable.  The results aren’t surprising as they fit with national trends:




And this is the what the survey on commercial uses showed:



That’s a lot of commercial and office space, at a time when office and industrial space is in transition. For example, Irvine and Newport are tearing down old office and industrial buildings near John Wayne Airport and replacing them with housing.



This slide gives us some sobering statistical information about affordable housing (and there will be more about that in our next missive).



The Commissioners asked questions and then members of the public gave comments.

KUMBAYA MOMENT?  At one point Commissioner Johnny Rojas said that we (meaning the public and the City) are all on the same team and we want the highest and best use of the land.  But then his sentiments were offset by Chair Adam Ereth.

Ereth, rather than take the opportunity ask more questions or make a comment on the project, created a straw man. A straw man argument is where one tries to refute an argument through the covert replacement of the opponent’s position, a common tactic used in debate.  In this case, he made a long statement about how he doesn’t support the idea of a “citizen’s advisory committee.”

Ereth seems threatened by what we and others have been advocating for, which is an advisory committee that includes stakeholders: developers, builders and business owners; and, yes, citizens: residents, representatives of youth and adult sports groups, senior citizen advocates, representatives for the disabled community, healthy communities advocates, supporters of active transportation, affordable housing advocates, homelessness outreach groups, representatives from NMUSD and local colleges, etc. Putting everyone in one room to produce a vision of what would be desirable and possible in the Specific Plan would create a much better picture of what the community would like built. Would it slow down the process? Not if the City puts the committee on an accelerated schedule, as it did when an advisory committee produced the Active Transportation Plan. It also would be more transparent.

NOT TOO LATE FOR AN ADVISORY COMMITTEE.  The Agreement with the State allows for amendment if both parties approve in writing.  It isn’t unusual in real estate deals to extend the time needed to execute the scope of work, and looking at the timeline contained in that Agreement, the City is already behind. The City could extend the time long enough for an advisory committee to be appointed and for it to do its work. Will the City do that? We can only keep asking.

Watch the politics that are in play here. The same people who are complaining about an inclusionary housing ordinance (with its mandate for affordable units) will push to rationalize market rate housing in the FDC Specific Plan. The Planning Commission works in the shadow of the City Council since the Council has the power to make appointments.

We suggest taking the time to look at the City’s website about the FDS Specific Plan https://fdcplan.com/ .  There is some good background information there.  However, noticeably missing is any information about the meetings with stakeholders that were held prior to the first outreach meeting and the recent meetings with the interested Master Developers.

Of course, we will be keeping an eye on this project as it moves forward and will keep you informed.


[1] The Environmental Impact Report as certified by the State of California does contain language indicating that the helipad would not be a significant impact.  In the final draft of the EIR, language was added to better describe the helipad, including how much weight it would be able to carry.  We have never received a plausible explanation of why that language was added to the certified EIR if the State does not intend to build the helipad.

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