How Will the Proposed Charter Affect Land Use, Zoning, and Development in Costa Mesa?

by Perry Valantine, March 17, 2012


Section 301 of the charter contains the State law requirement that zoning ordinances must be consistent with the General Plan.


The City’s zoning code requires that public hearings be held for certain types of development proposals. The City must provide notice of such public hearings to owners of surrounding properties. State law establishes criteria for public hearing notices – including mailing of notice to owners of property within 300 feet of the proposed development. As a charter city, Costa Mesa would not be held to strict compliance with state laws. Although some reasonable notice would still be required, the City could change the specifics and send notice to a smaller number of surrounding properties – say, those within 100 or 200 feet.


When a property owner or developer wishes to build something that does not comply with the City’s zoning laws (building setbacks, building height, parking requirements, etc.) he or she must apply for a variance. Under State law, a variance may be approved only when there are special circumstances applicable to the property (small size, unusual shape, etc.) that make it unreasonable to comply with the rules that apply to other properties. For instance, if a property has a severe slope on one side where nothing can be built, it may be reasonable to allow the building to be built closer than normal to the other side. Approval of a variance may not constitute a grant of special privilege that is not available to owners of other similar properties.

As a charter city, Costa Mesa would not be required to make the same findings for approval of a variance. For example, the City could approve a building that is too tall – as was recently proposed in the Mesa Verde area – even though the property has no unusual conditions that would warrant exceeding the allowable building height.


State law contains requirements that cities allow second dwelling units on certain residential properties. Proponents of the charter have cited this as one of the State requirements they would like to avoid. However, that particular State law specifically says it applies to charter cities, as well as general law cities. So, adoption of a charter would be of no help.


State law declares provision of facilities for the following to be areas of statewide concern (therefore, applicable to charter cities as well as general law cities):
• Residential alcohol/drug abuse recovery or treatment facilities for 6 or fewer persons
• Residential facilities for 6 or fewer mentally ill persons
• Family day care facilities for 6-8 children


In summary, adoption of a charter would give City Council the power to change ordinances to allow them to grant favors to developers, and to do so with less public attention than is required by State law.

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