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Commentary: With Measure K, voters in Costa Mesa can change the stifling effects of Measure Y

A rendering of One Metro West, a proposed residential development by Rose Equities in Costa Mesa.
A rendering of One Metro West, a proposed residential development by Rose Equities on display at a neighborhood block party hosted by the developers at the OC Mix in Costa Mesa in 2021.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In 2016 Costa Mesa voters passed Measure Y by more than 68%. The result? Measure Y requires a “vote of the people” if a property owner wants to update their property and if that update changes certain parameters of the property or is located close to any other development that might retroactively trigger Measure Y.

After going through the time and expense of hiring architects and engineers and then pushing projects through the approval process, including an affirmative vote by the Planning Commission and the City Council, then being faced by an expensive “vote of the people,” property owners and developers simply choose to take their development dollars elsewhere or not bother upgrading their existing properties at all.

Virtually all development in the city has dried up, including attempts by existing property owners to simply upgrade existing buildings. There has not been a single “vote of the people” on developments since
Measure Y passed.

Measure K to the rescue!

On Aug. 2, 2022 the Costa Mesa City Council voted, 6-1, to place on the Nov. 8 ballot an item identified as Measure K. This ordinance, crafted by an ad hoc committee of Mayor Pro Tem Andrea Marr, Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds and Councilman Jeffrey Harlan after months of deliberation, is designed to loosen the grip Measure Y has imposed on all development in Costa Mesa.

Most of the recent rhetoric against Measure K has been from the same people who created and marketed Measure Y six years ago. In 2016 these well-intentioned folks, seeing a developer-friendly, heavy-handed City Council approve uncontrolled development and spot zoning, effectively said to the then-council “No more!” The exclamation point on that election was the ouster of sitting Mayor Steve Mensinger, who finished fourth in a three-seat race.

The subsequent election in 2018 — the first with district voting — saw a dramatic change in the mix of council members. That’s when the core of the current council was elected to guide our city. They have done an exemplary job, navigating through the pandemic, effectively dealing with our homeless problems and enhancing support for the public safety organizations. They have earned the confidence of the voters in doing
so. It was with that same concern for the future of the city that they approved Measure K being placed on the ballot — so the voters can help decide the future of Costa Mesa.

If the voters fail to pass Measure K in November the cost to our city could be catastrophic. The impact of Measure Y is recognized by state officials as a roadblock to meeting state housing element compliance. It
prevents well-meaning property owners from upgrading their properties, leading to “tenants of last resort” like massage parlors and illegal dispensaries, and eventually vacancies and blight as we currently see on Harbor Boulevard. It inhibits creation of new, much needed and required housing. If the impact of Measure Y is not mitigated the city could be subject to debilitating penalties, including fines of $100,000 per month, loss of eligibility for state grant funds and the probability of the state taking control of all development in the city — the complete loss of local control.

Measure K will allow for much-needed reinvestment on Harbor and Newport boulevards, loosen the stranglehold of Measure Y on development, permit planning for good development in industrial-commercial corridors and protect residential neighborhoods from large developments. Measure K will allow the city to conform with state requirements and prevent penalties from being imposed. It will require developments to conform with all development standards and permit concerned residents to express their views on developments through the normal vetting process.

Measure K will not repeal Measure Y. It will not permit uncontrolled development or encroachment on residential neighborhoods. It will not remove the opportunity for “the people” to express their views on developments.

Measure K is not just OK, it is essential. Please vote “yes” on Measure K in November. The economic viability of our city depends on it.

Geoff West lives in Costa Mesa.

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