Commentary: Costa Mesa deserves more-thoughtful development

Develop, don't develop. Tear down, don't tear down. Build, don't build.

Battle lines are being drawn in our city. We need to set up a more comprehensive decision-making process that puts the interests of Costa Mesa residents before the interests of individual developers. We need to provide more thoughtful and paced development.

The city has a lot of power to shape development within its borders. Unfortunately, the way that power is being used does not appear to favor the Costa Mesa resident. In numerous cases, city decision makers seem to think that developers should maximize land use and build as high and as densely as possible, regardless of how the new development would affect the rest of us.

This approach wrongly allows the developer's desire to maximize profit to drive development decisions. But city planning should be based on the public good, not the good of a private few.

I believe there should be two bottom lines for development — the financial bottom line and the social bottom line. The financial bottom line obviously requires the developer to make a profit, but that does not mean the developer must try to squeeze every dollar out of a property.

Developers should not be looking at the most they can make on a property; they should be considering a good price. A good price allows them to recoup their investment and earn a reasonable profit. They don't have to overdevelop. Let's not fill in every square inch of airspace and land with new construction.

The social bottom line involves the effect the proposed development would have on Costa Mesa residents. The city must consider the expected benefits as well as the drawbacks for the community as a whole.

Let's not build higher to get more out of a property if it damages the quality of life of surrounding residents. Let's give greater consideration to the demand on roads, water, public safety services, schools, parks and affordable housing.

New apartments planned for Victoria Street provide for evictions but not assistance in relocating the current residents. Likewise, the recent proposal for creating apartments at the site of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn does not consider where the current residents would go. Shouldn't the city require an affordable-housing allocation so as not to exacerbate homelessness or marginal living conditions?

Let's confirm that this new development model of "improved product" works before we fill every inch of small lots with it. The city has already approved a number of higher-density, live-work, tall-building developments. Before we approve any more, let's see if the proposed solution really works. Do young families want to move in? Are the properties being sold out quickly? Are these developments really better?

Costa Mesa must adopt a new stance toward development, one that will put the interests of Costa Mesans first. In deciding whether to approve a project, decision makers should ask: Does this project meet the needs of Costa Mesa? How will this project benefit residents? Do we hurt our social bottom line? What can we do to keep in check or reduce traffic?

Many cities in Orange County (and statewide) require a community benefits agreement whereby the developer gives something substantial back to the community in exchange for the significant financial bonanza the developer will realize from up-zoning. Let's make sure the development is not just taking away a housing solution that is working to turn a financial profit.

Maximizing developer profit should not be a goal or concern of the city. Instead, the city should promote reasonable profit while maximizing the public good.

We need to shape our city's future, not sell our city's future.

HAROLD WEITZBERG, who has lived in Costa Mesa for more than 30 years, is a candidate for City Council.

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