This conceptual site plan shows an 18-unit development at 2026 Placentia Ave. in Costa Mesa. The Sanitary District has concerns about how a trash truck will enter and exit this 0.78-acre tract. (Courtesy CITY OF COSTA MESA / Daily Pilot / July 25, 2014)

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In the midst of a hot real estate market — with new tracts aiming to coax neighborhood revitalization in the Westside and eclectic, urbanized housing options designed to entice young professionals — Costa Mesa City Hall is bustling these days with requests for approval of residential developments.

Yet for all the public debate, some of it fierce, about density levels, parking standards and traffic worries, planners are seeing a quirkier problem emerging: Where do homeowners put the trash cans?

City and Costa Mesa Sanitary District planners say collecting refuse has become a challenge in new housing tracts where, unlike those built decades ago, space is tight. What once was an afterthought in the planning process is gaining more attention as developers' plans make their way through the review processes.

Because Costa Mesa is a predominantly built-out community, most of its new developments are considered infill — as in surrounded by already-established buildings. The new-development parcels are relatively small, usually only an acre or two.

So, officials say, each site plan presents its own set of challenges in coordinating trash pickup. Sometimes planners are left wondering if carts for each home — something developers want because they improve marketability — are feasible at all.

During the planning process, the Sanitary District examines the roads that will be handling, week after week, heavy-duty trash trucks. Planners also consider the logistics: How will the trucks maneuver in and out of a development?

Then there's the intricate orchestration of trash-cart placement on small roads, within garages and in tiny setbacks.

And when it comes to new "live-work" homes planned for the Westside, planners question which kind of service should be provided — traditional, single-family-home trash carts or Dumpster-size bins — because the units are designed with the commercial elements of home offices.

Since April, the Sanitary District has reviewed more than 20 site plans. Seven have been approved.

"We're still going back and forth with developers to find a safe, efficient route to pick up the trash," said Scott Carroll, the district's general manager.


No longer a planning postscript

The Sanitary District serves residences in Costa Mesa, as well as portions of Newport Beach and unincorporated Orange County. Most of its ratepayers live in single-family homes, where trash pickup is once a week on designated days.

The district also services multifamily apartments of four units or less.

Long-established neighborhoods of single-family homes generally have had space for trash carts to be placed on the curb during trash day and then stored in sideyards.

Residents must remove their carts from public view after trash day. Failure to do so can result in fines.

But this is proving nearly impossible in new Costa Mesa developments, said Javier Ochiqui, management analyst with the Sanitary District.

Carroll says the district has always been on top of planning sewer needs — calculating capacity, identifying the types of required piping. But more than a year ago, after the district's contracted trash hauler, CR&R, raised concerns about difficult trash pickups within new developments, a light bulb went off.

The district realized that trash pickup and cart storage could no longer be the planning postscript in the long process for development approvals.

The district wanted to be an "equal player" in planning, Carroll said.