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Planners recommend nuisance law

Ordinance would give city leverage in addressing property blight, hoarding and crime.

May 29, 2013|By Bradley Zint

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission this week recommended that the City Council adopt an ordinance aimed at fighting problematic properties, such as transient motels and dilapidated homes.

The public nuisance abatement ordinance would expand the city's ability to rectify quality-of-life problems, such as crime, hoarding and graffiti.

It broadly defines "public nuisances" to include, among other things, a property that is a fire hazard, structurally unsafe, abandoned or dangerous for children, or that has a garage converted into a temporary or permanent living space.

The ordinance would bring a more streamlined and nuanced approach to addressing problems associated with businesses and residences, said Deputy City Attorney Elena Gerli during the commission's meeting Tuesday.

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"We don't have to go nuclear to fix something that is relatively small," Gerli said. "And so this gives us flexibility in dealing with violations, because we don't have to wait until the situation is so bad" that the city must take the more drastic and heavy-handed step of a revoking a conditional-use permit, or CUP.

"It's a little bit of a different kind of enforcement tool," she said.

Deputy City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen said the ordinance doesn't replace the need for CUPs, which allow businesses to operate within the confines of the city's zoning code.

"You need nuisance laws to be able to address those issues that aren't addressed in the CUP," he said.

Claire Flynn, assistant development services director, said she wouldn't characterize the ordinance as a "lower degree of enforcement" compared with ensuring compliance with CUPs.

"I think it's another angle to use toward nuisances," she said. "For the first time we're defining what hoarding is; we're looking at weed abatement, weedy conditions, noise. These are things that are not specified in the zoning code."

Commissioner Colin McCarthy said the ordinance "gets to the core of what a lot of us are trying to do."

City officials have said the document was a collaborative effort and that it is a cost-effective method of achieving of compliance.

Gerli said at the May 13 meeting that when the commission first examined the ordinance, it wasn't "particularly controversial."

"Cities have this all over the place," she said.

Furthermore, the proposed law — which Gerli said is unlikely to be used often — comes with an appeals process that gives the affected property owners an opportunity to correct wrongs.

The ordinance requires City Council approval. The council could review the proposal as early as June 18.

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