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!