C. J. Segerstrom & Sons soon will unveil a new proposal for a 100-acre site north of the San Diego Freeway in Costa Mesa, but this one may be as controversial as the 32-story skyscraper rejected four months ago, several City Council members said Saturday.
The new plan reduces the 32-story office building to 22 stories, but adds a 10-story office building next to it. The plan also includes incentives for employees to car-pool to the development just off Harbor Boulevard.
Two of Costa Mesa's five council members said Saturday that they doubt the new Segerstrom plans will be acceptable either to the community or to the council. The council in March asked the Segerstroms to withdraw their proposal after hundreds of residents appeared at a meeting to argue that the skyscraper would create traffic havoc in the north part of the city.
The Traffic Problems
At issue is whether the new plan would create fewer traffic problems than the first one. Malcolm C. Ross, director of planning and design for the Segerstroms, said the new plan "very much mitigates the traffic situation."
But Councilman David Wheeler, a leading opponent of the first plan, is not convinced the new one is any improvement.
"It looks to me like they just lopped off the top of that other skyscraper and set it on the ground beside it," Wheeler said. "The floor space is the same, and to me that means it's still going to create the same traffic problems."
Wheeler said the Segerstroms have a new study backing up their claim that traffic flow would be affected less under the new plan. But Wheeler said it takes into consideration the success of its car-pool incentive program, and Wheeler does not believe it will work.
Doubts About Car Pools
"I just don't believe you can get Californians to car-pool in significant numbers," Wheeler said.
Councilwoman Mary Hornbuckle said, "I have serious doubts" that the new proposal would mean significantly less traffic.
Hornbuckle said a 22-story building probably was acceptable to her because it was less imposing than a 32-story one. But she agreed with Wheeler that the latest plan would not mean significantly less traffic.
Councilwoman Norma Hertzog said she has not decided how she will vote, but said "the traffic situation will have to be worked out."
Hertzog added that the Segerstroms expect just one company to occupy most of the space in the new development, which would make a car-pooling plan more workable.
Hertzog praised the quality of the first plan and said the models she has seen of the second also are impressive.
"Without the Segerstroms, Costa Mesa would still be a farm community," Hertzog said. "They do quality work."
Ross declined to discuss details of the plan. He would only say that the floor space was the same, 677,000 square feet, but that it would be erroneous to therefore assume that traffic problems would be the same.
The first plan also included a $700,000 day-care center, an art gallery and 15 acres of open space. Ross declined to say whether those plans were still included, but did say that "we expect to include the same quality in this plan as we had in the first one."
Ross declined to say when the details would be made public, except to say a press conference was expected in the next week or so.
But Wheeler said he already has discussed the new plan with representatives from four community groups--North Costa Mesa Homeowners, Mesa Verde Homeowners, West Costa Mesa Homeowners and Mesa Action--and all of them vowed to fight it.
"I'll give it consideration," Wheeler said. "But they've got to convince me they can handle the traffic situation."
Most city planners use a formula that rates traffic from A (very smooth) to F (gridlock, meaning traffic is backed up more than the length of a city grid, about 10 blocks). The first plan, Wheeler said, would result in an F rating. The new one, he said, would be no better than E.
The Segerstroms went to the March City Council hearing aware that many residents would be there to oppose their plans. They also knew that Wheeler and Hornbuckle would oppose them. But Councilman Donn Hall and Councilwoman Hertzog, who have been pro-development in the past, were expected to vote with them. Councilwoman Arlene Schafer was seen as the swing vote.
But it did not turn out that way. The council chambers were so packed that many people had to wait outside. The speeches in opposition to the plan were expected to go on until 3 a.m., but Hall cut it off just before midnight by asking company officials to withdraw their plans for the site east of Harbor Boulevard on South Coast Drive.
Hall said later he did it so the Segerstroms could save face, because it was obvious their plan would not get enough council votes to pass.
Council members Hall and Schafer could not be reached Saturday for comment about the new Segerstrom plan.
Wheeler said it would have to go to the city Planning Commission first, and that would probably happen sometime in August.