Commentary: Development is improving the Westside

Re: "Costa Mesa deserves more-thoughtful development," (June 4): Silly season is upon us. However, it might better be termed the season of irony.

My friend, City Council candidate Harold Weitzberg, made several conflicting suggestions in this recent commentary regarding municipal planning.

He wrote, "Costa Mesa must adopt a new stance toward development, one that will put the interests of Costa Mesans first." I could not agree more with the writer regarding the importance of quality of life, but would disagree on the need to reinvent the wheel.

Currently, the general plan, housing element, highway master plan, zoning code, master drainage plan and others speak to where and what kinds of development can occur. These voluminous documents (and the environmental impact report, if appropriate) collectively analyze and limit harmful effects on any given system.

All of these documents have been created and refined over the past 60 years through the public process specifically to plan for the future of our city. And the City Council is bound to a very great degree by these documents.

The writer also suggests that "we need to provide more thoughtful and paced development." And in a subsequent sentence proclaims, "Let's give greater consideration to the demand on roads, water, public safety services, schools, parks and affordable housing." Apparently the writer sees himself as a greater planning authority than 60 years of citizen-crafted documents.

His ideas are also known as "restrictive zoning" and "smart growth," and all we have to do is look to places like Marin or Santa Monica to understand that those policies are anathema to his interest in affordable housing. These policies drive up land and housing costs, while essentially diminishing landowners' private property rights.

Still, Weitzberg isn't finished designing the city in his own image. He also attacks another policy that was created through a years-long public process (and which was instigated by the public): the Westside Overlay Zones. He states, "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."

Really? Tall buildings? Given that he is from New York, it's difficult to believe that the writer is wowed by three-story buildings (which were suggested by the Westside Redevelopment Oversight Committee to provide space for updated parking standards on existing sites without penalizing the property owner).

For example, an owner of an aging Westside apartment building wants to tear down and rebuild the building. It sounds good. It would improve the community housing stock. But before the overlays were adopted, the new parking standards reduced the number of units that could be built. If there were four, there could now only be three.

Imagine the disincentive that created. The oversight committee recognized that nothing was ever going to be rebuilt if a property owner was required to lose units in the process. It also recognized that losing units would actually increase the cost of housing by requiring more land to house the same number of people.

Let the buildings go up an additional 10 feet, and viola! You have room on the ground floor to meet today's parking standards.

To answer the writer's question, the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the newly built live-work homes on West 18th Street are wildly popular and nearly sold out.

Costa Mesa residents have been actively engaged in the planning process for decades with an overriding emphasis on protecting their quality of life and property rights. Planning to promote our quality of life is nothing new, and anyone who claims the opposite has not been paying attention, or has a bill of goods he wants to sell you.

Beyond that, the writer's idea that further restricting zoning and offering good prices are compatible is just plain silly.

Our city is finally managing to lift itself; let's see if we can avoid the urge to fix what is not broken in our planning process, and let our city become the jewel that it deserves to be.

ERIC BEVER is the former mayor of Costa Mesa.

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