05/10/2022: Citing an Open Meeting (Brown Act) violation, Village Laguna submitted an extensive review and opinion to the City Council. In accordance with the California Government Code, the Council was notified to cease and desist, thereby enhancing open meetings and transparent communication with its constituents.
Historic Inventory—held informational meeting on historic preservation in Laguna Beach; established subcommittee to photograph the 150+ C-rated houses proposed to be removed from the inventor
The following issues are of current concern to Village Laguna. Note that Village Laguna Newsletters contain discussions on these topics. Also many other inter-related Organizations weigh in on the areas that are most important to them. Clicking on one of the topics in red below will take you to information on the subject. If there is no red link, the full information is posted below on this page.
Advanced notice for City Council Agendas
Threatened changes to Historic Preservation
Modifications to Downtown Specific Plan
Change in policy vis-a-vis setting City Council Agendas [This resolution was dropped at the Jan. 25 City Council Meeting]
Funding South Laguna Community Garden Park
LB Downtown Specific Plan at the Coastal Commission
Extension of Temporary Outdoor Dining and Parklet Program (see letter below)
In Support of Advanced Notice for City Council Agendas
Village Laguna’s Feb. 15, 2022, letter to Mayor Kempf and Councilmembers:
Village Laguna thanks you for bringing the idea of providing additional advance posting of City Council agendas. Residents are looking forward to your discussion of this important issue. Posting the agenda on Thursday afternoon and taking action the following Tuesday does not give the community much opportunity to become fully informed before votes are taken.
When our City Manager, Shohreh Dupuis, first took office we invited her to speak at a general meeting. Members were pleased to hear that she has an interest in making city business more transparent and providing ways for resident inclusion. Twelve day advance noticing will certainly support these goals.
Thank you for your consideration, Anne Caenn, President, Village Laguna
Letter from the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition to California Coastal Commission for Feb. 10 meeting [Agenda Item 9b – City of Laguna Beach LCP Amendment No. LCP-5-LGB-20-0053-1 (Historic Preservation)]
Dear Chair Brownsey and Members of the California Coastal Commission:
The Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition writes to express strong opposition to the proposed revisions to Laguna Beach’s Historic Preservation program. By design, the changes to Laguna’s LCP would eliminate protections for hundreds of identified and potential historic resources. We are astonished at the Report’s conclusion that these changes would not have a substantial adverse impact on the significance of historic resources and on the aesthetics and visual community character of Laguna Beach, under both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Coastal Act……..
Members of public interest groups participated at every stage of the review process, submitting written comments and speaking on behalf of an improved preservation program and, later, objecting to the gutting of the program that Council finally approved. We laid out detailed objections to the inadequate environmental review process that absurdly found no foreseeable adverse impacts to historic resources or the aesthetics or character of Laguna by removing protections from hundreds of historic resources that are, as the Historic Resources Element puts it, “defining feature[s]” of our City. We urgently look to you to set the City on a better course, one that will respect the historic character of Laguna Beach and allow it to flourish for another 120 years.
Village Laguna email asking membership to contact Coastal Commission about protecting historic resources in Laguna Beach. (to be sent by the end of Feb. 4)
Your help is urgently needed to protect the character and charm of the City we all love.
On February 10, the California Coastal Commission will consider whether to approve devastating changes to Laguna Beach’s historic preservation program. These changes would make it far easier for larger-scale projects that developers and some City officials favor to move forward, unhampered by review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Although the City Council approved the Historic Preservation changes in 2020, they require Coastal Commission certification before they go into effect.
Under the new program, for the first time historic preservation would be voluntary. An owner would have to consent before the City would even consider if a property is a historic resource when approving its demolition or substantial alterations. The historic property would only be protected if it is already listed on or formally determined eligible for the National or California Registers, an extremely high threshold with a process that can take months or years. Protections for hundreds of identified historic resources in Laguna would be eliminated. There would be no environmental review or special design considerations for projects involving these properties.
We ask you to support preserving Laguna’s remarkable historic character by writing the Commission to request they reject the proposed changes. A sample letter is below (although it’s best to put it in your own words, especially if you can say something about what Laguna’s historic character means to you).
Emails must be received by Feb. 4 at 5 pm to be sent to the commissioners.
Re: Public Comment on February 2022 Agenda Item Thursday 9b – City of Laguna Beach LCP Amendment No. LCP-5-LGB-20-0053-1 (Historic Preservation)
Dear Members of the California Coastal Commission:
On February 10 you will consider whether to certify changes to Laguna Beach’s forty-year-old historic preservation program.
These changes would irreparably damage the unique aesthetic, historic, and community character of our charming beach town. I urge you to reject these changes and
–protect the special character of Laguna Beach by protecting all historic resources.
–recognize and embrace historic resources as important and beloved coastal resources that contribute to the public’s enjoyment of our state’s magnificent coastline.
–reject the provision requiring “owner consent” before a property can be considered a historic resource under the ordinance. If this provision is left in place many historic resources will be allowed to be removed or greatly altered without consideration for historic preservation.
Village Laguna Letter sent to City Council for Jan 25, 2022 meeting item 10
Village Laguna welcomes the restoration of the coastal bluffs map and the original specifications for the pedestrian easement to the Downtown Specific Plan. We also appreciate the addition of a requirement that “adaptive reuse” of parking spaces (replacing parking spaces with outdoor restaurants) in the downtown be limited and temporary and conditional on meeting the 85% occupancy level. And we are pleased to see that CUPs can be reviewed and approved annually to provide some flexibility in the City’s monitoring of the downtown’s mix of uses.
However, we continue to oppose the reduction of parking requirements for new businesses. Existing businesses would not benefit from it, and the reduction would provide an incentive for property owners to replace existing low-intensity uses (a retail store, for example) with high-intensity uses (a bar or restaurant). A retail survey recently performed for the City found that the only businesses in the downtown that were not underperforming by industry standards were restaurants and bars. Tipping the scales in their direction might well be the end of our precariously balanced mix of businesses. The reduction of requirements is likely to lead to parking deficits and pressure to construct a parking structure in the downtown basin. Such a parking structure was resoundingly rejected by the community in 2013 because of its cost and impact on community character and would be inconsistent with Land Use Element Policy 8.6, “Promote parking peripheral to the downtown.”
We also object to the reduction of the number of historic structures listed for preservation from 65 to 27 and will be asking once again that that list (attached) be restored to the document and augmented as appropriate.
Finally, since the version of the plan that is attached to the agenda bill is going to be “cleaned up” before the second reading, we hope that you will consider the attached list of editorial suggestions for inclusion in the final version.
Village Laguna Letter sent to City Council for Jan 25, 2022 meeting item 11, a proposed resolution establishing new policy for City Council Meeting agenda items
We strongly urge you to reject the staff proposal for this item and instead affirm the City’s adopted and long-standing policy authorizing each Council Member to place items on the City Council meeting agenda. The existing policy allowing each Council Member to set agenda items is set out in Resolution 68.88, adopted in 1968.
The proposal before the Council would on its face eliminate Council Members’ existing authority to place items on Council meeting agenda. Instead, it would grant near dictatorial powers to the City Manager and Mayor. It would silence Council Members not commanding a Council majority. If the Council adopts Item No. 11, Council Members could propose no more than four items per year for Council agendas. In addition, a Council Member’s proposed items only go on an agenda if a majority of the Council approves. Those items would constitute only a very small fraction of items before the Council. For the vast majority of items on Council agendas, the sole authority would belong to the City Manager, in consultation with the Mayor. The City Manager would have a lock on initiating the vast majority of business taken up by the Council. This proposal would deprive non-majority Council Members of a forum for addressing their concerns. It would also deny a voice to the substantial part of the Laguna Beach community represented by those Council Members. The proposal is bad policy because it fails to respect the diversity of viewpoints in our community and fails to allow residents a full airing of their issues.
An attachment to the staff report listing city agenda policies throughout the state, from Turlock, to Santa Clara, to Manteca, scarcely supports the proposal. There is only one city listed on the attachment, the City of Orange, that grants the sweeping powers to a single person that is granted by this proposal, and that is to Orange’s mayor. Orange’s agenda policy is unwritten. Furthermore, Orange has a separately elected mayor with extensive powers, unlike Laguna Beach’s. The proposal before the Council also grants sweeping powers to single office holder, the City Manager. Under the proposal, except for the four-items-per year allowance, the City Manager, in consultation with the Mayor, shall be responsible for determining the items appearing on the City Council’s agenda. (Resolution, Sec. 1) The resolution stands the relationship between the Council and City Manager on its head. The Council is the policy-setting body for the City. The City Manager’s role is to implement Council-established policy. It is not the City Manager’s role to establish policy. Yet that is exactly what the proposal does. According to the proposal, outside of the four-items-per year allowance, the City Manager, in consultation with the Mayor, sets the agenda. Allowing the City Manager to set the City’s agenda violates the spirit if not the letter of the Municipal Code, which provides that the City Manager is the “administrative head of the city government under the direction and control of the city council….” (L.B.M.C. 2.08.080) (Emphasis added.)
Presumably, the City would allow a voting majority of the Council to place items on agendas. But that is not included anywhere in the proposal. If a majority were allowed to set an agenda, Laguna Beach would join the five cities listed on the attachment requiring a majority vote for agenda placement. (Newport Beach, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, San Rafael and Manteca.) Most cities listed on the attachment, however, either allow a single council member to put items on an agenda, subject to certain limitations, (Pasadena, Santa Clara, and Turlock) or a minority of the Council to put items on an agenda (Fullerton, Irvine, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, and Anaheim). Closer to home, and overlooked by staff when preparing the attachment, the Orange County cities of Aliso Viejo, Cypress, Santa Ana, La Palma, Yorba Linda and San Juan Capistrano all allow a single council member to put items on an agenda, subject to certain limitations (based on information available on city websites). This is the option that we urge the Council to pursue. It is good policy because it respects the diverse viewpoints that make up our community and allows its concerns to be fully aired. Also, it has been the Council’s long-standing policy, as reflected in Resolution 68.88, even if the policy has been ignored. The principles of inclusion and respect for the rights of the non-majority to have their concerns addressed are as valid today as they were in 1968. Let us hope that some things at least never change.
On a charitable reading of the proposal, if adopted, Laguna Beach will join a handful of cities rejecting non-majority rights when setting their agendas. On its face, the proposal grants near dictatorial powers to the City Manager and Mayor when setting Council agendas. This is hardly a distinction that should make the City Council proud. We urge you not to adopt the proposal but instead reaffirm the continuing validity of Resolution 68.88.
Letter to City Council for Jan 11 City Council Meeting
We strongly request that the Council rescind its planned January 15, 2022 sunset on the Garden Park funding, and commit to working with the community to acquire the property so that this heart-warming and beautiful park will become a permanent community asset.
It is critical that the City Council’s emphasis and funding reach all of its neighborhoods as well as the commercial core. We have witnessed much financial and staff support of improvements in the downtown, not only studies, but the physical improvements to help businesses cope with the pandemic. While these are laudable efforts, neighborhoods need City investment and enhancements too. The Garden Park provides a safe and inspiring outdoor experience for the neighborhood and for visitors. This Covid crisis has demonstrated how relevant this facility is.
In this case residents have volunteered and donated to create this exemplary and award- winning Garden Park. The community has made every feasible attempt to get a response from the property owner in Saudi Arabia. The lack of response now doesn’t foreclose future communication. Keeping the Garden Park funding in place continues to make the acquisition feasible. It sends a message of appreciation and support to residents who work to improve their neighborhoods.
Certainly this is an important part of what our Council should be doing.
Village Laguna Letter to City Council for Jan 11 meeting
We commend the work that has been done by the Housing and Human Services Committee as well as the city staff in terms of developing an affordable housing/housing element plan as required by the state. However, we feel compelled to ask that the City submit locations that are truly viable as opposed to submitting locations that are not suited for affordable housing and are very unlikely to be developed for that use. For example, the location behind Mission Hospital is highly inappropriate for various geologic, environmental and logistical reasons. To include it in the housing element in order to submit the required number of units regardless of site viability is misleading
Of key concern is the risk of losing local control for determining appropriate sites for the required number of state-mandated affordable housing units. Submitting non-viable locations in order to ‘check a box’ for a number established by a state requirement is not realistic. The Housing and Human Services Committee has repeatedly emphasized that the Housing Element should move us forward in implementing an affordable housing program and we agree
We need to design a program that respects the key characteristics and limitations of Laguna Beach—
The city is nearly 100% built-out
87% of the city is in a very high fire hazard severity zone with limited access. We should be making the case with the state that it is irresponsible to add additional residents in high density complexes when the city’s studies have shown the serious limitations on the ability to evacuate our residents in case of fire and other emergencies. High density complexes are out of character with our neighborhoods. Affordable housing should be integrated within existing residential areas, or built within existing buildings that are adapted for housing.
We should emphasize conversion of existing buildings as they become available—such as St. Catherine’s school and the telephone building downtown.
A housing trust should be included that would receive and manage bequests of houses and provide other housing assistance.
We would ask that the council direct staff to remove the infeasible sites from the Element and incorporate the suggestions listed above.
Village Laguna Letter to the California Coastal Commission Long Beach, CA: Re Public Comment on December 15, 2021 Agenda Item Wednesday 18c – City of Laguna Beach LCP Amendment No. LCP-5-LGB-20-0052-2 (Downtown Specific Plan Update).
Village Laguna welcomes the staff’s restoration of the coastal bluffs map and the original specifications for the pedestrian easement to the Downtown Specific Plan (DSP). We also appreciate the addition of a requirement that “adaptive reuse” of parking spaces (replacing parking spaces with outdoor restaurants) in the downtown be limited and temporary. And, if we understand the text correctly, we are pleased to see that CUPs can be reviewed and approved annually to provide some flexibility in the City’s monitoring of the downtown’s mix of uses
However, we are concerned by the removal of all mention of the Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document, which spells out the policies of the corresponding General Plan element and includes detailed plans for the downtown. The fact that it isn’t part of the LCP doesn’t seem to explain why it should be removed from consideration. Our “urban forest” is essential to the ambiance of the downtown, and maintaining community character is an important Coastal consideration. Restoring reference to the Landscape and Scenic Highways documents is particularly important because the City Council is contemplating the wholesale removal and replacement of mature trees in the downtown, whereas the Landscape and Scenic Highways documents call for their preservation and replacement (if necessary) in kind.
The Coastal Act specifies that new development should “protect special communities . . . that, because of their unique characteristics, are popular visitor destination points for recreational uses,” Section 30251 says “New development in highly scenic areas such as those designated in the California Coastline Preservation and Recreation Plan prepared by the Department of Parks and Recreation and by local government shall be subordinate to the character of its setting.” That 1971 California Coastline Preservation and Recreation Plan mentions Laguna Beach as one of the “few picturesque communities that recognize the long-range benefits of protecting their natural environment.” It highlights four major objectives of coastal planning:
• Environmental Protection
Preserving Natural Features Providing Recreation Opportunities Preserving History
The objective of “Preserving History” is watered down in the City’s DSP and is neglected in the Coastal staff report. While the certified DSP listed 65 historic structures in the downtown, the amended version shows only 27. (See page 52 of the City’s submittal.) Obliterating the evidence of the history of our downtown by encouraging removals and remodeling as this update does is a step in the wrong direction. The original list should be restored (see attached) and supplemented—even this list does not include all
of the historic resources. Other policies that discourage historic preservation should be remedied. These remedies include restoring references to the Historic Inventory, discouraging second-story additions to historic buildings, providing meaningful parking incentives for historic properties, and restoring Heritage Committee review.
We oppose the reduction of parking requirements for new businesses. Existing businesses would not benefit from it. The reduction would allow the customers of intensified uses to compete for the limited number of spaces that exist now without the new businesses having to provide parking spaces to compensate for their impact. It would provide an incentive for property owners to replace existing low- intensity uses (a retail store, for example) with high-intensity uses (a bar or restaurant). At the same time, a retail survey recently performed for the City found that the only businesses in the downtown that were not underperforming by industry standards were the restaurants and bars. Tipping the scales in the direction of restaurants and bars might well be the end of our precariously balanced mix of businesses. The reduction of requirements is likely to lead to parking deficits and pressure to construct a parking structure in the downtown basin. Such a parking structure was resoundingly rejected by the community in 2013 because of its cost and impact on community character, and it is inconsistent with the Land Use Element’s Policy 8.6, “Promote parking peripheral to the downtown.” The proposed structure noted by CCC staff has not been publicly reviewed.
Lastly, Coastal staff has accepted the City’s determination that the amendment is exempt from review under CEQA. However, the Commission is not to approve a proposed document “if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available which would substantially lessen any significant adverse impact which the activity may have on the environment.” The law requires consideration of “reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes in the environment” and not just direct or specific impacts. The potential negative impacts to historic resources, aesthetics, traffic and parking, and visual character mentioned in the document should be addressed with an environmental study complying with CEQA.
We agree with the staff recommendation that the Commission should reject the City’s Downtown Specific Plan submittal, but the suggested modifications are insufficient for producing an acceptable document.
Please direct staff to incorporate responses that address the concerns we have outlined in a new set of suggested modifications.
Village Laguna Letter sent to City Council re Item #12 on the Nov. 10, 2021, Special City Council Meeting Agenda
Village Laguna supports an extension of the continued use of publicly owned parking areas for dining because of the pandemic, including a fee structure for the use. However, the proposed 2-year extension is excessive as we have no idea how long the pandemic will last.
A much better approach is to limit the extension to a 6-month basis, at which time there can be a reevaluation and another extension, if appropriate. We are optimistic that California’s continued efforts to increase vaccination rates will result in a return to pre-pandemic lifestyles much more quickly than two years.
We are particularly concerned that a 2-year extension will build expectations that these dining areas should be permanent. They have served their purpose during the pandemic emergency, but in addition to reducing parking opportunities and parking revenues, they unfairly benefit a few businesses at the expense of others and should be phased out as soon as possible. Any loss of parking in the Downtown is a problem and as we gradually return to normalcy, the need for parking will only increase.
The fee schedule should be informed by the actual loss of revenue associated with the removal of spaces. Will the current formula produce enough compensation?
We also recommend that the city review the actual use of the existing parklets as it appears that some are rarely used. If this is correct, those areas should be returned to parking to benefit retailers and residents.
Village Laguna letter sent to City Council Re Item #10 on the Nov. 10, 2021, Special City Council Meeting Agenda
We’re shocked by the figures and recommendations of this report.
Its focus on business principles only is inappropriate for a city, which of course is not a business but a community. The so-called personal-choice services conducted by our Community Development department are in fact required by the General Plan and benefit the entire community by helping to maintain property values and ensuring public safety and the quiet enjoyment of our neighborhoods and our views. Dramatic increases in fees like the ones proposed would make meeting many of our General Plan requirements prohibitively expensive for many residents and thus rob the whole community of the benefits they provide. Beyond this, a significant increase in fees for DR projects might tend to increase unpermitted construction, depriving us all of the benefits that the General Plan is designed to provide us. The increase recommended in the fee for a DR appeal would, for most of us, make exercising our right to appeal a neighbor’s view-blocking or neighborhood-incompatible project too costly to consider.
According to the report, staff time allocations were determined through conversations and estimates, and we question whether the recording of actual time spent would have produced such enormous figures. Time logs might also have pointed to areas for possible improvement of procedures. We are disappointed that no discussion of improving the level of service of the department is included, something that has been a frustration for years. Staff should not be going through three rounds of plan checking due to their lack of time to do a thorough plan check in the first review.
Finally, we don’t think a need for a dramatic increase in revenue has been demonstrated, given the annual surpluses that the Council has been enjoying even in these pandemic years.
We hope that you will direct staff to work on improving levels of service and to log time expenditures so that analysis can be more accurate. Limiting increased fees to cases where repeated plan checks are needed because of applicants’ incomplete response to comments should be considered. Otherwise the city should maintain the current rates or limit any increases to a modest percentage of the existing ones.
Advisory VL Sent to Village Laguna Members on Aug. 8, 2021
“Censure Council Members Iseman and Weiss,” says Mayor Whalen.
Councilmembers Toni Iseman and George Weiss are being proposed for censure in Mayor Bob Whalen’s agenda bill on next Tuesday’s (August 10) City Council agenda. This relates to a closed session Council meeting on June 29 at which the Council voted to allow Mohamad Honarkar to resume construction at the Hotel Laguna. This lifting of the previously issued stop work orders was allowed despite previous staff directives that no work could resume without a publicly approved master plan. The City’s community development director Marc Wiener wrote the following to Honarkar in the City’s stop work letter of May 5, 2021.
“However, in this case you performed the work without the benefit of the appropriate land use entitlements, and you have not made it clear to the City what the entirety of the intended uses are for the site. As I requested when we first met last summer, you must provide the City with a comprehensive plan for Hotel Laguna project. Such a plan must include a schedule and description of the future work that is proposed.”
The Hotel Laguna stop work subject was not posted on the required closed session agenda. It was presumably considered as a closed session topic due to pending litigation. Weiss and Iseman maintain that the item was not closed session material because no pending litigation was involved. Weiss and Iseman are proposed to be censured for sharing information with the public about this council authorization. The Mayor alleges their violation of the Brown Act regarding confidentiality.
As former Mayor Paul Freeman stated in his August 6 column in the Laguna Beach Independent,
“That the Council in closed session discussed and voted on matters that cannot lawfully be discussed in closed session: that was the first and primary Brown Act violation. Iseman and Weiss are effectively whistle-blowers. The relevant question is why should the City Manager, City Attorney and Council majority get away with making deals and decisions behind closed doors?”
Thank George and Toni for being whistle blowers, urge the Council to hold the line on required reviews, be transparent with decisions, and comply with the Brown Act regarding providing for public review.
California Coastal Commission Hearing Click on Wed., May 12, 2021, then scroll down to 11 [New Appeals], b and click on Appeal No. A-5-OGB-21-0023 (Honarkar, Laguna Beach).NOTE: You can submit a comment.
VL Letter to City Council, June 28, 2021:
I spoke with the City Manager last week about the course of work at the Hotel Laguna and the progress that the applicant, Mo Honarkar, has made in producing his intended plan for the restoration and reopening of the Hotel. In two separate letters to the applicant, one on April 19, 2021, and again on May 5, 2021, staff stated that a comprehensive plan for the Hotel is to be submitted in order to determine the required permits. [see following quote.]
…you must provide the City with a comprehensive plan for Hotel Laguna. The plan shall include a schedule and description of the future work that is proposed. You must also provide a summary of the intended use of the lower-level spaces, including the conference and proposed new kitchen, as well as the commercial spaces fronting Coast Highway. Staff will evaluate the proposed uses and determine if use permits and/or Coastal Development Permits are necessary. Please submit this plan by April 26, 2021.
I understand from my conversation with the city manager, that such a plan has not been submitted and she will be reviewing the status of the project with you in closed session on Tuesday. We recommend that this discussion take place in public, since this appears not to be a closed session topic.
We urge you to support your staff’s position in the above letters and continue to require a comprehensive plan before allowing any more work to proceed. The city must use its authority to assure that the work is part of an approved plan that has been vetted by the public, reviewed by all departments and includes a historical review that assures that the building’s status as eligible for the National Register is not impaired.
The city should also respect the Coastal Commission’s finding of substantial issue on the appeal of work at the hotel.
Please do not succumb to the temptation to facilitate opening of a restaurant by bending the rules, when what is needed is opening of the entire hotel in a conforming manner. The applicant has had a long time to produce the required plan. He should not be allowed to proceed until that plan has been reviewed and approved.
Sincerely, Anne Caenn, President, Village Laguna
VL Letter to City Council, for 5/4/2021 Agenda, re Hotel Laguna
Village Laguna is concerned about both the physical condition and the status of on-going work at the Hotel Laguna.
The community and council are united in our goal to restore this landmark building and once again accommodate visitors in style.
We are concerned that the conditions outlined in the City’s letter of August 2020 have not been complied with, namely the submission of a “historic report for all work that has occurred and is planned,” and a “plan detailing the scope of the entire project.” To our knowledge these items have not been supplied, and certainly they have not been reviewed in a public meeting. With a building as important as this one, it is critical that there be a public review of the proposed changes and the restoration plans before any remodeling work takes place. Yet, we understand that Mr. Honarkar continues work on the property, work that can jeopardize the historic integrity of the building because it is going beyond minor repairs and maintenance.
We urge the Council to take action immediately to stop further work, secure the building, and do the forensic work recommended by former mayor Paul Freeman.
We are attaching our letter to the Coastal Commission which covers some of the issues needing to be resolved.
Sincerely, Anne Caenn, President, Village Laguna
VL Letter to Coastal Commission, 5/3/2021 RE: Appeal No. A-5-LGB-21-0023 (Honarkar, Laguna Beach)
Village Laguna supports the staff recommendation to find substantial issue in the City of Laguna Beach’s approval of Coastal Development Permits, or lack of requiring appropriate CDPs, for the Hotel Laguna project. In addition to finding substantial issue, we request the Commission to require stop-work orders immediately so that all the appropriate comprehensive planning and evaluation can be done prior to any further work on the property.
This hotel is a very prominent feature along our Coast and has been since its construction in 1930.
While our community is eager to have the hotel restored and re-opened, it is critical that the work be done properly and in compliance with an approved overall plan that includes evaluation of proposed uses, compliance with the Local Coastal Program, and restoration that complies with the Secretary of Interior Standards. This is a historic resource that has been recognized as qualifying for designation in the National Register of Historic Places. Nothing should be done to jeopardize this potential listing, which is not only an honor and an enhancement for the experience of coastal visitors but the best way to measure the quality and integrity of a restoration.
Not only does the course that the work on this hotel has taken jeopardize the integrity of its historic appearance, but removal of walls without permits and structural analysis can harm the integrity of the structure itself. The proposed conversion of major lower level and main floor rooms from retail, storage, and events to restaurants and kitchens, constitutes an intensification of use that needs evaluation in relation to non-conforming parking, and its effect on the overall functioning of the hotel and the adjoining Main Beach Park. This can only take place in the context of a comprehensive plan for the whole property. Piecemeal permits under the guise of repairs and maintenance are not appropriate for this situation.
We add to the concerns expressed by staff regarding the bluff intrusions. We understand that the private fencing on the beach side of the hotel has been recently relocated oceanward. The Main Beach Park public boardwalk dead ends at the Hotel property and is intended to continue to the south to connect with a new public walkway that is to extend the length of the central bluffs property. (See the attached provision from the Downtown Specific Plan.)
In addition, the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption within 200 yards of the Main Beach is prohibited (25.21.004), and so is the sale or display of foodstuffs or refreshments on any beach (18.04.015), and it seems to us that the proposed beach club bar and ramp to the beach invite violation of these provisions.
These are just some of the issues that need to be worked out in creating a comprehensive plan for this property.
Thank you for your excellent work in safeguarding our coast.
SB 9 and SB 10, overriding local zoning to permit increasing the density of residential neighborhoods statewide, have passed, leaving it up to the governor to decide whether they become law. [from 9-15-2021 VL Newsletter]
Many of you heard Catherine Jurca speak about the negative impact SB 9 & SB 10 will have on Laguna Beach at our zoom meeting in March. Now is the time to take action by contacting our representative, Cottie Petri-Norris, and asking her to vote NO. While you’re doing that, please also ask her to vote yes on SB 15. The information is listed below
Call Assemblywoman Petri-Norris at 949-251-0074 or use her website form: https://a74.asmdc.org/contact-cottie
Many of the threats to the character of our neighborhoods and communities come from state legislation. SB 9 and 10 have already passed the State Senate and are now being heard by committees in the Assembly. SB 9 in particular is being rushed through; it will likely be voted on by the end of the month.
SB 9 would require local governments to allow property owners to knock down single-family houses on lots greater than 2,500 square feet and construct a minimum of four units where one house used to be (local governments can prohibit ADUs and JADUs on these properties but may allow them).–No affordable units are required.–The big winners are corporate investors.–There are no exemptions for high fire risk areas.–Cities cannot require developers to upgrade infrastructure no matter how many units are built.–Minimal parking requirements and none at all if the property is within a 1/2 mile of a “high-quality” bus line.–There is no design review for these projects: no public notice or public hearing and they are exempt from CEQA. SB 10 would allow but not require cities to rezone single-family residential areas to allow buildings of up to 10 units.–Same problems as above. High-fire risk areas receive a fake exemption (10-unit buildings can still be built if they meet certain building codes).
Members should ask Petri-Norris to support SB 15. This bill would allow local governments to convert underused large commercial developments like big-box stores into affordable housing. These projects would not be exempt from design or environmental review. SB 10 would allow but not require cities to rezone single-family residential areas to allow buildings of up to 10 units.–Same problems as above. High-fire risk areas receive a fake exemption (10-unit buildings can still be built if they meet certain building codes). Members should ask Petri-Norris to support SB 15. This bill would allow local governments to convert underused large commercial developments like big-box stores into affordable housing. These projects would not be exempt from design or environmental review.
Public Comment, Village Laguna to the California Coastal Commission Re June 2021 Agenda Item Wednesday 18a – Appeal No. A-5-LGB-21-0029
Please find substantial issue regarding this appeal.
1. The finding for the City’s approval of the height variance is faulty, illogical, and precedent-setting.
“The variance was granted because 1) the structure’s construction prior to the current zoning code regulations created a special circumstance for the project site.” (Staff report, page 6)
Does that mean that all older buildings that are taller than the height limit have carte blanche to violate the height limit even more? This has tremendous implications for application to older buildings throughout the city, and there are many.
This is not a proper application of a “special circumstance,” which is supposed to be, according to Section 25.05.025 of the Municipal Code, “applicable to the property involved, including size, shape, topography, location and surroundings, that would cause the strict application of the zoning ordinance to deprive the property of the privileges enjoyed by other property in the vicinity and zone.” This provision says nothing about a “special circumstance” being previous construction of a now non-conforming building.
In the City of Laguna Beach there is not only the 18’ height limit of the downtown but also the maximum height limit city wide of 36’. The proposed elevator shaft projection violates that limit as well.
The staff assumes that there has to be a new elevator shaft and there were only two alternatives. Another alternative would be to discontinue the roof deck if it cannot be legally accessed without violation of the height limits.
2. The statement about parking in the staff report on page 9 doesn’t tell the whole story.
To say that the project “provides” the required number of parking spaces is not true. In fact the project provides no actual parking spaces at all. Because of grandfathering of “imaginary” spaces and historical parking credits the project has been exempted from providing parking spaces. The residential parking provision cited, which is intended to save cottages from demolition, is being misapplied. Even if it were appropriate, the Heisler building doesn’t have even one on-site parking space that is required under that provision. Therefore this project doesn’t qualify for the enlargement or expansion of legal non-conforming structures if parking spaces are provided as outlined in Section 25.06.008 of the Municipal Code.
3. The exhibits show a terrible visual impact as the project is viewed from Coast Highway. This is an even greater desecration to this historic building than what has happened previously with the addition of the roof deck and its highly visible umbrellas popping up behind the mansard roofs, making it clear they are fake.
The roof deck was not part of the original structure. Nor was it part of the remodel/restoration, which was finished by 2010. The roof deck approval, with its elevator, came in 2015. Asked to approve a roof deck back in 2012, the Planning Commission had been unable to make the findings for the height variance that an enclosed elevator would have required, and the eventual approval of an elevator three years later depended on its not penetrating the historical height envelope.
Historic Preservation, re: Thesuit that Village Laguna, the Laguna Beach Historic Preservations Coalition, and Preserve Orange County have brought against the City of Laguna Beach regarding changes in the city’s historic preservation program(See also archived information)
June 7, 2021: According to information sent to the Brandt-Hawley Law Group by the Superior Court of California, County of Orange, re Case Number:30-2021-01178477-CU-TT-CXC, Case Title: Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition vs. City of Laguna Beach
We have just had the first court hearing on the lawsuit challenging the City’s lack of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act in reducing the protections for historic resources when they adopted a revised historic preservation ordinance. The City asked for the case to be dismissed. The judge did not agree. The case will go forward with a status conference in July. Step by step Village Laguna is working to preserve the village character of our city. This lawsuit is a very important step and we are pleased that the judge rejected the city’s argument for dismissal.
Letter to the Editor, StuNews, 1/22/2021
Last week Village Laguna joined the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition and Preserve Orange County in challenging our city’s determination that changes to its historic preservation program would have no impact on Laguna’s historic resources and thus on the environment…. See rest of this letter.
Letter to the Editor, StuNews, 3/19/2021
Village Laguna is not involved in lawsuit against local residents
Village Laguna has no involvement in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit against the project at 369 Hawthorne, a locally designated historic resource owned by the Kirby family… See rest of this letter.
Village Laguna’s May 26, 2020, Letter to City Council:
We appreciate the City’s efforts to be proactive in assisting businesses, and we especially welcome the extension of the free and expedited temporary use permits for outdoor dining and display to businesses beyond the downtown.
We worry, as we have for a long time, that closing Forest Avenue will benefit only a very few and hurt others. The bulk of the assistance is concentrated on lower Forest Avenue, benefiting four restaurants and removing the parking for all the businesses fronting on that street. The idea that it will stimulate business for the adjacent shops is only speculative.
Fairly dividing up public and private spaces to allow outdoor dining could be a lot more complicated than the staff report recognizes. Since the tables the City is installing are for the general public will the restaurants along the Forest Avenue Promenade be asking to move tables out onto the sidewalk for their exclusive use? If so, how will there be enough room for the restaurant tables given the 6-foot social distance required for public safety?
The Planning Commission’s experience in balancing conflicting interests and ability to visit the sights might be valuable in making these decisions. We suggest leaving the permit process to them instead of reducing it to an over-the-counter transaction. We see that alcohol service is to be restricted to certain tables adjacent to the restaurants, but this raises the question how they will be divided among them and whether there will be any tables left for eating takeout meals without alcohol. Given that bars are still closed for public health reasons and that space is limited, we recommend that there be no alcohol service in the street.
We welcome the activation of the street with music on the stage and the joy it creates. Once the word spreads on social media, has the city considered that crowds could be attracted.
It seems to us that $145,000 is excessive for renting chairs, tables, and decks for a three-month period. At a minimum there should be competitive bids from other vendors. Could our local hotels supply this service and furniture, since they will not be operating at full capacity during this period?
Finally, spending $35,000 for a cost-benefit study of a parking structure at the Village Entrance will be a waste of money. The many such studies of this idea over the past thirty-plus years have made it clear that a parking structure there would be far too expensive, would not pay for itself and too intrusive.
The elephant in the room is that what businesses need most at this point is relief from high rents. We encourage the Council to pursue ways of persuading property owners that it’s in their best interest to reduce the cost to their tenants of doing business in Laguna Beach.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President Village Laguna
Please don’t transfer the $500,000 you’ve set aside for the eventual purchase of the Garden Park to the Park In-Lieu fund. The community has raised $200,000 and has the promise of another $250,000 from a local family foundation.
City support is so important both in facilitating a purchase as well as inspiring other donors. The garden is the kind of experience that Laguna is famous for, and we don’t want to abandon the hope of making it permanent.
Letter to the Laguna Beach City Council April 6, 2021
Item number 10 on the Council’s April 6, 2021 agenda, the proposed adoption of an ordinance for “accessory dwelling units” and “junior accessory dwelling units” (ADUs and JADUs), has the potential to upend the residential areas of Laguna Beach. We are requesting that you delay this item until the draft ordinance is revised to address glaring shortcomings regarding affordability and neighborhood protection.
The purpose of the proposed ordinance is to implement a state law promoting affordable housing by mandating expedited approval of ADUs and JADUs. Village Laguna supports affordable housing to promote and to preserve economic diversity in Laguna Beach. We do not, however, support the city’s proposal because it omits controls in the state law to assure affordability and to protect neighborhoods. In spite of state law, the proposal:
• Has inadequate limits on rental terms for ADUs, allowing them to be used for vacation rentals and not for affordable housing, thus undermining the purpose of the state legislation while adversely impacting neighbors and neighborhoods;
• Lacks maximum size standards for ADUs, which limits their affordability and leads to overcrowded lots, again adversely affecting neighbors and neighborhoods;
• Lacks design review requirements for large ADUs, which could create eyesores all around town.
The ADU proposal needs more work. We are asking that you delay the ADU proposal until it is in line with state law and includes provisions to promote affordability and to protect neighbors and neighborhoods.
Ann Christoph’s February 18, 2021, letter to Laguna Beach City Council
It is disappointing and potentially damaging to our city’s landscape that the Fire Department proposes to amend critical policies of the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element. The intent of the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element and Resource documents is to balance sound fire protection programs with landscape values, providing for landscapes that are both safer from fire and are beautiful and functional living environments. See rest of letter
Fire Safety Changes Would Hold Tree Owners Hostage See Flyer
(from Ann Christoph’s Laguna Beach Independent “Opinion, Village Matters” column, Jan. 22, 2021.)
Going to City Council on Feb. 23
“Under the hope-inspiring concept of ‘streamlining,’ the Fire and Community Development Departments have come up with a proposal to ‘streamline’ the city’s stand-alone fuel modification projects by exempting them from Design Review. But projects on private property would continue to be subject to the severe tree and vegetation removal requirements that the Fire Department has been imposing without adopted authorization for years.”
1. Apply the stricter fuel modification requirements (including “target species” to the whole “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone” (87% of the city).
2. No flexibility in spacing requirements unless the applicant hires a consultant.
3. Delete the provision for applying previously approved mitigations to help save trees and vegetation—this means continued delays and expenses for applicants.
According to Ann Christoph, “This situation [i.e. the City and Fire Department’s current implementation, which is far from streamlining] is untenable–onerous for property owners and damaging to the community landscape. We are losing our urban forest, exacerbating climate change and preventing buffering between properties and shielding of views of tall facades.”
This plan revision suggested by the Fire Department to authorize current operations will be going to City Council on Feb. 23
Village Laguna’s January 11, 2021, letter to the Design Review Board re Proposed Changes to DRB Bylaws
Village Laguna asks that you consider the following comments and concerns regarding the proposed changes to the Design Review Bylaws.
Section 3. Membership and Terms.
The red-lined proposed changes include limiting board members to “four consecutive two-year terms with a mandatory two-year break thereafter before reappointment.” We disagree with this proposal. Experienced board members who are willing to continue to serve should not arbitrarily be disqualified. Their two-year terms allow the City Council to monitor their performance at frequent intervals and reappoint only board members who are doing their job. This seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Besides, when there are few applicants the disqualification of experienced members may force the Council to appoint people who lack the appropriate qualifications. We urge you not to create term limits for board members.
Section 9. Board Agenda
We recommend that the agenda include an attachment that lists projects tentatively scheduled projects or other items for discussion at future meetings.
Section 6. B. Meetings — Regular meetings.
The proposed change in meeting time to 5:00 pm is appropriate during the Covid-19 pandemic, when all participation is electronic, but when meetings are returned to in-person format, meeting start times should return to 6:00 pm. Under ordinary circumstances, a 5:00 pm start time is an inconvenience to the public and to board members who may hold fulltime jobs. The board should set aside its own convenience in favor of the community it serves.
Section 7. Liaison with Council
We support the addition of an annual meeting with the City Council but disagree with the deletion of the requirement that minutes be prepared and approved in a timely manner. Since design review is a quasi-judicial process, it is extremely important that minutes be prepared in a timely fashion because this is the record that applicants, the public, and staff use to follow and participate in the process. Deleting the requirement would appear to be removing any requirement that the board keep a written record of its actions. We hope that you will leave this section intact.
Section 11 — Code of Ethics.
Though there are no proposed revisions to this section, we recommend that a process be established for applicants and the public to file a complaint should they feel that a board member has violated the Code of Ethics. The process should define how complaints are filed, reviewed, and adjudicated and spell out the consequences of violation of the code.
Village Laguna’s Nov. 17, 2020, letter to the City Council:
Village Laguna supports adopting the Staff’s recommendation of the Ordinance for short-term lodgings/rentals in Laguna Beach.
The Ordinance is a reasonable compromise between providing accommodations for visitors and protecting Laguna’s affordable- housing stock and the quality of life in our residential neighborhoods.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
RE: Item 20 on the Nov. 17 City Council Agenda LOCAL COASTAL PROGRAM AMENDMENT 15-2254 AND ZONING ORDINANCE AMENDMENT 20-7584 TO AMEND LAGUNA BEACH MUNICIPAL CODE CHAPTERS 25.23, 25.10, 25.12, 25.14, AND 25.43 AS MODIFIED BY THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION RELATING TO THE REGULATION OF SHORT-TERM LODGING
(1) Introduce the Ordinance entitled “AN ORDINANCE OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA, AMENDING CHAPTERS 25.23, 25.10, 25.12, 25.14, AND 25.43 AS MODIFIED BY THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION RELATING TO THE REGULATION OF SHORT-TERM LODGING”, by asking the City Clerk to read the title of the Ordinance and pass it to a second reading; and
(2) Adopt the Resolution entitled “A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA, ADOPTING LOCAL COASTAL PROGRAM AMENDMENT 15-2254 AS MODIFIED BY THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION RELATING TO THE REGULATION OF SHORT-TERM LODGING, AND REQUESTING A DETERMINATION OF THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION THAT LOCAL COASTAL PROGRAM AMENDMENT 15-2254 IS CONSISTENT WITH THE ACTION BY THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION” Staff Report
Village Laguna’s June 4, 2019, letter to the City Council:
It’s very good news that City staff has reached consensus with the staff of the Coastal Commission that preserves the essentials of our 2017 short-term lodging ordinance. Confining short-term rentals to mixed-use commercial zones will help keep Laguna a real community by preserving our neighborhoods from commercial activity and limiting further loss of the City’s rental housing stock which is especially important to our seniors, young people and our artists. We hope that you will give the ordinance final approval tonight.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s November 4, 2020, letter to Planning Commission
Village Laguna supports improving the safety of pedestrians and providing a continuous off-street pathway along Coast Highway that is accessible to people of all abilities.
With the contribution from the City of Laguna Beach for aesthetic improvements we were encouraged that this project could be so much more than a utilitarian walkway. Aesthetic improvements such as the landscaped medians, and street tree programs outlined in the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element and Resource Document should be a part of this project. We don’t see those improvements in this submittal—What are we getting for the $10 million our City is contributing?
In addition the proposed treatments of the ramps, retaining walls and sidewalk design need to be carefully considered and should be designed to be compatible with the village character of our town. We need to examine how this walkway system will seamlessly connect to walkways beyond the Caltrans right of way.
Please urge Caltrans and the City to reconsider the design to include the aesthetic improvements we are paying for and to hold an onsite public workshop to review the design solutions in each of these areas from Ruby to 7th Avenue before you approve this concept review.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s September 8, 2020, Letter to City Council
On November 12, 2013, the Council Chambers were filled to overflowing with residents who not only didn’t want a parking garage on the Village Entrance site but were deeply opposed to city bonded indebtedness to pay for it. It was explained that parking meter fees would pay back the bonds, but the crowd didn’t buy it.
Residents knew that parking meter fees are almost the only compensation the city and its residents get from the thousands who come here to enjoy our beaches and our town. These visitors don’t pay us back for all the costs they generate—not only for trash and maintenance, lifeguards, paramedics, and police but, tragically, for massive rescue crews for emergencies. Parking meter fees generate funds that might be used to make life safer and more pleasant for residents instead of paying back debt for a parking garage serving only the downtown.
Testimony from the public that night was strong, voluminous, and very clear. Council members cancelled the parking structure and started planning the park-like place that was just completed this spring. The Village Entrance looks good, and it functions. People like it. They’re almost ready to accept the $11.3 million it cost. Now you have a proposal partially funded by anonymous donors from the Chamber of Commerce of a parking garage in the same spot, and, miraculously, the costs have dramatically gone down since 2013. Back then, a four-level structure with a gain of 207 spaces was estimated to cost $42.3 million (plus interest).
Today’s estimate, they tell us, for a four-level structure with a net gain of 258 spaces is only $16.5 million. There’s clearly something wrong with these calculations. Furthermore, this option would be 48 feet tall, exceeding the city’s sacrosanct 36-foot height limit by 12 feet. In 2013 the designers managed all of their designs within the 36-foot limit. The parking structure study is seriously flawed and biased in the direction of a parking structure that Laguna taxpayers can’t afford and don’t need. Looking past the assumption about how little the parking lot would cost (the real cost will be much more) and many other dubious assumptions, the numbers it presents raise some questions. The report recommends Option 3, which violates the height limit with a 384-space structure. The proposed parking structure is to be built on an existing parking lot, but the report claims revenue based on the total spaces of the proposed structure, not the net new spaces created (258). In other words, the report claims revenue for parking spaces that already exist; take away this revenue and the business case collapses like a house of cards. The net income from Option 3 in Year 1 is reported to be a loss of $37,000, but the real loss is $419,300. The consultants’ historical value of $2,250 revenue per parking space x 258 net spaces = $580,500, not $963,800 (which the report doesn’t adequately explain). In addition, the revenue analysis is based on the total financed cost, which excludes the design and entitlement costs of $2,750,000. Adding these costs brings the tally to almost $20 million. It seems that this report paves the way for Laguna taxpayers to get hosed once again by a city council that spends money it doesn’t have for projects no one wants. Big developers are the only beneficiaries here. The burden of paying for parking spaces is shifted from them to the already overburdened resident taxpayers.
Village Laguna has long opposed a parking structure on the Village Entrance site. Beyond the issue of the costs of this proposal and who will end up paying them, there are other reasons that it’s entirely inappropriate for our downtown.
Our attractive new Village Entrance hasn’t robbed us of an immense number of parking spaces as people are fond of saying. Right now, according to the City, it has 387 spaces, only 29 fewer than the 416 it had before. Councilmembers decided to give up a few spaces so that the landscaping could be more generous, in keeping with a key objective from the beginning.
The 2017 Parking Actual Demand Study concluded that “the overall actual built supply of parking spaces exceeds the overall actual demand,” and, apparently on the strength of this, you’ve just drastically reduced the parking requirements in the downtown and closed off Forest Avenue to traffic.
At the same time, you’ve recently spent well over a million dollars developing peripheral parking opportunities, a free shuttle, a parking management plan, and a mobile app to reduce the parking problem in the downtown.
According to the City’s General Plan, any additional parking downtown is required to be peripheral to the downtown rather than in the heart of it.
In the peak season for which the proposed structure is designed, encouraging more drivers to park in the downtown basin becomes a threat to public safety by adding more cars to the number that would have to use Laguna Canyon Road to escape a fire.
Please reject this proposal and leave the Village Entrance in peace.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s June 16, 2020, Letter to City Council re Consideration of Additional Sites to Add to the Parking Structure Study:
Village Laguna objected to spending the initial $35,000 to study building a parking structure at the Village Entrance because it seemed to us a waste of money. The many such studies of this idea over the past thirty-plus years have made it clear that a parking structures would be far too expensive and would be underused for most of the year and to add another $36,000 would just compound the waste.
The City’s General Plan calls for any additional parking to be peripheral to the downtown. The City has recently spent well over a million dollars developing peripheral parking opportunities, a free shuttle, a parking management plan, and a mobile app to reduce the parking problem in the downtown. The 2017. Parking Actual Demand Study concluded that “the overall actual built supply of parking spaces exceeds the overall actual demand,” and, on the strength of this, you’ve just been considering drastically reducing the parking requirements in the downtown.
We appreciate that this proposal may be intended to explore alternatives to the Village Entrance site, but any additional parking structure downtown is clearly a wrong idea.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna Endorsed George Weiss and Ruben Flores for City Council. George Weiss won a seat, along with current City Council member Bob Whalen. Our endorsed candidate for city clerk, Ann Marie McKay, also won.
Village Laguna’s June 23, 2020, Letter to City Council:
We think you should send this project back to the Planning Commission without discussion. It’s our impression that, despite the applicant’s and the staff’s efforts to make it look acceptable, it still has most of the problems of the original version. We would all benefit from the commissioners’ experience in evaluating its impacts, especially now that the original project has been split into two to be treated separately and you haven’t seen the Coast Liquor Store proposal.
In the past we’ve raised questions about the proposed historic rehabilitation, explaining that the rooftop deck, furniture, umbrellas, and heaters will be highly visible and that, contrary to what the resolution in the staff report says, rooftop decks are specifically not recommended under the Secretary of the Interior’s standards.
We’ve also argued that the rooftop deck violates the City’s 36-foot height limit and there’s no legal justification for a variance. The “special circumstances” that state law requires for justification are all features of the property (size, shape, topography, surroundings) rather than the building.
We share the concerns of the neighborhood about the potential impacts of this project, even as modified, and hope that you will let the Planning Commission advise you about it before you make a decision.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s July 15, 2020, Letter to City Council re Coast Liquor Project:
This project is a little less intense than we had expected because of the reduction of two restaurants to one, but it still more than doubles the uses on the site and proposes to provide largely imaginary parking. Given the limited on-site parking and the pressure anticipated from the new development across the road, one business is still the right number for each of this property’s buildings.
The division of the main floor of Coast Liquor into two businesses may be at least partly responsible for the applicant’s failure to restore the slanted window panels on the front of the building as the Heritage Committee recommended, and the use of the garages below for offices also requires a departure from the building’s historic character. The first Secretary of the Interior’s standard for rehabilitation is that “a property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships.” Turning the original liquor store into two stores with outdoor seating and two offices is inconsistent with this standard. Considering that lack of parking is such an important issue on this property, it seems especially inappropriate to convert existing parking (garages) into a use that itself requires more parking.
The plans in fact show a general disregard for the Heritage Committee’s modest recommendations, which included, in addition to restoring the slanted windows, returning to the original color and moving the mechanical equipment to a less visible position on the roof. (Even the consultant wanted the original color restored.) Given the many changes in colors and materials and the addition of doors where there were none, it seems to us unlikely that the proposed “restoration” will conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. It should be modified to include at least the recommendations of the Heritage Committee. The parking credits can’t be justified with the proposed treatment.
With the Olympic Village cottage, the building has been so altered over time that there’s no real connection between the proposed changes and its original appearance. Without the restoration of the front porch, this building isn’t going to look like an Olympic Village cottage. A modern-looking remodel is not a rehabilitation of a historic resource, and therefore there’s no justification for any historic-related benefits.
Finally, we strongly disagree with staff’s proposed findings for justifying a variance for the roof sign, given that the “hardship” cited arises from the building’s architecture and not the size, shape, etc., of the property. The flat prohibition of roof signs in the municipal code indicates that the City is serious about rejecting them, and the granting of a variance for one is likely to set a dangerous precedent.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Double the number of businesses: There are currently 2 retail spaces on the property: Coast Liquor and the Olympic Cottage. Dornin proposes to add 2 more spaces—a convenience store in the garage of the liquor store that faces the parking lot. And he plans to divide the space of the former liquor store into 2 food service spaces.
Double the square footage: They are proposing to double the size of the current Coast Liquor space by putting a convenience store in the garage that faces the parking lot.
Adding 28 seats: There were never any “seats” on this property. He proposes 28 outdoor seats on the sidewalk in front of the liquor store.
Parking: He is doubling the square footage, adding seats, doubling the number of employees, but providing no additional parking. He is claiming a historic parking credit. This means at least double the # of cars parking in the neighborhood.
Doubling the impact: By doubling the square footage and the number of businesses, and adding seats, he is doubling the impact on parking, traffic, trash and deliveries.
Trash: He is proposing 3 small dumpsters to handle the trash for these 4 businesses, as well as the entire Coast Inn.
Deliveries: The number of different delivery trucks required for these 4 businesses would be huge.
Traffic/Circulation: There will be much more traffic on Coast Hwy at the intersection of Mountain Ave. and on one-way Gaviota Drive.
Exempt from CEQA: The applicant claims this project is exempt from CEQA, even though he is proposing an intensification of use.
Variance for a rooftop sign: Rooftop signs are prohibited in the City of Laguna Beach. (Marshall claims that Heritage supports the sign, but Heritage did not comment on the sign.)
Heritage recommendations ignored: The Heritage Committee recommended that the 4 slanted windows on the front of the building should be restored and that the building should be returned to its original color. The applicant is ignoring these recommendations.
Privacy, light, noise issues from the convenience store in the parking lot. He proposes operating hours until 1am.
Village Laguna’s June 16, 2020, Letter to City Council re amending the DSP
Village Laguna was involved in the original Downtown Specific Plan and in the various amendments over many years. In this revision we contributed to the workshops and planning commission meetings and participated in the ad hoc committees of Chamber and, property and business owners in the downtown that produced documents for staff and planning commission review. The protection of the village character of the downtown is very important to our community and an important part of that is the health of our unique businesses.
Village Laguna supports making the Conditional Use Permit process more flexible (See rest of this letter plus archived information)
Village Laguna’s April 7, 2020, Letter to City Council:
CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC AND ITS ESTIMATED IMPACT ON CITY REVENUE AND RECOMMENDED BUDGET MODIFICATIONS
Village Laguna was grateful when you decided a couple of weeks ago to postpone agenda items that are controversial and involve a desire for many citizens to testify in person. Therefore we were disappointed to find the budget discussion (Item #6) on your agenda. This includes many items proposed to be cut that are of much concern to many members of the public. Discussing these at a meeting the public can’t attend is unfair and unwise. It is important for our citizens to weigh in on where cuts could best be made and to support use of the Disaster Reserve where needed instead of cutting important items.
In addition to cutting urban forestry, the play house, art museum, Coast Highway sidewalk contributions, and more, all of wide community concern, we especially object to cutting two important community items that have been worked on for many years: 1. The sewage digester restoration and sludge removal and 2. Funding reserve for acquisition of the Garden Park.
We’ve long urged the restoration of the digester only to see the funding for this project disappear over and over again. This disaster should not be used as an excuse to shelve it. Now we even have a $500,000 private donation to contribute. At the last Council meeting on this subject there was a unanimous vote to proceed with the restoration. Now is still the time to remove the sludge and finish this long-awaited restoration, completing the Village Entrance project. The area will then be completely ready to receive the public when the festivals open again. This will be an important contribution to the city’s economic recovery.
The City has made a long-term commitment to pursue acquisition of the South Laguna Community Garden Park. The Garden has proven to be a city-wide asset, especially now when food self-sufficiency has become more important. In order for the purchase to move forward it is important to have the City’s backing and funding in place.
Both these projects are investments in the City’s future. Please reaffirm your earlier commitment to them. At the same time, we see that the controversial Downtown Action Plan, for which you voted to add $2 million to the 2020-2021 budget at the same hearing, is not on the list of recommended cuts. We suggest deferring funding on this project in order to keep other projects of long standing on track.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s Letter to City Manager Pietig, StuNews, 2/7/2020
Dear Mr. Pietig,
We strongly urge you to accept Barbara and Greg MacGillivrays’ offer to provide funding to the City of Laguna Beach to preserve the City’s historic Digester Building. We also strongly urge you to join us in applauding the MacGillivrays for their generous and creative offer. The MacGillivrays’ offer represents the best in a long tradition of private civic action in Laguna Beach that is the true strength of our community.
We were dismayed then to learn that you have responded to the MacGillivrays by sending them a letter and demanding that they provide you with what we believe is an unreasonable amount of information about their proposal in too short of a time frame. Among the information that you have demanded is a parking analysis, details of the entitlement process – including CEQA review –
and specific lease term, all within two weeks from the date of your letter. Typically, these are project details that a project proponent would develop and provide to the City over several months. There is no legitimate basis to hold the MacGillivrays to a stricter standard in this instance and demand that they provide the information to you on a shortened schedule. There is no good reason why the City Council cannot consider the MacGillivrays’ offer after the February 25, 2020 date that you arbitrarily established in your letter. It appears that you are attempting to use a clumsy bureaucratic process to defeat a proposal that will provide the community with an important and valuable benefit.
Thank you for considering our concerns. We urge you to embrace the MacGillivrays’ offer and not to undercut it.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s Letter to Planning Commission, following their March 4, 2020, Meeting
Thank you for postponing action on the Downtown Action Plan (DAP) at your last meeting and allowing more time to consider how to best address concerns and the approval process. We suggest that instead of feeling rushed to approve this document you use this opportunity of reviewing the DAP to set the study in the right direction. It is much too early in this process to approve 24 individual design projects given the many departures from the recommendations of the adopted Landscape and Scenic Highways documents and the long time frame for phased construction.
Here is a list of general issues/principles that the Commission should give direction on, reflecting the Commission comments and the public input. The Commission should ask the consultant to revise the DAP to incorporate the following changes:
1. Do not remove the trees on Forest and Broadway except for those that have been verified to have significant structural or health issues. Don’t remove trees in order to install structural soil cells.
2. Replace or add trees on those streets in-kind—with the silver dollar gums on Forest and lemonscented gums on Broadway.
3. Do not install metal tree grates/racks. Use softer materials for tree wells—planting, mulch, possibly the rubberized mulch. Direct the consultants to come back with a tree well treatment that works with preserving existing trees.
4. Plant tree wells/planting strips with low shrubs and ground covers in elongated planters on Broadway instead of installing decomposed granite.
5. Revise the plant palette to include existing trees and avoid thick, broad, canopy trees on sidewalks. They will hide merchants’ signs, conflict with adjacent building walls, and block views to ocean, sky, and hills. Wispy, delicate trees (like silver dollar gum and lemon-scented gum) provide shade while still allowing for those views. Canopy trees could be used where there is more space– at the new pedestrian crosswalks for example.
6. Plan for keeping as much existing concrete paving as possible to save costs, minimize disruption and preserve the feeling that the downtown has evolved over time.
The Commission should recommend which projects should go forward in Phase I in the coming year with the $2 million allocation. Once the DAP has been revised and reviewed again at the Planning Commission, it can be approved IN CONCEPT, with language clarifying that the Council will choose the priority projects each year and approve the detailed plans after the Planning Commission has held public hearings in each case. With Council concurrence on the projects for Phase 1, the Commission would then review the details for that phase. Reviewing the new phases one by one will allow for response to issues that come up when Phase I is constructed and to changed conditions that will certainly surface over at the seven-or-more-year time frame.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s March 4, 2020 Letter to Planning Commission
We welcome the idea of more trees in the downtown and consider many of the consultants’ ideas about aesthetics and pedestrian-friendliness worth exploring. With regard to the trees, however, their approach is inconsistent with the task they were hired for.
The plan is an outgrowth of the Landscape and Scenic Highways Element of the General Plan, which calls for an inventory of downtown trees, and the Element says “Follow recommendations and consult tree lists contained in the Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document.” The Document says “Preserve and nurture the historic landscape character of Forest Avenue” and “Utilize any reasonable means to preserve all existing mature eucalyptus trees.” For Broadway, it says “Preserve existing Eucalyptus citriodora street trees.” Where the Resource Document considers replacement, it’s for dead trees, and they’re expected to be replaced in kind.
Instead, the plan proposes the wholesale removal of trees regardless of their health status for the priority projects on these two streets.
In fact, nearly a quarter of the existing trees throughout the downtown are identified for removal and replacement, and since many of these are the oldest and tallest, they’re going to be sorely missed.
Laguna is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in California, known worldwide. A time-honored Laguna “brand” is the postcard image of the graceful and rustic eucalyptus trees along Forest Avenue. For almost a century this image has defined Laguna for generations of residents and visitors. The view down Broadway from the canyon, framed by lemon-scented gum trees (the official city tree), is a broad expanse of ocean through what an earlier generation of Laguna movers-and-shakers christened our “Window to the Sea.” Looking back up the canyon from the beach, the 60–75-foot trees draw the eye up to the hills that enclose the downtown basin—another distinctive feature of the historic landscape.
Mature trees provide shade and beauty and cleaner air. Small uniform trees will take at least 60 years to be of any significance for size, beauty, and shade. We’ve been told that the new trees will be planted from 36” boxes and will be 15–20 feet tall in ten years, and the simulations in the action plan suggest that they will be this tall in five. The size of the three trees planted from 36” boxes in front of the pizzeria on Ocean Avenue in 2013 makes us skeptical of these assurances, and in any case the loss of our big old trees will destroy the look and feel of the downtown.
On Lower Forest and Lower Broadway, nearly all of the trees are scheduled to be removed. For Forest Avenue—the downtown’s best-looking street—the rationale is that “pedestrians don’t like crowded sidewalks” and the trees need to be closer to the street. For Broadway two reasons are given: the need to install structural soil cells for new trees and the need to reduce the difference in scale between Broadway and other streets in the downtown. But the scale difference is historical fact, recognized in the street’s very name, and we’ve talked about the views Broadway provides.
The structural soil cell system is used to provide a healthy root-growth environment for trees in cities with poor soils or highly compacted subsoil, where street trees typically have a life-span of 7–10 years. In contrast, downtown Laguna is built on an alluvial plain and has both abundant topsoil and a high water table, both of which are conducive to deep rooting. Some of the trees there are over 60 years old and show robust growth, suggesting that the native soil doesn’t need to be replaced. The plastic cell system that is part of the installation is an additional costly item that hasn’t been tested over time.
The proposed installation of brick, wood, or metal grates in the tree wells throughout the downtown is another factor likely to cause the removal of trees, because these grates need to be installed level with the adjacent pavement and the bases of most of the trees are already higher than that. The Landscape Resource Document recommends the rubber mulch treatments that have already been installed in several places.
The staff report considers the action plan in conformity with the General Plan, the Downtown Specific Plan, and the Zoning Code and categorically exempt from CEQA, but this isn’t so. The Landscape Resource Document calls for preservation of the trees on Forest Avenue and Broadway. The Downtown Specific Plan requires that plant materials be “selected for proper scale and appropriateness to the village character,” but the plan deliberately ignores the historic character of the downtown in favor of a “refreshed plant palette.” And the destruction of mature trees violates both the Land Use Element’s emphasis on the preservation of significant trees and its sustainability policies.
Rather than being exempt from CEQA” as staff argues, the project should have an initial study to determine what level of environmental review is needed. There is a fair argument that aesthetics and other environmental concerns including impacts related to sustainability are significant. Broadway is the terminus of Laguna Canyon Road, a scenic highway that will certainly be affected by the removal of these important trees. All of the downtown is at the heart of the Historic American Landscape of Laguna Beach and the Greenbelt recognized by the National Park Service.
Staff argues that, with certain specified conditions of its choosing, the Downtown Action Plan is ready for design review approval and a coastal development permit for proceeding with construction. Instead, there should be further public review as each project is authorized, since there are many details and decisions to be made that will be important to the final result. For example, while the tree reviews reported were appropriate for conceptual planning, the risk assessments required by the City’s public-tree removal policy haven’t yet been made.
The cost of the plan is now estimated at nearly $14 million (up from the original $10 million, presumably because of the structural soil cells). This seems excessive given that the downtown streetscape is already so pleasing.
We urge you to postpone any decision until the action plan has been revised to conform to the General Plan, reflecting the City’s values of tree maintenance and preservation rather than removal and replacement and adopting a plant palette consistent with the recommendations of the Landscape and Scenic Highways Resource Document.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Many mature trees in the downtown are under imminent threat. (Even more than first circled on the presentation below.) See the many yellow-ribboned trees on Forest and Broadway. Any replacement trees will be small and take years to mature. [From Village Laguna General Meeting, 2-24-2020 in preparation for the City Council Meeting on 2-25-2020.]
Village Laguna’s Dec. 3 letter to City Council re item #16, Downtown Action Plan Concept Discussion:
Increasing the urban tree canopy is important, so we welcome the idea of a net gain in trees under the draft Downtown Action Plan. When the Council reviewed the RFP for the plan, however, Bob Borthwick expressed the hope that it would focus on “preserving and enhancing our signature treescape.” While the draft talks about building on the city’s strengths, it leans in the direction of what it calls “refreshing” the landscape. It identifies trees that are in poor health and proposes removing and replacing them. These replacements amount to a quarter of the existing trees, and we think that many Lagunans are going to miss them.
The lesson of residents’ response to the tree losses of recent years and the current controversy over the Downtown Specific Plan seems to us to be that residents don’t want to see much change there. We hope that the next draft of the plan will consider treating these failing trees in an effort to save them.
The cost of the project is projected to be $10 million, which seems excessive given that residents don’t seem to be interested in making big changes in the downtown. Applying more funding to the maintenance of our existing trees is a better option.
Beyond this, we encourage you to give careful attention to everything Ann Christoph has said in her detailed letter about types of tree wells and tree species—especially about including the species agreed-upon by staff and the community for the most recent additions.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President, Village Laguna
Bob Borthwick’s Sept. 2019 Letter To Mayor Whalen and Councilmembers concerning Digester Building:
This award-winning 1930’s structure has been an iconic feature of the Village Entrance for 85 years and has endured all of the various plans to redevelop the site over the past decades.
I urge you to adopt Option Three as proposed by Staff, to create a beautiful, functional, and valuable public amenity in this highly-visible location. I am currently working on the restoration of the final 17 Cottages at Crystal Cove State Park, and I am also working on the refurbishment of the historic Fox Theatre block in downtown Fullerton. By comparison, I can assure you that to restore our Digester for $1.699 million [including public restrooms] is a huge bargain and a financial windfall for our town. Much less significant new structures can far exceed that cost.
If leased at market rates to a specialty coffee shop or a light-dining restaurant like Zinc Cafe, it could be a permanent income stream and would pay off the entire public investment within a decade or so. After that, it would be a cash cow for the City in perpetuity. A positive byproduct would be creating an attractive, activated space in the middle of the VE parking lot.. A win-win for everybody.
If the City chose to retain a public use for the building, it could be a Visitors Center, public art gallery, Arts Center, or Children’s Museum, among other potential uses. The historic 1918 Munitions Facility in Alexandria, Virginia became the nationally-acclaimed “Torpedo Factory Art Center” in 1974, and in Corona del Mar a former mortuary has been converted into a popular restaurant. Past uses are in the past, and are irrelevant to building re-purposing. Progressive cities create new and innovative uses for historic structures, they don’t demolish them for parking lots like they did in the 1950’s.
This building is a community real estate asset that we need to preserve for our generation and for future generations. Its potential is simply too valuable to waste.
Respectfully, Bob Borthwick
Village Laguna’s September 9, 2019 Letter to the Arts Commission re the Fornes Pavilion structure
You’ve heard a lot of objections to this project, and we appreciate your decision to try to explore some of them with the artist before recommending it to the City Council, but we’d like to see you take one more step back. Whatever the merits of the design, this is the wrong place for the Fornes structure, and we encourage you to accept that fact now and start looking for other public art options.
In all the thirty years it has taken to realize the community’s vision of the Village Entrance, there has never been talk of an assembly structure of this size. The vision from the beginning was of a green, quiet, pedestrian-friendly space, and the final plan sacrificed parking spaces to produce the landscaped areas it has today.
The structure you’re looking at has been appropriately described as not an art piece but a building, and installing it would require ripping out the existing landscaping, certainly at considerable expense, and apparently removing an elegant rammed-earth seating area that echoes the wall across the street at the Festival grounds.
You say that you’re simply following the recommendation of the cultural-arts placemaking study, but that study (which, unfortunately, was adopted after the final contract for the Village Entrance work was signed) suggests three possible places for a removable tent (not a building) that might shelter community activities on the site, only one of which includes the proposed location. One of the areas shown under such a tent is on the other side of the creek next to the historic digester, which many Lagunans would like to see repurposed as the kind of gathering place you have in mind. The Village Entrance is only one of several sites the study considers as a gathering place, the others being the Festival of Arts grounds (which is in fact a public park), the Sawdust Festival, and the Main Beach cobblestones. You’re not really required to build this thing right here.
Placing this giant installation in the narrow space between the highway and the creek would be a costly mistake, and it seems to us unlikely to meet your own expectations. In the many other cities that display the artist’s work, there’s generally more space available for its proper appreciation. As close as the structure will be to the highway, it may be hard to hear what’s going on inside the “pavilion,” and holding events there would appear to raise a number of logistical problems (no restrooms, for one).
Please listen to what your fellow Lagunans are saying and let us enjoy the Village Entrance we’ve waited so long for.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President Village Laguna
Letter to City Council, August 6, 2019, re Agenda Item 12:
We appreciate your concern about controlling the costs to the City of processing the Laguna Beach Company’s many major projects, but we’re afraid, as we were in the case of the proposed $250,000 gift for the same purpose, that this will lead to the company’s receiving special treatment. Paying more of the costs may create a tendency for staff to value these projects more than the smaller projects proposed by and for residents and move them to the head of the queue. To maintain residents’ trust, it’s important that staff treat everyone the same with regard to both fees and the processing of projects. Cost control might be better served by requiring the company to follow the municipal code and the General Plan rather than pushing the envelope in all its proposals.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna
Letter to the Editor, Laguna Beach Independent, Aug. 1, 2019 (Thanking Billy Fried for his July 26 column on Climate Change):
Thank you, Billy Fried, for your, July 26 column “Fight Climate Change with Radical Collaboration.” The “radical collaboration” that you rightly summon has been underway for several years, largely due to the work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, whose outreach is at once national, local, and bipartisan.
CCL is an international civic organization with 548 chapters in and outside the United States. It advocates for Congressional passage of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763), now before the House of Representatives. This measure would put a price on carbon, charged at the well, the port, and the mine. Proceeds from the fee would be returned in equal monthly installments to folks with Social Security numbers. These dividend payments would in most cases more than offset the increase in the price at the pump for struggling families. The size of government would not grow, thousands of fewer people would die from air pollution, and economists conclude that if passed, this law would reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent (below 2016 levels) in 12 years and 90 percent by 2050. While doing this, it would create 2.1 million jobs. This is a real and necessary solution that deserves our support.
Locally, Tom and Ginger Osborne and Breene Murphy have recently organized a Laguna Chapter of CCL. You could help this effort by publicizing the above information and getting involved yourself, as I have, by contacting [email protected]. Laguna has always been at the forefront of protecting our environment, and we need Tom’s passion and foresight more than ever before to focus us on combating the climate crisis. I look forward to listening to Tom and Ginger and Breene speak on Billy’s talk-radio show very soon. Thank you.
Charlotte Masarik, Village Laguna Board Member, Laguna Beach
Village Laguna’s July 23, 2019, letter to City Council:
Village Laguna shares the Council’s concern about our community’s fire danger and appreciates the production of this detailed report.
We suggest, however, that instead of adopting it and the detailed financial commitments now, you “take the plan on the road” to get community input and support. Some of the proposed actions, such as the removal of the trees in Bluebird Canyon and the wholesale undergrounding of utilities in Laguna Canyon rejected by voters as recently as last year, can be expected to be controversial and deserve extensive public discussion and exploration of alternatives. The funding methods, which appear to depend heavily on internal borrowing from other worthy items (such as paying down the City’s retirement commitment), should also be examined to see if the community considers the trade-offs reasonable.
Now that we have a comprehensive view of fire protection options, we need to consider them as a community and decide the best funding and phasing approach. It is only with broad community support that such a major undertaking can be successful. The failure of the undergrounding measure on the last ballot demonstrated the importance of bringing people together behind goals and programs before spending programs are suggested.
We welcome working with the City and community toward a consensus approach to this critical threat.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s July 12, 2019, letter To John Ainsworth, Director, California Coastal Commission Re: Extension Request 5-15-1670-A1-E2
Since the Commission issued the permit for SOCWA’s sludge pipeline replacement, there have been a number of changes on the ground that seem to us to merit the Commission’s revisiting the project.
First of all, the project as presented was admittedly dependent on a proposed federal construction project for erosion control, and now that project seems less likely than before to be pursued.
Second, the large-scale removal of arundo from the creek bed has greatly improved the condition of the creek and its prospects, and this may have implications for SOCWA’s construction plans.
Finally, when the project was proposed SOCWA was conducting a facility plan that presumably by now has suggested some new directions for the treatment plant. Now, according to a recent press release, after making “necessary improvements” it plans to conduct “an evaluation of the treatment plant’s size, cost, and technology with a view to optimizing its long-term value to the region.” We suggest that the time for this evaluation may be before this pipeline has been installed.
When the pipeline replacement was approved, trucking the sludge was identified as the environmentally superior alternative. Our position, then as now, was that a wilderness park was no place for a sewer pipe and that twenty-first-century solutions to sewage treatment were available that would allow the removal of this one. A hearing on the permit extension would allow the commissioners to assess the degree to which the project is appropriate to today’s conditions.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s July 9, 2019, letter to City Council:
The proposed Memorandum of Understanding is very detailed with regard to the developer’s expectations, and we’re pleased to see that he is committing himself to meeting all City requirements and policies regarding height, setbacks, parking, and open space. However, there appear to be a number of problems:
1. The benefits to residents that are the City’s goals for this development have not been discussed. The staff report lists a number of possible ones on p. 3. Many of these would be expected of any project, however. For projects this big, all in and near our iconic downtown, there will be a need for incentives bigger than “unique hotel rooms” and an art gallery in the lobby.
2. Except for the loss of rental units, the impacts of the developer’s proposals have also gone unmentioned. These are likely to include increased traffic congestion beginning with the construction stage, shortage of parking, loss of historic character, and the cumulative effects on the streetscape of six big projects built at the same time by the same company. A further impact that is foremost in our minds these days is the effect on disaster response and evacuation of adding many more people and cars to our highways in an emergency.
3. In addition to the above impacts, there should be some consideration of the impact on staff, the Planning Commission, and the public and on the progress of development by other people, public and private, of presenting all these projects for review at the same time. The MOU specifies that the Hotel Laguna should come first. There needs to be a provision that specifically spreads out the initiation of the other five projects over a period of several years and that requires a completion bond for each project to guarantee its orderly progress.
4. There seems to be no room in this memorandum for any significant modification of these projects or the substitution of potentially more appropriate alternatives.
5. Finally, as we have said before, deliberations involving just a two-person Council subcommittee behind closed doors are not an appropriate way to handle major decisions such as those outlined in the MOU.
Given the importance of these projects, we recommend that you continue this item for modification as we’ve suggested here and to provide residents more time to study the MOU and consider its implications. Postponement until September and then the holding of a special session would allow for the thoughtful input that they deserve. It would go a long way toward addressing residents’ fears that this is an effort to minimize their voices on this development.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s July 9, 2019, letter to City Council:
Village Laguna favors keeping public property public on general principles, but the Temple Hills pathways are especially valuable because of their particular public benefit. In a hillside neighborhood with some houses as far as a mile from egress at Temple Hills Drive, having an alternative way of getting down the hill if the road were to be blocked in an emergency contributes significantly to public safety. As the Temple Hills community will be telling you this evening, many people have been using them as shortcuts to school and town for decades. To abandon public property requires an offsetting public benefit; by doing so in this case you would be taking a significant benefit away. Please leave the pathways alone and encourage the use for which they were intended.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna
Village Laguna’s June 19, 2019, letter to Planning Commission:
We are writing in support of Bluebird Canyon Farms, whose Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application request is before you. We urge you to approve their request and allow them the flexibility to continue performing their important work stewarding land and teaching skills to at-risk youth. Their work strengthens the fabric of our community by connecting us to the land and each other.
As president of Village Laguna I speak for our board and all our members who care about preserving, enhancing and celebrating the uniqueness and cultural heritage of our “village by the sea”. We support programs and actions fostering community spirit, addressing social needs, and protecting critical habitat. Our mission is well aligned with that of Bluebird Canyon Farms.
With vision, and hard work, the owners of Bluebird Canyon Farms have done an exquisite job reclaiming an unsafe, trash-infested, eroding hillside, converting it into an expertly managed operating urban farm and unique educational facility.
Bluebird Canyon Farms operates safely, carefully and quietly, with respect for the environment and community. They teach and train economically disadvantaged individuals, grow nutritious food, safely steward nearly 15 acres of critical habitat and support various programs. Their work is commendable and an asset to the community enhancing safety and security and promoting effective land management practices.
We urge you to support Bluebird Canyon Farms by granting them the necessary entitlements.
Sincerely, Johanna Felder, President of Village Laguna