CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 3/21/2023
Community News: GW: Please consider attending this workshop.
George Weiss: In this recap we cover a Proclamation on National Arab American Heritage Month; The Bluff Top Set Back Ordinance (delayed until April 4th); Release of body cam footage of the City Manager’s traffic citation; Police Department Update on Crime Statistics for 2023; and, 1- year extension of Waste Management contract. I will cover the Appeal of Approval of a DRB Review and Variance at 5 Marlin in a separate newsletter.
#Proclamation Declaring April 2023 as National Arab American Heritage Month in Laguna Beach:
GW: Our country has been a refuge for those yearning for religious freedom, economic opportunity, and/or fleeing from oppressive governments. I believe that diversity makes our country stronger and enriches our culture. Tolerance, respect, and understanding of cultural differences is something we should incorporate actively in our daily lives. Doing that will open our hearts to everyone we encounter.
#Consent #6 – Adoption of Ordinance Amending Portions of Municipal Code Governing Bluff Top Development
Some background: At the March 7th Council meeting, the City Council passed the first reading of this Ordinance with some minor modifications. The vote was 4-1 with me as the lone dissenting vote. Below is the summary of my comments on this item from March 7. (Note: You may also review the attached, collated comments sent by residents and organizations to City Council commenting on this Item.)
GW: At the recent City Council meeting the City Manager and Mayor summarily took this item off the agenda. In asking that the item be removed, the City Manager said that the “public was confused”. I disagree. The public understood that passage of this ordinance would allow the development of coastline properties in order to increase their value and use, and that these developments could result in the destruction of natural coastal bluff landscapes and the public’s views.
I voiced my concern that the removal of this consent item from the agenda should only be done by a vote of the Council. Fortunately, my concern and those of others were heard, and public comments on the item were allowed by the Mayor. Please read the report and the email comments from your fellow residents. A letter from the Surfrider Foundation is also attached.
It seems that three days of advanced notice for an item of this length (194 pages) and complexity deprives residents of their opportunity to carefully read and comment on a knotty change in land use. Wouldn’t a full seven days (1-week) advanced notice be more realistic for public input on items of this length and complexity?
Summary from March 7th recap:
GW: I voted against this ordinance as it really should be discussed further at a City-sponsored public workshop. The public deserves more time to review it. Laguna’s coastal bluffs are already built out, but this ordinance will allow homes, commercial projects and new development within a foot of the bluff face.
Mayor Whalen said the Ordinance had been vetted by the Planning Commission twice previously, but it is just not realistic to expect residents to regularly follow Planning Commission proceedings. To Illustrate, here’s a quick question for you: What is the difference between the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board (DRB)?
Homes on coastal bluff sites built prior to 1977 and 1993 would be affected by this new ordinance. Of the estimated 500 coastal bluff homes, surprisingly not a single homeowner appeared in support of the ordinance. The report did not have statistics on how many homes would be covered by the new ordinance or its impact on commercial development of the coastal bluff---commercial development being what some suspect may be the real driver behind this ordinance change.
Might this ordinance change allow for condominiums, restaurants, and retail stores to be developed along the coastal bluff between Legion St. and Hotel Laguna as previously circulated plans have suggested? I am very concerned that this new ordinance will allow development of multimillion-dollar condos (owned primarily by people living outside of Laguna Beach), ocean view restaurant(s), and retail that will erase all current views from Coast Highway, and eliminate relatively affordable housing that is now available at this location.
REGULAR AGENDA ITEMS
#Item # 12: Release of Body Cam Footage taken during the City Manager’s Traffic Citation: Passed 3-2
On November 16th City Manager Shohreh Dupuis received a citation for using her mobile phone while driving. Understandably, interest in knowing the circumstances surrounding this incident grew.
Does it matter that the City Manager was on a non-emergency call with the Chief of Police? By immediately telling the police officer making the stop that she was on a call with the Chief of Police (which was legally irrelevant in any case unless it was an emergency call), she appeared to be using her own office as well as that of the Chief, to discourage the officer from ticketing her. Why else would she have volunteered that information?
As the City’s highest appointed official and the police officer’s ultimate boss, our City Manager should have allowed the officer to carry out his duty impartially, and provided her ID, registration, and proof of insurance without bringing attention to whom she was speaking.
Since City Council members have a fiduciary duty to the public to oversee the operations of the City, I asked to see the officer’s body cam footage, and as a result, each City Council member viewed it. Additionally, City Council voted 3-2 to release the officer’s body cam footage to the public with Mayor Whalen and Mayor Pro-Temp Kempf casting the dissenting votes. Previously, the Laguna Beach Independent received body cam footage of an incident involving the City Manager, her daughter, and their off-leash dog. That footage showed the City Manager identifying herself before any dialogue took place between her and the animal control officer, so there has been some precedent for the release of body cam footage.
#Item # 13: Report on Crime Statistics for 2020,2021, 2023 (no vote needed)
GW: Chief Calvert and Captain David presented a report developed by Captain Mike Peters. Average response time for Priority 1 calls was 4 minutes and 18 to 42 seconds over the last three years, which is a faster than expected response time. Admirable and positive news! Unfortunately, this data provided an average of ALL response times versus a response time by police beat as has been previously provided in the past. We know that in the past the greatest number of calls were in Downtown where response times are much faster due to proximity to the Station thus skewing the average call time. For residential areas outside of Downtown, average response times may be much greater than 4 plus minutes. We don’t know without the information on response times by police beat. We need response times for each beat over the last three years to provide a fair comparison.
Also missing were statistics on traffic citations since they provide key indicators of how effectively patrol officers are keeping our streets safe. This is especially critical as we have seen two pedestrian fatalities in the last couple of months.
The other good news in the Chief’s report is that under a Sargent we now have 4 motor officers, a Senior PSO, Parking Services Officers, PSO/AO and Traffic Control Aides. This is good news for residents who have written complaining that “quality of life” issues have not been adequately addressed. I commend Chief Calvert for appointing a Sargent to handle all traffic related work.
Please read the report here: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1998&meta_id=159258
#Item #14: Solid Waste Contract Extension with Waste Management: Passed 5-0
GW: This is the third discussion of this item so here is a brief review:
Council approved extending the Waste Management contract for one year to provide time to evaluate the RFPs and consider all options.
Waste Management will increase rates by 23% during this 1-year extension but the cost increase for 2023 and 2024 will be cushioned by using $620 thousand dollars we have in a recycling fund.
Expect rates to go up again in 2024 due to many factors you can read about in the Staff Report.
In mid-2024, residents will be billed directly by the hauler based on the size of the waste receptacles used.
Commercial waste hauling is affected, too, so please read the staff report to learn more about the rate changes.
Click below to read the Staff Report: https://lagunabeachcity.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1998&meta_id=159265
Appeal A: Appeal of Approval of Design Review 22-2114 and Variance 22-2115 for 705 Marlin Drive – Appeal Denied 5-0 with Direction to Staff for modifications. The project will come back to City Council for review.
Background: The project at 705 Marlin Dr. has had extensive remodeling done without the benefit of permits. Also, it appears that City officials haven't attended to stop work orders. The nextdoor neighbors (Appellants) objected to windows being replaced with larger windows that created a privacy issue; a front deck to be built without privacy features; a third parking space needed to satisfy the additional square footage being added; and, more. They did not file a complaint about the noise from the indoor renovations throughout the first year of the remodeling project.
Council’s Decision: Council worked to create a solution that would satisfy all parties. The Applicants offered to delete the garage expansion and keep their existing driveway available for the required third parking space. A traffic engineer parking study will still be required to determine if the third parking requirement is satisfied by parking in the existing driveway. The deletion to the garage expansion does not eliminate the need for the third parking space – garage square footage is not included in the calculation for the home’s square footage. Other modifications to assure privacy included making some windows smaller than were previously approved, and adding a six-foot high privacy wall along a front deck. The project will come back for Council review to assure compliance with the Council’s direction.
The Back Story: Dr. Dodge and his wife (the Applicants) purchased their 705 Marlin Dr. home on or about September, 2020. Soon after, they started demolition activity inside their home. This activity continued for nearly a year without any permits. The Appellants were living next door. They assumed that the project was properly permitted and reacted only when substantial exterior work began.
When the Appellants went to the City to view the plans, they learned that the only permits being pulled were for the like-for-like window replacements and stucco repair. When the Appellants informed City Staff that major work was being done, the City issued a stop work order. Despite this, work continued at 705 Marlin in violation of the stop work order.
In December 2021, Head Building Official, Dennis Bogle, along with two other staff members, visited the site. They found the Dodges had taken out one or more structural support beams. Mr. Bogle stated, “This is the worst case of code enforcement violations that I have ever witnessed . . . and that it was a major safety issue”. Again, the action by the City didn’t stop the project as the Dodges continued construction activities without plans, permits or inspections.
Construction continued intermittently from January to around May 14, 2022. When the City was not watching, construction would commence, and when the owners were caught and violations were issued, construction would stop for a bit. During a discussion with neighbors to address the issues described above and in reference to the appellants reporting violations to the city, Mr. Dodge said, “We know people, too, with the City. We know the City Manager and somebody on the City Council, too." Later, after further discussion with the neighbors, Mr. Dodge said, "We have been assured that this is going to get approved. And when it does, I hope we can be neighbors.”
In early December 2022, at a site meeting with Design Review Board (DRB) Chairman Louis Weil, the Appellant asked Mr. Weill if he knew the Dodges. He said no at first, but then admitted he knew Mr. Dodge. Mr. Weil also admitted that former Council member Peter Blake had reached out to him about the project. On December 7, the appellants met with Community Development Director Marc Weiner, who also admitted he had been contacted previously by former Councilman Peter Blake.
In January 2023, DRB member Don Sheridan met with the Appellants and another neighbor and stated, “No matter how much complaining you do, this project is going to be approved because the City Manager wants it to.” Later he said, “If we don’t approve this with an overwhelming majority, we will have our heads handed to us.” At the DRB meeting in January 2023, Don Sheridan admitted he had also met with Peter Blake concerning this project.
[Some of the above information was taken from a longer timeline of the events written by the Appellants. Numerous witnesses were present in every case where quotes are used.]
There is much more information not cited in this summary that can be read at the link below:
STOP WORK ORDERS ISSUED: December 2020, September 30, 2021, May 4, 2022.
January 11, 2021: Minor remodel
February 11, 2021: Window replacement, doors, siding to stucco.
February 24, 2022: Exploratory demo for life safety issues and structural integrity
May 19, 2022: ATF Phase 1 (Part1) Interior only remodel, no exterior
May 31, 2022: Replace electrical panel and misc. electrical for safety purposes.
August 1, 2022: ATF Phase 1 (Part2) interior only remodel including structural elements: no exterior.
August 19, 2022: HVAC
Sept. 13, 2022: Exterior door replacement due to life safety issues (manufacture recall), noted in permit as “unapproved doors subject to Design Review and may be removed if not approved”.
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Disclaimer: All representations made in this email reflect the views of the author and are not official statements of the City of Laguna Beach or City Council. Any mistakes or omissions are the sole responsibility of the author, George Weiss.
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