CITY COUNCIL MEETING RECAP — 5/16/2023
Summary of this Recap: In this recap we cover Professional Service Contracts for engineering, environmental, outreach and project management services for Laguna Canyon Road; a resolution to increase solid waste service rates; update on the management of South Laguna beaches; and, revised fee schedule for outdoor dining on public spaces.
Regular Item #13: – Professional Service Contracts for Laguna Canyon Road engineering, environmental, outreach and project management services. Passed: 5-0
Summary: On November 15, 2022, the City Council directed staff to pursue professional service contracts for the Laguna Canyon Road (LCR) project. The LCR project is large, complex and expensive with the initial costs for the engineering, environmental, outreach and project management services at $4.4 million. It is expected that the undergrounding of utilities for Laguna Canyon Road along with the addition of walking and bike trails and road improvements will cost an additional $100 million. We have the money for the initial LCR costs for the professional service contracts. Council directed staff to come up with funding proposals to secure the additional $100 million for the undergrounding of utilities, road improvements, and biking and walking trails.
GW: I support the above project but am concerned about where $100 million or more will come from. Even if grants bring in tens of millions of dollars, how do we finance the rest? I would ask residents who have expertise in finance to make suggestions to the City Council so that we can consider all good ideas. I do not think the City has ever embarked on a bigger project, so it is prudent to collect multiple sources of information on financing, case studies of other cities’ large projects, etc. so that we can make sound choices for this important project.
Regular Item #14: Resolution to Increase Residential Solid Waste Collection Service Maximum Rates. Passed: 5-0
Summary: Residential rates for a single residence will increase by 11%, or $33.00, starting July 2023. Higher rates are anticipated after July 2024 as a new service provider agreement takes effect.
GW: Council used monies available in our Solid Waste Revenue Fund to stabilize the rate increase, or it would have been 50% greater starting in July 2023. Even higher fees are expected starting in July 2024, depending on responses the Council receives from requests for waste management proposals (RFPs). Higher rates should motivate everyone to consider ways of reducing all three categories of waste (recycled, green waste, and trash) as households will be charged by the size and number of bins used. Rather than the additional charges being added to property taxes, direct billing to each property will go into effect in 2024. I voted yes on this resolution because it provided a 1-year extension of the contract with Laguna Beach’s current waste management service, so that the RFPs could be developed and bids collected.
Regular Item #15 -Update on Operation of South Laguna Beaches. Passed: 5-0
Summary: City Staff recommended increased signage for beach hazards, discussion of a rental program for gas firepits to replace wood burning firepits, approval of the Pride Tower at West St. beach, a request that staff return in Jan. 2024 to review lessons learned over the summer, and for staff to establish a fee schedule for permitted events.
What Residents Said: Many residents objected to removal of the wood burning firepits including Billy Fried, founder of the monthly Drum Circle; Chris Prelitz; Robert Shaw; Jorg Dubin; and, Warren Allen.
GW: There was a lot of discussion about whether the six wood burning firepits should be replaced with rented gas firepits as City Staff advised. While wood burning may be more polluting than gas, there is a 40-year tradition of wood burning firepits on Aliso Beach. It seemed to me that it would be good to have a few of each—2-3 wood-burning firepits and 2-3 gas firepits. I recommended 2 of each to start.
Regular Item #16 – Update on Outdoor Dining Programs Including Permanent Permitting Process and Revised Fee Schedule. Passed: 5-0
Summary: City Staff proposed two fee schedules for restaurants using public parking spaces for outdoor dining. Option 1 called for setting fees based on the 24 parking spaces lost times the lost parking revenue along with a maintenance fee. The projected annual revenue for Option 1 was $173 thousand dollars. Option 2 called for a market rate fee structure based on research conducted by City Staff. Projected annual revenue for Option 2 was $242 thousand annually. The Council chose Option 2 on the condition that the fee schedule be reviewed in one year after implementation in July 2023.
What Residents Said: Three Promenade restaurant owners (Moulin, Alessa, and 230), spoke in favor of council choosing either option. John Thomas said that both options were well under market value for the public space. He pointed out in an email to Council that between July 2022 and June 2023, restaurants were paying $0.97 cents a square foot for the use of public space, with no maintenance fees.
GW: I voted for Option 2 but have serious reservations regarding the formulas used to come up with the fees for both options. My opinion is that the options Council were given were not reflective of the true costs or market value of the public space. It’s another gift of public funds. Thanks to Councilmember Rounaghi who suggested we review the fee schedule in one year, we voted for Option 2. I won’t go into any further analysis here but may follow up with a report detailing what the market rates should really be. I agree that outdoor dining is here to stay and support it. Restaurants, however, should pay their fair share for use of public space.
Appeal of Design Board Approval of Project at 434 Astor St. Denied: 5-0
1924 Beach Cottage / 434 Astor St.
Summary: The owners applied for a design review and revocable encroachment permit to demolish this residence as well as for associated site improvements to construct a new single-family residence and detached garage. The project was approved on a 3-0 vote with two DRB members absent. Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition (LBHPC) appealed the project to City Council.
LBHPC identified this beach cottage as being K-rated (versus the highest historical rating, which is E). The basis of the appeal claimed that “the City decided to ignore the requirements of CEQA and change to a so-called “voluntary historic preservation program, in which owner consent, rather than expert evaluation, determines the historical significance.” LBHPC has filed a lawsuit on this matter claiming that one can’t move historic-rated homes off the Laguna Beach Historic Resources Inventory without expert evaluation.
GW: At first, I tended toward upholding the appeal. However, the applicant, whose parents built the house and let the home go into disrepair, provided evidence of the high costs to bring the house back into prime condition. The applicant’s proposed replacement home, although modern in style, is not overly large for the site. I also believed the applicant’s claim that it was their intention to live in this new home permanently. It’s a very small cottage, and if it had been in much better condition, I believe the decision may have gone another way. However, as it was in such bad condition, I voted with the rest of the Council to deny the appeal.
The LB School District is having a community workshop, so please attend to be heard! Attendees can ask questions and get answers from the board on the $150 million plan!
Time and Place - Today,
May 23, 2023 5PM
Thurston Middle School Library
SensibleLaguna.org wants you to know about the massive construction plan at the high school. As proposed, it will affect noise, views, escape routes, traffic, congestion and a host of other issues for years to come.
Dialogue: Given such a monumental project, SensibleLaguna.org has been insisting that all board members hear what the public has to say in an exchange and discussion format to include alternatives, options and justifications. Unlike the debacle at the high school open house, this format seems better structured to hear from you.
We at SensibleLaguna.org and all tax paying concerned citizens of Laguna Beach seek fiscally responsible, needs based solutions that fit the neighborhood. The district has thrown out a few new ideas reducing the scale of the project, which is encouraging, but nothing to date says they have changed their position. Please attend to tell them directly!
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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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