One Metro West hearing paused to let Costa Mesa Council resolve possible conflicts of interest

A rendering of One Metro West from April 14, 2020.
A rendering of One Metro West from April 14, 2020.
(Courtesy of Rose Equities)

One Costa Mesa City Council member’s campaign promise to defeat One Metro West — a 15-acre housing development planned for the city’s north end — was among the reasons given when a public hearing for the project was canceled Tuesday, due to a potential conflict of interest.

The council was scheduled to consider a 25-year development agreement with Beverly Hills-based Rose Equities that would bring 1,057 residential units, office space and a 1.5-acre public open space to a lot north of the 405 Freeway.

Instead, City Atty. Kimberly Barlow recommended, following a closed session discussion of the matter, officials pull the item from the meeting agenda to resolve issues pertaining to two council members whose history with the One Metro West project could interfere with a fair hearing.

“We felt that we should pull the item to give full and fair consideration to those issues,” Barlow said.

In question are council members Don Harper and Jeff Harlan, who represent the city’s first and sixth council districts, respectively.

Campaigning as a conservative council candidate in the November 2020 election, Harper made statements that, if elected, he would stand with residents opposed to One Metro West.

“Projects like this threaten our quality of life by increasing traffic and stretching our police/fire resources,” he wrote in a bullet point on a list of city issues posted to his campaign website.

In a Facebook post from October, Harper posted a video of former Costa Mesa Councilman Jim Righeimer speaking against the project.

“If you live in the State Streets/Wimbledon Village/South Coast Collection you need to hear this about One Metro West,” the then-candidate wrote in a comment above the video. “I will stand with you to oppose it.”

A rendering of One Metro West, a 1,057-unit residential development created by Beverly Hills developer Rose Equities.
An aerial rendering of One Metro West, a 1,057-unit residential development created by Beverly Hills developer Rose Equities.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Barlow said Wednesday the city heard from a representative of Rose Equities last week about Harper’s potential conflict and conducted a legal analysis of the claims before Tuesday’s closed session meeting.

“Councilmember Harper, having been provided with the communication from the developer, and after communicating with me, felt that he needed more time to determine whether or not he had to recuse himself based on his campaign statements,” she added.

Harper said Wednesday he would take a look at claims made by Rose Equities, but he made a distinction between overtly opposing One Metro West and supporting residents and neighbors in his district who may be impacted by the development.

A block party Friday, intended to drum up support for a 1,057-unit residential complex north of the 405 Freeway, drew the attention of residents opposed to the plan.

“During my campaign I explained I supported those who oppose high-density housing,” he said. “A lot of our neighbors and friends in the community are concerned about One Metro West.”

Harper said that, although he had not yet decided on recusal, he would review the 2,500 pages of materials delivered to council members Thursday, just days before the hearing.

“If it’s the right thing for the community, I’ll vote for it, and if it’s the wrong thing, I’ll vote against it,” he said. “I have no horse in the race, economically or otherwise.”

Harlan also sought advice from Barlow about whether he should recuse himself from participating in the hearing, since he previously approved the project in May 2020 as a city planning commissioner. He ultimately decided a recusal would be the right thing to do.

“The integrity of the process is very important to me, so I want to make sure we’re doing everything by the rules, with input and consultation by our city attorney,” he said Wednesday.

Rose Equities Principal Leonard Glickman on Wednesday was undaunted by the delay, which he estimated cost the company upward of $20,000, and was keen to move forward with the project approvals.

“All I want is for council to approve my project based on the merits. I’m cautiously optimistic they should and will,” he said.

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