Costa Mesans weigh in on General Plan

From urging better zoning enforcement to improving housing options for the homeless, those who attended a Wednesday night workshop on updating Costa Mesa's General Plan gave a wide variety of input.

The workshop, in the Emergency Operations Center next to City Hall, was the first of several planned in the coming months in what city officials are calling a "Great Reach" effort to amend the state-mandated document.

MIG consultant Laura Stetson described the General Plan as a "blueprint for development and evolution of a city."

It is more comprehensive than zoning and more long term in its vision, she added.

In June 2012, the council awarded a $664,705 contract to MIG, formerly known as Hogle-Ireland, for work that includes consulting on the General Plan. The firm, which maintains a Fullerton office, has done various plan projects, including general plan work, for cities such as Artesia, Garden Grove, Chino Hills and Ranch Cucamonga.

Some topics the nearly 50 attendees raised were common: improving schools, fighting crime, better crosswalks for the handicapped and the need for a "really great library."

Many others, however, were more unique to the city: the need for a "rapid bus" mass-transit system, not changing traffic standards as development progresses in the Westside, maintaining mobile home parks as affordable senior housing, being Orange County's premier cycling system, maintaining an industrial base in the Westside and enhancing the city's reputation as an action sports capital.

There was also a "We don't want to be Newport Beach" sentiment and an objection to too many pawn shops and other "downscale uses" downtown.

But where exactly is Costa Mesa's downtown?

"That's the issue," replied one resident.

The topic of "changing" Costa Mesa's official downtown — historically defined as the area around the present-day Triangle and Costa Mesa Courtyards shopping centers — was also brought up after one attendee expressed a bit of envy for Fullerton's walkable downtown district.

Stetson said some of the issues the updated General Plan may concentrate on are: land use, including high-density residential buildings; lot configurations and sizes; vacant land and it being "recycled" into a different or more intense use; traffic; and Costa Mesa's ratio of homeowners to renters which, according to the latest census data, is 43% homeowners to 57% renters.

City staff based those preliminary topics on their interactions with residents, Stetson said.

As residents spoke at the workshop, an MIG employee wrote keywords, phrases and questions from their comments on a large piece of paper, which will be made available online and possibly taped up somewhere in City Hall. Each meeting will produce a similar paper that will be made public.

Claire Flynn, the city's acting development services director, said changing the General Plan — which hasn't been updated since the early 2000s — will be "an organic process" that requires resident input.

Six additional public meetings or workshops are scheduled through mid-September and will address various aspects of the General Plan. More meetings may follow if needed, Flynn said.

Three General Plan "road shows" during business hours are also scheduled.

Officials urged residents to check http://www.costamesaca.gov for the latest General Plan information and meeting schedule.

State law requires a General Plan "for the physical development of a city and any land outside its boundaries which bears relation to its planning," according to city documents.

The meeting also highlighted the city's Housing Element, another state-mandated document within the General Plan that addresses various housing needs.

Unlike the General Plan, which is changed about once a decade, the Housing Element must be updated more frequently because of more stringent requirements. Costa Mesa's was last updated between 2008 and 2009.

If submitted to the state within 120 days of the Oct. 15 deadline, Costa Mesa can update its Housing Element on eight-year cycles. If the city misses the deadline, it could be subject to four-year update cycles.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the Housing Element during its May 28 meeting in the Council Chambers, 77 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

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