Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Urban Plan by Any Other Name...

On October 17, the Costa Mesa City Council considered an amendment to the SoBECA Urban Plan which applies to the area south of Baker, east of the 73 Freeway extending east to a little past Bristol.  The amendment would have allowed residential development at forty units an acre in buildings up to sixty feet tall with very little setback.  

I oppose the amendment.  The density is inappropriate at that location and could adversely affect existing residences to the east of SoBECA.  

Further, the allowing development of high density residential projects in the area would likely drive up real estate prices and drive out the funky independent businesses that make SoBECA special.  Ironically, one of the council members in favor of the proposal cited Barley Forge as an example the type of unique assets in the area which should be encouraged in SoBECA, though the increased land prices and rents would hurt opportunities for similar creative businesses in the area.

We barely had a quorum October 17.

In order to permit some Council Members to attend a social function, the October 17 meeting was rescheduled from Tuesday, October 18, when the meeting would normally have been held. Only three council members attended the October 17 meeting, including me.  Some, but not all, city business can be decided by a majority of those present, even with just a 2-1 vote. 

Some items can only be approved by a majority of the full membership of the city council, requiring at least three votes, even if only three council members are present.  This applies to amendment of general plans  and what’s known as “specific plans” .  I believed the requirement for at least three votes applied to the “urban plans” as well.  Thus, a 2-1 vote would have defeated the proposed change.

However, late in the hearing it became apparent that at least some of those present believed otherwise.  When asked, the City Attorney indicated that a 2-1 vote would suffice. 

I still believe that a 3-0 vote was needed.  However,  if 2-1 was sufficient, then my only logical choice was to leave, thereby breaking the quorum and stopping the proposed change, at least for the time being (Daily Pilot article).

Tuesday, October 18, I contacted City staff asking for clarification regarding amendment of “urban plans”.  I’d planned on waiting to address the events of October 17 until hearing back, but a week later staff indicates they are still “studying” the issue.  

California law makes no provision for urban plans.

Not only is there no provision for "urban plans" in State planning law, I could find no definition of “urban plan” or anything that spells out procedures for adoption or amendment of urban plans in the Costa Mesa Municipal Code or City Council Policy Manual. 

“Urban plans” are assigned “SP” tracking numbers, and the City Council staff report talks about justification for the “SP amendment” (staff report). Since “urban plans” do not seem to be any sort of legally defined entity, I'd assumed that Costa Mesa was just labeling as “urban plans” what were really, for legal purposes, specific plans.  After all, we call our city manager the “CEO”, even though he's still legally the “city manager” under State law .  

“Specific plan”?  “Urban plan”?  What does it matter?

If the “urban plan” is just a specific plan under a different name, then three votes would be required to amend the plan.  Had I remained at the council meeting, the amendment would have been defeated, even with two votes in favor.  I could have remained on the dais and the few remaining items on the agenda could have been completed.

However, if the item could have been approved on a 2-1 vote, that means an urban plan isn’t really just a specific plan under a different name.   If so, then what is it?  What criteria would apply to plan amendments?  From where does the plan derive it’s authority—if any? 

We may have a plan untethered to any sort of statutory structure, not at the local level and not at the state level.  What, then, are the implications for not only the SoBECA plan but for the West Side Urban Plans, too?.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Meaning:  The act of distracting; drawing someone's attention away from something

Origin:  From mis- (1) + direction. Meaning "action of a conjurer, thief, etc. to distract someone" is from 1943.

When performing a magic trick, a magician will often draw the attention of the audience in one direction, perhaps toward a comely young assistant  or a loud noise and puff of smoke, in order to divert attention from what’s really going on to accomplish the trick.  This is known as “misdirection”. 

Looking at the “informational” pieces coming out of City Hall regarding some of the local ballot measures, if seems like nothing so much as misdirection. 

Measure BB is a prime example.  

The tax-dollar-financed flyer talks about some of the resources of Fairview Park and includes considerable verbiage about the Fairview Park Master Plan.  The flyer even devotes the better part of a page to a map of the Master Plan.

But Measure BB has nothing to do with the Fairview Park Master Plan. 

 Measure BB does not guarantee that the Fairview Park Master Plan will be implemented.  Measure BB does nothing to limit changes to the Fairview Park Master Plan—a plan that can be and has been altered without a public hearing or even any City Council action.  In fact, Measure BB specifically states that uses in Fairview Park would not be limited to those in the Master Plan (Section 4). 

What would be allowed, then? 

As stated in the flyer Measure BB permits “passive recreational uses”.  Sounds pretty benign, doesn’t it?  But Measure BB defines “passive recreational uses” very differently than stated in the flyer prepared and mailed courtesy of Costa Mesa taxpayers.

In addition to the low-key uses identified in City Hall’s flyer, Measure BB defines “passive recreational uses” to be any use allowed in Institutional and Recreational Zones and “typically occurring in parks” (Section 3 ).  We have a library, gymnasium, swimming pool and community center at Lions’ Park.  Other cities have fire stations, senior centers and even city halls in parks.  These are all important uses, but should they be permitted in Fairview Park? 

Measure BB would allow all that and more. Under Institutional and Recreational Zoning, total square footage of buildings could equal up to twenty five percent of the land area.  For Fairview Park that would mean up to about 2.26 million square feet of buildings.  That's just a tad more than the square footage of South Coast Plaza's main mall, located between Bear Street and Bristol.

And don't forget the parking.  Measure BB allows unlimited paving of the park.

Measure BB does not even guarantee that all of what is now Fairview Park would continue to be part of Fairview Park.  

Unlike Measure AA which specifically identifies Fairview Park to be the 208-acre area covered by the 2008 Fairview Park Master Plan, Measure BB does not define what area would be included in—or excluded from—Fairview Park.  Is it the full 208 acres we know and love?  Measure BB does not identify the park boundaries.  Could part of Fairview Park be carved out and re-designated the Bumper and Bonzo Athletic Park? 

Don’t be taken in by flyers directing your attention to the Fairview Park Master Plan, instead of accurately describing what Measure BB really does.  Measure BB allows unlimited changes to the Fairview Park Master Plan and allows development not included in the Master Plan. 

If you want to truly protect Fairvew Park, only Measure AA will provide that protection. 

Vote No on Measure BB!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Kindly? Or "Good Enough"?

A depositary of living animals shall provide the animals
with necessary and prompt veterinary care, nutrition, and shelter,
and treat them kindly.               California Civil Code Section 1834

The “depository of living animals” for Costa Mesa is the Orange County Humane Society located in Huntington Beach.  The  City of Costa Mesa currently contracts with OCHS for animal shelter services.  OCHS used to provide shelter services to the City of Newport Beach. Too, until Newport abruptly cancelled the contract late last year (DP articles here and here).      

In a December 22, 2015 report, Newport Beach staff noted unsanitary conditions.  The report also stated that “Animal Control Officers frequently found animals soaked“ due to the practice of hosing out kennels with the dogs remaining in the kennels.  The Newport Beach report also cited poor record keeping and failure to implement State of California requirements for spay/neuter. 

After  touring the OCHS shelter a number of times, I also had concerns.  The level of cleanliness left a lot to be desired.  One of the buildings was dark and had minimal ventilation.  Dogs and cats were housed in close proximity, increasing stress for all the animals.  Overall, the situation did not look very “kindly”.


After speaking with current and former volunteers at OCHS my concerns increased.  Unfortunately, volunteers are fearful of talking on the record, as they will then be “fired” as volunteers.  In fact, the rules for volunteers impose a gag order.

Some shelters celebrate each adoption.  Some shelters post a list of animals slated for euthanization, upon which people spring into action, posting pleas on facebook,  calling friends, trying to find a home for the unfortunate animal.  At OCHS volunteers arrive to find animals gone.  OCHS  rules state “I will not [sic] question their whereabouts nor speak amongst others regarding their status.”  Wow!


No such limitation on Yelp.  OCHS received only two stars, the lowest rated animal shelter in Orange County.  Eighteen of the thirty-two reviews gave the facility only one star, the lowest rating possible.  Reviewers cited rude staff, lack of cleanliness, provision of inadequate/inaccurate medical records, and adoption of animals subsequently found to be unhealthy.  One reviewer said they saw an OCHS  staff member kick a small dog.

Where’d they go?

Each year,  our animal shelter data  is required to be submitted to the California Department of Public Health.   Costa Mesa’s annual reports show total animals coming in from various sources each year significantly higher than animals going out each year except 2010, when things about balanced.  In fact, from 2009 through 2014, records show about two thousand (2,000) more animals coming in than are accounted for going out via adoption, owner redemption, euthanasia, etc. 

This may simply be poor record keeping.  On the other hand, maybe animals are escaping to wander the streets.  What if the euthanasia rate is being masked?  Other worse, scenarios come to mind.  In that case, I’m hoping it’s just poor record keeping.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Because of the large number of animals entering the system from  Costa Mesa, our options are limited to larger facilities.  At one time Costa Mesa contracted with the City of Irvine, but that was discontinued a few years ago.  Orange County is preparing to build a new shelter, but it could be costly to participate in that, and the Orange County Grand Jury indicates that they have problems of their own, from the existing rundown facility to inadequate staffing.  We might be able to join with a few other cities to build a local shelter, if a site could be found.

Or should we continue at OCHS? 

Months ago, in response to my concerns, a staff member indicated that people in Irvine and Newport Beach were more “picky”.  I was told that OCHS was “good enough for Costa Mesa”.  Do you agree?

The City Council will be discussing the issue this evening, March 15.