Costa Mesa’s Planning Commission has postponed voting on a controversial signage project that proposes three glowing, digital signs going up at the city’s Triangle Square outdoor mall. 

Critics argue that flashy digital moving signs would only make the intersections around the mall – which they say are already dangerous and busy – even more treacherous by distracting drivers and the lights will disturb neighboring businesses and residents. 

Supporters say it will attract people to the mall and bring customers to the businesses inside when businesses open up again and the advertising will provide revenue for Triangle Square

At a virtual Monday meeting, Costa Mesa Planning Commissioners voted 4-3 to continue the public hearing at a later date after pressure from the residents to delay the vote for additional public outreach. Commissioners Jon Zich, Kedarious Colbert and Chair Byron De Arakal voted against the delay.

“I have definitely heard loud and clear from many members of the public especially this item there is a great concern that the residents have not had enough time to review,” said Planning Commissioner Marc Perkins.

The city clerk read off multiple public comments emailed in that questioned why such a controversial public hearing was being held when the public could not speak on them in person. 

 “The community previously fought this attempt 10 years ago and won, it is now again being submitted at a time that it can be pushed through with little resident input. You cannot limit public access and then attempt to push through important projects without residents’ public comments and feedback,” read a public comment emailed in from Mary Spadoni.

De Arakal said that the city can’t afford businesses coming to a screeching halt because Costa Mesa’s sales tax revenue is taking a tremendous hit. 

“We can’t just stop business and stop processing applications because people don’t have the luxury of coming in and sitting at the chamber and sharing with us their views on applications. Certainly, they can do that by email, not ideal, but short of shutting the city down completely and not doing any business. I just don’t think that that’s a very smart way to go,” De Arakal said.

The applicant behind the project is Tyler Mateen representing Triangle Center LLC who were against postponing the hearing.

“We have engaged in this process now for about a year. We’ve engaged in a significant amount of public outreach. It included three public meetings. It included a survey that went to over 500 individuals in the community and it included a significant amount of work on our part,” a spokesperson said on behalf of Mateen at the meeting.

Jeffrey Harlan, vice chair of the commission said he was concerned with the applicant’s unwillingness to postpone the hearing.

“If it is a project that can stand on its merits today, it could stand on its merits in a couple of weeks when we would rehear it,” Harlan said.

Staff has been instructed to come back with a date certain for the hearing during the week of May 25. If the planning commission approves the application, it will move to the city council.

Triangle Square sits in between Harbor Boulevard, 19th Street and Newport Boulevard at the end of the 55 freeway. The project proposes three digital LED signs be put around the location that run between sunrise and 2 a.m. for advertising, public notice announcements, as well as public art. 

One of the signs would go up on the intersection of Newport and Harbor Boulevard covering 600 square feet, one 890 square foot sign would go on 19th Street and Harbor Boulevard and one 1200 square foot sign would wrap around the dome on Newport Boulevard and 19th street.

This is not the first time such signs have been proposed.

In 2010, former owners Greenlaw Partners, tried to get the city to allow two electronic signs at the property, but it received public backlash by residents who said the signs would be a distraction to drivers. The former owners later withdrew the application for the signs.

On August 14 last year, Mateen submitted a new application to the city planning department for the signs, city spokesman Tony Dodero said in a text message back in late February. 

Several months after that, members of the Mateen family began putting campaign money behind Mayor Katrina Foley, who ran an unsuccessful state Senate bid in this year’s primaries.

Mateen’s mother, Sima, and his sister, Alexa, each gave $4,700 campaign contributions to Foley on Dec. 3 last year. This year on Feb. 14, Mateen’s brother, Justin, who co-founded the dating app Tinder, gave $4,700 to Foley’s campaign on Feb. 14 this year. That same day, Justin Mateen’s wife Ariana also gave $4,700.

When asked if she would support or oppose the project if it came to the City Council, Foley said she would consult with the City Attorney to see if she could even vote on it or not but did not choose a side.

“I received contributions from the Mateens not Triangle Center,” Foley added.

The proposal isn’t only asking for permission for digital signs but also directional and identifying signs and tennant signs at the property. The proposal of 4,960 square feet of digital and static signs exceeds the city’s limit on signs allowed for the site and zoning.

Under the city’s municipal code, electronic changeable signs are prohibited to keep the lighting from impacting neighboring properties. However, exceptions have been made in the past for such signs at other commercial centers.

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