Council rejects Fairview Park turnaround rehearing

In basic terms, it was an appeal of an appeal.

And the Costa Mesa City Council majority denied it.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis' request for a rehearing of a contentious planned turnaround within Fairview Park was turned down on a 3-2 vote Tuesday evening. Genis and Councilwoman Wendy Leece had hoped the turnaround, which would be accessed at the northern end of Pacific Avenue, would be up for more council consideration given new information that came to light since its Sept. 17 council approval.

That new information included a letter from the state Office of Historic Preservation that said the Fairview Indian Site — an archaeologically sensitive area within the park that for decades has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places — actually extends to where the turnaround is planned.

The site, officially known as CA-ORA-58, seems to go "much further south than originally thought," state Historic Preservation Officer Carol Roland-Nawi wrote in the Sept. 24 letter. She recommended avoiding the site out of concern that it could be damaged.

The rehearing request marked the second time Genis has brought the turnaround to the council.

Genis also alleged that California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, and National Historic Preservation Act weren't correctly followed in the earliest planning stages for the turnaround.

"You don't do those things after you made your decision," she said. "By law, you do those under the decision-making process before you make your decision ... we're sort of putting the cart before the horse. And they're saying you need to put the horse before the cart."

Leece added, "Why don't we do things decently, in order and follow the rules? There's no rush to get this done. We're putting ourselves at risk of losing grant money and getting into further problems."

Mayor Jim Righeimer said that proper respect should be paid to Native Americans, and a qualified archaeologist will be present during the construction phase. The city has also hired an archaeological consultant, Scientific Resource Surveys Inc., to examine the area.

In trying to give the matter some perspective, Righeimer added, "This is not the building of a stadium or something else. This is a cul-de-sac at the end of the street."

"Councilwoman Genis clearly is using this opportunity for a rehearing as a tactic to discredit staff and the current approved master plan," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger said after the vote.

City officials contended that CEQA will be followed as the process moves forward. They also said Native American tribes will be consulted, though Genis argued that such consultation should have been sought earlier.

Native Americans from Acjachemen Nation, the Juaneño Band of Mission Indians and other groups spoke in favor of holding a rehearing.

Rebecca Robles, a San Clemente resident of Acjachemen descent, said the Fairview Indian Site is as old as the Egyptian pyramids. She also mentioned that cogged stones — mysterious artifacts found only in Southern California and Chile — only add to the site's significance.

"In respect for the Native Americans, in respect for history … I strongly urge you to reconsider and not develop the park," Robles said.

The turnaround was somewhat of a compromise after the original proposal called for a 42-space parking lot to be constructed. That was downgraded to 10 spaces to match the Fairview Park Master Plan.

That Parks and Recreation Commission approval also included an adjacent children's play area and new Fairview Park entryways from Canyon Drive and Placentia Avenue.

Various residents of Pacific Avenue and the Westside opposed the lot on the grounds that it would add to traffic on the street, that it would ruin a natural aspect of the park — that area currently has little vegetation, no improvements and is very flat and dusty — and is too close to the steep bluffs.

Genis quickly appealed that parks commission decision, which brought the matter to the council on Sept. 17. After hearing input from some Pacific Avenue residents and others during an informal Meet the Mayor session the week before, Righeimer proposed only a turnaround space at the end of Pacific, rather than a parking lot.

Residents during the mayor session indicated some approval to that idea, but the turnaround was still met with stiff dissent from attendees of the September council meeting. A majority of the council, with Genis and Leece dissented, approved the turnaround.

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