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Costa Mesa group files petition to give voters a say in development

A petition filed at City Hall this week by a Costa Mesa political action group aims to bring more voter control over new development in the city.

Costa Mesa First's petition seeks to have voters directly approve or deny "major" changes to land use, a decision-making power that currently rests predominantly with the City Council.

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The 11-page petition — a draft copy of which was provided to the Daily Pilot on Tuesday — argues that the city's traffic circulation system is "already oversaturated," its parks "stressed" and land-use standards "ill-defined and inadequate" to the degree that Costa Mesa cannot avoid the adverse effects of gridlock, poor air quality and water pollution.

"The initiative is basically trying to get control of the increased development and therefore the increased impacts on our living community — the traffic, the noise, the infrastructure impacts," said Jay Humphrey, a Costa Mesa First member and former councilman. "It actually is, if you will, pro smart growth in having the public involved in the choices that need to be made."

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Costa Mesa First, a political action committee, presented the petition Monday to the city clerk's office. City attorneys have about two weeks to analyze it and provide an objective summary and title for use on the ballot.

Once the attorneys are finished, Costa Mesa First has 180 days to gather signatures from 10% of the city electorate, or about 5,000 people, for the petition to qualify for the November 2016 general election ballot.

The document defines "major" land-use changes in a variety of ways. For example, it says a project that requires a zoning change and promises to "significantly" increase traffic would require approval by the City Council and voters.

The petition provides more precise definitions of significant increases, including a development that is expected to generate an additional 200 average daily car trips in an area.

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"It's not unreasonable to expect the people to have the ability to weigh in on the things that they are going to be faced with over the next 40-plus years," said Humphrey, who ran for the council in 2014.

Costa Mesa has seen a recent surge in new residential development that is showing no signs of stopping in a city where land value and home sale prices are high.

The surge has brought within it two common opinions.

Boosters credit new development with revitalizing neighborhoods with high-priced housing stock that replaces antiquated, overcrowded housing. Detractors decry the influence of developers on city politics and lament that most new development requires special variances and deviations.

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