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Costa Mesa approves general plan update; affordable housing and growth remain contentious issues

Costa Mesa approves general plan update; affordable housing and growth remain contentious issues
A proposal to tear down the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and replace it with 224 high-end apartments, depicted in this rendering, triggered a lawsuit by an affordable-housing advocacy group that alleges the project violates state law because it didn’t set aside low-income units. (File illustration)

After years of discussion, debate and community input, Costa Mesa City Council members Tuesday officially approved an update to the city's general plan, despite objections from affordable-housing advocates.

The council vote was 3-1, putting a bow on a process that began in 2012. Councilwoman Sandy Genis dissented Tuesday, and Councilwoman Katrina Foley was absent.

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The general plan serves as the city's development blueprint through 2035. The current plan was approved in 2002.

"This is an enormous document," Mayor Steve Mensinger said, thanking city staff members for their work on the plan. "It took a lot of time, a lot of years."

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Not everyone was enthused with the result, however. A parade of speakers Tuesday took aim at one particular section of the plan — a program that would offer incentives to owners of motels along Harbor and Newport boulevards to demolish their businesses and build high-density apartments.

City officials say the goal is to encourage redevelopment of some motels that are considered hotbeds of drug use and criminal activity.

Affordable-housing advocates, some of them carrying signs with the words "Motel refugees," told the council that tearing down the motels would be devastating to families and individuals who rely on them as last-resort housing.

"These people are not 'them,' these people are 'us,'" said Costa Mesa resident Steve Dzida. "They are our people. They're part of our community."

Kathy Esfahani of the Costa Mesa Affordable Housing Coalition said the program would cause displacement of hundreds of lower-income families.

"We will have increased homelessness or refugees who must leave our city because they have nowhere to go," she said.

The program also could expose the city to legal action, she said.

Some speakers said residential projects that use the incentive — which would allow density of up to 40 units per acre — should be required to make 20% of their new apartments affordable for lower-income households.

The Kennedy Commission, an affordable-housing advocacy group based in Irvine, filed a lawsuit this year over density incentives included as part of a proposal to demolish the Costa Mesa Motor Inn and replace it with 224 high-end apartments.

The lawsuit alleges that the project violates state law because it didn't set aside low-income units.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer took issue with the "arrogance of some people that come into this place, who we've never seen before, and start explaining to us what our affordable-housing requirements are."

A state-mandated document called the Housing Element, which addresses citywide housing needs from 2013 to 2021, says Costa Mesa needs only two more low-income housing units, Righeimer noted.

"We have a lot of affordable housing here, but what the advocates want to have is brand-new shiny apartments and shiny houses," he said.

A few members of the audience groaned during Righeimer's comments. Others coughed loudly or cleared their throats to try to muffle his remarks.

Affordable housing wasn't the only concern raised Tuesday. Other speakers said the plan would allow too much high-density growth, choke local roads with extra traffic and harm Costa Mesa's air quality.

Those concerns have been brought up regularly during discussions of the general plan.

Genis blasted several aspects of the updated document, saying it is at turns inconsistent, incomplete or insufficient.

Issues such as traffic, noise, water supply and air quality were either not studied appropriately or relied on outdated or patchy data, Genis said.

"I am very concerned about the lack of analysis in many cases," she said.

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Twitter: @LukeMMoney

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