Ban on hookah lounges extended

The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved extending a moratorium on new hookah lounges in the city.

On Nov. 5, the council approved a 45-day moratorium on the smoking establishments, though a city official said Tuesday that wasn't long enough to examine complaints associated with the businesses and establish zoning regulations for them.

The new moratorium is for a period no longer than 10 months and 15 days.

"We haven't had time to come back to you with a full study on this issue," said Gary Armstrong, Costa Mesa's economic and development services director and deputy CEO.

City staff have said hookah parlors are detrimental to residents since they generate loud music, public and underage drinking, excessive noise and loitering. The staff have also cited the health effects, such as secondhand smoke.

Anaheim has enacted a similar measure, Armstrong noted.

"We're learning from them," he said.

Costa Mesa has three hookah lounges — Bublyz Hookah Lounge, 3303 Bristol St.; Harbor Hookah Lounge, 440 Fair Drive; and Sultana Hookah Lounge, 698 W. 19th St. — and they will not be affected by the decision.

In October, four of the five planning commissioners recommended approving the 45-day ban. Commissioner Colin McCarthy dissented.

Mayor Jim Righeimer said the council isn't against hookah parlors but that the city needs to establish their proper place, just as with restaurants and bars. One parlor, he said, was trying to call itself a retail store.

"They became establishments that are not being run as a retail store," Righeimer said.

Proposed comment changes

As of press time, the council had not voted on a public comment policy that would codify the changes Mayor Jim Righeimer made last month.

Using his mayoral authority, Righeimer changed the meeting setup so that a maximum of 10 randomly chosen speakers could talk at the beginning of council sessions.

The changes have to do with public comments about items not on the agenda. Public comments regarding agenda items are unaffected.

Before the changes, an unlimited number of people were permitted to speak. Now those not chosen can have their time at the microphone at the end of the meeting, often hours later.

Righeimer has contended that his changes will help speed up the meetings and keep the comment portion from pushing back important issues that require council decisions.

Councilwoman Sandy Genis and Wendy Leece questioned Righeimer's authority to make the changes, contending that his actions violate the city's municipal code.

They asked City Atty. Tom Duarte for clarification. He confirmed Righeimer's authority to make the changes.

"It's not uncommon for this council in the past to move items around the agenda," he said. "The mayor has routinely moved things around."

In response, the councilwomen made a motion to have Tuesday's public comments delivered as they were before Righeimer's changes.

The motion failed, with Righeimer, Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and Councilman Gary Monahan dissenting.

"This is the rule of law that we have that governs our operation tonight," Leece said before the vote. She added later that she disagreed with Duarte's interpretation.

"I do believe we are in violation of the municipal code," she said.

Added Genis: "Apparently our bad habits take precedence over state law and municipal code."

Righeimer also resurrected the policy of speakers filling out a card before addressing the council.

Righeimer clarified that the law does not require people to identify themseves on the cards.

Monahan, a council member for 17 years, said the changes are needed to keep the meeting in order and running smoothly.

"This is all just a bunch of gobblygook, OK?" Monahan said. "The fact is, it's a lot easier to run a meeting if you're willing to put your name on a card and come up here and be professional, instead of playing these games."

Terry Koken, one of several City Hall regulars and council critics who have spoken against the mayor's changes, brought with him a sign that read: "Freedom of speech delayed is freedom of speech denied."

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