BIG CROWD HEARS THE SMOKING ISSUE
Before more than 170 people in City Council Chambers last night, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission spent nearly ninety minutes discussing changes to certain codes affecting the way so-called "Smoking Lounges" are managed within the city before voting unanimously to move the item to the City Council. I thought it was interesting that there was no sign of the Hookah Lounge folks, since it was their issue that started the whole thing more than a year ago.
PARKING LOT FULL OF "VAPERS"
I knew it was going to be an interesting evening when I arrived at City Hall thirty minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin and found several dozen people milling around outside in groups, vaping away - sucking on all manner of strange devices and blowing mist out into the air.
AN INTERESTING GROUP
Although there seemed to be no official uniform for these folks, many of the men wore some form of black outfit with a variety of logos on their t-shirts. Peeking from beneath the shirts and shorts were examples of body art - tattoos - and many wore baseball caps with flat bills, just ever-so-slightly askew. Mixed in among them were young men I might describe as almost "Ivy League" in their attire, plus several young women, some of whom also sported body art. And, I'm told, a few audience members wore sober living home identification.
"FRAGRANT", TO SAY THE LEAST
About 5:45 little gaggles of those folks began to file into City Council Chambers and found seats scattered around the auditorium. Within five minutes three-quarters of the seats were filled and more folks straggled in after the proceedings began. And, I must observe, the combination of fragrances of whatever they were sucking on out in the parking lot stayed with them as they filed into the room - to the point that some of the non-vaping members of the audience had to excuse themselves and leave the room a couple times during the meeting to get some fresh air.
THE RULES WERE FOLLOWED
For the first time in recent memory the Sergeant-at-arms took it upon herself to define the rules of behavior in the chambers before the meeting began. Instructions were given to those who wished to speak to fill out the appropriate card and to maintain decorum. As it played out, that admonition probably wasn't necessary, but we'll never know. The crowd was quiet for the most part and respectful during the meeting. And, thank goodness, most of them chose not to speak on the issue.
TIGHTENING THE FOCUS
At 6:30 the commission began hearing this issue, Public Hearing #2, HERE
. Right off the bat, before Planner Stephanie Roxas
could make her presentation, newlywed Vice Chair Jeff Mathews
asked for confirmation that the commission was dealing with only
lounge uses, not retail sales of the products in question - which was affirmed. It was later affirmed that they were also dealing with the USE
of these products in public places, like parks.
HEALTH DEPARTMENT PRESENTATION
Following Roxas' presentation and a few questions Amy Buck,
representing the Orange County Department of Public Health, gave a presentation. The following slides formed the core of her presentation and, I believe, will be self explanatory. Click on the images to enlarge, if necessary.
SECOND HAND SMOKE
WHO WAS THIS GUY?
A total of nine (9) people stepped up to speak on this subject. The first one was a fellow named Austin Hopper
, who was up and down so quickly that I couldn't get my camera up fast enough to get a photo. I did, however, find this one online. When he was asked who he was earlier by a member of the audience before the meeting began, he said his name and "Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce
". During his brief time at the podium - maybe fifteen seconds - he praised the small business owners selling these products. However, further investigation turns up he is actually an officer of a vaping company who has been involved in the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce in the past.
It was interesting to note that many of the speakers chose not to identify themselves, although Doug Hughes
did identify himself as a representative of a vaping trade group and presented public relations information about vaping, including claims that vaping helps with smoking cessation. A later speaker - unidentified - asked the crowd how many were former smokers and more than 100 people raised their hands.
PARKING AND LIVE/WORK USES?
spoke briefly, congratulated the staff for the hard work and urged the commission to maintain the 17/1000 parking space requirement. She also asked of the highly-touted new Live/Work units being built might be a locale for a vaping shop.
spoke and thanked all the young people for showing up and encouraged them to become involved in broader issues in the city. I had the strong sense that most were not interested in anything else except this particular issue.
DENIED TOBACCO ASSOCIATION
Other speakers opined that vaping has nothing to do with tobacco use, although a quick check online finds many vaping outlets advertising tobacco on their sites, too.
PERSONAL TOUCH VS. ONLINE PURCHASING
One speaker was concerned about customers not being about to have personal interaction at vaping shops, and not being able to sample the products. She expressed her opinion that, without that personal touch, their customers would just buy online and significantly damage "these small, local businesses." Later commissioner Stephan Andranian
expressed confusion about that fact, wondering why - if the local businesses were providing such an essential service - would anyone buy online? Uh, huh...
AN OWNER - AND EMPLOYER - SPOKE
The final speaker was a man named John Cavanaugh
, who identified
himself as an owner of three vaping businesses in the "Newport-Mesa"
area - two in Costa Mesa and one in Newport Beach. He said, "in fact, half of the people here work for me
." - and that explained the turnout.
DICKSON ON LIVE/WORK
During the discussion Chairman Rob Dickson
addressed Spadoni's concern about the live/work units, indicating they were only authorized for specific uses... but I don't remember that being the case. Examples of SOME
types of businesses have been mentioned, but I don't recall uses being restricted. In fact, since most of the work elements of the live/work units are 250 square feet and the "sampling area" could only be less than 100 square feet, it seems like a very good question. A retailer of this kind of product could "sell" it in the first-floor work space and just carve out a little cranny in which folks could do their "sampling".
SENDING IT TO COUNCIL
In any event, just before 8 p.m. the commission voted, 5-0, to move this issue on to the City Council for discussion and approval. Some language changes were made further fine-tuning some of the definitions to tighten up the process. Now we'll see what happens from here. After the rest of the meeting ended about 40 minutes later there were still knots of folks in the parking lot talking and vaping.
PUBLIC HEARING #3 CONTINUED AS PREDICTED
In other news of the evening, Public Hearing #3 was continued to the next meeting, on August 10th.
MERRILL PLACE UNITS APPROVED
Public Hearing #1, the nice little project on Merrill Place presented by architect George Seitz
was approved after a short discussion.
BRISTOL STREET CAR SALES APPROVED - WITH CONDITIONS
The final item on the agenda, Public Hearing #4, the request for a sales facility near the Hilton Hotel on Bristol Street at the site of a recently-relocated high-end furniture store was approved with a few conditions attached involving signage, test drive routes and special events approvals. During the discussion I was amused by Dickson's concern that this facility might devolve into "low-end, high-end
" car sales, and used as a point of reference a 1978 American Motors AMX. I smiled.
STUDY SESSION NEWS AND EARLY OUT!
During her comments Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn
, told us that a "packed
" joint study session with the City Council is being scheduled for September 8th at which possible revisions to the Urban Plans and the Land Use Element of the General Plan would be discussed, so the Planning Commission's meeting planned for August 24th would likely be cancelled. Dickson adjourned the meeting to August 10th and, we were actually out of the auditorium before 8:30 p.m. Yea!
Labels: Claire Flynn, Colin McCarthy, Costa Mesa Planning Commission, evaping, Jeff Mathews, Rob Dickson, Stephan Andranian, Timothy Sesler