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Commentary: Do we need more special privileges for Triangle Square?

A rendering shows a wraparound digital billboard proposed for Costa Mesa's Triangle Square.
A rendering shows a wraparound digital billboard proposed for Costa Mesa’s Triangle Square and how it might appear at night.
(Courtesy of Selbert Perkins Design)

Does Costa Mesa need giant electronic billboards on our major streets, spewing ads from dawn till 2 a.m., all day, every day? That’s what the owners of Triangle Square want.

They’re asking the city to approve about 2,700 square feet of lighted digital signs with constantly changing copy. Yet, city codes clearly state that “electronic changeable copy signs, except theater marquees and time/temperature signs” are prohibited. Why is this even being considered?

From the beginning, the Triangle Square project has gotten special privileges, including increased floor area ratio and height, decreased parking, decreased open space and decreased setbacks.

And because rules applying to other businesses in Costa Mesa somehow don’t seem to apply to Triangle Square, a special sign program was approved. At first, approved signage was less than 1,900 square feet.

Over time, this was repeatedly increased. If businesses at Triangle Square were struggling, the solution seemed to be to just add more signage. This happened time and time again until reaching the currently approved 3,445 square feet. But business at the center still languished.

Never mind that access and parking are inadequate. Never mind that commercial rents at the center might be too high. Just add still more signs! Business will flourish!

But the electronic billboards won’t be limited to advertising businesses at Triangle Square. One might wonder, then, how the signs will help businesses at the shopping center if they urge potential customers to go to South Coast Plaza, SOCO or elsewhere.

Under the applicant’s current ask, total signage, including the lighted billboards, would top out just short of 5,000 square feet, several times what would normally be permitted for a typical commercial use in the city. More special privileges for Triangle Square at the expense of Costa Mesa residents.

Homes on the east side and elsewhere nearby will be victimized by the bright lights and constantly changing sign copy. Residents’ evening enjoyment of their yards or balconies will be impaired. The visual blight will reduce property values.

Worse, the signs will be dangerous. Clearly, the electronic billboards are designed to attract attention — attention that should be applied to driving.

In the past five years, 134 accidents have occurred on just the stretch of Newport Boulevard between 18th and 19th streets, adjacent to Triangle Square. Seventy of these involved injuries. That’s over two accidents a week! And more than one injury a week! And that’s just on Newport Boulevard. What about on Harbor Boulevard and 19th Street?

The city should be working to reduce distractions for drivers in that area. Adding more is the last thing they should be doing! And doing so in Distracted Driving Month, as Costa Mesa police urge us to “focus on the road.”

The project is being touted as a solution to economic problems due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Daily Pilot just covered the financial windfall coming to Costa Mesa under the federal COVID-19 relief program.

Things are beginning to open up and the economy is beginning to recover. And don’t city leaders keep claiming Costa Mesa’s in great shape financially?

Even if not, why justify a permanent change in the nature of Costa Mesa’s downtown in response to a shorter term problem? Long after COVID-19 becomes a dim memory, the signs will be with us for decades to come.

Or at least until Triangle Square asks for still more special privileges. Isn’t it time they were required to obey the same rules as everyone else in Costa Mesa?

Sandy Genis, former Costa Mesa mayor

Jay Hunphrey, former vice mayor/mayor pro tem, Costa Mesa City Council

Wendy Leece, former vice mayor/mayor pro tem, Costa Mesa City Council

Katie Arthur, east side Costa Mesa resident

Mary Spadoni, east side Costa Mesa resident

Anna Vrska, east side Costa Mesa resident

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