Just north of the San Diego Freeway in Costa Mesa lies an expanse of vacant land where beans once grew. Now it is fertile ground for an election controversy.
Two versions of a high-rise commercial development--one 2.2 million square feet, the other 3.1 million square feet--are proposed for the site, and both will be presented to city voters Nov. 8.
The stakes for the $300-million Home Ranch project are high; the campaign is being bankrolled entirely by developer C.J. Segerstrom & Sons to the tune of $232,598, according to financial reports filed this week with the city clerk.
But more, the issue of growth is sharply dividing the nine active City Council candidates who share the ballot with three development-related ballot measures.
Councilman Dave Wheeler, a vocal slow-growth advocate, described Costa Mesa’s City Council race as a contest between candidates who represent developers and those who represent residents. Mayor Donn Hall sees it differently, as a showdown between candidates who are responsibly cautious about growth and “three people interested in trying to stop everything.”
Three seats are open on the five-member council, with Hall and Wheeler choosing not to run again. Councilwoman Mary Hornbuckle is seeking reelection.
A slate of three slow-growth candidates, members of Costa Mesa Citizens for Responsible Growth, is hoping to win the election and reverse the council majority. But while those candidates claim grass-roots support, their campaigns do not have the funds--including contributions of $1,000 and more from developers, businesses and an incumbent city councilman--that several other candidates have reported.
The three, Sandra L. Genis, John V. Humphrey and Scott Williams, are the chief opponents of heavily financed Measures H and I, the Home Ranch ballot measures; they are for Measure G, a Costa Mesa version of the countywide slow-growth measure that failed at the polls in June.
Measure H, if approved by voters, would allow Segerstrom to construct a 3.1-million-square-foot commercial complex with offices, retail stores, a hotel, restaurant, child-care facility, health club and museum. The development, including a 20-story tower as the first phase, would be built on vacant land near Harbor Boulevard and the San Diego Freeway, between the Times Orange County and Automobile Club of Southern California buildings.
The City Council approved the project on a 4-1 vote earlier this year, but upset residents responded with a petition drive to place the issue on the ballot. The developer then proposed a scaled-down version--2.2 million square feet--to be built if voters rejected the larger plan. The council likewise approved the alternative plan 4 to 1.
Residents again came back with a petition drive, and the result is Measure I, which puts the smaller version as well before the voters.
If both H and I receive more than 50% of the votes on Nov. 8, Measure H--the larger project--would prevail, according to the city clerk.
Measures H and I are backed by six of the nine candidates--Hornbuckle, Jim Ferryman, Ed Glasgow, Dan Worthington, Charles Markel and Jan Kausen. Hornbuckle and Kausen said that while they support both measures, they prefer Measure I. These candidates said the development actually would help ease the city’s current traffic problems because street and freeway improvements are required by the plan.
Those six candidates also oppose Measure G, the slow-growth initiative.
Malcolm Ross, director of planning and design for Segerstrom, said the 20-story tower would result in $9 million in traffic improvements to surrounding streets and San Diego Freeway ramps before the building opens. Through the years, the Home Ranch project would generate $30 million for traffic improvements through developer fees, he said. Also, he said, 75% of the workers at IBM, which will be the chief tenant of the tower, have work schedules that keep them off surrounding streets and freeways at peak hours.
But Councilman Wheeler, one of the leading Home Ranch opponents, is urging residents to vote no on both Measures H and I. The development allowed under Measure I, the 20-story tower, is identical to the first phase allowed under Measure H, so residents would see no difference initially, he said. What’s more, he said, if Measure I is approved, there is nothing to stop the developer from approaching the City Council a few years from now to try to expand the project.
Wheeler, along with candidates Humphrey, Williams and Genis, argue that the Home Ranch project provides no money for traffic improvements south of Baker Street on the south side of the freeway, an area that they contend will carry more cars because of the development. Segerstrom officials say a traffic study disproves this.
Opponents of the project also say that a 20-story building would set a precedent that could lead to other developers asking to build similar towers.
According to recently filed campaign expense reports, Segerstrom’s committee has spent $191,843 out of its $232,598 treasury, primarily on management fees, advertising and a telephone bank.
By contrast, the Costa Mesa Residents’ Political Action Committee--opposed to H and I and in favor of G--has raised $23,900, about one-tenth of the funds of the Segerstrom campaign, and spent $15,941.
Developers’ money also is making its way into several council campaigns. Of the candidates, Ferryman has raised the most money, $39,963 as of Oct. 22, including hefty contributions from Segerstrom and other developers. He and Glasgow--who reported the second-largest campaign treasury with $31,180--each also received a contribution of at least $4,000 from Councilman Orville Amburgey, whose campaign committee is financed by several developers, and Glasgow reported receiving a $2,500 loan from Amburgey’s committee. Among the other candidates, Markel collected $8,007; Hornbuckle $3,841 and Kausen $1,000. Worthington reported no income but spent $1,764.
The three slow-growth candidates are pooling their efforts and walking precincts for each other. Genis reported collecting $4,962; Humphrey $4,913 and Williams $5,648.
In addition to the growth issues, all candidates said they wanted to resolve the controversy over Share Our Selves, a nonprofit agency that helps the homeless and poor. Residents near SOS in the Rea Center have complained that transients are loiter around homes, urinate on property and pose a security risk. All the candidates also said they support a special committee recently appointed by the mayor to look for solutions and to determine whether the agency should be moved.
Ten candidates will appear on the ballot, but one, Howard Gensler, has withdrawn from the race. Here are the others:
Jim Ferryman: A real estate broker, Ferryman, 40, believes traffic is the city’s major problem but says it must be tackled on a regional basis. For example, he said, he would like to see Costa Mesa’s Town Center office area near South Coast Plaza be connected to the airport by monorail, as a developer has proposed for an Irvine office park. He called the Home Ranch development “the best project ever produced in Costa Mesa,” contending that the community’s traffic problems will be eased by the plan. “I’m not for increased traffic, and the developers aren’t either.”
Sandra L. Genis: When she is not working as a Newport Beach city planner, the 35-year-old Genis is vice president of Costa Mesa Residents for Responsible Growth.
One of her main concerns is the imbalance between jobs and housing in the city. One of the dangers of the Home Ranch project, she said, is that developers might want to build high-density housing--which she opposes--to handle the sudden influx of hundreds of new workers. The new housing in turn would increase rents in neighborhoods, “and it makes it harder and harder for people who have lived here years and years. . . . Many of these people are on fixed incomes. What will they do?”
Ed Glasgow: A retired police captain, Glasgow, 59, is a planning commissioner who calls the Home Ranch “a model planning project . . . just a beautiful project.” Other cities would love to have a project with IBM, a branch of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a child-care facility and open space, he said.
He added that the city must plan for “responsible growth " because “babies are being born and will continue to be born. Growth is going to occur and the only thing you can do is be responsible to finding the solution to the problems that arise because of it.”
Mary Hornbuckle: Running for her second term, Hornbuckle, 45, said she believes the city’s chief issues are transportation, the homeless and the rising cost of housing but added that they must be addressed on a regional level.
She acknowledged the concerns about Home Ranch but said she supports it because of the “overriding benefits to the community.” A preschool director, she is especially pleased with the plans for a child-care center at the tower. “Employer-supported child care is the wave of the future. This would be a model program,” she declared.
John V. Humphrey: A businessman, Humphrey, 41, said he and the two others endorsed by Citizens for Responsible Government are not anti-developer. He said he believes the Home Ranch property should be developed but with low-level buildings spread over the property. A high-rise there now could set the standard for development in the city in the future, he contended.
He wants a limit on campaign contributions and an ordinance prohibiting council members from voting on items involving major campaign contributors. “I don’t think anyone is buyable because of a single source, but the potential is there. People don’t have the basic feeling that the people governing them are honest and aboveboard.”
Jan Kausen: A volunteer for many organizations, Kausen, 34, said that in addition to resolving growth issues, the city must address the problems of redevelopment, education and the homeless. The indecision over the widening of Victoria Street in the redevelopment area is disrupting lives of residents along the street, she said, adding: “We as a city should make a decision and let those people get on with their lives.”
Action by the the city in setting up a hiring hall for dayworkers who have congregated on street corners is “a step in the right direction, but it’s not fair to people who are union. Why should anyone be allowed to pick up someone who is getting less than union wage?” said Kausen, who has been endorsed by the Orange County chapter of the AFL-CIO.
Charles Markel: A business consultant, Markel, 50, believes that the development of the city north of the San Diego Freeway is the city’s biggest challenge. Costa Mesa cannot stop growth because Orange County is growing as a job market faster than it is growing in population, he said.
“It’s where the high-paying jobs are, in Orange County. It’s putting a tremendous crunch on the existing housing stock,” he said. “I’m not a believer in a lot of government. The free enterprise system has to work. The solution has to be low- to medium-priced housing.” The council should “explore every avenue and provide benefits to those who provide low-cost housing,” he said.
Scott Williams: The 45-year-old attorney said that for the last 4 years the majority of the five-member city council “has pretty much voted for big development. . . . It’s about time for some change of direction.”
If he, Genis and Humphrey are elected, he said, “I think there will be a change in fiscal responsibility. A lot of spending is going to waste rather than to the basic services.” He pointed to the city’s sponsorship of a promotional laser light show and a study for a new marina.
“That money should be going into police or sidewalks or streets,” he said.
Dan Worthington: A photographer, Worthington, 53, said he is accepting no campaign contributions and is limiting his own campaign finances to $2,000 because “I don’t believe that running for a nonpolitical post in a city like Costa Mesa requires $50,000. It isn’t the amount of money collected, it’s the quality of the candidate. If unlimited amounts of money are spent, I fear the candidate deteriorates.”
While he supports the city committee’s study of Share Our Selves, he said the situation around the agency could be immediately improved by eliminating parking one day a week so that the street in front could be swept. Also, he proposes installing a few portable chemical toilets so that people would not urinate on property.