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Garage-fire death leads to proposed revisions

COSTA MESA — The Costa Mesa Planning Commission wants to shut the door on apartment complex garages in the city.

The commission on Monday will consider several strategies to stop residents from converting their garages into living spaces, such as banning garages altogether from newly constructed apartment complexes.

“There’s always been a concern in the community about people living in garages,” said Claire Flynn, a city planning administrator, adding that it’s been a discussion point in recent years.

The garage-turned-residence issue in the city took on new urgency when 17-year-old Luke Upton, a Newport Harbor High School student, died after being pulled from a burning converted garage in February.

The commission is considering a three-pronged approach.

First, the city could implement a self-certification program that would apply to complexes with three to 16 units. Property owners would have to submit paperwork certifying their garages aren’t doubling as apartments and would pay a fee.

Emily Osterberg, director of public affairs for the Apartment Assn. of Orange County, said her constituents would accept a $1 or $2 fee, but property owners would resist having to pay more.

Second, only new apartment complexes would be allowed to have carports and existing complexes would be prohibited from converting them into garages. Existing and new apartment complexes would also be restricted from installing a door leading from the garage to the inside of the apartment, essentially making residents walk outside and open the garage from the front.

Third, the city would launch a public information campaign and distribute fliers highlighting the many issues linked to converted garages, including less parking, more trash, haphazard electrical wiring and other dangers.

Monday’s consideration will be the first step in the process. The commission needs to send any proposed changes the program to the City Council, which would then amend it and send it back to the commission for finalization. The commission would then send a final draft back to the council, which would then vote on enacting it as law.

— Amber Gonzales contributed to this report