Harlan: Convenience shouldn't overshadow deeper value

May 26, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

Throughout Costa Mesa there have been signs of new economic investment along our major corridors.

Harbor Boulevard is dotted with construction crews busy building new projects, 17th Street is home to a few new restaurants, and the Triangle is under scaffolding for its impending reinvention.

But if you take a closer look, you'll notice that the kind of development we're attracting is not the type you'd eagerly anticipate. I'm not referring to a new sit-down restaurant or the re-use of a large, abandoned car dealership or a much-needed senior housing development. It's the small, seemingly benign projects — the fast food joints, the drive-through coffee shops — that can have a cumulatively, adverse impact on our community.


The vast majority of these new commercial projects have one common characteristic: They are designed solely to deliver convenience. Get your daily caffeine fix, your cheeseburger combo and your drug prescription without leaving the safety and sanctity of your car.

I certainly appreciate and enjoy some of our modern-day conveniences. Smartphones are remarkably efficient tools, online banking saves me many headaches, and the DVR helps keep the peace in my family.

But convenience is not the same thing as value. Value is something we share, a benefit that accrues for all of us. It's not calculated by a simple cost-benefit analysis.

Value is about worth over the long term. We see value in our properties, our parks, our schools, as well as in our location within the region, and in our businesses and available labor force.

Although there's no prescribed formula for determining value in a community, there are a few basic considerations.

For example, when evaluating a project, no matter how small, we should ask: Is it a new attraction that will help distinguish Costa Mesa in a positive way? Does it notably add to the design quality of our built environment? Does it generate new jobs and sales taxes, and spur other local investment? Does it significantly impair an adjacent neighborhood's quality of life? Does it bring the community together?

So when the City Council on May 15 voted 3 to 1 — after a hearing lasting more than three hours and ending at midnight — to approve a drive-thru Starbucks on East 17th Street, I couldn't help but think that, once again, convenience prevailed over value.

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