Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Memoriam Jan Vandersloot MD

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Galatians 6:9
No one exemplified these words better than Jan Vandersloot, medical doctor, environmentalist, and family man. He was generous with his time and his money, and we are thankful to him as well as to Cheryl, Jon and Tiffany.

I first met Jan about twenty years ago, though I’d seen his numerous and eloquent letters to the editor before that. I was a city planner at Newport Beach and he called about illegal fill of a wetland. Someone in the office said “that Dr. Vandersloot” always had some complaint. Still, I arranged to meet Jan at the site along with a biologist and, lo and behold, a wetland was being illegally filled.

After that, I got many calls from Jan. Sometimes he’d be reporting habitat damage, or illegal dumping. I learned that when “that Dr. Vandersloot” called, it was something I really needed to check out. If he had a complaint it was well-founded and well-researched. Unlike some residents who called regularly, Jan was concerned about all areas of the city and beyond, not just matters within a block or two of his house.

Sometimes he was just looking for information. For Jan, there was no such thing as too much information.

Years later, after I’d left the City and was involved in various causes, many at the prodding of Jan, my house was overrun with environmental impact reports (EIRs) and other studies. Jan stopped by about some project. I was mortified at the boxes of documents spilling into the living room. Jan was delighted.

Jan had a way of pulling people into his causes. Bolsa Chica, Ocean Outfall Group, San Diego Creek, trees on the Peninsula. He put so much into so many causes, how could you not help at least a little? Almost daily there’d be e-mail from Jan with calls to action, research requests, or outlines of potential strategies for ongoing projects.

As he toiled to end the Orange Count Sanitation District’s waiver from federal clean water law, he’d ask not IF you’d attend any meetings to speak against the waiver, but WHICH meetings in which cities you’d attend. Eventually Jan, or in rare cases a surrogate, spoke before every city council and sanitary district in Orange County, usually with a few others in tow, but alone if need be.

Jan didn’t care if he was the only one to stand up and fight for something. If it was the right thing to do, he was there.

It wasn’t all just hearings and meetings. I especially appreciate the work he did at Fairview Park. Jan advocated for the park at hearings and also weeded and planted plants, sometimes with a group, sometimes with just one other person, like Gil Collins, sometimes alone.

Though I’d been involved in Fairview earlier on, soon Jan surpassed me in his knowledge and dedication to improving habitat at the park. I’d be out for a hike and there was Jan, clearing away the anise choking out native species. Seeing his hard work, I’d go back to my car for an extra bag to pick up trash along the way. How could I not?

We distributed flyers at election time. Of course, if you and Jan covered opposite sides of a street, you really had to hustle. With his long legs he’d finish the distance long before you.

Jan really loved to celebrate the big wins. And he hated to lose. After a setback, he’d be seeking other strategies. Was there a way to appeal? Another agency involved? Should we litigate? Any other options?

Jan just did not give up. If we’d finally run out of options, he’d be planning how we could handle a similar situation “next time”. Unfortunately, now there is no “next time” with Jan.

Today, we are able to reap what Jan so diligently sowed and tended: Open space at Bolsa Chica, cleaner beaches, wetlands, trees, and habitat in various areas. What a tremendous legacy!

Perhaps an even greater legacy is the army of activist that Jan has encouraged and mentored over the years. Now we must continue in well-doing, that we and others may reap in the years to come. How could we not?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Deciding to Let the People Decide

Now that the Costa Mesa City Council has voted to put a proposition on the June 2010 ballot to establish planning regulations for the Orange County Fairgrounds, the real work begins. We must ensure that any ballot measure is written to provide maximum protection for the fairgrounds and Costa Mesa residents.

“Locking in the zoning” is not enough.

The existing zoning for the fairgrounds is Institutional and Recreational (I&R). That sounds pretty innocuous. But what’s permitted?

According to the Costa Mesa Zoning Code, uses permitted by right in I&R areas include things like parks, libraries, city hall, court houses and fire stations. They also include:

Churches and other places of religious assembly (Hello, TBN!)
Residential care, convalescent hospitals; and nursing homes
Day care
Country clubs and golf courses
Trade Schools

Oddly, a conditional use permit would be required for a nursery school, a primary or secondary school or college, even though trade schools are permitted by right.

A conditional use permit would also be required for a fairgrounds. So if the existing zoning were “locked in”, a fairgrounds would have the same status as any other activity for which a use permit is required, including:

Cemeteries, mortuaries and crematories
Senior congregate care facility (don’t ask me how this differs from a nursing home)
Work furlough facility (aka halfway house for convicted criminals)
Animal shelters, pounds, kennels, training schools
Medical and dental offices
Rifle, pistol, and firing ranges
Skating rinks
Transfer station for refuse, sewage treatment

I still miss the Ice Capades Chalet so kinda like the idea of a skating rink, but somehow a work furlough facility, heliport, or more offices just doesn’t do it for me.

The General Plan Is Better

The Costa Mesa General Pan requires the fairgrounds to be used as a fairgrounds. Period.

The General Plan also limits development to no more than a floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.1, which allows one square foot of building for each ten square feet of land area. That would allow about 650,000 square feet of development on the fairgrounds site. The zoning code does present the limits mandated under the general plan, but then indicates that deviations from those limits may be permitted if allowed under the general plan.

For comparison purposes, Anaheim Convention Center has a total facility area of 1.6 million square feet, including 813,000 square feet of exhibit space plus meeting rooms, grand ballroom, pre-event lobbies and other spaces. The Los Angeles Convention Center contains 720,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, plus meeting rooms, theater, lobbies and food courts.

Both of these facilities are on much smaller sites than the Orange County Fairgrounds. Without the floor area limit imposed by the general plan, who knows what could happen in Costa Mesa? Even if we kept the “Institutional and Recreational” designation. Even if we kept just the “fairgrounds” designation.

The General Plan includes a “trip budget”, too. That means that activities at the fairgrounds won’t be allowed to generate more than a certain amount of traffic. This could limit everything from building size to event scheduling. Shouldn’t we lock that in place, too?

A Specific Plan Could Be Even Better

The City of Costa Mesa is currently preparing a specific plan for the fairgrounds property. The plan is expected to reflect the existing Master Plan for the Orange County Fairgrounds. Thus, the plan would designate areas for equestrian uses, the Centennial Farm, exhibit space, administrative offices, and other uses. This would assure that existing uses could continue at the fairgrounds. A requirement that any changes to the plan be subject to a vote or the people could provide added assurance. Including the trip budget is also a must.

Don’t Bypass the Planning Process

It is imperative that any initiative specify that proposed changes would not go to a public vote until AFTER all normal the planning commission, city council and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) processing has been completed. Through this process, the City has the authority to require specific information about a project and the property from a developer.

If we were asked to vote before the normal planning process, we would only be provided the information a developer wanted us to have. Problems with traffic, drainage, or other issues could be buried. Voters must be able to make an informed choice, based on the full information that would come forth in various hearings, staff reports, and the CEQA process, not just developer propaganda.

Similar to ordinances in Redondo Beach and Malibu, any measure to change the land use shouldn't even be placed on the ballot until and unless it has been approved by the City Council through regular channels. This would provide a double layer of protection.

Don’t Charge the Taxpayers!

The ordinance must stipulate that the developer/sponsor of any amendment to city plans for the fairgrounds would pay for any referendum, just as they are required to pay the costs for any needed environmental studies. It's only fair.

The taxpayers shouldn't be required to foot the bill to tell some developer we like our fairgrounds just the way it is, thank you.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Tonight’s Costa Mesa City Council agenda includes a closed session on the following item:

Conference with Real Property Negotiators – Property: 88 Fair Drive. Agency Negotiator: Allan Roeder, City Manager. Negotiating parties: State of California, Under negotiation: price, terms of payment. Pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.8.

88 Fair Drive happens to be the Orange County Fairgrounds. I’d sure like to know how the City Council got to the point of discussing price and terms of payment before they even publicly voted whether or not to pursue the purchase. Was there a special meeting? No such meeting was noticed. Did the City Council meet privately to decide to pursue a purchase?

It would seem they have the cart before the horse here, preparing to negotiate before they have decided whether or not to pursue purchase. They must also decide whether to pursue purchase on their own or in partnership with others.

The public must be included in an open discussion as to whether the city should go it alone or join a consortium with others, such as the proposed foundation which would give unelected, self-appointed political schemers a majority vote. Whether or not to join a private foundation is certainly not a permitted exception to public discussion under open meeting laws.

Of course if they do decide to join the proposed foundation without the public, they will be joining kindred spirits. As covered by the Daily Pilot, it seems the Thirty Second Agricultural District Board/Orange County Fair Board may already be violating open meeting laws.

He Coulda Looked It Up

In his Daily Pilot column on Sunday, November 1, Peter Buffa asserted that fairgrounds in Del Mar and Ventura were up for sale along with our own Orange County Fairgrounds. WRONG!

Last spring Governor Schwarzenegger suggested that numerous properties up and down the state be sold. These included the Del Mar, Ventura and Orange County Fairgrounds, the Coliseum and the Cow Palace. Legislators and local officials in every other area worked hard to save important assets in their districts. At the Del Mar Fairgrounds they passed out postcards, asking fairgoers to tell the Governor what they thought about the sale and collected over fifty thousand postcards protesting the sale.

Not so in Orange County. Local officials got out their pompoms and cheered. Heck, the Daily Pilot reports they even hired Dick Ackerman to lobby for the sale.

Sure enough, when the dust settled, and budget legislation was passed, the only properties authorized for sale were the Orange County Fairgrounds and a few office buildings. All the landmark properties in other areas of the state will remain in the public trust.

How did we get to be so special?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Massacre at China Cove

Bet you thought that title was some kind of joke. Unfortunately not:

Akin to what occurred in West Newport when some reprobates decided to bulldoze the dunes, someone has hacked away a fair amount of vegetation by the beach at China Cove, including native plants.

Word has it the Newport Beach Police have apprehended the miscreant. Could it be the same guy that’s been chopping down trees elsewhere, including Costa Mesa parks? Is he just a spoiled brat who feels he has the right to alter public property to suit his convenience and/or enhance his own property value? News flash chainsaw man: You are not the center of the universe.

It’s hard to understand what this jerk was thinking. Were the plants blocking his view? One would think that any views blocked by the massacred plants would also be blocked by Kerckhoff Marine Lab.

What was next on his agenda? Was he going to dismantle Kerckhoff and burn it piece by piece in the fire rings? Oh. Wait. Council Member Gardner’s getting rid of those.

Never mind. If some predictions as to climate change are to be believed, it will all be under water in a few years.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

You Could Look It Up

Like Samuel Pepys, I find myself inspired to write in spurts, only to abandon the effort for periods of time. Here’s something to get the juices flowing: Went to the Costa Mesa City Council meeting instead of just watching an item or two on-line. Still shaking my head.

I love that the public takes advantage of opportunities to participate. Often speakers at the podium dispense much needed wisdom, but why do these folks feel compelled to pontificate about that of which they are ignorant? Sure, I pontificate, but try to do my research, though admittedly through the prism of my own prejudices, like most people. But some just seem to expound out of thin air.

Example: At the last City Council meeting, elimination of the City’s Park Commission as a separate body was considered as a “cost-saving” measure, though the City would have saved $3,500 a year at most and possibly generated additional costs instead. For context, bear in mind that Costa Mesa Planning Commissioners are by far the highest paid city planning commissioners in Orange County, receiving $400 a month, even if they attend only one thirty-minute meeting for the entire month, even if they don’t show up at all.

At the Council meeting it was asserted that a park commission was “fluff”, whereas a planning commission was required “by law”. No one corrected this misinformation at the time, so here goes.

Both have the same standing. Both are included under the Costa Mesa Municipal Code and neither is required by any State or Federal law. State law does prescribe responsibilities of a planning commission, if there is one, for example, “When the city or county has a planning commission authorized by local ordinance or resolution … the commission shall … “ (Government Code Section 65353 (a)), but whether or not there is a planning commission is optional.

State law says “The legislative body [that’s the City Council] may create one or more planning commissions… (GC Sec. 65101(a))”. And “When there is no planning commission…” (Sec. 65861).

In fact, the City of Villa Park right here in Orange County has no planning commission.

So, if they were really serious about saving money, the city council could not just cut the more-than-generous salaries of our planning commissioners, which a majority declined to do, they could actually eliminate the planning commission.

Let me hasten to add that’s a step I don’t advocate. I believe all of our commissions and committees serve a useful function, though at least one is overpaid in the extreme.