September 17, 2015

Initiative would give Costa Mesans say over development


On Oct. 9, 2009, Jim Righeimer, Costa Mesa's mayor pro tem, wrote in his former Rigonomics column for the Daily Pilot about protecting the fairgrounds from development:


"How difficult would it be to change the zoning?  When you think about it, not that difficult.  All it takes is three votes on the City Council."


For the last seven years the residents of Costa Mesa have seen the Council majority use that power. Developers bring projects before the City Council requiring general plan amendments, zoning changes, and variances.


Many residents speak in opposition because they believe the projects will change the character of our neighborhoods and affect the quality of life, yet only three votes are needed to approve the projects.


The developers can then sell their approved projects to builders at huge profits, and then hightail it out of town, never to be seen again, leaving the residents to deal with high density, traffic congestion, and impacts on parks and public services, just to name a few problems. This scenario illustrates the problem of short-term interests overriding the long-term interests of the community.


Costa Mesa First’s "Initiative for an Ordinance to Give the People of Costa Mesa Control of Their Future" would require voter approval for projects that depend on major changes to zoning rules and the general plan.


Rather than waiting for an election and hoping that the makeup of the City Council changes, this initiative will give the voters a voice regardless of who is elected.


The Costa Mesa First initiative is an example of a long tradition of using the initiative process in city planning and zoning. This kind of citizen review of major decisions is widely used in the planning arena, especially in coastal communities subject to economic pressures to increase density.


In the old days, a general plan would be drawn and then left to gather dust while the City Council would act on the many requests for changes to the zoning map, thus giving the power of zoning to the economic and political elite. Although we have a much more open process now, many citizens feel that the process is still weighted in favor of excessive growth.


Now neighborhoods are pushing back against elected officials, whom they view largely as being influenced by developer interests and unresponsive to citizen concerns about traffic, density, the environment and open space.


The Costa Mesa First initiative is a limited, modest and measured proposal to let voters approve only major land use changes. No landowner or developer will be denied the right to build under current general plan and zoning rules.


This initiative is predicated on the belief that the voters deserve the right to make knowledgeable choices that put the residents of Costa Mesa first.


Although he has voiced his opposition to this initiative, Righeimer also wrote in relation to his desire to use a voter initiative to lock in zoning laws at the fairgrounds, "The nice thing about an initiative is that once the voters pass it, the City Council cannot change it without a vote of the people." 


We agree. The residents are circulating the petition to get the initiative on the 2016 ballot now. Visit


Richard Huffman and Cynthia McDonald,


members of Costa Mesa First​

January 29, 2016

Smart Growth Initiative would give Costa Mesans more control


The Smart Growth Initiative that is expected to be on the November ballot gives the people of Costa Mesa a choice between two competing visions of our city and its future.


Many Costa Mesans are conservative in their approach to change. They are wary of dramatic, rapid change that affects their way of life. They like the small-town feel of Costa Mesa, with mostly one-story and two-story buildings, and residential streets where children can play outdoors.


They like shopping at small businesses whose owners and workers they know by name. They like neighborhood parks and schools. They enjoy clean air and mild weather moderated by breezes from the ocean.


Others take a more go-go approach. They want to see economic growth in the form of high-rise condominium and apartment buildings. Costa Mesa's general plans have long defined "high-rise" as more than two stories. They welcome national chain stores and high-density residential complexes to our major arterial streets, even if they displace small businesses and worsen already-failing intersections.


They are willing to tolerate increases in traffic congestion, noise and air pollution in order to accommodate higher-intensity development. They see Costa Mesa's future as becoming more like larger Orange County cities, such as Santa Ana and Anaheim.


Most conservative Costa Mesans acknowledge that change and growth are a fundamental part of life.  But they want to exercise control over their pace and direction. They want to preserve the quality of life they have enjoyed for themselves and their children and grandchildren. The initiative is an effort to give them that control.


Eleanor Egan

September 26, 2016

Measure Y would put a check on Eastside Growth


In June of this year, by a 3-2 vote, the Costa Mesa City Council approved an update to the General Plan that created an overlay along Newport Boulevard that will allow 4- to 5-story apartment buildings with six-level parking structures.


These huge buildings, which may one day loom over nearby single-family homes and cottages, will greatly affect the Eastside by directing more vehicles into neighborhoods already impacted by traffic and parking problems.


How did we get here? In 2013, the city began a General Plan outreach to Costa Mesa residents. Surveys were conducted to determine what we value and what concerns us when it comes to the city's planning.


Overwhelmingly we said our values were open space, maintaining neighborhood character, safe and efficient traffic circulation and home ownership. Our concerns were housing, preservation of open space, creation of a vibrant downtown gathering place, and keeping traffic safe and efficient, including bike-ability and walk-ability.


We didn't ask that businesses, such as Newport Harbor Animal Hospital, Dick Church's restaurant, the U-Haul place, auto mechanics, storage units, and blocks of cute cottages and homes on Church and Fullerton streets, be replaced by giant apartment buildings.


Twenty-four out of 160 intersections included in the traffic study for the General Plan update will have their levels of service downgraded at peak hours. This means more cut-through traffic for the Eastside. Certain arterial roads will need to be widened, including 17th Street, to six lanes from Orange to Tustin if the Orange County Transportation Authority determines traffic is causing gridlock.

Mayor Steve Mensinger has argued that we need to rid the city of problem motels. However, only four of the more than 70 properties that are the target of high-density development on the Newport Boulevard overlay are motels.


Costa Mesans are proud of our city, and we are not embarrassed to show that we care about its future. We know that success of a city isn't measured by the number of building permits it issues, but by the preservation of the quality of life of the residents.


When citizens learned that the City Council majority was going to coldly ignore the concerns of the people, it was no surprise that the residents took action and wrote Measure Y, and qualified it for the November ballot by gathering nearly 7,000 signatures.


Measure Y gives the residents the right to vote on certain large projects. It isn't a "no-growth" initiative because it permits development that is already allowed under the prior General Plan, and a developer can even exceed those limitations to a point before its project goes to a vote. It also gives citizens the right to vote on the updated General Plan.


This additional step in the planning approval process will provide a check to the influence of powerful development interests. If you, like me, have lost patience with this City Council majority that ignores the residents' needs and isn't concerned with our quality of life, please vote Yes for Measure Y before over-development in Costa Mesa reaches crisis proportions.


Katie Arthur lives in Costa Mesa

July 15, 2016

Costa Mesa growth-control advocate files court challenge to ballot argument opposing initiative

Luke Money, Reporter, Daily Pilot

A Costa Mesa resident has asked a court to throw out all or part of a ballot argument against a proposed local growth-control initiative, claiming it's riddled with errors that could mislead voters in November.


Eleanor Egan, a longtime Westside resident and former member of the city Planning Commission, filed papers last week in Orange County Superior Court challenging the document.

When asked what parts of the ballot argument she took issue with, Egan sighed.


"There's so much," she said. "I don't know where to begin."

The document Egan is objecting to is the rebuttal written by opponents of the initiative sponsored by Costa Mesa First, a political action committee.

The initiative would require approval from local voters, not just the City Council, for any development project that would require a general plan amendment or zoning change and entail construction of 40 or more dwelling units or at least 10,000 square feet of commercial space or generate more than 200 average daily vehicle trips.


In their rebuttal to the proposal – which they refer to as "Measure Z" – opponents claim it is "overly restrictive" and "likely unconstitutional." They say it would make local traffic worse and harm churches and nonprofits by subjecting possible expansion projects to citywide votes.


Egan said the document is full of inaccurate or misleading statements, such as claims that 98% of Costa Mesa's traffic comes from outside the city or that voters should "forget new restaurants anywhere in town – they will require a citywide vote."


"I'm asking for all the false and misleading information to be deleted," Egan said.


Her court petition was filed against Costa Mesa City Clerk Brenda Green and Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley. Also named are the people she says wrote the disputed argument – Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, Christopher Bunyan, Julie Fowler, Chuck Perry and Lee Ramos.


Costa Mesa city spokesman Tony Dodero confirmed the authors.


The City Council this month voted to put a competing growth initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot. That measure would essentially keep the city's existing zoning and land-use standards, including a recently approved general plan update.


It also would include a fee applying to new development north of the 405 Freeway and west of Fairview Road, with fee money being used to increase recreation, open space and public park facilities.


Egan said she "did a lot of work circulating" the Costa Mesa First initiative. She also signed the ballot argument in favor of the measure.


Dodero said the city is aware of Egan's action and "will take the appropriate steps as necessary to address it."


Opponents and supporters of the Costa Mesa First measure have submitted ballot arguments outlining their cases. Both sides also have submitted rebuttals to the other's position.


Ballot documents related to the measure have been filed with the city clerk's office, but the county registrar had not yet received them from the city clerk, Dodero said Thursday.


Arguments need to be filed with the registrar's office by Aug. 12.

November 20, 2015

It's time for Costa Mesa to employ a "Smart Growth" approach


Earlier this year, after years of voicing opposition to the City Council majority's continual deviation from the city's General Plan and the Westside urban plans, a group of residents came together to write an initiative to give the people of Costa Mesa control of their future by allowing the electorate to vote on certain large projects, aka "the Smart Growth Initiative."


I participated in that process because I felt it is time to put the quality of life of residents of Costa Mesa first and to stop developers and the City Council majority from ignoring residents' vision for our city.


The values of the residents expressed to the City during the general plan update outreach during 2013 and 2014 were for open space, maintaining neighborhood character, bikeability and walkability of public streets, safe and efficient traffic circulation, and more home ownership.


These values and ideas are closely aligned with the 10 Principles of Smart Growth laid out by Smart Growth America.  The topic of growth in our aging suburban city is problematic and controversial but Costa Mesa is not unique in its residents' attempt to have some control over their quality of life.


I reviewed 40 projects approved by the City Council or planning commission over the past 8 years.  The approval of those projects required the granting of 4 general plan amendments, 86 deviations, 16 variances, 15 administrative adjustments and seven minor modifications.


While one may wonder why we have a General Plan if we can’t follow it, the better question to ask is “Why can’t the City Council follow the vision the residents laid out?”


The City Council has made many of these changes permanent with the small lot ordinance and changes to the overlay zones.  Now the City Council majority has laid plans to create new overlays of high-density housing to be built along Harbor and Newport Boulevards.


They have designated 95 acres of property to be rezoned high-density residential at up to 40 or more dwelling units per acre.  That means as many as 3,300 units of housing.  At 2.5 people per household, that is 8,250 more residents to create a demand for water, emergency services, schools, parks and roadways.


However, the City has proposed not one park, not one plaza creating a sense of place, and no additional bicycle lanes or walking paths.


What do I propose should be done?


  • Submit a General Plan update with a clear vision of the City’s future to the voters for their approval.

  • Revisit the Westside overlay zones, in particular the conversion of the low-density residential areas to high-density, now that we can see the new buildings and their incompatibility with existing neighborhoods.

  • Apply Smart Growth Principles to planning, rather than the developer-driven spot zoning that creates lucrative high-density projects.

  • Pass the Smart Growth Initiative to allow voters to decide whether future high-density developments are right for Costa Mesa.


Please go to and read about the initiative.  If you haven’t signed the petition to qualify the initiative for the ballot, I urge to you to contact us at


Cynthia McDonald of Costa Mesa First

June 4, 2016

Consider density's lasting effects when you vote


On June 14 the Costa Mesa City Council will vote to approve an update to the city's General Plan. The most significant changes involve the land-use element that controls zoning.

The update proposes to create overlay zones for properties up and down Harbor and Newport boulevards and the Bristol/Baker streets area that will allow high-density residential and residential/commercial mixed-use.

These changes ignore the residents' input at the many outreach events that were held beginning in 2013. The residents stated they want less density, more open space and the preservation of existing neighborhoods.

What we are getting is a vision imposed by the council majority of high-density apartment buildings that will increase the existing imbalance of renters versus homeowners in Costa Mesa.

This City Council majority could be gone next year, but it will leave behind long-lasting consequences that residents will regret.

This plan has been promoted by Mayor Tem Jim Righeimer as a way to get rid of the run-down motels that attract "pimps, prostitutes and druggies." Of course, many motel residents are families living on the margin and some old-fashioned policing may chase away the pimps.

But this rezoning isn't just about replacing problem motels. A closer look reveals that it involves the loss of large viable commercial areas to zoning for super-high density.

Buried within the 406 pages of the proposed General Plan update are color-coded maps with dotted lines around the areas to be rezoned. These maps are a sorry excuse for an adequate disclosure of the significant impacts of these zoning changes.

The small print next to the maps reveals that the overlays allow for 40 units per acre at four stories high. That type of density means big apartment buildings with multi-level parking structures.

Several projects with zoning changes like these are already approved and under construction, such as 125 Baker St., which is 57.7 dwelling units per acre, five stories high, with a six-level parking structure. Exceptions and variances seem to always get approved during the approval process, and this project was no different.

If you have noticed the three- and four-story projects already being built on the Westside at 20 units per acre, wait until you see buildings at 40 to 55 units per acre lining Harbor and Newport boulevards with big parking garages.

The resulting traffic, pollution and loss of open space will have a significant impact on our quality of life for years to come.

Substantial changes to the General Plan should require voter approval. All residents are urged to attend the Town Hall sponsored by Costa Mesa First and Costa Mesans for Responsible Government at 6:30 p.m. June 9 at the Neighborhood Community Center.

Speakers will report on the proposed changes to the use of land, including the overlay zoning areas, and the resulting impacts on traffic and open space. There will also be information about the initiatives that are anticipated to be on the November ballot, and a question and answer period. I hope residents take this opportunity to learn more about the General Plan changes and what they can do to take control of their future.

Rick Huffman is an officer with Costa Mesa First


August 25, 2016

Judge rules to eliminate 'misleading' language in ballot argument


Luke Money, Reporter, Daily Pilot


An Orange County Superior Court judge has struck down much of the language within a ballot argument against a proposed Costa Mesa growth-control initiative after a resident claimed the argument's wording was misleading and inaccurate.

Eleanor Egan, a former planning commissioner, had asked the court in July to throw out all or part of the rebuttal challenging Costa Mesa First's initiative, saying it was riddled with errors that would confuse or deceive voters on Nov. 8.

During a court hearing Wednesday, Judge Kim Dunning completely removed 14 of the rebuttal's 21 contentions, which were written by opponents including Mayor Pro Jim Righeimer, council candidate Lee Ramos and Chris Bunyan, who unsuccessfully ran for council in 2014.


Dunning wrote that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that some of the opponents' statements "were false or misleading, or both."


Among the eliminated sections are:


•    "Likely unconstitutional — you pay for lawyers to get rich"


•    "Projects as small as new drive thru Starbucks will require a citywide vote"


•    "Forget new restaurants anywhere in town — they will require a citywide vote"


•    "The seediest part of town along Newport Blvd. can't be improved under Measure [Y], keeping the motels specializing in pimps, prostitutes and perverts in business"


Costa Mesa First's initiative, dubbed Measure Y on the ballot, would require voter approval of some larger development projects in the city, namely those that require a general plan amendment or zoning change and would also add 40 or more additional dwelling units or 10,000 or more additional square feet of commercial space on top of what already exists.


Egan said she was "really delighted" by the judge's decision.


"I don't like to see falsehoods in a ballot pamphlet that are going to mislead voters," she said.


Dunning did permit the argument's language that deals with traffic, including wording that Measure Y "makes traffic worse" and that residents should "keep Costa Mesa moving forward" by rejecting it.


Also left in the rebuttal was the contention that Measure Y is "overly restrictive," that its authors "want to set us back to the days of Goat Hill" — an early nickname for the Costa Mesa area — and that the measure "is crazy!"


Righeimer said he doesn't plan to contest the judge's decision.
"I absolutely agree with what the judge left in, that Measure Y is going to cause us traffic problems in the city of Costa Mesa," he said Thursday.


Costa Mesa residents Julie Fowler and Chuck Perry also contributed to the rebuttal.


Costa Mesa First's measure will compete against another sponsored by the city that would essentially maintain its existing zoning and land-use standards, including the recently approved update to the general plan.


It also would create a fee applying to new development north of the 405 Freeway and west of Fairview Road, with those funds being used to improve recreational, open space and public park facilities.


Should both measures pass, the one that receives the most votes would become law.