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Daily Pilot

Council to look at comment policy

By Bradley Zint

9:33 PM PST, November 29, 2013

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The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to discuss a hookah lounge moratorium, a proposed Westside condominium project, a cost-recovery ordinance and enforcement against problematic rehabilitation homes.

Officials also will revisit an increasingly contentious topic — whether to tack all but 10 public comments on items not on the council agenda onto the end of the meeting or whether to allow them all at the start.

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Hookah lounges

Last month, after receiving the Planning Commission's recommendation to do so, the council voted to place a 45-day moratorium on new hookah lounges within the city. City staffers are now recommending that the moratorium be extended further, by no longer than 10 months and 15 days.

The extension would allow more time to study rules for the smoking establishments, including zoning regulations. City officials are attempting to alleviate quality-of-life concerns related to the parlors, including secondhand smoke, excessive noise and code-enforcement activity.

The moratorium is not expected to affect the three existing parlors — Bublyz Hookah Lounge, 3303 Bristol St.; Harbor Hookah Lounge, 440 Fair Drive; and Sultana Hookah Lounge, 698 W. 19th St.

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Westside condo project

The condo development at 573-591 Victoria St. would replace 27 apartments with 37 detached, three-story town homes. The 2.28-acre property is zoned for medium density.

Council members plan to provide feedback on the project. They will not provide any precedent for final approval or denial of the development, however, city staff said.

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Cost-recovery law

The "excessive use of resources" ordinance targets motels that "utilize a substantial amount" of city resources, particularly code enforcement and emergency police services, according to city documents.

The council last discussed the cost-recovery ordinance Nov. 5. One city official called it a "good first start" in the effort of raising accountability at motel properties.

"In a sense, this is a way to get motel owners to be a little bit more responsible and responsive to solving their own problems and not having our Police Department act, literally, as a security guard for their issues," Assistant CEO Rick Francis said during the Nov. 5 meeting.

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Rehabilitation homes

To give the city a boost in its legal defense against noncompliant rehab homes, the council will give its final vote on changing some zoning code language.

The change would give a more full-bodied definition of what's officially called a "single housekeeping unit."

The change, if approved, would come after a judge ruled against the city in a case involving code enforcement action taken against a Mesa North home. The judge, according to city documents, called Costa Mesa's definition of a single housekeeping unit "legally indefensible."

The property, according to its operator, Patricia Bintliff, was functioning as an "alternative family environment."

Bintliff told the Planning Commission in October that the house was hosting 11 girls and had 14 beds.

It was never used as a treatment center for drug or alcohol addiction, or "a facility of any kind," she said.

On Nov. 5, the council voted 4 to 0 in favor of the ordinance. Councilwoman Wendy Leece was absent, having left the meeting early.

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Public comments

The council will also examine the changes Mayor Jim Righeimer instituted a few weeks ago regarding public comment on non-agenda items.

Righeimer, using his mayoral authority, changed the commenting procedure for a maximum of 10 randomly chosen people to talk at the beginning of meetings.

Those not picked could speak at the end of the meeting, after the public hearings and other matters are dealt with.

The changes aroused the concern of some on the council and the ire of City Hall regulars, who often comment throughout the meetings.

Righeimer has contended that his changes are designed to speed up the decision-making process, which could bring the public hearings and other decisions before the public at an earlier hour.

The changes "will give more balance to make sure things stay on track," Righeimer said.

The council has "to balance out speech for everybody," he said, including the people who wait hours just to speak on a particular issue.

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Rehearing issues

Lastly, the council is poised to give its second vote to finalize striking the city's rehearing procedure from the books. On Nov. 5, the council voted 3 to 1 to do so, with Councilwoman Sandy Genis dissenting. Leece was absent.

The rehearing allows the council to reexamine its decisions if new and relevant information is discovered later on. It supplements Costa Mesa's other appeal procedures.

Righeimer contended that few other cities have such a rehearing procedure, and that appeals should be taken to a higher body, not the one the made the original decision.

Genis, who has asked for a few rehearings throughout the year, countered Righeimer's sentiment.

"I do think there is room for rehearings when there is new, relevant information," she said.