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Costa Mesa: City of plenty, with work to do

Costa Mesa: City of plenty, with work to do

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Shoppers stroll along the Bridge of Gardens at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa on Saturday. The retail center, which sees about $ 1.7 billion in annual sales, generates a large amount of sales tax revenue for the city. , ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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South Coast Plaza annually draws large number of shoppers during the holiday season. Shoppers fill the escalators at South Coast Plaza on Black Friday in 2011. The center garners $ 1.7 billion in annual sales. , ANA VENEGAS, FILE

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Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which includes Segerstrom Hall, left, is within walking distance of some large housing developments in Costa Mesa. , LEONARD ORTIZ, FILE PHOTO

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South Coast Plaza annually draws large number of shoppers during the holiday season. Shoppers packed into South Coast Plaza on Black Friday in search of great deals in 2011. ANA VENEGAS, FILE

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The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is within walking distance of large housing developments in Costa Mesa. CINDY YAMANAKA, FILE

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Janice “Charlie,” 59, and her dog Mister rest Saturday at Lions Park in Costa Mesa. The City Council recently approved a $ 35 million upgrade to the park. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall is within walking distance of large housing developments in Costa Mesa. KEN STEINHARDT, FILE

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South Coast Collection, or SOCO, with 300,000 square feet of space, calls itself the “the ultimate design and culinary experience, with over 70 carefully curated restaurants, showrooms and stores.” ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Sea House on West 18th Street in Costa Mesa. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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South Coast Plaza helps make Costa Mesa a retail powerhouse in California. MATT MASIN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Signs are display at South Coast Collection on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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New food spots are opening around The Triangle center in Costa Mesa, as well as along nearby 17th and 19th streets. “We’re just exploding with all these new restaurants,” says city Chief Executive Tom Hatch. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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John Alexander conducts the Pacific Chorale for their season opening concert at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2014. STEVEN GEORGES, FILE

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580 Anton Boulevard in Costa Mesa. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Indoor and outdoor common spaces define The LAB Antimall in Costa Mesa. ANA VENEGAS, FILE

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Jacob Wendt Trio members Jacob Wendt, from left, David Miller, and Aaron Provisor perform for an audience at South Coast Plaza on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A pedestrian moves along by the Triangle on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Visitors enter IKEA on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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John Alexander conducts the Pacific Chorale for their season opening concert with organist Jung-A Lee at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2014. STEVEN GEORGES, FILE

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Shoppers visit South Coast Collection, known as SOCO, on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Ty Cannon, of Costa Mesa, spend time at South Coast Collection on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Westreef on Victoria Street in Costa Mesa is building 17 units. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Joseph Rivera, of Orange, holds an advertisement sign for Glamour Locks across from the Triangle on Saturday in Costa Mesa. ED CRISOSTOMO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Superior Pointe on Superior Avenue in Costa Mesa. KYUSUNG GONG, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Demographics: 51.8 percent white, 35.8 percent Latino, 7.9 Asian, 4.7 percent two or more races

Source: U.S. Census, CoreLogic

Tiny compared with big-city revenue generators, Costa Mesa is winning the race when it comes to property and sales tax revenue.

Its secret? Location and luck. The city has a diverse population, while also being known for high style and casual cool.

It’s home to South Coast Plaza and its $ 1.7 billion in annual sales, where this coming Black Friday is akin to a Powerball jackpot.

And in the post-recession era, the city continues its streak with an explosion of more than 2,000 new housing units in the planning stage or under construction.

“We’re overwhelmed with development,” Costa Mesa Chief Executive Tom Hatch says, smiling.

The largest development will be on Anton Boulevard with 393 units, all within walking distance to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and South Coast Plaza.

Those two sites – one the razzle, the other the dazzle – help make the city the 10th largest retail power in the entire state. Already, Costa Mesa can afford a series of annual one-off projects in the $ 7 million range.

Still, it was only a few years ago that sales and property taxes were grounded by the recession.

RESTAURANT HEAVEN

Hatch – who would be called city manager in most municipalities – looks out over his town from a conference room in City Hall and sees an area where locale and opportunity meld.

Like most cities in Orange County, Costa Mesa was slammed by the recession. Within several years, it dropped from 611 city employees to 478.

But in the post-recession era, the city is flush. A big part of that dates back to when bean farmers with the last name Segerstrom decided to build a giant mall. Today, South Coast Plaza means $ 17 million in sales taxes per year to the city.

Another reason for the city’s success is that Costa Mesa is known as a beach town, even though it has no beachfront.

“We have world-class shopping,” Hatch says, “but we’re also funky, eclectic and different.”

Hatch calls Costa Mesa the “action sports capital of the world.” And he ticks off a series of surf- and skate-wear companies to back that up: Element, Hurley, Paul Frank, Quiksilver, RVCA, Volcom.

Soon, Vans sport clothing company will move from Cypress to Costa Mesa to join that collection.

But it’s not just about seeing more workers in Costa Mesa, Hatch explains. “The creativity that comes out of these places is second to none.”

Costa Mesa’s hip factor plays a large role in other areas.

The LAB Antimall, launched nearly a quarter-century ago, still manages to be true to its name. Creative restaurants and bohemian shops sprinkled with events that attract the tattoo crowd (yes, I have a few) keep the place fresh.

Three years ago, South Coast Collection or SoCo came into being, with 300,000 square feet of space. Blocks away from I-405 and Ikea, SoCo calls itself the “the ultimate design and culinary experience, with over 70 carefully curated restaurants, showrooms and stores.”

It’s not just bragging. I’ve visited several times and – this was a first – enjoyed window shopping as well as grazing. Tip: Try Pueblo for its tapas.

There also are cool new restaurants opening along 17th and 19th streets as well as around The Triangle, a once near-empty shell and now home to dining, shopping and entertainment. My favorite is Eat Chow off 18th Street.

“We’re just exploding with all these new restaurants,” Hatch says.

MOVING UP

Much of the new construction is in the city’s southwest corner. It is an economically diverse area, where low-income workers in apartments live next to long-term residents in modest homes valued at nearly $ 1 million.

Now being added to the mix are new, wealthy homeowners remodeling houses. Luxury apartments and condos also are under construction.

On Newport Boulevard, spanking new condos sell for $ 800,000 and up. On Anaheim Avenue, small townhomes under construction are expected to start in the $ 600,000s. Along 18th Street, a new development is already sold out at prices over $ 800,000.

Thinking of a new detached house? No problem. On Tustin Avenue, those sell for more than $ 1 million.

Hatch allows that since the end of the recession, the change has been dramatic. He reports remodeled homes tend to go up three stories and include rooftop decks.

In light industrial zones, old junkyards and boatyards are disappearing and being replaced with residential units.

Like other city managers I’ve talked to, Hatch acknowledges he fears an Orange County that could be difficult to afford. But he notes higher-density buildings allow for less-expensive housing.

Not only is new development replacing dilapidated areas, Hatch also points out higher property taxes offer a more diverse tax base. And that is a very good thing when the economy goes south. Half the city’s $ 113 million budget is from sales taxes.

With more revenue flowing in, a number of city improvement projects are in the works. Last week, the City Council approved the largest, a $ 35 million upgrade to Lions Park.

The park and its library need an upgrade. Still, the park also offers sanctuary for homeless people, many of whom I’ve talked to. While some get into fights – and I’ve witnessed a few – most are kind, considerate and truly struggling.

We fall into a conversation about the homeless, and Hatch explains Costa Mesa gets more than its share and has created some shelter and built storage facilities.

He suggests each city in the county house a proportionate number of homeless based on its general population.

“I’m proud of this town,” Hatch states. “We’ve embraced the homeless community.”

Other city battles have included costly efforts to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries, and it is working to curtail the burgeoning number of rehab centers.

By limiting clients to six or less, many of the centers get little state scrutiny and are in residential neighborhoods.

To curtail the problem, the city cites rehab facilities that violate code. It also is working with motel owners to help them remodel and reduce the number of addicts who drift to Costa Mesa seeking a place to crash.

Hatch’s only regret? No beachfront.

It would be nice to add sun-dappled sand with ocean views to the city’s playground.

Contact the writer: dwhiting@ocregister.com

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News