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?.  


Where's My Coffee? said...

Looks like when we get a new council, you guys will have some work to do to fix this hole. Its way too easy to have 2 people vote to change anything.

Ocpublicsquare said...

Once again Sandy you stand up for the rules. Your wisdom and understanding of the planning process makes our city better.